Italian Braised Pork Chops w Tomato & Garlic Sauce

Costoletta di Maiale alla Pizzaiola

Here is detailed information on the origins, makeup, and health benefits of garlic, plus a great recipe for braising pork chops, using tomatoes and garlic, which is inspired by a receipt from the 1960’s Time-Life Books Foods of this World.  1

Among its multi-themed books, The Cooking of Italy, provides these great braised pork chops with tomato and garlic sauce. I have adapted this by braising the chops in the oven, rather than on the stove top, as the original instructions require.  The method of braising in the oven brings out the best of flavors in food; my recent entries on Cote de Porc Sauce Nenette and Braised Cabbage exemplify this.

Background of Garlic

Garlic (Allium sativum L. family Liliaceae) is a species in the genus Allium, a group of plants in the lily family, in which there are more than 500 species; these are native to the northern temperate regions.  About twenty of these 500 species are important human foods that have been prized for thousands of years.  2

Their antiquity can be seen in reference to the incident in Exodus in 1230 B.C., when the Israelites lamented in the wilderness: “We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely, the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick…”  3

Garlic (Allium sativum) is a member of the onion (Amaryllidaceae) family.  It is believed that garlic originated from Allium longiscuspis, as it does not appear in the wild as a species of its own; the mutation that resulted in garlic probably took place in central Asia.  4

How Garlic Grows

The name garlic is an Anglo-Saxon word that meant “spear-leek”, or rather a leek with a slim, pointed leaf blade instead of a broad, open one.  5

The bulbs of both onions and garlic are made up of a central stem bud and surrounding leaf bases.  Each leaf base swells with stored nutrients during one growing season, which then supplies them to the bud during the next season.  Onions, garlic, and most of their relatives are primarily grown for their underground bulbs-swollen leaf bases-that store energy for the beginning of the next growing season.  6

Note: an onion is a multi-layered bulb, or swollen leaf base; a garlic  bulb or “clove” consists, however, of a single, swollen storage leaf, of which there are a dozen or more of these cloves tightly fit together in a head of garlic. 7

Sweetness of Cooked Garlic Is Due to Fructose Sugars

Garlic and its relatives, in the onion family, accumulate energy stores in chains of fructose sugars, rather than in starches; thus, long, slow cooking breaks these sugars down to produce a marked sweetness, a delicious, savory quality.  This cooking process transforms the strong, pungent, sulfury flavor of garlic; this strong, offensive raw flavor of garlic was originally meant to be a chemical defense in the plant, to deter animals from eating it.  (See Sage Turkey and Braised Cabbage, for more on defensive chemicals in plants.)  8

The Unique Makeup of Garlic Produces Health

Garlic (A. sativum L. family Liliaceae) is used not only as a spice in foods, but also in traditional folk medicines.  There is much evidence of a wide spectrum of pharmacological effects of A. sativum and its active compounds with low toxicity; the sulfur compound Allicin-only occurring when garlic is crushed or injured-is the most important alkaloid being responsible for these beneficial effects.  Though allicin is thought to be primarily responsible for the antimicrobial effect of garlic, other sulfur compounds have some roles in the effects of the plant as well: diallyl disulphide (DDS) and siallyl trisulfide (DTS) are active against yeasts, while S-allylcysteine (SAC) is the most abundant organosulfur compound present in aged garlic extract .  9

Health benefits of garlic may include a lowering of high cholesterol and high blood pressure.  Eating raw garlic may also prevent heart disease and boost the immune system.  It is, however, most important to consult with one’s doctor, before starting any treatment regime.  10

Flavors and Sting of Raw Garlic

Members of the onion family, of which garlic is one, have distinctive flavors coming from their individual defensive use of the element sulfur.  When onions, leeks, garlic grow they take up sulfur from the soil and incorporate this into four different kinds of chemical ammunition.  These four ammunitions float in the cell fluids, while their “enzyme trigger” is held separately in a storage vacuole.  Damaging the cell, by chopping or chewing, releases this enzyme, which breaks the ammunition molecules in half, thus producing irritating, strong-smelling sulfurous molecules; some of these can be very reactive and unstable, therefore they continue to evolve into other compounds.  11

Various Preparation Methods Produce Unique Flavors

The raw flavor of various alliums is created by the mixture of these produced molecules.  The resultant flavor from this mixture depends on the initial ammunition, how thoroughly the food was chewed or chopped, the amount of oxygen that gets into the reactions, and finally how long the reactions last.  It follows that the preparation methods, such as chopping, pounding in a mortar, or pureeing in a food processor, will all result in distinctive flavors, even with the same allium.   Note that the end flavor from this mixture of molecules produced is especially potent in garlic, for it produces a hundred-fold higher concentration of  initial reaction products than do either onions or leeks.  12

Flavors Derived from Cooked Garlic

Heat causes the various sulfur compounds in garlic to react with each other and other substances; this produces the range of characteristic flavor molecules, which we experience in cooked garlic.   We find that the taste of garlic varies with different dishes; this is because the cooking method, temperature, and medium strongly influence flavor balance.  Trisulfides tend to result, when garlic is baked, dried, or microwaved, and these give off characteristic notes of overcooked cabbage.  If looking for a strong garlic flavor, high temperatures and the medium of fat are required; together these produce more volatiles and a stronger flavor than do other methods and mediums.  Interestingly, the type of fat used also changes flavor: relatively mild garlic compounds persist in butter, but rubbery, pungent notes come to the forefront in more reactive, unsaturated vegetable oils.  (I always recommend using avocado or coconut oil in cooking, as olive oil is carcinogenic at high temperatures; for more on healthy oils, see Nutty Coconut Pie.)  13

Unique Flavors Brought on by Blanching and Cooking Garlic Whole

My last entry, on Lentils for an Emergency, employed whole garlic cloves added to the lentils boiled in water; this method and medium produced unique garlic flavors in this dish.  Both the cooking of whole garlic and blanching inactivate the flavor-generating enzyme stored in the vacuole.  As noted, this enzyme starts the whole reaction process, when released by chopping or chewing raw garlic; thus, sulfurous molecules are produced that continue to evolve into other compounds, and various flavors result as seen above.  Boiling, or blanching, the whole garlic in with the lentils limited this enzymatic action, bringing to the dish only slightly pungent, sweet nutty notes.  These same relatively mild flavors are also found in garlic blanched whole in a vinegar-base, such as found in pickling.  14

Availability of Garlic Today

The University of Missouri’s Integrated Pest Control claims that China produces most of the world’s garlic and that 90% of all garlic grown in the U.S comes from California.  15

A recent conversation with Trader Joe’s provided the information that most of America’s garlic comes from the Gilroy area in California, which is known-at least in the U.S.-as the garlic capital of the world.

Recently I could not get garlic at our local Fred Meyer’s, when testing this last lentil receipt.  They informed me that presently China is not providing garlic on the world market; therefore, many nations are getting it from California, resulting in the shortage with Fred’s supplier.  Since this time, this chain store has had it off and on.

Trader Joe’s, however, has carried it throughout this pandemic; they said that theirs comes from various ranches and farms in the Gilroy area.  Traders also informed me that for years they haven’t sold any products produced in China, due to the heavy metals and arsenic present there; they guarantee that not a single ingredient, of their private label items, is sourced from China-this is 90% of their stock.  They added that they cannot be this definite with the other 10% of their products, which are under their own individual labels.

Lesson Applied

As referred to at the beginning of this entry, the Israelites were wanting to go back to Egypt, for their appetites were crying out for the luxury of melons, cucumbers, leeks, onions, and garlic.  In Egypt they had known these in abundance, but this amidst the cruelest of forced labor, which they forgot in their weakness experienced in the wilderness.

My spirit initially wanted to grieve what had been an appearance of the loss of garlic, a month ago.  I had a choice to make, as we all do: will we trust this process we find ourselves in with Covid-19, or hold onto what may have seemed better in the past?

The word of God instructs us:

“I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: That thou mayest love the Lord thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days: that thou mayest dwell in the land which the Lord sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”  16

We can choose life and not repeat what the Israelites did, by complaining that this journey is too hard.  Instead of looking backwards, we can stand on the promise that the name and blood of Jesus redeem everything, which we place in our Father’s hands. Only God can bring blessing out of this Covid-19 chaos, produced by Satan, and this only, if we ask believing.

Below is my adaptation of Time-Life’s great recipe for Costoletta di Maiale alla Pizzaiola, with its healthy garlic.  Enjoy its simplicity.

References:

  1. Waverly Root and the Editors of Time-Life Books, Time-Life Books Foods of this World, The Cooking of Italy (New York: Time Inc., 1968), p. 178.
  2. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 310.
  3. The Holy Bible, KJV, Numbers 11:5.
  4. https://ipm.missouri.edu/MEG/2015/9/Garlic-A-Brief-History/
  5. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 311.
  6. , p. 310.
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3874089/
  8. https://ipm.missouri.edu/MEG/2015/9/Garlic-A-Brief-History/
  9. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), pp. 310, 311.
  10. , p. 311.
  11. https://ipm.missouri.edu/MEG/2015/9/Garlic-A-Brief-History/
  12. The Holy Bible, KJV, Deuteronomy 30: 19,20.

finished product

Costoletta di Maiale alla Pizzaiola (Braised Pork Chops w/ Tomato and Garlic Sauce)  Adapted from a recipe in Time-Life Books Foods of This World: The Cooking of Italy, 1968.  Yields: 5-6 servings.  Total prep time: 45 min/  active prep time: 25 min/  Braising time: 20 min.

