Lemongrass Grilled Pork Chops

Lemongrass Pork Chops

Ever feel stuck in a rut during grilling season? We often do, but the desire to use the grill often wins out over the lack of perceived options.  Since we don’t get to spend a lot of time at home these days, we tend to focus on how we can make the most of our weekends and be as lazy as possible at the same time.  I’m sure most of you feel the same.  However, this year our local farmer’s market has provided a shot in the arm to our usual Sunday night cookouts.

Since moving to Richmond just before the startup of the season, we’ve been frequenting the South of the James farmer’s market.  There we found a great local meat vendor – Ault’s Family Farm.  I admit, they caught my eye with their sign marketing pastured pork fed on non-GMO grains.  Did my eyes deceive?  The allure was too strong; I’d come to the market for veggies but found myself leaving with a pair of beautiful, bone-in pork loin chops.

I knew that I wanted to grill them, and I also knew that I didn’t want to give them the same dry rub treatment that I had our steaks of the prior week.  Enter the struggle with laziness.  I drowsed on the sofa that Saturday afternoon, daydreaming about grilled pork. I remembered a savory, grilled pork dish that I used to order on occasion at Just Pho – a favorite restaurant of ours when we lived in Athens. It was marinated with lemongrass, and it was aromatic, sweet, salty, savory.  It was a pork dish that arrested every part of the palate and demanded attention.  I knew then what I was setting out to recreate.

Lemongrass

Lemongrass is a legitimate grass – not in name only. It is used as an herb in many cuisines, particularly in Asian cooking. The flavor and fragrance have a delicate citrus quality with an earthy, spicy undertone reminscent of ginger.  Lemongrass is purported to have many health benefits, most notably as a cancer-fighting herb.  It also is said to reduce hypertension, lessen toxins in the blood – acting as a diuretic, and aid digestion.  It is also known as citronella, so if its scent is familiar, you might have some candles bearing its fragance on your patio!  Lemongrass is simple to prepare.  If the stalks are whole, the root and green parts are trimmed away.  Any tough outer leaves may also be trimmed.  The remaining stalk can be finely sliced. Or, you can smash it with the flat side of your knife asyou would garlic, then mince the smashed lemongrass.

In the end, I came up with this simple marinade.  You do a bit of chopping and mixing, then bathe your pork chops in it and let them rest while you heat the grill.  I won’t say that I perfectly recreated the chops from Just Pho, but they were excellent.  The flavor of the marinade paired with the fresh pork in a gentle duetto; they performed in concert perfectly.  With some rice and some grilled spring onions and asparagus, we had a harmonious ensemble.

I am submitting this recipe to Weekend Herb Blogging # 233 (hosted by Palachinka),  highlighting the star of the marinade: lemongrass.

Lemongrass Grilled Pork Chops

  • 1 T soy or fish sauce
  • 3 T peanut oil
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, smashed then chopped (about 3 T)
  • 1 1/2 T rice vinegar
  • 2 T honey
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 2-4 thick cut pork loin chops

In a non-reactive bowl, whisk all ingredients together until they are evenly combined.  Pour the marinade over the  chops and let them marinate for about 1 hour, making sure to reserve the marinade for basting the chops on the grill.  You can marinate for longer in the refrigerator if you wish, or do it for an hour on the counter so that the chops come to room temperature.

Lemongrass Pork Chops

Meanwhile, prepare the grill and heat the charcoal. When hot, grill the pork chops until they reach an internal temperature of 165°.  Brush the pork chops with the reserved marinade while they grill.  Remove from grill when done, and let rest for five minutes before slicing or serving.

Serves 2-4.

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Spice Crusted Steaks with Chimichurri Sauce

Spice Crusted Steak with Chimichurri Sauce

I’m willing to bet that most of you thought I forgot how to blog.  Well, I didn’t forget how – I just haven’t had much of a chance to do so.  Starting a little bit after my most recent post last autumn, I started a new job – a new job that requires me to travel out of town Monday – Friday each week.  As a result, I only have time on the weekends to cook.  I won’t lie.  I haven’t done much cooking on those weekends.  The small, country kitchen sans dishwasher coupled with not enough time at home didn’t exactly appeal to my domestic sensibilities.  Didn’t, I say, because I have moved into new digs this month.  I now have the nicest kitchen I’ve ever lived with.  I also live close to one of the largest farmer’s markets in Richmond (South of the James!), and I have a dishwasher.  A fancy, new dishwasher that begs for dishes to wash. Who am I to deny it that right?  Not to mention we have picked up a new grill just in time for grilling season.

