Sunday, October 22, 2006

Little House Off the Interstate

Just to get it out of the way--nope, haven't heard anything from the job interview yet, so that's still in limbo of sorts. Don't worry, I'll keep you posted as things unfold.

Fall is in the air, and my little cooking mind turns to comfort food...Oh, who the hell am I kidding? I'm about comfort food all the time. 24/7/365. It could be 110 degrees outside, and I'm still up for macaroni and cheese. Although, I'd probably prefer cold mac and cheese straight from the fridge, I won't discriminate based on the heaviness factor of the food. And the richness thing...I must have some sort of gastronomic screw loose, because I don't get it when people say "that's too rich for me." Part of the downside of being an omnivore, I guess. I just suck it up and eat it anyway.

So, Fall. Which makes me and all the grocery store marketers think of apples, which are flooding the place in every type imaginable, along with all sorts of stuff to put with the apples. My personal favorite (and The Man's) is the little individual packs of caramel dip that come 4 to a package. No more fighting over who gets the last of the caramel, because we each get our own pack. The Man's love for all things caramel is legendary, and it wouldn't surprise me if he was down in the basement of doom just mainlining those little individual tubs.

So, Friday night, I decide to make pork chops and serve them with Stouffer's Escalloped Apples. I love those little packs of apples--just nuke and ta da! A side dish! Except that there were no little packs of escalloped apples in freezer section of My Favorite Grocery Store. And, there was no sticker on the shelves indicating that there would be more forthcoming, that the store was temporarily out of them, et cetera. Sad, so sad. So, now, I'm forced to rely on my actual chef skills if I want a side dish of apples for dinner.

Back, waaaaay back in the dim far reaches of my brain, in that giant corral of pop culture knowledge, popped up the words "apples and onions." Hmm...Where the hell have I heard that before? So, of course I Google it and find mention of The Little House Cookbook. Yep, "that" Little House...Laura Ingalls Wilder in the Big Woods along with Ma, Pa, and Michael Landon. And, you know what? I actually own The Little House Cookbook, and after further investigation, I recall that this is one of Almanzo favorite dishes...see, this is why I cannot do math, but I'm a great asset to a bar trivia night team.

Anyhoo, I decide to brine the pork chops and grill them (okay, make The Man grill them) and throw together this fried apples and onions delight. It's got bacon, apples, and onions...Exactly how bad could it be?

My favorite brining recipe (okay, currently my ONLY brining recipe) is one I snagged from Alton and Good Eats. He made a grilled stuffed pork chop during the episode, and I swiped the brine from the first part of that recipe. It's very simple and easy to put together, and with just 2 hours or so of brining time, the taste difference is freakin' amazing.

Give this a whirl:

Pork Chop Brine a la Alton

1 cup salt

1 cup brown sugar

1 tablespoon black peppercorns (I couldn't find my black peppercorns, so I used a blend that I had of pink, black, white, worked fine)

1 tablespoon mustard powder

2 cups cider vinegar, heated (i.e., zapped in microwave)

1 pound ice cubes

In a plastic container put the salt, sugar, peppercorns, and mustard powder. Add the hot vinegar and swirl to dissolve. Let mixture sit for 5 to 10 minutes to develop flavor. Add ice cubes and shake to melt most of the ice. Add chops and cover with brine. Refrigerate for 2 hours...give or take. I think mine were in there about an hour and a half. Using ice instead of water helps cool the brine quicker. You don't want to put your meat in hot brine.

Remove chops from container and rinse. Rinsing is very important; otherwise, they will be too salty. Grill as you wish.

The Fried Apples and Onions turned out pretty well, too...from The Little House Cookbook:

1/2 lb Bacon, sliced
2 lbs Onions (I used 2 large)
2 lbs Apples, tart, chopped (I used 2 large)
2 Tbsps Brown sugar

Salt pork may be substituted for the bacon.

Fry bacon slices in 12" skillet until brown and crisp. Set aside on a warm serving platter.

While meat is frying, peel onions, leaving stems to hold for slicing. To prevent your eyes from watering, hold a slice of bread in your teeth while you slice the onions as thin as possible. (No, I didn't try this trick, mainly because I thought The Man would catch me and have a field day with it...the age of digital cameras can be a frightening one. I've yet to find a way to keep the eyes watering...I've done the refrigerated onion trick, sliced them with my mouth open, sliced them with the sharpest knife possible, etc. Sometimes, the eyes, they just water.) Discard stems.

Core apples and cut crosswise in circles about 1/4" thick. Apple skins help the slices hold their shape and add color to the dish, so don't peel unless skins are tough or scarred. (Amazingly enough, I do not have an apple corer...of the mountain of kitchen gadgets I have, there is not a corer to be found. Will immediately rectify this situation. I ended up just slicing the apples in half, removing the cores, and then thinly slicing. I also used Rome apples, but I think Granny Smith would be great, too.)

Drain all but 1 Tbsp fat from skillet, then add onion slices. Cook over medium-high heat about 3 minutes. Cover with apple slices in an even layer. Sprinkle brown sugar over all, cover skillet, & cook until tender, a few minutes more. Stir only to prevent scorching. Remove to warm plate with bacon slices. Serves 6, or me and The Man if you've not had lunch all day.

I loved the Little House Books when I was a child. I loved the peek into the past and how people lived...sort of went through the pioneer girl phase. I used to beg my grandmother to make things that Laura and her family ate. Specifically, I wanted her to make cornmeal mush. Laura ate that for breakfast, and I was convinced that it must be the tastiest stuff on Earth. My grandmother told me that I would not like it, but I insisted along the lines of pleaseohpleaseohpleasemakeit, I'llneveraskforanythingeveragain, I promise! So, she made it. And, I hated it. She didn't do the fried version, which might have been better, but just the cooked-on-the-stove-in-a-pot-variety. Ick. She also drew the line when I was reading about George Washington and wanted her make hoe cakes with an actual hoe. I think she was very glad when I moved from the pioneer phase to the horse phase, because I didn't seem to want to eat sour mash and hay...and luckily, we didn't live anywhere near a seashore, so I didn't want oysters and other delights from Chincoteague...and my Misty fascination is a whole 'nother story.


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