The tree swallows have returned
You know spring has softened up when the tree swallows are reported.
Pork and mushroom stew is a wallet-friendly meal that satisfies the family
©Cynthia Stone photo
It’s that time of year again. You should be putting away your spare loonies for a family holiday this summer but instead you’re fretting about placating the tax demons.
Maybe you were strong enough to have those extra dollars deducted from your paycheque and are even expecting a refund. If so, I am jealous, but these recipes are still for you because who doesn’t want to keep cash in our pockets?
Pork and Mushroom Stew
As often as not I can get a tray of pork chunks marked down at the grocery store, so I assume not many of us buy them. Even at full price this cut is a bargain so it behooves you to figure out what you can make to satisfy your family and your wallet.
Before you yell at me for including wine in this recipe, I have to tell you that I recover any bits in bottles when I have people over and freeze it in bags to use in recipes just like this one. Sometimes I even siphon off a cup first when I open the bottle—no one has ever noticed. If you don’t want to, just go with water.
You can use any vegetables you like. Pork lends itself to sweeter flavours so carrot and turnip are great choices. I had Brussels sprouts going a bit soft in the fridge and turns out they were a perfect choice. The trick is not to overcook any of the components so if you choose peas, for example, add them at the very end.
The big secret to success in this recipe is how well you brown the pork. Nothing is less appetizing than gray meat so please don’t shortcut that step.
Like any stew, this can feed as many as you need to by padding the vegetables or adding dinner rolls, but I would allow 1/4 lb. per person, so this recipe is perfect for 6.
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1-1/2 lbs. pork stew meat
1/2 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 large yellow or white onion, diced
3 cups fresh mushrooms, sliced, any variety
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 cup dry white wine or cold water
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
4 sprigs fresh thyme or 2 tsp. dried
2 bay leaves, fresh or dried
1 lb. small new potatoes, quartered, or larger potatoes chunked
3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
2 cups Brussels sprouts, quartered
Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot until it is shimmering and just starting to smoke. Toss the pork with salt and pepper and brown thoroughly in small batches. If you crowd the pan you won’t get the deep colour you need. Remove and set aside.
If there is more than 2 tbsp. of fat in the pot discard some of it. If less than that amount add a little more oil.
Add celery, onion and mushrooms to pot and cook over high heat, stirring, until the mushrooms release their moisture, it evaporates and everything starts to brown. Make sure you scrape up every little bit of flavour from the bottom of the pot as the liquid comes out of the vegetables. Add the garlic and cook another minute, until it is fragrant. Sprinkle in the flour and cook, stirring, until everything is evenly coated.
Add wine or water and let it sputter and mostly evaporate. Return the meat to the pot and add the broth, thyme and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 45 minutes, until the meat is tender.
Add potatoes carrots and cook 20 minutes, until both are tender but not falling apart. Add the Brussels sprouts and simmer just until cooked, another 5 minutes or so.
Fish out and discard the thyme stalks and bay leaves. Add salt and pepper to taste just before serving.
Baked Cabbage with Balsamic Vinegar
Cabbage is one of my favourite vegetables. Not only is it delicious and nutritious, it’s cheap.
I wouldn’t turn it down boiled up with a pot of root veg served alongside a stuffed roast chicken and gravy but, with a little extra attention, you can elevate this often taken-for-granted green to a full-fledged dinner party side dish.
Before you say anything about this recipe calling for good quality balsamic vinegar let me tell you this about that. I bought a bottle for $30 about four years ago and I`m as jealous over using it as the best perfume I own. But the few drops you need to turn an ordinary dish into the extraordinary are well worth the investment. If you just can`t bring yourself to spend that money then I have a cheat for you.
Put 1/4 cup of regular balsamic in a small pot with a squeeze of lemon juice and a teaspoonful of brown sugar. Bring to a boil and allow most of the liquid to evaporate. When you have about 1 tbsp. left in the pot cool and it’s ready to drizzle.
This is not the place, however, to uncork the extra-virgin olive oil. I always have a cheaper one on hand for cooking with but if you don’t use vegetable oil.
Allow about twice the amount of cabbage per serving than the boiled version—it shrinks a bit in the oven and is just plain more delicious.
Make the most of the hot oven and put chicken legs in there at the same time. Some rice or a pasta dish is all you need for a complete meal.
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, smashed but left whole
1 medium head green cabbage
1/2 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes, optional
1 tbsp. best quality balsamic vinegar
Pour the oil on a baking sheet—the kind with sides—and put it in the oven. Place the garlic cloves in the oil. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F and cook for a few minutes, stirring around the garlic now and then, until it is starting to brown. Discard the garlic.
Cut the cabbage into 8 to 12 wedges. Roll around to coat thoroughly in the hot garlic oil. Sprinkle all sides with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Bake 20 minutes then flip over the wedges and bake another 20 minutes, until they are softening and beginning to take on colour. You aren’t looking for the same texture as boiled cabbage but it shouldn’t be hard, either. Different heads will take different times so cook until it suits you.
Drizzle on the balsamic vinegar and serve.
Cynthia Stone is an information manager and writer in St. John’s. E-mail questions to her at email@example.com.