Parmesan Pork

When we think pork, we generally don’t also think about pork pairing well with cheese (unless of course we’re thinking about a cheese plate, in which case there better be some prosciutto on there, alongside a soft and creamy goat cheese and maybe a bit of sharp cheddar.)  But when the pork is thinly pounded and the cheese is salty/nutty grated Parmesan that forms a crispy outer coating when the pork is cooked in a skillet, pork and cheese go together pretty well after all.  We found this pork recipe in one of our most-used Cook’s Illustrated magazines, “30 Minute Suppers” (Fall 2011), and like how easy and quick the dish is to make with simple ingredients:  pork, flour, eggs, Parmesan cheese, panko, vegetable or canola oil and salt & pepper.  While not necessary, a lemon/butter or white wine pan sauce might take the pork to a whole new level (but could also take longer than 30 minutes to cook, with greater degree of difficulty if you’re not particularly gifted at making sauces.)  This basic version is perfect for a busy weeknight, and when garnished with lemon wedges, fancy enough on its own to not need no stinkin’ sauces.

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Friday Favorites

Some food-related (mostly) things we enjoyed this past week:

Shrimp tacos dressed in fish costumes

Dan’s mom came down from Pennsylvania last weekend for a visit.  We consider it our Texas duty to take visitors (especially those from the north) out for Tex-Mex when they are here.  Chuy’s is one of our all-time favorite Tex-Mex restaurants, and we had a yummy lunch there with E.  I branched out this time and ordered something I’ve never had there before — “Baja” shrimp tacos.  The shrimp was lightly battered, perfectly cooked and served in freshly made tortillas with a bit of red cabbage, some pico de gallo and a dab of jalapeno ranch dressing.  Best shrimp tacos ever.

Korean Feast

Dan’s mom has long-ago friends from PA who just happen to live in our area, so we try to get together with them when she’s in town.  We all enjoy Korean food, so they introduced us to their favorite local mom-and-pop Korean place called Jin Mi for dinner.  The above shot is only a portion of our feast that night:  seafood pancake (way better than it sounds) and dumplings, as well as “banchan” which refers to the little dishes of different kinds of kimchi and other condiment-type foods served along with rice and the entrees.  The food was deliciously authentic, and the company was even better.  Seeing old friends catch up without missing a beat is a wonderful thing, as is sharing our home and city with family living far away.  Thanks for braving the heat to come see us, E — we had a great weekend!

Whole-y Foods!

There’s a new Whole Foods in town, and it is a really nice one.  It’s also conveniently located near our house, perfect for picking up fresh fish on the way home to grill that evening (lots of beautiful branzini), or pulling together a last-minute meal of pre-prepared, but delicious, food (they even have pre-made duck confit, which we’ve only previously seen in a fancy grocery store in Paris.)  The produce section is also amazing, with tons of in-season and locally-grown fruits and vegetables (more variety of tomatoes than I’ve ever seen in one place), as well as plenty of unusual and exotic (to us anyway) produce.  The seafood, meat and dairy sections are also large and well-stocked.  A cool feature of their beer and wine section is a little bar with counter seating where you can sample some of their featured beers and wine (!) on tap, order a few appetizers or a light lunch and purchase a “growler” (re-usable jug or bottle) of beer or wine to-go.  The jug of Rosé wine we brought with us to our Korean feast was actually quite good, and we’ll be purchasing a refill this weekend.

Can! Can! Can!

We make refrigerator pickles throughout the summer because pickling cucumbers are everywhere, and it’s easy to whip up a batch that are ready to eat in just a few days and last for a couple of weeks in the fridge.  We decided to take advantage of the abundance of cucumbers and make a batch of pickles to can and preserve for several months.  It’s an interesting experiment, since you can’t taste them before you seal them (well you could, but they won’t taste like pickles because they haven’t pickled yet!)  We’ll report back in the fall to let you know how they turned out.

Mmmmmmm, donuts

Another kitchen experiment this week turned out pretty successful — homemade cinnamon baked doughnuts!  We saw Ina Garten make them on an episode of her show “Barefoot Contessa” and were intrigued that they are baked instead of fried.  We need to work on our doughnut-pan-filling skills (fill the shape too full and you have to cut your own hole out of the finished doughnuts), but they were good and we look forward to trying new flavor combinations.



Avocado and Edamame Salad

If you’re not familiar with edamame, the name refers to young (as in still-green) soybeans commonly served as an appetizer (boiled and salted in their pods) in sushi restaurants.  You can also find bags of shelled, frozen edamame in most grocery stores these days.  Although the health benefits of soybeans are not without controversy (similar to many other foods, about which “experts” offer vastly different opposing opinions), we’re in the pro-soy camp and think edamame makes a great addition to salads.  According to WebMD, a half cup of shelled edamame has as much fiber as four slices of whole wheat bread, as much iron as a four-ounce chicken breast and nearly as much protein as two eggs (each of these foods have, of course, been criticized nutritionally as well.  Can’t we all just get along?)  We’ve made edamame salad before, and appreciate how its mild, slightly nutty flavor pairs well with contrasting flavors from other salad components.  When we found this recipe, we knew the edamame would complement the bitter radish and buttery avocado and figured the bright flavors of the ginger/garlic/lime dressing would bring all the salad ingredients together.  We adapted the recipe by adding sesame oil and chili garlic sauce for more Asian flavor and red pepper flakes for extra spice.  The second time we made this salad, we happened to have spinach and arugula on hand, so we chopped up the greens and added them for yet another taste layer and additional texture.  We liked the addition of the greens so much that we will include them when we make this salad in the future.  And we’ll definitely make it again, despite what the soybean critics say (we’re culinary rebels like that.)

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Friday Favorites

Some food-related (mostly) things we enjoyed this past week:

So moving

Last Friday night we attended an event at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.  No matter your politics, it’s an interesting place to visit, with lots of artifacts, exhibits and collections to memorialize both the momentous and mundane aspects and events of President Bush’s time in office.  One of the more affecting exhibits is a mangled steel beam from one of the Twin Towers destroyed on 9/11.  Experts believe that the beam is “impact steel,” meaning that it was struck directly by one of the hijacked jets.  It is incredible to see and touch (they encourage visitors to touch it) while remembering the terrible events of that day.  Other interesting exhibits at the Library include a replica of the Oval Office (you can sit at the desk and pretend to push the red button!) and the “Decision Points Theater,” designed to show visitors the decision-making process and policies developed during Bush’s administration.  There is a lot more to see and experience there, and we will definitely go back.

So disgusting

After nearly 8 years of living in our current house, the rooms with carpeting were definitely beginning to show their age, as was our old canister-style vacuum.  We recently upgraded to a Dyson upright vacuum, and boy can we tell a difference.  A disgusting, disgusting difference.  The Dyson sucks up so much stuff that it’s almost as if our carpets and rugs had never previously been vacuumed (but they were, at least every other week, I swear!)  And the vacuum receptacle is conveniently clear, so you can actually see all the gross lint, cat fur, dust, dirt, etc. that you’ve been walking on and living with for who knows how long.  The above photo was taken after I had already vacuumed our bedroom carpet with the old vacuum, again with the new one, and one more time with the new one — and the receptacle still filled up with gunk.  My allergies are wondering why we didn’t upgrade a lot sooner.

So vegetable-y

Garden Update (yes, it’s been a slow week around here, favorites-wise):  our eggplant plants are still producing, although something seems to be trying to eat the eggplants before we do.  The nibbling appears to just be on the skin and surface of the eggplant though, so hopefully they are okay inside.  We’re also still getting cucumbers, but they are weirdly shaped and turning yellow before they are big enough to pick.  We plan to make a batch of pickles this weekend and will see if they are still good.  Our tomato plants have stopped producing fruit, but are still thriving and just started flowering again, so we should have a nice batch for late summer/early fall.



Pasta w/ Chicken, Spinach & Cherry Tomatoes in Feta Sauce (w/ leftover chicken)

Summer is a good time to cook with leftovers.  When the weather is hot and the days are long and activity-filled, it’s nice to have a dinner that is quick and easy to prepare with a protein that has already been cooked.  If we grill steak during the summer, we often grill an extra one or make sure they are big enough that we will have plenty left over for steak salad.  A pork tenderloin easily creates two separate meals — the first one maybe grilled and served with pico de gallo; and for the second meal we might make pork fried rice.  We also love to cook a whole chicken (either roasting it or grilling it, beer-can-style) on the weekend, then transform the leftovers into any number of second dishes, from casserole to salad to pasta.  When we recently had some leftover chicken, we consulted one of our go-to quick and easy cookbooks (they have an entire chapter called “Starting with Leftovers”), “The Best 30-Minute Recipe” for a new way to transform cooked chicken.  We added kalamata olives to further enhance the Mediterranean flavors from the fresh oregano, feta cheese sauce and tomatoes, and liked how combining the chicken, pasta and spinach made for a single-bowl, square-meal dinner.  And with minimal effort involved (cutting up the chicken, blending the sauce ingredients and boiling the pasta), it’s an ideal way to end a hot and lazy summer day.

