Sunday, January 29, 2012

Smothered pork chops over rice with garden salads

Last week, I bid a fond farewell to my twenties. I knew something big was coming (my husband had been asking "Can I give you your present yet?" multiple times a day), and as there had been all kinds of bugs going around, I became paranoid about getting sick. It happens very rarely as it is; I'd say we each only get colds about every two or three years, but Allan had a terrible cold the first week of this year and was petrified of giving it to me. I took appropriate distance-keeping measures and cultivated the perfect immunity-boosting regimen: a tangerine Emergen-C and a B-vitamin complex in the morning, and a mega sweat-inducing hot yoga class every other day. I developed not even the weensiest sniffle. I was bulletproof.

Test Carrot reveals it is not time to yank them yet.

My birthday finally arrived, and my incomparable husband surprised me with a weekend trip to Napa, culminating in a reservation at the French Laundry. Upon hearing the plans, I wept with joy, gratitude, and love. It was a perfect weekend! First a night at a gorgeous hotel in San Francisco, then breakfast with one of my dearest old friends on Saturday, and a lovely drive to Napa under clear California skies when the forecast had predicted steady rain. The French Laundry was everything I imagined; impeccable service, stunningly beautiful presentations, and of course, maximum deliciousness. Although there were cameras going off at almost every table, I chose not to photograph and blog each dish. I wanted to just be completely present to enjoy it. Needless to say, should you find yourself in a position to dine at the French Laundry, run there, don't walk. As I read in a review about it somewhere, "Once in a lifetime? Not if I can help it."

Naturally, in all the excitement of a surprise weekend trip to Restaurant Heaven (and all kinds of other showers of love from family and friends), my carefully crafted immunity-preservation measures quickly fell to the wayside. Add to this several hours cooped in a tin can full of other people's germs, and the inevitable has arrived. I am heinously sick. And because it didn't happen last week, I am a-okay with it.

Easy comfort food became the name of the game, and nothing's easier than the slow-cooker. This is one of my favorites, I just love the classic combination of pork and black-eyed peas. This dish is full of flavor but easy on the stomach, and really sticks to the ribs to boot. Apparently it's in the 60s and 70s outside (I have only vague recollections of the world beyond my couch and tea kettle), but if it's cold where you are, a batch of this will warm you right up.

2 pork chops, excess fat trimmed, cut into ~1 inch chunks
1/2 a medium yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
1 hot pepper (I had lovely hot red Fresno chiles), seeds and ribs removed, minced
1/4 cup white wine (I'm sure red is fine if it's all you have)
1 can black-eyed peas, rinsed
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp tomato paste
~1-2 cups low sodium chicken stock

1/2 cup white rice

few handfuls of lovely winter garden lettuce (how lovely is my lettuce? I love it so)
nice homemade vinaigrette

Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large heavy skillet. Season the pork chunks on all sides with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Brown them thoroughly on all sides until deep dark golden brown, then remove them to the slow-cooker. Add the onion and garlic with a pinch of kosher salt and allow to soften and become translucent, about 5 minutes. Now add the mushrooms and hot pepper and cook until the mushrooms shrink up a bit, another 5 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the wine, scraping up all the browned bits on the bottom, stir in the tomato paste, and dump the entire contents over the pork. Add the black-eyed peas and bay leaf, then pour in enough chicken stock to just cover. Pop on the lid and cook on high for 6 hours (or all day on low).

About half an hour before you're ready to eat, cook your rice and assemble your salads. Serve the fork-tender pork and peas over the rice, salads alongside with a nice vinaigrette.

Serves 2 (really, more like 3).

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