August 31, 2012

Stellar Side Dish- Polenta with Pecorino Romano and Oven Roasted Tomatoes

Polenta with Pecorino Romano and Oven Roasted Tomatoes
Polenta is a wonderful blank canvas, that can be infused with flavor in three ways- first, the cooking liquid you use, second, the addition of cheese and third, a sauce or topping can bring this simple side dish to great new heights!  I think it might be even better than mashed potatoes, in terms of being able to take on flavors.  While we usually have polenta as a tasty side dish, there is nothing anywhere that says it can't be the star of your meal- a terrific lunch or vegetarian option could be to serve this polenta dish with a salad.

Polenta- what is it?  Well, it can take on many forms.  To start, it is made from ground corn and in dried form, it looks like cornmeal.  It can be cooked, as we are doing it here, to make a semi-solid, and, depending on how much liquid it is mixed with, it can be very loose, or very firm.  When it is on the firm side, and cooled, it can be transformed further, either cutting it into slices, squares, or smaller pieces (like french fry shapes) and fried or pan fried, or, you can even make it into a napoleon like structure with layers of sauce and cheese and bake it.  Polenta, as you can see, truly is a blank canvas!

The origins of polenta are fascinating to me- as corn is a 'New World' food- originating from North and South America.  So, it was only introduced to Europe after discovery of the New World.  Same thing with tomatoes- it's amazing to me, since we associate tomatoes especially with Italian food.  It's my understanding that polenta is eaten more in the North of Italy.

How is polenta different from grits?  Grits, as you may know, are part of America's Southern cuisine, and let me tell you, grits can be AMAZING.  I once went to a dinner party where we were served Chilean sea bass provencale and a four cheese grits casserole and I am still thinking about those grits...  If you've ever had shrimp and grits, you know what I mean!  Anyhow, according to some packages at the super market, polenta and grits are the same thing.  Nope, not true.  Grits are processed differently, and, there are three varieties of grits, and the way they differ is by cooking time.  There's instant, then there is coarse ground and stone ground.  These last two have longer cooking times.  Well, now I live up North and I can't really get grits too easily, when I ask for them at the supermarket I get kind of a blank stare...  But, I love polenta, too, so it's ok!  I noticed, actually, that polenta is appearing on more menus in the South as kind of a grits alternative- both of them work beautifully as side dishes that can be infused with delicious flavors.

Let's cook!

Polenta with Pecorino Romano
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup whole milk
1 cup polenta
freshly ground white pepper
1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano (using a microplane grater)
as needed: additional amounts of 1/2 water 1/2 whole milk, will depend on your polenta and desired thickness

Oven Roasted Grape Tomatoes
2 1/2 cups grape tomatoes (or cherry, or just really small)
2 Tbsp olive oil
pinch sea salt
freshly ground white pepper

Oven Roasting Grape Tomatoes
To make this dish, you'll need to oven roast your tomatoes ahead of time.  I did this in the afternoon while both my toddler and infant were napping at the same time, hooray!  Preheat your oven to 250.  Rinse your tomatoes and dry them- you'll want to dry them so the olive oil will coat them nicely, the same concept as to why we use salad spinners- dressing adheres better to dry salad greens.  In a small bowl, combine the tomatoes, oil, salt and grind some fresh pepper- white or black- a general rule of thumb I use is I try to include about 1/2 the amount of pepper as salt.  It's hard to give you direct guidance on that since every one's pepper mill is a little different.  I find that I can be pretty liberal with the pepper.  Mix well to combine and coat.  Spread the tomatoes evenly in a single layer on a jelly roll pan or a shallow casserole dish- what is a jelly roll pan?  It's just a baking sheet that has very low sides.  I use these instead of flat, side less baking sheets, because I find they are just better athletes in the kitchen.  Roast these beauties at 1 hour.  Remove from the oven and refrigerate until you are ready to pull the polenta together.