2 tbsp oil  (Avocado is best here, as olive oil is carcinogenic when heated to high temperatures.)

5-6 center-cut loin pork chops, cut 1”-1 1/2” thick  (Trader Joe’s carries boneless, French cut, center cut pork loin chops for $6.49/lb.-the best price around for this high-quality pork.)

1 tsp finely chopped garlic  (For easy prep, may use 1 cube of frozen garlic, available at Trader’s.)

1/3 c chopped, fresh, oregano leaves, or a combination of 1/2 tsp dried oregano and 1/4 tsp dried thyme, crumbled  (Trader’s generally has a 4” pot of fresh oregano, just enough for this receipt-the original recipe in Time-Life calls for the 1/2 tsp dried oregano and 1/4 tsp dried thyme.)

1/2 bay leaf

1/4 tsp salt

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 1/8 c drained canned tomatoes, pureed (May puree these in a food processor, blender, or Vitamix.)

1 tbsp tomato paste

3 tbsp butter

1/2 lb. green pepper, seeded and cut in 2”-by-1/4” stripes  (Organic is important, as peppers readily absorb pesticides.)

10 oz fresh, sliced mushrooms  (Mushrooms are least expensive and of high quality at Traders.)

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Puree the drained tomatoes, using a food processor, blender, or Vitamix (set aside).
  3. In an ovenproof stockpot with lid, heat 2 tbsp of oil, over medium heat.
  4. browning chops

    Generously salt and pepper the chops, after drying them with a paper towel (drying is important for browning to take place); then, brown them in the hot oil for 2-3 minutes per side; transfer to a plate (see photo).

  5. With a long-handled spoon, degrease the juices, by tipping the pan to the side and skimming most of the fat off the top, leaving about 1 tbsp of fat. Add garlic, oregano, bay leaf, salt, and wine vinegar to meat juices; bring to a boil, stirring constantly; while cooking, be sure to deglaze the pan (scrape the bits of meat and herbs cooked off the bottom, using a plastic spatula).
  6. chops prepped for braising

    Stir in the pureed tomatoes and tomato paste. Return the chops to the casserole, bring to a boil, and baste the chops with the sauce (see photo).

  7. Cover and place in oven for 20-25 minutes, or until there is no color in center, when cut with a knife. Baste occasionally during braising period; rotate chops a time or two, only if all the chops don’t fit in a single layer in stock pot.
  8. Meanwhile spray bell pepper with a vegetable spray (for an inexpensive, effective spray, may combine 97% white distilled vinegar and 3% hydrogen peroxide). Let sit for 3 minutes and rinse well.
  9. Cut peppers in 2” x 1/4” stripes.
  10. vegies cooked

    Melt the butter in a large sauté pan, over medium heat. When hot, add the sliced peppers and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Mix in the mushrooms, evenly coating them with the fat.  Cook until desired texture is achieved, stirring occasionally (these will cook a little more later); set aside.  See photo.

  11. When chops are finished cooking, remove them to a platter and cover them with foil; start reheating the vegetables.
  12. IF the sauce is too thin, place stockpot with sauce on top of burner and boil liquid over med/high heat, stirring constantly (sauce should be thick enough to coat a spoon heavily).
  13. Blend hot vegetables into thickened sauce and spoon over pork chops, either on the platter itself, or on individual plates. (Note: it is possible to prepare this recipe ahead, and at this point put aside the casserole, with the chops sitting in the sauce and vegetables. Three-quarter-hour before serving, bring the casserole with the sauce and chops, to a boil over medium heat; then, place casserole in a preheated oven at 250 degrees, for warming.)  See photo.
  14. Serve and fully enjoy!

Ukrainian Spinach with Noodles

Ukrainian spinach with noodles

Let’s explore the benefits of alternative pastas, as well as the history of semolina.  This dynamite recipe for Ukrainian Spinach and Noodles often graced my buffet tables in the 1980’s and 90’s, when I was catering historical meals.  Being so health conscious now, I have altered it to included important ghee and gluten-free pasta, both of which are optional.

Benefits of Red Lentil Sedanini

Here I employ organic red lentil sedanini from Trader Joe’s, in place of wheat semolina pasta.   Based on a serving of 3/4-cup-dry, this alternative pasta is high in both protein-13grams-and fiber-12% of the RDI.  These two factors allow the sedanini’s carbohydrates-11% of the RDI -to be absorbed more slowly than that of semolina pasta; thus, it has a different impact on blood sugar.  In addition, it is believed that fiber and protein may aid in weight loss, and high fiber also improves digestion.  1

Sedanini is a superb source of iron, with its 15% of the daily requirement.  This helps with anemia, especially when eaten with foods rich in vitamin C, to increase the absorption of the non-heme iron found here-this is a plant iron, rather than iron derived from meats.  3

My Ukrainian noodles provide all these health benefits found in red lentil sendanini, plus those of powerful ghee (for information on ghee see balsamic eggs).

Origins of Pasta

There is always the big question: did pasta originate in China or Italy?  The popular story is that Marco Polo found it in China, but Reay Tannahill points out in Food in History that what Polo ‘discovered’ has been taken to be something new, when actually he discovered that the Chinese had pasta ‘which are like ours’.  4

Macaroni was its common name in Italy.  It is claimed that its use goes back to Etruscan times-the time of this pre-Roman country Estruria in west-central Italy.  Therefore, it would pre-date the Chinese noodle by about 500 years.  This, however, is speculative, as it is not known if the knitting-needle-shaped objects found in tombs were indeed meant for rolling dough around.  It is verified, however, that Apicius (the first century Roman gourmet, who provided the exceptional treatise on cookery of antiquity), had recipes using lasagna in it, which allows us to see that boiled flatbread, as opposed to baked flatbread, was being used at this time.  5

From at least around 1200 A.D. , Indians and Arabs were consuming pasta.  Both had names for it meaning ‘thread’: Indians called it sevika, while Arabs used Persian rishta.  Italians made a larger noodle and named it spaghetti, derived from spago, or string.  It is attested that Italians had stuffed shapes such as ravioli and tortellini by the middle of this century, with parallels elsewhere.  Russia had pel’meni, China-won ton, Tibet-momo, and the Jewish kitchen-kreplachs.  These stuffed pasta shapes may well have originated in the Near East and then been transmitted in an arc from there.  6

‘Macrows’-Macaroni and Cheese-in the 14th Century

Despite all these varieties, the most common Italian name for pasta seems to have been macaroni, which was flat, rather than the round shape found today.  In the English Forme of Cury, circa 1390, there is a receipt for ‘macrows’ (an anglicized plural), with butter and cheese, which is believed to not  have been accepted as a very high-class food.  7

As an aside, in its 1859 American receipt for macaroni, The Young Housekeeper’s Friend directs cooks to watch for ever-present insects in the pasta and to hold a shovel full of red-hot coals over the finished product for browning.  8

Lesson Applied

I tend to make old favorites into new recipes that meet my present needs for health, substituting high quality ingredients for those that were marginal, or even damaging, as found in the original.

It’s quite easy to stock our refrigerators with delicious, power-packed food, when we discover what our particular needs actually are.  It takes some concentrated effort at first to discover our body’s unique requirements, then we need strength to put into practice these new steps.  When we approach this endeavor with courage and perseverance, we rise above hindrances brought on by old detrimental habits, which is true in both eating and life at large.

In this way we can live more freely in every respect, promoting vibrant bodies, minds, and spirits-all of which we purpose to guard with diligence.  Enjoy this delicious dish, which increases vitality and brings immense pleasure.

References:

  1. https://www.today.com/food/best-healthy-pasta-alternative-might-be-made-lentils-t149072 and  https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323529.php
  2. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/semolina
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/pasta
  4. Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1988, 1973), p. 234.
  5. Ibid., p. 234.
  6. Ibid.., pp. 235, 236.
  7. Ibid., p. 236, 237.
  8. Facsimile of Mrs. Cornelius, The Young Housekeeper’s Friend  (Boston: Brown, Taggard and Chase, 1859), p.. 176..

Ukranian Spinach with Noodles  Yields: 8 entee servings.  Total prep time: 30 min (42 min, if making homemade ghee).

2 c (8 oz) dried pasta  (I used  the alternative, organic, red lentil sedanini from Trader Joe’s)

8 tbsp ghee or butter  (I prefer ghee-recipe below-made from grass-fed Kerry butter, which is available most reasonably at our local Winco; Costco also carries this inexpensively-often with great sales.)

1 lg onion, chopped small

24 oz fresh spinach leaves  (Packages of organic are available at Trader Joe’s for $2.29/ 6oz.)

1 1/2 c (6 oz) Gruyere cheese, grated  (Also available reasonably at Trader’s.)

Salt and pepper to taste  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; a fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco for $4.95 for 5 lbs.)

  1. first rise of whey solids

    If substituting butter for ghee, go directly to step 6.  To prepare health-giving ghee, which takes about 12 minutes, first prep a coffee-filter-lined strainer, over a heat-proof dish, and set aside.  Using only a heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt 8 oz unsalted butter-preferably Irish, grass-fed, Kerry butter from Costco-over medium heat, shaking pan to speed up melting.  Note: there is less wastage using only half a pound of butter, compared to doubling recipe with a pound.

