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Pork Chops and Mushrooms in Marsala Wine Sauce

If you’re like me, dinner is often a consequence of what’s in the refrigerator, and on this particular night, I found a bunch of baby portobello mushrooms that needed to be used before they spoiled. I could have served them as a separate vegetable, but they seemed like a natural pairing with the pork chops I had just bought. A little marsala wine, plus a small bit of cream that was left over, would elevate those pork chops from ordinary to sublime.

It’s easy to overcook pork chops because they’re so lean. If you can find some with a little marbling, great, but that isn’t so easy. Marinating or brining helps, but knowing when to pull them off the grill or the stove is the most important step in avoiding a tough piece of meat.

I don’t use a meat thermometer for pork chops or steaks, but instead have learned to test meat with the finger test. It’s got to have a little softness in it when you touch it, like the fleshy part of your hand. If you let it cook until it feels hard, then it’s overcooked. It takes getting used to, but once you’ve mastered it, you’ll never overcook meat again. Click here to get a more detailed guide on using the finger test for doneness of meats.

Pork Chops and Mushrooms in Marsala Wine Sauce
 
 
Ingredients
  • 2 thick pork chops (about ¾" thick)
  • To marinate the pork chops:
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 T. soy sauce
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 2 T. butter
  • 8 ounces baby portobello (or button) mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • flour
  • salt
  • pepper
  • ¼ marsala wine
  • ¼ cup chicken stock (or water)
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • parsley, minced
Instructions
  1. About an hour before cooking, marinate the pork chops in the olive oil, soy sauce and minced garlic.
  2. Melt the butter in a pan and sauté the mushrooms on high heat. You want to get a nice sear on the mushrooms and let the water in them evaporate.
  3. When the mushrooms have turned a nice golden brown color, remove them from the pan and set aside with any remaining liquid from the mushrooms.
  4. Drain the pork chops from the marinate and dredge them in flour, salt and pepper. Shake off any excess flour.
  5. Place the oil in the same pan as you cooked the mushrooms and turn the heat to medium high. Add the pork chops and quickly sear on each side. This should take only a couple of minutes on each side.
  6. Lower the heat, add the marsala wine and the chicken stock, stirring to incorporate them.
  7. Flip the pork chops once to give both sides exposure to the liquid, then add the cream and swirl in, flipping again. Add the mushrooms back to the pan and cook until everything is heated through and just until the pork chops are done. Do not overcook. The meat should still have some "give" in it when you press it with a fork or with your fingers. If it's overcooked, it will feel hard.
  8. Sprinkle with minced parsley.
 

Pan Seared Pork Chops With Meyer Lemon

Pan Seared Pork Chops with Meyer Lemon

 It’s the day after Thanksgiving in the U.S., and hopefully you’ve got some good soup stock simmering on the stove, made with the leftover carcass from all that turkey you gobbled down yesterday. 

 This recipe, from Domenica Marchetti’s “Rustic Italian” cookbook, is just the antidote for turkey overload.
These garlicky-lemony pork chops are so succulent, you’ll be tempted to gnaw the bones down to the last morsel — not to mention swiping and swishing some crusty bread through that luscious sauce in the pan. I can’t blame you since that’s just what we did.
Start by sautéing thinly sliced garlic and fresh bay leaves (or dried) in olive oil.
Remove them and set aside, then brown some lemon slices in the oil. Then remove the lemon slices while you put in the pork chops.
Season and brown the pork chops, then put the garlic, lemon and bay leaves back in. Add a splash of white wine and lemon juice and cook until done.
A lot of people complain that pork chops are too dry, but that’s mostly because they’re cooked too long. Cook just until the meat feels springy, and there’s some “give” to the meat.
Here’s another way to test doneness. Make a fist. The pork chop should sort of feel like the piece of flesh at the base of the thumb where it attaches to your hand (before the thumb reaches the wrist).
If the pork chop is a teensy bit pink, it’s ok.
Don’t cook it too long, or you’ll be eating a hard, overcooked piece of meat.
The herbal and lemon flavors blend so well in this recipe, and it was so easy and quick to make, I’ll be coming back to this one again and again. Thanks Domenica.

Pan-Seared Pork Chops with Meyer Lemon
(Costole di Maiale in Padella)
From Domenica Marchetti’s “Rustic Italian” cookbook
printable recipe here

2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
4 fresh bay leaves, or 6 dried bay leaves
2 Meyer lemons, 1 thinly sliced and 1 halved
4 bone-in, center-cut pork chops, 6-8 oz. each
(I used 2 very thick pork chops that weighed 1.5 lbs. total)
1/2 cup dry white wine

fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large cast-iron or other heavy-bottomed frying pan, heat the olive oil, garlic and bay leaves over medium-low heat. Sauté until the garlic is lightly golden and the oil is infused with the aroma of garlic and bay leaf, about 5 minutes. Transfer the garlic and bay leaves to a plate and set aside. Return the pan to the heat and add the lemon slices. Cook, turning once, until lightly browned, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to the plate with the garlic and bay leaves.

Season the pork with salt and pepper. Arrange in the pan and raise the heat to medium high. Sear until nicely browned on the bottom, 2-3 minutes. Turn the chops and cook until browned on the other side, 2-3 minutes longer. Since my two pork chops were very thick, I decided to add some white wine at this point to Domenica’s recipe to help them cook more quickly. Let the wine boil down for a minute. Squeeze the lemon halves over the chops and turn to coat them with the juice. Return the garlic, bay leaves and lemon slices to the pan and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook (with a lid, if the chops are very thick, as mine were) until the chops are cooked through – 3-4 minutes longer. The pork chop should spring back but still feel tender if gently pressed with a finger, and the center should be very slightly pink.

Transfer the pork chops to a serving platter and spoon the pan juices, along with the lemon slices, over the top. Serve right away.

A Provençal Evening

A Provençal Evening

A couple of years ago a friend asked me to become part of a newly formed book group for foodies. I readily agreed, knowing I’d not only be reading books on a topic I’m passionate about, but enjoying a thematic meal tied in with the book’s subject and prepared by members of the group.

A recent choice was “Provence 1970,” a book written by Luke Barr, the grandnephew of legendary food writer MFK Fisher. The book is a delight to read, recounting the year when Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard and other food luminaries were together in the South of France.
The meal prepared by members my book club was a wonderful way to capture the flavors of that beautiful region of France and pique my enthusiasm for my upcoming trip there.
Our group is women only, but for this event, we decided to invite the men in our lives, even though the discussion of the book was given short shrift since not all the men had read it.
No one seemed to mind the abbreviated book discussion though, once all the food was presented.
We started with two appetizers:
Emilia’s pissaladière, similar to pizza, but with the traditional topping of caramelized onions, anchovies and olives.
      And it wouldn’t be Provence without socca, a typical snack made of chickpea flour.
Kay provided that, along with a delicious ratatouille that I forgot to snap, except in the last photo of this post.
Polly brought along a wonderfully refreshing salad with butter lettuce, goat cheese, wineberries and borage flowers picked from her yard:
Rosalie made a luscious plum tart for dessert.
 And her husband Evan even made some madeleines to share:
I took charge of the main course – pork chops with sage – a recipe I found in the cookbook, “Cooking School Provence” by Guy Gedda and Marie Pierre Moine.
Pork chops are easy to overcook, and once that happens, they’re tough and dry. Marinating or brining helps, but knowing when to pull them off the grill or from the oven is crucial.
I don’t use a meat thermometer for pork chops or steaks, but instead have learned to test meat with the finger test. It’s got to have a little softness in it when you touch it, like the fleshy part of your hand. If you let it cook until it feels hard, then it’s overcooked. It takes getting used to, but once you’ve mastered it, you’ll never overcook meat again. Click here to get a more detailed guide on using the finger test for doneness of meats.
These pork chops were smeared with Dijon mustard, sage and black pepper and left to sit overnight in the refrigerator. If you don’t have all night, at least give it six hours to marinate. They were delicious the first time I made them, but when I repeated the recipe, I slathered on even more mustard and sage and the flavor was greatly improved.
Lolly brought along some fresh green peas, adding even more color and flavor to our plates.
If you’re interested in starting a foodie book club, email me separately and I can give you plenty of book suggestions. Click here for a post I wrote years ago on books for foodies. Since then, I’ve got lots more titles to recommend.
 
Côtes de porc grillées à la sauge 
(Grilled pork chops with sage)
 From “The Provence Cookbook” 
By Guy Gedda and Marie Pierre Moine
 
 4 large, thick pork chops
Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
3 1/2 T. grainy Dijon mustard
1/4 cup olive oil
10 fresh sage leavesCut slits in the fat at regular intervals around the pork chops, and season lightly all over with salt and pepper.
In a small bowl, mix together the mustard (I used more) and oil. Coarsely chop and stir in 6 of the sage leaves (I used more). Arrange the chops in a shallow dish and brush both sides with the mustard mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.
Before cooking, return the chops to room temperature.
In Provence, the chops would be cooked in the hearth over pine cones for about 20 minutes, turned over regularly, and kept about 4 inches from the fire. Alternatively, grill over indirect heat or broil 6 inches from the flame, turning once, until cooked through but still juicy inside, about 15 minutes total, depending on the thickness.
Season with a little extra pepper and garnish each chop with a fresh sage leaf.

Beignets And More In New Orleans

Beignets and more in New Orleans

It’s not a good idea to visit New Orleans right before Thanksgiving. It’s going to be hard getting rid of the extra weight I put on during a long weekend in “The Big Easy.” And now more of a food onslaught is in store with the holiday approaching.
But it was worth it. Here is a sampling of some of the temptations I ate during our short stay.
The photo was taken at “Emeril’s,” the eponymous restaurant named after Emeril Lagasse, whose cooking show can be seen on the Food Network. The pork chop was about two inches thick and smothered in a tamarind glaze and green mole sauce, and served with caramelized sweet potatoes. What a winning and unexpected combination of flavors. Thank you Emeril for that taste experience and also for the recipe, which is posted on the Food Network’s website. It’s a little involved, but in case you want to try it, here’s the link.
We also ate at “August,” one of John Besh’s restaurants. For those of you who watch the Food Network, you may remember that Besh won the Iron Chef competition against Mario Batali. “August” is an elegant, but not stuffy restaurant, with a more refined and subtle menu than “Emeril’s.” To give you an idea, we started with an amuse bouche of fish mousse, served in a small egg shell. The meal continued on a high note, including a salad of organic greens with pumpkin seed brittle, blue cheese and pumpkin seed oil vinaigrette. It’s a nice contrast of textures and tastes, and one I plan to make in the future for dinner parties. Since I haven’t made it myself yet, I’ll give you a link to a pumpkin nut brittle recipe on Epicurious.com.

I can’t talk about New Orleans food without mentioning beignets – those square-shaped puffy fried “doughnuts” that are a must when visiting the city. The most well-known place to eat them is the Cafe Du Monde, where this photo was taken. They are typically served with Cafe Du Monde’s version of cafe au lait, a blend of chicory and coffee. The beignets arrive covered with a blizzard of powdered sugar, so be careful if you’re wearing black slacks as I was!! One bite and you’ll become enamored of the traditional New Orleans favorite. They sell a beignet mix at the Cafe Du Monde and online, and there are plenty of recipes on the web as well. Most of the authors claim that the mix isn’t as good as the homemade recipe, which includes yeast. Here’s the link to a recipe from a website that’s all about NOLA (New Orleans) food: