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I’ve discovered a terrific stuffing for a pork shoulder roast. It’s made of apples, bacon, butter, mushrooms, onions, sage, a pinch of sugar and a touch of vinegar. The combination is from a recipe for a pork loin roast that I clipped from Saveur magazine several years ago and now have adapted for a piece of rolled and tied pork shoulder.

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There was a fair amount of preparation work to do for the stuffing: slice a medium onion, slice two ounces of mushrooms, chop a teaspoon of sage leaves, chop a thick slice of bacon; peel, core, and slice an apple, and toss the slices in a bowl with just a little sugar. Tom, my obliging knife man, did most of that work, leaving only the apple for me. He may have been thinking of the apple Eve gave Adam.

Well, that was fair enough. On to the cooking.

To begin, you crisp the bacon in a skillet, add the apples, and sauté them in the bacon fat until tender.
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Remove the apples and bacon to a bowl, melt a generous tablespoon of butter in the skillet, sauté the onions in it, add the mushrooms, and continue cooking until everything is tender. (The green bits you see below are scallions, which I used instead of yellow onions.)
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Raise heat, add two tablespoons of vinegar and stir until it evaporates. (The recipe calls for cider vinegar; I had sweet apple vinegar, which worked just as well.) Stir in the chopped sage, salt, and pepper.
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Finally, return the apples and bacon to the skillet, mix everything together, and set the pan aside to cool.
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For the recipe’s intended loin roast, a pocket is to be opened down the middle of each segment that will become a chop when the roast is carved, and as much of the stuffing as will fit is put in, with any excess being strewn around the meat in the roasting pan. For my piece of shoulder, I untied the strings, made one deep cut down the middle of the meat, filled the opening with all the stuffing, and retied the piece.
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I salted and peppered the meat, poured about half a cup of water in the roasting pan, and put it in a 350° oven for about two hours, basting occasionally. The little roast plumped up and browned beautifully . . .
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. . . though I must confess that it sliced rather messily.
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Nevertheless, it made for gorgeous eating: There was a wonderful exchange of flavors between the sweet, juicy pork and the varied medley of stuffing ingredients. This is a combination I look forward to making many times again.
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P.S. Jennifer, our dinner guest, looking on as Tom and I prepared to serve the meal, sneakily took a picture of me as I was taking a picture of the meat. She caught me leaning forward: I assure you my head and hands are not as much too big for the rest of my body as they appear here!
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Autumn is here, and it’s apple season again. The stands in my Greenmarket are spilling over with the abundant new crop. I counted two dozen varieties in a recent visit: from old standards like Cortland, Empire, Greening, Macintosh, Northern Spy, Rome, and Winesap, to some I’d never seen before, like Spartan, Snapdragon, Opalescent, and Zester. The Johnny Appleseeds of the world have been busy indeed.

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Just walking past the fragrant heaps gave me visions of apple pies and tarts, apple crisps and crumbles, apples baked and sautéed, apple fritters . . . all things I’ll be making in the fullness of time. But sometimes my apple craving can be satisfied with something much more modest than those treats: a simple apple compote.

The compote recipe I use is from my mother’s 1937 copy of America’s Cook Book. The recipe isn’t in a desserts chapter: It’s from “Fruits,” the very first recipe section in the book – which also includes recipes for avocados, kumquats, mangoes, papayas, persimmons, and quinces. At 1,000 pages, it’s an amazing book for its time.

For a little dessert for two, one recent evening, I made a compote with two crisp Braeburn apples.

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I peeled, quartered, and cored them, and dropped them into a bowl of cold water to wait while I prepared their syrup.
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In a medium pot I boiled a cup of water with half a cup of sugar for three minutes. The drained apple quarters went into the pot along with a small cinnamon stick.
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The next instruction was to cover the pot and simmer until the apples were transparent, which always takes longer than I expect it to. These particular apples weren’t very willing to cooperate at all, so when they began thinking about turning into applesauce I had to stop while they were only mildly translucent.
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Drained, they were very tender and not too messy looking. But next time I’ll try a different kind of apple, to see if the pieces will hold their shape better.
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To provide a bit of luxury, I topped our portions of compote with modest scoops of gelato. That’s stracciatella on the left, pistachio on the right. A sweet, light finish for a weekday dinner.

Tom and I are beginning to feel one of our periodic urges to revisit Rome. We’ve loved that city for many years, one major reason being its food. We haven’t yet planned our next trip there, but the impulse – along with a rack of pork spareribs fresh from the butcher – led me to make a characteristically delicious Roman dish for dinner one recent evening.
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Spuntature al pomodoro
, spareribs in tomato sauce, is from Michele Scicolone’s cookbook 1,000 Italian Recipes. It’s her version of a dish she’d had at Enoteca Corsi, a long-established wine bar and osteria in Rome’s historic center. Even at first reading, I recognized the recipe’s unmistakable Roman style and simplicity. It would be just the thing for us.

