Pork with Pears and Star Anise

Dear Friends,

For the first time in my marriage, I am at peace with hunting season. Although Tony has spent an average of five days a week in the woods with a bow or a gun since the season began in late September, I am not irked.

For starters, he has hardly glimpsed a buck, let alone killed one (hunters call it “harvesting”.) I don’t expect that to change. We do not need or want more antlers for the wall.

Second, I’ve been busy myself trying to finish a cookbook. Being ignored is good.

Third and most important, Tony has stopped eating dinner the evening before he goes hunting. He gets to the woods before dawn and spends hours up a tree. You figure it out.

This means I’ve only had to cook a couple of times a week. At first I relished the break. Then gradually I began cooking more and more as my joy in the process returned. Preparing  what I want to, when I want to, has rekindled my passion for cooking.

I may even make a French cassoulet for Christmas Eve this year. The  bean-and-lamb dish is a two-day labor of love. Meanwhile, I’ve been having fun trying new combinations of ingredients for quick dinners while I concentrate on my book. Here’s my latest:

PORK WITH PEARS AND STAR ANISE

pears.jpg

  • 4 bone-in pork chops, about 1/2 inch thick
  • Vegetable oil
  • Salt, pepper
  • 1 tbsp. sweet soy sauce (kekap manis)
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 Asian pear, cut in fourths, core removed, and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
  • 2 whole star anise or a pinch of 5-spice powder
  • 1/2 cup port wine
  • 1 tbsp. cold butter, in pieces

Pat chops dry with paper towels. Heat about 1/8 inch oil over medium-high heat in a large cast-iron or other heavy skillet. Season chops on both sides with salt and pepper. Brush one side of each chop with half the sweet soy sauce, then half the mustard. Place chops in hot pan, sauce side down. While chops brown, brush the sides facing up with remaining soy sauce and mustard. Cook for two minutes on each side. Reduce heat to medium and cook 1 minute more on each side, or until interior of the thickest chop is just faintly pink. It will finish cooking as it rests.

Transfer chops to a plate. Return skillet to burner over medium heat. Sauté pear slices in juices left in skillet  until brown on both sides but still crisp, about 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer pears to plate with chops.

Add star anise and port wine to skillet and scrape and stir up the browned bits. Simmer over medium heat until the wine is reduced by half. Whisk in butter a piece at a time. Pour sauce over chops. Makes 2 to 4 servings, depending on appetites.

HELP U COOK

Chances are you’ll roast a turkey for Christmas dinner. If not, you may opt for ham. Those are top two choices in the United States for Christmas dinner, with turkey handily eclipsing ham. Still, more beef roasts are sold in December than any other month, according to industry sources, and many of them wind up on the holiday table. Here are some basic roasting times for beef lovers:

* Bone-in rib roast: Roast at 350 degrees for 1 3/4 to 2 3/4 hours (for medium-rare to medium-well) for 4 to 6 pounds; 2 1/4 to 3 hours for 6 to 8 pounds; and 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours for 8 to 10 pounds.

* Whole tenderloin: Roast at 425 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes for medium-rare and 60 to 70 minutes for medium.

* Boneless rib roast, large end: Roast at 350 degrees for 1 3/4 to 2 1/2 hours for 3 to 4 pounds; 2 to 3 hours for 4 to 6 pounds; and 2 1/4 to 3 hours for 6 to 8 pounds, depending on desired doneness. 

Use a regular or instant-read meat thermometer to test for doneness. Beef is medium-rare at 135 degrees and medium at 150 degrees.

THE MAILBAG

From Kathryn:
Does it matter if I use sea salt instead of regular salt in recipes? I never buy regular salt anymore because sea salt seems more natural.

Dear Kathryn: I don’t advise giving up table salt entirely. It is one of the very few good sources of iodine in the American diet. Before salt was fortified with iodine, goiters were rampant in the population.

Table salt is dug from deposits in the earth, while sea salt results from the evaporation of sea water. Most sea salt is sold in coarse crystals, which measure differently than fine-grained table salt. Also, sea salt can taste less “salty” than table salt. If you substitute, taste to make sure the seasoning is correct.

I rarely use sea salt in any cooked preparations. I save it to sprinkle on foods just before eating, where its delicate texture and flavor can be appreciated.

From Terri:
Here’s another cookie recipe, if you haven’t already packed the box for Tony’s parents. It’s a caramel-filled pecan bar with a cookie crust, just wonderful. I got the recipe years ago from a cookbook and have been making them ever since. My husband loves them.


CARAMEL-PECAN BARS


Crust:

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 sticks butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Filling:

  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup whipping cream
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 cups pecan halves

Crust: Spray or grease a 9-by-11-inch baking pan.

Whisk together flour and salt in a small bowl. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter until creamy. Beat in sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Mixture should be almost white in color. Beat in vanilla.

On low speed, beat in one-third of the flour. Gradually add remaining flour, beating just until blended. Pat into the pan and refrigerate 30 minutes or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake crust for about 20 minutes, until edges start to brown and center is dry but not completely cooked.

Filling: While crust bakes, place butter, brown sugar and honey in a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until butter melts. Turn heat to high, bring to a boil and boil 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in cream, vanilla, salt and pecans. Pour over partially baked crust. Return to oven and bake until filling has darkened and edges are set, about 30 minutes at 350 degrees Center will still be slightly wet. Cool completely before cutting into bars, preferably overnight. Makes 40 bars.
From “A Baker’s Field Guide to Christmas Cookies” by Dede Wilson.

Dear Terri: Thanks for sharing. I have the book, too, but I’ve never tried the pecan bars. They sound incredibly  rich but incredibly good.

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