  2. first breaking of milk solids

    When melted, cook until an even layer of white whey proteins forms on top (see photo above).

  3. second rising of whey proteins

    Continue cooking until milk solids break apart, and foam subsides, temperature will be about 190 degrees (a thermometer isn’t required); see photo.  At this stage you have clarified butter.  Note: if foam is starting to brown deeply and quickly, your pan is not heavy enough to make ghee; thus, remove from heat and immediately strain this clarified butter in a coffee-filter-lined strainer.

  4. ghee finished with golden color showing at edge

    To proceed with ghee, cook butterfat until second foam rises and it begins to build in pan; the bubbles will be very dense.  This will take 2-3 more minutes, and temperature will reach 250 degrees.  The foam will rise quite high in pan and there will be a hint of golden color forming at the edge of foam (see photo).  Watch carefully as dry casein particles, settled on bottom of pan, will brown quickly.

  5. Immediately, gently strain butterfat through a coffee filter, into a heat-proof dish.  Cool and transfer into an airtight container to keep out moisture.  This lasts for many weeks, at room temperature, and up to six months, when stored in the refrigerator.
  6. In a covered stock pot, over medium heat, bring to a boil: 4 qt water, 1 tbsp oil, and 2 tsp salt.
  7. Grate cheese and set aside.
  8. Melt 8 tbsp (4 oz) of ghee, or butter, in a large sauté pan over medium heat; add chopped onion and sweat-cook until translucent.
  9. the cooking down of fresh spinach

    When onion is cooked, add part of the spinach to pan and cook, adding more spinach as the first becomes limp (see photo).  Meanwhile, go to next step.

  10. When water is boiling, add pasta to pot and cook for 5-6 minutes, until desired tenderness; stir occasionally.  Remove from heat and drain.
  11. Add cooked pasta to pan of onions/spinach; stir gently until heated through.
  12. Toss with grated cheese; season with salt and pepper to taste.  See photo at top of recipe.
  13. This is an incredible taste treat!

Borscht (Beet Soup)

a bowl of borscht

This borscht recipe and its history have been with me since my catering days, during the early 1980’s in Billings, Montana.  Then I was preparing soups for a café in an art gallery; now it graces my table every summer.  A particular prayer partner claims my version is far better than that which she had in Russia.  Indeed, this chilled soup is a beautiful offering on a hot summer day!

This delicacy has been long popular in Eastern European countries under the following names: borscht, borsch, borshch, and bosht.  Over time it has spread from these nations to other continents, as their people emigrated.  In North America, it is commonly linked with the Jews and Mennonites that came from these European areas.  The common name borscht is derived from the Russian borsch meaning cow parsnip, which was an original recipe ingredient of the Slavs.

The most familiar American adaptation of this soup, which is made with beetroot, is of Ukrainian origin.  With its first record being in the 12th century, this dish subsequently emerged from a wide variety of sour-tasting soups present in the Eastern European section, such as rye-based white borscht, sorrel-based green borscht, and cabbage borscht.  Our well-known Ukrainian recipe was originally inspired by the addition of leftover beetroot pickling; thus, its brilliant color and tart flavor.

There are as many different preparations for this beet soup as there are homes in which it is consumed; they may include the additions of meat, fish, cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, and potatoes.

Spanish conquistadors brought potatoes and tomatoes from America to Europe in the 16th century; these vegetables, however, weren’t a common part of the Eastern European peasants’ diet until the 19th century, at which time they found their way into the Ukrainian and Russian borscht-food of both poor men and princes.  As a result of emigration, tomatoes and potatoes are a part of borscht recipes around the world, but my version has neither of these.

Still other variations occur with this renowned soup involving its garnishes and side dishes.  Smetana, or sour cream, is its most common topping; chopped herbs, hard-boiled eggs, bacon, and sausage may also be utilized.  There are plentiful side dishes; among them are pampushky (Ukrainian garlic rolls) and treasured pirozhki (individually sized pastries or dumplings filled with meat and onions).

You can see that despite its centuries-long-history there is no consistent receipt for this sustaining chilled delight, for even this latter characteristic may vary, and it may be served hot.  My borscht is a cold, meatless, summer soup adorned with sour cream and eggs; for the benefit of added protein make this recipe with bone broth (see its benefits and easy recipe at my post on Tortellini Soup, 2016/10/10).  This is a treat!

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borscht

https://www.britannica.com/topic/borsch

www.dictionary.com/browse/borscht

easy mincing of onion

Borscht (Beet Soup)  Yields: 4-5 servings.  Total prep time: 1 hr/  active prep time:30 min/  cooking time: 30 min

1 tbsp oil  (Coconut or avocado oil is best; olive oil is carcinogenic when heated to high temperatures.)

