Monday, July 30, 2018

Plum Upside Down Cake

When I decided to teach a plum upside down cake in a recent class, I didn’t think I would write a blog post about it.  There are loads of recipes for plum upside down cakes on line.  Beyond that, I had already posted a recipe for individual plum upside down cakes a few years ago.  There just didn’t seem to be much to add to the conversation.  But when I started testing recipes, I discovered that the way I think one should put plums on top of an upside down cake is entirely different from what everyone else seems to be doing. 

If you look at my recipe for individual plum upside down cakes, you will notice that the top is covered with thin, shingled slices of plums. The fanned look of the arcs of the dark skins of the plums is gorgeous.  For this reason alone I expected that this was the way most people would do it on a large cake as well.  Instead, I found that most recipes simply direct you to cut the plum into wedges…and to lay them in the pan in concentric circles…sometimes directing you to overlap the wedges slightly…sometimes not.  

The first time I made my cake, I decided to follow suit (surely everyone couldn’t be wrong…) and cut wedges.  Because I already knew how beautiful the top of the cake could be if the edges of the skins were visible on the finished cake, I tried to shingle my wedges by overlapping the inner edge on top of the out edge as I placed each successive wedge.  As should have been obvious, this was almost impossible to execute.  I was only moderately successful at placing them…and the result was a cake that was so unstable that the outer circle of plums slid off the cake when I turned it over.  (There are mercifully no pictures to record this disaster.)

The second time, I tried wedges again and just arranged them in slightly overlapping circles in the most natural manner—with the fat edge/skin side of the wedge resting on top of the inner edge of the previous plum.  This of course looks beautiful in the pan but is not especially beautiful on the reverse side—which is of course what you see when the cake is flipped.  

It is not unattractive…  And it doesn’t fall apart when flipped…  But I think there is a better way.

So in my third and last run at the recipe, I did what I thought I should have done from the start:   cut the plums into thin, half circle slices.  

These can be successfully shingled so that the beautiful arcs of the skin are visible when the cake is flipped.  Furthermore, since the slices are thin, you can lay them in quite snuggly, which in the end, not only creates a lovely fanned plum effect, it results in a solid layer of cooked plum on top—rather than discrete wedges of plum surrounded by cake. 

Laying the slices of plum in this way is not intuitive if you have difficulty visualizing things spatially…and in reverse.  If this is you, then work it out with a real plum on your cutting board.  

Lay a plum half cut side down and slice it thinly. Then, fan it on the counter the way you want it to look on the cake (on the right, in the picture above).  Slide a spatula underneath the fanned plum and gently flip it over (on the left, in the picture).  The way it looks when flipped is how it should be placed in the pan.  Basically you will be placing each successive slice with the inner edge (where the pit was) on top of the outer edge (the skin side) of the previous slice.  It will not look nearly as attractive as the concentric circles of wedges in the pan—but when the cake is finished…and served upside down…it will be spectacular.    

Plum Upside Down Cake

4 1/2 T. (64 g.) unsalted butter
3/4 c. (150 g.) packed brown sugar
4 plums (about 1 lb.), halved and pitted

1 1/2 c. sifted cake flour (150 g.)
3/4 t. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
9 T. (125 g.) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 c. (150 g.) sugar
1 egg plus 1 yolk (70 g.), at room temperature
1 t. vanilla
1/2 c. (120 g.) sour cream

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Butter the sides of a 9-inch round cake pan with 2-inch high sides.

Place the plum halves cut surfaces down on a cutting board.  Slice the halves thinly (about 3/16-inch) and evenly lengthwise.  Discard the “end” pieces of each half.  (You should be able to get about 10 slices out of each half, excluding the little end bits.)

Melt the butter and brown sugar in a sauté pan/iron skillet set over medium-low heat.  When the sugar has dissolved, increase the heat and simmer, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes together in a thick, smooth sauce.  Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan.  Tilt the pan and spread as necessary so that the bottom of the pan is covered with the sugar mixture.  Arrange the plums in overlapping concentric circles on top of the butter/sugar mixture (see note).  Set aside. 

Whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside. 

Cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy—this will take 3 to 5 minutes at medium-high speed using the paddle attachment.  Stop the mixer once or twice to scrape down the sides.  Whisk together the egg, yolk and vanilla.  Add this mixture in two or three additions, beating after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.  When all of the egg has been added, beat briefly to restore the creamed mixture to fluffiness.  Fold in the dry ingredients in 2 additions alternately with the sour cream, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.

Spread the batter evenly over the plums in the prepared pan. Bake in a 350° oven until the cake is springy to the touch, has begun to pull away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean—about 40 to 50 minutes.  Let the cake rest for 25 to 30 minutes in the pan.  Run a knife around the inside edge of the pan.  Place a cake plate upside down on top of the skillet and holding the cake plate firmly to the skillet, quickly flip the cake over.  Leave the pan over the cake for a minute or two and then carefully lift up and away.  Allow the cake to cool for a couple of hours before serving.  Use a thin sharp knife, with a gentle back and forth sawing motion to cut through the plums and down into the cake. 

Serve the cake warm with whipped cream or ice cream.  Serves 10.

Note:  When building the fruit portion of an upside down cake you have to remember that you are working in reverse.  To get the look you want, you may need to shingle a few slices of the fruit on your cutting board and then use a wide spatula to flip it over so you can see how it will look on the finished cake.  For plums my experience is that the top looks best if the outer curve, or the skin side, of the plum (not the pit side) is what is visible.  So, when laying in the plums, lay down the first slice and then lay the next slice with the “pit side” of the plum shingled over the “skin side” of the first one…and then repeat this pattern for each successive slice, creating a spiral effect with the skins on the side you can’t see now…but which will be visible when the cake is turned out. 

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Swiss Chard & Ricotta Fritters…a delicious way to enjoy the abundant greens of early summer

When I was planning the class I mentioned in my last post, I wanted to make sure I included a recipe that used loads of greens.  The goal of the class was to teach recipes that use things that are abundant during the late spring and early summer months.  If you are a member of a CSA…or you choose to purchase most of your produce from a farmers’ market during the growing season…up until about mid-June, an awful lot of what you have to cook with are greens.  In addition to wanting to teach something that used some of those greens, I wanted to choose a recipe that would be a nice accompaniment to the vegetable curry that Nancy was planning on teaching. While brainstorming with her about it, it occurred to me that a Swiss chard fritter I had made for dinner recently would fill the bill nicely.

The fritter I ended up making for the class was a blending of that first one I had made (a recipe I found at Delicious Magazine) and a recipe from Deborah Madison’s cookbook Vegetable Literacy. Some might not call Madison’s recipe a fritter because it is many ways similar to a ricotta pancake.  But since the batter is quite thick—almost as thick as the actual fritter recipe I made first—I’m calling it a fritter.  I loved the seasoning in the first recipe…and the texture of the latter.  Combined, it is just about perfect.

I have made these fritters with both Swiss chard and a combination of Swiss chard and Tuscan kale.  I’m certain they would be delicious with all kale, beet greens or spinach.  Beet greens can be substituted in the exact same quantity as the chard.  For kale, you might need slightly less…and for spinach, slightly more.  If you want to try and be precise about it, in the body of the recipe I give a volume and weight of the cooked greens.  But in practice, if you have a little more or a little less, I think the recipe will still be successful.

As for an accompaniment, I think a creamy-tangy yogurt or sour cream based dressing is essential.  It adds an important flavor counterpoint.  Although, you could probably sever them with a nice, tangy, fresh summer tomato sauce too.  If you want to make little one- or two-bite sized fritters to serve as an appetizer, the only adornment you might want (other than the sauce) would be a sprig of dill…or maybe parsley.  If you want to make large fritters to serve as an entrée, in addition to the tangy sauce, I think a chunky vegetable salad would be delicious.  Roasted beet, fresh tomato, roasted/grilled corn, shredded carrot, and cooked chickpea salads all sound pretty good to me. 

I admit to being partial to the combination of this fritter with beets.  The first time I made them I made an accompanying arugula and beet salad.  Recently, I served it with another beet salad (with mint, cumin and walnuts) and a quick tomato and cucumber salad from the cookbook Zahav.  It was delicious.  If you happen to purchase a bunch of beets with a large bunch of greens attached, you would pretty much have dinner.    

One of the things I love about teaching is that I have gotten to know…and make friends with…so many of those who have attended regularly over the years.  Among these are a father and daughter (Ed and Emma) who both happen to be accomplished cooks and bakers.  Ed is particularly knowledgeable about flours.  I share this because during this class I mentioned that I suspected that chickpea flour would make a nice substitution for the all purpose flour I chose to use in the recipe (Deborah Madison used white whole wheat flour).  Ed spoke up when I said this, saying that he thought the chickpea flour was a great idea, but that it should be substituted for only half of the all purpose.  About a week after the class, Emma relayed to me that they had tried it and that it worked perfectly.  So, if you want to bump up the protein and the substance of these fritters, I’m happy to report that the chickpea flour would be a great option.

I also want to mention that should you have any fritters leftover, they reheat beautifully.  I have reheated mine in the microwave and Ed shared that his reheated very nicely in a skillet.  They are also astonishingly good at room temperature (or even cold) if you just want to grab a few for an afternoon or mid-morning snack…or want to take them to work for lunch. 

All things considered, these fritters were a super addition to the class.  They went well with Nancy’s curry and they provided a versatile recipe (working well as an appetizer, entrée or lunch…) that exploits the early summer abundance of greens from the farmers’ market.  They were a hit with the class… and they have earned a permanent spot in my repertoire.

Swiss Chard & Ricotta Fritters

3 to 4 bunches of Swiss Chard, ribs removed and discarded or reserved for another use—you should have 454 g/1 lb. of trimmed leaves
120 g/4 oz/1 c. all purpose flour
1 t. salt
1 1/2 t. baking powder
250 g/1 c. whole milk ricotta
3/4 c. whole milk
30 g/1/3 c. finely grated Parmesan or more
2 eggs
3 T. olive oil, plus more for frying
Zest of 1 small lemon
1 peeled clove of garlic, finely grated using a microplaner or smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt
Pinch of cayenne (to taste)
1 recipe dilled yogurt sauce or plain yogurt or sour cream
Dill sprigs to garnish

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil.  Add the chard leaves and cook until just tender—about five minutes.  Lift out the cooked leaves and spread on a baking sheet to cool.  When the leaves are cool enough to handle, use your hands to squeeze out as much of the excess water as you can.  Chop the dried greens finely.  (You should have about 1 3/4 c./180 g. prepared greens.)

Place the flour, salt and baking powder in a small bowl and whisk to combine.

In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, milk, Parmesan, eggs, olive oil, zest, garlic and cayenne and whisk until smooth. 

When you are ready to cook the fritters, whisk the greens into the cheese mixture.  

Add the dry ingredients and mix with a rubber spatula just until the dry ingredients are absorbed. 

Heat a non-stick or cast iron skillet over moderate heat.  Film the pan with olive oil.  Dollop in the fritter mixture using a spoon or a small ice cream scoop (you can make the fritters any size that you like—I like them made with a generous tablespoon of the mixture—for appetizers and a three or four tablespoon scoop when serving as an entrée).  As you add the fritters to the pan, use the back of the scoop/spoon to barely flatten the batter—resist the temptation to spread the fritters out.  The fritters should sizzle gently in the oil.  

Cook on the first side until they are golden brown and have puffed—about three minutes.  Carefully turn the fritters over and cook for another three minutes.  They should be golden brown on both sides and springy to the touch.  

Transfer to a platter or baking pan and keep warm while you finish cooking the rest of the mixture.

Serve the fritters hot with the yogurt sauce and a scattering of dill sprigs.

Makes about 36 appetizer-sized fritters (serving 8 to 12) and 16 to 18 large fritters (serving 4 to 6 as a light entrée)

(Recipe adapted from Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison)

Dilled Yogurt Sauce:  Combine 1 cup of thick yogurt (strained or Greek) with 1 T. minced fresh dill, a small clove of garlic (finely grated with a microplaner or smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt) and salt and lemon juice to taste.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

A Sweet Summer Treat from the Garden: Lemon Verbena Ice Cream with a Blueberry Swirl

One of the happiest plants in my garden this summer is my Lemon Verbena.  Not only does it not seem to be fazed by our extreme heat and humidity…it is thriving.  I have never grown it before, so its resilience and determination have been a surprise.  Its perky presence on my patio is a welcome sight…  Even if its use were only ornamental, that would be enough for it to have earned it an annual spot in my garden.  But of course, this lovely herb has other uses as well…many of them culinary.

Prior to this summer I was familiar with Lemon Verbena because of its popularity in France (where it goes by the name of Verveine).  It is a favorite there—in both its fresh and dried form—for making tisanes (or herbal tea).   If you have a plant, you can make a tisane to enjoy this evening:  simply snip off a sprig (or two) and place in a cup or mug.  Add water that is just off the boil.  Let steep for five minutes or so…  Then enjoy.  There is no need to remove the leaves before you sip.  The flavor will continue to get stronger as it sits…but not unpleasantly so.

I have enjoyed tisanes made at the home of my best friend from college (a Francophile for as long as I have known her—and who seeks out a Lemon Verbena plant every summer to make her beloved tisane de verveine), but had never considered getting a plant of my own.  But this year, I scheduled a joint cooking class featuring the abundant produce of midsummer with my chef friend Nancy.  Nancy planned to prepare an Italian jam tart and I wanted to make something—preferably ice cream—to go with it.  As I thought about possible flavors, lavender honey came to mind…but I have already taught that.  It was a short leap from lavender (an herb forever associated with France, in my mind) to verveine. 

Lemon Verbena is often used to flavor desserts—either by steeping a liquid (as for the tisane) or infusing some sugar.  To infuse sugar, simply put some bruised leaves in a jar with some sugar, cover tightly and let sit for a couple of weeks—shaking every few days to break up clumps that will begin to form as the sugar absorbs the moisture in the fresh herbs.  When the infusion is done, strain out the herbs and store the sugar tightly covered.  Deborah Madison in her book Local Flavors recommends using about a quarter cup of leaves to infuse two cups of sugar.  The sugar is especially nice used in something simple like a pound cake or shortbread cookies.

Nancy chose to use blueberries (from a local patch) in her jam tart.  The combination of the blueberry tart with the lemon verbena ice cream was fantastic.  I’m guessing that the combination would have been pretty fine with just about any jam made with the abundant berries or stone fruits of midsummer.

Because I liked the combination of the blueberries with the lemon verbena so much, the recipe I’m sharing today is the Lemon Verbena ice cream that I made for class…with a blueberry swirl.  You can of course make the ice cream without the swirl and serve it with any number of the jam and summer fruit based desserts I have posted over the years (jam tartjam barsmixed berry crumble bars…)…but I have been enamored by the idea of a marbled lemon verbena ice cream ever since I ran across a lemon verbena and raspberry swirl ice cream while I was working on my recipe.  You could of course make that exact flavor with some homemade raspberry compote.  I also think blackberry (if you strain out the seeds) would make a great combination with the lemon verbena too.

As far as the ice cream itself goes, I used the standard formula that I use in all of my ice creams.  I use half milk and half cream and for every cup of cream/milk I use 2 egg yolks and 50 grams of sugar or honey.  I usually only incorporate a small amount of honey (mostly because I like the way an invert sugar gives a softer and smoother texture to the finished ice cream), but for this ice cream I used half honey so that you can actually taste the honey…it is delicious in combination with the floral taste of the lemon verbena. 

Finally, I have given the amount of lemon verbena leaves by weight.  It is my habit to cook and bake this way and it is a much more accurate way of measuring something like leaves that are kind of difficult to quantify (I’m guessing that one person’s “packed cup” of leaves would not weight the same as another’s).  But since a lot of American bakers still don’t have a scale, I’m including a way to measure without it.  Simply cut the leaves in rough 1/2 inch lengths and then drop them lightly into a 3/4 cup measure.  When you get to the top, you have enough. 

