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Cynthia Stone
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I wonder sometimes why the questions keep coming. There have never been more cooking shows on TV, more choices in the grocery store, more fine restaurants to try, and more gadgets in our kitchens.

Then I realize, your questions aren't in spite of all these culinary advances, they are because of them.

Today, your answer might be here.

Orange and date scones

Several people have remarked lately about the wonderful selection of scones being sold and served locally, but then go on to lament their inability to reproduce them at home.

Scones are just about the easiest biscuit to make, and are worth figuring out, because they are so versatile. Pair with fruit salad and yogurt for breakfast, split and liberally top with jam and cheese for a light lunch, or make them do double duty as shortcakes and fill with berries and cream for dessert.

The secret to great scones, if you can call something so mundane a secret, is not overworking them. Use a light touch, combining the wet and dry ingredients quickly. If you have to use any amount of pressure to roll out the dough, then it is too dry and they will be tough. Butter and shortening are important in this recipe - they contribute flavour and texture that you won't achieve by using all one or the other.

2 cups flour

4 tsp. baking powder

2 tbsp. sugar

1/2 tsp. salt (1/4 tsp. if using salted butter)

1/4 cup cold unsalted butter

3 tbsp. shortening or lard

1 tsp. grated orange zest

1 tsp. grated lemon zest

1/2 cup finely chopped soft dates

2 eggs

1/2 cup orange juice

1 tsp. vanilla

2 tbsp. whipping cream or milk

Whisk or sift together flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Using a pastry cutter, cut in butter and lard to form a coarse gravelly mixture. A food processor works great, but don't overdo it - you still want to see the butter and shortening bits. Stir in orange and lemon zest and dates. Beat eggs until frothy and stir in orange juice and vanilla. Add all at once to flour mixture and toss lightly to combine. Turn out onto a floured board and press gently to form a rectangle about 3/4 of an inch thick. Cut into 8 squares then halve them diagonally to create triangles. Place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and brush lightly with cream. Bake at 400 F for 12 minutes or until golden on top.

Pork chops done right

Pork causes you grief because you overcook it.

There, I've said it. If you bring pork to the same level of doneness as chicken, it will be tough, I promise.

There has been no illness related to undercooked pork for as long as I've been around, and that's a while. If you really don't want that hint of pale pink in the middle, then select a shoulder or butt cut and braise or stew until it is fall-apart tender - never a bad option.

However, if you like the idea of those super-lean boneless chops - but they always turn out tough as tapping leather - then you need to adjust your thinking.

High heat also causes the meat to toughen, but you want a decently crusty outside to maximize the flavour, so I've found the best option is to select chops at least an inch thick, brown them in a little oil over medium-high heat then finish them in the oven, until they hit about 150 F in the middle. Yes, it is worth taking out the meat thermometer, especially if you just spent a pile of money on fresh pork.

This method also works with chops coated in seasoned flour or dipped in flour, then beaten eggs, then breadcrumbs. This recipe is just to get you starting to think in the tender direction. Serve these tasties with absolutely any side dish you like.

4 1-inch thick lean pork chops

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tbsp. fresh chopped thyme (or 1 tsp. dried)

2 tsp. fresh chopped rosemary (or 1/2 tsp. dried)

1 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp. brown sugar

1/2 tsp. ground cumin

2 tbsp. vegetable oil

Dry chops thoroughly with paper towels. Combine olive oil, garlic, thyme, rosemary, salt, pepper, brown sugar and cumin and rub into the chops on all sides. Allow to rest at room temperature, uncovered, for half an hour. Drop into hot vegetable oil in an oven-proof frying pan and brown - about 3 or 4 minutes a side. Put the pan into the oven at 325 F and roast about 5 minutes, until internal temperature reads between 150 and 160. If you don't have a meat thermometer, cut into the middle of one chop - it should be very faintly pink. Allow to rest 10 minutes before serving.

Food gifting

Three times in the past few days, I've been asked what to bring to someone's house when a kitchen gift may lend needed comfort. I've shared most of my favourites with you over the years - cabbage rolls, pasta casseroles, scalloped potatoes, and, just a couple of weeks ago, lentil stew, are all personal go-to's.

I think about the logistics of transporting in my car; difficulties serving and reheating; shortage of fridge storage space; ability to freeze; how long it might be out on a countertop or table; and most importantly, what would best suit the personal tastes of the recipient.

Finally, please don't pick this occasion to try out a new recipe - this is the time for something you can count on.

Old-fashioned apple crisp

Here's one option you might like to add to your repertoire. Comforting, warm, sweet and easy to make with ingredients you probably have on hand right now. This can be eaten hot or cold, with a spoon or a fork, any time, night or day, and stays delicious for a long time.

6 large firm apples, peeled and thinly sliced

1-1/2 cups flour

3/4 cup each white and firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 tsp. nutmeg, freshly ground if possible

3/4 cup butter or margarine, not icy cold but not too warm and soft

Layer apple slices in the bottom of a generously buttered 9- by 13-inch casserole dish. Whisk together flour, sugars and nutmeg. Rub in the butter with your fingers or a pastry cutter until it is in small pieces. Sprinkle over apples and bake at 375 F for 1 hour (maybe a little longer for firmer apples) or until golden brown and apples are tender.

Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John's. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John's, NL, A1E 4N1.

© 2012 The Telegram (St. John's). All rights reserved.

Organizations: The Telegram

Geographic location: St. John's

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