Brined Pork Chops with Apple Compote from Cooking Light's Real Family Food Cookbook (and the Giveaway Winner)

A couple of days ago, you learned that I’m shy. Not painfully so, but for me to talk to people I don’t know does not come naturally.

I’m also quiet. I don’t talk very much and prefer to be the listener in a conversation. It’s always been the case, but that quest for silence has been amplified since the arrival of Dudette, whose mouth runs non-stop from the moment her eyes open in the morning until well after we’ve turned out the light at night.

If you were to walk in my house right this very moment, all you’d hear is the clicking of my keyboard. Otherwise, it’s absolutely still. I love it this way.

My CDs are standing to the side, little particles of dust building layer by layer, feeling absolutely neglected. I have to admit that I miss them too, but I know that in a few hours, home will be filled with music. Dudette will be singing, playing her drums, pounding out noise on the piano (lessons will start next year), or producing some other form of cacophony.

Hubby likes to talk as well. In fact, he’s the yin to my yang. Introverted, um, no, not so much. When he gets home from work, I listen to his stories from the day, but it’s a bit of a bummer for him because he can’t really re-tell any of the others. After being together for fifteen years or so, I’ve pretty much heard them all.

That means that visitors are very welcome in our house. Like last night. A friend dropped by just as I was getting dinner ready. Hubby and he disappeared to look at a few things that we need done around the house (like re-painting a cathedral ceiling) while I finished up in the kitchen.

Then Dudette and I waited….and waited….and waited while they chatted. I’m pretty certain I heard Hubby say good-bye at least a half dozen times. That’s the way it goes sometimes and it’s a good thing.

The Process

For as far in advance as you have to prepare for this dinner, it’s amazing how quick it is to make. (I love that sentence.)

The chops get brined, which means they spend 24 hours in a salty, sugary, spiced water bath. That’s the preparation. I chose the Basic Brine with the Spice Flavoring. I figured that would go best with the fresh ginger in the apple compote.

Once it’s time to cook, the meal comes together in less than 20 minutes. My chops and compote were finished before the sides were done. I love a meal like that.

The Verdict

Score another for Real Family Food. All three of us finished in record time and eyed the empty serving plate with sorrow. The spice brine is amazing on the chops. I only had boneless, but they were more tender and juicy than I remember ever being. The spice combination was fantastic and paired perfectly with the ginger in the apple compote.

The only thing that I disagreed with was the light coating of cooking spray on a very hot iron skillet. As you can see from my chops, they didn’t take to well to that idea and tried to burn. I had to turn the heat down and add a bit of oil for moisture, especially since I had patted my pork dry as instructed.

I think we’ve found a new favorite pork chop recipe.

What I’d Do Different Next Time

I’d use a couple of teaspoons of oil in the pan instead of cooking spray.

Brined Pork Chops with Apple Compote from Cooking Light's Real Family Food Cookbook (and the Giveaway Winner)
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Dinner
Cuisine: American
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • Master Brine (recipe below)
  • 4 6-ounce bone-in center-cut pork chops (about ½ inch thick)
  • Cooking spray
  • 1½ pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into ½-inch wedges
  • ½ cup apple cider
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons grated peeled fresh ginger
Instructions
  1. Prepare Master Brine. Add pork to brine; seal bag. Let stand in refrigerator 24 hours.

  2. Remove pork from brine, rinse and pat dry. Let stand 30 minutes.


  3. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until very hot. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add pork, cook 3-4 minutes on each side or until done. Transfer chops to a plate; cover and keep warm.


  4. Add apples to pan; saute 5 minutes. Add cider, brown sugar and ginger, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Reduce heat to low; cook 5 minutes until apple is tender, stirring frequently. Serves 4.


Master Brine
Basic Brine:
cups water
/2 tablespoons kosher salt
tablespoons granulated sugar
teaspoons black peppercorns


To prepare basic brine, combine first 4 ingredients in a large heavy-duty zip-top plastic bag. Add ingredients for either the spice flavoring or the herb flavoring; seal bag, shaking until salt and sugar dissolve.

Makes 6 cups (enough for 1½ pounds of meat or poultry).

 

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Turkey Club Wraps from Cooking Light's Real Family Food Cookbook

Yesterday the following question hit my facebook page:

“Which culinary trend do you like better: salted caramel or pork belly?”

I didn’t answer, but the word ‘trend’ created increasingly loud echoes in my mind and ripples of bad memories began popping up at random moments for the rest of the day.

Mini skirts. Do you know how bad those things look on people who are short and not Twiggy thin? I do.

Farrah Fawcett flip. I tried. I really did. but I didn’t have a whole host of stylists to help me make it look good and stay flipped for longer than 15 minutes, so it never did.

Dressing like Madonna. It was never a good idea and no one should have done it. From the gloves to the hair poofy thing to the low boots with socks, it was just bad.

Truffle oil. Sometimes I can barely afford good extra virgin olive oil, let alone something as pricey as this. However, would I take a bottle if someone gave it to me? Um, yeah, I would.

Reality television. I’m still waiting for that one to die off. I think I have a long, long wait.

Ceviche. This was the first one I thought of because it appeared in every food challenge show (another trend that piggybacks on the reality thing) for a while. Even Hubby asked about it he heard the word so often.

So, it looks like we’re dealing with salted caramel and pork belly for a while. Which will drive up the cost of both. It did it for pita bread. They changed the shape, renamed it naan and raised the price.

You’ll be happy to know that I’m already on board with these two trends. I’ve made stuff using salted caramel (here and here) and yes, I’ve even made a pork belly (here). That’s me. Trendy.

Those who know me are laughing. You can stop now. When I made those dishes, I didn’t know they were part of the new food movement. I’m so not trendy.

Except today. I’m using flat breads wraps, which in any other time would be called tortillas and cost half as much as these did.

The Process

This is exactly what it says it is; a club sandwich in a wrap. If you can cook bacon, smash avocado and slice vegetables, you can make this.

The Verdict

It’s hard to mess up a turkey club. This tasted as expected, but unless you’re the one putting it together, you don’t notice how much work went into make it come in under the healthy eating guidelines.

As I spread a quarter of an avocado on each wrap, I thought there was no way any of it would show up in a bite. It did. As I worked really hard to leave the salt shaker on the table, I thought that the wrap would taste terrible without any of my favorite seasoning added. It didn’t. The bacon more than made up for its lack.

This was very good. Yes, it’s ‘just’ a club, but it’s a carefully balanced healthy club. Just remember, you can only eat half.

What I’d Do Different Next Time

I’d buy wheat tortillas instead of trendy wraps.

Turkey Club Wraps from Cooking Light's Real Family Food Cookbook
 
Prep time
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Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Sandwich
Cuisine: American
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • ½ ripe avocado, seeded
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • Dash of ground red pepper
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • 2 2-ounce low-carb, low-fat sandwich wraps (such as California Lavash)
  • 4 ounces organic lower-sodium deli turkey
  • 4¼-inch slices tomato
  • ½ cup thinly vertically sliced red onion
  • 1 cup shredded romaine lettuce
  • 4 center-cut bacon slices, cooked
Instructions
  1. Scoop pulp from avocado; place in a bowl. Add lemon juice, pepper and garlic; mash with a fork to desired consistency.
  2. Spread avocado mixture evenly over wraps. Layer 2 ounces turkey, 2 tomato slices, ¼ cup onion, ½ cup lettuce and 2 bacon slices on each wrap. Cut wraps in half. Secure with wooden picks. Serve immediately.
  3. A serving is ½ wrap.

 

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Potato Coins with Fried Eggs from Cooking Light's Real Family Food Cookbook

I needed to wash the kitchen floor. It was something I needed to all morning. And then I needed to do it well into the afternoon.

It was ready to be done. I prepped the floor; sweeping very carefully, removing all the chairs from the eating area, etc. I even got so far as to fill the bucket with warm water and cleaner. The mop was right there, leaning up against the counter, taunting me.

That’s right; a mop and bucket. None of that easy-way-out Swiffer thing going on this time. I have one of those fancy-dancy items that’s more an easy way out than something that gets the floor clean. It sucks up batteries and uses specialized, you-must-buy-this-brand pads and juice. I think it’s a brilliant marketing trick. I also think it’s worthless in my kitchen.

You see, the floor in that favorite room of mine is covered in Italian tile. I love it. Except when I have to stand on it for hours. Or clean it. It has little indents and pits that give it a beautiful look and texture. It has grout, dark grout that shows up flour and milk spills very well.It requires hands-and-knees scrubbing, sometimes with a toothbrush.

In my attempt to avoid washing my kitchen floor, I cleaned the bathroom, washed and folded laundry, scrubbed the outdoor furniture in anticipation of winter, picked up Dudette’s room and cleaned out the litter box.

When Hubby called me at lunchtime and asked what I was doing, I told him I was eating breakfast; this one, to be precise.

What I didn’t tell him was that I was avoiding washing my kitchen floor.

The Process

I had fully intended to warn you that the photo in the cookbook is deceiving, but I have to admit that mine above looks exactly like that one so now I don’t know what to say.

Ok, that’s not true. I do know what to say.

In order to get your potatoes to turn out the way they do in the photos, you’ll need to baby them. I watched them closely, turning them often to make sure that they were browning prettily and not scorching too much.

My onions, as you can see, had a bit more heat then they could handle and tried to burn on me. The slices need to either be a bit thicker or the onion itself needs to be added a bit later in the cooking. Just know that what you see wasn’t just a matter of throw the stuff in and ‘stir occasionally.’ You have to make sure that the thin coins flip (and have you ever tried doing that with wet potato slices?).

The egg is another thing. If you look at the cookbook’s and my photos; we both serve the dish with a fried egg, which is technically one that’s cooked in oil (hence the whole fried term). The instructions in the cookbook give directions for making the the egg over-easy. When it comes down to it, it’s really your choice; make it how you like it.

Finally, I did not cook the potatoes and eggs in the same pan. I find that it’s very hard to keep cooked potatoes warm without making them soft and soggy. So, I used separate skillets in order to have the eggs finish cooking at the same time the potatoes were done. It worked out perfectly.

The Verdict

This is eggs and hash browns so there really isn’t much to say about flavor that hasn’t been said before. I’m a fan of this type of breakfast.

What it comes down to is the preparation and whether it’s worth it. If we’re talking just ‘lil ole me; no. If we’re talking about my family; still no. Hubby and Dudette are very happy with my country hash browns so I see no reason to change.

However, if you’re wanting to take the time to babysit the potato coins while they cook, this is a beautiful dish to serve guests and anyone else you want to impress because it tastes good and looks wonderful.

What I’d Do Different Next Time

Change the title to reflect the egg’s real prepration; maybe Potato Coins Topped with Egg.

Potato Coins with Fried Eggs from Cooking Light's Real Family Food Cookbook
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Breakfast
Cuisine: American
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 pound fingerling potatoes, cut into ¼-inch thick slices (3½ cups)
  • 1 cup (1/4-inch) vertically sliced onion
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 large eggs
Instructions
  1. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil; swirl to coat.
  2. Add potato slices, onion and salt; saute 6 minutes, stirring after 3 minutes. Saute 6 additional minutes or until potato is tender, stirring occasionally, adding garlic during last 1 minute of cooking time. Remove from heat; stir in thyme and next three ingredients (through pepper)
  3. Remove potato mixture from pan; keep warm.
  4. Heat pan over medium-low heat. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil; swirl to coat. Add eggs to pan, cook 1 minute or until whites are just set around edges. Carefully turn eggs over; cook 1 minute or until whites are set.
  5. Serve immediately with potatoes. Serves 4 (serving size: 1 egg and ½ cup potatoes)

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Herbed Brown Rice Pilaf from Cooking Light's Real Family Food Cookbook

Have you ever owned a Jeep? I’m not talking about the Cherokee, Liberty or Compass. I mean the real Jeep. The soft-topped Wrangler.

If it’s not obvious by now, yeah, I’ve owned one. The seed of love for it was planted decades ago by a friend who had a beautiful black Jeep that spent more time covered in mud and topless than, well, than a topless mud wrestler.

That Jeep was amazing amounts of fun. Pull the top off, lift the door off its hinges and point the vehicle in any direction we wanted.  Oh, the freedom and joy of it all.

Ninety-nine percent of the time. You see, there was the time that we decided to head up to Lake Superior from the camp in northern Wisconsin I’ve told you about before. We left around 10pm and it might have been 40 degrees out. Knowing that the next day would be beautiful and warm, we opted to go top-down, doors-off. In order to make it there in a non-popsicle state, we wrapped ourselves in down sleeping bags and wore heavy gloves, then headed north, in the dark, in the cold, at a high rate of speed.

I drove that trip and am not exaggerating when I tell you that my friend had to help unclench my fingers from the steering wheel, they were so cold. Yup, the joy of it all.

