Pork Parmesan

This is another recipe from my ruined cookbook, Weeknight Menus. I was excited about this recipe, because Chicken Parmesan was my favorite dish as a child and I still love it, but I’ve got tons more favorite dishes now.

This dish isn’t too different from the chicken version nor is it difficult and the best part about it is that you bread with Japanese panko crumbs. As a general rule one usually uses Italian bread crumbs for Parmesan dishes. Panko bread crumbs are light and crisp in comparison to Italian bread crumbs. I think it’s perfect for pork, but I have to admit I’d stick to the Italian bread crumbs for chicken.

The first step in this recipe is to boil your side dish of pasta and pre-heat your oven to 400. This particular recipe called for fettuccine, but I prefer spaghetti as a side. I feel like fettuccine is a bit too thick of a pasta to pair with a whole slab of meat.

Meanwhile, while your pasta is boiling, you bread the pork. I ended up buying a thin sliced package of four boneless pork loin chops from Von’s which worked out perfectly. Whenever I make boneless meat dishes, I can’t help but be thrilled that I don’t have to slaughter and cut my own meat. I’m very much an omnivore, but I understand vegetarians who became so because of their love of animals. Even if I wasn’t sympathetic to animals, though, that whole process seems like a lot of work. I still remember this story my mother told me about watching her grandmother kill and prepare a chicken. She was extremely sweet in her methods, but it was a slightly horrific and fascinating experience for my mother.

My great-grandmother’s method of killing chickens was to gently pick the chicken up from it’s pen. She would then hold it in her lap, grab it’s legs and stroke the chicken’s neck until it calmed down. Once it was calm, she would make sure it’s neck was extended and that it was still calm, grab her cleaver with one hand and WHACK! It’s a frightening concept that I  can relate to life. Whenever things are going well for me, I keep waiting for that cleaver that’s going to chop off my neck. That’s what that story taught me anyway. It’s the calm before the storm.

Ok, so I’m done being a Debbie downer for today, I promise. Let us all be thankful we don’t have to do that.

The next step is to bread your pork. All you do is get two shallow plates and one wide shallow bowl. One shallow plate has flour and the other panko crumbs. The bowl will be filled with two beaten eggs. Take each pork loin and cover with the flour, than cover it with the egg, and finally the panko crumbs. Once all the pork loins are breaded, you fry them in olive oil until golden brown and then set aside.

If your pasta has cooked in this time, you drain it and toss with olive oil and parsley. If not, just do that when it is, whenever that is.

The next step is to make some tomato sauce and the first step to do that is to saute a cup of diced onion and two minced garlic cloves in olive oil. Then you add a 280z can of diced tomatoes along with a cup of chicken broth, a bit of red wine vinegar, sugar, and oregano. The recipe then calls for you to smash the sauce with a potato masher. I do not own one, so I did my best attempts to smash everything. I did this by taking a  flat wooden stirring spoon, scooping up as many chunks of tomatoes as possible, and smashing it against the spoon with a fork.

Once that’s done you boil your sauce and then allow it to simmer for ten minutes.

Now you go back to your pork. You place the pork on a pan and add sliced mozzarella strips on top. Place it in the oven until the cheese melts, which will be around 5 minutes.

Once the pork is done you place it neatly beside your pasta and pour the sauce wherever you like and garnish with Parmesan. I like to pour it everywhere, by the way. I love my gravy. I blame my half Italian-American mother for that.

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As my 5 year old self would say, “Yummy in my tummy!”

Shrimp and Pork Belly, a Portlandia Pairing

My next dish comes from the Portlandia cookbook. It’s official name is Sautéed Shrimp with Piquillos, Olives, and Pork Belly. It’s another easy recipe that one can also get creative with. The book suggests to eat it with a side of crusty bread. I had it that way and for my leftovers with rice, but I could see this making an interesting filling for tacos or burritos as well.

My only gripe about this dish was that I couldn’t find piquillos. I probably could have found them at a Mexican market, but sometimes I just want to be able to get everything I need in one store. I’ve sadly contributed to the decline of mom and pop stores it seems. That’s why specialty mom and pop stores are the way to go.

To solve my laziness problem, I looked up piquillo substitutes on my phone and was told red bell pepper would work. The red bell peppers did work, but if I had to do it over again I would have picked jalapenos instead. This is because I love spicy peppers though, so if you like things mild, the red bell peppers are fine.

