Braised Balsamic Pork with Grapes

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We’re not really a picky couple when it comes to meat. We pretty much like it all. Our weekly routine usually consists of two nights of fish or other seafood, a night of beef, and pretty much the rest of the nights with chicken of some variety. We also love lamb, goat, duck, and all kinds of game meat, but get our grad-school-budgeted hands on those a little less often. But somehow, I feel like we always forget about pork. Every time we make pork, we always wonder why we don’t eat it more often. Fall and the cooler weather we’ve (finally!) been having made me think about doing a braised dish and this time, my mind went straight to the other white meat! I initially wanted to braise the pork in cider, with apples and potatoes on the side, a dish I make pretty much every fall. But then I realized that would end up being pretty darn similar to the Cider Chicken with Savory Fall Fruits that we made just two weekends ago. So I browsed our two favorite culinary magazines (Bon Appetit and Food & Wine) for some inspiration. Turns out, everyone braises pork in cider in the fall… But working back a few years, I came across the recipe we adapted this dish from – a different flavor profile that was exactly what I was looking for!

Speaking of different flavor profile… I was a little skeptical about the grapes. I thought the grapes might make the whole dish too sweet. I was happily wrong! While they do add a little bit of sweetness to the final product, it isn’t overwhelming. Even more interestingly, the grapes take on some of the savoriness of the pork. When you see them after they’ve braised for half the afternoon, you’ll notice that they’ve lost a lot of their color. I thought that might mean that they would’ve leeched out all of their flavor too. Not the case! As it turns out, the grapes ended up being my favorite part of the dish, so I’m glad I didn’t trust my first instinct to get rid of them!

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Braised Balsamic Pork with Grapes

(Adapted from Bon Appetit magazine)
Ingredients: 
  • 3lb boneless pork loin
  • 2 tbsp neutral oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • ~1lb black or red grapes (~3 cups)
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cups vegetable or poultry stock
  • 4 large fresh sage leaves
  • 2 springs of fresh rosemary
Instructions: 
  1. Season the pork loin with salt & pepper on both sides.
  2. In a large dutch oven, heat 2 tbsp neutral oil at just above medium heat (#6). Once hot, sear the pork on all sides, 3-5 minutes per side.
  3. Remove the pork to a plate on the side and lower heat to medium-low.
  4. After allowing a few minutes for the oil the cool slightly, add the garlic and onions to the dish. Cook, stirring occasionally for 3 minutes. Then add the grapes and top with the brown sugar. Cook for another 5 minutes.
  5. Pour in the vinegar and simmer for about 3 minutes.
  6. Add the stock and fresh herbs to the dish. Now also return the pork. Nestle the meat down into the dish (the top should still be exposed).
  7. Bring the liquid to a boil and then immediately reduce to low heat. Cover and cook at a very low simmer for 45 minutes.
  8. Flip the pork loin, re-cover, and cook at the same low simmer for another 30-45 minutes. [We suggest checking for doneness at the 30 minute mark, especially if you prefer your pork less than well-done!]
  9. Remove the pork loin from the dish and ensure it is cooked sufficiently with a meat thermometer (the FDA recommends a minimum safe temperature of 145 degrees for pork).
  10. Meanwhile, increase the burner heat to high and bring the liquid to a boil. Boil vigorously until the liquid has reduced and thickened. While the sauce is reducing, intermittently skim fat/oil/debris off the top. Also, remove the sprigs of herbs.
  11. Serve the pork sliced, topped with sauce.
Serves 8-12
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Dijon Beef Stew

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If you’re glancing at this recipe (and skipping over this section of commentary like I usually do until I’m sure the recipe and its ingredients interest me!), you might be a little concerned about ALL THAT MUSTARD. It certainly does seem like a lot, but don’t worry! While dijon mustard is definitely the most prominent flavor in this dish, it does not taste like you’re squirting a bottle of mustard into your mouth. If you think about the ratio of mustard to beef, you’ll realize it’s about a tablespoon per 1/4 pound serving, that’s not too much.

Finding the right mustard to use might be the hardest.  Our Kroger didn’t have whole grain Dijon, so we bought regular (smooth) Dijon. Since we always go to Trader Joe’s when we go shopping, we of course then discovered that TJ’s had whole grain mustard. Now, I think we have 4 types of mustard in our house.  Feel free to substitute smooth Dijon mustard for the whole grain stuff if you think you’ll have picky eaters or just can’t find any.

Now, Cognac vs Armagnac

What exactly are Cognac and Armagnac? What’s the difference? Why cook with either one?  Both Cognac & Armagnac are French brandies distilled from white wine grapes.  Cognac is from the Cognac region of France (70miles or 115km north of Bordeaux) and Armagnac is from the Armagnac region of France (10miles or 15km east of Bordeaux). Both are great wine regions in their own right, but both are more known for their liquor (brandy). I think the main difference between the two, besides location, is that Cognac is twice distilled, while Armagnac is only distilled once, giving it a more unique taste and nose since it has a higher concentration of those great congeners (impurities – flavorful, yet hangover inducing molecules) due to the single distillation process.  Both are then oak barrel aged for anywhere from 2-6+ years.  Cooking with either of these is different from cooking with wine. They have a higher alcohol content (but that’s almost always cooked off) and less wine flavor since they’re distillates of wine. Plus there are the smoky, oaky, whiskey-like notes that the barrel aging process imparts on them.  Cognac & Armagnac can be inserted where wine or whiskey would normally be used, to change, ever so slightly, the flavor profile of your dish.  Give it a try and experiment with these often overlooked French liquors.

We served this over delicious homemade pasta, but would be wonderful over rice, potatoes, lentils, or whatever starch you would like to use. Selim even thinks he’d like this on a hoagie bun with some hard cheese grated on top!

 

Dijon Beef Stew

(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen blog)
Ingredients: 
  • 1/4 lb bacon, diced
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2-4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 pounds beef chuck (any cut of stewing/braising beef you’d like)
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup Cognac, divided
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 1/2 cup whole grain Dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp smooth mustard of choice (we used spicy brown)
  • 4 medium carrots, sliced
  • 2 bay leaves
Instructions: 
  1. Place a dutch oven on the stove over medium heat. Once warmed, add the bacon and cook until fat is rendered.
  2. At this point, add the onions and garlic. Stir to coat in the bacon fat. Cook for several minutes until softened and fragrant, but not browned. Remove to the side.
  3. Increase heat slightly, to a medium-high. Add 2 tbsp of butter and allow to melt.
  4. Cut beef into ~ 1/2 inch, uniform cubes. Dust with flour. Saute the beef in the butter, until all sides are browned and beginning to crisp.
    • (May need to do this in batches so as not to crowd the dish. Remove the first batch to the side with the onions and garlic if so. We did, and used the second 2 tbsp of butter for the second batch.)
  5. Deglaze the empty dish with 1/2 cup cognac. Scrape up any delicious stuck on bits!
  6. Now add the remaining 1/4 cup of cognac, mustards, and beef stock. Whisk together.
  7. Once liquid is well-combined, return the beef, onions, and garlic to the dish, along with the bay leaves.
  8. Bring to a light simmer and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour.
  9. After that hour, add the carrots. Return cover to dish. Cook for additional hour to hour & half.
Serves 6-8.

 

Coq au Vin

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At our house, we do a lot of adapted recipes, even the most traditional ones. We substitute a little of this, add a little of that, combine these two ideas, or even entirely make stuff up. (See the entire tag on our blog – Twisted Traditions). But sometimes you just can’t do that. Coq au vin literally just means “cock {rooster ⇒ chicken} of wine,” which, if you were speaking French, you’d understand to mean chicken cooked in wine. So you’d think this would be wide open for interpretation. But hearing the phrase ‘coq au vin,’ doesn’t just make most people think vague thoughts of wine + chicken; it makes most minds immediately jump to this specific dish, Julia Child, and her famous cookbook. So for this, we went to the penultimate source: Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The recipe we’re sharing is 99% true to hers – with two differences. One, we skipped the cognac and lighting it on fire, solely because I didn’t feel like going out and buying some. We’ll definitely do it next time, because I really want to light cognac on fire. And two, instead of portioning the mushrooms like Julia instructs, I chopped them fairly finely, because I don’t really like the texture of mushrooms, although I do love their flavor.

