Verdammt gut

You may remember (but you probably don’t, or if you did it would be weird) a comment I made a few months ago about Germany. German, to more specific. I considered myself quite the ‘language buff’ in high school and college. For a while, my intended major was business with minors in French and Spanish. I had dreams of being a big-time international businesswoman, racking up miles like George Clooney and living out of hotels with only the best room service, a constant supply of freshly-made cookies, 700-count sheets, and a suite with French doors opening out to the sun each morning.

That lasted approximately 1 semester. I hated economics, I did not like the idea of constant groupwork and presentations using pie charts, and the business building was slam on the other side of campus from my other classes. I liked the language coursework though, and I had full intentions of sticking with those minors until I took that damn genetics class.

I took both Spanish and French in high school, and to be totally honest, they were both easy to me, though it was probably because our classes were full of hoodlums (myself included) who acted up all the time, deterring Señora Williford and Madame Whatever-her-name-was from teaching too much anyway.

For whatever reason, I left the Spanish behind (which I now regret) and continued with French for a couple of semesters at college. Once I challenged myself to take French AND German at the same time. Ballsy, yes; smart, no.

Decidedly, the German language was not for me. I couldn’t get the difference between der and das and the crazy crazy noun inflections; most of all, I couldn’t get anywhere close to sounding German, and when I tried I was too busy laughing at myself (I also would not make a good actress, I know).

The only phrase I could say and know it was right was, “Ich komme aus Bombay” which translates to “I come from Bombay”. Why did I say that?! Who knows – we were told to pick names and countries of origin, so I thought being from India sounded pretty rad for someone in German class. It was short-lived, all of it.

Ironically enough, the Hubs is of 100% German descent, but I didn’t hold that against him when we met. Furthermore, I’d probably consider German food to be my absolute least favorite type of food (at least of what I can think of now). And don’t take that the wrong way – I like German food. Bratwurst? Mustard? Pretzels? Let’s not forget the bier und Rießlingen (beer & Riesling). And when, thanks to the CSA, I found myself with some red cabbage and pork chops, I couldn’t get the German themed combo out of my mind. I knew the cabbage needed a good braise, and both cabbage and pork needed more pork – bacon. It seemed to be a match made in heaven, and it was.

That said, I racked my wee ol’ brain and conjured up one more German phrase to add to the only other one I know: “Dies ist gut. Dies ist verdammt gut.”

Pork Chops with Braised Red Cabbage
Adapted from Gourmet, 2006 via Epicurious.com, serves 4

time commitment: 45 minutes, mostly active time

printable version

ingredients
6 bacon slices, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small red cabbage, halved lengthwise, cored, and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 granny smith apple, sliced into thin sticks
1/4 c sherry vinegar
3/4 c water
2 T sugar
1/2 t caraway seeds
1 1/4 t salt
3/4 t black pepper
1 T canola oil
4 (1-inch-thick) bone-in rib pork chops (2 1/2 to 3 lb total)

instructions
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 450 F.

Cook bacon in a 4- to 5-quart wide heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, and transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Heat remaining bacon fat over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then cook onion, stirring occasionally, until it begins to turn golden, about 2 minutes. Add cabbage and apples and turn with tongs until coated with fat. Stir in sherry vinegar, water, sugar, caraway seeds, 3/4 t salt, and 1/4 t pepper and braise cabbage over moderately low heat, covered, stirring occasionally, until tender, 25 to 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, pat pork chops dry and sprinkle both sides with remaining salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown seasoned chops, turning over once, 5 minutes total, and transfer to a shallow baking pan (1 inch deep). Roast chops in oven until thermometer inserted horizontally 2 inches into center of a chop (do not touch bone) registers 145 F, 5 to 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, stir half of bacon into cabbage, then finely chop remaining bacon for sprinkling.

Let chops stand in pan, loosely covered with foil, 5 minutes. Serve chops over cabbage, with any pan juices spooned over and sprinkled with bacon.

