bouncing back.

That’s right, people.  Bouncing back is just what I am doing today.  From what, you ask?  From several punches in the gut, courtesy of January 2013.

1.  I’ve been sick this week.  My nose was stuffed and running at the same time.  My ears, clogged.  And my brain, foggy.  I self-medicated with loads of soup, homeopathic remedies, a couple days of Sudafed, liquids, and rest, by way of sleeping in late.  Since there is only one of me, and I am the boss and the peon in this company called Plan to Plate, I had to work on through the yuck.  Kindly, my clients offered me days off, but I found joy in creating meals for them- even while operating below 100%.  Lucky for me, any inner frown I may have, generally turns upside down when I play with the beautiful colors, shapes, and textures of food.

pretty salad

And answering a client’s request for an extended-family-sized chicken macaroni and cheese dinner was an hour and a half long,

pasta and veg pre-cheese

from-scratch project that actually invigorated me.

chicken mac and cheese

Upon hearing that my client’s family demolished the entire pan of mac and cheese in one sitting- each person enjoying two helpings and then everyone diving into the casserole dish with their forks, scraping the cheese from the sides- I received the greatest gift.  Happy memories of my childhood dinners came rushing back to me (I was always scraping the cheese off the casserole dish), and I revel in the knowledge that I orchestrated that experience for another family.  Hooray.  I feel better.

2.  The sun has come out to play after nearly a week of hiding.  Thank goodness.  I was starting to twitch!  I’m no good at grey and rainy, finding motivation and energy hard to summon in the morning without that big ole ball of fire sparkling in the sky.  I wouldn’t last a month in Seattle, and I don’t appreciate feeling like I’ve been moved there against my will.  So, I am breathing a sigh of relief.

3.  The largest punch in the gut I endured recently was one delivered by a person I have never met.  Some mean-spirited and very tech-savvy man from Indonesia hacked my website.  Apparently, he hacked over 5,000 websites within the first couple days of 2013 in search of information or money, I suppose.  Or maybe he just wanted to wreak havoc in as many lives as he could.  Well, mission accomplished Mr. Hackerpants.  www.plantoplate.com is no longer.

My mom alerted me of the problem early one morning last week.  A message appeared on my homepage stating that my site had been hacked by Hmei7.  (Why would you you leave your name or tag on your hacking job?)  I immediately contacted my friend who had built my website.  Since my site was running on an older version of Joomla, it was easier to hack than most.  Long story short, in an effort to retrieve the text and photos from my website and update my content management system, my beloved blog was accidentally WIPED OUT.

You know that saying, “You don’t know whatcha got ’til it’s gone”?  Well, I had a visceral reaction to the loss of my blog.  I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me.  Like someone had stolen my child.  I started crying without a moment to consider another approach.  Two and half years of my work, my evolution as a cook, my life story, my heart.  In all, I have written 135 posts- let’s just say 10 hours per post.  That is a ton of time and energy to lose because of some jerk.

As I was sobbing, I realized how important this blog has become to me.  Maybe it’s not widely read.  Maybe it’s not famous.  Maybe it’s long-winded.  Maybe 7 people have ever made a dish from this crazy blog.  Maybe almost no one but my mom comments on any of my posts.  But you know what?  It’s mine.

It’s my history.  It’s my reference – my online cooking log.  It’s my head-first, hands-on, whirlwind educational tour of local, seasonal ingredients and the quest to utilize them in wonderful and varied ways.  It’s the story of my life with Adam and our tendency to incessantly think about, talk about, create and and gorge ourselves on delicious food- and then reflect upon the meal and figure out how we can improve upon it or spin it differently next time.  It’s my opportunity to share the goodness and not-so-goodness of my world.  We humans write stories to make sense of our universe and ourselves.  And this is my sense-maker.

Through this venue, I get to be a writer, a friend, a teacher, a guide, an artist, a motivator, a dabbler, an explorer, and a wide-eyed experimenter, amongst other things.  Writing this blog has become a part of who I am, and when I thought that all was lost, I was heartbroken.  My mom was devastated for me and refused to believe that there was no way to retrieve my work.  But she struggled to offer consoling words.  Even my always-looking-for-the-silver-lining-husband was grabbing at straws.  “We can create new adventures and cook new dishes to write about??  And maybe revisit some of our favorites in a new way?” he suggested with a rising inflection in his voice- not even fooling himself.

Thankfully, euphorically, my fine friend was able to reinstate my blog.  And my sense of relief was overwhelming.  As you can imagine, I have found a way to back-up my posts, so as to avoid that sense of loss from happening ever again.  And I am able to continue spilling my guts and sharing my thoughts, my heart, and my food in this space.  Hallelujah!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I will work to rebuild my Plan to Plate website in conjunction with the blogsite in the near future.  So, take that, Mr. Hackerpants.  You didn’t beat me completely.  I have talented friends, and you have some serious karma to face.

last shot pretty

My bouncing back meal is one tasty treat.  Gluten-free, loaded with protein, antioxidants, and well…bacon.  This Pistachio Crusted Pork Chop with Carrot-Sweet Potato Puree and Apple Braised Greens got its legs at the Decatur Farmers Market.

steve miller with celery leaves

Steve Miller’s stand (different from Steve Miller Band) is always chock-full of fresh gems.  He once told me that he attributes the beauty of his crops

romaine lettuce

to the passion he has for the process of growing and harvesting.  And he mentioned that he is fortunate enough to have employees who feel the same way.

chard

I concur.  The evidence is in the vibrance and abundance of his offerings.  Huge celery leaves, lettuces, swiss chard,

mustard greens

mustard greens,

carrots galore

carrots,

green onions

green onions,

sweet potatoes

sweet potatoes,

collards

collard greens…you name it.  He’s got it.  In the middle of winter, growing right down the street from my house.  The hardest part for Adam and I is choosing which items to employ in our menu for the week.  We grabbed quite a lot from Steve on this particular trip to the market, and then we stopped by one more stand before jetting, as we had already spent our allotted loot.

As a side note, if you’ve not visited the Decatur Market recently, you really ought to.  The vibe is mellow and lovely.  I am intrigued by Duane’s homemade goods from Stone Mountain Herbs.

salves

He makes these very cool salves,

jars of preserves

preserves,

super stocks

super stocks,

stone mt herbs ills

and these teas, which he explains here:

“This tea is created to bring relief from seasonal allergies, cold and flu. Goldenrod soothes inflammation and relieves congestion of the upper respiratory. It is also a sedative so helps one sleep. Chamomile is anti bacterial, anti – inflammatory, settles the stomach and calms the nerves. Mullein is a decongestant and soothes irritated tissues in the lungs and throat. Sumac berries are very high in vitamin C.”

I should have grabbed some of that tea before I got sick!!!!!  Doh!

After the market, Adam and I had a little planning session over a Bloody Mary at the Brickstore (courtesy of a birthday gift card from a client), and gathered the remaining ingredients necessary at Your DeKalb Farmers Market.  We headed home and got to work creating this deeeelicious dinner.

final pork chops with greens and mash

Braising the greens takes the longest, so, let’s address them first.

greds for greens

1 large bunch collard greens (And we used about half a bunch of pretty turnip greens here too, since the collard bunch wasn’t huge.)

4 pieces bacon chopped (We used a peppery maplewood smoked bacon to complement our maple syrup.)

Good pinch of red pepper flakes

1 small onion, diced

5 -6 cloves garlic, pressed or minced

a few pickled jalapenos or tabasco peppers

4 Cups apple cider

1 big or 2 small apples, peeled and diced small

chicken broth to cover- about 6 – 8 Cups

1/4 C real maple syrup

1/4 C apple cider vinegar

Good splash of pickled jalapeno vinegar

Good several pinches of salt and pepper

bacon in the pot

Start by placing your chopped bacon in a big, cool pot and turn the heat to medium.  Stir the bacon occasionally as it browns.  Once it starts releasing some of its fat, you can add a good pinch of red pepper flakes.  If you’d like to make your greens smokier, you can add a pinch of smoked paprika here too!

sliced collard leaf

You can use this time to cut your greens.  Remove the ribs from your collards, roll up a few leaves at a time and cut them into ribbons, then cut the ribbons in half, so they’re not too long.