1 med/lg yellow onion

3 lg purple beets, a little less than 2 lbs trimmed

1 qt broth  (Beef broth is good; I, however, prefer bone broth; for recipe and powerful health benefits, see Tortellini Soup, 2016/10/10.)

1 c water

2 small lemons, juiced  (Use half of this to start; then, adjust with more to taste.)

1 tbsp honey, or to taste  (Local raw honey is always best, for its localized bee pollen is known to relieve allergies naturally, through the concept of immunotherapy.)

1 tsp Better than Bouillon, or to taste

1/2 tsp salt, or to taste  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; an inexpensive fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco.)

1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper, or to taste

sweating onions

Sour cream

3 eggs, hard-boiled and chopped  (I prefer duck eggs; see Rosemary Eggs, 2017/08/21, for their information.)

  1. Chop the onion in small pieces the easy way.  Peel it leaving the root on; next, score this by cutting slices close together across the top one way, going 3/4 of the way down into the onion; then, turn it and cut slices the opposite direction.  When onion is thus prepared, shave the small pieces off the end with a sharp knife (see photo in list of ingredients).  May discard root end; set aside chopped vegetable.
  2. Heat oil in a stock pot over medium heat; add piece of onion; when it sizzles, add remaining onion; sweat, cook only until translucent (see photo above).  Set aside, go to next step.
  3. Spray beets with an inexpensive, effective vegetable spray; mix 97% distilled white vinegar with 3% hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle.  Let sit for 3 minutes and rinse well.
  4. Peel and cut beets in 1/4″ dice; add to cooked onions.
  5. Cover with broth and water; bring to a boil over med/high heat; reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until beets are soft.
  6. borscht cooking in pot

    Add half the lemon juice and honey.

  7. Stir in Better than Bouillon; then, add salt and pepper.
  8. Adjust lemon juice, honey, Bouillon, salt, and pepper to taste.
  9. Chill for 4 hours or overnight.  Serve topped with sour cream and chopped hard-boiled eggs.
  10. This freezes well.  I love this summer soup!

Portuguese Figos Recheados

figos recheados

This is the third and last of my Portuguese recipes for this great ethnic meal; I, however, serve this candy/fruit figos recheados with many other meals as well.

When I entertain, I always serve homemade candies along with the dessert.  Usually these are my Peruvian bolitos de chocolat y coco (see 2016/11/28) and the treasured national candy of India barfi; this recipe will follow in the future.  Lately, however, Portuguese figos recheados (figs stuffed with chocolate and almonds) are the final inspiration at my dinners.  Such was the recent case with my beloved missionary friends Val and Waffle Lomilo.  I take a tangent today into their world, so we can learn better to eat with reverence.

My relationship with Val goes back 22 years.  Our mutual friend Kelly, who now resides in heaven, introduced us to each other in 1995, over slides in her basement of Val’s mission work in Uganda.   My heart had just been softened, by my asking Jesus to live in it; thus, my supple emotions were mesmerized by this people and especially their food.

I learned that the meager diet of these poorest of poor, which are in my friends’ arid, mission region, consists primarily of foraged herbs and a bitter fruit with its nut, which is boiled three times to make it palatable; garden vegetables are available only as the frequent droughts allow; maize (cooked corn mush) and beans are also a luxury, which they can’t always afford.

The diet of the wealthier, in Uganda’s more lush areas, has a greater amount of organic garden vegetables, along with such fruits as mangoes and papayas, and ample beans and maize.  Also to my delight, it includes the ceremonial slaughter of a chicken for honored guests.

This nourishment of these better-off is simple and pure, making it healthier than ours with all our fast foods and altered ingredients, such as added hormones in meat/dairy products, foods with GMO’s, etc.  (Note: in this poor country genetically moderated organisms being added to their crops is just now becoming a controversy; they have already lifted the ban for GMO’s in the banana crop, due to its recent huge failure.)

In America food is so available that obesity is a major problem.  Our countrymen are often thrilled with weight loss when they visit Africa.  On the other hand, Africans are overjoyed with the compliment ‘you look so fat’, and gratitude is expressed after a meal with ‘thank you for increasing my volume’.

At present there is a famine in Uganda’s arid region, which hurts the children and elderly the most.  We in this country can’t comprehend such food shortage and its effect on the human spirit.  According to my friends, it produces a sense of deep community, in those that withstand it, as they share each other’s pain.   These humble people know the true meaning of God’s grace that keeps them alive in stark adversity.

Waffle and Val, who experience a heart for the broken, feed these hungry souls the word of God, which is also known as the bread of life.  This proven substance, in turn, can provide them with answers to their natural needs, for this is what our gracious Father does best.

We are grateful for our vast provision here in America, as we strive to honor our bodies with healthy eating.  At the same time, our faithful prayers move mountains as we intercede for those less-fortunate.

Now, may we take courage to experience moderate, joy-filled pleasure in this incredible dessert: be blessed by these simple figos recheados, the last recipe in my Portuguese series.

shaving chocolate

figs ready for baking

Figos Recheados (dried figs stuffed with almonds and chocolate)  Yields: 12 large stuffed figs.  Total prep time: 35 min.

Note: these are best served hot, but they are also great at either room temperature or cold.

 

 

1/4 cup almonds, plus 12 extra almonds (18 extra almonds will be needed for topping smaller figs, such as mission figs.)

12 large figs   (Turkish figs are best for size and quality; 18 figs will be needed, if using the smaller mission fig.)

1/2 ounce (1/2 square) semi-sweet chocolate, finely grated

  1. For hot figs at the end of a meal, do steps 2-9 ahead; then, set aside.  Twenty minutes before serving, preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake as directed in step 10-11.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Place almonds on a cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes in middle of oven; go to next step.
  4. With a sharp knife, finely grate the chocolate, place in a small bowl, set aside (see photo above).
  5. Cut off stems of figs; make a careful, but deep, indentation in the opening of each with the tip of your finger; set aside.
  6. After nuts are toasted, remove from oven, and take off pan to cool quickly.  Set aside 12 almonds (18 for smaller figs) and pulverize the other 1/4 cup in a food processor, by repeatedly touching the pulse button.  (May use a blender or Vita Mix.)
  7. Add almond meal to grated chocolate; mix well.
  8. Using a spoon and your finger, press this mixture in the hollow of each of the figs; pinch openings together firmly (see above photo).  Place stuffed figs, stem side up, on a foil-lined baking sheet.
  9. Bake in middle of an oven, preheated to 350 degrees, for 5 minutes; then, turn figs upside down and bake for an additional 5 minutes.
  10. Gently, but firmly, press a whole toasted almond in top of each hot fig.
  11. May keep leftovers in refrigerator for future use  (cold figs are also excellent).

Ensalada Iberica

ensalada Iberica

Ensalada Iberica is the perfect accompaniment to last week’s Portuguese pork, because of its sweet base of oranges and dates, along with an abundance of piquant onions and lemon-vinaigrette.  This quick salad pleases our palettes.  Its strong combination of complimentary foods is additionally enhanced with the spice coriander, which is also a “seasoning match made in heaven” for pork, as noted by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page in Culinary Artistry.  Thus these two dishes balance each other, resulting in excellent flavors and joy unspeakable.  1

During the 1980’s, my extensive cooking classes in Montana included a group of twelve professionals, all of whom were friends.  For years they came monthly for each new theme I presented.  We grew to love each other, as I taught them easy steps in making glorious food.  A grieving took place at our parting, brought on by my decision to move to Portland in February of 1986.

My strongest fan among them, Larry, organized a going-away party for me.  He chose an upscale Chinese restaurant, since a travel agent in the group had hoped to take me to China, to teach native foods on one of her tours.  At our celebration, they graciously presented me with a restaurant-caliber, 15 ½” x 10 ½” cake pan and a stock pot, as seen in my photos; how these have blessed my work.

At one of our classes, someone encouraged me to consider the then new concept of computers for my work.  I responded that I will never do that, for it was beyond me.  Technology, however, has enabled the expansion of my endeavors beyond my imagination.

Back then I wrote everything out by hand, as I constantly discovered new themes from various cultures and ages.  All my research came from hard copies of books and publications; I searched for the sources of my inspiration at the local library, in an array of cook books, and in such publications as Montana newspapers, the New York Times, and numerous fashionable magazines.  My existence was marked by creativity, as I developed my faculty for research.  This skill was further sharpened by my graduate work at Portland State University, 1988-91.

Discovering truths in food history is what I do; it is essential that I know their validity.  As a result, to this day, I prefer to obtain my information from actual books, which possess a soundness that I trust, over that of internet.

Both this and its subsequent post, on Portuguese foods, are from that early application of my studies in Montana.  These entries provide exceptional taste treats.  Enjoy!

  1. Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, Culinary Artistry (Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1996), pp. 159, 160, 268.

chopping orange segments

Ensalada Iberica  Yields: 5-6 servings.  Total prep time: 25 min.

Note: best to make and chill several hours before serving.

2 lg oranges  (Organic is best for flavor and quality, as orange skins readily absorb pesticides; these are often available at a good price at Trader Joe’s.)

1 small/med red onion, thinly sliced  (May use 2 small, organic cipollini onions; they are expensive, but so good!)

