Meal of Mangoes

The Appetizer:
(Or, since it came several hours before the rest of the meal, I guess it was practically lunch)
Caprese Salad, featuring fresh sliced mozzarella, homegrown basil
and heirloom tomato, topped with a balsamic reduction.
 easy caprese salad with tomato, mozzarella and basil
Mango Meal:
Yogurt-Crusted Pork Loin with Mango Salsa
Wilted Rainbow Chard with Red Winter Wheat Berries
Coconut Mango Curry SoupYogurt-Crusted Pork Loin with Mango Salsa Wilted Rainbow Chard with Red Winter Wheat Berries Coconut Mango Curry Soup Recipe
Recipes coming…as soon as I remember where I misplaced them…


Shortcut Meat & Potatoes: Maximum Meal with Minimal Effort

Chicken noodle soup is for sissies. I maintain that there are much more appealing dishes to make when you’re sick. And no, not all meat and potatoes require full health and energy to prepare.

I had the onset of a migraine this afternoon – enough to wipe me out but not knock me out for the evening. So we prepared a full meal with minimal effort: garlic mashed potatoes, sweet n’ spicy steamed carrots, and grilled pork chops.

Wanna hear my secrets? Of course, it certainly helps having a boyfriend who knows his way around the kitchen as well as — if not better than — I do. But I’m not letting him have credit for this whole meal. So on to the secrets:

1. Instant mashed potatoes have come a loooong way. When I was growing up, the life cycle of a potato started in the garden. After grandpa popped them out of the dirt, I’d watch my mom wash, boil, and mash them manually. At no point did the potato pass through a phase as a box of flakes. If it could grow in the garden or graze in the pasture, it shouldn’t come in a box to end up on your dinner table.

It’s not that I’ve necessarily changed my mind about this conviction. You’ll still never find me picking up hamburger in a grocery store freezer when I can get it straight from the butcher. I wanna know what that cow ate for dinner before I eat him.

I will say, though, that instant mashed potatoes are a shortcut worth taking,whether you’re sick or just lazy. This time, I mixed in a few shakes of Tastefully Simple Garlic Garlic. But I’ve also been known to add cream cheese (flavored, like sour cream and onion) to instant mashed potatoes for some extra creaminess.

2. Steamed carrots, or any veggie, are the easiest route to healthy side dishes – yes, easier than anything you’ll buy in a kit. Carrots, peppers, onions, celery: chop them up ahead of time and store in baggies in the fridge for quick snacks or to save you prep time at dinner — which is especially appreciated when you develop a migraine halfway through the day. Throw them in a skillet with melted butter and a little water, cover and let the steam soften them. We added some honey and cinnamon at the end for extra spice.

3. If George Foreman had never wrestled a man in his life, I’d wager his grill invention would have made him just as famous anyway, because this thing is a godsend. I can’t tell you how many nights it has offered a welcome solution when I didn’t want to heat up my tiny attic kitchen by turning on the oven or even the stove top.

Shake a little salt, pepper, and garlic over thawed pork chops, toss them on the Foreman and they’re juicy and done in minutes. Topped off with a little sweet chili sauce we overstocked from McDonalds, and the flavor is complete.

There you are, a maximum meal with minimal effort and even a slight handicap. Bon appetit.

Meat-n-Potatoes and then some

breaded pork chop
steamed white asparagus
potato/mushroom/onion/bacon svorke
topped with jalapeno Hollandaise

Cracker Munster Pork

Or: Why I Use the Cookbook in My Head More Than the Cookbooks on My Shelf.

I’ve been utterly addicted to Pinterest lately – the recipes, the craft ideas, the dream wardrobe I’ll never own. It feeds into my exploding collection of curated recipes. Between the cookbooks, the shared recipe cards, the food magazine cut-outs and the weekly foodie email newsletters, I probably have enough recipes to feed a family four times a day for the next four years.

How many of these recipes have I actually tried? A few dozen, perhaps.

It’s not unlike my library, where I keep buying books upon books upon books, from classics to journalism to scripts before they hit the big screen. How many of these have I actually read? A fraction. Does that stop me from buying more and more to fill up boxes in my mom’s attic because I can’t even fit my entire library in my life? Not for a second.

It must be the collector addict in me — not even the baker or the avid reader. Sure, baking and reading will happen with all these books and cookbooks laying around, but it is the collection that drives me, not the function of my collections.

When it comes down to it and I’m in the mood to experiment in the kitchen, chances are I’m not even going by a recipe. I’m taking what I have and throwing it in the pot.

Last night, with a surplus of fancy recipes looking on in jealousy, I experimented with the recipes in my head. I ended up with what I’d like to call Cracker Munster Pork, with quinoa.

I don’t know if you can even call this a recipe, so let’s just say in five easy steps…

Cracker Munster Pork

1. Coat pork chop in 1/2 tablespoon melted butter
2. Dredge in a mixture of crumbled Wheat Thin crackers and about 1 tablespoon flour.
3. Quickly fry in skillet for a few minutes on each side, enough to create a crust.
4. Then transfer to the oven and continue baking at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes.
5. Add slices of munster cheese on top and bake another 5 minutes until cheese melts.

