Monday, May 28, 2012

Ingredient Spotlight - Rhubarb: Beyond Dessert

Photo: NK 
Rhubarb, a popular item at summer farm stands, is more versatile than you think. Beyond its common applications in pies and crumbles, Rhubarb makes a great addition to savory entrees too. Their crisp, ruby red stalks are extremely tart on their own, but once sweetened up by sugar, honey, or the addition of fruit (such as cherries or raspberries), rhubarb yields an amazing sweet/tart flavor that complements meats and even salads and vegetables.

A few facts about Rhubarb*:

~Rhubarb is related to buckwheat. Who knew?

~Rhubarb is a veggie, not a fruit.

~First used for medicinal purposes, Rhubarb originated in China. It is an ancient plant and appears in food history as early as 2700 BC. 

~The green leaves of the Rhubarb are poisonous when ingested in large quantity. Eat only the stalk!

*Info courtesy of an amazing source of Rhubarb facts, The Rhubarb Compendium -

Rhubarb Stalks, Photo: NK

To fully discover Rhubarb, I decided I would not only make a traditional dessert preparation - a Rhubarb Compote suitable for topping all manner of sweet treats - but I also thought it would be fun to find out how Rhubarb works in a savory dish. Check out the results and give this stalk a chance if you are looking for a great seasonal ingredient this summer. 

Pork Chops with Rhubarb Cherry Sauce 
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Serves 4 

1/2 Cup Dried Cherries 
1 Tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/2 Cup Chopped White Onion
3-4 Stalks of Rhubarb - tops and bottoms discarded, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces (2 Cups)
3 Tablespoons Sugar
Pinch of Ground Allspice
Coarse Salt and Ground Pepper
4 Bone-In Center Cut Pork Chops 1 Inch Thick- frenched if possible
1 Cinnamon Stick - optional 
Cherries Soaking, Photo: NK 

In a bowl, combine Cherries, Balsamic Vinegar 
and Cinnamon Stick with 1/4 cup hot water.

Let sit for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil in a small saucepan. 

Add Onion to the saucepan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion has softened - 8 to 10 minutes. 

To the softened onions, add Cherry Mixture, Sugar, and Rhubarb.

Bring Mixture up to a boil.

Photo: NK 

Reduce heat to a simmer and continue to cook, about 5 to 7 minutes. 

Remove mixture from the heat and stir in a pinch of Allspice and Salt and Pepper to taste. Warm again just before serving.

Season the Pork liberally on both sides with Coarse Salt and Pepper. 

Heat 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil in a large skillet over Medium High Heat. Cook in batches if pan will be too crowded.

Once Oil is extremely hot, add Pork Chops and cook for 3 Minutes on one side. Flip, and cook another 3 to 3.5 Minutes on the other side. 

Remove from skillet and stack the chops, one on top of the other, on a plate. Cover with foil and let sit for 3-4 minutes for a perfect medium rare. 

To serve, rewarm the Rhubarb-Cherry sauce if needed. Uncover Pork Chops and arrange them on plates, pouring the juices from the chops over each. Top with the Cherry-Rhubarb Sauce and serve right away. Enjoy!

Pork Chops with Rhubarb-Cherry Sauce, Photo: NK

Next up, a more traditional preparation fit for topping any dessert, the Rhubarb Compote. This recipe, again adapted from Martha Stewart is, as one online commenter put it, the easiest recipe in the world. Using just three ingredients, you can make a great compote in a flash that works well on just about any sweet treat. The Rhubarb actually creates it's own cooking liquid, so water is not even needed. This compote also makes a tasty topping for healthier foods like yogurt. 

Easiest Ever Rhubarb Compote
Adapted From Martha Stewart
Yield - about 2 Cups

3-4 large stalks Rhubarb, tops and bottoms discarded, chopped into 3/4 inch lengths: 2 cups
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried Ginger

Put Rhubarb in a medium sauce pan and cover with Sugar and Ginger.
Let sit about 10 minutes until liquids begin to leach from the Rhubarb.

Rhubarb and Sugar, Photo: NK

Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. 
Once boiling, reduce to a simmer and cook another 5-7 minutes until Rhubarb breaks down.
Let cool fully before using as a dessert topping. Enjoy!

