Decadent Stuffed Pork Chops with Cauliflower Mash

Finished Product!

So I have had a little extra time on my hands with the school schedule, so I’ve been able to dedicate a little more time to preparing fabulous dinners. Truthfully, this dish looks like is takes more time and is fancier than it really is (don’t tell anyone).

Ingredients

2 – 10 ounce pork chops (I used boneless, but bone-in would work well – probably better – and keeps the pork moist and flavorful)

1 granny smith apple peeled and diced

1 yellow or white onion thinly sliced

2 ounces crumbled blue cheese (optional)

1 head of cauliflower, florets trimmed and separated

2 tablespoons sour cream

1 tablespoon butter

1 teaspoon chopped garlic (or more to taste)

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Half and half to blend (I got a quart for coffee and used some of it in this – it adds creaminess with less fat – not that I’m really counting, but milk goes bad in our fridge too quickly)

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and heat olive oil on medium heat in an oven-safe sauté pan. I will sauté the apples and onions in this AND pan-sear the pork in it. It is my vague attempt at consolidation and not blowing up the kitchen every time I cook. Once the oil is hot, add the onion and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sauté the onions for 3-4 minutes until they start to soften and become translucent and then add the chopped apples. Cook stirring occasionally for 8-10 minutes until completely softened and a little brown.  Remove pan from heat and let it cool a bit. I burn myself constantly (yeah, I know, school should be interesting), but this step at least ensures you won’t burn yourself stuffing the chops. When cooled mix in the crumbled blue cheese if you want to add it (as a note: I’m a bit of a more is more person, particularly when it comes to cheese, but blue cheese can be an overwhelming flavor, so use your judgment if you’re not a huge fan of it).

Cut pockets in the pork for the stuffing. This is as though you were butterflying it (or slicing a baguette for a sandwich). Make sure not to go all the way through and watch your hands! Add apple, onion, blue cheese mix to the pork pockets (well, that sounded gross), use a toothpick or two if it doesn’t stay shut on its own, and liberally salt and pepper each side of the pork. Wipe the pan you sautéed the apples and onions in clean and reheat oil in the now clean pan at medium-high heat. Once hot, lay stuffed pork in the pan, about 3-5 minutes per side to get a good color on each side, then pop in preheated oven until cooked through (about 15-20 minutes).

In the meantime bring 4 quarts water to a boil and add cauliflower. Boil for 10 minutes until tender and drain. Place in food processor along with sour cream, butter, garlic, parsley and blend. Add half and half until it’s the texture you want. I LOVE cauliflower, so I like it to have some texture; to that end, I reserved some smaller florets and threw them on a baking sheet and put them in the oven with the pork until they were crispy and added them to the mashed cauliflower.

To plate, spoon mashed cauliflower on the plate and place some crispy cauliflower pieces on top, then place the cooked piece of pork on top of the mashed cauliflower.  So fast and so delicious.

Enjoy!

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Things I Learned My First Week of Culinary School

So I started my Culinary Management program last week. The arts program doesn’t start until August 21st, when I really begin my full-time schedule. So what that has meant is big, fancy dinners for Simon and a fairly leisurely schedule. With the extra time on my hands I have managed to learn a some things in (and out) of school:

