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Archive for the ‘swine’ Category

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Last night we dined on some pulled pork shoulder that I made. I wasn’t quite sure how I wanted to serve it, but when Yuki was on her way home from work she stopped to grab some tortillas and oiala, lemongrass carnitas were born…and devoured…and still getting devoured as there is a ton of it in our fridge.

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I started this dish off the day before since flavors develop over time on braised dishes. I picked up a 4.5 lb bone-in pork shoulder, diced a tomato and half onion (shown in my little mini food processor container), three stalks of lemongrass outer leaves removed and tender middle chopped up (I reserved the tougher top portions for the braising liquid), a 2 inch piece of ginger chopped, 10 cloves of garlic chopped, the juice of 1 lime, three good pinches of sugar, about 2 tablespoons of fish sauce, and 15 or so cracks of black pepper. Everything except for the pork went into my little food processor and I turned it into a wet rub.

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I covered the pork shoulder with my marinade and let it sit in my large pot with the reserved lemongrass stalks for about an hour to let the juice start to penetrate the meat.

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Then I poured in about 1/3 cup of soy sauce, 1/4 cup of cooking sake, and then filled it with water till the liquid covered about 3/4’s of the shoulder. I brought it up to a boil then covered the pot and turned the heat to low. I let it simmer for about 6 hours. After it was done simmering I let it cool down a bit and then put it in my fridge to sit overnight.

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Yesterday afternoon I took it out of the fridge, scooped up the thin layer of fat that hardened on the surface, and took the shoulder out.

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I pulled the pork apart. Best way to do that is to just get your hands dirty. Let’s be honest here, is there anything wrong with having your hands smell like lemongrass pork? I think not. Speaking of lemongrass, I discarded the tough parts that were in the braise.

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I put the pulled pork back into the pot with the braising liquid and brought it back up to a boil.

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I let it boil down for about an hour to let a majority of the liquid evaporate. What you’re left with is a rich, flavorful heaping pile of swinealicious meat that drips down your hands as you slap it on a tortilla. Again, there’s nothing wrong with hands that smell like lemongrass pork.

I served these carnitas with cilantro, white rice, steamed bok choy, and sautéed chinese eggplant, green onion, and yellow bell pepper. Avocado would’ve been pretty good with them too. Topping them with diced tomato and onion wouldn’t be bad either.

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We had picked up some squid the other day, about a pound, that needed to be eaten before it went bad. I had always wanted to try stuffing squid and this seemed to be the perfect opportunity. Always the opportunist I went with it.

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First thing I did was make the stuffing. I picked up about a half pound of ground pork, a quarter onion diced, and minced 3 garlic cloves.

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I sautéed the onion and garlic in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil for about 7 minutes and then added in the pork. Once the pork was fully cooked, about 5 more minutes, I seasoned with salt and pepper and then let it sit for a couple of hours to cool down to room temperature.

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After getting some work done on my computer while the stuffing was cooling down I got the spaghetti sauce ready. I used a half bulb of fennel (fronds saved for garnish), a carrot diced, 3 cloves of garlic minced, a quarter onion diced, 1 can of diced tomatoes, and a quarter cup of chicken stock.

In my hot pan I poured in about 3 tablespoons of olive oil and then sautéed the garlic, onion, carrot, and fennel for about 10 minutes over medium-high heat. Then I poured in the chicken stock and let it boil down for about 5 minutes before adding the tomatoes. I seasoned with salt and pepper and gave it a taste. I saw the need for a little more flavor depth so I poured in about 5 to 6 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar.

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Here are my little squid. I threw the tentacles into the spaghetti sauce.

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I started stuffing the bodies with the pork mixture. That was not an easy task. None of my regular spoons were small enough to fit into the squid, my utensil is too big (I wish)! So, I tried using one of Otis’ feeding spoons. That was too big too, but did get some pork stuffed in. I ended up just using my fingers, still a difficult task as the squid kept slipping out of my hand. Slippery little suckers.

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After I got ten of the squid stuffed I realized that I was short on time and had to go pick Otis up from daycare. Since I only needed three and a half servings (dinner for all three of us and lunch for Yuki) I thought that 10 was enough. So I cut the rest of the squid into rings and tossed it into the spaghetti sauce along with the rest of the pork mixture.

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To get some green into dinner I took a big handful of haricots vert and roasted them with olive oil, salt, and pepper at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes or so.

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While my noodles were cooking (I really wanted black squid ink pasta, but couldn’t find any so I used spinach spaghetti and just boiled it according to package instructions) and sauce re-heating I heated up my griddle pan to med-high, salted and peppered my squid, drizzled a little olive oil on the pan, and cooked the squid for about 4 minutes per side.

I will say, this dish was a success. It was a bit time-consuming trying to stuff those little sea aliens, but well worth it. They were soft, juicy, and very tasty. I would definitely make this, or something like it again. Actually, next time I think I’ll do a togarashi spiced squid and serve it with Japanese noodles in a dashi broth. The possibilities are endless!

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The other night Yuki and I met up with a bunch of her ex-coworkers who have moved back to Tokyo. They got a table at a modern, hip Yakitori joint in the Hibiya neighborhood. If you want to buy a brand new Hermes bag, Hibiya is the place for you. It’s a very swanky area filled with great food. The place they met us at is called Yakitori Akira. It’s in the basement of a large office/shopping building along with a handful of other slightly upscale food joints.

When you walk in you take your shoes off and walk past the open counter where the chefs prepare the chow. The tables are sunken. I was a little nervous at first because the tables were floor level and my knees are terrible. But, the floor was recessed making them regular table height, something that is becoming more common in newer restaurants, sort of fusion if you will.

The first dish, after a cold draft beer of course,  was a salad of raw Nappa cabbage swimming in a mayonnaise-based dressing and topped with sliced kombu.

After that came some natto topped with sliced green onions and nori seaweed. Natto is a love-hate food. You either love it or you hate it. It’s a type of fermented soy bean and has a really pungent odor, like ripe armpits. It also has a very sticky texture. It’s commonly eaten with Chinese-style mustard to mask some of the smell. Yuki loves it, I don’t prefer it. Very few Westerners can tolerate it and, these days, not so many of the younger Japanese do either. But, I had to try it since they put it in my face. Needless to say, I took one bite and the quickly proceeded to chug some beer!

Then we had some chicken karage, Japanese-style chicken nuggets. Unlike your McDonald’s variety of processed crap, this is big juicy chunks of thigh meat. I have no idea what kind of sauce this one came with, but it sure was tasty!

This here is the dish I was most looking forward to…rare chicken meat! The meat from the neck was quickly seared, almost completely raw (the pink you see in the picture is indeed raw chicken), on a hot skillet and served with some yuzu kosho. Rare chicken is extremely controversial, for obvious reasons, but given the upscale atmosphere I was certain they were using fresh, high quality birds. Since I have yet to get diarrhea or vomit profusely, I’m pretty sure the meat was clean. Flavor-wise it tasted like chicken, oddly enough. The texture was a little chewy, chicken al dente. Honestly, it’s nothing really special, it’s just chicken meat.

Avocado sautéed in some sort of shoyu sauce came next. Coming from Chicago I’m used to Mexican preparations of avocado. This was a nice change to what my taste buds are used to. The sauce carmelized a little while the avocado stayed nice and soft.

After the Avocado we spiced things up a bit with some kimchi. It was served with some chopped green onion, julienned daikon, and a shiso leaf.

Next came what is probably my favorite snack of the night, deep-fried chicken skin. Japan’s answer to chicharones. Crispy, buttery, all-around chickeny goodness! I may have to make this a staple of my future diet.

What tour around the bird would complete without some chicken wings? These were deep-fried with either basil or shiso in the batter, I couldn’t really tell. With a squirt of lemon they were delicious.

The main course of the night was the table-top charcoal grill. Instead of eating yakitori style (chicken on skewers) we ate yakiniku style (grill yourself). The first pieces we grilled were breast meat wrapped in shiso leaf.

The other pieces of chicken we got were neck meat, 2 parts of the heart (heart skin and heart meat), meat that was dangling off a piece of cartilage (I think the breastplate), and skin. We also had a few pieces of okra to grill.

Once the meat was grilled we dipped the pieces into an onsen egg. Basically it’s just an egg that’s been barely soft-boiled to the point where the whites were just set and the yolk is still runny. To me, this is natures most perfect sauce.

After all of that chicken we decided to get a few cuts of pork for shits and giggles. We got shoulder, cheek, and side meat and grilled them all the same as the chicken.

As Yuki and I were leaving due to having Otis back at grandma and grandpa’s, everyone else ordered up some soup. I really have no idea what was in the soup, but I imagine it was miso. From the pic I took here as I left I can definitely tell you it was topped with nori and had a shtickle of wasabi.

