Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Orange – Soy Braised Country Pork Ribs

Orange – Soy Braised Country Pork Ribs

“No man should be allowed to be President who does not understand hogs.”
President Harry S. Truman
Say no more……

Serves: 4-6

There are a myriad of different cuts of meat and a myriad of terminology to match. Understanding hogs…um, pork, and selecting the correct cut for a braise are key. It would be nice if the nomenclature for meat cuts were the same from animal to animal, and from country to country. Alas, they are not. A standing rib roast (beef) is the same as a rack of lamb is the same as a bone-in pork roast or pork crown roast. Beef short ribs are pretty much the same as pork spare ribs, but don't ask for beef spare ribs because there is no such thing. 

Country-style ribs are not really ribs. They are cut from the front end of the baby backs near the shoulder and a tray of country-style ribs in the grocery store will contain few, if any, ribs. Country-style ribs are more like pork chops, meatier and less fatty than real ribs and are best when cooked slowly in any sort of braise.
Meaty country ribs
"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes and ships and sealing wax,
Of cabbages and kings,
And why the sea is boiling hot,
And whether pigs have wings."
--Lewis Carroll

This is one tasty and easy braise for the boneless country pork ribs. One could substitute with true ribs: baby back or spare ribs if desired. They can also be braised 5 days ahead, cooled completely in cooking liquid, covered and chilled until ready to heat and serve. To reheat, set the pan on the stove with ribs and cooking liquid over moderate heat, covered, and simmer for at least 15 minutes. Then transfer the ribs to a 200 degree F oven to keep warm while reducing the sauce.
  • 4 pounds country style pork ribs
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1½ C fresh orange juice
  • ½ C low sodium soy sauce
  • 2 Tb sugar
  • 1½ Tb finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 Tb chopped garlic (about 3 cloves)
  • ½ tsp fresh ground pepper

Preheat your oven to 325 degree F. Place 1½ C fresh orange juice, ½ C low sodium soy sauce, 2 Tb sugar, 1½ Tb fresh ground ginger, 1 Tb chopped garlic, salt and pepper into a large roasting or braising pan over moderate heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add 4 pounds country style pork ribs in one layer using tongs, turning to coat.
Ribs ready to braise
 So much of braising depends on trapping the moisture in the pot so it can meld together with the natural juices of the food you are braising. Even with a well fitting lid, I like to reinforce the seal by laying a sheet of parchment paper over the ingredients, pressing down so that paper just touches the food. While a secure lid is important, the addition of parchment paper reduces the headroom in the pot, which helps concentrate the braising juices further. In effect this creates a tight little cycle of evaporation and condensation and bastes the food directly. If you visualized the inside of a pot during braising, you would see vapor rising up from the food, hitting the lid, condensing there, and dripping back down. The further these vapors have to travel, the more dilute they become. With parchment paper directly above the food, you create a tight little cycle of evaporation and condensation.

Cover the pan with parchment and a well-sealed lid – place in your preheated oven until tender, about 2 hours. Remove from the oven, reduce temperature to 200 degree F. Transfer ribs to a baking dish and put back into the cooler oven to keep warm. Skim fat from the braising liquid and then make a glaze by boiling the liquid, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until syrupy and reduced to about ¾ C, about 15 -20 minutes.

Parchment to trap the liquid and flavors
Ribs post-braising
When ready to serve, remove ribs from warmed oven, brush generously with the reduced braising liquid, and serve. They are great served with rice, as I have done, or with mashed potatoes, polenta or on their own. I love serving with a light Pinot Noir or Zinfandel or a Beaujolais or Dry Reisling.
Removed from the liquid and then brushed with reduced braising liquid 
In any case – give these country ribs a try at home for you family and your guests. You will not be disappointed.

Bon Appetit!


