Saturday, December 28, 2013

Pumpkin Braised Pork with Greens ~ An updated New Year's Tradition

Ringing in the year with 'good luck' dinners is a custom that goes way back. I previously told you about the German-based tradition my family follows, which features roasted pork and sauerkraut. The dish I'm making today is a variation on that theme, where the pork roast is enhanced with a pumpkin sauce for the slow cooking that ensues.  In the winter I like to make slow cooked dishes that are mostly one-pot meals. They warm the kitchen and add a fragrance to that makes your house feel like home. You can make this dish in a crock pot or in a Dutch oven.  I'll give you the subtle differences in preparation below. And if you want to add cabbage or sauerkraut you certainly can.

Julian's Pumpkin Braised Pork with Kale
Pumpkin, pork shoulder and winter curly kale make the perfect combination for meals served on cold winter days.  Until recently I haven't used pork shoulder much in my cooking.  But this Spring when it was still quite chilly I included it in an Italian sauce and served it with pasta.  The in the summer I found myself slow roasting/smoking it on the grill.  So it really is a versatile cut of meat that only requires long, slow cooking to render it tender and flavorful.

I got the idea for this recipe from a photo in Williams-Sonoma's catalog, where you can also purchase the pumpkin braising sauce pre-made if you don't mind the price.  I give you the ingredients to make it yourself, although I did try the sauce from Williams-Sonoma and it is as good as my own so don't be shy about using it if you are in a hurry.

I also made this with fresh pumpkin puree, but in the recipe below it really doesn't matter.  If you want to add fresh pumpkin and make the puree in the pot as you go, roughly follow these instructions.

Browning the pre-cut pork adds more surface for flavor.
If you haven't cooked with curly kale, give it a try.  It absorbs the flavors of the sauce and adds great color and nutrients to the dish.  It's tough, as you will see when you clean it, and as such holds up well to the cooking.

Finally, if you can get boneless pork shoulder the preparation is quick (as in 15-20 minutes).  From there it just cooks for several hours as the flavors meld and the meat becomes tender.  If you use a bone in roast, the carving and removing of the bone will add about 20 minutes to the preparation time.

Ingredients (serves 6-8 adults)
2-3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
3-4 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1-2" pieces
salt and pepper
1 large yellow onion
1 1/2 cups white wine*
14 ounce can crushed tomatoes*
15 ounces pumpkin puree*
1 cup apple cider*
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar*
1-2 cups chicken stock*
pinch of brown sugar*
pinch of cinnamon*
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 pound carrots
fresh mushrooms (optional)
1 bunch curly kale

*these items are used if you are not using prepared (canned) braising sauce.

In a large heavy Dutch oven (or a skillet if you are going to use a crockpot for cooking), heat oil until very hot but not smoking.  Season the pork pieces with salt and pepper.  In small batches so the meat doesn't touch one another while cooking, quickly brown on two sides. Remember meat sticks to the surface until well browned when it naturally releases.  Do not to turn it prematurely. Remove to a bowl and repeat until all the pork is browned.

Sauce:  Peel and roughly chop the onion into large chunks.  Add the onion to the pot/skillet and cook 3-4 minutes, until beginning to soften.  If using prepared pumpkin braising sauce add it to the pot and skip to the next paragraph now.  Otherwise, add the white to the pot and deglaze the bottom scraping loose any brown bits and incorporating into the mixture. Stir in the tomatoes, pumpkin, apple cider, and cider vinegar. Cook for 2-3 minutes reducing heat to medium as the mixture begins to simmer. Add the chicken stock until you have a loose sauce that it somewhat watery.  This will cook down during the long cooking period and become more thick. Add the brown sugar and cinnamon and taste. Adjust spices as needed for your taste. Add the crushed red pepper flakes and stir to combine.

