February 22, 2010

Caramel Oranges with Cardamom

Filed under: Desserts — by Carla



This morning the view outside my kitchen window resembled a black and white photograph…white snow, black tree silhouettes and a gray sky. Though that isn’t always such a bad thing, today I felt the need to inject a little color into my life. I was in the mood to trade in black turtlenecks, woolly socks and downcast skies for a pair of flip flops, shorts and a poolside lounge chair but, finances and schedules ruled out a quick trip to the tropics.  Thinking I could bump out of my funk with a cooking project, I checked out the contents of my refrigerator when lo and behold,  nestled among the endive, radicchio and celery lay four naval oranges.Just looking at those bright orange balls raised my spirits. It’s citrus season and nothing beats oranges for that  tart, yet sweet at the same time taste. In a flash, I cooked up a batch of caramel oranges, a super easy dessert- breakfast-snack that always brightens my outlook. I like this dish best when it has been in the refrigerator for a few hours. The brittle caramel melts and makes an orangey, caramelly sauce that you’ll want to lick off the plate. This time, for a little exotic zip, I added a pinch of ground cardamom seeds to the syrup right before drizzling. I really liked how it perfumed the caramel with a hint of eastern pizazz. So even though the sun hasn’t graced us with its presence for a few weeks, today I have the taste of sunshine in my mouth. I just might make it to March after all.



Kitchen Counter Point: Cardamom is a warm, pungent spice used in sweet and savory Indian curries and some Scandinavian breads. You will find it in a few different forms at the grocery store. It can be bought as 1) pods, 2) whole seeds, and 3) ground. I like to buy it as whole seeds and crush or grind them just before using. That way the flavor is at its peak. Though you can buy the pods and crush them to free the seeds, it is a bit of a bother  to separate the seeds from the crumbled pod.


Serves 4

4 naval oranges
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon cardamom seeds, ground in a mortar and pestle or a pinch of ground

Peel the oranges by cutting off the top and bottom to make them flat and then slicing around the circumference of the orange with a sharp knife, cutting away the peel and white pith. Then cut the orange crosswise into about 6 sections and arrange them on a heat-proof platter.

Add the sugar and water to a saucepan and swirl over low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Do not stir. Turn up the heat to high and bring to a boil. Once the syrup is boiling, cook it for about 4 minutes or until the syrup has browned to a rich caramel color. It will be very bubbly. Watch it closely as there is less than  a minute between sublime and burned. Add the cardamom seeds and swirl them to combine and drizzle the syrup over the oranges. Serve immediately or let sit in the refrigerator for a few hours so that the oranges macerate and make a caramel syrup.

February 5, 2010

Maple Brined Pork Chops with Sweet Potato, Apple and Mustard Sauce

Filed under: Meat Entrees — by Carla


 What is it about cold weather that makes you want to eat pork more than a few times a week? In the last month  we’ve eaten pig in a choucroute, braised with tomatoes and stuffed into marvelous little agnolotti, braised in milk, braised in coconut milk and rice vinegar (way tasty), as sausage in jambalaya, coffee rubbed tenderloin and numerous renditions of sautéed pork chops. To be honest, I haven’t tired of it yet. There are many theories about our urge to pimp the pig in the desolate days of winter, but to me it’s all about that sweet, tender meat that goes so well with winter vegetables. Hearty greens like collards and kale, the assorted hard squashes, sweet potatoes and apples, parsnips and rutabagas are natural partners with pork and make for a delicious week-night dinner for family or even a weekend meal for company.


In this recipe, I’ve paired the pork chops with two of my favorite go withs, sweet potatoes and Ginger Crisp apples. The appley mustard sauce you make at the end couldn’t be easier and moistens the pork, tying all the flavors together. Because pork chops can be a little on the dry side, I recommend that you brine them in this salty, sweet mixture for at least 2 hours. It really does increase  flavor and moisture, but if you don’t have the time, just go ahead and cook the pork chops un-brined. They will still be delicious. I’ve also given you an easy clean up by structuring this recipe so that you can cook the meat, potatoes and apples in one pan. Don’t bother to thank me. You’re welcome.


Kitchen Counter Point: Because center cut pork chops are a lean cut of meat, they are easily dried out by overcooking. But not to worry! Here are a few tips that will help you to cook juicy, flavorful pork chops every time.

1) Brine the pork as I direct in this recipe. The salty-mapley-garlicky-peppery-rosemary water creeps into the meat, flavoring and hydrating it so that when cooked, you end up with seasoned, moist meat.

2) Buy and cook the pork chop on the bone. It may take a few more minutes of cooking, but the bone gives up flavor and moisture to the surrounding meat.

3) Try not to over-cook the pork. Our moms and grandmothers cooked it to within an inch of being incinerated. Today’s pork is cleaner and leaner than grandma’s pig and should be cooked to an internal temp of about 147ºF. It will still be a bit rosy in the center.

4) Buy pork chops at least 3/4-inch thick because the thicker cut insulates the center so that juices don’t completely cook away.   

 Serves 4

2 cups water
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup kosher salt
4 cloves of garlic, smashed (no need to peel)
2 bay leaves
1 sprig rosemary, crushed
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed

3 cups ice
4 center-cut, loin pork chops on the bone, about 3/4-inch thick

2 tablespoons olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
2 sweet potatoes, thinly sliced
2 Ginger Crisp or other sweet-tart apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1 cup apple cider or juice, plus more if needed
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced (optional)

Heat the water in a medium saucepan with the syrup, salt, garlic, bay leaves, rosemary and black peppercorns. When the water simmers, remove it from the heat and let sit for 5 minutes. Pour the brine into 2-qt. heat-proof bowl. Add the ice and when the mixture has cooled, add the pork chops to the bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 24.

One hour before cooking, remove the pork chops from the brine and pat them dry. Lightly pepper them and let sit at room temperature until ready to cook.

Heat a large, heavy skillet with a lid over medium heat and add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the pork chops (they should sizzle) and cook for about 5 minutes on the first side, turn them over and cook on the other side for about 3 minutes. They will not be cooked through at this point but should be nicely browned.

Transfer the pork chops to a plate and add the potatoes, apples, cider, cinnamon and salt to the hot pan and bring to a simmer. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the potatoes for 13 minutes or until a little resistant when pierced with a fork.

Return the pork chops to the pan, nestle them into the potatoes, cover and cook for another 5 minutes or until the meat is cooked through and the potatoes are tender.

Transfer the pork chop, potato and apple to a plate with a slotted spoon and cover with foil, leaving the liquid in the pan. If the potatoes have absorbed the liquid, add 1/4 cup extra cider to the pan and heat. Stir in the mustard with a fork and taste the sauce for seasoning adding more pepper if desired.

Ladle the sauce over the meat and potatoes and garnish with the parsley if using. Serve hot.