Four meaty individual ribs cut from the sparerib rack made a generous portion for two, and enough for a half quantity of the recipe.
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My mini-food processor did a quick job of mincing carrot, onion, celery, and garlic for the sauce. A battuto like this is the foundation of many good down-home Italian preparations.

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In a Dutch oven I browned the ribs in olive oil. Just a little oil, since the heat quickly began to melt down their own flavorful fats.
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I removed the ribs to a plate and sprinkled on salt and pepper. After spooning off some of the rendered fat, I added the battuto to the pot and sautéed it for a few minutes. (The dark green bits in the photo are basil – a last-minute substitute for sage, which I’d forgotten that I had no more of. It was OK in the sauce, but sage would have been better.)
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After deglazing the pan with white wine, I put the spareribs back in, along with a cup of pureed, canned, plum tomatoes and additional salt and pepper. I covered the pan and let it simmer, turning the ribs occasionally, for an hour and a half, until the pork was almost falling off the bones.
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For most of that cooking time, we were tantalized by the rich aromas emanating from the kitchen. And at the dinner table, every taste of the succulent spareribs activated our fondest palatal memories of Rome. We’d better start consulting calendars and airline schedules!

Julia Child has let me down! Always before, her recipes have unfolded for me in smooth, sensible stages, the ingredients behaving exactly as described, and the results – if not as perfect as hers – totally satisfying. But I’ve just spent an exasperating afternoon with one of the so-called master recipes in Julia’s The Way to Cook.

That morning, I was looking for something new to make with a chicken that I’d just taken out of the freezer. The book’s Ragout of Chicken and Onions in Red Wine had an encouraging list of ingredients, and the dish looked very attractive in the photograph:
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The recipe calls for three pounds of chicken parts for four servings, but there’d be only two of us for dinner. To avoid having to defrost the whole chicken in order to cut it up, I used my ever-reliable rubber mallet and Chinese cleaver to whomp the bird neatly in two.
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One half went straight back into the freezer. When the other half had defrosted, I cut it up and proceeded to the cooking.

The first step was to brown the chicken pieces in butter and oil. Now, I’ve been browning chicken all my adult life, including for many previous Julia Child recipes, so imagine my surprise to find that what I do is apparently no longer The Way to Cook.

I was to dry the chicken well (OK), get butter and oil very hot in a sauté pan (OK), add the chicken pieces, leaving air space between each of them (Huh?), and turn them every 20 seconds (What?) for about 5 minutes, when they’d be colored “a fairly even walnut brown.” (Oh yeah?) My chicken pieces, which required two batches when spaced, tried to come apart under so much handling and barely browned at all, even after 10 minutes.
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But all right, let’s go on with the recipe. I removed the chicken to a dish, added 1½ cups of chopped onion to the pan, and sautéed it until it softened and browned a bit. (A mistake here: the onion was supposed to be sliced. As things turned out, it made no difference at all.)
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Next was to transfer the onions to a sieve set over a bowl to drain off “excess fat.” Then – leaving the rest of the fat in the pan – put back the chicken pieces and the onions. Since I’d be defatting the whole sauce later, that onion treatment made no sense to me: It seemed a totally unnecessary step. But I did it.

Other ingredients went into the pan at the same time as the chicken and onions. A large garlic clove, “puréed.” (Purée one single clove? I used a garlic press.) Salt, pepper, and a pinch of thyme. Half a large tomato, chopped. 1½ cups of red wine; and enough chicken broth to barely cover the chicken pieces.
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It all had to simmer, covered, for 20 minutes “or until the chicken is tender when pressed.” I guess testing with the tines of a fork is not The Way to Cook any more, either.

Again, I took the chicken pieces out of the pan. I tasted the cooking liquid for strength and seasoning. It seemed fine to me, so I strained it into a pot, pressing hard on the solids to preserve their juices.
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I was reluctant to see them go. I often like a little texture in my sauces, and the book’s picture does show onions scattered among the chicken pieces.

Now I had to thoroughly degrease the strained liquid. That’s a task I hate, particularly when the layer of fat is so shallow that it can’t be spooned off without taking good liquid with it. This time I was reduced to drawing pieces of paper towel across the surface to absorb the fat – an expedient I suspect may also not qualify as The Way to Cook. Also, that was well-flavored fat, which I was sorry to lose.

