February 12, 2015

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Dear friends,

Creating recipes is a fickle occupation. Sometimes I work meticulously for hours, jotting down amounts and techniques, and the result is – meh. OK, but nothing I’d share. The payback comes when the reverse happens, as it did last week.

I had to cook dinner but didn’t want to.  I eyed the boneless pork chops I had thawed and wondered if Tony would eat them if I just slapped them in a skillet and baked them in the oven. Top Chef was on pause on TV and I wanted to get back to it. If I added potatoes to the chops, I mused, it would be a meal.

That’s basically what I did but, maybe inspired by Top Chef, I added seasonings and a few quick touches that made the recipe a keeper. To deepen the flavor, I quickly browned the chops and  spread some Dijon mustard over the meat. Slicing a half onion over the chops took just a couple of minutes but paid off handsomely. Then came a layer of thin-sliced potatoes sprinkled with salt, pepper and herbs de Provence, a classic French seasoning mix that includes lavender. I had frozen, shredded cheese on hand for pizzas, so I threw on some of that along with a few little chunks of butter. I topped the final layer of potatoes with salt, pepper and more butter, covered the skillet with foil and baked it for about an hour.

Total hands-on time: 15 minutes. Flavor: Way out of proportion to the time it took to make.

Tony and I liked the pork and potatoes so much that I made the recipe again a few days later to nail down the measurements. If you have no herbs de Provence in your cupboard, go buy some. It’s my new favorite seasoning, thanks to a stash a friend brought back from France. The herb mix varies in makeup but always includes lavender. It’s available at some supermarkets and most specialty food stores.
DIJON PORK CHOPS AND POTATOES WITH HERBS DE PROVENCE

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• 4 boneless pork chops, about 3/4 -inch thick
• Salt, pepper
• Olive oil
• 4 tsp. Dijon mustard
• 1 1/2 tsp. herbs de Provence
• 1 cup thin-sliced yellow onion, sliced thin
• 2 lbs. potatoes (peeled if russet, just scrubbed if redskin or Yukon Gold), sliced thin
• 2 tbsp. butter, cut in small pieces
• 2 tbsp. finely shredded provolone, gruyere or mozzarella cheese
Trim chops, but leave some fat. Season on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat an 8- or 9-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add about 1/8-inch of oil. When oil is hot, sear chops on both sides in skillet. Remove from heat and spread mustard evenly over chops. Top with a couple pinches of the herbs de Provence and the onions.

Layer half of the potato slices in the pan, overlapping slices slightly. Season with salt, pepper and remaining herbs de Provence. Dot with half of the butter. Sprinkle with the cheese.

Layer remaining potato slices into pan. Season with salt and pepper and dot with remaining butter. Cover tightly with foil. Bake in a preheated, 350-degree oven for 1 hour or until potatoes are tender and pork is cooked through but still juicy. Makes 4 servings.
THE MAILBAG
From Kirsten, Hudson:
Help! I have about a quart and a half of strawberries frozen from last summer. Any ideas on how I could use them?
Thanks.

Dear Kirsten: I just ate a half-cup of frozen peach slices right out of the baggie, like a popsicle, but I guess you’re looking for a more refined idea.
If I had a stash of frozen strawberries I’d either make a strawberry-balsamic jam to serve with meats or I’d  puree them, still frozen, with plain Greek yogurt and a bit of sugar for low-cal frozen yogurt.  To make the jam, simmer about a pint of the thawed strawberries with a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and sugar to taste. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens. Serve it like a chutney alongside grilled meats, or serve it with brie, Camembert or pate on French bread.

From Becky, Senecaville:
I have not been to the Hotdog Shoppe  in a while, so now my taste buds are telling me I’m going to have to stop there the next time I’m in East Liverpool. I did stop  at Sal Mari’s in December –love their subs. Theo’s in downtown Cambridge makes good Coney dogs  If  you ever head south on I-77.

Dear Becky: I’ll file away your suggestion for my next trip south. Thanks.

From C.L.:
Try Skyline Chili coney dogs – yum!

Dear C.L.: Technically, I’d call those chili dogs. But whatever, I’m hungry for one now.

From Cheryl Puster:
I grew up for a while in Warren. I’m really partial to the hot dog sauce at The Hot Dog Shoppe in Warren, near downtown (a local landmark). I guess it would be more of a chili sauce per your description. They are really good with chili and cheese. Also, the fries are delicious with sauce and cheese on the side. They also have delicious milk shakes. Nothing fancy about this place, but it can get so crowded that people will stand and wait behind other customers for seats at the counter. Of course you wouldn’t want to eat like this every day, but if you are in the mood for some junk food….

Dear Cheryl: I think those chili-cheese dogs are exactly the same as the ones in East Liverpool. At one time the Hot Dog Shoppe was a small local chain with several locations. There’s one in New Brighton, Pa., too, just up the river from East Liverpool.

From Tami:
Saw your Tidbit on coney dogs. I love them. Another awesome location is in Girard – the Jib Jab Hot Dog Shoppe. I know, not close to Akron, but definitely worth the drive. And the dogs are just $1 each.  Incredibly good French fries too!

Dear Tami: I once detoured hundreds of miles for a hamburger, so Girard doesn’t seem far to travel for a good hot dog. I’ve heard of the Jib Jab.  Thanks for the reminder.

From Judy Rodgers:
When you find your remote, check out MI-5 on Netflix.  Your remote may be sandwiched in the cushions of the couch or comfy chair.

Dear Judy: I found it! I had knocked it off an end table into a trash can I was using to barricade the dog in a corner of the living room while his leg heals. The Christmas tree is part of the barricade, too, so if you drive by my house and see holiday lights, don’t judge.
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