Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Everyone's on Board the First Day

This feels like the start of a diet. Everyone’s game in the beginning, it’s even fun!

We start out the month of using what we have with an easy dinner.  Particularly easy because I didn't have to make it!  I left the recipe on the counter for DH to chef while the kids and I endured the journey to-during-from swim practice (think Hockey Mom here, without the lipstick and much, much more deferential to the other parents). 

Shameless plug for one of my go-to cookbooks: Desperation Dinners! by Beverly Mills & Alicia Ross to the rescue. If you don’t have this gem, order it NOW. It’s 20-minute meals for families: you can actually make them in 20 minutes and the kids will eat them.

Pork chops from the freezer, rice and other treats from the pantry, all with an oriental taste. The recipe in its original form calls for fresh mushrooms, which are generally staples in our refrigerator. Not today. DH substituted jarred mushrooms from the pantry, and jasmine rice for the “instant”, confident the “Substitution Queen” (that’s me) wouldn’t relinquish her title for something innocuous as this.

Here’s the back story: Many years ago, when DH and I were merely co-workers, I made three or five or whatever number of types of chili, bringing one to work each day for a while. Can’t remember why, but perhaps a magazine did a feature on chili and I set out to make them all. Anyway, one particularly aromatic batch (made with brewed coffee, an intriguing ingredient) called for a small can of diced chiles. I didn’t have any on hand, but did have a small jar of diced jalapenos, so I substituted. Woah, Baby, was that chili hot and spicy! DH and his pal (no stranger to intense spice, as he was known to eat an inch of wasabi paste straight from his finger) took a good 30 minutes to eat a bowl of this stuff, with tears running down their cheeks, laughing all the way. A day for which I will remain infamous.

Today’s meal was fantastic. The rice (cooked separately and added later) was a little squishy (probably should have added it a little later in the process). The house smelled divine when we got home. Don’t let the long list of ingredients intimidate you; you likely have most of them in your pantry or refrigerator already – and the point is to USE them!

One interesting result: there were lots of leftovers. This was NOT because we didn’t eat heartily at the table, but because the recipe was apparently marked for a family our size and a small continent as well.

Oriental Pork Chops

(adapted from Misako's Pork Chops, from Desperation Dinners!)

1 tsp. oil (vegetable or canola)
4 boneless center-cut pork chops (about 3/8” thick, about 1# total)
1 large onion (sliced into rings)
1 can (14.5 oz) broth, Oriental or chicken (we used water)
1 ½ c. “instant” (5-minute) rice (we used 3 c. cooked jasmine rice)
1 can (14.5 oz) stewed tomatoes (we used diced)
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. bottled chopped ginger
¼ tsp. onion powder
¼ tsp. dried basil
¼ tsp. black pepper
¼ tsp. salt (optional)
1 med. bell pepper, red or green (for 1 c. rings) (we left this out)
1 c. mushrooms, sliced (we used jarred)

3 T. cold water
2 T. corn starch

1. Heat the oil (medium heat) in large skillet with lid. Add chops, sauté, turning once, until golden brown on both sides (about 3 min). Remove the chops to a plate for the time being. Peel and slice onions into thin rings, scattering them evenly over the chops as you slice.

2. Add broth, tomatoes, Worcestershire, and ginger, (and rice if you’re using instant), stirring well. Turn the heat to high, cover the skillet, and bring broth to a boil. Measure the garlic powder, onion powder, basil, salt, and black pepper into a small dish. Uncover the skillet and add all of the spices at once, stirring well. Return the chops to the pan.

3. Re-cover the pan and let cook while you seed the bell pepper and slice it into ¼-inch rings. Add the pepper slices and mushrooms to the skillet, distributing them evenly over the chops. Cover again and continue to boil the mixture on high for about 8 minutes, until the chops are just done (no longer pink in the center).

4. Meanwhile, combine the water and cornstarch in a small container that has a lid. Shake well until the lumps disappear, then set aside.

5. When the chops have simmered for 8 minutes, add the rice (if you’re using precooked and haven’t already) and stir well. Allow to heat through (a minute or two). Shake the cornstarch mixture again, and add it to the skillet. Stir constantly until the liquid reaches the desired thickness, 1 or 2 minutes.

6. Spoon out a bed of rice and vegetables onto each serving plate. Top with a pork chop and serve with a smile!

Serves 4 (per the recipe) and a small continent (per our experience).

A note: Our package of pork chops had six in it. Since at least one of our teens is a picky eater, DH kept two of the chops aside after sautéing them and kept them warm in the oven at low heat. They were cooked perfectly by the time everything else was done. Picky Teen 2 had perfectly plain pork chops with perfectly plain rice. Perfect.

Another note: I’m not sure, exactly, how the water/rice ratio worked itself out (but it certainly did!) because I was driving the car, not the stove, during preparation. I suspect the jasmine rice was cooked according to package directions in a separate pan and no additional liquid was added to the pork chop mixture other than the water/cornstarch mixture at the end.

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