Next was to thicken the sauce with beurre manié. Julia is precise about the technique: Off heat, you must whisk, not stir, the butter-flour paste into the sauce and bring it to a boil, whereupon it will thicken. Not for me, it didn’t. I repeated the process with a little more beurre manié. Still hardly any change.
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Well, I said to myself, it’s still early in the day. The sauce will sit at the back of the stove for a while and then be reheated with the chicken at dinner time. Maybe it’ll thicken by then.

Actually, it did, to some degree, but less than I would have liked. Not being a fan of curly parsley, I skipped the recipe’s serving decoration.
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So, how was it? The best I can say is Acceptable. The sauce tasted good, if a little acidic from the large quantity of wine. But the chicken itself hadn’t acquired any flavor from the other ingredients, which seemed a pity given all that effort. Fortunately, it was a tasty free-range bird to begin with. But I’ll never make the dish again: It’s too fussy for a family meal and not good enough for guests.

One last cavil about this recipe. Notice the color of my sauce: It’s purplish. That’s what happens when you cook with a lot of red wine. (Think coq au vin or boeuf bourguignon.) It does not produce the glowing golden brown of the book’s photo. Caveat coquus.

Given how I revere Julia Child, I do wonder how closely she herself was involved in creating the content of this book.

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One of the great culinary joys of autumn is the appearance of fresh Hatch green chiles. New Mexico chile pepper varieties can carry that name only when grown in that state’s Hatch Valley. It apparently has a terroir that gives the peppers their distinctive, highly prized flavor.

Fresh Hatch chiles aren’t easy to find in Manhattan, but our Indian specialty store Kalustyan carries them for a few weeks in fall, most years. Tom, a devoted fan of all kinds of chile, took a walk there this week just for the Hatches and came home with the two pounds pictured above.

Purchasing them was just the beginning of a serious labor of love on his part. Hatch Chiles have to be roasted, peeled, and seeded before they can be used, and their long slender shape makes them much harder to roast on stove burners than Bell or even poblano peppers.

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I understand some people succeed in roasting peppers in the oven, but these had very thin flesh, and we feared it would turn to mush before the skins blackened, even at 500°.  We probably don’t get the very best New Mexico chiles here, nor are they very fresh-picked by the time they get here, but if you’re a chilehead, you work with what you’ve got. So, painstakingly, a batch at a time, Tom roasted all the chiles on the stovetop and spread them out to cool.
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Then, of course, they had to be peeled and seeded. That inordinately tedious, messy job took almost as much time as the roasting did. I didn’t have the heart to photograph him at it.

At last, he was ready to make a bowl of chile. He knew exactly what kind he wanted. Quite a few years ago, when we were traveling in southeast Arizona, his lunch at a little roadside café somewhere between Sonoita and Cave Creek Canyon was a bowl of smooth green chile, served just with crackers. No beans, no meat, no discernible other vegetables. Hot as blazes, but he loved it. Even I, whose feelings about chile are far milder than his, liked the basic flavor. When we returned home, he recreated it as nearly as he could. I recorded his recipe, which we’ve made a few times since with Hatch chiles whenever they were available. And would again this day, for dinner.

I pureed ½ pound of the chiles in the food processor while Tom softened ¼ cup of chopped onions in olive oil. We added the chiles to the onion pot along with salt, pepper, ½ teaspoon of oregano and ½ teaspoon of ground roasted cumin seeds. After a few minutes, we stirred in a cup of chicken broth and simmered, partially covered, for about 45 minutes, until the puree had reduced to a good density.
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The first taste out of the pot nearly burned a hole in my tongue. These were extremely hot chiles! Even Tom, who likes foods much hotter than I do, was taken aback by the amount of heat that flared in the mouth after the initial good vegetable flavor. Clearly, this was not going to be a dinner dish that we could consume neat, crackers or no crackers. However, we’d been planning to serve rice and beans that evening anyway, so we just added a small sauteed pork cutlet to the menu and took our chances with smallish bowls of the chile.
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That was serendipitous. Even though initially you couldn’t dip up a spoonful and swallow it without pain, that chile made common cause with every bite of the meat, beans, or rice that we took. A few drops of the chile mixed in with any forkful led us to put a bigger dollop on the next forkful. It got better and better, and we ate more and more of it. The chile seemed to be training our palates to appreciate it. And we definitely did.

By the end of the meal, we agreed that those peppers had been worth all the effort they took. Easy for me to say, who did so little of the work! But he was entirely pleased to have done it all. We look forward to experiments with the rest of the roasted Hatch peppers, now frozen for future use, as well as a few improvisations with the small amount of made-up chile that we didn’t finish. For instance, a few days later, some of it quite nicely jazzed up a tasty appetizer dish of nachos.