When Pigs Fly!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Spinach, Lentil & Feta Salad with Sour Cherry Vinaigrette

Spinach, Lentil & Feta Salad with Sour Cherry Vinaigrette
Serves: 6-8
Spinach, Lentil & Feta Salad with Sour Cherry Vinaigrette 
This would serve as a hardy and delicious vegetarian lunch entrée. It is also great as a side dish. The recipe below makes ample dressing. I found this a plus – and used the leftover dressing on mixed greens one day and a grilled chicken breast the following day. The addition of lentils to a green salad really gives it a protein and fiber boost, which is enhanced, by the unique tangy-sweet vinaigrette.
lentilles du Puy 
Lentils, like other legumes, are low in fat and high in protein and fiber, but they have the added advantage of cooking quickly. They have a mild, often earthy flavor. The best, most delicate lentils are the peppery French green lentils. There really is a difference between ordinary green French lentils and the lentilles du Puy. The latter are indeed the most fantastic lentils in the world. Their unique nutty flavor is attributed to the volcanic soil where they grow, sans fertilizer, which gives them their fine, mineral-rich taste. The climate in the Auvergne also contributes to their unique texture: a lack of humidity and abundant sunshine, courtesy of the surrounding mountains and volcanic deposits, ensures that the lentils dry on the plant all by themselves. Consequently, they have less starch so do not get all mushy and muddy when cooked. Look for the AOC seal on the package to identify the true lentilles du Puy. Believe me, there’s no comparison.
  • 1 C dried green lentils (preferably Lentils du Puy), picked over and rinsed
  • Water, chicken or vegetable broth to cover lentils
  • 4 C lightly packed fresh spinach, washed, drained and stems removed
  • 1 small red onion, halved through the root end and thinly sliced
  • 6 ounces drained sheep milk feta cheese, cut into ½ “ cubes
  • ¾ C Sour Cherry Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Place 1 C lentils in a saucepan, add enough water, chicken or vegetable broth to cover by 3 inches, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes for Du Puy French lentils, 20 minutes for regular green lentils. The lentils will be just tender and still holding their shape. Drain the lentils and set aside to cool slightly.

Chopped onions for the salad
Fresh spinach leaves
Place the 4 C lightly packed fresh spinach, onion and feta in a large bowl. Toss gently to blend.  Do not over mix as the spinach may bruise and feta could crumble. When ready to serve, add cooked lentils and the Sour Cherry Vinaigrette, salt and pepper to taste, mix gently and distribute to serving plates.
The final product!

Sour Cherry Vinaigrette
Makes about 1 ½ C 
  • ¼ C red wine vinegar
  • ¼ C balsamic vinegar
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • ½ C dried tart cherries or dried cranberries
  • 1 Tb chopped fresh chives
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • ¼ C olive oil
  • ¼ C safflower oil (or canola)
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground pepper 

Mix together the red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, shallot, cherries, chives and lime juice in a bowl. Slowly add the olive oil and safflower oil while whisking constantly until well blended. Season with salt and pepper.  Refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to use or up to 6 days.
Dried cherries add some sweetness and tang to the dressing
Mixing in the oil 
The dried cherries add a unique sweet yet tangy taste to the dressing and the salad. They’re available in most supermarkets and specialty food stores. Try dried cherries in place of other dried fruits – apricots, raisins, currants, cranberries, prunes, etc. – for a slightly different flavor and appealing burgundy red color.  The lentils provide an additional protein and substantive boost to the salad.  Give this one a try.  You will not be disappointed.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Divine Eggplant Parmesan (and quick tomato sauce)

Divine Eggplant Parmesan
Serves: 6-8
Devine Eggplant Parmesan
I planted one single eggplant “tree” this summer – or at least it seems to be becoming a tree. I had no idea how large the plant would become. But then you have to figure the weight of 2-4 eggplants swinging off a single branch would have to produce a trunk of measurable size to hold the eggplants up! Funny, I certainly did not think that one through when I planted the little 3-inch seedling.  Now I have many eggplants and they are gorgeous – worthy of framing I think. Gary suggests eating them instead – and he loves eggplant Parmesan. I mean who wouldn’t? It even has vegetables and I can get kids to eat this meal. 
Eggplant on the "tree"
On the other hand I hate soggy eggplant Parmesan –you know, the ones that are just gooey and lumpy. The secret is to oven bake the eggplant slices.  Most recipes call for the breaded eggplant slices to be pan-fried before being sauced and baked. The problem is that even with shallow frying in hot oil and usually in batches, it turns the eggplant soggy, even if salted and pressed beforehand to rid it of water. But, if the eggplant Parmesan is oven-fried, it can all be cooked at once and because I use only 6 Tb vegetable oil, the eggplant stays light and crisp. Avoid using olive oil, as the flavor will overwhelm the wonderful eggplant.

If you are not growing eggplants in your garden, choose eggplants that are firm and heavy for their size. Their skin should be smooth and shiny, and their color should be vivid. They should be free of discoloration, scars, and bruises, which usually indicate that the flesh beneath has become damaged and possibly decayed. Although they look hardy, eggplants are actually very perishable and care should be taken in their storage. They are sensitive to both heat and cold and should ideally be stored at around 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius). Do not cut eggplant before you store it as it perishes quickly once its skin has been punctured or its inner flesh exposed. Place uncut and unwashed eggplant in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator crisper where it will keep for a few days. If it is too large for the crisper, do not try to force it in; this will damage the skin and cause the eggplant to spoil and decay.
The key ingredient!
This meal can definitely take some time to prepare but it is fun to make, healthy and saves for the next day dinner or lunch or can freeze beautifully. For the tomato sauce, you can use my quick one below or one of your favorites or store-bought brand.
  • 2 globe eggplants (2 pounds), sliced into ¼ inch thick rounds
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 C all-purpose flour
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3-4C plain dried breadcrumbs
  • 1½ C (3 oz.) freshly grated Parmesan cheese (divided)
  • 6 Tb vegetable oil
  • 4 C tomato sauce (see below – divided use)
  • 8 oz. shredded whole-milk mozzarella (divided)
  • 8 fresh basil leaves, torn just before serving (optional)

Toss the ¼ inch eggplant slices from 2 pounds of eggplant with 2-3 tsp kosher salt and set individually on top of several paper towels to drain for 40-60 minutes. Meanwhile, adjust two oven racks to upper and lower-middle positions; place a rimmed baking sheet on each rack, heat oven to 425 degree F. Yes, heat the baking sheet in your oven while it is warming!
Salted eggplant slices
Combine 1 C all-purpose flour and 1 tsp pepper in a zip-lock bag. Beat 4 large eggs into a shallow dish.  A pie plate works well. Combine 4C dried breadcrumbs, 1 C freshly grated Parmesan cheese, ¼ tsp salt and ½ tsp pepper in a second shallow dish.

Prepare your tomato sauce – either from recipe below, your own favorite made or store-bought.

Pat the eggplant slices dry after 40-60 minutes, turn over and blot other side thoroughly.  It is important to get out as much liquid as possible. Place the eggplant slices into zip-lock bag with flour, shake, remove slices, shaking off excess and place in egg dish. Coat with egg mixture; allow excess to drip off and place in breadcrumb mix. Coat both sides thoroughly, pressing to adhere. Place on a wire rack while you do the same with all slices.

Remove the preheated baking sheets from your oven; pour 3 Tb vegetable oil onto each sheet, tilting to coat entire surface. Immediately add coated eggplants to hot sheets and bake in oven until well browned, about 20 minutes. Flip slices over, rotate baking sheets, and bake another 10 minutes.
Browned to perfection
Spread 1 C tomato sauce over the bottom of a 9-inch by 13-inch baking dish. Put half the eggplant slices over the tomato sauce. Put 1 C tomato sauce over eggplant and sprinkle 1C (half) of shredded Mozzarella cheese over. Place remaining eggplant in the dish and dot with another 1C tomato sauce, leaving the majority of the eggplant exposed so that it will remain crisp. Sprinkle with ¼ C freshly grated Parmesan cheese and the remaining 1 C of mozzarella.

Place the dish in the lower middle of the oven and bake until the cheese is bubbling and well browned, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle the optional basil over the top and cool 10 minutes before serving. Pass the remaining 1 C tomato sauce and ½ C Parmesan cheese separately for guests to add.
Ready to eat!
This is perfect served with Barbera, Chianti, Sangiovese or Syrah. As it takes a bit of time to put together, it is equally important for the chef to sip on a little wine while preparing this amazing and divine eggplant parmesan. 

Buon Appetito!


Quick Tomato Sauce
Makes 4 Cups 

  • 3Tb extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (28 ounce) can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced San Marzano tomatoes
  • 4 tsp minced fresh basil
  • 4 tsp fresh oregano
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • Salt
  • ½ tsp sugar

Heat olive oil in a saucepan. Add garlic and sauté about 2 minutes until fragrant but not browned. Stir in crushed and diced tomatoes with their juice. Add red pepper flakes and salt. Bring to a simmer and cook until tomatoes break apart and sauce thickens, about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add sugar, basil and oregano. Taste and season with additional salt as needed.