Three Little Words

Now that I’ve got great bread down to four ingredients, flour, instant or bread machine yeast, salt, and water, I’m thinking about other ways to make my domestic life simpler yet richer. And three little words seem to be doing all the heavy lifting.  Which three words?  Read on.

In writing a story for Natural Awakenings Magazine on “Coming Home to Yourself” on creating a home that truly reflects who you are, I really thought about the advice of interior designer Alexandra Stoddard.

In her book Feeling at Home, Stoddard lists 15 elements that contribute to the emotional intelligence of a home:  light, a view outside, color, comfortable furniture, change (periodic rearrangement of elements), privacy, fresh air, nature, beauty, art, order, a working kitchen, a home library and favorite objects.

Order, Nature, Beauty. . . and Apples!
I can’t work on all 15 at once, but I can tackle three.  So my “three little words” for this month are order, nature, and beauty.  Preparing doughs for cooking classes means a constant mess in the kitchen—flour seems to go everywhere—so I need to keep things tidy.  In the fall, I’m reminded anew of the natural beauty here in the Midwest, so I’ll probably gather those beautiful lime green hedge apples or Osage oranges that look so fabulous massed in a bowl. They’re free for the taking.  Then, there are throw pillows and table skirts to switch out from summer to fall as the seasons turn yet again.

This fresh energy comes from a complete change of pace this weekend. A day out in the country always seems to clear the brain, as did today’s trek to Alldredge Orchards in Platte County, Missouri . The skies changed from tumultuous to sunny as I drove the winding country roads past gnarled vineyards, golden soybean fields, and green-leaved trees that are just beginning to sport their fall foliage.  My friend Tina, her husband Tim, and I trekked through the orchard and picked apples right off the tree to take home.

Now that I’ve got these apples, I want to do something simply delicious with them.  Eating them fresh is certainly the easiest, but I also love to grill apples with squash and pork tenderloin or chops for a great autumn meal. What’s really “alfresco” about this is that not only do you get to be outdoors in the fresh air, but you also cook everything outside, so  you keep the order in your kitchen (and if you’re really thinking, you send your significant other out to the grill). You picked the apples from nature, and the dish is a thing of beauty.  Three little words can take you far.

Grilled Pork Chops with Squash, Apples, and Cider-Bourbon Jus

The flavors in this dish go together so well that everyone at the table will belong to the Clean Plate Club. For easy grilling, microcook the squash until it’s almost done, then give it a little char on the grill to finish. Golden Delicious apples work great for quick grilling because they’re naturally sweeter with a softer texture than apples like Jonathan or Granny Smith.

Serves 4.
Cider-Bourbon Jus
1 cup cider or apple juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon bourbon or rum
Salt and white pepper to taste

4 Golden Delicious apples, tops & bottoms trimmed off
2 Acorn squash, halved horizontally, seeds removed, and microcooked on HIGH for 8 minutes
4 boneless pork loin chops, cut ¾-inch thick
Salt and white pepper to taste

1. To make the Cider-Bourbon Jus, bring the cider to a boil over high heat in a saucepan. Let it cook for 10 to 15 minutes or until it has reduced to ½ cup. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter and bourbon. Season to taste. Transfer 1/3 cup to a small ramekin and set the remaining jus aside.

2. Prepare a hot fire in a grill. Oil a perforated grill rack and have it ready by the grill.

3. While the grill is heating, slice the partially cooked squash into ¾-inch rings and place on a baking sheet. Brush each ring with a little of the jus, season to taste with salt and white pepper, then rearrange into stacks. Slice each apple into 4 horizontal slices, then use a paring knife to remove the core in each slice. Place the apple rings on the baking sheet and brush each with a little of the jus. On a separate baking sheet, place the pork chops and brush both sides with the last of the jus in the ramekin. Sprinkle each chop with salt and white pepper to taste.

4. At the grill, place the apple rings on the prepared perforated grill rack. Place the grill rack on the grill, close the lid, and grill for 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the apple slices with grill tongs, close the lid, and grill for 2 to 3 minutes more or until the apple rings are marked and they “give” when gently squeezed with the grill tongs. Transfer the apple rings to the baking sheet and place the squash rings on the grill rack. Close the lid and grill for 4 minutes, turn and grill for 3 to 4 minutes more or until the squash rings are marked and cooked through. Transfer to the baking sheet. Remove the perforated grill rack. Place the pork chops on the grill and grill for 7 ½ minutes, turning once.

To serve, arrange the squash and apple rings around the pork and drizzle everything with the reserved jus.


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