Banh & Me

If you can believe it, we seem to have a difficult time figuring out what to have for lunch on the weekend. The weekdays are generally covered since I cook Sunday thru Wednesday, but after a Friday and/or Saturday night out, or even order-in sushi or Thai, Saturday and Sunday can get a little dicey.

A few months ago (maybe even a year ago), this new little Vietnamese sandwich shop opened up across the street, a shop previously hosting a ‘gourmet kitchen’ where one could buy or make meals using fresh, top-of-the-line ingredients. It was obviously a place I’d never been to, but given the economy and the location I wasn’t surprised it practically became a sandwich shop overnight.

Needless to say, Bon Bon quickly became my go-to for weekend lunch. The sandwiches were big enough to share, and only 4 bucks each! Plus, they serve bubble tea, which I previously traveled all the way up to Western & Addison to get. And if you’re into it, they have a ton of Vietnamese candy to try. Of course, I’ve already frequented the place a couple of times this year, and I posted a quick snippet in the  ‘Chicago Food’ section, which is a new piece I added a few weeks ago to document all of our ventures out of my kitchen ;), so check it out.

Given the ridiculously low price of Bon Bon’s sandwiches, not to mention the fact that I could literally walk to it in my PJ’s if I wanted to (yes, I do still have them on often at noon on the weekends), I never really intended to recreate their ‘bread n’ butter’ banh mi sandwiches, especially my favorite minced pork version. But as usual, there are always a slew of recipes I absolutely can’t resist in Bon Appetit, and last month a pork meatball banh mi was one of them.

It seems I am an avid fan of the meatball, no? Although the latest version was Moroccan, I also made a Mexican meatball stew a few weeks ago that was excellent, but it was too similar to the lovely ancho pork and hominy stew I posted about late last year and therefore didn’t warrant real estate here. These meatballs you see right now? Golly gee willikers, I cannot even describe to you how stupendous they are; a perfect blend of salty, spicy, sweet, so perfect I could have skewered them and eaten them all alone if I hadn’t already pre-tasted the equally perfect pickled carrot/daikon mixture and spiced mayo that would accompany them, sandwich-style.

When you put them all together, encase them in a soft but slightly toasted French baguette, it is nothing short of delightful. And if you don’t have a Vietnamese sandwich shop across the street from you, the only reason you’ll miss it is for the bubble tea.

Pork Meatball Banh Mi
Adapted from Bon Appetit, January 2010; makes 4

printable version

ingredients
hot chili mayo
2/3 c mayo
2 green onions, finely chopped
1 1/2 T sriracha

meatballs
1 lb ground pork
1/4 c finely chopped cilantro
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 green onions, finely chopped
1 T fish sauce
1.5 T sriracha
1 T sugar
2 t cornstarch
1 t freshly ground black pepper
1 t coarse kosher salt

Sandwiches
2 c coarsely grated carrots
2 c coarsely grated peeled daikon (the shredder on the food processor works like a charm here)
1/4 c unseasoned rice vinegar
1/4 c sugar
1 t coarse kosher salt
1 T Asian sesame oil
4 6-inch-long baguettes (likely cut from 1 long baguette)
4 large fresh cilantro sprigs

instructions

hot chili mayo: Stir all ingredients in small bowl. Season with salt. Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

meatballs: Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Gently mix all ingredients in large bowl. Using moistened hands and scant tablespoonful for each, roll meat mixture into 1-inch meatballs. Arrange on baking sheet. Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Sandwiches:
Toss first 5 ingredients in medium bowl. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour, tossing occasionally.

Heat sesame oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add meatballs. Sauté until brown and cooked through, turning meatballs often and lowering heat if browning too quickly, about 15 minutes. If doing in batches, keep warm in 300 F oven.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 300 F. Cut each baguette or baguette piece horizontally in half. Pull out enough bread from each bread half to leave 1/2-inch-thick shell. Toast bread for 5 minutes. Spread hot chili mayo over each bread shell. Fill each with 1/4 of meatballs. Drain pickled vegetables; place atop meatballs. Press on baguette tops. Garnish with cilantro.