Tuesday, October 5, 2010

FIRST REALLY COOL WEATHER DINNER OF THE SEASON

As luck would have it, I have an acquaintance at the office who makes his own beer. Danny’s quite proud of his production and this summer he offered some bottles of his home brew to me since he knows how fond I am of cooking and eating and (yes) imbibing.

Unfortunately, I don’t really like beer.  Which means that up to this point I’ve not had the pleasure of tasting Danny's beer products. However, this spring he was excited to come to me with the story that he’s made Apfelwine, which is a hard apple cider, and would I like to try it when it was done fermenting? Silly boy! I enthusiastically said yes and a few weeks later I discovered a 4 pack sitting on my desk.

Now, somehow I’d gotten the impression that this was more a wine drink than a beer beverage and when I cracked open the first bottle I was a bit surprised by the tangy fizz of the beverage. Indeed, it tasted like nothing I’d had before – a bit sweet, a bit fizzy and a bit beer-like with an aroma of apples. Maybe too beer-like for my tastes.

The next day he reminded me that I was indeed drinking hard cider so I guess my response has to be that I’ve now discovered I'm not particularly fond of hard cider. Sorry, Danny, it sure sounded good, it just turns out I don't care for it.  But please keep trying!  Anyone with the inclination to make his own beer and cider is golden in my book.

In any case, now I have 3 bottles of Danny's lovingly made hard apple cider in my fridge and I most certainly do not want to waste a drop. So in the spirit of getting lemons and making lemonade, I’m going to do the best possible thing and cook with it!

A week or so ago I was watching Sunny Anderson on the Food Network cook up a recipe that stuck in my brain and tonight I set about recreating that for my dinner - Apple Cider Chicken. Now that the days are turned just a tiny bit cooler, this dish will be a nice foretelling of fall when the new apples hit the farm markets.  My City Fresh share this week contained 4 juicy tart apples perfect for this recipe and best of all, it’s a one pan dish that I can add a simple veg on the side to make a complete meal. In this case, a sweet potato that also came in the City Fresh share.

OK, my dish is pork instead of chicken - don't shoot me just yet.  Apples and pork were made to go together and I had a pork chop in the freezer screaming to be used.  In many dishes pork and chicken can be easily substituted one for the other. 

I also get to pinch a sprig or two of fresh thyme out of the pot by the back door, but you could easily substitute dry thyme and I imagine that fresh sage would be extremely good here instead of the thyme.

It turned out quite good and although most of you won’t have a stray bottle of hard cider in the pantry, you can easily substitute with the apple cider that Sunny originally called for, or I imagine apple juice would also work just as nicely.

Hint - I can find fresh Apple Cider all year round at Krieger's Market, which is one of my 3/50 Project locations. If you don't know anyone making their own hard cider, take a trip to Kreiger's for some great cider.

Hint two - if you decide to make the apple crisp as your dessert, do that first so it's baking while you're cooking and eating the chop, that way it's nice and warm from the oven when you're ready.

APPLE CIDER PORK CHOP

1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 tablespoons butter
1 boneless, pork loin chop (about 4 ounces, pounded to about 1/2 inch thickness)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped onion
½ of a apple, cored and sliced into 1/4-inch wedges
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (or sage for a different classic flavor)
1 small bay leaf
2 teaspoons flour
½ cup apple cider, apple juice or apple wine

Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Season the pork with salt and pepper, add to pan and sear until golden, about 4 minutes each side.

Remove pork from pan, and set aside. Add butter and onion, apple, garlic, thyme and bay leaves. Saute until apple begins to get color and onions soften, about 6 minutes. Add flour and stir 1-2 minutes to coat the onions and apples. Nestle pork back into pan, add cider, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook until pork is cooked through, about 2-3 minutes.  Remove the bay leaf before serving.

I served this with a sweet potato half that I cooked in the microwave for 5 minutes and topped with butter, salt and pepper.  Pork, apples and sweet pototes go together really nicly and they're all perfect cool weather ingredients.  The kitchen smelled good, my belly was warmed from the inside, and, there was still just enough room for dessert. 

SO - NOW WHAT TO DO WITH THAT OTHER HALF APPLE?
One of the things anyone who cooks for one struggles with is "what to do with the leftover bits and bobs of ingredients we've used for our meal?"  Tonight I made this apple smothered pork chop and only used half the apple.  Of course, it would be easy to save the other half and eat it as a snack, but I try to be a bit more inventive than that. 

Besides, I'd rather have dessert with my meal than a snack some other time.   Call me greedy, that's OK, I answer to that on a regular basis.

How about a quick apple crisp for dessert?  These are so easy to bake for one person, it's not overly sweet and if you feel like splurging you can add some ice cream for a real treat.  All these ingredients - minus the apple - are in my pantry all the time, so this is easy to do on the spurr of the moment when a stray apple bobs around the kitchen.

EASY APPLE CRISP FOR ONE

1/2 apple, peeled and diced
drizzle of maple syrup
sprinkling of raisins or dried cranberries or even a couple of fresh raspberries or blueberries if you have them hanging around
sprinkle of cinnamon, nutmeg, apple pie spice, ginger - whatever flavors you like

Topping:
1 tablespoon quick cooking oats
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons brown sugar

Heat your toaster oven to 375.  (Or your big oven, obviously.  I use my toaster oven all the time when I'm eating alone.)

Put the apple and raisins in the bottom of a small, buttered ramekin. Sprinkle on the flavorings and mix to combine evenly over the apples.  Drizzle with maple syrup. 

Mix the topping ingredients together with your fingers or a fork, mushing the butter a bit so that it sticks to the oats and brown sugar.  Crumble over top of the apple-raisin mixture.  Put in the pre-heated oven and bake 15-20 minutes till the apples are cooked through and the topping is crisp and browned.

I really wish I had some ice cream in the freezer for this!  Soft, warm, fragrant apples and crispy, buttery topping. 

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