The brass tacks: I’m excited by this kitchen, and I am dying to use it when I am home.  I figure, with a little bit of juggling, I can get a post up here about once a week.  So, let’s dispense with the explanatory chatter and get on with the food.

Last weekend we thought we would celebrate the first full-on meal cooked in this kitchen by grilling up some steaks.  My husband, being an eager grillmaster, was ready to work some charcoal magic out back.  I know a lot of purists out there like their steak rather plain, but I like to gussy mine up a bit.  Nothing too fancy, but I like a flavorful spice rub, liberally applied on the steaks and grilled to form a nice crust.  I also love chimichurri sauce, which brightens up the heaviness of steak and tastes likes spring.  Chimichurri sauce is Argentinean in origin, and is a parsley, garlic, and oil based sauce served with beef.  This is an opportunity to use your best olive oil.  Since the sauce isn’t cooked, the olive oil flavor is going to be prominent.

To keep the spring flavors going, we grilled asparagus to go on the side of our steak.  If you’re a fan of Penzey’s, I urge you to brush some fresh asparagus with olive oil, sprinkle on some Mural of Flavor, and grill it until tender.  Mural of Flavor is salt free, citrusy, and a great compliment to asparagus.  Yum.

Spice Crusted Steaks with Chimichurri Sauce

  • 4 NY strip steaks, about 9-10 oz. each

for the dry rub

  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • ½ tsp ancho chili powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp onion powder
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp  coriander
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • dash allspice
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • ½ tsp black pepper

for the chimichurri sauce

  • 1 bunch flat leaf parsley
  • ½ bunch cilantro
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • ¼ C onion
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp Aleppo pepper
  • pinch of cayenne
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 4 T red wine vinegar
  • ½ C olive oil (use the good stuff!)

Combine all spices for the dry rub in a small bowl and mix well.  Remove the steaks from cold storage and press about a teaspoon of the dry rub onto each side of each steak.  Let the steaks come to room temperature before grilling.

Steak with dry rub

Meanwhile, make the chimichurri sauce.  In the bowl of a food processor, combine all ingredients except for the olive oil.  Pulse until the herbs are very finely chopped.  Remove the herb mixture from the processor to a serving bowl.  Pour the olive oil into the bowl and stir to combine well.  Do not add the oil to the processor, as it will emulsify and become thick and cloudy– like a salad dressing.

Grill the steaks over direct heat for the first five to six minutes of cooking to form a nice crust, then move to indirect heat to finish to your desired doneness.  A good chart to reference temperatures for steak doneness can be found here.  Let steaks rest about 5 minutes before serving to allow juices to redistribute.  To serve, plate the steaks and spoon chimichurri sauce over them.

Serves 4.

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Spicy Carrot Soup with Cilantro-Lime Puree

Carrot Soup

It’s that time of year, friends. There’s a singular nip in the air most mornings. My cat wants to spend every waking moment roaming down by the river. I bought a long sleeved shirt and broke out an extra blanket for the bed. Finally, today, I turned the heat on. Autumn is here, and it’s soup time.

It’s also cold season. My husband caught a cold and passed it to me. I promptly passed it back to him, worse than I received it. Yes, soup was needed in this house. Still feeling lethargic, I wanted to make a soup that was easy, tasty, and packed with nutrients. Carrots, then! Carrots, besides bearing bright-orange beta carotinoids, are chock full of vitamins A, C (goodbye, colds!), K, potassium, thiamin, niacin, fiber, plus other good stuff. Coupled with ginger, which has anti-inflammatory properties and boosts immune system performance, I figured the carrots in this soup would hit my cold with a knockout punch.  I threw in some other warming spices, including a healthy amount of my garam masala to give the soup a gentle, warming spice. Yum! To contrast with the aromatic spices in the soup, I made a simple cilantro lime puree to drizzle on top. It was great, but if you’re not feeling the effort, just sprinkle on some chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lime.  Or drizzle on some sesame oil.  Whatever speaks to you.

Carrot Soup

The cilantro-lime purée spoke to me.

Both soup and purée tasted great too. I liked the minimal effort they took, and I loved getting to break out my immersion blender. Do you have one of those? Because if not, you must get one. I have had mine since last Christmas. I kept putting off using it, assuming it would be difficult to clean or a pain to use. Nay, nay – I was wrong. It was easy, it was fun, and it was so easy to clean. If you have one, use it. Use it often. If you don’t, then buy one. They range from $30-$100. It’s worth every penny. I use this Cuisinart (a $30 model), and I am already planning more soups just so I can use it more.