Last week Tom and I were away on a birding trip to Grand Manan Island. The birds were great, the food disappointing: The inn where our group took all its meals offered no local seafood and no seasonal produce. Once back home, I immediately stocked up on eggplant, peppers, onions, new potatoes, tomatoes, and zucchini at my greenmarket.
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At last, vegetables! Though I’d intended to start by making a big, luscious, layered ratatouille, I didn’t feel up to so labor-intensive a job that day.

Instead I turned to a much simpler mixed vegetable recipe in Ed Giobbi’s modest little 1971 book Italian Family Cooking. My copy – a first edition, first printing – cost me $8.95 when it first came out, and I’ve now seen it listed online for $60. Makes me feel very canny, that does.

The vegetables for Giobbi’s Verdura Mista #2 do require a fair amount of preparation, for which Tom (my bespoke knife man) and I worked together, me washing and peeling, he slicing and chopping. Giobbi is very relaxed about instructions, not saying how thick to slice things or how small to chop them. He encourages readers to cook with a free hand.

Here are our finished ingredients: one small cubed eggplant, two sliced zucchini, two sliced green peppers, three cups of seeded and chopped tomatoes, and the equivalents of two medium potatoes and two medium onions.
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This was a quantity intended to serve 6 to 8, but, as I said, we were starved for vegetables.

The cooking, from that point, was almost effortless. First, in a very large pot, I warmed four tablespoons of olive oil and let the eggplant and zucchini briefly make its acquaintance. They quickly absorbed it all.
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The next instruction was “Add rest of ingredients.” Which, in addition to the remaining vegetables, were salt, pepper, and several leaves of basil (defrosted, in my case).
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All I had to do then was partially cover the pot and stir everything around occasionally until the potatoes were tender. At first, the vegetables exuded a great deal of liquid, which I thought would have to be boiled down at the end, but after 30 minutes and a few small adjustments to the heat and the pot covering, everything was ready, with just a modicum of liquid remaining.
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Our dinner that evening was a thick, rare lamb chop apiece and great scoops of the vegetables, with chunks of crusty baguette to soak up the juices. The mixture had all the good flavors of ratatouille but with more bright acidity and less of the weight that initial, separate sautéeing of each vegetable would have provided. It was pure ambrosia! Just to complete the summer feel, we drank a simple Beaujolais, which loved the company we put it in.
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We managed to get through more than half the big bowlful of vegetables that evening. The rest were saved to fill individual vegetable tartlets, which I’ve frozen for future first courses. A few months from now, those summery flavors will help appease our mid-winter doldrums.

A few weeks ago I wrote about making a very good dish I’d rediscovered while reorganizing my big recipe binder. This week I made another one like that.

I don’t know where or when I found the recipe for Pork Chops with Coriander-Cumin Spice Rub. Though I must have made it once, since I’d made a few notes on the ingredient list of the clipping (which is printed in a font I don’t recognize from any magazine or newspaper), I had no recollection of it. And when I read the recipe carefully, I was dubious about a few things.
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The note saying I’d used fresh butt – i.e., boneless pork shoulder – rather than regular pork chops didn’t surprise me. I’m not good at cooking pork chops: too often they come out dry and tough, so I sometimes replace standard loin chops with equally thick slices of fresh butt. Its interstitial fat melts and dissipates when gently cooked, keeping the loose-textured meat moist and tender.

The rest of the ingredients were simple enough: cumin seeds, coriander seeds, olive oil, garlic, and a lime.
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The first thing I had to do was toast cumin and coriander seeds for the spice rub. From making Indian recipes, I’ve come to love the rich scent of toasting cumin.
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Next was to grind the seeds coarsely, which I did in a mortar and pestle.
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The texture of the ground spices worried me a little, because all that rough fiber would have to be left on the meat right to the end. I feared it might be unpleasant to chew. But I mixed it with olive oil and minced garlic and rubbed it into both sides of the pork, as directed.
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Then came the frying – to be done with just a little oil in a very hot skillet for just 5 to 7 minutes on each side. That worried me too: Would the high heat burn the spices or toughen the meat? Would the brief time be enough to release the meat’s fats and to cook it through?
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Happily, the answers were No, No and Yes, Yes.
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I still thought we’d have to scrape off the spices on our plates, but once the meat was sliced, we found the coating had softened enough to be eaten, and its amount was fine. The pork was tender, succulent, and lightly imbued with the spices. A squeeze of lime juice perfectly finished the blend of flavors. One more recipe not to forget again!
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