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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Freezing Cold with a Chance of Split Pea Soup

Split Pea Soup with Ham

Split Pea Soup with Ham

As a kid, one of my favorite books was “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” For some reason I didn’t own a copy but a friend of mine did, and every time I would visit her house I would spend a good portion of time pouring over the pages. The illustrations were the best part — the one image I remember most vividly was where people dining in a roofless restaurant ran around catching hot dogs as they “rained” down from the sky.

Another part that has been stuck in my head since childhood was the rolling in of a split pea fog. I don’t recall ever eating split pea soup until much later in life — maybe even after high school or college — but I was always curious about it after reading that book. When I did finally try it (hesitantly I might add because the color is not so visually appealing) I was surprised at how tasty it was. Those little chunks of smokey salty ham with creamy pureed peas made for a wholly satisfying bowl of soup.

Ever since that initial tasting, I occasionally get a craving for split pea soup and it seems like I cook up a pot each winter around this time. It could be because post-Christmas is the only time I happen to have a ham bone laying around, or it could just be the fact that it is usually freezing cold outside and I get an urge for something warming.

Both of those things were true last weekend. Thankfully there is still no snow here in Portland, but the viciously cold wind is making my bike commute pure torture. Getting to sit down to a piping hot bowl of this goodness for lunch almost makes up for it. At the very least, its warmth helps thaw me out — from my head to my toes.

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A bone from a Nueskes spiral-sliced ham made this broth fantastically smokey

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Adios Arborio: Steel Cut Oat Risotto Rocks my World

Steel Cut Oat Risotto w. Peas and Pecorino

I love all things Italian. Set me down in front of a plate of meatballs in red sauce and I’m wholly satisfied. Plop a bowl of pasta in front of me and I am thrilled. Give me a plate full of creamy, cheesy risotto and I am over the moon.

But I try as much as possible to eat things that are, if not healthy, at least not totally terrible for me. Which means making and eating risotto is something I sadly don’t do as often as I wish I did.

Therefore any excuse to whip one up is blessing, which is why when I came across this recipe in an issue of Food & Wine, I couldn’t resist it. The steel oats have to make it healthy, right? Fewer calories, lots of whole grain goodness…and cheese and butter…yum!

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Green Machine: Strozzapreti, Pesto, Goat cheese & Vegetables

Last night after work, I found myself in a similar situation as the one that inspired my chicken for procrastinators post earlier this week. I had eaten a late lunch so when I got home at five, I puttered around the house doing chores, paying bills and reading. Okay, okay, fine. I might have also watched an episode of Grimm while surreptitiously spying on my neighbors.

Anyways, it was almost 7 pm when I realized I had forgotten to even start cooking dinner. And, of course, after all that hard work, I was starving.

Luckily my husband is a chef so by 7:30, I sat down with this:

Wait, what? Oh, you didn’t think that meant he cooked this for me, did you? Ha! Oh no, on his days off my husband would rather do anything than cook. That’s how I keep in constant supply of foot rubs — I am easily bribed.

What I meant by that is, my husband is a chef and one of the perks of his job is getting the occasional sample to try out. Sometimes it’s meat from where I work — which is fun, don’t get me wrong but since I’m around that same meat all day, it’s not terribly exciting. Other times it’s downright thrilling — like when he brought home these amazing goodies for us to experiment with.

Fresh strozzapreti pasta from Classic Foods

Awesome local goat cheese from Portland Creamery

You may think we’re taking advantage of the system, but it makes way more sense to enjoy these things away from the chaos of the restaurant’s kitchen. Plus, I’m a better influence over my husband than the hungry scavengers at his restaurant who are just stoked to get free food. So if you want him to put a certain item on his menu, feel free to send me the complimentary samples to enjoy…..I kid, I kid….kind of.

Anyways, it honestly hadn’t even occurred to me to write a post about this meal since it was so last minute, but once I had all of the ingredients out, it was just too pretty to pass up. I began with asparagus, green onions, zucchini, spinach and frozen green peas. I grabbed some pesto (also from Classic Foods – I swear they didn’t sponsor this post!), a lemon and a couple cloves of garlic to round things out. I also managed to scrounge up a chicken breast fillet to add a bit of protein to the mix.

I started with veggie prep: dicing the zucchini, thinly slicing the onions, cutting the asparagus into one-inch chunks and mincing the garlic. Then it was on to my favorite little guys — frozen sweet peas.

Far from the tired cliché of children who hate peas, I have always loved them. I put them in everything, from salads to casseroles to ramen. In fact that’s one things I always have in my freezer. And I’m not talking about a little bag from the supermarket — oh no, I am all about the giant bags from Costco. I keep the big bag in our downstairs freezer and a small one-quart container upstairs, to be refilled whenever it gets low. What can I say? I am a dedicated lover of peas. Hell, I even have a pea pod tattoo. I panic when I am out of them. They comfort me in times of stress. Oh god, do I love peas.

As long as they aren’t overcooked. Then they are just gross.

So my technique is to keep them frozen for as long as possible. They are the last things to go into my soups and curries — sometimes I will even keep them on the side so I can stir them into the reheated leftovers right before eating. For things like pasta though, I have my quick-thaw technique. The frozen peas go in a colander. Then after I cook the asparagus (or pasta or whatever else might be boiling), I drain the water over the peas. Easy peasy. Please forgive me for that. I couldn’t help it.

Anyways, what you are left with is beautiful vibrant peas — no army green color, no mushiness. Look at them frolicking with the asparagus like they are old friends.

Moving on…

The chicken breast was seasoned, cut into strips and sautéed. The pasta was cooked until just al dente — and it was done in about two minutes which is why I freakin’ love fresh pasta. *Hint: Remember when you drain the pasta to reserve about a cup of the water — all that starchy goodness will help your sauce cling to the noodles.*

Next up. Hot pan and olive oil. Sweat the garlic for a couple of seconds and then add the diced zucchini. Once everything is tender, toss in the peas, asparagus and green onions. Hit the pan with a bit of stock, a nubbin of butter and some of the pasta water.

Then spoon in the pesto and a bit more stock to keep everything nice and saucy.

Let’s take a quick break to talk pesto

I always keep some in my freezer and since I’m on friendly terms with Classic Foods, I like to buy theirs whenever possible. I usually buy two pounds at once and freeze the whole damn thing in a gallon Ziploc. Freeze the bag while it’s flat (you can see how thin it is in the picture) so it’s easy to break off a chunk whenever you need it. It’s perfect on pizzas, in veggies or just tossed around with some chicken. I would probably eat a spoonful or two of it solo if I didn’t think people would judge me.

Anyways.

Throw in the pasta, a bit more pasta water and a squeeze of lemon, salt and pepper and at the end, the baby spinach. It won’t look overly saucy which is nice because you don’t want to cover up the fresh flavor of all the tasty veggies. This is a light pesto sauce that will just enhance everything with a pop of basil-y goodness.

Once everything is incorporated, it’s time to plate up. You’ll notice I didn’t use any of that luscious goat cheese. I was saving that for the finishing touch. There’s already Parmesan in the pesto and I didn’t want to muddle the rich tanginess of the goat cheese, so instead I sprinkled it right on top of the dish. And I am not embarrassed to admit I totally ate a spoonful of it too. Judge away — I won’t care, I’ll be too busy enjoying my leftovers!