Adding polenta to simmering milk and stock
When you're very close to eating, because polenta like this is best when it is just made, heat the chicken broth and milk together in a medium to large sized pot on the stove.  At this time, you may also slowly reheat your tomatoes in a small pan over low heat.  When the chicken stock and milk is at a low simmer, add the polenta in a slow stream, stirring constantly.  This stuff cooks fast, so you'll need to have your cheese already grated and ready.  Continue to stir the polenta, and you'll see it quickly absorbs the liquid.  Now, I like my polenta not too firm, but this is where your personal preference comes into play- I add an additional 1 cup of liquid, half water and half milk, but, if you like it a littler firmer, don't worry about it.  Also, different brands and origins of polenta will behave differently, as some corn does not have the same protein / starch ratio as others.  Anyhow, once it's come together nicely and absorbed the liquid, turn off the heat and stir in the cheese.  It will melt very quickly.  Add pepper to taste.  You won't want to add salt here because this cheese is on the salty side.  But, taste it to make sure it is salty enough for your liking.  

Adding cheese to polenta
You're ready to serve it!  Just mound some polenta onto a plate, either with your main course or by itself, and top with some of your juicy, beautiful roasted grape tomatoes that are bursting and a little caramelized.  I think you'll be delighted with this and hope you enjoy it!

xo



August 22, 2012

Milk Chocolate Cream Panna Cotta

Milk Chocolate Cream Panna Cotta

Doesn't that sound delicious?  I've been working on a good chocolate panna cotta for a while- and I've been through multiple variations.  I made it with dark chocolate and put it through an ice cream maker- (ok, but not great, although my son and I ate it after dinner for about a week!) but what I kept coming back to is that I'd like to have a chocolate panna cotta that tastes like really creamy, not too sweet chocolate milk!  This is it!  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Panna cotta, which means 'cooked cream' in Italian is a very simple dessert, with lots of room for experimentation- either in the panna cotta itself, or the topppings.  You might recall I made one with goat milk and lychee syrup, which is also delicious and I highly recommend it, you may find it here:  http://ladolceduchessa.blogspot.com/2010/12/panna-cotta-with-goat-milk-and.html but if you're in the mood for a creamy milk chocolate version, this is for you!

Milk Chocolate Cream Panna Cotta
(makes 6 servings)
1/4 cup water
1 packet of unflavored gelatin (1 packet from a Knox unflavored gelatin 1 oz box containing 4 packets)
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 tsp vanilla
3 Tbsp sugar
5 oz milk chocolate
1 oz 60% bittersweet chocolate
generous pinch of sea salt

Softening unflavored gelatin
Place the gelatin in a small bowl.  Pour the 1/4 cup of water over the gelatin.  Set aside and allow to soften for about 10 or 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, in a pot on the stove, heat the cream and milk over low to medium heat.  Stir occasionally, you don't want it to form the 'skin' that milk and cream can form over the top when heated.  Add the vanilla and sugar to the milk and cream, stirring to combine.  Heat the milk and cream gradually to between 200 and 210 degrees Fahrenheit- you want it to be hot enough but not boil.  You can use a thermometer for this, or, as soon as you see part of the pot boil, turn it off.  Immediately add the softened gelatin and stir with a whisk, allow several minutes of waiting and stirring for the gelatin to dissolve.  This step is probably the most important of the whole process, if your milk and cream aren't hot enough, your gelatin won't fully dissolve and you'll have a grainy consistency to the finished product.

Milk and bittersweet chocolate in a metal bowl
While that dissolves, measure your chocolates and place them in a metal bowl.  I like to use a kitchen scale to measure the chocolates- I find I use my kitchen scale a lot!  Once the gelatin has had a few minutes to dissolve, pour the milk and cream mixture over the chocolates in the metal bowl.  This will also need a few minutes to dissolve and mix, using your whisk every minute or two to help it incorporate smoothly.  Add the salt.

Panna Cotta ice bath
You'll need a slightly larger bowl for this next step, we're going to create an ice bath to cool down the mixture.  Mixing bowl sets that have graduated sizes are perfect for this- I use two metal bowls from the same set for this.  In the larger metal bowl, place several handfuls of ice cubes on the bottom.  Next, place the smaller metal bowl with the mixture inside on top of the ice cubes.  Carefully pour cold water into the outer bowl (I use a measuring cup with a little spout so I don't splash water into the milk chocolate cream mixture) until it reaches about 75% up the sides.  Now, we're going to wait 30 minutes, stirring about every 10 minutes or so with out whisk.

After the 30 minutes have passed, you may pour this into 6 small ramekins.  Don't have ramekins?  Improvise!  This would be charming in tea cups, juice glasses, smaller servings in espresso cups, or, you may  pour it into a rectangular small casserole dish, and then you can cut it and serve it in squares.  There's no need to butter the dishes before you pour it in.

Now, we're going to refrigerate it- some thoughts on that- sometimes putting plastic wrap on top of these vessels causes condensation, and then it falls onto the top of the panna cotta, which is fine, but can be unattractive.  It's not an issue if you are going to invert the panna cotta onto a plate to serve it, but if you are going to serve it in it's little cup or vessel, here are some tips.  Because we've cooled it down in an ice bath, you are ultimately in better shape to avoid this, and, if you place the cups in a larger, deeper dish and then put plastic wrap over that, you'll likely fare better.

This will be somewhat solid after a few hours, overnight provides the best 'setting' and will allow you to invert it onto a plate to serve.  To do this, use a sharp knife to loosen to edges, then invert on to a plate.  Enjoy!  I think you'll find this smooth, creamy and delicious!

August 11, 2012

We Have a New Page! Stylish Movie Recommendations!

http://ladolceduchessa.blogspot.com/p/stylish-and-intelligent-movies.html

Check it out!

Do It Yourself: Storing Your Silver Serving Pieces

Round tray on top of storage pouch
Silver and silver plate pieces are so lovely- but require some extra care.  However, you may not have the right storage for them!  You might have family pieces that didn't come with storage bags or boxes, you may have purchased some at an antique store, or what may have worked previously may have lost its effectiveness.  While working on this post, I discovered that silver cloth is intended to be used for 5 years, then the effectiveness of the chemical treatment of the cloth starts to decline.

What inspired this post is that while in Maine, I picked up some lovely antique silver and silver plate items at a few antique stores, but I don't have the right storage for them.  So, why not make my own?  First I ordered silver cloth.  What is silver cloth?  It just means a cloth, most often a flannel, that has been treated with chemicals similar to silver polish.  Protecting your silver from the air, and with silver cloth, will help keep it from tarnishing.  Why is tarnishing a big deal?  Two reasons, the first is that once something has tarnished, it starts 'pitting,' these look like little holes on the surface of the silver.  There is nothing you can do about them once they are there!!!  Second, you'll have to polish less!  And everyone likes that- less work!

So let's get started!  First, determine what you need to make storage pouches for- I had several items, and a few of them were rather large and three-dimensional.  So I estimated the yardage I would need before I ordered my fabric.  I went to Amazon.com to order my silver cloth, the search yielded a lot of different choices.  You can get several different colors, so have fun with it!  Take note of what the fabric says in the notes, I noticed that some of them listed the duration of effectiveness in years, some did not, and some had one side of the fabric that was more effective, so keep track of what you end up with.  I chose maroon, which came from Vogue Fabrics, they had several colors.

Hand sewn seam example with a modest 1/4" seam allowance
We'll go through two examples here, a flat tray, and a rectangular dish that is 3" tall and required more adjustments.  Basically, the more three dimensional the object, the more thought you'll need to give it.  To begin, let's start with the tray.  First, I measured this round tray, which was 13.5" in diameter.  I wanted to cut out a piece of fabric that would leave me enough room for seam allowances and a flap to close it with.  So, I cut out a piece that was 29" x 14".  I like to use a yardstick for this type of project- a tape measure is not as reliable, because you aren't sure if you are a very straight line.  So, you might consider using a ruler or a yardstick, or something that has a firm, straight edge.  If you're unfamiliar with the term 'seam allowance,' that simply means the difference between your seam and the outer edge of the fabric.  In this case, the fabric is somewhat thick and plush, so you can have less of a seam allowance than if the fabric were thin and prone to unraveling- if that were the case, we'd be having a much different conversation about finishing the seam!  Thankfully, we are not, because that is more work.

