Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Harried Holidays

You know, baking holiday treats is fun. Christmas shopping certainly can be. Doing the dishes, and wrapping the presents--blech. Then there's trimming the tree, decking the halls, sending out Christmas cards (if you go in for that kind of thing, which I usually don't--I'm all about the email card with photo, and that's only IF I manage to take a cute holiday photo of the dogs, which I haven't), and all the other countless merry chores of the season. One of the downsides of all this to-doing is that, too often, making decent meals takes a backseat to making all the party food and homemade edible gifts. So after everything else is prepared, I simply make do with a sandwich or other miscellaneous nibbly bits (my favorite combination is either salami or summer sausage, a good cheese of some kind, and banana peppers, all sliced up and piled on a small plate--ta-dah, dinner is served!).

Once in awhile, though, I can't take the tyranny of cold cuts any longer, and I long for a proper dinner, especially on Sunday evenings. My favorite menu involves a ribeye and a baked potato, but yesterday, when I was digging around in the freezer looking for something or other, I came upon a package of pork chops that I forgot I had. Since I still had HOURS of kitchen clean-up to tend to from back-to-back baking projects, I didn't want to get too involved with any intricate dinner preparations. So I enlisted the help of my old pal, the crock pot, to produce a simple, but very tasty and satisfying supper.

I know, this looks like a big pile of orange-brown goo, but trust me--there was a tender and delicious pork chop under there somewhere! To make your own scrumptious pile of saucy pork, do as I did. First off, I seasoned the chops (4 to 6, on the thicker side) liberally with salt, pepper, and granulated garlic and coated them lightly with flour. In a large frying pan, I heated a couple tablespoons of butter with the same amount of olive oil. Then I browned the chops. When they were browned on both sides, I layered them in the bottom of the crock pot. Then I sauteed one large, chopped onion in the remaining oil and butter along with eight ounces of sliced fresh mushrooms and a few cloves of minced garlic.

When the vegetables were softened and starting to color, I deglazed the pan with about a half cup of white wine. Then I added one can of Campbell's Golden Mushroom Soup (stop hatin'--it's trashy but tasty, even though it has that unnatural orange hue) and one can of water and mixed it all together. I poured all of this saucy goodness into the crock pot, completely covering the meat, then I cranked that sucker up to high, and let it do its thing for about four hours until the pork chops were practically falling apart. You could serve this over egg noodles, but I love me some steamed rice (my dad was Hawaiian, so I eat rice with everything). Easy and yummy, and perfect for those harried days when you have many a holiday task to tend to. Furthermore, if you are experiencing the brutal cold snap that most of the country is enjoying, this is hearty fare that will stick to your ribs and help you to survive. (I'm so not kidding--I just looked down at the weather channel icon on my desktop, and it's currently 3 below, but with the vicious wind chill, it "feels like" -13! FUN! Needless to say, my taps are trickling...so to speak.)

Since I didn't start my crockpot until late in the afternoon, I knew I would need a substantial appetizer to keep me in good stead until dinner was ready. And I knew just what I wanted! Once I got myself out of my snowy driveway Saturday night and headed into town for Lee Ann's Christmas party, I was reflecting back on her party last year. I didn't remember many specifics about the potluck offerings, but I did recall a terrific warm artichoke dip that one of her neighbors brought. I was hoping that the same lady would come again, and bring that dip with her--and she did! I didn't want to be piggy and scarf the whole dish down myself. In the holiday spirit of giving, I showed restraint and shared with the other party guests. But what was to stop me from making my own at home? Nothing, that's what! The nice lady whose name, I believe, was Marcy, described the basics of the recipe to me last year, but I put a few of my own twists on it, as is my way. In any case, this stuff is INCREDIBLE! It is especially transcendent if you have dear friends on the other side of the country who will bake bread for you in their wood-fired oven, and mail a whole box of it to your doorstep as a Christmas surprise. But if you aren't that fortunate, any good, crusty loaf will serve the purpose.

Warm Artichoke Dip

2 cans artichoke hearts (I used about 2 cups from a jar of marinated artichokes, but I rinsed them in warm water to remove the excess oil then drained them well)
1 (8 oz.) brick cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup of mayonnaise (Marcy said one cup, but I found that a little too greasy for my tastes)
1 to 2 teaspoons dill weed (I prefer the larger amount)
1 teaspoon granulated garlic (better yet, use a couple/few cloves of freshly minced as I did)
1 (5 oz.) bag shredded parmesan (I shred my own parm, thank you, and I like about a cup here)
*then to Marcy's basic recipe, I added about 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper, a good pinch of cayenne, and a squeeze of fresh juice from half a lemon)

Blitz this all up in the food processor, then bake for about a half hour at 350 or until until brown and bubbly. (Marcy and her partner, Brooke, bake theirs in a large, shallow pie plate for more surface area to brown.) Serve with slices of your favorite crusty bread. I used a whole wheat sourdough baguette topped with sunflower seeds from the Zinn-Volkmann Bakery of Falls City, OR. Yum!

Take this to your next holiday party or make it for your family's Christmas dinner, and you're sure to get back an empty dish. People love this stuff, and with good reason!

No comments: