WND – In which I fail at birthdays, but am graciously forgiven

October 7, 2010

Last Friday I was having a conversation with a coworker in which he explained to me that the reason he could never move to suburbia was because he hated yuppies. I was relieved of the necessity of pointing out that as a commercial real estate broker who owned his own house and was married with an infant he was pretty much the definition of a yuppie by him waving his hand and saying, “Yes, yes I know I’m a yuppie, but that doesn’t mean I want to live near them.” Which okay, I can understand that. I make fun of the people who shop at Whole Foods even as I’m going up to Wilson Farms to buy organic free range eggs, organic milk in a glass bottle and opting for the locally sourced Macoun apples versus the Granny Smiths from Wisconsin. Hypocrisy and I are good friends.

Then I went home on Saturday and put away my groceries for the week and stared at the bowl full of apples we picked in a local orchard two weekends ago, and the bowl of late season sungold tomatoes (which are my very favorite of the cherry tomato varietals), and the pile of leeks and the whole grain bread and the homemade muffins to take for breakfast for the next week, and contemplated that perhaps we were edging over into the territory of disturbingly healthy. I mean, there’s still no flax seed in my cupboard, and I’m not planning on replacing my sugar with agave nectar, but there is something a little creepily healthy about the contents of my fridge at the moment. It’s enough to make me feel like I should order take out every day this weekend just so that I can have a few containers of leftover Chinese food lurking on a shelf to make myself feel slightly less twee.

It’s been pointed out to me that I never talked about Dinner last week. This is because last week I was sick and I slept for 16 hours on Wednesday before getting myself up for Dinner. It’s possible that if I hadn’t had 4lb of braised chicken sitting in my fridge that I might have reconsidered Dinner, but I did so I didn’t. Then there was drama at work, which as it turned out was less scandalous (and thus, sadly, less interesting) than it first appeared but still involved a lot of whispering and hushed conversations over cubicle walls. All of which conspired to no post about Dinner last week, but this is what we had.

Braised Chicken in Aromatic Tomato Sauce (recipe previously given)
Roasted Broccoli & Cauliflower (recipe previously given)

Dinner this week was largely informed by a desire to use up many of the apples we’d picked two weekends ago, and a need to do something with the 5lb butternut squash (shaped like a duck, or at least a goose neck) that I was gifted with courtesy of a friend’s farm share and the fact that she’s already roasted, pureed and frozen pounds and pounds of butternut squash this season. I love butternut squash and I rarely need an excuse to cook it, but an over abundance of apples and butternut squash was the perfect reason to make the gratin of thinly sliced squash and apples sandwiching cider glazed leeks that I came across recently (and then topped with parmesan cheese that goes all melty and crusty – it’s like all of my favorite things in one place, resistance was clearly futile). Then I still had apples, so apple sauce, and what goes better with apple sauce than pork chops? The vegetables were sort of an after thought, as in I knew we were supposed to have them so I bought some and cooked them, but without anywhere near the enthusiasm I brought to anything else on the table.

Pork Chops
Butternut Squash and Apple Gratin
Apple Sauce

Pork Chops
Here’s the thing. Pork chops are approximately the easiest thing in the world to over cook. I find that it is impossible to pan fry a pork chop that’s more than about ½” thick without making it tough as shoe leather. So, if you have thicker pork chops you can either, (a) braise them; (b) bread them and roast them in the oven; or (c) cut them in half to make thinner chops and pan fry them, which is what I did last night.

Melt about equal amounts of butter and olive oil in a large skillet (enough to generously slick the bottom of the pan).

While the fat is heating, salt/pepper and lightly flour your pork chops – if I remember to I like to use whole wheat flour for this because it gives a slightly nutty flavor to the proceedings.

When the pan is very hot add your pork chops and cook about 3-4 minutes per side.

If you are feeling fancy when the pork chops are cooked through you can deglaze the pan with some wine/sherry/cider/lemon juice/whatever you have on hand that you think will deglaze a pan nicely and pour it over the pork chops for service. I, to be honest, don’t usually bother.

Butternut Squash and Apple Gratin
(serves 4 in an 8×8 pan – I made 1.5x and used a 9×13 pan)

2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 medium leeks, white part only, trimmed of roots and tough outer leaves, thinly sliced crosswise, well washed and dried
Coarse salt and ground pepper
½ cup dry sherry or apple cider*
1 Tbsp chopped fresh sage (or 1 tsp dried herb of choice – I used thyme)
1 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded, sliced in half lengthwise, and then into 1/8-inch thick slices.
1 lb apples, peeled, halved, cored, and cut into 1/8-inch thick slices
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a 10-inch skillet, heat 1 Tbsp of oil over medium heat. Add leeks and 2 Tbsp water; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Add sherry/cider and sage and cook until liquid is reduced to a glaze, about 5-10 minutes; set aside.***

While the leeks are braising slice the butternut squash and apples (I recommend the use of a mandoline**, but it can be done by hand if you have a steady hand and some time to kill).

In an 8×8 baking dish (or some other 2 quart baking dish) arrange squash in overlapping layers; season with salt and pepper. Spread leeks evenly over the squash.

Arrange apples in an overlapping layer over the leeks. Brush apples with remaining tablespoon oil. Cover tightly with aluminum foil. Bake 45 minutes.

Uncover and sprinkle cheese over the top. Raise the oven temperature to 450 degrees and bake 10-12 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and is golden brown. The tip of a paring knife should easily pierce the gratin. Let cool 10 minutes before serving.

* I used a combination of cider, water and Calvados (about 4:1:1 ratio) because I thought all cider would end up being a little too sweet and I had Calvados on hand.

** I don’t usually use the hand guard when I use my mandoline because I like to live dangerously and generally I find it more trouble than it’s worth. Then again, I’m usually slicing cucumbers and summer squash which don’t put up a lot of resistance to a mandoline blade. Butternut squash, on the other hand, is a whole different animal. It’s denser and requires more force to slice, and basically what I’m saying is, watch your fingers. I sliced the last couple of slices of each section of squash with a knife rather than risk bloody shreds of finger getting into the dish.

*** In the interests of time I braised the leeks and sliced the butternut squash on Tuesday night, and they seemed to suffer no ill effects from their overnight stay in the fridge. I wouldn’t recommend slicing the apples in advance because apples go brown and unappealing looking when they’re cut too far in advance of being eaten.

Apple Sauce
One, who needs a recipe for applesauce? Two, who puts 2 ¼ cups of sugar in their applesauce? Granted that’s for 9lb of apples, but still. I use about 3-4 Tbsp of sugar for around 4lb of apples, even scaling up to 9lb that’s nowhere near 2 ¼ cups of sugar. And you’re only adding ½ tsp each of cinnamon and all spice? For 9lb of apples? Dear epicurious, thanks but no thanks. I’ll stick with my throw things in a pot and cook until done method.

(that being said) Recipe previously given: Bangers & Mash



  1. I never add sugar to applesauce. if you want it sweet, add it yourself. Other than that, I do usually add a dash of cinnamon and a bit of fresh nutmeg.
    I have to admit a secret love affair with my apple corer/pealer/slicer. my favorite kitchen tool. (closely followed by my cookie press)
    I’m going to try your gratin next week. it sounds amazing and I have a bag of apples from the orchard just begging for something different than a pie.

  2. […] Recipe previously given: In which I fail at birthdays, but am graciously forgiven […]

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