Wrist pin cushion with quilting pins
On to construction!  Fold the piece of fabric with the wrong side out- meaning that the side of the fabric that you want touching the silver on the inside of the pouch is on the outside.  For the silver tray, where we want extra fabric at the top to fold it over in a type of flap, arrange the fabric so that is the case.  Next, we want to pin the fabric where we intend to sew it- some thoughts on pins.  I like to use quilting pins when I sew, their heads have little round ends that show up well against the fabric.  Regular pins that have small heads can be hard to see.  In addition, I also like to use a wrist pin cushion, that way, I can wear it on my wrist while I sew and remove the pins and place them there.  In this post, I didn't want to use a sewing machine because I wanted to encourage everyone to feel that they could do this, even if you don't have a sewing machine.  You can do this with just a needle and thread!  If you do have a sewing machine, though, the project will go a little faster if you use it.  But either way, you'll have a practical finished product.  Using a needle and thread (and the thread does not need to be special), sew, using relatively small stitches the two sides of the pouch.  This is a good thing to do in front of the TV!

Finished silver tray storage pouch
Turn your sewn pouch right side out.  Now, to finish the silver tray pouch, I sewed two ribbon ties at the top, to hold the flap down.  The ribbon is just basic ribbon, you may use any color.  Make sure the ribbon pieces are long enough to tie.  To make the ties secure, you can either double bow them, or, this is a fishing knot trick my husband uses on our son's sneakers, proceed as if you are tying a regular bow, and when you get to the part where you make the bow, instead of pulling the loop through once, wind it around twice before pulling tight.  This stays very securely, and is easily released by pulling (both at once) of the non-bow ends.  Seriously, we use this fishing knot on so many things!!!  Toddler sneakers, baby clothes, silver storage pouches, hair bows...  There you go!  A wonderful, functional silver storage pouch for a tray!

Closure on rectangular dish pouch
Next, let's tackle something a little more challenging.  This dish is 13.5" x 7" x 3" and will need a little more thought in how we measure.  What I want to create is a pouch that is long enough, tall enough, and has enough fabric at the opening to be tied with a ribbon to keep the air out.  Therefore, I cut out a piece that is 36" x 10" to provide enough space.  Then, I sew both sides of the pouch, as we noted before.  I provide only about a 1/4" seam allowance.  Once the seams are sewn, I turn it right side out.  Now, I only need one long piece of ribbon and I sew the center of it to the center of the opening of the pouch on the underside, a few inches in from the edge.  Now, all I need to do to close it is tie it around all of the fabric that makes up the opening of the pouch.  There you go!  Easy and functional!

Rectangular dish pouch
As you can see, these are simple and do-able, and whatever shape or size item you have, you should be able to make a functional and helpful storage pouch for it!  Happy sewing- by hand or by machine!

This item's storage will take some thought!

August 6, 2012

Raspberry Pie

Raspberry Pie
What could be more seasonally stunning than a delicious, comforting raspberry pie?  With homemade flaky crust, brushed with egg white and dusted with sugar, filled with fresh, sweet raspberries...  I see I have your attention!  I was reminded of my love for raspberry pie this past July in Maine, where I ordered it every time I ate dinner at The Lobster Pound in Lincolnville Beach.  They served it with unsweetened whipped cream, which was the perfect accompaniment!  My Grandmother used to make delicious homemade raspberry pies.  I found some vintage pie tins at Rockland Marketplace- an antique mall in Rockland, and while they were just fun to get because they had so much character- they actually appealed to me because of their size.  They are about half the size of a regular deep dish pie dish, the bottom is 5" in diameter and the whole diameter is 8".  They are somewhat shallow, making your pies very petite, modest sized finished products.  And while I love to use my full sized ceramic deep dish pie dish, sometimes it's too much pie!!!!  So anyway, that's why I thought these were cool...  I have a few of my Grandmother's baking pans- one is a bundt pan that has been used so many times I probably don't have to grease it anymore!  Well, it's just fun to have things like this in your kitchen to inspire you, isn't it?

Vintage pie tin
Raspberry Pie
(for a smaller pie dish, measuring 5" across the bottom and 8" across the top)
Filling:
2 cups fresh raspberries, rinsed
1/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp sugar
1 oz lemon juice, freshly squeezed
zest of 1/4 of a lemon
2 tsp arrowroot powder (a thickening agent)
pinch sea salt

To finish the pie:
1 egg white, slightly beaten with a fork
sugar (to dust the top of the pie)

For the pie crust, you will need a half portion of the pie crust found in the Amazing Apple Pie post (and yes, it IS amazing :)  almost time to make it with the fall coming!)  Please go to this post to find that recipe: http://ladolceduchessa.blogspot.com/2010/11/amazing-apple-pie.html  What I'd recommend is that you just go ahead and make the whole portion of the pie dough, and just reserve half of it in your freezer for future pie making!  Or, make a full sized pie and in that case, just double the filling recipe for the raspberries (above).  Either way, there is pie, and therefore EVERYONE wins, yes?

Pie dough 'coarse meal'
Here's a little glamour shot of the pie dough being made in a food processor (how much do I love my food processor for making pastry dough, it is easy-peasy, I tell you), this is the step where we talk about it looking like coarse meal- after you've started to add the butter and shortening but before the ice water.  Some thoughts on the ice water step- the amount depends on a lot of things, and the amount in this recipe I'd say you should start out with using about half that, and if you have to use the full amount, do, but you may not need it.  It will depend partially on the temperature of your butter and shortening.  Some further thoughts on shortening- don't use butter flavored.  I have used both plain and butter in frosting and the butter artificial flavor is not something desirable.  Anyhow, there is plenty of butter in this pie crust recipe, so you won't be without the fine flavor of butter.

Moving on!  In a bowl, combine the raspberry filling.  What is arrowroot powder you might ask?  It's a thickening agent, the same way cornstarch or something similar works.  It's pretty flavorless and texture-less, though, so it's good to use in things that are sort of one star ingredient items, like hot chocolate, for example (yes, use it in that, too, and you won't need to use as much heavy cream to get a nice thick result).  You'll be able to find it in the spice section of supermarkets that have a good selection.  It shouldn't be hard to find.

Remove your pie dough from the refrigerator- half of the recipe if you're using a smaller pie dish like mine.  Reserve the other half for your next pie masterpiece.  Using a floured work surface, like a cutting board or a nice clean counter, after it's had a few minutes to get a tad warmer, you'll want to roll it out.  Now, if you're doing the smaller pie, immediately separate the dough into 2 halves again, and put one of them back in the refrigerator.  If you're doing the full sized pie, proceed with the full half.  Using a rolling pin and plenty of flour, roll out the dough until it's about 1/4" to 1/3" thick.  It will be kind of crumbly a little bit, that's the nature of this type of dough.  However, if it's moist and sticky, it's gotten too warm and needs to be chilled again.  Once it's sticky, you can't really salvage it.  So, if that's the case, pop it back into the fridge or the freezer until it's harder and not sticky.  Flour it like crazy, too!

Creating the pie shell
Once you've gotten your dough nice and rolled out, go ahead and preheat your oven to 475.  Take your pie dish and butter it, or spray it with Pam.  Then, using your rolling pin- and you'll probably recall I like a French rolling pin, the kind without handles, just graduated tapered sides, you get more surface area this way, roll the dough around it (using flour along the way), and then unroll it over the pan.  You'll at first have it be somewhat straight across, then, the weight of the dough will start to sink to take the shape of the dish.  Help it do this gently, by lifting the outside edges.  Cut away the excess dough and reserve it.  Pour the raspberry filling into the pie and go ahead and place this lovely pie shell into the freezer.

