fennel

winter citrus salad with spiced pork chops

Why hello there friends! I’ve missed you!

winter citrus salad with seared pork chops | Brooklyn Homemaker

I know it’s been a long while since I shared anything with you here, and for that I’m sorry. This post has been a long time coming.

I have a little story for you.
I bought a journal the other day.
I had a journal when I was a teenager, but that was kept for reasons of pure juvenile vanity. This new journal is to be kept for a different purpose altogether.

Words like “overwhelmed”, “frightened”, and “anxious” can’t even begin to describe how I’ve been feeling for the past few months, so I’ve decided to keep a record of the things that are happening as they happen. I don’t want to forget how everything really came to pass if and when the “alternative facts” outweigh the real ones. It may be important some day.

Hold on to your butts folks, I’m about to do the thing that a food blogger is never ever supposed to do under any circumstances. I’m going to talk about politics.

GASP!

winter citrus salad with seared pork chops | Brooklyn Homemaker

Food bloggers are supposed to make light and bubbly conversation with their readers, detailing nostalgic stories from their childhoods, or relating amusing little anecdotes from daily life. We’re supposed to share our lives, but in a way that’s innocuous and easy to digest. The goal of a food blogger is to write mouth-watering recipes, amuse our readers, and hopefully grow our readership. Therefore, any subject that could be construed as polarizing is at odds with our aim to gain followers, and is usually off-limits. Under normal circumstances, we spend our days baking cakes and turning zucchini into spaghetti; we’re not “journalists”, nor are we policy experts or political science majors. That doesn’t mean however, that we don’t have opinions or principles, nor does it mean that our votes or our stakes in the management of our country count any less than anyone else’s.

I’ve been chewing away at all this in my head for the past few weeks and months, and in the end I’ve decided that some things are just too important to keep quiet about. If you find my views and convictions to be “offensive” and you decide not to keep reading my blog or cooking my recipes, I’ll just have to accept that. After all, we’re talking about pork chops and cupcakes here, while people’s lives, livelihoods, and lifestyles are on the line. If you’re a regular reader, you should at least know by now that I’m a man and I’m married to another man, so it should really be no surprise to you that I’m nervous about how our lives may be affected under a president who’s pandering to the most narrow-minded, prejudiced, and hateful among us.

winter citrus salad with seared pork chops | Brooklyn Homemaker

I realize that there are many people in the world who are thrilled with the outcome of the recent election, and are pleased as punch that campaign promises are being kept. If you’re one of those people, please understand that I’m speaking my mind today for a reason. I’m not just a “sore loser” or a “snowflake” as I’ve been called recently on social media. I’m speaking out because there’s so much at stake, and I fear the consequences of intolerant, inexperienced, irresponsible leadership.

Like it or not, we now have a man in power who cares more about money and his own ego than he cares about the country he’s pledged to lead. Say what you will about our last president, I know he wasn’t perfect, but he was a thoughtful man with integrity and grace, and a man who cared deeply about our country. Our current president is immature, irrational, erratic, and is easily influenced by those willing to stoke his ego or line his pockets. He’s proven that any billionaire willing to vocally praise him will be rewarded with a cabinet appointment, no matter how inexperienced and ill-suited they are to the job.

His closest adviser and Chief Strategist is an unapologetic racist and spokesperson for the alt-right (neo-nazi) movement, who once said in an interview, “I’m a Leninist. Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”
I mean, how terrifying is that? The president’s (alt-)right hand man, who knows more about politics and policy than he does himself, has proudly declared that he wants to destroy our country as we know it. With his mentorship, our president is actively working to divide our country against itself. Rich against poor, old against young, straight against gay, native-born citizen against immigrant, man against feminist, and white Christian against any and all other creeds and colors. He’s essentially waging a war against anyone in this country who isn’t a rich, straight, white, conservative, Christian, and it scares the crap out of the rest of us.

Since we’re on the subject of war by the way, his foreign policy decisions are irresponsible and ill-informed at best, and the disrespectful way he speaks with world leaders and long-time allies is downright dangerous. I don’t want to sound over-dramatic, but this man could be putting our lives and safety at serious risk.

winter citrus salad with seared pork chops | Brooklyn Homemaker

For me, the first days after the election were a mix of horror, depression, and cautious hope that maybe this man might not be as bad as he made himself out to be. Maybe he really was just trying to appeal to the worst in us because he knew it could work, but when it came to leadership, maybe he’d be… okay-ish? Of course, a lot has happened in a short time, and my worst fears have been recognized. He’s made it abundantly clear that things are going to be very, very scary for the next few years.

I have so many unanswered questions right now, and I lay awake at night thinking about how my life is in the hands of someone who doesn’t give a damn about anyone but himself and his rich white friends.
Will our marriage be deemed invalid or the federal marriage protections we enjoy reversed? Is it safe for us to ever consider having children? Will the quality of our (hypothetical) children’s education eventually be dependent on our income? Will I lose my healthcare? Will my family lose their (government) jobs? Will my neighbors be removed from their homes and deported? Will my friends become victims of harassment and violence? Will my taxes increase to pay for unnecessary and ineffective border security? Will the EPA be dissolved, climate change officially denied, and our environment and national parks destroyed for profit? Will we lose our freedom of the press under a man who can’t handle criticism or opposition? How far backward will be forced before we can move forward again, and how long will it take to repair the damage this man and his appointees can do over the next four years?

winter citrus salad with seared pork chops | Brooklyn Homemaker

Reading the news every day has become an exercise in masochism, but the one ray of hope is the knowledge that things don’t have to be like this, and this can’t last forever. To make sure these dark times end as quickly as possible, we must stand together, look past (or hopefully even celebrate) our differences, and be steadfast in our opposition to his attempts to divide and destroy us.

The people united will never be defeated.

In the months since the election, his popularity has plummeted and he’s become the least popular incoming president in the history of the gallup poll. His every move has been met with vocal criticism, nation-wide protests, and countless lawsuits; and frankly I couldn’t be more proud of the everyday citizens who’ve taken a stand. I’ve heard my whole life about how lazy and complacent my generation is, but when the shit hit the fan, we took to the streets with clever signs and knit hats, flooded our representatives in Washington with phone calls and postcards, organized resistance networks on social media, donated our hard-earned money to Black Lives Matter and the ACLU, and hosted fundraisers to benefit Planned ParenthoodCAIR, and the Water Protectors.

Ultimately, I know I’m not saying anything new here, and if you’ve been paying attention, I’m not telling you anything that you don’t already know. I guess the real point I’m trying to make here is that we all have a voice, and in these unsettling times we can’t be afraid to use them, even if doing so might have some negative consequences.
We need to do everything in our power to show people with other points of view that policies designed to “protect traditional values” can have terrible negative consequences, and don’t just affect unknown hypothetical immigrants, feminists, people of color, or homosexuals. These policies directly affect the lives of their friends and neighbors, their baristas and hair stylists, their surgeons and teachers, and even their favorite food bloggers.

winter citrus salad with seared pork chops | Brooklyn Homemaker

Whew! I didn’t realize when I started writing this that I had SO MUCH to say, but I’ve been holding back for so long that I’ve had plenty of time to gather my thoughts. I’m sorry that I’ve basically ignored the recipe altogether through this post, but I promise I have just a few quick things to say about the yummy salad in these pretty pictures.

A few weeks ago Russell talked me into doing the Whole30 diet with him. I have to admit, it’s been really difficult and I’m totally over it and can’t wait for the end. I’ve been dreaming about chocolate chip cookies and pizza for weeks, but we’re in the final stretch now and I’m happy we did it. Oddly enough, as restrictive as this diet is, it’s been a sort of fun exercise in will power and self-discipline, and in a world that feels like it’s rapidly spinning out of control, having total control over something, anything, feels really refreshing. Having this much restriction has also deemed most restaurant food off-limits, and forced us into the kitchen multiple times a day, every day. While it certainly has felt like a chore at times, spending so much time in the kitchen has been strangely therapeutic. My kitchen feels like “home” to me, and cooking so often has brought some semblance of familiarity and normalcy back to my life, even if I’d really have preferred to drown my worries and sorrows in a thick slice of chocolate cake.

winter citrus salad with seared pork chops | Brooklyn Homemaker

I swung by my local butcher shop one day looking for pork chops, and when I spotted the gorgeous cara cara and blood oranges in their produce case, I instantly knew what I wanted to do. We’re friends with the butchers there, and the pork chops they gave me were very generous, huge even, but I actually think a smaller chop would have been better suited to this recipe. Mine were about a pound each, but I think 1/2 lb chops would be the way to go. If you’re not a huge pork fan, or can’t find good thick pork chops, you could also do the same spice rub on some boneless, skinless chicken breasts and they’d be amazing too.

Because Whole30 is so protein heavy, it’s important to make sure you eat LOTS of veggies with every meal, and to go for BIG, BOLD flavors as often as possible to avoid gustatory boredom.

This salad is definitely not lacking in big, bold flavors. The mix of citrus fruits add fresh biting acidity and bright sweetness; the pistachios are rich and buttery; the fennel fresh, sweet, earthy, and slightly anise-y; the arugula is peppery with a hint of bitterness; the pork perfectly spiced, wonderfully browned on the outside, and tender and juicy inside; and the dressing, with red wine vinegar and a hint of Dijon mustard, ties it all together perfectly.

winter citrus salad with seared pork chops | Brooklyn Homemaker

Winter Citrus Salad with Spiced Pork Chops

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
Generous salt and pepper to taste
2 thick-cut, bone-in pork chops (about a half pound each)
2 teaspoons olive oil or butter
Arugula
mix of citrus fruit (I used 1 each of tangerine, blood, naval, and cara cara oranges)
a handful of thinly shaved slices of fennel bulb or stalks
1/4 cup roasted pistachios

Red Wine Vinaigrette:
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Lightly toast spices in a dry skillet until they smell fragrant. This should only take a few minutes. Transfer to a spice grinder (or coffee grinder *see note) along with salt and pepper. Grind into a fine powder. Sprinkle or rub all over both sides of your pork chops and let them rest at room temperature for about an hour. If you like, you can use this time to prepare the citrus or mix the dressing.

Preheat your oven to 400F and let a large cast iron skillet heat up with it.

Remove the skillet from the oven and add olive oil or butter. Place the skillet over a medium-high flame and sear the pork chops for about 3 minutes on one side. They’ll probably smoke a bit, so use your vent fan. Flip the chops and immediately transfer to the oven. Roast until the chops reach 135 to 140F at the thickest part of the chop. This should take between 5 and 10 minutes.

Remove from the skillet, tent with foil, and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes while you assemble the rest of the salad.

Place enough arugula for 2 individual servings (how much you like is totally up to you) into salad bowls. Use a very sharp knife to cut the peel off of your citrus and slice them into thin discs. Top the arugula with the citrus discs, shaved fennel, and pistachios.

To make the dressing, combine all ingredients in a mason jar with a lid and shake shake shake to combine. Pour over the salads and toss to combine if desired.

Top with rested pork chops and enjoy!

 

*Cooks note: Only use a coffee grinder if you have a spare. Don’t use a grinder you use for coffee or your coffee will taste like ground cumin, fennel, & mustard. Alternatively you could use a mortar and pestle.

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red, white, & sweet potato gratin with fennel & sage

I can’t even believe that it’s almost Thanksgiving already.

red, white, & sweet potato gratin with fennel & sage | Brooklyn Homemaker

I swear it really just snuck up on me this year. Last year I had my entire meal planned months in advance, and because I wanted to share my whole menu with everyone here, I’d even tested, modified, written out, and photographed the recipes well before November even started.

red, white, & sweet potato gratin with fennel & sage | Brooklyn Homemaker

This year though, the Maxwell’s build-out and opening occupied most of my attention from summer well into the fall, and everything else in my life had to be put on the back burner. I’ve had some ideas stewing that I wanted to test out for my Thanksgiving spread this year, but I just never really found the time, even once Maxwell’s was open and I was able to re-focus my attention elsewhere.

red, white, & sweet potato gratin with fennel & sage | Brooklyn Homemaker

The funny thing is that I actually first attempted this recipe when I was trying to plan for my Thanksgiving spread last year. I knew that I’d want to make some significant changes to it, and I just had too many other recipes to focus on, so I decided to dog-ear the idea to come back to later.

Well, it’s later now.

red, white, & sweet potato gratin with fennel & sage | Brooklyn Homemaker

So, a couple weeks ago I started playing with it to fine tune my vision and streamline the steps. My first instinct was to caramelize the onions and fennel before mixing them in with the cream, but I actually found that by the time the whole thing baked for an hour an a half, the onions and fennel cooked down way too much and were almost indistinguishable. I also originally planned to peel the potatoes, or maybe just the sweet potatoes, but after trying the recipe both ways, peeling just seemed like an unnecessary extra step.

red, white, & sweet potato gratin with fennel & sage | Brooklyn Homemaker

With everything that goes into making an entire Thanksgiving dinner, I figured that everyone, including myself, would appreciate any unnecessary steps that I could eliminate. Enough effort goes into slicing everything with the mandoline and arranging the slices in tight circles, so as long as it still tastes great, why not make everything else super easy?

