Monday, June 22, 2015

Simple Food for Everyday...Basmati Pilaf with Mushrooms, Peas and Sage...served with a Pan-seared Pork Chop...

At home I don't very often prepare a traditional "meat-veg-starch" kind of meal ...the kind many of us grew up eating....the kind a friend recently decried as boring as she bemoaned the state of her everyday cooking.  At the time I encouraged her that there is nothing wrong with good, basic fare that has been prepared at home from scratch...  But I think that most of us—no matter what our level of skill in the kitchen—feel as my friend feels at one time or another....  The fact is, we cook things on a daily basis with which we are familiar...things we can execute successfully—without too much effort.  The ability to do this should be viewed as a good thing...not something to apologize for.  Feeding ourselves and our families well is the goal, after all.  Unfortunately, food TV...and blogs...have conditioned us to think that every meal should be new, different, exciting...a photo opportunity.

I thought of my friend as I was preparing my meal on Tuesday evening this past week.  My week was hectic...and I was tired of pasta (it does happen occasionally...) so I grabbed a pork chop at the store while I shopped for clients.  At home I knew I had available starches (all kinds of grains....potatoes....) and a few vegetables from the market....and that with the addition of the pork chop a nice dinner would happen.  And it did.  And because the meat-veg-starch pattern is not my personal norm, it felt kind of special. 

I admit that when I got home I discovered my pantry wasn't as full as I had thought.  I didn't have any potatoes...and none of the vegetables I had were plentiful enough to become a side dish for two.  But I did have rice....and some English peas and spring onions from the well as a few crimini mushrooms.  While gathering my ingredients, I stepped outside to see if I wanted to add some herbs and settled on some sage....traditional (some might say boring) and delicious with pork. 

Pulling all of this together quickly into a tasty meal is simply a matter of timing (thinking through the process before you jump in) and applying basic cooking skills (sweating, sautéing, blanching, pan-searing, roasting, resting...).  If you are a novice, this is a daunting task.  Anyone who has mastered all of this should feel great about it....not inadequate.  Helping people to do this every day is one of the reasons I teach cooking classes and keep a food blog.

I organized this particular meal around the preparation of the pilaf, knowing that the cooking of everything that went into the the cooking and resting of the pork...could be accomplished in the time it would take the pilaf to cook.  The sage I grabbed at the last minute turned out to be a wonderful unifying element...added to the mushrooms at the end of the cooking...and also to the pan with the pork chop (enabling me to drizzle buttery, sage-infused pork drippings over each plate).  I didn't time the meal, but I think it was only about half an hour...maybe a bit more...from the time I picked the sage to the moment when I folded the mushrooms and peas into the finished pilaf and sliced the rested pork. 

So, I wonder, was this meal boring?  Perhaps to some.  But to me, it was just the thing for a busy weeknight:  Quick, simple and absolutely delicious.  Every meal should be so boring.

Basmati Pilaf with Mushrooms, Peas and Sage

2 large spring onions, white and pale green portions diced (you should have about 1/2 cup) and a few inches of the green, thinly sliced cross-wise (to make 3 or 4 T.)
3 T. butter, divided
1/2 c. Basmati rice
a scant cup chicken stock
salt & pepper
4 oz. crimini mushrooms, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1/2 cup shelled peas
3 large sage leaves, cut into a fine chiffonade (about 1 T.)

In a small saucepan with a tight fitting lid, melt half of the butter over medium heat.  Add the white and pale green portions of the onion along with a pinch of salt and sweat until the onions are tender and translucent—about 5 minutes.  While the onions cook, heat the stock to a simmer and keep hot.

When the onions are tender, add the rice and continue to cook for a couple of minutes or until the rice is well-coated with butter and has begun to turn opaque.  

Add the hot stock and a pinch of salt.  Bring the rice to a rapid boil.  Cover reduce the heat to very low (or, transfer to a 375° oven) and cook for 16 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat (or, the oven).  Scatter the thinly sliced green of the onions over the rice, cover again and let stand for 5 minutes. 

While the rice cooks prepare the mushrooms and peas.  Blanch the peas in boiling salted water until tender.  Drain and shock under cold running water.  (If using frozen peas, simply thaw by rinsing under hot tap water.)  Set aside.  Melt a tablespoon of butter in a medium sauté pan set over moderate heat.  Add the mushrooms, along with a pinch of salt and gently stew the mushrooms, stirring occasionally, until any liquid they have released evaporates and the mushrooms begin to sizzle and brown in the butter.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Add the sage chiffonade and toss to combine...adding the last of the butter if the pan seems dry.  Remove from the heat and set aside. 

When the pilaf has rested for 5 minutes, fold in the mushrooms and peas.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Serves 2

Note: Recipe is easily doubled..or tripled.  As you increase the size of the recipe...and therefore the size of the pan...choose pans that are wider than they are tall.

Pan-seared Pork Loin chop with Sage

Place a heavy sauté pan (cast iron or French steel are perfect) that is just large enough to hold the pork over medium-high to high heat.  While the pan heats, pat the surfaces of the pork dry with a paper towel and season the pork chop(s) well with salt and pepper.  Add a thin film of oil to the pan—when the oil ripples and a faint wisp of smoke appears, add the pork to the pan.  Regulate the heat to maintain an active sizzle (you will probably have to reduce the heat slightly).  When the pork is golden brown on the first side (after a couple of minutes), turn it over to brown the other side.  When the second side is golden brown, reduce the heat slightly and if you have thick chops, briefly place the chops on their edges, rotating and moving so that all of the edges are lightly seared. 

Return the pork to their first sides and add some butter to the pan (2 to 3 teaspoons per chop) and allow it to melt and foam.  For each chop add 2 large...or 3 or 4 small...sage leaves (tearing large leaves in halves or thirds) to the butter.  Turn the chops over a couple of time to coat and baste them in the sage and butter.  At this point you may continue to cook them on the stove top...or (and this is my preference) transfer them to a 375° oven to finish the cooking.  Whichever you choose, continue to turn the chops occasionally to baste them with the butter and encourage them to cook evenly. 

You should cook the pork to the doneness that you prefer.  I like mine to be juicy...with a faint touch of pink...which occurs just under 140°, so I remove my pork from the pan/oven when it is somewhere between 130° and 135° (the temperature will continue to increase as the pork rests).  When it has reached the temperature you like, remove the pork from the pan and pour the sage-infused butter and drippings over the pork.  Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes.  Slice (if you like) and serve with the drippings poured over. 

The length of cooking time will depend on the thickness of the pork chops, but for a chop that is around an inch thick, it reaches my desired temperature in about 12 to 15 minutes from the time I put it in the pan. 


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