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Coq au Vin

(Recipe from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking)
Ingredients: 
  • Chicken
    • 3-4oz bacon, sliced into lardons
    • 2 + 2 tbsp butter
    • 2 1/2 – 3 lbs bone-in, skin-on chicken
    • Salt & pepper
    • 3 cups dry, full-bodied red wine
    • 1-2 cups beef stock
    • 1/2 tbsp tomato paste
    • 2 cloves minced garlic
    • 1/4 tsp thyme
    • 1 bay leaf
    • 3 tbsp flour
  • Mushrooms
    • 2 tbsp butter
    • 1 tbsp olive oil
    • 1/2 lb mushrooms
  • Onions
    • 20-25 pearl onions, peeled
    • 1 1/2 tbsp butter
    • 1 1/2 tbsp oil
    • 1/2 cup beef stock
    • 1/4 tsp thyme
    • 1/2 bay leaf
Instructions: 
  1. Bring 2 quarts of water to a simmer and submerge the lardons of bacon. Simmer for 10 minutes.
  2. In a large dutch oven, heat 2 tbsp butter until melted.
  3. Once bacon has simmered, transfer it to the dutch oven. Saute for a few minutes over medium heat until lightly browned, then remove to the side.
  4. Pat chicken pieces dry. Top with 1/2 tsp salt and a few turns of pepper. Brown each piece on all sides in the hot butter/bacon fat.
  5. Return the bacon to the dutch oven and cook over low-medium for 10 minutes, flipping the chicken once.
  6. Pour wine into the dutch oven. Scrape the bottom of the dish to remove any stuck brown bits.
  7. Add additional stock until the chicken is just covered. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic, and herbs.
  8. Cover and simmer for ~30 minutes.
  9. While the chicken is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms.
  10. For the onions: In a skillet, heat butter and oil together over medium heat. Once warm, add the onions. Saute for 10 minutes, rolling the onions around frequently. Pour in the stock and add herbs. Braise, covered, simmering lightly for ~40 minutes.
  11. For the mushrooms: In a skillet, heat butter and oil together over medium heat. Once the butter has foamed and subsided, add the mushrooms. Saute for 6-8 minutes, shaking the pan frequently. Once lightly browned, remove to the side.
  12. After 30 minutes, remove the chicken from the dish.
  13. Increase heat and boil the braising liquid until it has reduced to ~ 2 1/4 cups. [Julia’s very specific suggestion, not mine.] Discard the bay leaf and adjust salt and pepper as needed. Remove from heat.
  14. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 tbsp butter and flour. Once combined, whisk into the braising liquid.
  15. Return liquid to a slow simmer. Return the chicken to the dish, along with the mushrooms and onions.
  16. Simmer for just a few additional minutes, basting the chicken.
  17. Julia would serve with potatoes, but you can do whatever you want 🙂

Kimchi Braised Chicken with Noodles

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As you can tell, we enjoy braised chicken.  We make it more often than the handful of posts on our blog.  It’s simple, tasty, and always makes leftovers for lunches or a quick dinner later in the week.  I think kimchi scares a lot of people… fermented cabbage, anyone?  It’s alive and continues to ferment while sealed up, further breaking down the vegetables and adding flavor to the various spices contained within that swollen jar.  Ally had dog-eared this recipe a while ago, and we didn’t know what to expect.  We were both expecting a bit of sourness from the fermentation products of the kimchi, some smokiness from the bacon, acidity from the tomatoes, and of course a touch of sweetness from the white wine.  The ingredients, each lending their own simple tastes to the finished product, which has a unique complexity that will make you wish you made a double batch.  For more spice, try adding some of your favorite hot sauce (sriracha would go well), some cayenne, or a a few pinches of chipotle spices for a smoky heat.

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Kimchi Braised Chicken with Noodles

(Adapted from Bon Appetit magazine, February 2016 issue)
Ingredients: 
  • 5 slices of bacon, sliced
  • 3 lb boneless chicken thighs
  • 10 cloves garlic, minced
  • 10 oz (by weight) grape tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups dry white wine
  • 2 cups kimchi, with juices
  • 8oz egg noodles
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • Salt & pepper
Instructions: 
  1. Place a large Dutch oven on the stove over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until slightly crispy.
  2. Remove the bacon to the side to a paper towel lined plate, retaining the bacon fat.
  3. Add the garlic and tomatoes into the dish. Lower heat slightly and cover. Stir occasionally.
  4. After ~5 minutes of cooking, the garlic should be browning and the tomatoes getting wrinkly. Using the back of your slotted spoon (or whatever utensil you’re cooking with…), press down on the tomatoes until they burst.
  5. Pour in the wine and scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the dish.
  6. Bring to a boil and allow to reduce by half.
  7. Now return the bacon to the dish, along with the kimchi and chicken. Bring to a simmer. Then lower heat & cover.
  8. Braise over low-medium heat for an hour, uncovering once roughly halfway through to stir.
  9. After this time, remove the lid from the Dutch oven. Increase heat slightly, ensuring that the tomato-kimchi liquid comes to a fast simmer. Cook for ~20 more minutes. The liquid will reduce. Break apart the chicken as it begin to fall apart.
  10. Towards the end of the braising time, cook egg noodles. Boil in a pot of salted water until al dente.
  11. Once pasta is cooked, drain it, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid.
  12. Return the pasta to the cooking pot and top with butter, 1/4 cup of cooking liquid, and salt & pepper to taste. Toss until pasta is covered with buttery liquid. Add a little bit more cooking liquid if you think it needs.
  13. To serve, top a serving of noodles with generous spoonfuls of chicken and tomato-kimchi sauce.
Makes 6-8 servings