Since I figured this won’t be the only cold I get this season, I made a great big pot of this soup and froze half of it.  The great thing about too much soup is getting to put some away for when you need it again.  And next time, I’ll have nothing to do but warm it on the stove.

Carrot Soup

Spicy Carrot Soup with Cilantro-Lime Puree

  • 1 T peanut oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1″ piece of ginger, grated
  • 4 C water
  • 1 1/2 lbs carrots
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • juice and zest of 1 lime
  • 1 T soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp garam masala

Wash carrots and peel if using conventional, non-organic carrots.  Cut the carrots in 1″ pieces and set aside.  Heat peanut oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat.  When the oil is hot, add the onion, ginger, and garlic.  Saute until the onion is soft and translucent, stirring occasionally to keep the garlic from burning.  When the onions are soft, add the carrots to the pot and pour in the water.  Add the salt, red pepper, soy sauce, garam masala, lime juice and sesame oil– reserving the lime zest.  Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat so that the soup stays at an active simmer.  Cook this way for 20-30 minutes, until the carrots are easily pierced with a fork and soft.  Remove from heat.  Using an immersion blender, puree the soup.  I like to leave a bit of texture but remove any chunks of solid vegetable.  If you want a silkier texture, puree the soup in batches in a conventional blender.  When the soup is blended, stir in the lime zest and taste for seasoning.  Add salt, if needed, until the carrot flavor is bright.  Serve drizzled with cilantro-lime puree.

Serves 4.

Cilantro-Lime Purée

  • 1 1/2 C cilantro leaves, washed and packed
  • juice of 1/2 a lime
  • 2 T peanut or other neutral tasting oil
  • pinch of salt

Using an immersion blender, purée the ingredients together until they are smooth.  Add a bit more oil or water as needed to achieve a thin consistency that is easily drizzled.

Makes about 1 C of purée.

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Blackberry Cobbler

Blackberry Cobbler - 11

I admit it: I have been shameful in updating my blog.  Since it’s the American thing to do, I will offer up a bevy of excuses.  Almost one month ago, I quit taking Ambien.  I also quit ingesting caffeine of any kind.  And naps were straight out the window!  Needless to say– sleep deprived, I existed in some kind of trancelike stupor for a couple weeks.  I’ve since started sleeping again, but the transition was… rough.  During those first few weeks, I didn’t cook much, because I figured I might lose a finger in the process.  Then I stuck to old favorites.  Now I’m back to my usual messing around, and the camera has come back out.

Blackberry Cobbler - 10

Lucky for all of you, I have a stockpile of recipes that are already photographed that just need written up.  So, we should back in full-swing shortly.  I rather expect that the carb coma that is coming from playing catch up with the Bread Baker’s Apprentice will be quite refreshing.

Blackberry Cobbler - 01

Anyway, enough of me: on to the food!  You may have seen my guest post on Blackberry Polenta Muffins over at HoneyB’s blog.  That same berry picking adventure yielded those muffins, seven jars of blackberry preserves, 2 pints of frozen berries, and this cobbler.  And oh, this cobbler!  It’s baking magic like my grandma used to make.  She usually made peach cobbler, but I had blackberries, so there you have it.  And why baking magic?  I always marveled over how you start a cobbler with batter on the bottom and fruit on top, but when it comes out the oven the fruit is on the bottom and the dough is on top!  It’s the miracle of baking powder.  The batter even begins to bubble up over the berries as you pour them in.

The other great thing about cobber? This recipe is dead easy.  The ingredients come together in mere minutes, and you get to make like Paula Deen and use an obscene amount of butter.  But hey, there’s fresh berries!  And, besides, we can all use lots of butter with impunity if it’s in the name of making real Southern desserts, right? Seriously.

Blackberry Cobbler - 06

And that’s really all there is to cobbler.  You mix up a simple batter, melt some butter in a pan, pour over the batter, dump the berries in and bake.  It’s so easy it’s criminal, and yet you get warm dough, gooey berries, and everyone swooning over your delicious dessert.  (If you want to go even lazier, use canned peaches like my Grandma. Not that it’s as good as fresh fruit, but it’s better than no dessert, right?)