1 small can sliced ripe olives, net dr. wt. 2.25 ounces

1/2 c pitted dates, packed down, cut in halves lengthwise  (About 1/3 lb is needed.)

1/4 c olive oil

1/4 c lemon juice  ( 2-3 small lemons are needed.)

3/4 tsp salt, or to taste

1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper, or to taste

1/4 tsp ground coriander

Bed of spinach leaves or lettuce

  1. easy juicing of lemons

    Peel oranges, divide them in half, cut each half cross-wise in half again, so it is easy to separate segments (see photo above).

  2. Peel and slice onions thinly.
  3. In medium bowl, combine oranges, onions, olives, and date halves.
  4. Juice lemons with a hand-held juicer, watch market for this marvelous tool (see photo).
  5. Combine olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and coriander in a small sealed jar; shake vigorously; adjust seasonings.
  6. Pour over fruit, mix well, and refrigerate until serving time-preferably for several hours-so flavors can meld.
  7. Serve on a bed of spinach leaves or lettuce.
  8. This is a favorite of mine, which I have made since the early 1980’s.

Scottish oat scones and more…

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One spring day in Montana’s Big Sky country changed my creative life forever.  An imaginative oil painting of mine was drying in the living room; my tiny, efficient kitchen brimmed with Spanish tapas; I was entertaining the arts and entertainment editor of the Billings Gazette, whom I knew from my acting world.  She was going to review my article on the historical buildings of this largest city in Montana, for my hopes were she would publish it. She spoke prophetically over me, as we indulged in our lavish repast:  “Leave these other artistic quests; seek your true strength of creating quaint, delectable foods; start catering!”

Thus, I launched my business in 1982, with all the passion of my former poetic attempts.  My first catering assignment was that June, when this editor published her article on one of my French dinners, thus giving the needed exposure to my new dream.  It was a marvelous meal of bouillabaisse (fine fish stew) with all the trimmings; a memorable evening that marked the beginning of my knowing the joy of my life’s calling.

This fire in my soul originated in southern Montana, but in a very short time my eager endeavors spread north, for I catered elegant historical feasts on trips to my home town, of East Glacier Park, and the surrounding area. Here groups would have me return each summer to present my “latest creation”.

One such group had me cater my delicacies to them yearly, for several decades.  How they blessed me: they treated me like fine gold as a guest in their home; they paid for luxurious, needed massages during my intense labors; there was a memorable night sleeping on their sailboat on Flathead Lake; and so much more…

An old-time friend invited me over for this scone recipe during one of these trips north; hence, I fell in love with this slightly sweet, nutty breakfast delight from Scotland.  I have been making these scones ever since, for they held me spell-bound on that morning in the early 1980’s.  I am convinced you’ll be sold on them, too.

Scottish Oat Scones  Yields: 12 servings.  Total prep time: 40 min/  active prep time: 20 min/  baking time: 20 min.

1 egg

2/3 c butter, melted and slightly cooled

1/3 c milk or cream

1/4 c sugar  (Coconut or cane sugar is best.)

1 1/2 c whole wheat pastry flour  (Optional: may grind 1 c organic soft, winter wheat berries to make a total of 11/2 c flour.)

1/2 c unbleached white flour  (I prefer Bob’s Red Mill.)

1 1/4 c old fashioned rolled oats  (Organic is best, available in bulk at most supermarkets.)

1 tbsp baking powder

1 tsp cream of tartar (Much cheaper when you buy this in the bulk food section; be sure to save empty spice jars for storage; date the jars and replace with fresh spices yearly.)

1/2 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; an inexpensive fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco.)

1/2 c currants, raisins, or cranberries

Spray oil  (Coconut spray oil is best for flavor and quality.)

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Beat egg in a large bowl; mix in butter and milk.  Add sugar and beat well.
  3. Place all other dry ingredients except fruit in a sealed storage bag.  Shake well.  Add this to above liquid mixture, beating just until mixed thoroughly, as over-beating toughens pastries.
  4. Stir in fruit.  IF using freshly ground flour, let dough sit for 45 minutes, as this is a courser grind and absorbs the liquid more slowly than store bought flour.
  5. Shape dough to form a ball; pat out on a cookie sheet, sprayed with oil, to form an 8-inch circle. Mark 12 wedges in dough with a sharp knife. (Note: You may bake this on an ungreased stone, which will require a longer baking time.)
  6. Bake until golden brown in center of oven for about 12-17 minutes.  (Time will vary with cookie sheet vs. stone; stone will take up to 30 minutes.)  Center should be slightly moist; do not over bake.
  7. Remove from oven and cool on pan for 5 minutes; transfer to serving plate.  May serve warm, or at room temperature.  Enjoy!