Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Breaded, Baked Pork Chops

Moist, flavorful and no frying needed.

Oh, humble pork chop, how many ways do we love you? Braised. Seared. Fried. Barbecued. Stuffed. Sauerkraut. Apples. Onion.

Who doesn't savor a pork chop cooked/baked to perfection? Oh, my grandfather just loved them. I wish he were alive today so I could serve him some of my favorite ways to prepare them which he never realized.

This recipe is a delight. It's inspiration was a You Tube video of chef who smeared a pork chop with mayonnaise and then breaded it. GENIUS! Why didn't I think of that? The mayo held the breading with confidence.

Mayo is nothing more than oil whipped into egg ... Much, much lighter than, say, dunking a chop into a gooey, gloppy, raw egg mixture ...

But ....

Why stop there?

Hello .... bottled, salad dressings .... which are basically the same concept as any mayonnaise: oil and egg, with the addition of flavorings. Correct?

I just happened to have a jar of Marie's-brand Parmesan/Ranch dressing in my fridge given to me as a sample by reps of that company for the produce department in which I work. I settled on that for my experiment.

I've made this several times now. And, honestly, I really, and truly, love these pork chops. They are moist because of the "dressing" but not soggy because of the Panko bread crumbs. They are not fried. Instead the bake on a rack in a shallow pan so heat is evenly distributed for perfect roasting.

I baked these in my Breville-brand convection oven on a "roast" cycle. Even so, the last few minutes or so, I turn it up to "broil" just give a bit of crispier top....

(((( As an aside: my fav. kind of pork chop is always and has always been a rib chop. They are non-existant where I live in the South. Instead, I used two "thick-cut" loin chops .... at least one-inch thick .... for a total weight of about 1.4 pounds. Unfortunately .. most of the fat had been "trimmed" away .... for 'our' safety .... LOL .... ))))

  • 2, thick-cut, bone-in pork chops
  • Parmesan/Ranch Dressing (or something similar) or just mayonnaise
  • 6 tablespoons Panko bread crumbs
  • 2-3 tablespoons grated Parmesan/Romano cheese (from a can is just fine!)
  • 3 tablespoons plain, dried bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon whole, rubbed sage
  • 1/2 to one-teaspoon dried, whole thyme
  • Seasoned salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste

Pre-heat oven to 400 F.

Using a damp cloth or squeezed-out wad of paper towel ... wipe the pork chops ... Usually, they contain bits of bone, etc.

Mix all dried ingredients on a sheet of wax paper.

Coat/brush chops with dressing ....

Now roll them and pat them in dried ingredients.... Use dried herbs ... to your preference.

Lightly spritz the chops with a spray of PAM. Place breaded chops on a wire rack inside a shallow pan. This rack is important, so don't omit.

Bake/roast chops for about 40 minutes without turning. Ideally, you want an internal temperature of 160-170 F degrees. If you want the top a bit crunchier, place under broiler for just a minute or two never taking your eyes off the chops since they can easily burn.

Allow chops to rest 10-15 minutes before serving.

.... The star of the show ....

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Food ... Life ... Music

I love when I discover new music--or it discovers me.  I heard Movement 10 of this composition today on NPR while driving to work. I had to pull over to the side of the road because I was so moved and excited! Amazing, I never heard this score until now.

This is a great conductor. So young and so exuberant ... but, more importantly, his emotions are safely shared and expected with his orchestra.

I love this whole piece ... but, if you want to be blown away and don't have time or the patience .... fast forward to 27:17. Turn up the sound. Twist in the ear plugs, dear Pilgrims. And you will understand why Maude from the movie classic "Harold and Maude" said, "Music is the dance of the Universe."

I think of my father when I hear Movement 10. I think of the eulogy I will one day have to deliver when he is gone. I think of him now suddenly alone and I am sad I am not closer. And I think of the music I will choose to celebrate his life. Perhaps it is this.

As I get older, I get more jaded. Few things keep me grounded. But the purity of music is one. Nature is another ... and, then, of course, the simplicity of good food ... and great wine. What do all three have in common? Well, it might be better to explain what they don't have in common: violence, anger and hatred, division, hunger.

Dear Pilgrims, we must continually strive to center our vision on that which is not just  good ... but GREAT! That, which is filled with hope. That, which is filled with the unadulterated promise of a Future for Us and our Planet.

Movement 10 ... reminds promises me great potential and unselfishness as a species on an incredible, productive Planet.

Cornbread: The South vs. The North

Tall. Light and Airy. What's Not to Like about Corn Bread?

Nothing sparks controversy here in the South as cornbread. Authentic cornbread, Southern style, uses little, if any flour, no sugar, and white corn, not yellow. It is just the opposite of Yankee cornbread which here is considered more of a sweet cake.

Southern cornbread is also always baked in a hot, cast-iron skillet that has been well-larded with bacon grease. When baked, it is flipped out of the pan to reveal the crunchy exterior which contrasts to the warm, moist interior. It is always cut into wedges or "pones" and never baked in a square pan or cut into rectangular shapes.

Less dense than a Northern-style cornbread, the loose crumb lovingly sops up melted butter, honey or maple syrup. And, of course, pot-liquor from greens, such as collards. Cold cornbread is often dunked into buttermilk.

As with most arguments, I tried to reach a happy medium with this recipe. I used "polenta" for the cornmeal base to achieve a more authentic texture and taste. I used less flour and only a few tablespoons of sugar. While I am not adverse the joys of bacon, I left out the bacon grease because I wanted this plain with honey and jams.

The verdict? Man, this was some good cornbread! This was all about the corn. While baking, the smell permeated my apartment. The outside was crunchy and the interior was wonderfully moist with specks of yellow from the corn. I loved the loose crumb and the pronounced corn taste. It really wasn't sweet, but it didn't need to be.

I put this under the broiler for just a minute or two after baking to give a crisp crust.

My black cast iron skillet is too large for this recipe, so I used a 9-inch, enamel-lined cast iron skillet greased with peanut oil. It worked well, but I should have allowed it to cool a bit more before flipping it from the pan since the middle didn't loosen. But I will never ever bake cornbread in a square baking pan again. I can see how the addition of bacon grease would pair well with corn taste.

Bit of a crack after I flipped it out of the pan .... But
note the crispy exterior.

  • 1 1/4 cups coarsely-ground corn or "polenta" (I used Bob's Red Mill)
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1-2 tablespoons sugar 
  • 1 1/4 cups well-shaken buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 2-3 tablespoons oil or bacon grease for the pan.

Place the oil/bacon grease in a nine-inch iron skillet and place in 375 F. degree oven while pre-heating so it is hot when you are ready to add the batter. Ideally, you are supposed to hear a bit of a sizzle as you add the batter. 

Meanwhile .... 

In a medium bowl, mix the milled corn, flour, salt and sugar. Set aside.

Add the egg to the buttermilk and whisk. Add the baking soda and melted butter. Stir. (Do not add the baking soda to the dry ingredients.)

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir just to incorporate. Allow to sit for a few minutes so the corn has time to absorb some of the liquid.

Using a hot pad, carefully remove pan from oven ... it will be HOT. Pour in batter and smooth the top.

Return to oven and bake for about 25 minutes or until the top is golden and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. 

Cool ten minutes before flipping out of the pan. If you are nervous about this part, first cut out a slice and then carefully use a small spatula to loosen the bread from the pan. (Most people do use bacon fat and I have watched in awe as the baker removes the pan from the oven and confidently and simply flips the whole corn bread out onto a board!) 

Serve with fresh butter, honey, jam or maple syrup.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Cinnamon-Pecan Coffee Cake

Warm from the oven . . . cinnamon, nuts, vanilla. A crunchy topping and moist dense cake. What's not to like?

Perfect any time of the year. For summer, serve with a side of fresh berries or peaches.

When I want a morning coffee cake, this is the recipe I use. It's totally uncomplicated and mixes up in a snap. The topping is sweet and crunchy and contrasts nicely with the moist, dense vanilla interior. It's perfect with that first cup of java or for a snack later on with a cold glass of milk.

For this cake, I used a 7-inch spring form pan. An 8 x 8 pan will work as well. If you double the ingredients, use a 13 x 9 pan or a large Bundt pan. Adjust baking times depending on what you use.


  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 egg
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder*
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract


  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon softened butter
  • 1 teaspoon McCormick's Apple Pie spice or one teaspoon cinnamon

In a small bowl, mix the topping ingredients until crumbly and pecans are coated. Set aside.

Mix together the flour, salt and baking powder on a sheet of wax paper. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, cream the butter until fluffy. Mix in sour cream. Add sugars and beat on medium until fluffy and sugar is dissolved, 1-2 minutes. Add egg and beat on medium-low for 1-2 minutes. Stir in vanilla.

By hand, mix in the flour mixture just until well combined. Mixture will be thick. Pour into a buttered/sprayed pan (see above).

Sprinkle the cinnamon/sugar/butter/pecan mixture evenly over the cake.

Bake at 350 F degrees anywhere from 30-45 minutes depending on the size pan you use and until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. If necessary, loosely place a sheet of tin foil over cake the last ten minutes or so if you find the topping getting too dark. Allow to cool a bit before cutting.

*Just to be honest, I left out the baking powder when I made this batch ... just to see what would happen. And, guess what? Nothing happened. The cake rose nice and high ... but I did bake it in a smaller pan. And the texture was different ... a finer, dense crumb as opposed to a lighter, crumbly crumb. Next time I will just add 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon baking powder.