Archive | September 2011

Maple-Black-Pepper Pork Chops

This song came on during my commute to work this morning, and it has, thus far, completely made my day.

I realized, as I was bopping along to this, that I actually like my commute. I’ve always been fond of transition spaces–airports, trains, waiting rooms–spaces that have no other function than to hold you while you wait for something to end or something to begin. And that’s essentially what my commute is, especially in the morning. The traffic isn’t too bad, the scenery is varied and interesting, and I have half an hour of just time, maybe the only moment like it in my day. I move from the northside of Chicago to the southside, over a tangle of highways, streets, neighborhoods, buildings, and people.

September itself is a transition; it starts out in summer, but by today, the last of it, it is undeniably not. Not lazy, not gluttonous, not warm. The leaves are starting to change, I’m wearing a jacket every day, the air is crisp. I love the brightness of the light and the chill of the breeze. I love roasting vegetables and picking apples and making pies. But, still–I’m not entirely there yet. I’m still in the transition stage. I look up and see that it’s the last day of September and I think I’ve been driving too fast, moving through the months so quickly. I’m just about ready for this season, but part of me misses summer.

I’m trying, though. I made this the other day, and this recipe is most certainly a fall recipe, with maple as its dominate flavor. It may sound overly sweet, but it’s really not. The shallots, thyme, and black peppercorns round it out. I served this with roasted butternut squash and poured the sauce over the whole shebang. With a light endive salad to add a crispness, this was a perfect fall meal.

Maple Black Pepper Pork Chops

2 bone-in, thick-cut pork chops
1 tbsp. olive oil
3/4 tsp. whole black peppercorns, crushed
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 medium shallot, minced
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
2 1/2 tbsp. cider vinegar
1/4 c. maple syrup (Grade B or Dark Amber)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Meanwhile, season the pork chops well with 3/4 tsp of salt. Pour the oil into a large ovenproof skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the chops when the oil is warm, and cook for four or five minutes on each side, until they are well browned.

Flip the chops, then carefully transfer the skillet to the oven. Cook until their internal temperature reaches 145 degrees, just a few minutes, depending on thickness of the chops. Set the chops aside and cover loosely with foil.

Place the skillet back on medium-high heat. Sautee the shallot with thyme and the rest of the salt until the shallot becomes transluscent.

Pour in the vinegar and scrapte the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to dislodge any browned bits. Reduce heat to a simmer, and let reduce for 2 minutes. Then add the maple syrup and crushed black pepper. Return to a simmer and cook for 8 minutes.

Serve the sauce over the chops.

Guest Columnist: Angela’s Cheap-Ass Dinners

My friend Angela knows how to make a mean meal on a few measly dollars, and wants to share her wisdom with you. She’ll be blogging her thrifty, sassy heart out here for us on occasion. Today she brings you: Taco Bowl. This tasty concoction will provide you with a snappy dinner for two and only set you back about $13. Total.

Taco bowls make me think of faux Mexican fast food, a la Taco Bell, or an out-of-touch Midwestern homemaker experimenting with Kraft cheeses and Velveeta. Taco bowls are not authentic Mexican food, and as a staunch supporter of my little neighborhood Mexican grocery store, I feel a bit like I’m letting its super-friendly employees down. But everyone knows the best food is usually a guilty pleasure, and this one happens to be both delicious and cheap. So here’s my recipe for a homemade taco bowl.

Perfect for cranky, crummy Monday nights.


1 small spanish onion – $0.30
2-3 cloves of garlic – $0.50
olive oil
Cumin powder – $2
2 cans black beans (Goya is best), drained and rinsed – $2
1 can vegetable or chicken stock – $1
1 tablespoon mole – $3/jar
Corn tortillas – $0.33
3 or 4 tbsp. canola or vegetable oil
Your favorite salsa – $2
Cilantro – $1
Limes – $1

Makes 2-3 servings.

First, you must make the mole.  In a small pot, heat the 3 parts stock and 1 part mole paste on medium-low heat until the mole is totally dissolved. Taste, and go ahead and add more mole paste if you’d like.  In the meantime dice your onions and mince your garlic, and in a medium pot, sautee both in olive oil until the onions are soft and translucent.  Add as much cumin as you can stand (I love the stuff, so I used about 3 or 4 teaspoons), and let cook over low heat for about a minute.

Add the beans to your onion, garlic and cumin mixture, and stir so that the beans and onions are well mixed.  Add the mole, and stir again. Cover the beans and increase the heat to medium. Let it come to a bubbling boil, stir, cover, and then bring to a low simmer.  Let it simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the beans are softened, increase the heat to medium and uncover it so that most of the excess liquid boils off, 15-20 minutes.  This will make the beans like a thick porridge and not soupy.

Next, heat the canola or vegetable oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat.  Tear your tortillas into 2-3 inch strips or triangles, and add to the oil.  Using tongs, flip the tortillas over so that both sides are a golden brown, and then place them on a paper towel to soak up the excess oil.

By this time, your black beans should be thick and mushy, and your tortilla strips should be crispy.  Scoop a helping of the black beans into a bowl, add some tortilla strips on top, and garnish with cilantro, salsa and fresh lime juice.

Greek Cucumber Salad Sandwich

The theme of my summer has been eating outdoors, thanks to this highly useful and necessary purchase I made in July:
This pimped-out cooler makes picnicking a snap, and very quickly became the MVP of the season. My summer, which officially came to a close last week (boo), was filled with a bounty of delicious, simple meals that were packed into the cooler and then unpacked at one of Chicago’s lovely outdoor spaces. I have the good fortune of living a block from Humboldt Park, which is a 207-acre greenspace filled with ponds, baseball fields, gardens, and a weekly impromptu classic-car parade. Pimped-out cooler made it super easy to transform a weeknight dinner into an outdoor excursion, complete with entertainment (baseball and soccer games seem to happen every night of the summer).
picnic at humboldt park
Luckily my partner-in-outdoor-eating agrees that there’s no reason to eat indoors if the weather allows. One day, I came home from work to a packed cooler and a Brandon with a plan. You may know that there’s no quicker way to my heart than to cook for me, but cooking for me AND taking it outdoors is a sure win. So he earned some big points with this delicious picnic, comprised of tangy Greek cucumber salad sandwiches and a crisp white wine.
greek cucumber salad sandwiches
The weather was perfect, with a blue sky and gentle clouds. The sun set behind the baseball field as the kids finished their game.
Maybe it’s cruel to post this summery recipe on a day like today, with gray, cold rain, and no end in sight. But I’m not ready to put pimped-out cooler away for the year yet; consider this an incantation asking the weather to let me squeeze in just a few more picnics. If you get the chance, make these sandwiches and eat them outdoors. They’ll transport  you back to a lazy August afternoon, make you forget about the rain.
Greek Cucumber Salad Sandwich
Adapted from 

2 1/2 pounds Japanese, Persian, or English hothouse cucumbers
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup labneh (Lebanese yogurt cheese) or Greek-style yogurt
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons salt-packed capers, rinsed well, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves
1 tablespoon (or more) fresh lemon juice
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 9×7 inch loaves focaccia, halved horizontally, or 8 ciabatta rolls
Extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. If using English cucumbers, split lengthwise and remove seeds (leave other varieties whole). Arrange cucumbers on a parchment paper–lined baking sheet, cut side down. Brush with melted butter. Roast cucumbers until crisp-tender, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel–lined plate; chill until cold.

Cut Japanese or Persian cucumbers lengthwise in half. Cut hothouse cucumber halves lengthwise in half. Slice crosswise into 1/4 inch-thick pieces. Whisk Greek yogurt and next 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Stir in sliced cucumbers and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Season filling to taste with salt, pepper, and more lemon juice, if desired.

Brush cut sides of focaccia or rolls with olive oil; place on a baking sheet and toast in a 400° oven until just crispy and lightly browned, 3-5 minutes. Divide filling among focaccia bottoms, cover with tops, and cut each into 4 sandwiches (or divide filling among rolls).

picnic sandwich