With the exception of a quick trip to San Diego last week, my suitcase has been gathering dust since the week before Thanksgiving. I love to travel, but I love to cook more. And no travel means lots of time in the kitchen - cooking, experimenting, tasting, and loving it.
Over the past few weeks I’ve cooked for friends and family, and sometimes just myself.
One day while feeling ambitious and very hungry at lunch time, I made myself chicken fajitas while listening to a conference call from my home-office kitchen. By the time it was my turn to talk, I had finished cooking and eating, and was halfway through cleaning up. Next to the blender, the mute button is the best invention ever.
The pace of business travel is sure to pick up soon and I do have some travel-for-fun planned. I’m taking Hannah to Paris over spring break – Paris, France, that is, not the Paris, Texas which was my mother’s first thought when I told her where I was going. So my time in the kitchen will once again be limited.
But in the meantime, I have a brobdingnagian (yep, real word) amount of recipes to share. Even so, I’m always thinking about what’s next.
So many recipes, so little time.
I began my cooking spree on a Sunday evening with "Pretzel-Coated Pork Chops with an Orange-Mustard Sauce" for a scheduled dinner date with both of my daughters. They’ve become accustomed to my taking pictures of the food although I’m sure most mother’s don’t. Hannah poked her head in the frame at the last minute.
Pretzel-Crusted Pork Chops With an Orange-Mustard Sauce
1 1/2 cups balsamic vinegar
2 oranges 3/4 cup water 1/4 cup sugar 2 cups whipping cream 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1/2 cup all purpose flour 3 large eggs 2 cups crushed pretzel sticks (about 5 ounces) 8 1-inch-thick-center-cut pork rib chops
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, divided
Simmer balsamic vinegar in small saucepan over medium heat until reduced to 2/3 cup, about 10 minutes. Transfer to small pitcher.
Using vegetable peeler, remove peel from oranges (orange part only) in long strips. Slice the peel lengthwise into very thin strips. Place the peel in heavy small saucepan and add enough cold water to cover peel by in inch. Bring to boil; strain. Repeat two more times. Return peel to same saucepan. Add 3/4 cup water and sugar. Boil until almost all liquid is absorbed stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.
Mix cream, mustard, and 2 tablespoons candied orange peel in heavy small saucepan. Bring to boil; reduce heat to medium and cook until sauce is reduced to 1 2/3 cups, about 12 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Place flour in shallow bowl. Whisk eggs to blend in another shallow bowl. Spread crushed pretzels on rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle pork chops on both sides with salt and pepper. Working with 1 pork chop at a time, press 1 side of chop into flour, dip floured side only into eggs, then press into pretzels, coating 1 side only. Transfer to baking sheet, coated side up. Repeat with remaining pork chops, flour, eggs, and pretzels.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in each of 2 large ovenproof skillets over medium-high heat. Add 4 pork chops to each skillet, coated side down, and cook until brown, about 2 minutes. Turn chops over and transfer both skillets to oven. Roast until pork is cooked through and thermometer inserted horizontally into chop registers 140 degrees, about 10 minutes. Let chops stand 5 minutes.
Rewarm sauce. Spoon 2 tablespoons sauce onto each plate and place chop atop sauce. Drizzle with balsamic reduction and garnish with remaining candied orange peel.
Sandra’s Cooking Notes: -My girls loved this, which was somewhat of a surprise since I thought the mixture of flavors was a little left of center (orange, mustard, balsamic vinegar). But given that this was one of the few homecooked meals they’d had during the semester it makes a little more sense. I served it with homemade macaroni and cheese, comfort food for us, which I knew would be a winner even if the pork chops were a bust. -This is an elegant entree, perfect for company. -The recipe can be found in Bon Appetit, September 2006.
My neighbor, Phil, retired yesterday from the City of Garland after 25 years of service.
I can’t imagine what that is like.
I haven’t done anything besides live for 25+ years straight. I still have a few years to go before I can say I’ve been a mom for 25 years and I can wait on that one.
Phil is a tinkerer when he’s not working.
He spends most of his time in his garage, driveway, and backyard with various projects. He has rebuilt numerous cars and engines, is always customizing his wife’s current ride, a 280 Z (I’m not sure about the year) with a Corvette engine that’s been restored to a bright yellow, and there’s always some house repair/upkeep to keep him busy.
But his projects aren’t always so mainstream.
I’ll never forget looking out my kitchen window early one Saturday morning to see a structure much like an oil derrick rising into the air from Phil and Margie’s backyard.
It was a West Texas windmill.
Phil had grown up somewhere on the western side of Texas and had a hankering for a windmill. However, in the five and a half years since he erected the structure he has never attached the windmill blades.
