Blissfully Delicious

rosemary and orange pork chops 2

As much as the fall season screams “baking” like no other season (well maybe because it’s leading up to Christmas, which of course screams cookies), I have been having so much fun with the fall produce that I’ve been cooking more than baking. This past weekend, I took my family to a small local orchard owned by a farmer, who just started his “pick your own” orchard this July. I found out about his farm from another Iowa blogger through Facebook, and I contacted him and asked him what produce he had still available. I picked some green beans, gathered some squashes and sweet potatoes. The kids picked raspberries, pears, and chased  farm cats and kitties.  It was one of the best weekends that we’ve had in a long time. As much I love city living and all of the convenience and entertainment that big city offers, I’m very passionate about supporting our local businesses, especially those who produce the food that we eat. I stopped buying name-brand milk when I moved to Iowa eight years ago, and made sure that I buy from the local dairy farms.

rosemary and orange pork chops One of the things that has also changed since I moved to Iowa is my feeling for pork. I have met and known families who raise hogs, got to know their pork processing  and I have established a different level of respect for those folks. I had mixed feelings about pork chops for the longest time, not only that I felt like I didn’t know what to do with them, I just wasn’t sure about the quality of these meat. As far as cooking them, I want them to be tender, yet cooked all the way, and it’s always a fine balance to make sure that I get both the flavors and texture. I also want some sort of flavors added to enhance the pork, but just enough to make the pork flavors stand out without overpowering it. Bring them is really a nice way to add just enough flavors, and making sure that the chops are juicier and more tender. This is a simple yet impressive recipe, perfect for weeknight supper with or without company. Enjoy!

sweet and sour chixI didn’t really know that a dish called Sweet and Sour Chicken really existed until I started working at a Chinese Restaurant when I was in High School. My parents knew the owner of one of the Chinese restaurants in my hometown, and my mom managed to get me a job for three hours every Friday night to help out with their carry out. It was really fascinating for me to watch all of the craziness of an industrial kitchen, and I loved seeing what everyone ordered. There was this dish called Almond Chicken, that was basically a piece of chicken breast fried in some sort of batter, then drizzled with yellow sauce, and then sprinkled with chopped almond and scallion. I remember thinking to myself how scary that looked. But that was one of their most ordered dish. And then there was the ever popular Sweet and Sour Chicken, which is basically chicken cut up into cubes, fried with batter, and then soaked with thick sweet and sour sauce, with pineapple chunks. This one, the pineapple chunks just didn’t seem like a good match for the chicken. While I love pineapple, I just didn’t think that it was an appropriate pairing, even for my inexperience palette.
sweet and sour chix 2While I never got gathered enough courage to try those two dishes during my short work tenure, I thought that how bad could they really taste when I make them at home? What could have possibly be hidden in that thick sweet and sour sauce? Since I hit a rut with Asian-inspired dishes to cook at home, and wanted to bring some flavor punches to my menu, I decided to give this a try. The chicken chunks were fried to crispy-perfection, and then baked in a sweet and sour sauce made from apple-cider vinegar, sugar, ketchup and seasonings. Easy enough, right? And the result was extra goodness that came from perfectly crispy chicken pieces with beautiful sweet and sour sauce that’s been baked into the chicken, and created a nice glaze over the chickens. Yum! I had to say that I don’t fear this dish anymore, at least not this homemade version :) Have a great weekend everyone!

ssteak 2Welcome to Monday! Did you guys have a good weekend? The temperature had suddenly dropped so much that I actually started wearing my winter coat toward the end of last week. I actually missed my scarf as well, as I felt the cold wind tickling my neck when I was walking into my office. Brrrr, I can almost feel the snow coming!!! Since both kids were in pretty good mood over the weekend, I bundled them up and took them both to a fall harvest festival at a local nursery so they could pick up some pumpkins, ride horses, get their little faces painted on, and enjoy some treats. I wanted to make sure that they get to have some pumpkin fun before the cold weather really hits, and then it may get too cold for any outdoor activities. Thankfully, there was a large portion of the activities that were done indoor, so the kids got to have some fun.