The first step in the cookbook is to boil the pork belly. I bought my pork belly from Trader Joe’s and it appeared to me that boiling the pork belly was not necessary so I skipped this step. Either way the next step is slice the pork belly into 1/4 inch pieces, place in a skillet with olive oil, and cook until crisp.

Once cooked, you remove the pork from the pan and set aside. In the same pan you add shrimp, garlic, paprika, and salt. Stir the shrimp frequently and cook until pink. Once your shrimp has turned pink you add your peppers, some sliced Spanish olives, and a bit of white wine. Cook this until the liquid is reduced to half of it’s original amount.

The final step after that is to add your pork and let that simmer for a minute or so. After that you’ve got a tasty small meal or appetizer, depending on your situation naturally.

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Shrimp and pork with brioche bread.

Chicken Phyllo Triangles or Whatever Shape you Want Really

This appetizer comes from The Scent of Orange Blossoms, a Jewish-Moroccan cookbook. Phyllo is a thin pastry most commonly known to be used to make the mediterranean dessert Baklava.  In this dish it is used to make something similar to a Samosa.

My first step in making this dish was actually prepping for a week by preserving lemon rind. To make my lemon rind preserve I took two lemons and cut a small wedge out. Inside the lemon I sprinkled as much salt as possible and then placed the cut wedge back. I then put both lemons in a mason jar. Every day I pressed down on the top lemon and sprinkled a bit of salt in. I did this until the juice rose above the lemons.

In the book, they have a recipe for this, but it requires more lemons and more time. So I split the difference and I believe it turned out alright.

To actually make this dish, the first step is to cook a diced onion in two tablespoons of vegetable oil. The next step is to cook four pieces of skinless chicken thighs. To do this, you add it to the onion, along with water, turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon and let that simmer for about 25 minutes or until the chicken is tender.

Once the chicken is cooked, you sift it out and set it aside to dice later, once it’s cooled, of course. While you wait for the chicken to cool you add to your onions and spice mix, an egg, salt, and pepper. Let the egg cook by continuously stirring until most of the liquid has evaporated. Once that happens add two tablespoons of diced lemon rind, parsley, and your cut chicken.

The next step is to whip out your phyllo dough to be filled. Von’s surprisingly has their own brand in the frozen food section, by the way. I had a hard time with the phyllo dough. I wasn’t in a very patient mood and dealing with phyllo dough requires patience because it’s so thin and tends to stick real easily to the other layers. Speaking of layers, I decided to layer each “triangle” with three sheets to prevent leaking. These particular sheets are fairly wide too, so I had to cut them in half.

To make a triangle, you place a tablespoon of filling in a corner of your sheet. You then fold half of the sheet up in a 45 degree angle covering half of the filling.  This step made sense to me, but for the following steps I had hard time focusing. Like I said earlier, I wasn’t feeling patient when I made these. Also my brain has a hard time processing angles and explanations of that nature. Despite this defect, I somehow managed to get A’s when I took geometry though. I’m more of a step by step visual learner when it comes to these things. To help my readers out though, I’m just going to cite the authors of The Scent of Orange Blossoms.

Place a scant tablespoon of filling about 1 3/4 inches from the bottom edge, and 1 inch from the left side of the strip. Fold the bottom right-hand corner up 45 degrees to partially cover the filling. Then fold the triangle straight up to align the left side of the triangle with the left side of the strip. Next, fold over the bottom left-hand corner to the right side of the strip. Continue folding in this manner, from side to side as you would a flag, gently pressing the filling as you work, to obtain a phyllo triangle about 3 1/2 inches on a side. Tuck in the free end to seal.  – (Mamane, Danielle and Morse, Kitty, 37)

I was feeling so bleh the day I made these, that even though I’ve made triangle shaped pastries before, I was just not having it and ended up making whatever shape I wanted. I encourage you to give it a shot. It’s not really that hard, I was just being lazy.

Once you have folded and filled your phyllo shapes, the final step is to fry them in vegetable oil. As some of you might have read in my previous posts, frying has not been a pleasant experience for me. So this time around I did the dough test. The dough test is when you drop a small bit of dough into the oil to check if it’s hot enough. If the dough gets fried up right away, then it’s ready.

Since I did the test this time, my frying experience turned out much better than it has in the past. So I do recommend being patient about that.

Anyway, the final result of my multi-shaped phyllos was quite good! You get a hint of taste from the lemon rind and the combination of cinnamon with turmeric gives the chicken a kick of flavor, but not overwhelmingly so. I love the way the chicken tastes in this recipe so much that I think I might use it for a chicken and rice recipe of my own making.

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An inside look of the phyllo appetizer

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My random shaped phyllos

Isa’s Creamy Potato Leek Soup

This delicious soup comes from Isa Does It. So far I am extremely impressed with Isa. I’ve liked all but one of her recipes that I’ve made so far. I can’t wait to get to her entrée dishes. The reason I’m so impressed is because she is a Vegan cook. So, you know, as a omnivore who loves dairy products, that’s a big deal.

Some of you might be wondering, “Wait, the title says it’s creamy. Isn’t cream a dairy? Hmm?” Well, miss Isa has a trick for that. That trick is to soak cashews overnight and then blend into a nice cream substitute. It tricked my tastebuds. If I hadn’t made this soup, I wouldn’t have known it was cream free.

Another thing I like about Isa is that she’s aware people nowadays are slackers and don’t always plan ahead. I did plan ahead with my cashews, but she put a little note in her cookbook to let you know how to speed up the process if necessary. To do so, she tells you to boil them for 15 minutes and then soak for as long as you can.

She has great notes in general. So if you are a beginning cook, vegan or no, I recommend checking this book out.

The first step in making this soup is to saute one large leek, sliced, and one yellow onion, diced, in olive oil. I actually forgot my onion and had to add it later. Thankfully my soup turned out ok anyway, but ideally you want to saute the onion with the leek.

This should take about 10 minutes or until the leeks have softened.

While the leek and onion are cooking, you grind your cashews into cream. To do this, you add about a cup of water with your soaked cashews into a blender and just blend until it’s smooth and creamy.

The next step for the soup, is to peel and cut 2 pounds worth of potatoes into small chunks. Once cut, you add that to your soup along with black pepper, finely chopped fresh thyme, and four cups of vegetable broth. Cover your pot, allow it to boil, and then simmer for 15 minutes. Once the 15 minutes are up you smash your potatoes until everything is nice and creamy looking.

After that process you just add your faux cream of chestnuts. Let the faux cream heat up with the soup and you’ve got yourself some comfort vegan food.

The final result is quite tasty. I was skeptical about the faux cream, but it pairs nicely with the potatoes and like I said earlier, my tastebuds didn’t know the difference. I had some leftovers as well, and I swear it tasted better than it did fresh. This is a dish I’d be willing to make again.

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Isa Soup

My Sad Pumpernickel Bread

My sad bread comes from Taste of Home Cooking for Two. The reason it’s sad is because I failed in cooking it right and it came out flat. As you can see.

My sad bread

My sad bread

I told my mother about my failure and she told me to not fret. She said that my dough probably wasn’t warm enough and it’s something cookbooks are never able to explain quite right. So I asked her, “How do you know if it’s warm enough then and what do you do to make it warmer?”

Her tips are to place a heating pad underneath the dough or put your bowl within a bowl of warm water. I’ll have to try this next time.

What irks me, though, is that I’ve made pizza dough from my Sicilian cookbook and that rose more than my sad bread. I don’t know what it is about baking. I just can’t get it right.

I showed my sad bread to my friend and classmate. She laughed at it. I wasn’t offended because I felt the same way, but she laughed and told me that she’s only been able to bake one type of bread correctly. In other words, she understands my pain and frustration.

So to make this sad bread, you dissolve a teaspoon of yeast in a bowl of warm water. Then you add molasses, butter, a bit of chocolate, vinegar, salt, rye flour, and whole wheat flour. You beat that until smooth and then sprinkle more whole wheat dough until the dough is soft.

Once the dough is soft you take it out of your bowl and knead on a flat surface. Taste of Home says that the kneading process will take around 6 minutes, but I felt my dough got to the right consistency pretty quickly. This is probably why it came out sad.

However long it takes you, once you are done, you place the dough back into a bowl lined with cooking spray and cover for an hour.

The dough should be doubled in size. If it has doubled you than punch it back down, because that bread has developed an ego that needs smiting. Once punched, you form it into a round loaf, place on a baking sheet, cover, and let it’s ego rise again for 30 minutes.