Rhubarb Compote pictured with Philly Fluff Pound Cake and NY Cheesecake 
from the most fantastic bakery, Natale's in Summit, NJ
Photo: NK

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Destination: Paris - Classic Croque Monsieur

Last week, the husband and I took a lovely trip to France. I have a real thing for this country - the people, the landscape, and of course the amazing food and wine. In just seven action-packed days, and with the help of our usual obsessive over-planning, we managed to really soak it all in. Here are a just a few highlights:

Beautiful Paris, Photo: NK
A day trip to Brittany and the Abbey of Mont St. Michel, Photo: NK
Three days in the countryside - Amboise, Loire Valley, Photo: NK

Between touring the City of Light and chateau and vineyard hopping the in gorgeous Loire Valley countryside, we enjoyed several very special meals. 

Crab, Scallop and Mango Tart in Amboise, Photo: NK
Amazing Oysters at Huitrerie Regis, Paris, Photo: NK
Decadent Roast Chicken in Pastry over Black Rice at Restaurant Mariette, Paris, NK
Profiteroles at the amazing Les Closeaux just outside of Amboise, Photo: NK

Clearly, France offered no shortage of culinary inspiration, so when we got home, I had the urge to try to make something really simple yet classically French. Croque Monsieur seemed like just the thing. 

Croque Monsieur is basically a toasted ham and cheese made all the more sinful by the addition of a creamy sauce and grated gruyere topping. Below, I've adapted Martha Stewart's recipe just a bit. The result was gooey, delicious, and decidedly not diet. Enjoy and bon appetit!

Classic Croque Monsieur
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Serves 4 

3 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
1/4 Cup All Purpose Flour
2 Cups of Whole Milk
1 Cup Grated Gruyere Cheese plus 8 Slices of Thinly Sliced Gruyere
Kosher Salt to Taste
Black Pepper
Cayenne Pepper
8 Slices Country Style White Bread - we used Arnold brand
6 Ounces French Bistro Ham Cold cuts or other cold cut Ham

Preheat the oven to 450 and set a rack in the middle and a rack near the broiler.
Toast the 4 Slices of Bread. Don't worry if they are extra crunchy. It will make for a nice texture later. Leave the oven on. 

Butter a baking sheet and set aside. 

Next, set two medium sauce pans on the stove. 

In one, melt Butter over medium-high heat. Gradually stir in the flour and whisk constantly until the mixture bubbles up. Continue whisking for about 3 minutes. The mixture will take on a golden peanut butter color. Turn off the heat and set aside. 

Butter and Flour Mixture, Photo: NK
In the other sauce pan, heat the Milk over medium heat. Once warmed, pour the hot milk into the first sauce pan, incorporating it with the butter and flour mixture slowly. Whisk briskly and continuously to prevent lumps from forming. Turn the burner back on medium and continue whisking. Allow mixture to come to a boil. Reduce heat to low and let simmer two minutes more. Stir in Half a Cup of the Grated Gruyere, and add Salt to taste, Pepper to Taste, and a dash of Cayenne and Nutmeg. Remove from the heat and pour the cheesy sauce into a bowl to cool for 2 to 3 minutes. 

Next, lay 4 slices of Toast down on a work surface. 
Cover each slice with about a Quarter Cup of Cheese Sauce. 

Toasts with Cheese Sauce, Photo: NK
To assemble the sandwich, lay one slice of Gruyere on top of the sauce, followed by a slice to a slice and a half of Ham. Top Ham with another slice of Gruyere, and top each sandwich with the remaining slices of toast. Press lightly to close the sandwich. Pour another Quarter Cup of Sauce on top of each sandwich and sprinkle them all with the remaining Grated Gruyere.
Assembled Croque Monsieur ready to bake, Photo: NK
Place sandwiches on the baking sheet in the oven and bake for about 5 minutes until cooked through.

Turn on the broiler and finish sandwiches for another 2 to 3 minutes under the broiler until the tops become golden brown and bubbly. Serve immediately.

Voila! Finished Croque Monsieur, Photo: NK
Photo, NK

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Monday, May 7, 2012

Cinco De Mayo - Tacos Al Pastor Made Easy

Sure, we're a bit late, but we couldn't let Cinco De Mayo go by without making some tacos. For today's menu, I chose Tacos Al Pastor - by far my most favorite type of taco. When we go out for Mexican and they're absent from the menu, my heart sinks.  Seriously. I don't know if it's the pineapple/pork combo that does it for me, the smoky, spicy marinade, or the crunchy onion topping and fresh cilantro. Who knows? And why wonder? Let's just eat.