ssteakI also decided to get rid of my leather sofas, so their new owners picked them up on Saturday. It was a little sad time for me, since I had bought these sofas 12 years ago for my first house back in Michigan. These sofas had been with me through thick and think, and I was pretty proud of them when I first got them. They were pretty fancy back then, and they still look relatively good since I have taken good care of them!  I also knew though that it’s time to move on for something else that fits our new lifestyle a little bit better, so I gave them away. My daughter was a little sad when she saw these men hauling the sofas away, so I had to bribe her with some treats and convinced them that we were going to pick up new sofas soon. We ended the weekend with this fantastic beef dish, nestled in next to a heaping mashed potatoes. I loved that this recipe uses shiitake mushrooms, I think it added so much flavors and character to the sauce. I would have liked the gravy to be a tad thicker so that it doesn’t slide off the mashed potatoes as easy, so I may tinker with the proportion of the gravy next time. Other than that, we’re pretty happy with it. Have a great Monday everyone!!

oo mashed potatoes 2

Who needs another mashed potatoes recipe? Apparently, we do!! :) As much as I’ve always loved mashed potatoes, there hasn’t been a period in my life than I have made them as frequently as I do today. I even used to just use instant mashed potatoes (gulp!), since I didn’t want to deal with peeling the potatoes, cutting them up, boiling them, and then mashing them up. And after all that work – I still had to find something else to pair it with. Ha, sounds like a total single gal, right? Well that period in my life is over now, and now I’m putting together menu that has pretty demanding customers to please. With a very picky preschooler in the house now, I always try to include mashed potatoes on the menu rotation whenever possible: a plain looking one that is, no speckles of herbs, or anything in sight. My hubby and I sort of hit the rut with our Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes recipe, and I decided to liven up the menu for us adults in the house, without interrupting the daily programming for the family. The olive oil added such a smoothness to the potatoes while garlic and sage brought such beautiful flavors to the mashed potatoes, that we’re now rotating this recipe into our menu.

milky way tart 1
Last week was a pretty stressful week for me. It was actually one of the more stressful weeks that I have had in a while. My daughter was complaining one day that she didn’t want to go to her school because one of the girls in the class was mean to her. Now, for most parents, they might just shrug it off and say that kids tell lies half of the time. Well, not really my daughter, she’s a tough little human, and I have not really had any issues with her refusing to go to school.  I also listen to my daughter, and yes,  while she’s only four years old, I want her know that her words matter, and if anything concerns her, I’m here to support her. The week prior, she cried in the middle of a dance class and told me that her belly hurt so bad that she wanted me to go to see our family doctor. And I was glad that I listened to her because she ended up being sick and needed some medicine. All of these of course were happening when I had to be in the other side of town, which means that my hubby had to step in and conduct all of the conversations that needed to happen at her school.

milky way tart 2 Then this past Friday, she was crying uncontrollably when I picked her up, which was the worst sight that any parents can expect when they pick up their children after being gone all day at work. She told me that she fell, but I was pretty sure that she must have banged her arm pretty bad at the playground or strained it so bad that she cried on and off the entire night following after that, and she’s probably still  a little sore today from the strain. We decided to take it easy for the weekend instead of doing a weekend full of activities. Nobody says that parenting is for the faint of hearts, right? I just had to remind myself that I needed to take it one day at a time, one problem at a time. In the midst of all that craziness last week, my husband had a birthday! I had bought a card from me and another one from the kids, but I forgot to sign mine. Thankfully my daughter played along and she sang a very enthusiastic happy birthday to my husband, followed by some serious clapping.  I had also suggested to make a fancy layered cake for his birthday,  but we ended up making this tart instead to celebrate, which turned out to be probably a good decision after all. It is equally delicious – if not, more decadent than any fancy layered birthday cakes. It does take time to prepare, but the components can be prepared ahead of time. The caramel filling can be made ahead up to one week ahead, and the tart dough can be prepared up to one day ahead. So if you don’t have a long uninterrupted time, it is still feasible to make this, as long as you plan ahead. Another note,  on the steps where the recipe asks that you chill the tools or the materials, please do so. It will make a huge difference in how your filling sets. Here’s to hoping that this week will be a lot smoother for me!