Blackberry Cobbler - 08

Blackberry Cobbler

  • 1 C flour
  • 1  C sugar
  • 1  C milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 T baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 4 C fresh blackberries
  • 1/3 C sugar
  • 1/2 C butter (1 stick)

Preheat oven to 350º.  In a bowl, whisk together the flour, 1 C sugar, baking powder, milk, cinnamon, and vanilla.  In a separate bowl, sprinkle the 1/3 C sugar over the berries.  When the oven is hot, place the butter in a 9 x 13 glass baking dish.  Melt the butter in the oven.  When the butter is fully melted, remove the pan from the oven.  Pour the batter over the butter (love that phrase).  Next, spread the sugared berries over the batter evenly.  Bake the cobbler for 45 minutes or until golden brown.

Serves 6 – 8.

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Summer Barbeque Menu: A Fourth of July Fiesta Recap

Fiesta4

Fourth of July, you say?  But today is the first day of August!  Yes, yes.  However, I have been promising a recap of the menu for our Fourth of July Fiesta.  I keep my promises!  You’ve still got over a month of summer left, and this menu would be great for a cookout or barbecue whether with just your household or with several friends.  It would also be a great way to say farewell to summer on a long, lazy Labor Day weekend.

Fiesta2

I chose the dishes for our spread becuase many of them can be made a day ahead or the morning before a get together.  All of the salsas are fair game.  You’ll probably grill while guests are over, so the only things that need prepared immediately before serving are the guacamole and the tostones.  The guacamole will turn brown over time, so it just gets unappetizing if you make it the day before.  I’ll eat slightly brown guacamole left over, but let’s keep it appealing the first go round, shall we?  The tostones are best served hot, although I’m known to nibble on them throughout an evening long after they’ve grown cold.

Fiesta3

Now, let’s say you have some kitchen-savvy friends that want to bring something.  Exercise those master delegation skills you picked up at work and have each friend bring one of the salsas listed below.  Have another bring some tortilla chips.  One can bring dessert, and one can bring margaritas/tequila.  And so on.  Then you’ve got even less to do, and you won’t have a hodge-podge of random foods that don’t go with your menu.  Personally, I would love it if I asked a friend “What can I bring?” and I got e-mailed a recipe.  Would love it.  Performance anxiety out the window!  If you’re not comfortable with this, go ahead and tell them “Paper plates” and commit to doing the cooking yourself.  Just a suggestion.

The Menu

Grilled Pork Tacos with Pineapple Salsa and Chunky Guacamole

Fiesta

The pork tenderloin filling is very spicy, but the sweetness of the pineapple salsa and creaminess of the guacamole tames it nicely.  No other condiments needed!  Plus, they’re great for dipping chips into so they serve double duty if you make extra.  The pork is tender and bursting with juices due to the pineapple in the marinade.  If you don’t grill with charcoal, it has a smokiness from the spice blend that lends it that complexity.  The pork held up beautifully the next day, sliced cold from the fridge.  If you have a nice, big grill, you can make a couple of tenderloins at the same time as well as your grilled corn.

Tostones with Salsa Criolla

Fiesta - 07

Tostones are fried and crisp…….

Fiesta - 05

Salsa criolla is fresh and tangy.  I like to keep them separate until just before serving so that the tostones stay as crisp as possible.  The salsa criolla is essentially a red onion quick-pickle, so the longer it sits the more mellow the onion flavor becomes and the more pickled the whole thing starts to taste.  This is great made the day before.  I like for it to come close to room temperature before serving.

Elote (Mexican Grilled Corn)

Fiesta - 08

I’ll go ahead and admit that I didn’t make a fully traditional recipe for Elote here.  I linked to Food Blogga’s, because if you want to go all out, that’s the way to go.  However, I just don’t eat mayo.  I also opted out of the sprinkle of cheese because I wanted the corn kept very, very light.  Still, if I were you, I’d make hers (unless you’re also in the Mayo-Free Club).  For the record, we soaked the corn with husks on for 30 minutes, rubbed it down with olive oil, grilled it, then sprinkled chili powder on it.  I served it with lime to squeeze over.  This is very tasty, but seriously – go check out Susan’s.

Tortilla Chips and Fresh Salsa

Fiesta - 03

This is my go-to recipe for fresh salsa.  It’s tangy, with lots of kick due to a healthy dose of lemon juice.  I love the texture, because while it’s not in big chunks, it’s not smooth either.  I use the food processor to mince this up.  Now, while I have amounts of tomatoes and onion listed on the recipe, keep this in mind: you want more tomato than onion.  So, if your onion is large and your tomatoes are small, adjust accordingly.  You don’t want this salsa more oniony than tomatoey, especially if you’re serving salsa criolla with the tostones.

