Thursday, April 15, 2010

Fake It

Okay, so I've had requests for detailed recipes on the food I've posted.  While I love recipes and often have them as a starting block, it's rare that I find a dish that's spot-on to my taste.  I suspect that's the same for you, if you have more of a love for food than a biological need.  Those changes I make on-the-fly make it difficult to really document what I do, especially since I find my own tastes changing so that I might revamp something I've been making the same way for a long time.  I mention all this because if you feel like a slave to a recipe, you've got to step out of the box and have a little confidence.  You know if something tastes good or not; you just have to practice enough to know AHEAD of time what to do/not to do to make a recipe work.  In case you're wondering, everyone, even those big time chefs you might watch on TV have made things that are bad.  They've just cooked so much (and had the necessary episodes edited) so their recipes are tasty (or relatively tasty, anyway).  To get off my soap box, I'll just give you some simple tips for gaining confidence, wowing yourself (and others) at your own mad skills, and taking just a couple of extra steps to make your usual dinner better.

Here's what I did tonight . . . pork chops with a balsamic glaze, nestled on a bed of braised kale and cheese-crusted polenta.  Sounds hoity toity, right?  Not.  The polenta is pre-made from the store.  Yes, I DO know how easy it is to make it, and I've made it (as you'll see in a previous post), but it's nice to have this stuff on hand for a week-night meal.  All I did was slice the polenta into 1/2-inch slices, place on a lightly greased cookie sheet, topped them with a little mozzarella (only because I didn't have parmesan), and sprinkle them with a little coarse kosher salt to give them a little crunch.  Then I popped them under the broiler until they were browned.  Easy peasy.  Kosher salt - my latest confidence booster.  I've watched for years as "The Chefs" very nonchalantly threw some non-discriminant amount of Kosher salt into their food.  That's a disaster waiting to happen for me . . . BUT I have a little bowl of the stuff next to the stove and am now pretty confident in my ability to gauge the amount different things need.  Of course - it's taken me some time (and numerous salt-cured batches of scrambled eggs) before I got it right, but let me just tell you how big-headed I get when I can play "Chef" and sprinkle the stuff on my food knowing I'm at least not going to OVER salt things.

Now for the pork.  I used to just season the things with grill seasoning, then cook them in a skillet on the stovetop until they were done.  This almost always resulted in slightly dry chops sitting in some charcoal-y bits in the bottom of the pan (that would take FOREVER to clean off).  Now, I put just a little olive oil in the pan, sear one side over pretty high heat, flip them and finish them off in a 400 degree oven.  First of all, I don't have to sit and keep flipping them to avoid "the burn," which gives me more time for other things; more importantly, though, the result is always juicier, and I'm left with some usable stuff in the bottom of the pan.  More on that in a minute.  I marinated four thick chops in (and I'm guessing at these amounts) 1/4 c. of olive oil, 1 - 2 T of soy sauce (this is always a good option for a quick marinade), 2 cloves of minced garlic (fresh is ALWAYS better), about 10 grinds of black pepper (told you I'm guessing), and about 2 tsp of Italian seasoning.   Back to that "usable" stuff in the pan - deglaze, deglaze, deglaze, which if you haven't figured out by now, is just a fancy word for dumping some liquid in your pan.  Once the chops were done, I pulled them out of the pan, put my pan on the stove, and over high heat added just a splash of balsamic vinegar.  It reduced just long enough for me to scrape the stuff off the pan and mix it in.  Perfectly tasty.  The kale was just sauteed for a second with some onion, then braised in chicken stock (and another flourish of Kosher salt, of course), and that was, literally, a 20-minute meal. 

My hubby and I enjoyed a little dish of some sectioned pink grapefruit and oranges (more fabulous local produce from my co-op) that were gilded with just a little Bauchant (which is a very close, cheaper alternative to Grand Marnier).  That's it.  Dinner is served.

Sorry - I feel like I've gone on and on (and I'm sure I have because I'm putting off exercising as long as possible . . . did I mention I'm training for a 5K?  What WAS I thinking????), but all I want to encourage you to do is stay in the kitchen, try things, new things, and chalk any disasters up to a learning experience (just stick with cheap ingredients and have the take-out menu handy until you get the hang of it ;-)).  Now go forth, buy some Kosher salt, and sprinkle, sprinkle, sprinkle your way into your own little culinary adventure!

. . . and now, I'll leave you with a picture of my favorite fat kitty who, like her Mama, always underestimates the size of the receptacle her big behind will need to fit into.  Love you, Maggie . . .

No comments: