Cooking Alton Brown’s Sweet & Sour Pork

 

I haven’t tried as many recipes from my copy of Alton Brown’s Good Eats: The Early Years for a few reasons. First, I know the book is based on the chronology of the TV show, but I’m not a big fan of the book’s layout. It makes sense for what it is, but I prefer my cookbooks organized by type of meal or ingredient, that kind of thing. I also get a bit distracted by the overly busy page design. And yet, every time I make something from this volume, it turns out good, so I should probably stop complaining about it.

Sweet And Sour Pork (page 342-3 or this link on FoodNetwork.com, if you want to check it out for yourself) was my most recent recipe attempt and, like most of the others, it turned out really well. As noted in the recipe, the first thing to do is cut up a bunch of pork butt and marinate it overnight, which means this recipe takes a bit more forethought than most. I think I forgot to do this the night before and wound up putting it together earlier the day-of and still had pretty solid results.

When you do get to the actual cooking, Brown suggests using an electric skillet. We happened to have one in our kitchen by way of wedding present, so I used that, but it seems like a pan would work just as well. As per usual, I did a lot of my prep beforehand. My wife had cut up the pineapple earlier in the week, so that wasn’t as big a chore as usual. I then got to work on the onion, celery, carrots and peppers, organizing them together based on when they went into the pan. With that out of the way and a flour dredging spot set up in a pie plate, I was off to the races.

After cooking the pork in the pan, you throw in the onion, celery and carrots. Once those get their cook on, it’s time for the more colorful peppers and pineapple to join the party along with the previously removed pork. At this point in the process I was really struck by how colorful this dish is. You can see it in the pictures, but anything with such bright yellows, greens, reds and oranges has to be good right?

The recipe actually called for an easy-to-make ketchup-based sauce to be added to the meat, vegetables and fruit, but it came out a bit sweet and I figured it would be better as a side sauce. I’m glad I made this move because I put a bit too much sauce on one of my servings and it basically washed out all those great meat and vegetable flavors. Drop some of that mixture on top of some rice — I went with Jasmine — and a drizzle of sauce and you’ve got a plate of food that not only looks amazing but also plays to most of your taste buds.

Cooking Heirloom Grilled Cheese Sandwich & Chunky Tomato Bacon Soup

After hitting up a great farm stand and making caprese with heirloom tomatoes, I knew I’d have a few left over and did a little looking around on FoodNetwork.com until I came across Rick Massa’s Heirloom Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Chunky Tomato Bacon Soup which fit the bill pretty perfectly. I did a few things differently than the suggested recipe, though. First and foremost, I didn’t do all that stuff with the butter and whatnot. A while back, my wife turned me on to a grilled cheese method that’s pretty fantastic: put mayonnaise on the sides of the bread that will be exposed to the pan (I used a flat cast iron skillet). I also decided to bake the bacon, as I have in the past. I like this method because you don’t have to watch it like you do on the stovetop.

Before actually making or assembling the sandwiches, but after putting the bacon in the oven, I got to work on the tomato soup. For me, BLTs and grilled cheese always have a connection to tomato soup, but growing up, it was usually the canned stuff from Campbell’s with a little milk thrown in. I thought this soup would be pretty solid thanks to the bacon involved, but it actually wound up being kind of thick and not overly interesting. It wound up being more like sauce than a soup. Part of the problem was that I put the whole tiny can of tomato paste into the mix, which I realized after the fact probably lead to the problem. We wound up not eating much of it, but I did freeze it, to be thawed up and possibly mixed with some chicken stock to thin out a little ways down the line.

Back to the sandwiches, though, they were fantastic. I got the bread prepped with Dijon mustard on the insides as well as the cheese on both sides of the bread, tomato and some of the bacon. After that it was just a matter of throwing them on the cast iron pan one at a time. Once I flipped them, I smushed it down with another cast iron pan (be careful, even though it’s not directly on the heat, this pan will get hot!). Oh, I nearly forgot, I also steamed the green beans that I bought along with the heirloom tomatoes which came out delightfully crisp and clean-tasting. The grilled cheese was just wonderful and, like with the caprese from yesterday, got a nice boost of flavor from the heirloom tomatoes. I’ve got to say, I’m pretty partial to those green ones!

Cooking Heirloom Tomato Caprese

Is it pretentious to talk about buying heirloom tomatoes? I know they have a much richer depth and variety of flavor than your average reds found in the grocery store, but for some reason, every time I think about them, I picture a snooty chef in one of those funny hats or a mustachioed hipster sporting jodhpurs and old timey airplane goggles. Is this some kind of reverse engineered attempt by Big Food to paint local produce in a bad light? Or maybe me just being weird? Probably a little bit of both, but mostly the latter.

Anyway, last week, my wife, daughter and I got some lunch in New Paltz and walked around for a bit. Afterwards, we stopped at one of our favorite farm stands and walked away with a bag of super sweet peaches, crisp green beans and a variety of heirloom tomatoes. I hadn’t figured out the week’s menu at that point, but as you can imagine, I decided to base two separate meals around the colorful fruits masquerading as veggies.

Since I really wanted to showcase the tomatoes, I decided to make caprese and came across a recipe on Food Network’s website that happens to have been submitted by Joe and Jill Biden. Huh. Anyway, this was an incredibly easy preparation with no cooking aside from the pasta which, of course, I got working on first.

With the water on the stove, I got the garlic, lemon juice, shallot and olive oil together. After that, I got to chopping tomatoes. As you can see in the photo I was working with some redish-purple ones, a yellow one and a few green ones. The red ones were pretty sweat, though not overly so while the greens were a bit tangier (one was a little less ripe than I thought and actually had a green pepper quality to it) and the yellows were in the middle. Then the tomatoes went into the olive oil mixture and when the pasta was done, that joined the party along with the mozzarella, some chopped basil (from our herb garden) and some lemon zest. And that’s it! Easy caprese. Yeesh, sorry about that one .

So, was this dish transformatively better thanks to the use of heirloom tomatoes? It would probably be pretentious to say, “Yes, of course!” while twirling my hipster mustache. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t really know how advanced or developed my pallet is, but I do know that there was a lot more going on flavor-wise thanks to their inclusion. Everything I mentioned above came through in the dish which made for a really fresh meal that was perfect on yet another hot end-of-summer night.