If you can’t stand the heat…

Pork Blanquette with Spring Vegetables

Pork Blanquette with Spring Vegetables

If someone had told me two weeks ago that I’d be braising pork on a sunny 75-degree day, I’d tell them they were crazy. I don’t stick to strictly seasonal meals but heating up my kitchen to slow cook something doesn’t make any sense when it’s already hot enough out there.

Nonetheless, I was so captivated by a recent recipe from Gourmandistan that I couldn’t help myself from doing just that. The recipe in question was a blanquette of pork, or braised pork shoulder in a happy broth of stock, cream and lemon. While the pork and the cooking liquid sounded lovely on their own, it was the pretty and colorful spring vegetables that called out to me. Just look at Michelle and Steve’s version of this Pork & Sons recipe and tell me it doesn’t look mouth-wateringly delicious.

And so, eager and excited, I thawed out a little two-pound pork butt that was nestled in my freezer and got to work. While I was clearly easy to convince, here are a few words of encouragement in case you need some enticement  to turn on your stove and make this:

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Beer-Braised Beef: Helping to keep you warm this winter

Stout Braised Beef StewEven though it’s December, it’s still been fairly temperate in Portland. There was one day when I woke up to see a light dusting of snow, but for the most part it’s been a mellow winter. Which is pretty perfect as far as I’m concerned. As someone who bikes to work year-round, I am loving that when I go outside it still looks like autumn.

And while I haven’t been feeling the intense desire to hibernate, I still have had the usual cold-weather culinary urges — stews, soups and crockpots, oh my! I’m sure you all know the feeling, these are the things that get us through until spring. It seems so comforting to have a pot on the stove filled with chili or split pea soup.

So when I picked up a small chuck roast at the store, my first thought was beef stew. I usually make a pretty traditional version — mire poix, tomatoes and lots of woody herbs. However, I was feeling a little frisky and decided to try something different. Which is where this recipe for stout-braised beef comes in.

Now first let me assure you that I know cooking with alcohol is nothing innovative. I’ve been a dedicated believer in the power of beef and beer for quite some time. Perhaps it was the horseradish garnish that made this recipe so intriguing.

Which leads me on a slight tangent…As a kid, I thought horseradish sauce was the most disgusting thing ever. I’m sure it had nothing to do with the taste — I never got that far — it must have simply been the name. But my stepdad (a longtime horseradish lover) swore that some day I would discover its amazing and spicy deliciousness on my own. And, crazily enough, I did. I’m not certain of when it happened, but if you give me roast beef, my first instinct is to look for the “horsey sauce,” the hotter, the better.

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The Apple of my Eye: Applejack-Braised Chicken

Braised Chicken in Applejack

If I added up the amount of times I have used the word “Applejack” in recent posts, I’m sure it would be ridiculous. But it’s the season for deliciously boozy apple-flavored things. It’s called being festive!

So given my deep love for chicken, it only seemed natural to use both together in one fabulous dinner. I saw this recipe for chicken braised with apples, onions and Calvados in a recent issue of Food & Wine and it sounded perfect. I made it for the entree course of my harvest dinner party a few weeks ago, but I tried it out prior to the party to make sure it was sufficiently tasty.

I made it almost entirely as written though, as you  might have guessed from my first paragraph, I used Applejack instead of Calvados. While I’m sure Calvados would have been amazing in there, Applejack was certainly just as delicious. I also omitted the caraway because I think it is disgusting. It’s the spice that ruins “everything” bagels — the smallest amount in my food makes me angry. Since I had some fresh thyme and sage, I used them instead — they are two herbs that get along famously with apples so it seemed like a good addition.

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Cooking my way through A Girl and Her Pig: Adobo à la April

I have really been in love with April Bloomfield this year. It started with her Lyonnasise-style vinegar chicken recipe. I was so blown away by it that my husband bought me her cookbook as a gift. The first thing I made was her lentil and chickpea salad because it sounded so wonderful. The second thing I made was this recipe — her chicken adobo.