Can’t find the right size blades he says. He did, however, hang a light from the top of it during the holidays to illuminate his backyard, and has a couple of blades stuck in the lower latticework.
I have to admit I was a bit annoyed that morning by the clatter created by its planting and the permanent change in view from my kitchen window, but now I can’t imagine looking outside and not seeing it.
There have been other uniquely Phil projects over the years.
There was the canoe trailer built with and for his friend Eddie that doubled as a picnic table (pictured below), and the wagon he built especially for his outings to the flea markets. It was impressive. He welded two wagons together for extra length and attached wheels on the front and back that turned a special way so as to shorten the turning radius.
But hands down my favorite Phil project because I’ve benefited from it over the years is his smoker.
I had noticed two old bathtubs sitting in Phil’s driveway and I chuckled when he explained what he was going to do with them – build a smoker. One would be the lid; the other would be the body.
I’m not sure if anyone else would have seen a smoker (pictured below) in those two old pieces of iron, but Phil did. Had I been able to foresee the results I would have kept my chuckling to myself and offered to help him finish the project sooner.
Phil’s smoked brisket is divine and every Christmas since the birth of the smoker I’ve been the recipient of a succulent smoked turkey. It makes my mouth water to just to write about it.
He makes his own rub and gave me a jar of it so I could give a try at smoking a brisket on my own. I have yet to do this and hope I have some rub left when I have time for this experiment as I take a little taste of it every now and then when the mood strikes. I might save myself from nibbling it away if I stashed the bottle at the back of the cabinet somewhere.
Phil (pictured above) is in charge of smoking all the meat for our yearly neighborhood block party. He stays up all night to accomplish this task and is exhausted by the end of the evening. That’s ok because with the help of a couple of beers (and maybe a couple of extra) no one’s seen a 50-something-year-old man dance quite like that.
I’m sure Phil did some dancing last night after his official retirement and he’ll be dancing from here on out. I asked him what he thought this next Monday morning was going to feel like and he said he wasn’t sure. I think I’m in shock, he said.
I have a good view of Phil’s driveway from my home office window. I don’t think he’ll break out into dance without a party, but I will be keeping an eye out for his next project.
With more time on his hands than he’s ever had I may see blades on that windmill yet.
Victory Media Network Unveiling: Friday night, January 19, benefiting Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing Arts. Tickets are $100 each.
According to the Victory Media Network website, "The Victory Media Network® will be the first large-scale, outdoor digital arts gallery in the world ... Incorporated within the striking architecture of Victory Plaza will be eleven large, high-resolution LED screens. Eight of these screens -- four on each side of the Plaza -- will move along horizontal tracks to allow for a myriad of configurations and motion possibilities. These screens can also be combined in sets of four to create 31' x 53' "super screens" with HD resolution. High fidelity sound and an extensive theatrical lighting system will heighten the experience to an immersive level." Here are some images from the website.
Last summer they ran a contest for artists to submit photos and other artworks to display on the giant screens. Some of the selections are displayed on the Victory website at the above link. Be sure to click on "Watch the VMN trailer" to get a better idea of what the area will look like.
The party will be tented and there is also outdoor access, DJs spinning tunes and so much more. Socialwhirl.com will be there with photographer taking party pics, along with most of the media in town.
"Think masks, crowns, hats, boas and feathers," says JB Hayes, chairman. "The attire is Mardi Gras masquerade cocktail, so masks are a must!"
The party features the very cool D VIP Lounge for underwriters sponsored by D Home and D magazine. Surrounding the band's stage and huge dance floor will be tables with seating for guests, gambling, tarot card reader, bartenders pouring champagne, wines and everything else.
The Belo Mansion will rock away to the powerful blues tunes from Dallas' own Edwin Holt and his 12-piece Conspiracy Band. The stage will be a very happening place. This is the perfect event for parents to enjoy with their adult children, friends and couples to make a fun night of complete partying: food, dancing, great silent auction items and the people watching is its own party. The food is served buffet-style at stations all over the Belo Mansion Pavilion, so there is no fancy sit-down dinner. So you and your friends party and dance until midnight!
And for the lunch bunch, Tom E. Garcia, Managing Director, The Adolphus presents Authors at The Adolphus, Thursday, January 25. luncheon and book signing with Mireille Guiliano, author of "French Women Don't Get Fat" presenting "French Women for All Seasons ... A Year of Secrets, Recipes and Pleasure." 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Valet parking included. $59 per person. Reservations required. Contact: Samual M. Leonard at
You can help now. Even $20 helps someone. I like knowing that spending $100 on charity, giving even $20 to five different families in need, may help. If we all gave something, think of the impact.
An example: A Dallas police officer who was shot on duty and is still in severe pain. Can't get a job. He is looking for a home for his cat because he is going to be evicted and homeless. Link to his story: