Archived entries for autumn

Unexpected places: Pork Chops Normandy

When I was twenty-five, I took an epic driving trip from the top of France to the bottom of Spain; it was a revelatory experience in more ways than one. Having previously only traveled to Paris, I was overwhelmed and overjoyed by all the delights that France had to offer: the slow but incessant variety in the flora, the subtle variations in accent and architecture. It was a neverending list of epic delights for a creature so visual as myself.

poke

And then there was the food.

For reasons unknown, until this trip I hadn’t quite clocked that there was no such thing as capital-F-French cuisine–that what we think of as French cooking is really a greatest hits collection of regional cuisines, gleaned from throughout the whole place. From the poultry-centric delights of the Perigord region (hello, foie gras!) to the citrus and fish of the Cote d’Azur, French cuisine is honestly as varied as everything else in the country–and just as complex, lovely, and unexpected. It made quite the impression on quarter-life me.

applesonions

Thinking about that the other day, I found myself wanting to recreate a dish that I’d eaten not in La Belle France, but in a dive-ish bar in Baltimore, MD. The place itself (whose name unfortunately escapes me–I promise to get back to you on this) was completely unassuming, but the food utterly spectacular. The dish in question was called pork chops Normandy, and it was no joke. Fat, delicious pork chops perfectly cooked with apples, onions, thyme and brandy, it was sufficiently delicious that I kind of regretted sharing it with Doctor Boyfriend. It was the perfect ambassador for the flavors of the region (Normandy is noted for apples and calvados, among other things), allowing the rich sweetness of the apples and the savory growl of the onions to shine through. Just the memory of it makes me hungry, so it was a no-brainer to try it out in my own kitchen.

I cannot stress strongly enough that you do the same. It takes one pan and about 45 minutes to make this happen, from the caramelization of the onions to the braising of the chops; it’s simple and straightforward, but tastes like it took you three days. Never let on that it didn’t.

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Heirloom Thanksgiving: My Mother’s Pumpkin Pie

Some of my food memories are so vivid: the scent of my grandmother’s potato pancakes cooking, the bratwurst my grandfather would saute with mustard and serve with breakfast, the meatball stroganoff that was my brother’s favorite dinner and the crunchy baked chicken that was mine. I did love all those foods, but I make them these days for the memories they stir up, and in order to feel a little closer to home.

If I had to pick one iconic recipe of my childhood, it would be this pie. My father always requested this pie for his birthday (my family isn’t all that into cake). We’d usually have it for Thanksgiving too, and carve off  slivers for days afterward. The texture improves and flavors deepen after a day or two in the fridge, which makes it the perfect dessert for those of us who like to start cooking for Thanksgiving a few days ahead.

This pie is dark with molasses and cloves, deeply spicy and smooth. I make it at least once every fall, sometimes for Matt’s birthday and otherwise just for me, a connection to home during a holiday I haven’t celebrated at my parents’ table out west for nine years now.

I called my mom to ask for a little more background on the recipe, and it turns out that she found it in a little cookbook assembled by the Cleveland Council on World Affairs in 1964. It was called  A Taste of the World, and it also included a recipe from a family friend of ours, Hope. Hope gave my mother the sweet little cookbook at my mother’s bridal shower in 1970, and this pie (along with Hope’s sesame chicken) has been a family favorite ever since. The cookbook is a bit of an old-fashioned affair—all I know about the contributor of this recipe is her husband’s name.

Addendum: a friend was kind enough to dig this up…a little info on Mrs. Demmy here—there’s even a Portland connection!

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A Salad for Fall

As a cook, I’m always a bit torn in the fall. Part of me is drawn toward the heartier dishes I can finally cook low and slow, when hours of stove time are no longer anathema. On the other hand, week by week, the more delicate vegetables are disappearing from the farmer’s market and I start to panic. No more tomatoes! No more berries!

Reminding myself to breathe, I fashioned this autumnal salad from some vivid green arugula (get it while you can) and a bit of curly endive. And who needs tomatoes when you can have sweet roasted pears!

The pears get a bit melty inside, and caramelized around the edges, with a great concentrated flavor. They’re sweet and rich, even if you don’t toss them with honey or sugar first. (Though feel free to do that, especially if you make a few extra for dessert.) I nabbed a few directly from the pan, but they’d also be awesome with a little dulce de leche ice cream.
The jewel in this salad, though, is a mellow blue cheese I discovered this week from Great Hill Dairy. I’m usually not a huge blue cheese fan, but this non-homogenized blue is smooth and pretty mild, with just a bit of tang.

You could throw in a little bacon (why not) or some toasted walnuts, but I went minimal with a walnut-oil based vinaigrette. We ate this salad alongside a cup of onion soup, but I wouldn’t mind this as a main course, served with a hunk of crusty bread.

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This Shiv is bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S: Banana bread.

I used to think it was a major character failing, our household’s utter inability to make it through an entire bunch of bananas without at least two of them collapsing under the weight of their own ripeness. It seemed so wasteful–until I clocked that my freezer was good for more than just vodka and ice cream, and could be used to store the ailing bananas until such time as I could find a different, nefarious purpose for them. With this realization, I started a frozen banana collection so prodigious that, eventually, Bench had to stage an intervention.

loafster

“Hey Shiv? You know that the freezer is completely full of bananas, right? That we can’t fit anything else in there? And that they’re kind of scary-looking? And that we REALLY NEED TO START USING THEM UP?”

And so began the autumn of banana bread.

I’d never really tried my hand at this particular confection before; being contrary, I’d always been perfectly happy with my pumpkin bread. But, life is change (highness); and so I set about my new task with gusto. A major goal of this was to ensure the bread retained some sort of nutritional value and wasn’t too heavy, but was still delicious and decadent. And so I called on my old favorites (buttermilk and whole wheat flour) as well as a few new characters (sesame oil, vanilla bean) to produce what turned out to be the loveliest, chewiest, most delightful loaf of banana bread it’s been my privilege to encounter. Oh, sure. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop tinkering–I have a deep desire to try it out with some chinese five-spice powder, or perhaps a bit of curry–but I think this one is going to become a staple.

Sometimes you get lucky, you know?

slicer

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Apples from the Moon: Quince-Apple Pie

I am probably not the only one who looked at the September 2009 cover of Gourmet and thought, what IS that? An apple from the moon?

That strange fuzzy green fruit was a quince, of course, and as soon as my farmer’s market had some I scooped them up. I have to say, even if you don’t plan on making this pie, buying a few quinces is a good idea just for the scent. Sitting in a bowl in your kitchen, they give off a sweet perfume for days.

In the oven, they’re even better. This pie is a bit of a business, since quince are too tough to just throw into a pie filling. Roasting the sliced quince in a bit of orange juice softens them enough to toss with slivered apples and pile high into a pie crust.

Their taste is a little musky, a little floral, and not quite as sweet as they smell. It makes for a grown-up pie with slightly rosy, spicy filling. If you’re plotting out pies for Thanksgiving, I’d suggest roasting the quince a day ahead and storing in an airtight container in the roasting liquid overnight. With the help of a big food processor, you can whip up several pie crusts the day before as well and store in your fridge until you’re ready to roll them out.

Happy November, everyone!

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