Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Best Dinner Ever

My love affair with pork and apples began at Ruth's Chris Steak house when I was 18. It was the best pork chop I'd ever had and I didn't want to stop eating. I have tried many different recipes for pork and apples and they are all pretty good since pork & apples go awesomely together. But this recipe that my DH made for mother's day dinner is the best ever. It is the meal of happiness and joy. It is absolutely divine and wonderful.

Thank you Cooks Illustrated for this recipe. It is so amazing we had it 2 nights in a row and I think I might gladly eat it every night. I love it with DH's delicious real mashed potatoes, but it would be good with noodles or rice or any sort of starch to help soak up the delicious sauce/gravy.

Smothered Pork chops with cider and apples

Serves 4

3 ounces bacon (about 3 slices), cut into 1/4-inch pieces
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups apple cider

vegetable oil
4 bone-in, rib-end pork chops 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick

ground black pepper
1 medium yellow onion , halved pole-to-pole and sliced thin (about 1 3/4 cups)
1 Granny Smith apple (large), or 2 small Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 3/8-inch wedges

table salt
2 tablespoons water
2 medium cloves garlic , pressed through garlic press or minced (about 2 teaspoons)
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves

1. Fry bacon in small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towel-lined plate, leaving fat in saucepan (you should have 2 tablespoons bacon fat; if not, supplement with vegetable oil). Reduce heat to medium-low and gradually whisk flour into fat until smooth. Cook, whisking frequently, until mixture is light brown, about the color of peanut butter, about 5 minutes. Whisk in apple cider in slow, steady stream; increase heat to medium-high and bring to boil, stirring occasionally; cover and set aside off heat.

2. Heat 1-tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet over high heat until smoking, about 3 minutes. Meanwhile, dry pork chops with paper towels and sprinkle with 1/2-teaspoon pepper. Brown chops in single layer until deep golden on first side, about 3 minutes. Flip chops and cook until browned on second side, about 3 minutes longer. Transfer chops to large plate and set aside.

3. Reduce heat to medium and add 1 tablespoon oil, onions, apples, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and water to now-empty skillet. Using wooden spoon, scrape browned bits on pan bottom and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are softened and browned around the edges, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds longer. Return chops to skillet in single layer, covering chops with onions. Pour in warm sauce and any juices collected from pork; add bay leaves. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until pork is tender and paring knife inserted into chops meets very little resistance, about 30 minutes.

4. Transfer chops to warmed serving platter and tent with foil. Increase heat to medium-high and simmer sauce rapidly, stirring frequently, until thickened to gravy-like consistency, about 5 minutes. Discard bay leaves, stir in parsley, and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Cover chops with sauce, sprinkle with reserved bacon, and serve immediately.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Bread & Butter Pickles

With the first few delicious cucumbers of this season to arrive in my co-op box, I knew I was going to make pickles. I used Alton Brown's recipe for refrigerator pickles. It was super easy and delicious tasting broth. Now I have to wait for the brining to finish up so I can eat them!

Making your own pickles is surprisingly easy and extremely tasty. I'm very pleased. Want to try it? Here's the recipe:

Ab's B and B's

1/2 onion, thinly sliced
2 medium cucumbers, thinly sliced
1 cup water
1 cup cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar
Pinch kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
1/2 teaspoon pickling spice

Combine onion and cucumber slices in a clean spring-top jar.

Combine the remaining ingredients in a non-reactive saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 4 full minutes to wake up the flavors of the spices.

Slowly pour the hot pickling liquid over the onion and cucumber slice, completely filling the jar. Allow the pickles to cool to room temperature before topping off with any remaining pickling liquid. Refrigerate.

Keeps for about 3 months in the fridge.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Cheesecake pops

For our monthly Chocolate therapy challenge, my friend at Bittersweet Cakes & I had a difficult time settling on just one thing. Until the Daring Bakers posted their monthly challenge. Yum! I was hooked and I had to make them! I halved the recipe and was still surprised at how much it made. But it was deliciously simple and just requires lots of time hanging out in the fridge or freezer.

These are just fabulous. The cheesecake center is creamy and soft and wonderful. Putting it on a stick and coating it in chocolate and any other toppings you like is so American, (food on a stick!) and it's awesome. I can see taking them to a dessert exchange or a party and them being a huge hit. If you are a cheesecake fan, you really want to try these.