But having said all that, I think you would end up with a pretty fine ice cream if you just grabbed a nice big handful of leaves.  Your plant will be very happy and grow bigger after you have “pruned” it to make ice cream, too.  So much so that you will just have to acquire an evening herb tea habit …. or make some infused sugar (so you can have cake or cookies with your tea) …and of course, make more ice cream.

Lemon Verbena & Honey Ice Cream
with a Blueberry Swirl

1 1/2 c. (225g.) blueberries
1/4 c. (50 g.) sugar
1/2 T. lemon juice

2 c. milk
Pinch of salt
10 g. lemon verbena leaves, cut cross-wise in rough 1/2-inch pieces (you should have about 3/4 c. loosely layered cut leaves)
2 c. cold heavy cream
8 egg yolks
1/2 c. sugar
1/3 c. raw honey (4 oz.)

Wash the blueberries and place them in a small saucepan with the sugar and lemon juice.  Set the pan over moderately high heat and cook, stirring constantly until the sugar is dissolved and the blueberries begin to simmer.  Cook at an active simmer/low boil, stirring occasionally (and mashing the berries as you do), until you have a thick, syrup-y compote.  This will take about 7 to 10 minutes and you should have 3/4 c. compote when you are done..  Cool to room temperature.  Transfer to a covered container and chill until cold.  (Compote may be made several days ahead.  Store in the refrigerator.)

Place the milk and salt in a medium-sized, non-reactive saucepan.  Heat to just under a simmer.  Remove from the heat, add the verbena leaves, cover and let steep for an hour to an hour and a half (depending on how strong you want the flavor to be).

When ready to make the ice cream base, strain out the verbena, pressing hard with a spatula or ladle to extract as much of the liquid as you can. Discard the verbena. Place the chilled heavy cream into a large bowl and place the strainer used to strain out the verbena over this bowl.   

Return the infused milk to the heat and bring to a boil. While the milk is heating, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until smooth and thick. When the milk boils, temper the egg yolks by gradually whisking in about half to two-thirds of the hot milk. Stir the tempered egg mixture back into the saucepan and place the pan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the custard is thickened and forms a path when you draw your finger across the back of the spoon (if you like. you may check the temperature with an instant read thermometer—it should be about 170° to 175°). 

Immediately strain the custard into the bowl of cold cream. Add the honey and stir until the honey has melted. Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled (eight hours or overnight).

Freeze the ice cream in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. When finished, transfer the ice cream from the churn to a chilled container.  Choose a 1 1/2 to 2 quart container that is shallow and wide. Working quickly, layer in a quarter of the verbena ice cream (smooth it out into an even layer).   Dollop and drizzle a scant third of the blueberry compote.  

It is not necessary to marble it in (it will marble naturally as you scoop it to serve it).  Repeat this layering of a quarter of the ice cream and a scant third of the compote two more times.  Add the remainder of ice cream, once again smoothing it out.  You should have a tablespoon or two of the compote left.  Dollop this over the surface of the ice cream, marbling it in a bit, if you like.  Cover the container and place in the freezer.  Freeze for at least an hour or two before serving.  

Makes about a quart and a half of ice cream.

Note:  My original idea for this ice cream was to just use a homemade blueberry jam for the swirl.  All of the jam makers out there know that this basically means using a substantially higher quantity of sugar (for this quantity of blueberries, around 1/2 cup plus 2 T.).  The texture of the frozen ribbon of blueberries when made with this higher quantity of sugar is quite smooth and suave.  Unfortunately, the overall effect on the ice cream is one of tooth shattering sweetness (at least to my palate). If your berries are very tart, you might consider increasing the sugar in the compote.  For moderately tart blueberries though, I love the counterpoint of the sweet, floral ice cream with the slightly tart swirl of fruit, and I am not bothered by the slight frosty-ness of the swirl when the blueberries are cooked with the lesser amount of sugar. 