Creating the crust pattern with the tines of a fork
Take the other dough for the top- (either the 1/4 amount for the smaller pie dish or the full other 1/2 for the full sized pie dish) and roll it out using the same technique.  Again, roll the flat, rolled out dough around the rolling pin, and unroll it over the top of the pie.  It will also begin to sink a little and shape itself to the filling and dish.  Cut the excess away at the outer edge.  To create the pretty, pressed edge of the pie crust, just use the tines of a fork.  You can just do it straight and traditional, or you can get creative and either do it at an angle, or alternate angles, or even do a cross hatch pattern, do whatever you want, it's your pie!

Decorating your pie, this uses a pig cookie cutter
Ok, you will need to cut four pretty long slits in the pie crust.  Now- raspberries and a lot of other fruit have high moisture content and you need the slits to let enough of the moisture evaporate.  The slits and the arrowroot powder are both attempting to get you an end result that is not too liquid-y but still nice and moist.  You may use the extra dough to decorate your pie- use cookie cutters or anything you like- on this pie I used just one little cut out of a piggy and put it in the center.  You could do something like that over the whole top of the pie, or just on the crust (like leaves for a crust), or anything else you can think of.

Protecting your crust with foil
To finish your beautiful pie, brush with slightly beaten egg white and then sprinkle with sugar.  I also like to sometimes protect the crust of my pies with tinfoil.  Just tear the foil so it's in about 4" wide strips, and just mold around the outer edge of the pie.  This prevents it from getting too brown.  Now, we're about to put this beauty in the oven, place it on a baking sheet, make sure your rack is pretty low in the oven (I use second to the lowest position) and reduce your heat to 425.  Bake for 15 minutes.  After 15 minutes, reduce the heat to 375, turn the pie 180 degrees, and bake for an additional 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes at 375, remove the foil.  Bake another 25 minutes.  Remove from the oven and the baking sheet (carefully!  don't want to damage the crust!)  Allow to cool for at least 4 hours before serving or refrigerating.

I once went to a Shaker art exhibit and was really enthralled by an item called a 'pie safe,' it was a box made with a wooden frame and screen sides, and it could hold 4 pies and there were little doors to get the pies in and out.  It hung from the ceiling.  I loved it :)  I totally want a pie safe :)

Enjoy this pie by itself, or with unsweetened whipped cream, or slightly warmed in the microwave (this is what my husband likes to do, and I'm reminded that one of his relatives once told me, 'I like two types of pie, hot and cold!' love that, me too!) or, as my Dad likes it, with a small piece of sharp cheddar cheese.  However you like to eat it, you'll love this fresh berry pie to hang on to summer!

August 1, 2012

Juniper and Dry Mustard Pork Chops with an Accidental Potato Gratin


So, my sister has this incredible potato side dish, which she's been making for at least 10 years, maybe more, where you use this Japanese ceramic bladed mandoline to slice the potatoes really thin, then you alternate with layers of gruyere that you grate with a microplane, did I mention there's also freshly grated nutmeg in it?  Well, it's divine.  It's actually so good, that, this is seriously a true story- I was hosting a luncheon party about 8 years ago for a few girlfriends.  I had made this potato side dish, and I actually forget what else was served- because it didn't matter.  One of the women had just had a baby and was called back home by her husband, and she left after we ate our salad.  One of my friends- and I think I might think she's even cuter for this, after we had eaten our salad, our entrees, which, included a serving of this potato dish for each person, she asked if she could eat the person's potato serving that had left!!!  I remember that so vividly and so happily!  I feel like that is precisely why I love to cook and entertain, every now and then, you make one of your friends really, really happy :)

