Friday, October 29, 2010

Apple Cider Braised Pork Chops and Sweet Potato "Fries"

I was about a fourth of the way through my pork chop a few nights ago when I realized, "Wow!  This is actually pretty good!"  I sound surprised only because I invented this recipe from what I had on hand.  And so I share it with you.  I'm always looking for new ways to serve common cuts of meat (chicken breast, pork chops, skirt steak, you get the idea), and the pork chops with apples pairing is pretty classic.  This way makes the chops flavorful, juicy, and tender while also creating a pretty unique sweet-savory gravy from the braising liquid.

I paired the pork chops with  sweet potato "fries."  I say "fries" in quotation marks because I don't own a deep fryer, and I used a minimal amount of oil on the sweet potatoes themselves.  Instead, I cut them in the shape of fries and threw them in the oven at 500 degrees.  While you don't get the crispiness of fries, you do get some lovely delicious browned bits which are damn close enough as far as tastiness is concerned.  I used both the white-fleshed sweet potatoes and the orange-fleshed yams, which adds a pretty color contrast and a slight variety in flavor to the plate.  Sprinkle a little parsley on top, and you've got yourself a hearty autumn meal.

Apple Cider Braised Pork Chops

(Serves 2)

2 pork chops, either bone-in or boneless, trimmed of excess fat
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon butter
1-2 tablespoons flour
1/2 Walla Walla sweet onion, thinly sliced
1/2 Granny Smith Apple, diced
3/4 cup spiced apple cider (Trader Joe's brand works nicely)
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock (confession: I was out of stock so I used a bullion cube, which worked fine)
Roughly chopped flat leaf parsley
Salt and pepper

1.  Take the chops out of their packaging.  Dry slightly with paper towels and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.  This step is best done ahead of time; the chops can then be left to come to room temperature while you slice up your apples and onions.

2.  Add the 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil to a high-sided skillet or dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Once the skillet is good and hot, place both chops in the pan and allow to sear for 2-3 minutes a side for the boneless and 3-4 minutes a side for the bone-in, until there is some good brownness on the surface of the meat but the chops are still quite raw in the middle.

Mmm, gravy...
3.  Remove the chops and set aside.  Reduce heat to medium; quickly add the onions, saute for about thirty seconds, then add the extra small pat of butter and the flour, stirring to combine, until the onions are coated.  Add the vegetable stock and cider, scraping the bottom of the ban to deglaze any of the brown bits.  Add the chopped apples.  Bringing the liquid to a simmer, place the chops back in, so that the chops are about halfway submerged.  Simmer for about 10-12 minutes; when the chops are firm but not rock hard, they are probably done.  (You can always cut one open - if there is a slight, slight pink blush in the middle, they are ready).  Remove the chops and cover with foil.  Bring the braising liquid up to high heat to boil until it has reduced by more than half and the onions and apples are completely cooked through to make a gravy.  You could also puree the gravy with an immersion blender if you prefer a smoother consistency.  Spoon the thickened gravy over the chops and sprinkle with the chopped parsley to serve.

Sweet Potato "Fries"

1 sweet potato
1 yam
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons pepper
2 teaspoons onion powder

1.  Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.  (No, that's not a typo - a really hot oven makes for really brown fries.)

2.  Peel the sweet potato and yam.  Cut into fry-sized sticks.

I used two pans for a single layer.  Mmm, leftovers.
3. On a baking sheet or a 13 x 9 pan, toss the "fries" with 1-2 tablespoons olive oil, the salt, pepper, and onion powder.  You could also add any other spices you think might be delicious.  Spread the fries out so they are in a single layer.

4.  Bake the fries, stirring occasionally, for 20-35 minutes, depending upon how brown you want the fires to be.  Taste the fries once they are out of the oven to see if additional salt is needed; sprinkle with parsley and enjoy.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Thursday Feature: Coveted Crafts

Every Thursday, Dexter & Dinah will feature a new crafter/artisan whose works are handmade.

Hi Crafters!  Where did the week go?  It has certainly been busy here!  There's been much cooking and crafting - stay tuned for a recipe this weekend and a new biweekly feature on Monday!  Today's Coveted Crafts is this rustic cutting board from RedOnionWoodworks.  I have two cutting boards but I'm always wishing I had a third.  In addition to combining function (the hole for hanging in the kitchen is great) with beauty (love the natural edge), this cutting board is from lumber salvaged from industrial logging operations.  I want I want...