Printable Version

Friday, July 6, 2018

Brined Pork Chops with Fresh Apricot & Ginger Compote

Over the years the things I have chosen to post to my blog have been driven by a lot of different things.  Sometimes I post foods I make for my private dinner clients.  Occasionally—not often as I had originally planned—I post explanations and descriptions of basic cooking and baking techniques.  Most of the things I share come from two sources: the things I am working on/testing for my classes…and the seasonal/market driven foods I am making for my own table.  Recently I decided to design a class around things that were all already on my blog—a class filled with recipes from the latter of these two categories….things that I had come up with for my home table that we loved so much they ended up on my blog.
As I was putting the class together—gathering some favorite early summer recipes from over the years (Potato Salad with Spring Herb Pesto & Peas, Gemelli with Mushrooms, Sugar Snap Peas &Goat Cheese, Market Coleslaw with Sweet Corn, Kohlrabi & Carrots, and Pistachio & Strawberry Friands)—I thought of a recipe that has been on my “to make someday” list for a long time:  Pork Chops with Fresh Apricot Glaze from Maria Helm Sinskey’s book Vineyard Seasons.  I decided to add it to the class in order to force myself to finally make it.  I knew if I liked it that it would end up here.

I was so glad I added it to the syllabus.  It was delicious!  And I have to say that I wasn’t surprised.  I love Sinskey’s recipes.  I did end up altering the recipe quite a bit—not because I didn’t like the flavors…or her method…but rather because she cooked her chops on the grill (which I’m certain makes for very tasty chops…I’m just not a fan of standing out in the hot sun over a hot grill when I could be cooking in my cool(er), air-conditioned kitchen….) and she used bone-in chops.  Frankly, I think the bone-in chops would be delicious—but for my purposes both at home and in class, boneless makes more sense (the boneless chops slice nicely so that you can get two servings out of one thick chop for a dinner for smaller appetites….or nice tasting portions for a class).

The brine I used is a simple, basic brine from Samin Nosrat’s book Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat.  It is a brine that is intended to add moisture and seasoning. It has less salt (four percent salinity by weight) than a lot of brines (and less than the one Sinskey uses), but I like it like this because when I use it I just get a nice, juicy piece of pork—and not something that seems cured or ham-like.  Following Sinskey’s recipe I added some fresh ginger to the brine…but you could leave it out.  You can also add other aromatics, herbs and/or spices of your choice.  Because the brine is mild, you don’t have to rinse the brined meat, but I do any way.  When it comes to brined meats, when in doubt, I always rinse.  The meat will be fully seasoned within…and you don’t risk having way too much salt/sugar on the exterior.  Whether you rinse or not, be sure to dry the surfaces of the meat well before put it in the sauté pan or on the grill (if it’s wet it will stick and it won’t caramelize properly).

The brined pork is delicious.  But it is the apricot sauce/compote/glaze (it is quite versatile) that is the star of the show here.  Sweet….tangy…savory…  with a hint of heat (you can add more if you like)….  It is just so tasty.  The recipe makes what will seem like a generous quantity, but you will want it all.  It could also be used with chicken…or turkey…or even some nice baby back ribs.  I will be making it every summer from now on.

I altered the sauce from the original in only a couple of ways.  I leave it chunky instead of blending it to a purée.  Not only do I prefer the appearance of a chunky sauce, leaving it this way advertises the fact that you used fresh apricots (instead of jam or preserves, for example).  If you want to use it as a glaze or final swab for grilled meats, I think it would be best in its puréed form.

The other change is also fairly minor.  I have given a range for the amount of sugar to add as opposed to a set amount.  Apricots vary widely in sweetness and one batch might need very little sugar...while the next will be quite tart and need a lot.  I always start the sauce with the lesser amount and then after about twenty minutes of cooking—when the sauce is nearing its final consistency—I start tasting and adding more if necessary.  You are aiming for a sauce that is nicely balanced between tangy and sweet. 

The first time I made these pork chops I served it with Toasted Pine Nut Couscous and Wilted Greens.  I couldn’t believe how good it was. (Unfortunately I didn’t take a picture….)  I was so enamored with the these chops that I decided to make it for our Fourth of July celebration this year.  I served it with Sweet Corn Coleslaw and Étuvéed Baby Potatoes.  It was just the thing.  Hopefully I will discover a few other delicious pairings before the fleeting season for apricots is past....

