Friday Night Home Date – Brined Pork Chops with Italian Spices

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Spicing-up the brine

Harold McGee describes, in great detail, the miracle of brining in On Food and Cooking. All I know is that brined pork chops are the best thing going, and enjoying them on a Friday night is even better.

My recipe is a variation of one from Cook’s Illustrated, and I love it because it’s neat and relatively quick. What makes this a “quick” brine is the ratio of sugar, salt and water. It’s more concentrated than other brining formulas, so the chops get the full benefit of the soak in just one hour, and you don’t need a giant bucket or stockpot.

When salt invades the muscle tissues of a piece of meat, the cells expand and become receptive to all sorts of aroma molecules that seep out of herbs and spices. So I took cook’s license and dolled up my brine with my favorite Italian flavors.

Trust me, once you taste a brined pork chop, you’ll never go back!

Here are some other tasty-looking chops from some fellow food bloggers:

Matt Bites Vanilla Brine

Cooking up a Storm’s Maple-Brined Pork Chops

Brined Pork Chops with Italian Spices
makes four servings

4 thick cut (1 1/2-inches) pork chops, preferably rib chops
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup kosher salt or 1/4 cup table salt
6 crushed garlic cloves
4 bay leaves, crumbled
1 tablespoon cracked black peppercorns
2 teaspoons crushed fennel seeds
1 or 2 dried chile de arbol, crumbled or 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Zest from 1 lemon, peeled with a vegetable peeler

1. Place pork chops in a gallon size freezer zip-top bag, and place the bag in a large bowl.

2. Whisk the sugar and salt in a large glass bowl with 6 cups water until dissolved. Add the garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns, fennel, chile and zest. Pour the brine over pork chops. Seal bag and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours.

3. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place a shallow roasting pan on center oven rack to heat. Remove chops from brine; discard brine. Pat the chops dry with paper towels. Place a large heavy skillet over medium high heat; add the oil and heat until shimmering, but not smoking. Add chops to skillet and cook about 3 minutes, or until nicely browned. Turn the chops and cook the other side an additional 3 minutes.

4. Transfer the chops to the heated roasting pan in oven. Roast 5 minutes; turn the chops and roast 5 more minutes or until internal temperature reaches 140 degrees. Loosely cover the chops with foil and rest for 5 minutes. The chops will continue to cook while resting, and should reach about 145 degrees.

Copyright (c) 2007 FamilyStyle Food

Crunchy Crab Cakes with Chili Aioli

One Bowl Dinner

Just this past year I renewed my membership at Costco. I signed up when I had babies, mostly to get diapers on the cheap. But since my kids were safely in underpants and I never seemed to need industrial-size containers of ketchup, I let my card expire.

Now I’ve found that a once- or twice-monthly Costco trip is essential. There are certain pantry staples that can be found there at such great prices: Italian cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino and fresh buffalo mozzarella; extra-virgin olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes, organic eggs, and one-pound cans of lump crabmeat.

When I find a can of crabmeat in my refrigerator near the end of another busy day when I didn’t make it to the grocery store, I feel like a mom in a Hamburger Helper commercial, reaching for the package and breathing a big, relieved sigh.

Mixing up a batch of crab cakes couldn’t be easier, is way healthier than any meal that comes out of a box and makes just about everyone happy.

I’ve been experimenting with different recipes, and this one stood out as a winner the other night.

Crunchy Crab Cakes with Chili Aioli
adapted from Fresh Every Day by Sara Foster



Makes about 10 crabcakes

1 pound lump crabmeat, picked through for bits of shell
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped (I leave the seeds in for extra heat)
2 scallions, white and light green parts finely chopped
1/2 cup mayonnaise, divided
Grated zest and juice of one lemon
2 cups panko crumbs
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro
1/4 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon Asian chili garlic sauce
1 teaspoon fresh lemon or lime juice

Place the crab in a large bowl along with the peppers, scallions, lemon zest and juice, 1/4 cup mayonnaise, 1/2 cup panko. eggs, salt, black and cayenne peppers, and cilantro. Mix gently until well combined.

Spread the remaining 1 1/2 cups panko on a shallow tray or baking dish.

Scoop the mixture with a 1/4-cup measure or a small ice-cream scoop and form into cakes about 2-inches in diameter. Dredge the cakes in the panko to coat them lightly on both sides. Arrange them on a large plate or tray, cover and refrigerate for about 30 minutes. When I’m in a hurry, I stick them in the freezer for 15 minutes to firm up.

Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the cakes about 3 minutes per side, or until browned. Transfer to a paper-towel lined platter. (Keep them in a warm oven if you need to do these in batches)

Stir together the remaining mayonnaise, garlic sauce and lemon juice until smooth. Serve with the hot crab cakes.

Copyright (c) 2007 FamilyStyle Food

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Sweet!

Sometimes I find myself with an abundance of those dried-up vanilla bean pods from the grocery store, or I accidentally order five pounds of beans from VSI instead of one quarter pound (I’m kidding, I haven’t actually done that. Yet.).

You can grind hardened vanilla pods with sugar in a food processor for intense vanilla sugar, or stick them in a bottle of neutral spirits, like vodka, and make your own vanilla extract.

Every now and then I throw in a few used beans that I’ve rinsed, or just the withered ones I’ve kept too long. After a few days, they become plump again. In a pinch, I’ve fished a bean out of my extract when I needed one. The seeds become a little diluted, but the pod is still pretty flavorful.

I’m not even going to remind you that this is essentially vanilla-flavored vodka, because you might think of some tasty cocktail to make with it, and use it all up. Might make you happy, though!

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Vanilla beans (the more you use, the better the flavor)
Vodka or light rum

Choose a clean glass container with a stopper. I save clear glass wine bottles with screw tops and distinctive shapes and run them through the dishwasher.

Break the beans into pieces and put the in the bottle; pour in enough vodka or rum to cover the beans. Cover securely and set aside for about 2 weeks. When the liquid is dark brown and fragrant, it’s ready to use.

Copyright (c) 2007 FamilyStyle Food