Frozen Margaritas

Fiesta - 15

If you’re looking for a great margarita recipe, I’ve linked to a good basic one from The Kitchen Sink Recipes.  Please don’t buy the mix.  It’s full of high fructose corn syrup, and really – you can do better.  It’s not any harder at all.  If you’re blending, you might as well use triple sec.  Hell, maybe even toss in a little Cointreau.  And  by all means, serve it in your Cactus Stem Margarita glasses.

A good fiesta is nothing if not a little cheesy.

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Fried Pork Chops

Fried Pork Chops - traditional sides

A couple of weeks ago, I was planning my grocery shopping and asked my husband if there was anything he would like for dinner that night.  After some consideration, he proffered, “Fried pork chops.”

As soon as he said the words I was transported to my early childhood.  I had not yet started living with my grandparents, and on Fridays my Grandma would pick me up to spend the weekends with her.  Almost every Friday night, she would prepare one of my favorite meals: fried pork chops, white rice, and steamed sliced carrots.  Sometimes there would be Sunbeam dinner rolls served on the side.  There would always be a dessert, but they were overshadowed by the chops.  What I remember is how the smell of the pork chops frying would prick at my tastebuds and make my mouth water.  I would bob in and out of kitchen, looking at the bubbling grease and the frying chops, the bowl of flour to bread them.  I would notice how blood rose out of the bones as they fried, but I was not disturbed by this.  Instead, I marveled at the transformative power of cooking.

At last they would be ready, and I would sit at the table waiting to be awarded my plate. I would first grab my pork chop, bits of the crust flaking away.  I would devour every bit of meat and crust on it, suck the bone dry, maybe even try to dig out the gristle or marrow.  The salted crisp of the breading melted on my tongue, preparing the way for the tender pork processional from each bite.  Then I would stick forkfuls of rice into the crumbs so that they wouldn’t be wasted, mashing the sticky rice onto the plate so that no trace of the chop would be wasted.  I ate in a near frenzy of pure pork devotion.  It was one of my very favorite meals.

Years later, fried pork chops aren’t a food I have considered in a long time.  They are homely, and they take a little work.  I haven’t eaten them in over 10 years.  At some point when I was in high school my Grandma quit frying, because she was aging and it was painful for her to stand over the stove.  At that point fried pork chops faded from my gustatory repertoire.  But now, these chops demanded my consideration. I was confronted with the challenge of making them.  I knew it would not be as easy as I remembered.  For one, I have never understood how my Grandma achieved such a crisp crust on her fried foods using only flour.  No eggs, no milk, no soakers — nothing.

Knowing my own limitations, and also what works for me in the kitchen, I decided to change the preparation techniques a bit so that I would have results consistent with memory.  Even though I changed the way they were breaded and fried, I seasoned the chops traditionally.  To do so, I used a staple of my Grandma’s pantry, also a staple of mine:

Lawry's Seasoned Salt

Lawry’s Seasoned Salt.  In our house it went on pork and beef.  Not french fries, not chicken, not veggies.  Just pork and beef.  It’s the secret to Southern flavor, or at least how I remember it.  After seasoning the chops with Lawry’s, some pepper, and a whisper of cayenne, I soaked them in buttermilk.  Then, I dredged them in a flour and cornstarch blend and fried them in vegetable oil.  I wanted to achieve the salted tang the meat held in memory as well as a perfectly crisped crust.  The technique worked brilliantly.

To serve, I chose traditional veggie sides that would appear on my family’s table in summer.  I skipped the steamed sliced carrots in favor of corn on the cob, sliced cucumbers, and sliced tomatoes.  With veggies so fresh, there’s no need to have anything overcooked or very complex.  In a nod to my Grandma’s meals, I served white rice.

Traditional summer veggies

My husband and I ate the meal on our back porch, enjoying the breeze, the summer evening, the food.  We gnawed on pork chops and talked about how we remembered eating them.  His mom served them up with mashed potatoes.  Sounds good for winter.  Because, of course, I am already looking forward to making these again.  Some traditions need to be remembered and continued.

Do you have any homely, everyday family recipe traditions that you would like to continue? I’d like to hear about them. They don’t have to be fancy to be important.

Family Recipes Logo

I am submitting this recipe to July’s Family Recipes event, hosted by Shelby of The Life and Loves of Grumpy’s Honey Bunch and created by Laura of The Spiced Life.