Everyday Natural Edge Cutting Board 183
Happy Thursday Crafters!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thursday Feature: Coveted Crafts

Every Thursday, Dexter & Dinah will feature a new crafter/artisan whose works are handmade.

My boyfriend has taken a shine to the birds and squirrels who flock to the magnolia tree in our yard.  We have a PetSmart right around the corner from us, and about once a week he goes to buy a big block of Squirrelola (squirrel food) and suet for our bird feeder.  Both the man and our cat then spend an hour or two staring out our window watching the squirrels chase each other and the birds as they run around the yard hiding the food.

I'm thinking a bird feeder like this one might be the perfect addition to the yard, so we can attract some of the bigger birds:

Hanging Bird Feeder, Tray Style
The entire bird feeder is made from reclaimed or salvaged materials.  In fact, everything in Etsy seller Andrew's Reclaimed shop is from reclaimed and salvaged materials.  I'm eying this soap dish, which is sold by itself or in packs of six or ten, as a great little gift to tuck into holiday baskets:

Soap Dishes, Pack of 6, Reclaimed Cedar
Lovely, practical, and environmentally friendly!

Happy Thursday Crafters!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Vegan Pear and Apple Crisp

All right, waistline.  It’s just me and you.  (Cue Western shoot out music – you know the tune.)  We’re going to duke it out.  Even though the holidays are coming (Butter!  Cream!  Gravy!  Oh my!), I’m going to win.  Especially since Alyse and I have been training all this month for our first ever 5k!  (Yes, we were the girls in the back of the junior high P.E. class who never volunteered for any sort of organized sports team.  It’s how we met, actually). 

I’m also going to win in the battle over my waistline because I’m creating delicious, lower-fat alternatives to my fall favorites.  (Ellie Krieger is my fave Food Network personality, after all.)  I love, love me an apple crisp, but usually the crisp topping is loooooaded with buttah.  Recipes for vegan baked goods aren’t necessarily healthier when it comes to fat content - those vegan muffins I love at one of my favorite caf├ęs are full of all kinds of oil.  But this crisp topping, with only four tablespoons of trans-fat free oil, is relatively guilt free.  I’m also always looking out for vegan recipes for my dad.  He’s been lactose intolerant for a few years – with butter being the number-one thing that upsets him.  He’s been griping over how much he misses crisps, so the next time he and Mom come over, I’ll wow them with this number.

This crisp, served warm, is bubbly, spicy, and sweet, the perfect way to follow up a walk through red and yellow leaves.  The pears give it something unexpected, and the lemon adds a little brightness to the heft of the maple syrup.  Is it as indulgent as one made with butter (you’re probably asking)?  No.  But that’s why we put a smidge of ice cream on it.*  It is dessert, after all.

*I realize this makes it not vegan.  But, per my suggestion below, you can use a soy or rice ice cream to keep it vegan.    

Vegan Pear and Apple Crisp

Serves 6 (or, erm, 4, if you’re having your girlfriends over for dinner)

Inspired/Adapted from Joy the Baker

For the fruit:
1 1/2 cups fresh apples (about 3 apples), peeled, cored, and chopped into chunks (I used a Gala, Granny Smith, and Golden Delicious)
1 cup fresh pears (about 2 pears), peeled, cored, and chopped into chunks (I used Bosc pears)
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice (juice of half a lemon)
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon zest (zest of half a lemon)
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of ginger
Pinch of cloves
1/4 cup pure maple syrup

For the crisp topping:
3 cups old fashioned oats
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 Tablespoons canola oil
4 Tablespoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 Tablespoons water

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 

2.  In a baking dish, combine the apple and pear chunks and toss with flour, spices, lemon juice, lemon zest, and maple syrup.  Set aside while you assemble the crumble topping.

3.  In a separate bowl, combine the oats, flour, salt, and spices.  In a small bowl whisk together the oil, maple syrup, vanilla extract, and water.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and blend with a fork.  Make sure all of the dry ingredients are moistened by the oil and maple syrup mixture. 

