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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Back to Basics

There seems to be some universally accepted notion that when certain aspects of life are in flux or hard times come upon us, that one is best served to ground oneself in that which is most core, basic and essential, the defining characteristics of identity, values, and lifestyle.

But what is one supposed to do when those very things that define, are those that are called into question and are so shaken that they no longer feel real, much less definitive?

How about a graceful, Victorian style, nervous breakdown? Maybe a public, embarrassing, binge eating episode? Don’t worry, no pressure friends, I am paying my therapist to navigate this minefield with me…brave soul that she is…

You see, this summer has seen some fabulous meals, excruciating moments, trips to the Whitsundays and the South pacific, and ultimately seismic changes in my personal life.

Have no fear, you will get to hear about Fiji, but this post is about finding myself in the basics in the face of overwhelming change. I tested this notion of grounding in the simple things recently, and turns out, it works. It’s not a complete answer to life’s challenges, but doing what you love and what makes you feel good is a great place to start – And for me that’s dinner!


I planned this test one Wednesday night, and invited my good friend S over for dinner. Not only has he been an incredible sounding board, reality checker, and an integral part of my summer survival experience, but he is also potentially the biggest fan of my cooking and therefore the perfect guest for the dinner at hand. He a took little convincing to make the trip, but when I told him I was making pork chops he was all-in.

Per usual, I’d spent the previous Sunday morning over-buying at the JFX farmer’s market. Overkill on groceries being one of the less painful aspects of being newly single, it has played significantly to the advantage of my friends. During this particular trip, I was seduced by some incredible red chard, bone-in pork chops, red skin new potatoes, and fresh sour cream….among far too many other things….

Planning the meal was a no-brainer - pork chops and warm potato salad, starch and protein – You can’t get much more back to basics than that. 

I marinated the pork in garlic, salt, pepper, a little evoo, and fresh rosemary from my garden. I’d also chopped and par-boiled the potatoes so I could make the salad more easily once S arrived. I saw the fear is his eyes, when I narrowly avoided the meltdown moment when flipping on the grill only to find the propane was spent, but I dodged that bullet, recovered and moved the cooking indoors without so much as a clenched fist.

I placed the potatoes in the bottom of a non-stick pot in some evoo, diced shallots, and fennel, placed the chopped chard on top to let it wilt slightly while the potatoes heated up. Meanwhile, I seared the pork shops with even more garlic and rosemary, an easy and equally as satisfying way to cook them as the grill – Deep breathes…

Once the chard and potatoes were hot, I added the sour cream, some mayo, and a healthy portion of chopped ricotta salata I’d picked up at Fleet Street Market. 

Side note: If you haven’t tried ricotta salata, do! It’s a delightful salty flavor profile, but has been dehydrated as it ages. Due to its low moisture content, it doesn’t melt when combined with warm ingredients or sauces, hence it’s a unique way to add flavor and texture to a dish through cheese.

Back to the dinner… With the potato salad combined, and the chops achieving golden caramelization and perfect medium rare temperature, I plated with a sprig of Rosemary - it was that simple.  If I had to change one thing about the dish, I would have preferred green or yellow chard. The red chard bled, and combined with the red skin potatoes, and the pink of the pork, it made for somewhat of a monochromatic plating – but now I’m nitpicking as it was delicious!

Despite the trials and tribulations that life has and will no doubt continue to send my way, I’ve found a way to ground myself in my cooking and my friends. 

My dishes aren’t always this simple nor the company always the same, but the simple act of preparing a meal and enjoying it with people I love has been a prevailing force of good my life, and I intend to make sure it continues.

Pork Chops & Warm Potato-Chard Salad

  • 2 bone in pork chops, 1 ½” thick
  • 1 bunch chard, rough chop
  • 1 large shallot, diced
  • 1 small fennel bulb, diced
  •  8 - 12 small red skin new potatoes, chopped into uniform pieces and boiled in salted water until fork tender (this can be done ahead of time and refrigerated)
  • 4 cloves garlic - 2 sliced, 2 minced
  • Evoo (don’t measure, use judgment as needed)
  • 5 Sprigs fresh rosemary + 2 for garnish
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise (plus more depending on your potato salad “dressing” preferences)
  • 2 cups chopped ricotta salata


Pork Chops
  •  Marinate the pork in evoo, 2 minced garlic cloves, salt, pepper, and 5 rosemary sprigs overnight in the refrigerator.  Allow to come to room temperature prior to cooking. Press rosemary from marinade and sliced garlic on to each side.
  • In a large non-stick pan, over medium heat, warm evoo, and once hot place the pork chops down forcefully to ensure maxim exposure to cooking surface. Cook until caramelization begins and the pork is medium rare, about 5 mins each side depending on heat and thickness.
Warm Potato-Chard Salad
  • In a non-stick pot, over medium-hi heat, warm evoo and sautée shallot with the fennel until translucent. Add potatoes and stir to coat with oil.
  • Place chard on top and cover, cooking until chard is wilted and potatoes are war
  • Remove from heat and add mayo, sour cream, and ricotta salata, stirring gently as not to smash the potatoes but to incorporate the “dressing” evenly
  • Plate salad first, place pork chop on the side, and garnish with reserved fresh rosemary sprig.

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