Who needs fancy recipes when you can make up a hodgepodge dish that’s delicious?

Ginger-Sherry Pork Chops & Cheddar Rhubarb Biscuits

Last night on the phone with my mom, I had to explain why I own a cookbook called “The One-Armed Cook.” It’s designed as a cookbooks for new mothers — hence, baby in one arm and one left for cooking — or mothers in general, with quick recipes they can easily prepare and spend more time with the fam. Now, I’m not a mother, and I don’t have anyone gathered around my dinner table. But quick? easy? I’m all about it. And it was $1 at Half Price Books. And it’s spiral bound, which is a must for cookbooks and anyone who’s ever released an otherwise bound book is inefficient.

The first recipe I tried was for Ginger-Sherry Lamb Chops. OK, so “cheap” obviously wasn’t included in the “quick and easy” tagline, because the only lamb I’ve ever purchased are the lamb burgers at the Elkhart County 4-H Fair. I can afford pork loins though, so I adapted it and soaked them in this marinade overnight: (their measurements are for 4 lamb chops. As usual, I eye-balled it)

pork chop pork recipe fresh domestic  ginger recipes fresh domestic

Ginger-Sherry Pork Chops
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup dry sherry
1 tsp chopped garlic (I used Pampered Chef’s Garlic Garlic)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp ground ginger (I used a few shakes of ground ginger and then chopped up these strange crystalized ginger slices my sister bought at an Amish grocery story in Shipshewana, Ind. Remember those gummi orange and lime slices we used to eat when we were little? They remind me of that, because they’re coated in sugar. We decided that they’re kind of horrible to eat plain because the ginger flavor is so strong, but they’re excellent prepared in a dish.)

So it sat in my fridge all night while I laid awake in bed until 2 a.m. watching my newest obsession, “Pawn Stars,” and the little crystalized gingers soaked up sherry – mmm. When I got home from work, I threw the pork on the Foreman and cooked the marinade (the one-armed ladies suggest bringing it to a boil over medium-high heat then simmering on low for 5 minutes. Yeah, something like that.)

Now, I’m not a huge pork fan. It’s only in my freezer now because Giant Eagle had a mix-n-match BOGOF with meat, so I stocked up on every animal I could find. But wow. These were delicious. It’s a very fancy but simple marinade/sauce. Especially with the chunks of ginger on top (and I served it all over leftover rice), it was a fancy little dish.

But even better, I had half a roll of Pillsbury seamless dough (like crescent rolls without the crescents) I needed to use up, so I greased a couple muffin tins and layered a circle of dough, a slice of cheddar, and another slice of dough and baked it at 350 until brown. They were like little cheese-filled biscuits. Pretty good, I thought, but could be better. Yesterday, a coworker brought in several jars of rhubarb jam her mother-in-law made, so I slathered some on top of a roll. I don’t know if cheddar and rhubarb go together. Maybe you’re gagging at the thought, and would do more than gag at the taste. I don’t know. But I thought it was freakin’ delicious. And really, how fancy does “cheddar rhubarb biscuit” sound?

Now time for the All-Star game. So I guess hotdogs and peanuts would have been more appropriate.

Pork Loins & Fear of Old Age

Emeril Lagasse bam So I tried Emeril’s recipe for Ginger Ale Marinated Pork Loin but adapted it for a single serving slice of pork tenderloin. I’m not ready for a whole roast yet; I already had a dream last night that a friend interpreted as fear of old age and I don’t need to add pork roasts to that list of scary things old people do.

I’ll just tell you because I know you’re curious now and reading about my subconscious fears is probably way more interesting than reading recipes. So in my dream, I was in a canoe and apparently ended up in England. I think this was work-related because we were holding one of our business events at the palace (ha-yeah right) but I got there early, thanks to my canoe, and offered to pull weeds for the Queen. I found this one plant that, when you touched it, made you grow old and big (like eating a mushroom in Wonderland). Strange.

So the other people who were pulling weeds noticed their hands were starting to swell and they were aging. I don’t think I was wearing gardening gloves, but I wasn’t noticing the effects, even though I thought I had touched the plant (which looked like a rectangular mushroom that grew in thin vertical sheets), so I was freaking out. Then they quarantined us in the palace and wouldn’t let us leave for fear we’d infect others. And that, we found out, was the reason the Queen never left the palace. In case you were wondering why she never, ever makes public appearances. Ha.

I posted the condensed version of this on Facebook and got this response:
“The canoe ride to England represents the adventure and wonder of becoming an adult. The queen represents big business and weed-pulling is obviously the dull work of everyday employment. Instant old age is the fear or, well, old age. [On growing big:] The easiest thing is to say that, with aging, problems become larger and more prominent. Or, at the very least, the fear of larger problems. Your whole dream is your fear of getting older. And the palace is simply the social fear of old people amongst the young who still yearn to maintain their youth.”