Tacos Al Pastor - King of the Tacos, Photo: NK 

Today's Tacos were adapted to be a bit more weekday friendly. With 15 minutes of prep and marinating a day in advance (please read notes about Marinating Time in red below), they shouldn't take you more than a half hour the day of. Many Tacos Al Pastor recipes call for a whole loin of pork, but since these tend to come in 2-3 pound roasts, it would be overkill for just the two of us. To solve this conundrum, I adapted Bon Appetit's recipe by using pork loin chops. This change makes the recipe cheaper and allows for easier handling and portion adjustment. If you're serving a big crowd (more than 4), definitely go for a whole loin. 

Here's how to do it:

Tacos Al Pastor Made Easy
Adapted from Bon Appetit - Stephen Raichlen
Serves 3-4

Taco and Marinade Ingredients:
1 large White Onion, cut in half
1 large Pineapple, peeled fully and cut crosswise into 1/2 inch thick rounds 
Cutting the Pineapple, Photo: NK
1/2 cup Orange Juice
1/4 cup White Vinegar
1/4 cup Chile Powder
3 Garlic Cloves, halved
2 teaspoons Kosher Salt
1 teaspoon dried Cumin
1 teaspoon dried Oregano
2 Small Chipotle chiles + 2 tsp Adobo from the can* 
(*purchase Chipotle Chiles in Adobo)

4 - 1 Inch Boneless Pork Loin Chops - about 1 Lb
1/3 cup Chopped Cilantro
Small Corn Tortillas - 3 to 4 per person
Smoky Chipotle Salsa - recipe follows*
Lime Wedges, for serving

*Smoky Chipotle Salsa Ingredients
1/4 Beefsteak or 2 Plum Tomatoes chopped

2 teaspoons Adobo Sauce from the Canned Chipotle Chiles in Adobo, plus one small Chile

1 Tablespoon Lime Juice
1 Clove Garlic
1/2 teaspoon Chile Powder
Salt to taste


The Day Before
Make your marinade - 
Coarsely chop 1/2 the Onion
Marinating the Pork Loin Chops, Photo: NK
Coarsely chop 2 Pineapple Rounds, discarding pineapple cores
Place Onion and Pineapple in the blender.
Add Orange Juice, Vinegar, Chile Powder, 3 Garlic Cloves, Kosher Salt, Oregano, Cumin, Chipotle Chiles and 2 teaspoons of Adobo. 
Puree the Marinade until smooth. 

~ About 1-5 hours before you want to cook your meat, pour Marinade over Pork and seal in airtight containers to refrigerate. NOTE: While overnight marinating in citrus/acid is not usually recommended for Meat (as it breaks down the texture), it works just fine, in my opinion, for this dish because Al Pastor Pork is chopped up small and having it be tender is not a bad thing. Grilling the pork on very high heat gives it some of its texture back. 

Still, Marinating between 1-5 hours is really the optimal amount, but for a ready to make meal on a weeknight, I don't mind letting this sit overnight. It's entirely up to you and your schedule, though there's no doubt that the texture of the meat it certainly is improved by keeping the marinating time under 5 hours.

Make your Smoky Chipotle Salsa - 
Blend all the Smoky Chipotle Salsa ingredients until incorporated and smooth. 
Seal in an airtight container. The Salsa can be refrigerated several days.

The Day Of
Marinate meat if you have not already. 

Prepare a barbecue or Grill Pan (medium high heat). Grill the remaining Pineapple until warm and grill marks appear, about 4 minutes per side. Remove from grill to a cutting surface. Remove Pineapple cores and chop into one inch cubes.

Grilling the Pineapple, Photo: NK

Place Pork on the grill with some marinade still clinging to it. Cook on high flame about 3-4 minutes per side until cooked through. Remove from grill and let rest a minute or two. 

Finely chop the remaining Onion half. Combine Onion in a bowl with the Chopped Cilantro.

Cube the Pork into bite-sized pieces. Place Pork in another bowl with Pineapple chunks.
Toss to incorporate.

Marinated Pork and Grilled Pineapple Goodness, Photo: NK

Grill Tortillas for one minute on each side to warm. 

To Serve
Top Tortillas with Pork and Pineapple Mixture.
Add the Cilantro and Onion Mixture on top.
Drizzle Smoky Chipotle Salsa on top of it all and garnish each plate with lime wedges.