4.  Spoon the crisp topping over the fruit in the shallow baking dish and pat down slightly with the fork.  Bake for 45 minutes, or until the topping looks crisp-like and the apples are completely cooked through.

5.  Allow to cool for a few minutes.  While the crisp is still quite warm, scoop a small dollop of vanilla ice cream or something suitably ice cream-like (one of those soy or rice ice creams or some frozen cool whip).  Consume immediately. 

Serving suggestion – reheat leftovers and serve with a scoop of sweetened vanilla yogurt the next day for breakfast!  How can you anyone dislike dessert that doubles as breakfast?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Cardboard Safari!

We have a fireplace in our new house, and I've been looking for the perfect forest-themed objets d'art to hang on either side.  When I discovered Cardboard Safari, I knew I'd found what I'd been looking for!  These animal "trophies" are made from recycled cardboard, a whimsical comment on the environment and hunting for sport.  In addition to being a little humorous.

The trophies come unassembled for efficient shipping, so part of the fun is popping the pieces out of their frames and putting them together:

The deer head above is called "Buck Jr." on the Cardboard Safari website.  I also purchased Fred Jr., the moose:

I love the way the crisp white looks against the wood paneling.  Very sculptural!  Here's how they look together on either side of the fireplace (I apologize for the photo quality, I really need a better camera):

The mantle still needs work, but with these trophies and the lovely hand-blown green glass vase Alyse gave me as a housewarming gift, the fireplace wall is coming together!

Hope you had a lovely weekend, Crafters!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Easy Plum Compote

So, I didn't end up making a kuchen with the rest of the plums.  But I did make a quick, single serving of plum compote to serve over this buttermilk cake.  A compote/sauce like this is incredibly easy to make - fruit, water, sugar, optional spices, simmered over medium heat until the fruit starts to break down, the sugar dissolves, and some of the water evaporates, leaving you with a thick, tart, plummy compote which pairs perfectly with a simple, every day vanilla cake, as the crumb absorbs the sauce.  It's really the perfect weekday dessert.  Enjoy!

Easy Plum Compote

6-7 Italian plums, pitted
1/4 cup water
1-2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of cinnamon (optional)

Put all of the ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Bring to a simmer and stir with a wooden spoon, crushing the plums with the spoon.  Reduce heat to medium low; simmer gently until skins of the plum have given the compote a jewel-like color, all sugar has dissolved, and the plums have completely broken down, about 10-15 minutes.  For a thicker compote, simmer longer.  Serve with vanilla/yellow cake of your choice.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Thursday Feature: Coveted Crafts

Every Thursday, Dexter & Dinah will feature a new crafter/artisan whose works are handmade.

I've been doing a lot of work out of our home office lately, which is, I must admit, incredibly messy.  I just have far too many odds and ends and not enough storage options.  Which is why I love the idea of these handy felt bins, which would fit on top of my bookshelf, on a side table beside the desk, or even under the desk:

Bohemian Poppies Fabric Bins

Even better, they are made of felt which is made from recycled plastic bottles, and the interfacing is also made with recycled plastic bottles.  What a great use for a plastic bottle you'd otherwise toss in the recycling!  Plus, the fact that they are really attractive with hand embroidered details doesn't hurt either.

Gypsy Forest Fabric Bins

Happy Thursday Crafters!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Easy Plum Tart

My parents brought me back a box of produce from Green Bluff Farms the last time they visited Eastern Washington.  There were apples, pears, and  a large handful of small, almond-shaped Italian plums.  I've been working my way through the apples and pears - a wedge of sharp cheddar cheese and a sliced-up apple is one of my favorite snacks on a crisp October day - but I was a bit stumped as to what to do with the plums.

When we were growing up, Mom would make plum kuchen.  Kuchen is a kind of German cake.  Mom would put a layer of cake in the pan, slice the plums and layer them in neat rows, and sprinkle a cinnamon and sugar mixture over the top, which made the top of the cake crispy and a little caramelized once it had been baked.  Mom learned how to make it from her Mom, and so on.  While I love plum Kuchen and will probably make a small one with the rest of the plums, I wanted to do something a little different, more of a nod to my love of French food and culture.  And this Easy Plum Tart was born.