So maybe I should be more concerned about making healthy foods instead of avoiding “scary adult” foods like pork roast. But anyway, pork is fairly healthy right? Even if I did skip the veggies to save time so I could watch the Cavs in the play-offs.

I can’t tell you exactly how I cut this recipe down because I was basically winging it, pouring some ginger ale, some sherry (…OK some more sherry), some soy sauce, and, in the absence of honey, some molasses (which I justified is also sweet and sticky) and a few shakes of ginger, garlic and red pepper flakes into the baggie with the pork. I let it soak overnight then baked it at 350 for about 15 minutes. From there, I followed his recipe at least as far as directions go, still guessing on measurements.

It’s a forgiving recipe because it still came out delicious. I served it over rice and spooned the extra sauce over it, making a good balance of sweet, strong and spicy. Bam.

Homemade Chinese Egg Rolls & Crab Rangoons

Egg rolls seem daunting – like they’d be much harder to make than they are. But they’re actually really easy, with room for creativity, and delicious in their crispy deep-fried fabulousness.

I have my mom to thank for teaching me how to make egg rolls, as I do most of the excellent recipes I end up with. Here’s how we do it:

Egg Roll Recipe
1/2 lb. sausage
1 small head green cabbage, chopped
chopped onion

Brown the sausage in a skillet and add onion. Then add the cabbage. It will seem like a lot but it cooks down. Let this cool while you prepare egg roll wrappers and a small dish of water. Place a wrapper in front of you like a diamond, with the mixture in a line straight across it. Fold up the bottom first, and then fold  both sides in, around the mix. Dip your finger in the water and wet the top corner of the diamond, then roll it up the rest of the way and seal with the wet edge. Heat oil in skillet on med-high and fry until golden brown.

That will make more than enough for two people, and it won’t use the whole package of wrappers. So, in a very experimental mood, I tried to make crab rangoons with the rest. They turned out pretty good — just enormous. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing because I could eat a whole stick of cream cheese. And a whole crab. So both ingredients in a deep fried package = ecstasy.

Crab Rangoon Recipe
4 oz cream cheese (half a package)
4 oz flaked crab meat (half a package, I found mine under the seafood deli counter)
a couple shakes each of Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce
1 clove garlic, chopped
chopped onion
ground pepper
Place a big spoonful of mixture in middle of egg roll wrapper. Pinch two opposite sides together (wetting with water to seal) and then the other two sides. Fry.

Both recipes are almost as good as takeout. Now fried rice…that’s something I haven’t mastered quite yet, and still opt for takeout.

Easter Eggs, Chops & Smashers

Easter is the one time of the year when I buy white eggs from the store. Being raised on brown eggs fresh from the coop, I can taste the difference. And I don’t like it. But you just can’t dye brown eggs, so I give in.

Easter just isn’t Easter until you dye eggs. And fortunately, my mom stayed with me this weekend so we got to be creative together. That takes care of the centerpiece.

Now the meal: I bought pork chops last week. Now, generally, this isn’t a very odd statement to make. But coming from me, it is. I don’t really eat pork. Bacon and pepperoni, maybe every once in a while. Ham and sausage, never. But I was getting tired of chicken for every meal so I decided to be brave.

Then began the search for a recipe that didn’t require obscure ingredients, timely marinating processes or foreign techniques. I came across this recipe for Parmesan-Crusted Pork Chops. Ah, Giada. Where would I be without you?

Basically, you coat each chop in grated Parmesan, beaten egg and Italian breadcrumbs, then fry it in the skillet. At first when I read the recipe, I thought: There’s no way that stuff will stick in that order. I almost didn’t follow directions because I expected a failure. But you should always trust Giada.

It makes such a deliciously crispy crust. Pretty good, even for pork chops. My mom and I also tried it on chicken, and that was just as awesome. If you can, use the Kraft Parmesan cheese that comes in a big chunk with its own grater. Those shreds of cheese were thicker than what you buy already-grated, so it made a thicker, cheesier crust.

For sides, we made green beans and Potato Smashers, another recipe from Kraft’s Food & Family magazine,.

Here’s my annotated version of the recipe:
Stab four new red potatoes with a fork several times, making holes for steam to escape. Place them in 1/2 cup of water in a microwavable bowl. Microwave uncovered for 8-10 minutes or until soft. Let stand 5 minutes. Drain potatoes and place on work surface (I use my cutting board). Press each one with the bottom of a small glass, flattening to 1/2-inch thick.

Meanwhile, heat enough Italian dressing to cover the bottom of a skillet. Add potatoes. Cook 4 minutes. Flip them over and sprinkle with shredded sharp cheddar cheese. Cook until cheese is melted. Serve with sour cream and any other toppings you want — green onions, olives, etc.

Enjoy. And Happy Easter!