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Bangladeshi Beef & Potato Curry

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I don’t know about y’all, but I follow an absurd amount of food-related Instagram accounts. Some days I love it and drool over all the gorgeous photos, and some days I’m like, I just want to see my friends’ babies and sunsets!! (When I’m not freaking out like that), one of these delicious feeds that I love is that of the James Beard Foundation. They share amazing photos of their chef dinners and feature other dishes from chefs they love (I’m guessing). I save recipes that strike my fancy (and that I think I might actually be able to recreate). Some I know from a glance are out of my league, but there are plenty I think I can attempt. This was one of them.

Now let me tell you more about this recipe and its source, that I only discovered myself as I was making it today. While I found it featured via James Beard Foundation, it comes from the cookbook The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook: Artisanal Baking from Around the World, by Jessamyn Waldman Rodriguez. In reading the recipe on JBF’s page, it quotes a description from the cookbook itself, including the line, “Another Lutfunnessa specialty, this curry, called alu-maunsho torkerry in Bangladeshi…” And I’m sitting here like, who is Lutfunnessa…? Isn’t the author’s name Jessamyn…? She doesn’t sound Bangladeshi…? 🤷🤷 Being the incredible internet detective I am, I followed the breadcrumbs to the Hot Bread Kitchen’s website. Turns out Ms. Rodriguez is the founder of the bakery and initiative called Hot Bread Kitchen. Her organization, among other things, is a functioning bakery, that employs immigrant women facing economic insecurity and provides training and education including English skills. While her trainees/employees appear to gain much from this organization, the bakery gains much from them, particularly in the form of multi-ethnic new recipes! Sounds like an awesome setup! Back to, who is Lutfunnessa? Per their website, she is a 2012 graduate of the Bakers In Training program, who now works for Hot Bread Kitchen. I’m taking a wild guess that she’s Bangladeshi, given the description of this recipe.

So thank you Lutfunnessa, Jessamyn, Hot Bread Kitchen, the James Beard Foundation, and Instagram for this great recipe! We followed the original recipe pretty closely, except for our addition of vegetables. I think the corn and the green beans were perfect additions! The flavor of the curry is subtle, but builds as you eat it.

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Bangladeshi Beef & Potato Curry

(Adapted from this recipe, as mentioned)
Ingredients: 
  • 4 tbsp oil, divided
  • 2lbs chuck beef, cut into ~ 1 inch chunks
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 inch piece of ginger, grated
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 cups beef or vegetable stock
  • 3 yellow potatoes, cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 12oz fresh green beans
  • 2 ears of corn
  • Fresh cilantro
  • Rice
Instructions: 
  1. Heat 2 tbsp of oil to medium-high in a dutch oven.
  2. Season the beef chunks with salt and pepper. Toss into the dutch oven to brown. Stir a few times to brown on all sides.
  3. Once browned, remove the beef to the side.
  4. Add the other 2 tbsp of oil to the dutch oven and lower heat to medium.
  5. Cook onions, garlic, and ginger in the oil for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they’ve browned.
  6. Top with all of the spices. Toast for just a minute.
  7. Now return the beef to the dish and top with the stock. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover with the lid. Cook for 1 hour – check occasionally to ensure the heat isn’t too high and beef is still mostly covered with liquid.
  8. After an hour is up, add the potatoes, green beans, and corn (removed from ears). Ensure the liquid returns to a simmer. Re-cover and cook for another 30-45 minutes.
  9. Serve over top rice and with a sprinkle of chopped cilantro.
Makes 8 servings.