Anyhow, today, during a rare occasion when BOTH CHILDREN were napping at the same time, (I know!  Awesome!!!) I thought I might make this wonderful potato dish.  But, wouldn't you know it- sleep deprivation, potty training and sleep training all conspired against me and I completely blanked on the fact I had kind of forgotten the most important ingredient, the gruyere.  Oh well!  Let's look in the cheese drawer (yes, I have a cheese drawer, it also houses cured meats, right now it has some lovely prosciutto and speck and a crazy looking robiola I haven't opened yet...)  So, this became the Accidental Potato Gratin.  But, it's still pretty awesome, so awesome, that I think my 30 pound toddler ate almost a 1/2 pound of it during his dinner...  Anyhow, this is good- and the techniques are the same as my sister's dish, which, I am promised will receive a blog entry at some point :)

What about the juniper and dry mustard pork chops?  Well, the inspiration for these is a little round about- when my daughter was first born and I was up frequently at night nursing her, I would sometimes watch TV to stay awake.  Well, at 3 in the morning, you never know what you are going to find on the movie channels, I found Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!  And, you probably remember that the childcatcher is pretty creepy.  But that's not my point.  My point is that when they are in the country of 'Bulgaria,' but I'm not sure it's actually Bulgaria, it kind of just looks like Germany, the color palate and the dresses that they put Sally Ann Howes in are just too adorable.  So, it made me want German food.  So, I have this very old German cook book that had a recipe for 'Mock Wild Boar,' and it involved rubbing a pretty fatty cut of pork with juniper berries and then roasting it, then making a sauce with sour cream and red currant jam- trust me, sounds so much better than it was.  While my husband was eating it, he looked at me and said, 'Have you tried this yet?'  which, from him, is pretty much like, 'What on earth are we eating?!'  So that was a bust.  But, here's the thing, my interest was peaked to rub juniper on any pork I could get my hands on.  That and the fact that I literally have a 1 pound bag of juniper berries in my cellar (seriously, if you know me and need juniper berries, just ask).  So, I saw some nice 1/2" boneless pork loin chops and got to thinking...  Let's rub it on them with a little dry mustard!  Voila, dinner.

Juniper and Dry Mustard Pork Chops
Rub (enough for 1 lb. of pork chops, increase as needed)
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp juniper berries (ground)
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper (I used white, but black is fine, too)

4 1/2" thick boneless pork loin chops (roughly 1 lb.)

Use a spice mill, or a pepper grinder to get your ground juniper berries.  Combine the rub, then rub it on both sides of each pork chop.  Store in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours before cooking.  The salt in the rub and the 3 hours function like a brining, they'll make the chops very moist.  Yay!

When it's time to cook them, heat some canola oil over medium high to high heat on the stove.  Fry each pork chop for about 3 minutes per side.  Allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving / eating (they'll have less runny juices this way, this is letting your meat 'rest.').

Accidental Potato Gratin
2 lb. yukon gold potatoes
sea salt
white pepper (freshly ground)
nutmeg (freshly ground)
1/4 cup finely grated Grana Padano (with a microplane)
1/2 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano (with a microplane)
roughly 3/4 cup or more heavy cream (enough to come almost over the top of the potatoes)

First of all, you need a mandoline like this one:
http://www.amazon.com/Kyocera-Double-Mandolin-Slicer-Yellow/dp/B0024NKK7E/ref=pd_sim_k_4
for your potatoes.  First, peel your potatoes, then, make them into very thin slices using this or a similar mandoline.  Be very careful of your fingers!!!  In a shallow dish, like the one I used, which was a pyrex dish that was about 5" x 12", create layers of the potato slices, and about every two layers or so, sprinkle sea salt, freshly grated pepper and nutmeg.  When you get to the top, place the grated cheese on the top, then, pour the cream in at each corner, that way you don't disturb the cheese.  Use as much cream as you need to to just come up the sides of the potatoes, but not cover the top.  The cheese should nicely cover the top.

Here's how I baked this- first, I baked it at 250 degrees for 1 1/2 hours earlier in the afternoon, then I put it in the refrigerator until dinner time.  Then, I put it back in the oven at 225, covered with tin foil for an hour.  Basically, you want to cook this at a low temperature for a long time.  Let's face it, anything low and slow, even and old boot, would probably taste delicious!