I cut my turnip greens too,

cutting turnips greens

but I kept them separate, since they were thinner and would cook more quickly.

add onions to bacon

Once the bacon is browned, add the onions and sauté them in the bacon fat for a few minutes, until they are soft.

add garlic

Then, add your minced garlic.  Cook another minute or so, stirring.

add greens to pot

Add the collards a bit at a time, using tongs to turn and wilt the greens.  You can turn the heat up to medium-high while you do this.  Season with salt and pepper.

toss greens with bacon

Once all the leaves are wilted, add the apples, peppers,

add apples and jalapeno

maple syrup, vinegar, apple cider, more salt and pepper, and enough broth to cover the greens by at least an inch or 2.

add liquid to greens

Bring the liquid up to a boil at medium high heat.  Then reduce the heat to low, and simmer for at least half an hour.

Meanwhile…onto the puree.

greds for mash

I often make mashed sweet potatoes for clients, since sweet potatoes are super good for our bodies.  But, I’ve found that adding carrots to the mix brings a lovely sweetness to the final product.  And it’s carrot season, so- why not??  Carrots are also rich in antioxidants and help prevent cardiovascular disease.  Win, win, win.

For this yummy side dish you’ll need:

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 – 1 ½ inch chunks

4- 5 carrots, (or a whole bunch of fresh baby carrots) peeled and cut into chunks a bit smaller than the potatoes

cut potatoes and carrots in pot

2 T butter

1 Cup heated milk

Sprinkling of cinnamon and nutmeg

salt and pepper

1 scallion, chopped if you like

Add potatoes and carrots to a medium pot full of cold water, salt the water, and bring it up to a boil.

bring up to boil

Boil your sweet potatoes and carrots until they are tender enough to be mashed with a spoon- ten minutes or so.  Then, drain your water off and place the pot back on the stove over low heat.  Add the butter and a splash of hot milk, and use a potato masher to mash the veggies first.

mashing carrots and sweet potatoes

Then, add your seasonings and another splash of milk, continue to mash.  Once it’s well combined and smashed,

blending

use an immersion blender to puree the mixture until smooth, adding a little milk at a time, so you don’t make the puree too soupy.  You may not need to use all of the milk.  Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.

add scallions

Add the freshly chopped scallion for a little bit of green and a savory twist.  You can let these hang out until you are ready to serve.  You can always add a touch more milk and turn the heat back on the burner to warm them for service.

braising

After 30 minutes or so have passed, go ahead and taste the liquid in your greens and adjust the seasoning if needed.  If you like it sweeter, you can add a bit of sugar or more maple sugar.  If you want it spicier, go ahead and add more red pepper or more jalapeno juice.

At this point, we added our turnips greens too.

add turnip greens

Let the greens cook another 15 – 20 minutes and taste them.  You want the greens to still have texture, but not be too tough or bitter.  Also, adjust seasoning again to your liking.  Allow the greens to cook until you are happy with the texture and flavor.

They should look like this:

braised greens

Dark and luscious.

For the chops…

raw chops

Choose thin, center-cut, bone-in pork chops for this dish.  They cook up quickly and the marbling provides great juiciness.

To create the pistachio crust:

greds for crust

1 Cup roasted, unsalted pistachios (These nuts have lots of protein, antioxidants, and help to lower cholesterol!)

1 t dried thyme

1 t dried oregano

1 t paprika

1 t granulated garlic

1/2 t salt

several grinds freshly cracked black pepper

pistachios in food pro

Place all of those ingredients in a small food processor and pulse to combine.  Then, whir for a few seconds to create a crumb-like texture.

pistachios crumbled

Then, taste the mixture just to make sure your salt level is solid.

pistachios on plate

Pour your crumbs onto a large plate and grab some whole grain mustard.  The beads within the mustard help the crust to stick to the chops.

slathered and getting crusted

Season both sides of your chops lightly with salt and pepper.  Then, slather both sides of your pork chops with a thin layer of mustard. Use your hands.  It’s fun!  Press each side of your pork chops into the nut mixture, and make sure to coat the edges too.  Then, set your pork chops on a plate and let them sit for at least 5 – 10 minutes.

chops coated

You want to give the crust time to become one with the mustard.  (I have made the mistake of not letting the chops sit…and the crust fell off during the cooking process and it was super, duper sad.)