I used mostly Hershey's new Bliss chocolates to coat these, which are not as good as Dove Promises, I'm sad to say. I was a bit disappointed. But really any good chocolate that you love makes a good coating. One Daring Baker used melted Toblerone's. (yummy!)

Here's the recipe (which comes from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O'Connor)

Cheesecake Pops

Makes 30 - 40 Pops (Note I got 33 from the recipe halved, using the proper scoop so I think this is not an accurate #.)

5 8-oz. packages cream cheese at room temperature

2 cups sugar

¼ cup all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

5 large eggs (to halve the recipe, halve the yolk of one egg in your hand with a knife and use a liquid measuring cup to halve the white by volume.)

2 egg yolks

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

¼ cup heavy cream

Boiling water as needed

Thirty to forty 8-inch lollipop sticks

1 pound chocolate, finely chopped - you can use all one kind or half and half of dark, milk, or white (Alternately, you can use 1 pound of flavored coatings, also known as summer coating, confectionary coating or wafer chocolate - candy supply stores carry colors, as well as the three kinds of chocolate.) (Note that I used 1 lb of chocolate to coat just my halved batch, so make sure you have plenty of chocolate on hand!)

2 tablespoons vegetable shortening

(Note: White chocolate is harder to use this way, but not impossible)

Assorted decorations such as chopped nuts, colored jimmies, crushed peppermints, mini chocolate chips, sanding sugars, dragees) - Optional

Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Set some water to boil.

In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, flour, and salt until smooth. If using a mixer, mix on low speed. Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well (but still at low speed) after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and cream.

Grease a 10-inch cake pan (not a springform pan), and pour the batter into the cake pan. Place the pan in a larger roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with the boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly golden on top, 35 to 45 minutes.

Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

When the cheesecake is cold and very firm, scoop the cheesecake into 2-ounce balls and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Carefully insert a lollipop stick into each cheesecake ball. Freeze the cheesecake pops, uncovered, until very hard, at least 1 - 2 hours.

When the cheesecake pops are frozen and ready for dipping, prepare the chocolate. In the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water, or in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, heat half the chocolate and half the shortening, stirring often, until chocolate is melted and chocolate and shortening are combined. Stir until completely smooth. Do not heat the chocolate too much or your chocolate will lose it’s shine after it has dried. Save the rest of the chocolate and shortening for later dipping, or use another type of chocolate for variety.

Alternately, you can microwave the same amount of chocolate coating pieces on high at 30 second intervals, stirring until smooth.

Quickly dip a frozen cheesecake pop in the melted chocolate, swirling quickly to coat it completely. Shake off any excess into the melted chocolate. If you like, you can now roll the pops quickly in optional decorations. You can also drizzle them with a contrasting color of melted chocolate (dark chocolate drizzled over milk chocolate or white chocolate over dark chocolate, etc.) Place the pop on a clean parchment paper-lined baking sheet to set. Repeat with remaining pops, melting more chocolate and shortening (or confectionary chocolate pieces) as needed.

Refrigerate the pops for up to 24 hours, until ready to serve.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Dark Chocolate Cake

My dear husband loves chocolate. I love chocolate. We really prefer dark chocolate. It is hard to get a great dark chocolate cake recipe that doesn't involve coffee or liquor though. But this month at birthday time, we had a revelation. Look on the back of the Hershey's special dark box! And there was a deep dark chocolate cake recipe and frosting. Of course we had to try it. IMHO they don't put bad recipes on the backs of products. They want you to try their product!

We used a chocolate ganache for the inner filling. The combo of the moist dark chocolate cake, sweet ganache & dark chocolate frosting was fantastic. It was a big hit in our home. Not much in the way of leftovers!

Deep Dark Chocolate Cake

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup HERSHEY'S SPECIAL DARK Cocoa
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water
1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round pans or one 13x9x2-inch baking pan.

2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of electric mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.

3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes for round pans, 35 to 40 minutes for rectangular pan or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. (Cake may be left in rectangular pan, if desired.) Frost with ONE-BOWL BUTTERCREAM FROSTING. 8 to 10 servings.

6 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
2-2/3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup HERSHEY'S Special Dark Cocoa
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat butter in medium bowl. Add powdered sugar and cocoa alternately with milk, beating to spreading consistency (additional milk may be needed). Stir in vanilla. About 2 cups frosting.


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