Braised Chicken Thighs with Middle Eastern Spices

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Given all of the turmoil in the news these days, I need a break! So let’s focus on one of my favorite and non-political aspect of the Middle East – the food! If anything can bring us all together, food just might be it. Maybe if we all get together and cook for and with each other, we’ll be more focused on delicious flavors and new friendships than differences of politics, religion, and all the rest. One of my favorite authors/bloggers is Sasha Martin, who created the site Global Table Adventure says this: “…cooking has the power to help families bond, empower, and heal. What’s more, setting a global table creates compassion and understanding – which helps the world heal…” I’ve mentioned this beautiful site before… you should all go take a look. Ever since I stumbled upon her site (years ago!), I’ve been inspired by her.

The flavors of the Middle East are amazing. This recipe isn’t based on a traditional recipe that I found, but was instead developed based on delicious spices/flavors and the ingredients I had at home. The chicken comes out nice and moist, and surprisingly, the carrots might be my favorite part of the whole thing! When you eat your chicken, spoon a little bit of the braising liquid on top so you get as much flavor as possible 🙂

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Braised Chicken Thighs with Middle Eastern Spices

Ingredients: 
  • 4 large bone-in chicken thighs
  • 2 tbsp neutral oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 3/4 cups chicken stock
  • 20+ baby carrots
Instructions: 
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Salt & pepper the chicken thighs on both sides.
  3. In a dutch oven (or similar stove/oven-proof dish), heat the 2 tbsp of oil over medium heat.
  4. Once the oil is hot, place the thighs in the dish, skin side down. Leave to sear for ~6 minutes. Then flip and brown on the non-skin side for another 4-5 minutes. Once the chicken is browned on both sides, remove to the side briefly.
  5. Lower the heat just slightly and toss the onions and garlic into the remaining oil. Cook stirring occasionally until just beginning to brown, ~10 minutes.
  6. At this point, if there is significantly excess oil, drain it off.
  7. Add all of the spices to the onions and garlic. Cook an additional 3 minutes.
  8. Deglaze the dish with the chicken stock, scraping all the delicious brown bits from the bottom.
  9. Return the chicken and the carrots to the dish.
  10. Cover with the lid and place into the oven. The chicken will braise for 45 minutes.
Serves 4.

 

Red Wine Braised Beef

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Now that finals are over, we have some time to make a delicious dinner and also catch up on some of our favorite TV shows, Top Chef in particular.  There was an episode where one of the chefs had an hour to make something, and she chose to use the pressure cooker to braise some meat.  We thought, “pressure cookers are cool, but you know, we actually have the time to really braise something.”  There’s something about braising – meat simmering in a rich liquid for hours on end – that always sounds good, and tastes even better!  Braising is also a lot easier to make than most people think, as there isn’t much technical skill or finesse that goes into the dish.

We made oven roasted carrots and beets and homemade truffle Parmigiano-Reggiano mashed potatoes.  The braising liquid is a great sauce that goes well on top of pretty much everything. You’ll definitely want to pair this with a starch that’ll soak up the delicious liquid so you won’t embarrass yourself by slurping it off your plate. Because you will not want to let it go to waste!

We did not use a bottle of wine out of our collection to cook with, but we did open one to drink with it. In a slightly belated celebration of our first wedding anniversary, we opened a bottle of our “wedding wine.” Our favorite vintage, of our favorite blend, from our favorite winery – King Family Vineyard‘s 2010 Meritage.

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Red Wine Braised Beef

Ingredients: 
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 12 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 onions, finely diced
  • 6 carrots, roughly diced
  • 1 bottle merlot wine
  • 3 cups beef broth
  • 1.5 lb beef short ribs
  • 2.5 lb beef shoulder roast
  • 12 sprigs of thyme
  • 3 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper
Instructions: 
  1. In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
  2. Cut the beef shoulder into smaller portions, roughly the same size as the short rib portions. Season all sides with the salt and pepper.
  3. Brown the beef on all sides briefly. Remove to the side.
  4. Strip the thyme from its sprig. Let leaves remain whole.
  5. Add onions, carrots, and half of the thyme to the Dutch oven. Stir to coat in the oil and scrape up any brown bits from the beef. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Add the garlic to the dish and cook an additional 5 minutes.
  7. Deglaze the dish with the entire bottle of wine. Adjust heat to a light simmer. Allow to reduce by half.
  8. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
  9. Return beef to the dish and add the beef broth, bays leaves, and the rest of the thyme.
  10. Cover and place in the oven for 3 hours.
  11. Be careful removing from the oven. Serve over potatoes, rice, or another starch.
Serves 10-12.

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