Allllright!!  Make sure you’ve got everything else ready to go before you start heating a pan to cook your pork chops, because these take mere minutes to cook.

Apparently, it happened so quickly, that we didn’t even take any photos while they were in the pan.  What?!?!?  Haha.  Seriously.  Bad blogger!  Bad!

So, heat a large skillet (nonstick seems to work best) with a good layer of canola oil to medium/ medium-high heat.  Wait until the oil is hot!  You can test it by dropping in a piece of pistachio.  If the oil doesn’t start sizzling, don’t put those chops in yet!  When the oil is ready, place your chops in the pan- in 2 batches if necessary, so that you don’t crowd the pan.  Cook each pork chop for about 3 minutes on the first side, or until that side is a beautiful golden brown.  Then, carefully flip the pork chop.  I used tongs for this job.  Cook another couple minutes on the second side, and have a thermometer handy.  Once the thickest part of the pork chop reaches 145° and the crust is golden brown, remove the chop to a plate.  Allow the pork chops to rest for about 5 minutes before serving.

last composed plate

Make a bed of your beautiful, orange puree.  Then, use a slotted spoon to scoop some greens onto your plate, being certain to get some bacon and apples on there!  Nestle your pork chop onto your puree.  And brace yourself for something fabulous!!!!!

Mmm, mmm, mmm.  The crisp outside crust of pork chop is wonderful- and the flavor?  Divine.  Roasty, rich nuttiness mixed with the thyme and oregano, which mellow and deliver, even in those few minutes of cooking time.  The fat that runs through the pork makes you feel like you’re being a little bit bad- but, there are so many positives in this dish- I say, it’s a-okay to have a little bit o’ fat.  It melts right in your mouth!  The greens were awesome!!!!!!!!  Something about the smoky, saltiness of the bacon and the tartness from the cider and the sweetness from the apples and the maple syrup…plus the spiciness of the peppers and tang from the vinegar.  Y’all, it is a magical marriage of flavors that will even cause collard-haters to swoon.  And I love that sweet potato carrot puree.  It’s not overly sweet, honestly.  You can really taste what the vegetables have to offer in a smooth, warming way.  The cinnamon and nutmeg provide just enough earthiness and the butter and milk, just enough richness.  The components mix so well together in this dish.  You want to slide your bites of pork right through the puree on the way to your mouth.  And you will naturally follow that bite with a scoop of greens.  Mmm.  AND- oddly enough, these pork chops reheat amazingly.  Bonus!

Man.  Now I wish I still had some leftovers in my fridge.  I’ll have to cook it up again soon!  And I hope that you will try this meal out too.  It’s a great one for a cold, January day.  Warm up your house with those collard greens on the stove.  And feel good about giving your body lots of nutrients in a perfectly delicious way.

Well, it’s weekend time at last.  And I am off to enjoy some birthday time with an OLD and dear friend.

I thank you for being here.  And I am thankful that I can still be here blogging up a little storm in my very own way.

Happy cooking and eating to you,

ashli

 

 

 

 

 

Comment w/ Facebook

  1. Hi Ashli! I am glad you blog was saved. My husband and I have been following your blog since we subscribed to the Jackson Lowe Vegetable Farm CSA. We have tried and enjoyed so many of your recipes through the months. You have great photography, vivid description of flavor, and ingredients in your recipes that I have always radiated towards. Thanks for being inspiring to our lives!

    Reply

    • Hi, Maggie! I am thrilled to hear from you. It brings me great happiness to know that you have tried and enjoyed so many of my recipes. Yay! I am also ecstatic that the blog still lives! I’ll continue to share the love and grin often knowing that you and your husband are out there reading and cooking along with me. Cheers, and thanks so much for the feedback. ashli

      Reply

  2. […] this year’s Thanksgiving meal.  I’ll use apple cider and some peeled diced apples to braise my collard greens.  And for added depth, I’m going to mix in two kinds of kale and giant local brussel sprout […]

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