I think I really wanted to make it because it calls for chicken braised with copious amounts of garlic and vinegar, much like her other chicken recipe. However, this one also contains plenty of ginger and soy sauce, thus it has an entirely different (Filipino) spin.

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Nordic Pork Tenderloin with Fennel & Elderflower Cordial

I have had my eye on this recipe for Pork Tenderloin Braised with Elderflower and Fennel for a long time. Even though I made the decision to tear it out of Food & Wine, I kept pushing it aside for some reason. Maybe because it seemed too simple to be worthwhile or because I tend to forget how much I enjoy fennel. Whatever the reason, after a year of not making this recipe, I finally got around to fixing it last week.

Along with being fairly healthy, this recipe has the benefit of a fairly short list of ingredients. And the only thing that required much money was the elderflower liquor (I bought a bottle of St. Germain). The upside to that is you only need a small amount of the cordial so you can keep it on hand to enjoy in drinks like the Honey Badger.

I should also mention that I cut in the recipe in half since I was cooking for two. I only needed to buy a pork tenderloin, a half of a teaspoon of fennel seeds and a bulb of whole fennel. Everything else I had on hand — fresh thyme, an onion and some white wine, so the meal was fairly inexpensive as well. The asparagus was my side dish, simply steamed and seasoned with salt.

Start by cutting the pork tenderloin into 2″ pieces and lightly pound them. Sprinkle the medallions with salt, pepper and finely chopped fennel seeds. Thinly slice the fennel bulb and onion. Then take a moment to drink some wine because that’s it for prep! No, really, that’s it. Put the cutting board away.

** I have to say before even tasting this meal it already won me over with the minimal effort — I was tired and hungry so low-maintenance cooking was right up my alley. **

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Stay Away, Vampire! Chicken

Now I could have called this dish by its rightful name, vinegar-braised chicken, but when you see the amount of garlic I put in this sucker, I think my name makes just as much sense. I found this recipe by chef April Bloomfield in a fairly new issue of Food & Wine and when I gave my husband a choice of chicken dishes to have for dinner last week, he selected this one. And holy bajeezus, I am so happy I didn’t wait to make it because it was so good! Since then I have been telling everyone to try this chicken. And I figured what better way to push it than write a little blog post?

First off, let’s talk poultry. I grew up in a household that adores chicken. We ate a whole lot of roasted birds growing up, routinely eating the leftovers in my mom’s turkey tetrazzini or in her famous chicken casserole. It really is famously delicious — to the point where my drunk friends once raided my fridge to demolish the pan of leftover casserole I had stashed away. It truly is a good thing I was equally inebriated or that would have been a friendship-ender. I kid you not — I almost cut a bitch.

Anyways, poultry has a remained a large part of my diet. To my husband’s deep-seated sadness I make almost every dish that calls for ground beef with lean ground turkey, which I buy by the case and keep in our freezer. I could easily eat a turkey sandwich every day for lunch and follow it with chicken for dinner and probably make it weeks before ever getting bored. It’s in my blood.

My husband is the exact opposite. He blames the masses of inept diners who order chicken at the restaurant he cooks at for his hatred of this delicious bird. The main problem is that most of the people who order chicken (especially when faced with much more interesting choices) are picky eaters to begin with. They always want their chicken cooked to death and then complain about it being dry. It’s things like this that make my husband reach awesome levels of rage.

So I could already see the not-at-all concealed loathing when I asked him to choose between two chicken entrees. But, hey, if I’m cooking you don’t really get to complain. Or you can complain, and then eat a hot pocket for dinner. It’s all the same to me!

Wow, I have digressed.

Try this chicken! It is easy on the pocketbook and so painfully simple that there is no reason to resist it. Look at the beautiful pictures of it and salivate. And make life easy — just use whole chicken thighs — that’s the best part of the bird anyways. Also do as I did and throw in about four times as much garlic as called for. You’ll thank me for it later.

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