Fried Pork Chops

Fried Pork Chops

  • 4 bone-in pork chops
  • Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper
  • a couple pinches of cayenne
  • 1-2 C buttermilk (enough to cover chops)
  • 2 C flour
  • 2 T cornstarch
  • vegetable oil for frying

Season pork chops on both sides with Lawry’s and black pepper.  On one side, sprinkle a pinch or two of cayenne pepper over the chops.  Place the chops in a baking dish that just holds the chops, then pour buttermilk over the chops to cover them.  It should take between 1 and 2 cups.  Let the pork chops rest for about 30 minutes while you prepare the breading and the oil.  Combine the flour and cornstarch on a plate or a shallow dish, stirring together with a fork.  Heat a 1/4″ of vegetable oil in a large skillet to 350º.  When the oil is hot, remove a chop from the buttermilk, shake off the excess liquid, then dredge both sides of the chop through the flour.  Fry the chops in a single layer for 5-7 minutes per side.  The chops will be golden, and the coating will bubble and crisp up.  If you have to fry the chops in two batches, be aware that they will cook a little quicker and darken faster.  Remove the chops to a rack or paper towel lined plate to drain.  Serve hot.  Leftover chops are delicious cold from the fridge and will keep for up to three days.  However, they are best eaten the next day.

Serves 4.

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BBA #10: Cornbread

Cornbread - sliced

For the second week in a row, the Bread Baker’s Apprentice has taken on a couple of family-favorite foods.  I have to admit, when I saw cornbread in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice, I was immediately skeptical.  This cornbread was baked in the oven in a cake pan, had tons of sugar in it, used four bowls, whole corn kernels, and was made by a dude from California.  With my typical bullheaded-ness, I wondered how it could be corn bread if it wasn’t: made on the stove top in a cast iron skillet, having anything more than the merest pinch of sugar, using a single bowl, smooth in texture, and made by my grandfather.  The saving grace of this recipe in the beginning was the liberal use of bacon and the greasing of the pan in bacon grease.

Once I resigned myself to making the recipe as written, I made the most of its use of corn.  Sweet, white corn is in season right now, so it was the perfect side dish to some beautiful fried pork chops I made.  The leftover corn got trimmed from the cob and saved in the fridge for the cornbread.  The night before I made the cornbread, I proceeded to make the soaker out of polenta and buttermilk.  A two day process for cornbread?  Really, now, it seems excessive.  But, I tried not to be a skeptic.

On the day of the cornbread making I pulled out my package of perfect, thick-cut bacon.  I prepared to bake it in the oven– which shocked me.  However, after 20 minutes, I had crispy strips of bacon and lots of bacon grease.  YAY.  It crumbled up really easily, so that was great for this recipe.  I tend to prefer chewy bacon, so I’m still not convinced of this bacon-in-the-oven business for singular consumption.  However, it was perfect for the recipe.  Just look at it.

Cornbread - crumbled bacon

While the bacon crisped up, I proceeded to sift (SIFT! all this work…) the dry ingredients together in a bowl.  I love the way sifting looks.  So fluffy.

Cornbread - sifted flour

Then you ruin it by plunking in the brown sugar. (I thought this looked really cool).

Cornbread - dry ingredients

Look at all that sugar.  In cornbread!  So, you’ve got all these lovely dried ingredients in a large mixing bowl, you’ve got some crisped bacon hanging out and draining on a plate, a buttermilk-polenta soaker going on in something (I used a huge measuring cup so I could measure the buttermilk then mix the polenta right in), oh– and your bacon grease reserved in a stainless steel bowl.  And then, then you get to start making some more dirty dishes.

Cornbread steps - lots of bowls!

In a small bowl, you dissolve honey into melted butter.  In a medium bowl, you lightly beat some eggs.  Then, you slowly whisk the honey-butter mixture into the eggs (temper it first!).  After you whisk the honey, butter, and eggs up, you stir them into the polenta soaker.  At last, you have your wet ingredients ready.  And no, you can’t just go ahead and mix the honey, butter, and eggs in the same bowl unless you want some scrambled eggs.

Finally, you whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ones, then stir in the corn kernels.  It ends up about like pancake batter, so it’s really easy to make by hand.  Here’s the final batter:

Cornbread - final batter

Next comes the fun part: greasing the pan.  Reinhart suggests you heat the bacon grease up in the baking dish in the oven until it’s really hot, then tilt it around (while wearing super-duper oven mitts) to coat the pan.

Um, no.  I am WAY too klutzy for that.