It really is easy.  Puff pastry from the freezer section of the grocery store, a little plain yogurt, sweetened with brown sugar and spiced with cinnamon (I really love the taste of cinnamon with plums after growing up with Mom's kuchen), some sliced plums and a liberal sprinkling of powdered sugar, and you got yourself a sweet but still tart dessert with buttery, flaky layers of pastry that would be a showstopper at any dinner party or late morning brunch with your friends.  Just make sure to have enough on hand.  

Easy Plum Tart

1 egg, beaten
2/3s of a sheet of puff pastry, defrosted
1 heaping tablespoon plain yogurt
3/4 teaspoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
6-8 Italian plums
Powdered sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Grease a baking sheet.  Place the puff pastry on the baking sheet.

2. Pit and slice the plums into thin wedges.

3. In a small bowl, combine the yogurt, brown sugar, and cinnamon.  Spread the yogurt over the puff pastry in an even layer, leaving at least a half-inch edge of puff pastry uncovered.  (Leaving this edge uncovered is important so that the puff pastry will rise when it bakes).  

4. Arrange the plums in neat rows so that most of the yogurt is covered.

5. Using a brush or your fingertip, dab the edges of the puff pastry with the egg wash.  (This will ensure the puff pastry turns a lovely golden brown.  Throw the rest of the egg in with your scrambled eggs the next morning.)  

6. Bake for 15 - 20 minutes, or until the plums are tender and the puff pastry is golden brown.  Using a sifter, sprinkle liberally with powdered sugar.  Cut and serve immediately.

This tart was inspired by a number of sources, primarily by Katie Quinn Davies' Sweet Sour Cream Apple Tart.  

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Thursday Feature: Coveted Crafts

Every Thursday, Dexter & Dinah will feature a new crafter/artisan whose works are handmade.

Etsy has proven to be a terrific source of inspiration for me.  I have an almost-spent candle on my desk in a lovely glass vessel with a lid.  I don't want to trash the glass vessel once the candle is done.  And then it hit me - terrariums! Lately I've been fascinated by the whimsy and prettiness of these little low-maintenance ecosystems.  Etsy seller MossTerrariums has a perfect example of what I have in mind:

Mushroom moss and lichen terrarium
I love the cute little red polka-dot mushrooms!  It's like a scene from a fairy tale.  MossTerrariums also features one of my personal favorite terrarium ideas - the repurposed light bulb.

Light Bulb Moss and Lichen Terrarium
Again, the tiny mushroom - really cute.  What a great idea to avoid another used incandescent in a land fill.

Happy Thursday Crafters!  And also, Happy Birthday Mom!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Project: Lamp Makeover

My mother got this elephant lamp as a wedding gift, and she was never crazy about it.  When my parents downsized, it came to me.  I've always loved it - I think it is playful and cute.  However, its color scheme dates it quite a bit.  It appears to be made from some kind of plaster, and as you can tell from the trunk, the old paint was starting to chip off.  Time for a makeover!

This method is an easy and inexpensive way to update your existing lamps.


Old lamp
Masking tape
Spray Paint of your choice
Tissue paper/newspaper
Ribbon of your choice

1. Remove the lampshade and light bulb.  Wrap the light fixture portion of the lamp in the tissue paper/newspaper, securing with masking tape.  Make sure all of the metal portions of the light fixture are covered.

2. Wrap the cord of the lamp in masking tape near the base of the lamp, then cover the rest of the cord with newspaper and secure to the cord with more masking tape.

3. Spray paint the lamp according to the manufacturer's directions. Alyse and I used the same spray paint she used for her water bottle project - it is amazing how far one bottle of paint can go!

4. Allow the lamp to dry completely, also according to the manufacturer's directions.

5. Add a pretty colored ribbon to the existing shade.  This is great if, like me, you aren't quite sure what color scheme to go with - you can always change the color of the ribbon later pretty easily.  I used this method of wrapping the lampshade with ribbon, only I left the existing shade on the shade frame and just wrapped the ribbon over it.  I haven't secured it yet with a needle and thread because I might change my mind as to the color, but for right now, it looks pretty great - a totally different feel than the fake-bronze-and-black lamp from before!

Voila!  The completed lamp!

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