Sunday, February 24, 2008

Rosemary-Garlic Pork Chops, Roasted Broccoli, and Bulgur Pilaf

Friday night we had rosemary-garlic pork chops, oven-roasted broccoli, and bulgur pilaf for dinner. My most recent issue of Cook's Illustrated had an intriguing recipe for roasted broccoli. Cook's Illustrated is one of the most useful, knowledgeable food magazines available. I trust them completely. If they promised to "transform" broccoli, why, I had to try it. I tolerate broccoli in the best of circumstances; could I find a recipe that would make me like broccoli?

First, though, I had to tend to the pork chops. I bought some thick-cut chops last week at Polly's Country Market which turned out to be thicker than anything even Jeff the Butcher at the New Chelsea Market has on display. OK, so they were more like pork steaks.

Rosemary-garlic rub for two pork chops:
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and black pepper
Mash garlic into a paste (I used the back of a fork to do so) with a pinch of salt, then stir together with rosemary, olive oil, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp black pepper in a small bowl. Rub mixture all over chops.

The pork chops, rubbed with the rosemary-garlic paste and ready for the grill. We grilled them over medium-high direct heat (gas grill) for about 5 1/2 minutes per side followed by 5 minutes of rest on the counter. They were fully cooked through but not overdone. Take into account the thickness of your pork chops when grilling. There's nothing worse than dry, overdone pork. I rarely cook meat by temperature and only use my meat thermometer when I cook something really large such as a roast. For everything else I cook by time and use the "finger test" for doneness

Now, for the roasted broccoli (recipe for 4 servings):
  • 1 large head broccoli (about 1 3/4 lbs)
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • Freshly ground black pepper
Adjust oven rack to lowest position, place rimmed baking sheet on rack, and preheat oven to 500 degrees with rack in pace (I forgot this step, and only put the baking sheet in the oven after it had already heated up; it didn't seem to have a negative effect). Cut broccoli at juncture of florets and stems and remove outer peel from stalk. Cut stalk into 2- to 3-inch lengths and each length into 1/2-inch thick pieces. Cut crowns into 4 wedges (if 3-4 inches in diameter) or 6 wedges (if 4-5 inches in diameter). Place broccoli in large bowl; drizzle with olive oil and toss until evenly coated. Sprinkle with salt, sugar, and pepper; toss to combine.

Once the oven with baking sheet inside has reached 500 degrees, quickly remove sheet from oven. Transfer broccoli to baking sheet and spread evenly, placing flat cut sides down. Return sheet to oven and roast until stalks are well browned and tender and florets are lightly browned, 9 to 11 minutes. Serve immediately.

I left out the stalks and just used the florets when I made this. I think I will use the stalks next time as the end result was even more than I'd hoped for. It was indeed broccoli that didn't taste like broccoli. Even John ate a piece.

The broccoli, tossed with the oil, sugar, salt, and pepper, ready to go in the oven.

Pork chops, off the grill and resting.

I've become enamored of using less common grains as side dishes. Grains such as quinoa, bulgur, and brown rice. Bulgur, especially. Bulgur is cracked wheat which has been essentially left whole, yielding a higher fiber and protein content than other, more refined grains. I like it for its nutty flavor and robust texture. It lends itself well to being mixed with other ingredients. For this dinner I decided to make bulgur pilaf with dried apricots since the recipe was conveniently on the same page of Gourmet Magazine as the recipe for the rosemary pork chops. This pilaf recipe as written serves 4 (I halved it to feed the 2 of us).
  • 1/2 cup finely diced onion
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup bulgur
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped
Heat olive oil in a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat, then add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is golden, about 5 minutes. Add spices and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add bulgur, water, and apricots, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, until liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Remove pot from heat and let stand, covered, 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving.

The finished product.

Of course, no meal would be complete without a glass of wine and a cat on my lap. Wine: Acacia Pinot Noir (Sonoma, California) 2004. Cat: Darwin.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Cocoa Cake

Yesterday afternoon I found myself at home without much to do. I decided to make my favorite cake from scratch. It's so simple yet turns out delicious every time. After a quick trip to the market downtown for some key ingredients (can't have cocoa cake without, you know, cocoa), I was ready.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 3/4 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/3 cups water
  • Confectioner's sugar for dusting

I'm very big on mise en place, which is having everything you need prepped and close at hand before you even start cooking. Above you can see all my ingredients and equipment assembled and ready to use.

My KitchenAid stand mixer is by far the king of all of my appliances. I believe no kitchen should be without one of these mixers. It is the gold standard of mixers. I love mine dearly.

Beat together the butter and brown sugar until pale and fluffy.

OK, so it's not really "pale" nor truly "fluffy." If I had more patience I would have let the butter come to room temperature naturally. However, I followed my usual procedure and warmed it in the microwave on very low power for about 45 seconds to soften it.

Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition, then add vanilla and mix well.

Whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Add the flour mixture and water to the batter alternately in batches, beginning and ending with the flour mixture and mixing until just combined.

Here I am adding some water to the batter.

The cake batter, all mixed and ready to go.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9- by 2-inch round cake pan and dust with flour, knocking out excess. I use springform pans for all of my cake baking. The convenience cannot be beat.

Pour the batter into the cake pan and shake to level. Here is my cake ready to slide into the oven. Of course I licked the spatula!

Bake in middle of oven until springy to the touch and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 55 minutes to 1 hour.

Cool in pan for 1 hour.

Doesn't that look yummy! It also smells divine while it's cooking and when it is fresh out of the oven.

Once cake has cooled, release it from pan, then turn right side up and dust with confectioner's sugar.

Slice and enjoy!

Monday, February 18, 2008

T-Bone Steak with Oven-Grilled Asparagus and Brown Rice Pilaf

For my first real post, I decided to document what I made for dinner tonight. I had some asparagus in the refrigerator that wasn't getting any fresher, so I wanted to use it up the best way I know how: oven-grilled. Below I have the asparagus laid out on the baking sheet with the only other ingredients required for this delicious side dish: kosher salt, olive oil, and black pepper.

Pass the olive oil over the asparagus a few times, then sprinkle some salt and freshly ground black pepper over it as well.

Using your hands, roll the asparagus back and forth until it is adequately covered in the oil and spices. Here is the asparagus ready to slide into the oven. Speaking of which, preheat it to 400 degrees. It should bake for 8 minutes.

Steak! I rubbed these T-bone steaks with olive oil, salt, pepper, and chopped fresh rosemary. These steaks are from the quarter side of beef we got in December from someone we know who raises beef cattle. I believe this was one of the smartest purchases we ever made. I have over 160 pounds of frozen, vacuum-sealed beef in a chest freezer in my basement at this very moment. Any time I need beef I can just go downstairs and rummage through my vast array of prepackaged beef cuts for what I need.

The T-bones, resting on the counter after grilling over high heat on our gas grill for 5 minutes per side.

The finished product. The brown rice pilaf with toasted almonds and parsley recipe was from Real Simple magazine. We had this meal with a 2005 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon.


I saw the phrase "una buona forchetta" in a book the other day. Translated from Italian, it means "a good fork,"and, when applied to a person, means that person has a vast love of and appetite for fine food. As soon as I saw that, I thought, That would be a wonderful name for a food blog.

And so here we are. I hope to use this space to occasionally post pictures and recipes of things I create in my kitchen. I came from humble beginnings as a cook-- tuna melts, omelets, and cereal were the staples of my graduate school diet, grad school being the first time I was forced to feed myself.

I am much more accomplished now. There is nothing I won't try, no recipe too daunting.

Let's eat!