So, I brushed the entire pan liberally with bacon grease and heated it up until it was nice and hot in the oven.  Very easy.  Minimal burn risk.  Look at that bacon grease.  My heart is just racing with excitement (or hypertension).

Cornbread - bacon grease for the pan

After your pan is well-greased, pour in the batter.  Get it all in there, then sprinkle the crumbled bacon over the top of the batter.  Oh, MAN, now I’m starting to forget about all that sugar and get excited!

Cornbread - before baking

Bake the cornbread in a 350º oven until it registers at 190º in the center.  I used a 9″ x 13″ baking pan for the cornbread, so my baking time was twice as long as that listed in the book for a 10″ cake pan.  When it’s ready, pull that goodness out and admire your work.

Cornbread - fresh from the oven

Look at that bacony goodness!  Those golden, crusty edges!  But wait, aren’t I supposed to skeptical?

Well, no.  No, not really.  It was awesome.  It’s tender and mildly sweet.  The buttermilk soaker gives the bread tang, and the bacon and bacon grease add a strong salty note.  I didn’t mind the corn kernels at all.  This was really, really delicious.  It might not be my grandpa’s cornbread, but this would be great for holidays.  It would also be a great way to dress up a Southern meal and make a plate of simpler fare a little more special.  Was it worth all the dishes?  YES.

This is some more yeasty goodness I’m sending over to Yeastspotting.

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge was developed by Nicole of Pinch My Salt. You can see what we’re baking this week at our Flickr group, on Twitter (#BBA), or check out the challenge page.

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BBA #9: Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Bread

Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Bread  - sliced

Two weeks of cinnamon-laden breads?  You might think that it would be overkill.  I’ve grumbled about all these enriched breads before, but I take it all back.  This cinnamon raisin walnut bread reminded me so much of the cinnamon raisin bread my grandma made when I was a little girl.  There are a few differences, of course.  Grandma’s uses a fresh yeast starter, excludes the nuts, and often has icing.  Mine uses instant yeast, walnuts, and a cinnamon sugar garnish.  They both have got raisins and a cinnamon swirl.  Seriously, who can complain about a cinnamon swirl?  This is currently my third favorite bread, behind bagels and cinnamon rolls.  It’s awesome.  It was also very easy, and it was made in a single day.

So, you start off by mixing up the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl: flour, sugar, salt, yeast, cinnamon.  You then add the wet ingredients: a room temperature egg, water, and (in my case, melted butter and whole milk. I used what was in my fridge and subbed for the shortening and the buttermilk.  I stirred until this formed a ball that pulled away from the bowl.  Then I flipped it on to the counter and kneaded it for about 20 minutes.  I checked to see if it formed a windowpane:

Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Bread  - windowpane

Yep.  So, I then proceeded to knead in the walnuts and raisins.  You’ve got to get 2 1/2 cups of stuff in this dough, and that’s a bit of a challenge.  I knead it in in stages.  I spread the dough out and sprinkle a handful of the walnut/raisins  on the dough:

Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Bread  - walnuts

I then knead the dough until they don’t fall out, then add another handful and knead again.  I repeat this process until all the nuts and raisins are worked into the dough.  Then I form the dough into a boule so it can be fermented in a bowl:

Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Bread  - dough

The bread rises until it doubles in size.  Reinhart suggests two hours, but my warm kitchen brought the dough up in a little more than an hour.  I split the dough into 2 equal pieces that I then rolled out 8″ x5″ x 1/3″.  I covered this with a cinnamon sugar blend.  I probably used 3 or 4 tablespoons per loaf.  I wish I had used more, so now I will be even more liberal next time.  I rolled the dough into a tight loaf, starting with the short side of the dough and pinching it closed after every turn.  I placed the two loaves in oiled 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ pans and let them proof until they crested the pans.  This took about 70 minutes.  I baked the loaves for 20 minutes, rotated the pans and baked for about 30 more minutes.  When the loaves registered 190º I removed them from the oven.  I turned them out of their pans, brushed them with melted butter, rolled them in cinnamon sugar that I spread on a plate, then put them on a rack to cool.

Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Bread  - cooling

I let them cool for two hours, then wrapped one loaf up and put it in the freezer.  The other I wrapped in plastic.  The next morning for breakfast I cut it and saw this:

Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Bread  - crumb & swirl

I was pretty pleased.  The swirl held together without space, because I pinched the loaf together after each turn.  The swirl was not as pronounced or swirly as I would have liked.  Next time I will used more cinnamon sugar and roll the loaf even tighter to get more turns.  Regardless of my quest for perfection, the bread was delicious.  It stayed moist for a few days, letting us eat it for breakfast or snacks.  The cinnamon sugar garnish was crunchy and delicious.  The raisins were soft and sweet.  It was a wonderful bread, one that I am sure I will make many more times.  It is possible I will forego the nuts sometimes, and maybe I will make it a bit more like my grandma’s.  But, it’s a great recipe.

This is some more yeasty goodness I’m sending over to Yeastspotting.

I’m also sending this over to Sandy of At the Baker’s Bench who hosts BYOB: Bake Your Own Bread.  Head on over to check it out and see the roundup!

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge was developed by Nicole of Pinch My Salt. You can see what we’re baking this week at our Flickr group, on Twitter (#BBA), or check out the challenge page.

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Tostones (Fried Green Plantains)

Tostones - fried green plaintains


Look! I am fulfilling my promises in a very timely fashion. Here’s the final new recipe that I am going to provide to you from my Fourth of July Fiesta: tostones. And here’s the promise of great things to come! My next non-Bread Baker’s Apprentice post will be a recap of all the recipes, new and old, that I served at the Fiesta. A compilation post is coming up! Aren’t you excited? I promise that the cheesy “coming soon” palavering ends there.

But let’s get down to business and talk about tostones. Have you ever eaten them?  They’re twice-fried, smashed green plantains. And plantains themselves are a sort of giant banana.  If you’ve eaten plantains before, I’m curious:

Do you prefer the green ones or the sweet ones?

Myself, being a fan of all things fried and savory, I love fried green plantains (platanos verdes fritos). Prepared in the method I detail below, in which they are fried, smashed, then fried again, they are called tostones or patacones, depending on the regional origin of the cook.  Other ways to prepare fried green plantains include chifles and chicharritas (also known as mariquitas).  My favorite restaurants in Georgia always had tostones on the menu and mariquitas on the table as appetizers, so that’s what I tend to call them.  Call them what you want, but they have a starchy, golden flavor that crunches when you bite into it and melts on your tongue.  Call them necessary.

Tostones - fried green plaintains

At one of my favorite restaurants in Athens, I used to order tostones. They were always served piping hot from the frying pan, sprinkled with salt, and strewn with tangy salsa criolla.  I would burn my tongue in my eagerness to get at them.  They were salty, chewy, melty, tangy, crunchy, fresh, herbal, starchy.  So many good flavors in such a simple preparation.  I would usually eat them as a starter before ordering lomo saltado con pollo.

Tostones with salsa criolla

I first learned to make tostones from my friend, Sara.  Sara’s mother was from Colombia, and Sara had learned well in her mother’s kitchen.  When we were in college, Sara and I lived very near each other.  We often cooked up projects in the kitchen.  On one evening, we got together and made black beans and rice.  Sara showed to how to fry my beloved tostones. We drank margaritas.  We drank more margaritas.  We shot tequila.  I ended up crawling back home at 2 am.

So for me, tostones are the food of memories.  I couldn’t imagine a proper fiesta without them.  Just make sure you get really green ones, or your fiesta won’t taste quite right.

Tostones (Fried Green Plantains)

  • 2 green plantains
  • vegetable oil, for frying
  • sea salt
  • cilantro, for garnish
  • salsa criolla, for serving

Plantains don’t peel as easily as regular bananas, so you will need a really sharp knife.  Cut the ends of the plantain off, then score the peel with the knife.  Cut through to the flesh of the fruit, but not all the way through. Using the place you scored, use your fingers to peel back the plantain peel.  Once the fruit is peeled, slice it into rounds about 1″ thick.  Depending on the size of your fruit, you should get between five and eight rounds.  Repeat this process with the other plantain.  Heat a 1/4″ of vegetable oil over medium high heat in a medium skillet with high sides.  When the oil is hot, fry the plantain rounds. Turn once so both sides reach a golden brown, and fry them for about 2 minutes on each side.  Remove the rounds to a plate to drain. Using a bottle, mug, or small bowl smash the plantains.  Do not use a potato masher; you want something that is solid all the way across.  Place the instrument of your choosing on top of the round, then press down firmly, with even pressure.  You should have a flattened round that is about 1/4″ thick.  Flatten your plantains, then fry them again in the oil until the edges begin to crisp, about 2 minutes, turning once..  They should remain a golden brown.  Remove to a plate to drain and sprinkle them immediately with sea salt.  Garnish with cilantro leaves.  Immediately before serving, scatter some salsa criolla over the plantains.

Serves 4.

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