You wouldn’t seriously think that the one percent of uncomfortable, searingly hot, bitterly cold, bouncing and jouncing, incredibly loud soft-top flapping sounds; all these things that are Jeep, would keep me away from owning one myself, would you? Nah.

I bought a Wrangler not too long after I moved to North Carolina. It was my joy, my freedom, my independence. Hubby got bit by the Jeep bug as well and we relished trips to the mountains, journeys to the beach and everyday forays around town. Sure, we got stuck in the occasional downpour or burned the tops of our ears because we forgot sunscreen, but that’s expected when one percent exists.

Then we got Dudette’s adoption referral. In the span of a heartbeat, my wonderful, glorious Jeep went from being a source of joy to a potential death trap. As much as I loved it, I had no problem letting go and moving on to a family sedan. Ok, maybe a little problem, but considering the precious little one that was to occupy the back seat, it was nothing.

Brown rice is that way for me. I’ve spent my whole life eating white rice. My parents would buy a 100 pound sack at a time. Ah, the memories of being handed a measuring cup and told to run up to the attic and bring it back full of rice. Again, and again and again. Do you know how wonderful it is to be raised on authentic rice pilaf? Yeah, it’s that amazing.

Then Dudette came along. And I turned 50. At this period of time when my body’s supposed to start not working as well as it used to, I can’t afford for that to happen. I live with a mini nuclear reactor and am expected to keep up with it.

So, changes have to be made. I had to let go of my beloved white rice and move on to brown.

The Verdict

Who knew that so pretty could be so easy.

The vegetables are onion, carrot and celery sauteed in a bit of olive oil. The herbs are fresh parsley, rosemary and thyme (all we need is sage in there….name those artists and their song).

Cooked brown rice meets vegetable combination and, hello, gorgeous.

For those who haven’t cooked brown rice much, you’ll need more water. I usually use a 2:1 ratio (2 cups of water for 1 cup of rice). With brown rice I use a 3:1 ratio. In this case, 3 cups of water to 1 cup of rice.

The Verdict

I’ve had the Real Family Food cookbook for less than a week and I’ve already made this dish twice, once with the null from the same book (they recommend the two together and I heartily agree), and the second to be eaten on its own as my lunch. When I made it with the chicken, Hubby had two servings. It’s that good.

Dudette. Well, Dudette has decided that she wants a Jeep so I think she’s not ready for brown rice yet. She complained about the cooked carrots, the chewiness, the green stuff (which she thought was zucchini). That being said, she ate every bite. There’s hope.

What I’d Do Different Next Time

Double the batch. Always.

Herbed Brown Rice Pilaf from Cooking Light's Real Family Food Cookbook
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Side
Cuisine: American
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • ½ cup uncooked brown rice
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • ⅔ cup chopped onion
  • ¼ cup chopped parsley
  • ½ cup chopped carrot
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • ½ teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
  • ½ teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Instructions
  1. Cook rice according to package directions, omitting salt and fat.
  2. While rice cooks, heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil; swirl to coat. Add onion, celery, and carrot; saute 5 minutes or until tender. Remove from heat; stir in parsley and remaining ingredients. Add vegetable mixture to cooked rice; fluff with a fork. Serve immediately.
Notes
Double the batch. Always.

 

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Simplest Roast Chicken from Cooking Light's Real Family Food Cookbook

Can you watch horror movies? I can’t. It’s pretty ironic, actually, because directly behind me sits a bookshelf that is filled from top to bottom with Stephen King’s works. On the DVD stand, however, sit just a few of his movies; The Stand, The Green Mile, Shawshank Redemption. The more benign ones that won’t give me nightmares.

Things have always gone bump in the night. I’ve always believed in the monster under the bed . That creature is still lying in wait to grab my ankles as I race up the basement stairs with no backs to them at my parents’ house.

I don’t need any help in working my imagination to a frightened frenzy. So, I stay away from horror movies.

That’s why it irritates me when a non-horror genre is able to niggle some new seed of terror into my brain. It happened last night when I watched episode 5 of season 5’s Doctor Who. It’s about statues. The kind of statues you see in regular life; angels with arms spread at their sides at grave sites or in old churches.

In this reality, they are alive. But, they can only come to life when you’re not looking at them. While you’re gazing at them, they’re truly stone statues. When they’re alive, they’re terrifying, people-eating beasties. You look, they’re twenty feet away. Blink. Ten feet. Blink again. You’re dead.

I watched that episode before going to bed. And then, I couldn’t sleep. You try closing your eyes when you’ve heard, ‘Do not blink. Do not close your eyes for a second,’ over and over again for the past hour.

When you’ve had a night that’s been filled with constantly checking the shadows, keeping arms and legs from hanging over the edge of the bed and listening for the creaking of floorboards, the day needs to be filled with comfort. Hot, cinnamon brown sugar oatmeal is required at breakfast. Soothing grilled cheese and tomato soup is necessary at lunch.

And for dinner, the familiarity and homey pleasure of roast chicken.

The Process

This recipe comes out of Cooking Light’s new Real Family Food cookbook. In fact, the rice under the chicken does too, but that’s a topic for another day. The cookbook itself is packed with a variety of dishes that I know my family would enjoy. Each comes with a photo and a word from the recipe’s creator. For this dish she says:

I recently read about a guy who roasted a chicken in a pan with nothing but salt and pepper. I mean nothing. After all the lemon-stuffing, bacon-wrapping, and herb-buttering I’ve put myself through to create the perfect roast chicken, I had to try it. One word: heaven. Another word; easy.

Easy; yes. This is easy. It really is a matter of sprinkling salt and pepper on the bird, then popping it in the oven.

Except then you need to pull out the pan to make the sauce. That doubles the clean-up. I know it’s just one pan, but a pan is a pan is a pan, especially when the dishwasher fills quickly and you hate washing by hand.

Another unusual instruction was to start roasting the chicken breast-side down and then to flip it after thirty minutes. When I did that, most of the breasts’ skin stayed on the bottom of the pan, which ends up looking very unappealing if you’re serving guests. Ok, it looks unappealing when you’re serving family too, but that’s a bit different, isn’t it.

Since I was able to choose which herbs to use for the sauce, I got a huge smile out of being able to walk out, and pick chives, rosemary and oregano to add to the sauce. You really can use whatever you want so use your imagination or whatever you have on hand.

The Verdict

The chicken is very tasty, as proven by the fact that the family picked the bird clean. Regarding living up to the title, however, I wouldn’t call this the simplest ever. Having to create the sauce takes more time than stuffing quartered lemons, onion and garlic in the cavity.

The sauce is delicious, though. I was a bit surprised at how much butter was used. My regular roasted chicken doesn’t use any since I just do a light cooking spray coating, so for us, the sauce was very rich. Hubby thought it had vinegar in it, which told me that it was a bit tangy for his taste buds.

I am also a fan of the way stuffing a bird infuses it with flavor from the inside. While the sauce coats the outside of the meat, the inside tasted just of chicken.

Final word. Is this tasty? Yes, very much so. Will I make it again? Maybe. Probably.

What I’d Do Different Next Time

I most definitely would not start the chicken breast-side-down and then flip it. Having the skin left on the roasting pan and the meat exposed to the hot air dried it out too much. And frankly, it just doesn’t look very attractive. I’d also stuff my bird with onions, lemon, garlic and rosemary (and still call it simple).

Simplest Roast Chicken from Cooking Light's Real Family Food Cookbook
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: American
Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • 1 4-pound whole chicken
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh herbs, such as chives, tarragon and basil
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 425.
  2. Remove and discard giblets and neck from chicken. Trim excess fat. Tie ends of legs together with twine. Lift wing tips up and over back, tuck under chicken. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt and the pepper.
  3. Place chicken, breast side down, in a shallow roasting pan. Bake at 425 for 30 minutes. Turn chicken over. Baste chicken with pan drippings. Bake an additional 20 minutes or until a thermometer inserted into meaty part of leg registers 165. Remove chicken from pan; let stand 10 minutes. Discard skin. Carve chicken.
  4. Combine butter and lemon juice in a small saucepan; cook over low heat 2 minutes or until butter melts. Remove from heat; stir in remaining ¼ teaspoon salt and herbs. Serve chicken with sauce.
Notes
I most definitely would not start the chicken breast-side-down and then flip it. Having the skin left on the roasting pan and the meat exposed to the hot air dried it out too much. And frankly, it just doesn't look very attractive. I'd also stuff my bird with onions, lemon, garlic and rosemary (and still call it simple).

 

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