Thursday, March 20, 2008

Kohlrabi Salad

Kevin from the stylish new blog Food Junta says that meals don't have to be Meals--elaborate, multi-course things--and I agree. Here is a recipe that isn't a Recipe, but which I make once or twice a week. I've never eaten kohlrabi in the U.S. and don't know how widely available it is, but here it's one of the most common vegetables, and it makes a great winter salad. Use green kohlrabi! Purple kohlrabi isn't mild enough to eat raw, as I unfortunately discovered. This is for two people and takes, oh, five minutes to make.

  • one green kohlrabi (a head of kohlrabi? a ball of kohlrabi?)
  • some sort of salad dressing

Peel the kohlrabi and slice it into thin (1/8 of an inch or less) wedges. Dress.

So, what sort of dressing to use? I always use a really simple vinaigrette: olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper shaken up in a jar. I bet some dill or tarragon would be nice too, but now it's starting to get fussy.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Duck with Dates

I've known how to cook duck breasts for a long time--oddly, it was one of the first things I learned how to cook--but I only recently learned to cook duck legs. You can also make this with duck breasts: just fry them, slice them up, and add them to the sauce at the very end. The sauce is also good with pork chops. This is for two people.

  • 1/4 cup chopped, pitted dried dates (measure them by packing them lightly into a measuring cup after they're chopped--for me, it was eight dates)
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tbs. dry red wine
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 duck legs
  • salt, pepper

Soak the dates in the wine and put this aside. Sprinkle the legs with salt and pepper and put them skin down on a skillet over medium heat. Once they start sizzling, turn the heat down all the way and cover the skillet. Leave them like this for an hour. Check them from time to time to make sure nothing is burning. If you check and see a lot of liquid other than the melted duck fat, take the cover off for a while to let it evaporate (this has only ever happened to me once). After an hour, flip the duck over and cook for another 45 minutes, covered. Then, remove the cover and flip the duck over one more time, and turn up the heat a tiny bit. Cook for five or ten minutes to crisp up the skin, making sure you don't burn it. Remove the duck.

Pour off most of the duck fat--there will be a huge amount in the pan, and it's worth saving. Cook the onions over medium heat in this pan, stirring once in a while, and adding salt and pepper. After about ten minutes, when they're soft, add the dates and wine and turn the heat up all the way. Scrape as much as you can off the bottom of the pan and let the wine reduce until the sauce doesn't taste too winey anymore. Serve with the duck.

The times for cooking the duck are really flexible; at least, I've never overcooked duck legs, and I've cooked them for a lot longer than I said to.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Brined Pork Chops

When I was in high school I read the dining section of the New York Times every Wednesday and was always up to date on what was fashionable among the gourmet crowd. This was odd knowledge to have, because my cooking repertoire was limited to scrambled eggs and a pasta sauce made of parsley and garlic. Back then, the new craze was brining, and every week there was an article about the virtues of meat soaked in salt water. Eventually there was even a brining backlash, as people complained about the texture it gave the meat. I never persuaded my parents to brine anything, so I had to remain neutral in the great debate, until now. And so, my verdict: brining pork chops makes them tender and tasty. I got my basic brining technique from Bruce Aidell's Complete Book of Pork. He suggests many different brines, but the only essential thing is the proportion of salt and water and the temperature, which controls the rate the salt is absorbed. That's why he tells you to add ice cubes to the brine to bring it down to refrigerator temperature. This recipe is for two people and only takes fifteen minutes besides the brining.
  • 1 3/4 cups water
  • 2 tbs. kosher salt, or slightly less normal salt
  • 2 tbs. brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon, or a cinnamon stick
  • 5 cloves
  • 1/2 cup ice cubes
  • 2 pork chops
  • pepper
  • minced fresh rosemary or crumbled dried rosemary
  • 1 tbs. olive oil or lard

Mix the water, salt, and sugar in some sort of container that will fit two pork chops. (I used a pie plate. Other options are a big bowl or a zip-loc bag.) Stir until the salt and sugar have dissolved and add the ice cubes, cloves, and cinnamon. Put the pork chops into the container. They should be submerged, or at least nearly so. Put this in the refrigerator for 2-6 hours, depending on the thickness of the chops. Bruce Aidell recommends that you brine 1/2 to 3/4 inch chops for 2 hours, 3/4 to 1 inch chops for 3 hours, and 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inch chops for 4-6 hours. I would brine conservatively, since my pork chops are often teetering on the edge of oversaltiness.

Take the pork chops out of the brine and pat them dry. Rub them with pepper and rosemary (but no salt!). Heat the oil in a pan over medium-high heat until the oil has just started to smoke. Cook the chops for two or three minutes a side; they should be lightly browned at this point. If the chops are thin--3/4 of an inch or less--then they're probably done. If they're thicker, turn the heat down to medium and cover the pan. Even very thick chops will probably be done in another three or four minutes. They should be 140-145 degrees and should be pink in the middle. Serve with applesauce.