Braise:  Cut the carrots into 2 inch or so chunks.  Wash the mushrooms.  Add the browned pork into the sauce along with half the carrots and half the mushrooms.  Stir to combine.  Place the Dutch Oven in a 325F oven or place the mixture into the crock pot set on high and cover.  Cook for 3-4 hours, until the meat is tender.  It will cook more quickly in the Dutch Oven.  Check for moisture content several times while cooking. If necessary add water to maintain a sauce consistency.  After the pork has cooked for 2 hours, add the remaining carrots and mushrooms.

Clean the kale by tearing off the leaf portions into 1-2" pieces.  Discard the tough stems. Approximately 20 minutes from serving time, stir in the kale. Serve with mashed potatoes or French bread for dipping. There will be some sauce that may be used for gravy on the potatoes, or simply plate the potatoes and place the braised pork over them.

Julian's Pumpkin Braised Pork Shoulder with winter Greens

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Apple Cinnamon Breakfast Loaf ~ Perfect for Christmas Morning

These easy make-ahead, freezable loaves will become part of your standard baking repertoire. Because of the apples they stay moist longer than a normal breakfast bread.  They also freeze beautifully and are almost as good as when they were fresh from the oven.

The "winning" Apple Cinnamon Loaf Recipe
I tested multiple recipes to find just what gave the best results.  On Pinterest and Facebook you see many recipes with lovely photos.  But if you've tried them you know you must beware.  Some of them are really just marketing gimmicks to get you to look at a page that contains an ad.  With this recipe you needn't worry.  I've done all of the testing and taken the best of several recipes and made them in to one that never fails.

Look Good ~ Taste Bad
These three cute little loves above don't look bad at all.  I got this recipe on Facebook.  And while the flavor wasn't terrible, it wasn't good and worse yet the texture seemed all wrong.  Instead of crumbly and brown, the dough was white and pasty.  They failed to rise properly.  I won't bore you with the many other tests and related photos, just suffice it to say that the winning recipe below will make a great breakfast loaf or snack for your family and fill the house will the wonderful smells of winter baking at the same time.  Give it a try and let me know how you like it!  Merry Christmas!


2 cups flour
Better Topping than Loaf
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar (granulated white)
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 heaping tablespoons applesauce
2 apples

1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)


Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Combine flour, soda, salt and spices. Set aside. In a large mixer cream the butter until lighter yellow and somewhat fluffy.  With the mixer on a medium-high speed, slowly add the white then brown sugar until well combined.  Beat in the eggs and applesauce. (May use sweet or unsweetened applesauce.) With the mixer on low, slowly add in the dry ingredients. Stop the mixer.  Peel, core and chop the apples into small pieces. Fold in with a spoon or with the mixer on very low/stir.

Spoon the batter into a loaf pan(s) that have been greased or sprayed with food release (Pam).  Use one standard loaf pan or three mini-loaf pans.

Combine the topping ingredients and sprinkle over the tops of the loaf(s).

Bake 30-35 minutes for mini-loaf or 55-60 minutes for a standard loaf, or until a pick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Making many for Christmas gifts.

Wrapped and ready to go!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Veal Scallopini with Mushroom Cream Sauce

Italian-Americans often serve classic Italian dishes for the holidays.  In my family we frequently had pasta for Christmas and pork for the New Year celebration, as was the custom of the German immigrants in our area.  This year I'm serving up Veal Scallopini with a rich, silky mushroom cream sauce.

Julian's Veal Scallopini with Mushroom Cream Sauce
Of course a good mushroom cream sauce will go with just about anything, but one of my favorites is veal.  By quickly browning the veal, then topping with the cream sauce, you will have very tender veal with a mild sauce just perfect this time of the year.  I love the flavor and texture you get when you combine the veal with cooked mushrooms and cream.  You can of course substitute chicken if you prefer.

So easy to make, I prepare it in all seasons.
Because veal scallopini is pounded out quit thin, it’s easy to over cook.  If you do over cook it, you’ll turn the tender, delicate veal into a tough unappetizing piece of meat.  Veal this thin takes only 2-3 minutes total cooking time if your skillet is hot enough to begin with.

Julia Child is well known for adding her mushrooms to a dish near the end.  She preferred, or perhaps was trained, to like them more firm.  To my mind however, they are better more fully cooked when they have released their flavorful fluids into your sauce and lose that somewhat slimy but firm texture. The choice is of course yours.