Once your dough has a healthy self-esteem again you bake it in the oven under 375 for about 20 minutes. Hopefully you won’t beat up your bread too much and it will come out alright. Despite my bread being sad, it did taste delicious. The mix of rye and wheat makes it slightly bitter, but the chocolate and the molasses sweeten it up a bit too. I wouldn’t mind trying to make this again. I bet it’s really good when it bakes correctly.

A Soup Made of Peas with Split Personalities

So here is another food item with a name I’m curious about. Split peas. I was hoping split peas had split personalities and that the different colors are codes of what triggered their episodes. Like green is triggered by jealousy, yellow by anxiety or stress, and red by anger. Unfortunately, the name for split peas is very logical and almost self-explanatory. Split peas are peas that have been cut in half and dried. So boring, right?

This “Split Pea Soup” or “Potage de Pois Cassés” recipe comes from At Home with the French Classics. The author of this book describes the traditional version of this recipe as being arduous. The modern way is also arduous and a little kooky. It’s arduous because of the final steps and it’s kooky because it requires Bouquet Garni as well as a studded onion. I’m a novice cook, so I had never heard or dealt with Bouquet Garni or studded onions. Bouquet Garni is a method of cooking that I can best describe as being similar to making loose leaf tea. In fact I used my tea strainer for my Bouquet Garni. This particular bouquet consists of parsley, thyme, and a bay leaf. Why it reminds me of making loose leaf tea is because you have to either tie it up in a cucumber or wrap it a cheesecloth. This is so you sift it out later, but still get the flavoring.

Studded onions are also meant for this purpose and they are what they sound like. You take a whole onion, stick cloves in it, and drop it in your soup. I really wanted to stick cloves all over the onion and make an onion pinhead from Hellraiser, but the recipe called for only one studded clove, sadly.

Besides those two things, you also put in a large soup pot, green split peas, a leek, a carrot cut in half, a stalk of celery, 1/4 of ham, salt, pepper, and water. It looks a little crazy when you do this too. I couldn’t help but feel a bit overwhelmed and fascinated at the same time.

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Seriously, what is this?

Once you cram all of those things in your pot, you bring it to a boil and then simmer for about an hour or until the peas are tender.

Once the peas are cooked, you take out practically everything and throw most of it away. You set aside the ham, but you say goodbye to your pinhead onion, your cucumber, and your bouquet garni.

Once you’ve accomplished that, you puree your soup until everything is blended. Then you dice your ham, put it in the soup, and add a splash of sherry.

My soup turned out too thick, but this can be remedied by adding water or milk. I forgot about this though and ended up eating it thick. It was good, but because of this, it felt like I was eating green mashed potatoes.

All in all, I didn’t like this enough to make again. Mainly because it is arduous to make.

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Green with envy pea soup that thinks it’s mashed potatoes.

Pasta Caprese

This cookbook comes from Sandra Lee’s Semi-Homemade Meals. I really love this cookbook and it’s the one cookbook I actually used frequently before I started this hobby of mine.

The recipe I made this time around is called Spinach Pasta Caprese, but I had to make it with regular pasta. For some reason the major pasta brands decided to do away with spinach pasta. I couldn’t find it anywhere at Von’s. They had some vegetable spaghetti, but no spinach. So I just bought regular fettucini. The recipe specifically called for spinach fettucini. I thought about getting the vegetable spaghetti, but I feel the texture and size of the pasta matters more in a dish than whether it’s whole grain, regular, or vegetable. I’ve had spinach pasta before and didn’t really notice a drastic change in taste, so I felt getting the right pasta shape was more important.

This dish is so simple to make. It doesn’t take much effort at all. Boiling pasta is the easiest thing in the world and the sauce is easy as pie too. Easy as pie is not a statement that makes sense to me though. Unless they mean it goes down easy. That makes sense, but making pies isn’t that easy.

Anyway, for the sauce, the first step is to saute some garlic for a bit. Once it’s nice and cooked you add a can of diced tomatoes and let that boil. Once it’s boiled, you remove it from the heat and add it to your cooked pasta. Then you just add some fresh torn mozzarella bits, some basil, and a bit of olive oil. Stir that around and you’ve got a pretty decent pasta dish.

Taste wise, this dish is very simple. There’s not a whole lot to it, but if you love mozzarella and basil, you’ll probably be ok with that. I personally love caprese salads, so I liked this dish. I’d say it’s a great alternative for when you’re too hungry for just a caprese salad.

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It’s hard to see, but there are tomatoes, cheese, and basil in there.