Friday, September 16, 2011

The Power of Living

We all have our 9/11 stories. I know where I was. I remember the slow-motion of the day. And every year since, I know where I was and what I was doing on that day.

This year, I cooked.
I heart NY
I woke up at 7am to go to the grocery and Starbucks so I could be home in time to watch the event on television. I got home with enough time to put everything away, get the dogs out one more time, and get settled into the couch.

It was an emotional morning, as every September 11th is. This year, with the unveiling, it seemed more emotional. I am more determined than ever to get up there sometime within the next year. I have watched every special on television about it. I care about New York City with everything in me. The city is part of me, my love for it, exhausting at times, comes from a very real place, a place I cannot describe or put into words. It started way before I had ever visited. It started way before the internet, so New York in my mind was the only New York I knew, and I loved it. When I finally got there for the first time, it did not disappoint. It connects and inspires me.

Even if it never is my residence, my hometown will always be New York City.

After the ceremonies were gone, the television done telling us what was happening, I proceeded to get dinner ready. The roommate was working, and wouldn't be home until 8, so I had plenty of time. Good thing, because for once, I read the recipe ahead of time, and the pork had to marinate for six hours.

Pork chops.  Sans Apple Sauce
I have been throwing around the idea of making something pork (other than bacon) for a while. I never have. I keep going back and forth with it. I am kind of on the fence with pork chops. It isn't that I don't like them, it's just that I don't exactly like them. I don't know. I think they lack flavor or something. Maybe they just need a pop. I have browsed other recipes for pork. They are all huge. Pork loin, pork roast, pork expensive, pork HUMONGOUS.

Browsing the Publix ad last week, I saw that boneless pork was on sale. Ok, I got the hint. It was time to stop tossing the ball around and actually make pork. I found a recipe from my friend Chef Dennis that sounded like it actually had pop, so why not? If it is gross, well, I can always have some cereal.

For a side, I chose Macaroni and Cheese Muffins. I found these on Emily's Bites. They look amazing. And since I have had a love affair with Macaroni and cheese for, well, my whole entire life, and muffins and I are the best of friends, how could this be anything short of perfection? Mind you, these are not muffins. It is macaroni and cheese baked in a muffin pan so they look like muffins. But cute!

Ready for the oven!
I made the marinade and let it go. Sit and soak for six hours. I have never made marinade before, and although in the end it was easy, it was a lot of focus. (After all, if you mess up the marinade, you are pretty much screwed!) Focus was good, I needed the therapy of it.

Six hours later, I was ready to go!

I put the macaroni and cheese together. Another focused process! One of my favorite things about cooking is the process and the focus. I am getting more comfortable as days and dishes go by, but I am still hyper-focused on everything. It just happens when I start cooking. The zone.

As dinner was finishing, the house was smelling delicious, and it was all ready within minutes of the roommate getting home. Maybe I’m learning something about timing, too.

All in all, it was a good September 11. And I think that is what we need. Yes, we need to take time out and remember. We need to mourn for the loss. But we also need to do what gives us joy. They tried to take the joy away ten years ago, and nothing, absolutely nothing, is more powerful than living.

It has been a hard week to remember that.  Late in the evening of September 11, I learned a friend of over fifteen years had passed.  He battled stomach cancer for a long time.  And then, a few days later, my Aunt died.  The joy of living comes from the memory of those who have touched our lives, in both indirect and direct ways, of moving in spite of the desire to stand still (or curl up in bed), and do the things that bring us joy.  Honoring those who have gone before us is truely displayed by being true to ourselves.

I've been working on the list of recipes to get on this autumn.  Hopefully, I'll have a good list soon.  If you have a recipe to share, please pass it on!
Dinner is served!

Grilled Maple-Brined Pork Chops
Maple Brining Solution (for 6-8 pork chops)

6 cups Water
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 cup Maple Syrup
1/2 cup Sugar
1/4 cup Dijon Mustard
12 cloves of Garlic crushed
1/2 cup Kosher Salt or Coarse Sea Salt
1 tsp Red Pepper flakes
2 sprigs of Fresh  Rosemary (or herbs of your choice)
1.  In a large pot, combine the water, salt, brown sugar, maple syrup, sugar, vinegar, garlic, mustard and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil and remove from the heat.
2.  Let the brine cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for 1 hour.
3.  Add the pork chops to the brine and refrigerate for 7 to 8 hours, turning the chops after 4 hours. (don’t let them brine for more than 12 hours)
4.  Remove the pork chops from the brine and pat dry
5.  Lightly coat the pork chops with Olive Oil and sprinkle a liberal amount of black pepper on them.
6.  Sear the chops directly over the hottest part of the open grill for about 2 minutes on each side. Then move the chops to the medium area of the grill, cover the grill, and cook to the desired doneness.
7.  Make sure to use  an instant-read digital thermometer to check the internal temperature of the chops. A reading of 145° will give you a pink, moist chop (that temp was just approved by the federal government for pork)  If you want them more well done, let them cook until 160° but no more.
Serve the chops immediately with your favorite sides and enjoy!

Macaroni and Cheese Muffins

4 c cooked whole wheat or high fiber macaroni
1 T butter
1 T flour
1 c skim milk
1 garlic clove, minced
3 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
3 oz Gruyere cheese, shredded
1 egg
1 egg white
1 (10 oz) package of frozen chopped spinach, defrosted, drained and patted dry (or you could use 1 cup cooked fresh spinach)
Salt & pepper to taste

1.    Pre-heat the oven to 400. Lightly mist a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray and set aside.
2.    In a small sauce pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour, mixing it into the butter until thick. Stir in the milk and garlic and raise the temp to bring the mixture to just under a boil. Add the cheese and whisk mixture together until thoroughly combined into a cheese sauce.
3.    Remove the cheese sauce from heat and then mix in the egg and egg white (binding agents) until combined.
4.    In a large bowl, combine the pasta, spinach, cheese sauce, salt and pepper and mix together. Spoon the mixture evenly into the cups of your prepared muffin tin.
5.    Bake for 10-15 minutes until the tops slightly brown. Let cool 5 minutes before removing from muffin tin.



  1. Great job with the chops and those mac and cheese muffins sound delicious! Thanks so much for the mention, I hope you enjoyed the chops!

  2. Love the pork chops and mac& cheese sounds wonderful.


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