Thursday, April 9, 2009

Low Country Dinner with a Twist

It pretty much kills me that while I get to travel quite a bit for my job to places I'd never dreamed of going (Malaysia, Spain, Germany, Sweden, France, etc.), I still haven't done a trip through the good old American deep south. (And yes - I know I'm a Texan - but Texas is its own breed of southern, stubbornly different from everything around it, for better or worse.)

And while I do love my Texas, I've had an inexplicable obsession with that moody, bayou-soaked terrain draped like a shawl across the bottom right hand side of the US from South Carolina to Louisiana. Something about those gnarled old Live Oaks with their droopy, sweeping Spanish moss canopies calls out to me. Savannah holds a particular fascination, probably because of the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, yet I've never set foot there. One day...

But until I get to embark on my southern tour, I occasionally churn out a 'low country' meal in my little NY kitchen - something stick to your ribs including grits and a hunk of meat - then eat it while dreaming about the sites and sounds of this familiar yet foreign land.

This particular recipe got a visit from my favorite spice medley - Garam Masala - which for those who forgot includes ground cumin, cinnamon, and coriander among other things and is far more approachable in reality than in name. Indeed, these spices fit right in with southern food and its myriad of influences.

Braising a pork chop does wonders for its texture and ensures a moist hunk of meat. When paired with creamy goat cheese grits, the combination is as soothing and seductive as those back country waters I so often envision. And just before you go getting too relaxed and nod off into your plate from all that southern tranquility - the red pepper kicks in reminding you that you are, in fact, in the deep south, and you better watch out for the damn alligators!

Lastly - I will admit that the thought of an orange in this dish sounded strange to me at first but I promise you it's not. You won't even taste orange in the end - it just gives the tomatoes a fuller, more rounded flavor. And while I always think I hate celery - you don't taste it in the end either. All you taste is delicousness.

Braised Pork Chops with Tomatoes over Creamy Goat Cheese Grits
Serves 3 (can easily be doubled - just double the ingredients for the sauce and grits and use a larger pot)
*Adapted from The Newlyweds Cookbook

3 bone-in pork chops (not double cut)
couple of teaspoons of Garam Masala, to season the chops (or sub a combination of 1 tbspn cumin and coriander mixed with 1 teaspoon cinnamon)
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons of olive oil

3 celery stalks, chopped into small dice
l medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (14 oz) can of diced tomatoes
1 bay leaf
pinch red pepper flakes - or up to 3/4 teaspoon depending on how hot you prefer
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, or a couple of sprigs fresh
juice of 1 orange, and one quarter of the rind reserved for later
1/2 cup of red wine
sea or kosher salt and pepper
handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped

Season the pork chops on both sides with salt and pepper. Sprinkle over the Garam Masala, being sure to include the edges. Add the olive oil to a large (I used my 5.5 oz Le Creuset which worked perfectly) rimmed pan (with a lid.) Turn onto medium high heat and let the oil heat through 1 minute. Add the chops and cook 3-4 minutes per side, until golden brown. Remove and transfer to a plate.

Add the celery and onion to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and cook over medium high heat until they've begun to soften and brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the wine and stir, scraping any bits that stick to the bottom of the pot. Bring to a boil, and boil for 1 minute, then stir in the tomatoes, fresh orange juice, bay leaf, thyme, the quartered orange rind and a pinch more salt.

Add the pork chops back to the pan, trying to bury them as much as possible under the sauce (spooning a little of the sauce over them, if necessary.) Cover, lower the heat to lowest, and simmer for 30 minutes. Carefully flip the chops to the other side, cover again, and simmer another 30 minutes.

Heat your oven to 250, and transfer the pork to an aluminum line, nonstick sprayed baking sheet. Put the chops in the oven while you thicken the sauce.

Raise the heat on your tomato sauce to medium high, bringing to a boil. Cook 5-7 minutes, until slightly thickened, stirring frequently. Remove the orange rind, herb sprigs if using, and bay leaf, and serve the pork, set on top of a nice pile of grits, topped with the sauce and a sprinkling of the minced fresh Parsley.

Goat Cheese Grits

1/4 cup minced shallots
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper
3/4 cup instant grits
3 cups low sodium chicken stock
4 oz goat cheese
2 tablespoons grated Pecorino

Bring a medium, heavy bottomed pot over medium heat on your stove. Add the shallots, seasoning with salt and pepper, and saute for 3 minutes, until softened. Add the stock, raise heat to high, and bring to a boil. Add the grits, stirring well, and lower the heat, cover, and stirring frequently to prevent the bottom from sticking - about 7 minutes until thickened to desired consistency. Add the goat cheese and pecorino, stirring through until melted.

Serve as a bed under the chops and sauce.

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