Pork Chops in Adobo Sauce

>> Monday, October 12, 2015

Pork chops in adobo sauce

Have you ever been shopping and you couldn't remember if you had a certain ingredient for a meal, so you buy some more, and then find when you get home that you already had plenty?

Joe and I kept forgetting whether we had ancho chilies, which are dried or smoked poblano peppers. So we ended up with three packages of anchos, and let me tell you, a little of these smoky-sweet peppers goes a long way.

Luckily, we were also looking for new ways to cook porkchops, so the adobo sauce Joe whipped up was perfect for the meat. Since then we've tweaked our recipe and I'm sure it would also be excellent on rabbit, chicken, or duck.

Adobo is not a spicy-hot sauce; Mexicans call such chiles "sweet". We served the pork chops with sweet potatoes poached in orange juice, butter, and a little garlic. Yum!

Note: start this recipe the day before and let the meat marinate overnight. The sauce can be made well ahead of time and then refrigerated. It will last up to a month in the fridge after it is made.


 Adobo Sauce
2 tbsp canola oil
4 large dried ancho chiles (about the size of your palm)
5 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp fresh oregano, minced
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 cup white vinegar


For the Adobo sauce
Remove the seeds from the anchos and tear them into large pieces. Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the anchos when the oil is shimmering. Fry until they begin to darken and blister, then place them in a bowl. Pour hot water over the peppers and let them soak for about 15 minutes. It helps if you weigh them down with a plate or something heavy.

Put the chiles in a blender along with 1/2 cup of the soaking water. Add all other ingredients and blend until it is a smooth paste.

For the Chops

1/2 cup adobo sauce
6 1-inch thick pork chops, bone removed
1/2 cup white onion, thinly sliced
2 tbsp fresh cilantro leaves

Spread the adobo sauce on both sides of each chop and allow to marinate for at least 4 hours. I would recommend marinating overnight. Grill the chops or fry them in vegetable oil until just done - if you overcook them, they will be dry.

If you use a meat thermometer, take them off the heat when the thermometer reads 145 degrees in the center of the chop, and cover them with foil for a few minutes, until the temperature reaches 150 degrees. This makes them warm and juicy.

Garnish with sliced onion and fresh cilantro and serve immediately.

Serves 6 with plenty of sauce for another night. If you're following Weight Watchers, a 4 oz. portion is only 6 points.


Spaetzle with Swiss Cheese

>> Monday, October 5, 2015

Spaetzle dumplings

After eating spaetzle my whole life, a favorite recipe of my grandmother's, I was startled to find that the culinary world is now into spaetzle. It's popping up on menus and in food magazines all over the place.

If you haven't heard of spaetzle before, they are little noodles or dumplings made of flour, milk, and egg pressed through a colander or spaeztle press. My sister brought me an authentic Kull metal press from Germany 30 years ago. We also use it for juicing lemons and limes.

Kull Spaetzle Press

People pronounce it either SHPET-zul or SHPET-zlah or SHPET-zlee (regional differences, maybe?). They can be fluffy or a little chewy, depending on the cook and the recipe. Spaetzle can be used in place of any starch like pasta, polenta, egg noodles, dumplings, mashed potatoes, or rice. I loved it when my mom or my grandma made a savory pork roast with plenty of gravy poured over all those little noodles.

But spaetzle with Swiss cheese is a long-time family favorite which is also a main dish that's cheap and quick to make. It's a German version of mac and cheese, really. Like all family recipes that are passed along for years, people in my family make it slightly differently. My mom makes a very simple version; my Aunt Monica browns butter very darkly before tossing with the noodles, and we like to add pepper and garlic and a bit of seasoned bread crumbs because, well, you know we love more flavor.

At the famous Mader's Restaurant in Milwaukee, and the Chicago Brauhaus, I've had spaetzle that was pan-fried as a side dish. I've tried pan-frying the noodles in butter after boiling them, and it works particularly well with the grated cheese. You might want to try it both ways and see what you like best.

This basic spaetzle recipe is just a start. Try adding chopped herbs or spices, or some mustard, or sour cream, for extra flavor, as it suggests in this Chicago Tribune article on spaetzle.


Basic spaeztle noodles

4 eggs (my mom estimates 1 egg per person)
1/2 cup of milk, plus extra for consistency
3 cups of flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper (optional)
1 tsp garlic powder (optional)

For the topping

4 cups grated Swiss cheese (measure after grating)
4 tbsp butter
1 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs (optional)


Whisk together the eggs and milk. In a separate bowl, stir together the rest of the ingredients. Slowly add the egg mixture to the flour mixture, stirring constantly. The batter or dough should be similar to a very thick, slightly sticky bread dough, depending on how tender or chewy you like the dumplings. After you make it a few times, you'll figure out the consistency you want. Add more milk or water if you want to adjust the texture.

Spaetzel dough

If you want light, fluffy noodles, stop stirring as soon as the ingredients are combined; for firmer noodles, stir for five minutes before cooking.

Heat a pot of water to boiling. Place a large scoop of the dough in the colander or spaetzle maker and press the dough through the holes. They should fall through in a solid stream; you may have to cut off the noodles to free them from the holes. Stir the noodles immediately to keep them from sticking together.

Kull Spetzle Press

Boil for 5 minutes, then drain well. Repeat with the rest of the dough, while keeping the finished noodles warm.

If you want to pan-fry the noodles after they are cooked, heat up the butter in a frying pan until the foaming stops. Dump in the noodles and stir them around so they're coated with butter. Cook until golden brown on one side, then flip over and brown the other side.

Otherwise, melt the butter and stir into the noodles. Toss the noodles with the Swiss cheese, then sprinkle with the breadcrumbs before serving.

My mom always serves Spaeztle With Swiss along with homegrown peaches she canned herself, and I can't improve on that combo.

Serves 4-6 as a main dish, 8 as a side dish. 


Crock Pot Apple Butter

>> Thursday, September 24, 2015

I guarantee that when you make apple butter, the entire house will smell like every holiday rolled into one day. This recipe comes form my mother, Kathleen Tarr Helbling, and my sweet German friend, Talea Bloom. If you are not blessed with the gift of a bushel of their gnarled, flavorful organic apples, there are plenty of other varieties to try.

Apple butter doesn't actually contain any butter, and is completely fat-free, and I think the name comes from its smooth, rich consistency. This sweet-sour and spicy recipe doesn't take all the fussing and hovering that a lot of jam recipes demand. You just cut up the apples and let them simmer all day in a crock pot, stirring and mushing once in a while, then boil the puree until thick and can them at the end.

This tastes fabulous on whole-wheat honey bread. Yum.


4 lbs of firm-fleshed, tart apples (McIntosh, Jonathan, or Granny Smith are my favorites)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 cups water
1 lemon, quartered (note: old lemons have bitter peels; try to find a fresh, plump-skinned one)
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp salt
White granulated sugar or Splenda (about 2 cups, see cooking instructions)
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp allspice


Cut the apples into quarters, cutting out damaged parts. Don't peel or core them, or pick out the apple seeds. Put the apple pieces into a large crock pot, add the lemon, vinegar, water, and brown sugar, and cover. Turn the crock pot on high and allow to simmer for 6- 8 hours, stirring occasionally and crushing the fruit with a spoon. It is ready when the consistency is similar to applesauce. You can also let the mixture simmer overnight in a crock pot on low, but increase the time to 10 hours and stir it if you get up in the night to use the bathroom or get a snack.

Strain out the solids through a colander. Measure the apple puree. Stir in 1/3 cup of white sugar for each cup of apple pulp. Stir in the salt, cinnamon, ginger, ground cloves, and allspice. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

Pour into a heavy, wide-bottomed saucepan. Simmer on medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until thickened and reduced, about 1 hour. Test if it is ready to jell by pouring a spoonful on a plate and letting it sit in the refrigerator until cool. It should be thick as jam.

Pour into sterilized pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace, and wipe the rims. Screw on lids hand-tight and lower into a hot water bath canner. Boil 15 minutes once the pot reaches a full rolling boil. Remove from the canner and allow to cool. Test the seals before storing.

Makes 3-4 pint jars.


Chicken and Dumplings: American Comfort Food

>> Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Chicken and Dumplings - American Comfort Food

American food gets a bad rap sometimes - unfairly, I think. We're unimaginative, we make unhealthy foods and ridiculous proportions, all we want is fast food.

This is American comfort food. Every tradition has some of these. Chicken and dumplings is a healthy, hearty, and inexpensive dinner that brings my childhood back with every after-dinner burp.

Many Americans have their own version of Chicken and Dumplings, some with light, fluffy bread-like dumplings, but this one makes hearty, egg noodle-like dumplings. It was given to me by my sister-in-law Carolyn Coe, a talented cook who used to work for a restaurant in Clear Lake, Iowa. She's used to cooking for a crowd. She cooks for church events and 4H meetings, and bakes dozens of pies for the County Fair each summer. Watching her wield a paring knife without even looking is like watching a master sculptor.

The original recipe proportions would have fed an entire 4-H troop, so we cut it down to an average family portion. This is especially good in the fall or winter. When the recipe fell out of my cookbook, I was seized with comfort food mania and made it at once.

Chicken and Dumplings


2 eggs
1//3 cup milk
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 cups flour

6 cups chicken stock
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 rib of celery, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 cups cooked diced chicken


Beat together all dumpling ingredients except flour. Add flour slowly, stirring until smooth and very stiff. Roll out 1/4" thick on a floured surface. Allow to dry one hour. Cut into one inch squares.

Bring chicken stock to a boil. Stir in all vegetables and cook for ten minutes. Add dumplings and cook until tender, approximately 12 minutes. Stir occasionally to avoid sticking. Add chicken and cook for ten more minutes.

Serve in bowls with a side of fruit or a salad.

Serves 4-6.


Cheesy Sweet Pea Spread with Bacon Dust

>> Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Cheesy Sweet Pea Spread with Bacon Dust

We made this crostini spread for our big Labor Day family BBQ in Iowa and it was a hit! Out in Clear Lake and Ventura IA, they take their holidays seriously (Clear Lake's fourth of July celebration makes many lists of  "-- Things to do Before You Die").

Summer in Iowa. Peaceful.

We spent part of the weekend at a picnic in an old maple grove next to Joe's family's cattle ranch. The rest of the time we boated around Clear Lake and watched the weekend sailboat Regatta. What a wonderful way to relax!

Regatta, Clear Lake IA

We tried a first version of this pea spread before making some tweaks. It's wonderfully different with the sweetness of the green peas and the garlic/parmesan combination. If you're fortunate enough to have fresh green peas - say, if you grow them yourself - it will be even better!


4 slices of bacon, cooked crisp
1 loaf baguette bread
2 tbsp oil

For the crostini spread
10-ounce package frozen peas, thawed
1/2 cup ricotta
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 stalk green onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp chopped basil
Salt and pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Slice the baguette into 1/2 inch thick rounds and place on a baking sheet. Brush oil on the crostini slices, then bake 15 minutes, or until slightly crisp. Finely chop the bacon slices.

In a blender or food processor, process the sweet pea crostini spread until smooth. Spread onto the bread slices, then top with a sprinkle of bacon crumbs.

We liked this best at room temperature. We made it a day ahead of time since we were traveling to Iowa, and it tasted better the second day.

Serves 10 as an appetizer.

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