Brined Pork Chops with Fresh Apricot & Ginger Compote

1/3 c. Morton’s kosher salt (or 80g. salt of your choice)
1/4 c. sugar (50 g.)
4 large cloves of garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
1/2 t. red pepper flakes
2 T. peeled and minced fresh ginger (20 g.—if you are weighing, simply slice the ginger)
1 bay leaf
 6 to 8 pork chops (Boneless loin or bone in rib—as you prefer, as long as
            they are nice thick—1 inch or more—chops)

Place the salt, sugar, garlic, pepper flakes, ginger and bay in a pot with 3 cups of water.  Bring to a simmer and simmer gently until all the salt & sugar has dissolved.  Remove from the heat and add 6 cups of cold/ice water.  Allow the brine to cool to room temperature.  Submerge the pork chops in the brine and refrigerate for 8 to 24 hours.  An hour before cooking, remove the chops from the brine (rinse, or not, as you prefer).  Pat dry before cooking.  Discard the brine.

Apricot Sauce:
2 to 2 1/2 T. olive oil
1 large or 2 medium shallots (about 2 oz.), finely diced
2 t. minced garlic
2 T. minced fresh ginger (20 g)
1/4 t. red pepper flakes
2 lbs. ripe apricots, halved, pitted and roughly diced
1/2 to 1 c. brown sugar (adjust to the sweetness of the apricots)
3 T. white wine vinegar
1 t. salt
2/3 c. water

Warm the olive oil in a wide sauce pan set over moderate heat.  Add the shallots, garlic, ginger and pepper flakes and sweat until tender—about 10 minutes.  Add the apricots and cook briefly, stirring until well coated in the shallot mixture. 

Add the remaining ingredients (starting with the smaller amount of sugar) 

and simmer until thickened and glossy—about 30 minutes (you should have about 2 2/3 to 3 c. compote).  

After about 20 minutes of cooking, begin tasting and add sugar as needed.  When the sauce is finished, taste again and correct the seasoning with salt, sugar and vinegar.

Prepare the pork chops:
Olive oil
Brined Pork Chops
Finished Apricot Glaze
1/2 to 2/3 c. white wine or water, optional

Preheat the oven to 400­°.  Heat an ovenproof sauté pan large enough to hold the chops in a single layer (or use two pans) over moderately high heat.  Film the pan with oil.  Add the chops to the pan.  Sear, turning once, until the chops are nicely browned.  

Smear the chops with some of the apricot glaze and turn a couple of times to coat.  Transfer the pan to a preheated 400° oven and cook until the chops are done to your liking (an instant read thermometer will read between 130° and 135° for medium).  Total cooking time (including the time on the stove and in the oven) will be about 7 to 10 minutes (for 1 inch boneless chops—more for bone -in or thicker chops).  Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the chops to a platter.

If the apricot glaze on the chops didn’t get too dark in the pan, make a quick pan sauce while the chops rest.  Place the pan over medium-high heat and add the white wine.  Bring to a simmer, scraping the pan well to release all the caramelized bits (if using two pans, combine the drippings into one pan) and reducing by half to two-thirds.  Add the remaining apricot glaze, along with any resting juices from the pork, to the pan and warm through.  

If the sauce is too thick, let it out with water…if too thin, reduce briefly.

Serve the pork chops with the warm apricot compote.  Serves 6 to 8 

Variation:  If you prefer, you may grill or broil the pork chops.  Puree the compote to make a smooth sauce.  After the first side is cooked, turn, brush with the sauce.  When the pork is almost done, turn again, brushing the remaining surface with the sauce and allowing each glazed surface to be exposed to the heat for a minute or two so the sauce will caramelize, but not burn.  Obviously there will not be any deglazings to combine with the remaining sauce.  Simply serve the remaining sauce on the side as you would with your favorite BBQ sauce. 

(Recipe adapted from The Vineyard Kitchen by Maria Helm Sinskey)

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