When choosing your menu remember that, because both the veal and the sauce is rich, relatively small servings and lighter side dishes are in order.  My Italian butcher sells veal already pounded thin and cut into portions.  If yours does not then you will start by placing the meat between sheets of plastic wrap and pounding it thin.  You should plan on about two pieces per person or a bit more if you have big holiday eaters.

Veal Medallions Cut and Pounded Thin by Butcher

Ingredients (serves 4-6)

1 pound veal medallions (approximately)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
1 small onion diced
1 cup sliced mushrooms (any type)
1 clove garlic diced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
salt and pepper


Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees.  Sprinkle veal lightly with salt and pepper.  Add olive oil and one tablespoon of butter to a fry/saute pan and heat over high heat. Lightly flour enough of the veal medallions to fit into your pan. Do not over-crowd the pan. Do not flour the remainder until ready for cooking. Quickly brown the veal on one side (no more than 2 minutes) then turn and cook for one minute more on the other side. Remove to an oven safe platter and cover with foil.  Saute any remaining veal using the same technique.  Add a little more oil if necessary.  Transfer all veal to the platter, cover with foil and place in the warm oven.

Click To Englarge
Add the remaining tablespoon of butter to the pan along with the diced onions and saute for a minute or two, then add the mushrooms.  Season with salt and pepper and stir to combine. Cook until the liquid from the mushrooms is mostly evaporated. Stir in the garlic.  

Add the white wine and de-glaze the pan (stirring loose any brown bits stuck to the pan, as these are a flavor powerhouse.)  Add the chicken stock and cook until the liquid is reduced by about half. Add the dried tarragon and the Dijon mustard and stir to combine, then stir in the cream.  Cook until the sauce reaches the desired consistency.  Taste and add salt/pepper as necessary.

Remove the veal from the oven and top with the cream sauce.  Garnish with dried parsley and serve.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Julia Childs' Famous Boeuf Bourguignon

Tougher cuts of beef can be prepared in a number of ways to render them juicy and flavorful, but perhaps none is more famous than the method Julia Child demonstrated in her first episode of Public Television's the French Chef way back in 1963.  Now you may be scared off by the French name but it really refers to beef prepared in the style of the peasants that lived in the Burgundy region of France.  If peasants can prepare this dish, so can you!

Julian's Bouef Bourguignon ~ Delicious!
Like most places, the less fortunate in life had to make do with the less desirable (less tender) parts of the meat and I'm sure this is what developed the cooking techniques that evolved.  And as wine was plentiful in Burgundy, it became a key ingredient in preparing this classic dish.

The dish bears some resemblance to other beef dishes like Classic Yankee Pot Roast and Old Fashioned Country Roundsteak.  Beef stew also shares techniques with this hearty meal, as the meat is cut into pieces and cooked in a sauce for tenderizing. The key elements here are browning the meat first, then cooking it in liquid slowly for 3-4 hours.  Many variations on this theme will work, and you need not follow Julia's classic technique to the letter for a successful dinner, so long as you remember the key elements. I strongly suggest using red wine, onions and mushrooms, but you may omit anything that doesn't suit your taste or add carrots or other vegetables for flavor.

Rather than reproduce her technique for you as I normally do, instead you can watch the famous episode in its entirety here, and get the techniques straight from Julia.  It's a relatively short video.

As you can see in my photos, I did serve it with the classic boiled potatoes and as she suggests, I also added the mushrooms just at the end so they 'don't disappear into the sauce'.  The meat does come out fork tender and packed with flavor.  Cutting into large chunks to begin with renders smaller, nice sized pieces for serving, each coated all around in that silky flavorful sauce.  I did use a good Burgundy wine as she suggests, but I've had equal success with all good hearty red wines when making this classic dish.  If for some reason you don't wish to use wine, substitute with 50/50 beef/chicken broth.

Served with the classic boiled potatoes and green beans.

Note to self "buy more Burgundy wine next time."