As the weather turns to autumn in the great Pacific Northwest, I can’t help but be drawn into the cooler season by the allure of fall flavors. This sentiment played big time into the recipes I chose to share with you in episode #63, Pear and Walnut Stuffed Chops. It’ll be months again before I feel like it is just too hot to run the oven, or the nights too long to enjoy hovering over the stove for a few hours. The flavors that encapsulate the autumn to me are rich roasted meats, pears, apples, plums, squash, caramel, chocolate, nuts, and of course, assertive cheeses such as bleu and chevre.
So, there I was, rolling these flavors around in my head, looking at all sorts of pictures, and pondering the produce at every farmstand and grocery store in my area. After much pondering, I decided it would be a tasty idea to stuff a pork chop with bleu cheese, walnuts, and pears. Now, what to pair with it? Hmm….how about mushrooms, squash and garlic? Butternut squash is one of my favorite foods to cook with, so that was a natural choice to include in this episode. A few nights ago I made a beef stew in a dutch oven that had too few mushrooms in it, so I still had a craving for delcious seared mushrooms. Butternut and seared mushrooms together? Perfect! All the recipe needed was a touch of acidity and sweetness to round it out-in comes Balsamic Vinegar and a touch of rosemary to bring the side to its full potential.
But what about the garlic? As you’ve noticed, I use garlic in just about every episode, so it is a tough one to feature since it is so, well, common. My hungry hubby was happy to help with this one-he was craving a buttery, garlicky rice pilaf. I pondered that for a few moments-thinking about it from a texture perspective-and then gave him a thumbs up. It has been a while since we cooked any rice pilafs on the show.
Finally, what’s for dessert? This one was a bit of a challenge. When I’m planning recipes, I really try to make it easy and inexpensive. At first I wanted to go with something chocolatey, because I love chocolate. Then I realized all of the ideas I had would add up quickly at the grocery store. If you’re buying ingredients for the pork chops, you’ll likely have plenty of bleu cheese and walnuts to work with. Why not turn the featured ingredients into a dessert? Pears, bleu cheese, and walnuts are a lovely trio that do well on both the sweet and savory side of the kitchen. Then I saw several pictures of pear topped tarts and cakes and settled upon a cheesecake with walnut crust, topped with softened, buttery, brandied pears.
Testing the recipes is one of my favorite activities. It’s wild, experimental and sometimes very messy and disorderly! The first run of the pork chops was disapointing. I didn’t marinate the chops or add any salt or sugar to the stuffing and the result was well, unimpressive. #1. The pork needed a marinade. #2. The filling was dull. The bleu cheese did not add enough saltiness nor did the pears add enough sweetness. Clearly a bit of sugar, acidity and salt were needed. So I added a touch of salt, sugar and a splash of cider vinegar to bring the recipe out of its shell.
Personal bleu cheesecakes were awesome from the beginning. Even in it’s debut appearance it was pretty, yummy, and straightforward. Originally I baked the dessert in a small tart pan, but after eating a couple of slices, I decided that the filling to crust ratio needed to be higher. I opted to bake two individual cheesecakes in small pyrex bowls. Pyrex bowls are the perfect match for Date-Night cooking as they are widely available, cheap, and the perfect portion for one. That solved the problem of the filling to crust ratio, and I must say, everything else about the recipe was solid from conception.
Thanks for reading, and enjoy our latest episode, #63 Pear and Walnut stuffed Chops.