Speaking of slicing everything with a mandoline, please be careful when you’re slicing. Those pesky mandolines have bitten me a few times, but if you go slow and use a guard when you get toward the end of the potato, I promise that you can keep your fingertips intact. Another option to keep your fingers super safe would be to invest in a cut resistant glove. Whenever I’ve had any accidents with mandolines though, it’s been because I was going too fast or was distracted by something else in the kitchen. The blades are sharp and deserve your undivided attention, so please use caution! Unfortunately this recipe will be kind of difficult to perfect without one. Sorry friends!
I mean, if you have surgically precise knife skills, by all means please go ahead and just use a knife, but it’s really important that all the slices are the exact same thickness so everything cooks at the same time.

red, white, & sweet potato gratin with fennel & sage | Brooklyn Homemaker

Let me tell you friends, this recipe was worth the wait and the effort. Who could say no to tender, delicate, richly flavored potatoes with crunchy, crispy top edges? The mix of red, white, and sweet potatoes is wonderfully autumnal without being too sweet, and the onions and fennel caramelize in the oven and their flavors go from pungent and intense to rich, mellow, and slightly sweet. The mix of cheeses adds a salty, nutty richness, and the sage, thyme, and garlic make this dish the perfect side to serve with turkey or poultry.
Or maybe I should say turkey would be the perfect side to serve with this gratin, because these potatoes are sure to steal the Thanksgiving spotlight.

It doesn’t have to end at Thanksgiving though! This recipe would be an amazing addition to any fall or winter meal, be it a special occasion, or just a way to up the ante on your sunday dinner.

red, white, & sweet potato gratin with fennel & sage | Brooklyn Homemaker

In the recipe below, I say that this dish should yield 6 to 10 side-sized servings, but I want to mention that if you’re serving this at Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, with a wide array of other foods, your yield should actually be higher because your portion sizes will be smaller. Although many of your guests may go back in for seconds, people tend to take smaller portions when there’s a lot on the table because they’re trying to fit 15 different things on one plate.

So, at a normal dinner with a main and a side or two, this should feed about 6 to 10 people, but at Thanksgiving I think this recipe should be enough for about 12 to 15. The more the merrier, right?

red, white, & sweet potato gratin with fennel & sage | Brooklyn Homemaker

Red, White, & Sweet Potato Gratin with Fennel & Sage

  • Servings: 6 to 10 side-size servings
  • Print
Recipe adapted from Serious Eats

1 cup grated comte cheese (or other semi-firm nutty cheese like gruyere or emmental)
1/2 cup grated parmesan
2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt (sounds like a lot, but this is a lot of potatoes)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme
1 lb red potatoes
1 lb white potatoes
1 1/2 lbs sweet potatoes
1 large to 2 small fennel bulbs (about 1/2 to 3/4 lb)
2 small to medium onions (about 1/2 lb)
2 tablespoons butter, softened

Preheat oven to 400F and adjust rack to the middle of the oven.

Toss cheeses together in a medium bowl to combine. Transfer about 1/3 of the mixture to another bowl and set aside for later use. Back in the first bowl, add cream, salt, pepper, garlic, sage, & thyme; and stir or toss to combine. Set aside.

Using a mandoline slicer, slice all the potatoes, unpeeled, into 1/8 inch thick disks and place into a very large bowl.  The larger the bowl, the easier it will be to toss the potatoes with the cream without making a mess. Slice the onion(s) and fennel bulb(s) to the same thickness and add to the potatoes. Pour cream and cheese mixture over the potatoes and toss toss toss to completely coat each slice of potato with cream. Use your fingers to separate any potatoes that may have become stuck together, so that every single slice is coated in the cream mixture.

Butter the inside of a large casserole, or 12″ cast iron skillet *see note. Organize handfuls of potatoes into neat stacks, along with some slices of onions and fennel, and line them up in the casserole with their edges aligned vertically. Continue placing stacks of potatoes into the dish, working around the perimeter and into the center until all potatoes have been added. Potatoes should be tightly packed. If necessary, slice an additional potato, coat with the remaining cream mixture, and add to the casserole. Pour the remaining cream mixture evenly over the potatoes until the mixture comes about half way up the sides of the potato slices. You may not need all the liquid.

Cover dish tightly with a lid or aluminum foil and transfer to oven. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove lid/foil and bake for 30 minutes longer. Carefully remove from oven, sprinkle with remaining cheese, and return to oven to bake until deep golden brown and crisp on top, about 30 minutes longer. Remove from oven, let rest for at least 15 minutes, and serve.

*cooks note:
I used a braising pan that measures about 12″ across, so a 12″ cast iron skillet would perfectly as well. I also think a 9×13″ casserole should work great, but rather than arranging the potatoes in circles, just line them up lengthwise in three rows.