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Friday Favorites

Some food-related (mostly) things we enjoyed these past two weeks:

Island Sunset Waders

For the July 4th holiday this year, we traveled to Ellsworth, Maine to meet up with Dan’s brother J, his wife C and our niece and nephew and spend a few days on the small island on Green Lake that has been in C’s family for generations.  The accommodations are a bit rustic (no electricity and compost toilet system), which only adds to the charm and authenticity of the place.  It was a perfect summer getaway for us — with swims in the lake, fishing (but no actual “catching” for poor Daniel), boat rides, cards by candlelight and lounging with books in chairs overlooking the gorgeous lake.  One of the most relaxing vacations we’ve had in a while.  Most importantly, we got to make fun memories at a very special place with people we love.  Thanks again, guys!

Boat snacks

Our sister-in-law C went all out with a beautiful antipasto spread for our early evening “booze cruise” (we had wine) around the lake on the 4th.  Seriously, we should be so lucky to have an appetizer feast like this at a nice restaurant in Dallas, much less on a boat in the middle of a lake in Maine!

Lobstah at sunset

On our last night in Maine, we satisfied Dan’s lobster craving (for the time being) at Abel’s Lobster Pound in Somes Sound.  If you’re ever lucky enough to be in the area and you like lobster, we highly recommend this idyllic spot with picnic tables overlooking the marina.  They also have indoor seating (also overlooking the marina) and take reservations (which can be key during the height of summer there, when everyone else is craving lobster too!)  We ended the meal with yet another beautiful sunset, and the best blueberry pie we have ever eaten (possibly the best any kind of pie anyone has ever eaten.)


Back at home, Dan made his first successful batch of “giardiniera” using this recipe.  If you’re not familiar with it (I wasn’t, and I still can’t properly say or spell, it so I just call it “that cauliflower stuff”), it’s basically a hearty relish(ish) kind of condiment made with vegetables pickled in vinegar, oil and spices and eaten with/on everything from salads to sandwiches.  It’s also pretty good on its own.  We had ours with sauteed peppers and onions on hot turkey sausage sandwiches last weekend and it was delicious.  Giardiniera is also a great way empty out your fridge crisper with leftover veggies — we made ours with cauliflower, red bell pepper, celery, carrots and serrano peppers from our garden.  Once pickled, the mixture should keep in the fridge for about a month.


We recently found a great new local Italian restaurant called Battuto (in Italian cooking, “battuto” refers to the flavor base of finely chopped veggies — usually onions, carrots, celery, parsley, garlic — cooked in oil, butter or lard that is the beginning step of many Italian dishes.  Clever name for an Italian restaurant, no?)  The atmosphere is simple yet elegant, as is the menu.  For lunch that day I ordered the ham and cheese panini and Dan had the Italian “bacon & eggs” pizza.  Both dishes were good, and there are many more items on the menu that we look forward to trying (gnocchi, branzino and the veal burger, to name a few.)  But the most impressive aspect of our dining experience was the service.  About halfway through our meal, someone who clearly was in charge (manager? owner? executive chef, or some combination thereof?) came over to check on us and asked Dan if the eggs on his pizza were done to his liking.  Dan truthfully said that the yolks could be a bit more runny, then the guy noticed that the arugula salad on the pizza had not been dressed with lemon vinaigrette, as it was supposed to be.  He apologized profusely, despite Dan’s assurances that the pizza was still good.  About 10 minutes later, our waiter appeared with a second pizza, boxed up to go and explained that it was on the house and that they wanted us to have one that was properly prepared.  And it was indeed — the second pizza was about 100 times more delicious than the first.  We’ll definitely go back.


Brown Rice Salad

We’re always on the hunt for interesting new side dishes.  Of course, we’d usually rather have fries, roasted potatoes, mac-n-cheese or some other deliciously starchy carbs, but maybe an occasional, more healthy side can be delicious too.  We were intrigued by the article and recipes in the most recent issue of Cook’s Illustrated’s magazine discussing “Really Good Brown Rice Salads,” not only because of the versatility of the salads, but also with the suggested method of boiling the rice in an abundance of water, in order to get a more evenly cooked end result.  The first rice salad we tried was indeed “really good:”  brown rice with jalapenos, tomatoes, green onions, cilantro and avocado, lightly tossed in a dressing made with olive oil, honey, garlic, lime zest and juice, cumin and salt & pepper.   After trying (and loving) this Tex-Mex(ish) version of brown rice salad, we’ve successfully experimented with several other flavor combinations, including a Greek/Mediterranean style, and what we call an “Island” version that paired really well with grilled jerk chicken.  We look forward to trying the other recipes suggested by Cook’s Illustrated (one with asparagus, goat cheese and lemon, and the other with fennel, mushrooms and walnuts), as well as coming up with other flavor variations.  Plain old brown rice suddenly got a lot more interesting.

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