  1. 90% of all restaurant goers don’t read the whole menu. This (stupidly) shocked me. So, you mean to tell me that as soon as you know that you’re going out to dinner, you don’t immediately go on the restaurant website (or menu pages or urban spoon or NY Magazine or…) and scope out the menu, making at least 3-4 decisions, which will all immediately be discarded in a panic when the server arrives? Huh, weird.
  2. Which leads me to my homework. Now in the long-term there will be research papers, presentations, business plan creation. You know, like real school. BUT right now, I get to read food media. In fact, I don’t just get to, I have to. So basically, I have to read what I once scoured in an effort to procrastinate real work. Amazing.
  3.  Also amazing: homework also includes going out to dinner. SCORE.
  4.  There is a decided lack of judgment. I kind of thought I’d get to school and the teachers would look down their noses at places that aren’t Le Bernadin. I was actually pretty concerned about that. That said the general lack of judgment has been really refreshing. While of course consistency and ingredients are important, of almost greater import (and perhaps a greater determinant of success) is a good concept.
  5. I don’t have a concept. I mean I have ideas. But I’m sitting next to people, often (I mean majorly) 10 years my junior, who not only have come in with a full-fledged concept, but with location, menu, price point, EVERYTHING figured out. I feel like the slacker, stoner who showed up to class the first day and everyone else but me knew we were supposed to read the first 5 chapters of our textbook.
  6. Having more time on my hands DOES NOT mean you will go to the gym more. In fact, it means that you will not only go to the gym less, but you will start cooking super elaborate dishes under the guise that you’re practicing for school.
  7. When I’m hungover, I really like to cover things in chocolate (Hey, in addition to my first, week, it was also my birthday).  Case and point:

Chocolate-PB-Graham-Nana Sandwich Heaven

My post-birthday treat!
My post-birthday treat!

Ingredients

Graham crackers (depends on how many you want to make, but I made 4 and that required 4 whole graham crackers)

Extra crunchy peanut butter (if extra crunchy makes you want to gag, by all means use creamy or whatever you like. Almond butter or other nut butters would be delish here too!)

3 bananas thinly sliced width-wise

1 bag of semi-sweet baking chocolate chips

Parchment paper (or tin foil)

Directions

Melt bag of chocolate chips in microwave safe bowl in 30 second intervals, mixing after each 30 seconds. Mine took about 90 seconds in total, but use your judgment, if it’s all melted after the 2nd time, don’t put it back in because it gets all burn-y tasting and congealed. No one likes congealed chocolate (though I’m not above eating it).

In the meantime, break the big graham crackers in half. Spread each side with about a teaspoon of peanut butter and lay banana slices in one layer on one side on the PB. Smush the other side PB-side down on the half covered in bananas.

Dip sandwich in melted chocolate. In terms of method, I found holding the sandwich in the middle and dipping each side provided an adequate coating. Then dip fully, turning over with a fork. Shake any excess chocolate off when fully coated and ready for removal.

Put on parchment paper and let solidify in the fridge. If you don’t do this step and dive right in, more power to you, but be sure LOTS of napkins are nearby!

Pretty productive/unproductive first week, I’d say.

Gateway Recipe: Fusilli with Garlic Broccoli Saute

(a.k.a. The Dinner to Make When You Get Home from Work Late)

Quick Pasta Dinner

As typical New Yorkers, my husband and I will get out of work anytime between 6pm and 8pm on any given night (sometimes later, but in those instances, I am not cooking anything). While my husband appreciates my culinary efforts in the kitchen (that often require the use of every pan we own), it is recipes like this, simple, often vegetable and pasta based, that will garner the greatest praise. That praise is usually associated with speed and not using too many pots.  I’ll take what I can get.

This recipe is intended to be really simple and easy to be made in 20 minutes after a long day at work when you just don’t feel like ordering in from your local pizza/chinese/thai place.

Ingredients
1 package frozen broccoli florets (defrosted) or two heads fresh broccoli trimmed for bite size florets

Two teaspoons chopped garlic, plus one additional clove chopped finely for garlic bread crumbs

About 1/2 cup olive oil

1 pound fusilli (I used a quinoa based pasta for this picture, but any will work)

Unseasoned bread crumbs (I use whole wheat panko but any will work just be sure they’re unseasoned)

1/2 teaspoon oregano (1/4 teaspoon dried)

Sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

Grated Parmesan for garnish.

Directions
Bring salted water for pasta to boil. If using fresh broccoli you can use this boiling water to blanch the florets for about 3-4 minutes until just tender before adding pasta. Then transfer directly to sauté pan with hot oil.

Heat 1/4 cup oil in sauté pan on medium heat. Once hot add two teaspoons garlic and sauté stirring regularly for about 1 minute. Don’t burn it (I always do).

Add broccoli to the sauté pan with garlic and stir to coat with garlic and oil. Season with salt, pepper and crushed red pepper flakes if you like a little spice. Cook for about 8-10 minutes until broccoli is cooked through (may take less for the defrosted frozen florets). If it gets dry add additional oil as necessary.

Cook pasta according to directions. Once nearly cooked to al dente reserve about a half cup pasta water to the side then drain.

Add to pan with broccoli, add 1/4 cup pasta water and stir to coat and let cook down for a minute or two in the pan to get the pasta to cook to al dente. Gluten from pasta water should thicken it a little, add more as necessary.

In a small sauté pan heat about a teaspoon oil over medium high heat then add finely chopped garlic and sauté for about a minute. Add bread crumbs, oregano, salt and pepper to taste. Stir and coat in oil. Let toast for a couple of minutes until it absorbs the oil.  This is an optional step, but adds a fun depth of texture to an otherwise pretty consistently soft dish.

To serve, divide pasta and broccoli into 4 bowls (or two and then have seconds!). Top with toasted bread crumbs, a drizzle of olive oil and some grated Parmesan cheese. I usually add more crushed red pepper flakes at this point but that’s mostly because my husband doesn’t love spice.

Dinner for Two
Doesn’t the cheese on the right look radioactive? I can assure you that it wasn’t a packet of “powdered cheese product”

It’s a super comfy dish that is light enough for the summer, but cozy enough for winter.  Enjoy!

Disclaimer

One of the first meals I cooked for my boyfriend (little did I know, future husband) and best friend in my 5th floor walk up.  The start of Family Dinner.
One of the first meals I cooked for my boyfriend (and little did I know, future husband) and best friend in my 5th floor walk up. The start of Family Dinner.

I promise that this blog will not be purely the existential musings of my “BIG LIFE DECISION” and all the emotions that go on with this change. Because that sounds terrible.

No, no, I will also share recipes! And not just recipes, but recipes that can be recreated in the comfort of your own 3’x5’ apartment kitchen too!

Now, I’m not a chef. I don’t claim to be and, in all honesty, I think school is merely a step towards something resembling a chef, but even then I won’t be there. But I love to cook, I love to share food with friends and family, and I love to make my husband take terribly under-stylized pictures of my creations, prior to us devouring them because at that point it’s 9pm and we are starving.

I don’t do everything “right,” I cut corners, sometimes to comical effect, and sometimes I fail. Like that time I added cinnamon to marinara sauce, because cinnamon is just like nutmeg right? Christmas lasagna, as it came to be known, was an unequivocal fail.

So I will share things I’ve made that people have generally enjoyed (at least that’s what they’ve told me) here too, in the hopes that others will enjoy them. And if you don’t that’s completely fine, just drink more wine and you will. Promise.

What’s Next?

A totally appropriate question, given this massive derailment of my life, but also a question that I was woefully unprepared to answer.

In my insular conversations about culinary school with my husband, that progressed from this nugget of “what a fun idea” to “this is what I’m doing” fairly quickly, we talked in hypotheticals and generalizations about what could be next. I mean we talked about the “real” stuff: the financial implications, timing, how this could (and likely would) change the dynamic of us to some extent.

It wasn’t until I started telling people (the randoms) about my plans that I started getting the most logical question ever following news like that: what do you want to do with that? I’m a recruiter for god sakes, and that is like a recruiting 101 question. But over and over again, I would stare somewhat blankly when that question was posed to me and I realized really quickly, I better come up with something good soon, or people were going to start to think that this was merely the byproduct of a mental break from reality I was in the midst of. And that’s only really partly true.

As I sit here on my last day of work, diligently emailing away (writing this blog), I have more or less rectified that “I don’t know” is OK. I have no idea what I’m going to do after. I know what I’m interested in, I know what excites me right now (sustainability in food, consulting, butchering – my mom just gagged), but I have no idea when I’m in it where it’s going to take me. This is very new territory for me, who has made fairly logical, well thought-out steps throughout my career. This is neither.

But starting next Tuesday none of that will matter, as I make way to school for the start of my management courses (ok, there was some logic there). Here we go.

Julia

I need say nothing else, right? You know who I’m talking about. Julia Child. She who taught me that (almost) anything is fixable in the kitchen, particularly if you have enough wine, and that if you’re not having a blast, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. In fact, these are two mantras that I aspire to live by for better or worse in all aspects of my life, not just cooking (specifically, the wine).

I was initially going to title this post “Old as F*ck,” but mostly decided against it because I knew my mother would read this. But know that remains the overarching theme. I am not young. Now, I am not really that old either (writing that sentence, I can see my mother rolling her eyes at me), but I am also not a fresh high school grad with the knees and endurance I once had. That’s a lie. I’ve always been a bit of an old lady with bad knees at heart, even right out of high school.

Years ago, during the Julie & Julia craze (cue collective eye roll), I read “My Life in France” a memoir written by Julia Child and Alex Prud’Homme about, you guessed it, Julia’s life and career, specifically her time in France. It brought back so many childhood memories of watching Julia Child (and The Galloping Gourmet), effervescent, self-effacing, but so confident, play with whole chickens and down wine, ultimately turning out amazing looking, if weird sounding dishes. So I dragged my then-boyfriend (now husband, shockingly at times) to see Julie & Julia and immediately after to a sketchy bodega to buy a dozen eggs with which we learned to poach eggs. It is only now, as I embark on this craziness and generally freak out about everything, including my physical rigor (lack thereof) and what the next 8 months are going to do to my already age-suffering back and knees, that it occurs to me what Julia Child did. She was 36 when she attended Le Cordon Bleu.  Thirty-six. And she was able to turn a passion ignited by her love of French food into a successful career. She was able to largely reinvent herself, not by changing who she was intrinsically, but using her talent, personality and ambition to alter the course of her career and her life.

Now I have literally no delusions of grandeur, and actually have no idea what lies next for me (more to come on that), but it certainly is an inspiring prospect what you can achieve with drive, passion and hard work. And if all else fails, it reminds me to suck it up and buy a knee brace.

Julia Quote

Jumping Off a Cliff

I’ve had a complicated relationship with food. That’s probably too generous – conflicted may actually be a more accurate description.

At 3 my greeting to my aunts would be a compliment of how skinny they looked. At the ripe old age of 8, I announced in my typically precocious manner, that I would no longer be wearing shirts that didn’t cover my butt, because I had fat thighs. I was 8. I went through a brief stint of not eating in my late teens. I say brief, but I think my friends and family would argue that it was not brief enough.

It was during this time of not eating that I discovered the Food Network. There was a certain sad irony of a girl who only ate brown rice, broccoli and triscuits (6 a day), voraciously consuming food-centered media. This was before the food network became the domain of the at-home cook or semi-homemade; where Mario Batali, pre-Food Network feud, focused on regionally inspired food from Italy, which he served to Isaac Mizrahi, pre-Target clothing line, and Sarah Moulton’s calming voice reigned supreme.

Food Network did not save me. Years of therapy did. But what it inspired in me was a love of cooking that I have carried with me through the galley (generous) kitchen in my 5th floor walk-up in hell’s kitchen, my fabulous kitchen with no counter space and no venting on Wall Street and now my current kitchen where I live with my new husband.

I’ve been moving up in the corporate world since I graduated college. I did not veer or rock boats. I figured out I was good at HR and recruitment and I’ve made it into my career, to some extent unintentionally. I’ve worked 60 hour work weeks and have constantly been available to my colleagues and candidates. As it turns out, life is too short. And so I decided to jump off a cliff.

I made my first culinary school payment today and I figured if I’m going to be self-indulgent, I may as well go all in, so I also wrote my first blog post. I am a very lucky person, with an amazingly supportive husband, family and friends, who have barely balked at this wild departure from my status quo. So here goes nothing.

Tales from the Frontlines of Culinary School