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Archive for the ‘week-night suppers’ Category

Pork and cranberries

A couple of weeks ago, over coffee, my friend Sharon passed along this very elegant, simple and autumnal dinner idea: Empty half a bag of cranberries (rinsed and sorted, of course) into a baking dish, sprinkle a bunch of sugar on top of that, add a layer of 3-4 pork chops, and add remaining berries and another layer of sugar, cover dish with foil, bake at 350 for one hour.

Sounded like a champion weeknight dinner to me. I actually made it Saturday night, using thick boneless chops and it baked alongside a sunshine squash. Dubious, I did add a half-cup of water to pork and berry mixture.

On the positive side, by the time the baby was asleep in his crib, I had a beautiful crimson, steaming dish was ready to serve.

The berries added tremendous excitement to this simple dish, and here’s why: I used far less sugar than one would put in traditional cranberry compote — no more than a 1/3 cup, I guesstimate. It wasn’t sweet and that was actually a good thing. I experienced cranberries in a whole new way. Baking tempered the fruit’s’ aggressive, face scrunching tartness. Flavored with pork fat and juices, it became this a lovely dry but slightly savory sauce that just shouted of all things autumn.

As for the meat, it was well-cooked, but tough and tasteless as cardboard. My thoughts: I would brine the pork for an hour. Serving time for a weeknight meal would be later, but really no less inconvenient.

This dish could be a winner, folks. So, reader, I invite you to ponder, experiment and report back.

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Ashley with some wild watercress picked fresh on our family farm in Kentucky

Ashley with some wild watercress picked fresh on our family farm in Kentucky

My sister Ashley runs a cooperative weekly rotating dinner party called a “Supper Club”. I’ve often thought of doing something similar but have had difficulty finding people who will commit to hosting one meal weekly. I’ve invited her to guest blog about her experiences doing this, and today will be the first of four non-consecutive posts on the topic. Hope you are inspired, and enjoy! j.f.

On occasion, I like to write. Especially when doing so of my own volition on topics of interest. My sister offered to let me crash her blog with my adventures Supper Clubbing and I agreed, hopefully not to her later disappointment. (of course not! jf)

First, since this seems to be a foreign concept to a lot of people, let me elaborate on the concept of a “supper club”, or at least what it means to me. I’m sure there are other names for it, but at its most basic, a supper club is a group of people who take turns cooking for each other. At the moment, my Supper Club only has three members (down from a high of six), so we field trip to restaurants on weeks when the stars don’t align for one of us to cook.

Many people are so scared to cook for themselves that I’m sure the concept of cooking for other people seems absolutely daunting, if not downright impossible (right up there with trying to refuse a second helping of desert at Thanksgiving!).

Let me allay your fears by passing along my own personal mantra as said by Catherine Aird, “If you can’t be a good example, you’ll just have to serve as a horrible warning.” : ) There are definitely times when I feel I’m the latter much more than the former, but I persist nonetheless because doing is really the only way to get better. Failure is often the best way to learn (and incidentally, makes for much better stories)!

If you’re skeptical still, let me assure you that in the course of my supper club I’ve had meals which were undercooked, overcooked (and even set on fire), several hours late and bestly (yes, I said bestly) perfectly done.

In the end, we’re not looking to be a top chef. Supper Club is not simply about becoming a better cook, though that’s nice. It’s about connecting with other people. When we pop open a bottle of booze and talk the week out over a home cooked meal, I don’t think things get much better. It’s possibly the best thing about my week. Anyway, I think I’ve rambled enough for now. Stay tuned for my first post on the last Supper Club I hosted.

Ashley

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Recipe facts: Wheat-free, Meat-free, Dairy-free. NOT peanut free. Total time: about 45 minutes. (Though Betty says 10 min prep, 23 min cook.) Serves 6 (but that is probably an underestimate); Recipe at end of post

I was enjoying dinner so well I forgot to take a picture of the meal until I'd already started chowing down.

I was enjoying dinner so well I forgot to take a picture of the meal until I'd already started chowing down.

Sweet potatoes are good for far more than the (in my opinion) sickeningly sweet sweet potato casseroles drowned in brown sugar and marshmallows many of us grew up on. Here’s an easy, weeknight sweet potato dish I made on Tuesday that went pretty fast, was extremely inexpensive to put together, and was absolutely delicious.

My friend Shara, who I had over for dinner, liked it so much that she asked for a copy of the recipe. One other guest who partook of leftovers gave it a big thumbs up. It’s vegan and gluten-free, but you’d never know it from tasting it. It’s again out of Betty Crocker’s Vegetarian Cooking (1 ed. — there’s a new ed. out now that may not have it). The great thing about this cookbook is it gives optional meat additions for families where some are vegetarian and some are not. You can just divide your recipe in half if necessary, or add the meat in at the end for the carnivores. This recipe has such an option.

The setup for West African Sweet Potato Supper

The setup for West African Sweet Potato Supper

I chose this recipe because I was looking for ways to use (yet more!) sweet potatoes that had gone on sale for 79 cents a pound at King Soopers. It caught my attention because it incorporates the rich flavor, protein, and good fats (primarily poly- and mono-unsaturated) of peanut butter with the protein and fiber of beans (I subbed black beans for the great northerns because I thought they would be prettier) and colorful tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and corn. There’s also some wonderful ginger and chili powders thrown in, with a little bit of cayenne for kick. Add it to taste, especially if you are heat-sensitive.

Jen’s version: I made a half recipe, because it supposedly serves 6. Even at half size, this recipe made enough food to feed an army. I’ve already had three meals from it (including 5 total servings so far), and it looks like I’ll get at least 3 more. I didn’t want to halve a can of corn, so I used  about 3/4 c. frozen. As for the beans, I just threw the whole can in and figured it’d work out. I found that one large sweet potato yielded the requisite two cups of cubed sweet potato. Sadly, I did not notice the tip about peeling the sweet potato (see below) until AFTER I’d availed myself of the vegetable peeler. C’est la vie.

The finished product in situ

The finished product in situ

Since I had some leftover cilantro in my fridge, I threw that on as a garnish. That proved a good move (although check with your guests/family; some people think cilantro tastes like Joy dish soap). Finally, to top it all off, I made coconut rice using some leftover coconut milk that I had frozen. More on that in a subsequent post. The rich peanut flavor coupled with the tropical coconut of the rice made this dish really satisfying.

West African Sweet Potato Supper

Notes from Betty: To make peeling the sweet potatoes easier, microwave potatoes on High for two minute first. For a nice color contrast, try a can of black beans instead of the great northern beans.

1 T. vegetable oil
1 med. onion, sliced and separated into rings
1/4c. creamy peanut butter
1 t. chili powder
1/2 t. ground dried ginger
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. cayenne pepper
3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2in cubes (about 4c.)
2 cans (14.5 oz ea) diced tomatoes with roasted garlic, undrained (if you can’t find ones with garlic, just get plain and add a couple cloves of crushed garlic)
1 can (15oz) great northern beans (or black beans), undrained
1 can (15oz) corn, drained (you can also use 1 1/2c. fresh or frozen corn)

Rice or couscous

1. Heat oil in 4qt dutch oven over med-high heat. Cook onion in oil, stirring frequently, until tender.
2. Stir in remaining ingredients. Heat to boiling; reduce heat to med-low. Cover and cook about 20-25min, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender. Serve over couscous or rice.

1 serving: Calories 340 (Calories from Fat 80); Fat 9g(Saturated 2g); Cholesterol 0 mg; Sodium 870 mg; Carbohydrate 62g (Dietary Fiber 11g); Protein 14g.

Meat option: Add 2 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into 3/4-inch pieces, with the onion in step 1. Cook until chicken is no longer pink. Continue as directed.

p. 123 of Betty Crocker’s Vegetarian Cooking, 1st ed.

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