All in all, I thought Akira was a great izakaya. They call themselves Yakitori Akira because the chef’s specialty is chicken, but to me it’s not a yakitori restaurant at all, even though they do serve yakitori. The menu is much too diverse to be called yakitori. Since they serve up numerous small plates and whatnot with a nice beer and sake list, its pure izakaya to me. That said, what’s in a name? An izakaya by any other name’s chicken would taste is sweet.

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I had a half of a butternut squash in my fridge that I wanted to use up last night. The first thing that popped into my head was a puree. Squash puree’s really well, especially when you add a little ginger and garlic. So, Otis and I walked down to Trader Joe’s and grabbed some pork tenderloin to grill up for the protein.

Making a puree out of squash is one of the easiest things you can do. I took the squash and removed the seeds and skin then chopped it up. Along with that, I skinned and chopped one medium red-skin potato, 1/2 inch of ginger, 3 garlic cloves, and 1/4 cup of chicken stock. The potato is simply to add a nice smooth texture.

In a sauce pan, I threw all of the ingredients together and simmered them over medium-high heat for about 15 minutes, until everything was soft but not mushy. I let it cool down and then pureed it in my little blender. I set about 5 tablespoons aside and then salted and peppered the rest and let that sit aside ready to reheat just before serving.

While the squash was simmering I marinate the pork in 1 tablespoon sesame oil, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons sake, 1 tablespoon mirin, 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 1/2 inch of ginger grated, and 3 garlic cloves grated. I had 2 lbs of tenderloin and let it marinate in the fridge for about 2 hours, then let it sit out for about 45 minutes before grilling.

For my grill, about 10 minutes on each side at medium-high cooks it nice and medium with just a bit of pink left in the middle. I let it rest, tented in foil, for about 8 minutes before slicing it up.

To counter the Autumn sweetness of the squash I sautéed some asparagus with sliced shiitake, 1/2 an onion sliced, 2 garlic cloves minced, 1 tablespoon of butter, and 2 tablespoons of soy sauce.

In a medium-hot pan I poured in a couple of tablespoons of peanut oil. I sweat down the onion for about 7 minutes. Then I added the garlic and shiitake. I let those cook for about 5 minutes before tossing the asparagus in. Another 8 minutes and I added the butter and soy. I let it all cook together for a few more minutes. so the butter could coat everything, then served it up.

Pan roasting asparagus and shiitake with some butter bring out more of the woodsy notes rather than more sweetness.

White rice was on the side of course.

The night’s triumph, however, was that it was Otis’s first successful adult food feeding! We tried some sweet potato a couple of weeks ago, but it didn’t go over so well. He just wasn’t quite ready. With all the butternut squash puree, we gave it another shot. Remember the puree that I set aside before adding salt and pepper? (babies shouldn’t eat added salt) I mixed in about 2 oz’s of breast milk, not from my breasts or he’d get nothing but a hairball, until it was really smooth and thin enough that he could just swallow it down. Sure, his bib got fed too, but he ate the whole thing. I’m sure I’ll have a fun mess to clean up today because of it. But he’s worth it.

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Carnitas…the mere thought of that word brings tingles to my tongue. Bits of juicy, yet crisp little pork pieces topped with cilantro, onion, and salsa, then wrapped up in a warm blanket of corn tortilla. I, myself enjoy being wrapped in a warm blanket of corn tortilla. However, as much as I enjoy that, I far prefer to stuff my face with carnitas. When my buddy Nick invited us, as a few others, over for some homemade, backyard carnitas there was absolutely no way to turn down an offer like that. To say I jumped at the chance wouldn’t be quite accurate, but it was something along those lines.

To do carnitas the kind of justice they deserve, you have to use lard. Pure, creamy white, rendered pork fat. What better way to bring out the flavor of pork than with the flavor of pork? No double-negative here, just heart-stopping bliss. Nick picked up, I think 6 lbs of lard? Maybe it was 5. Whatever it was, he wasn’t screwing around.

He brought the big pot from his turkey fryer in to his kitchen and scooped all of that lard right in. I didn’t look like much while it was solid, but looks can sometimes be deceiving.

He rigged the fryer up to the propane tank on the concrete section of his backyard, lit that sucker up, and let that lard melt down into a 275 degrees pork hot tub. As he told me, the trick is not to deep-fry, but to keep it at 275 and let it simmer in the lard for about an hour or so. That’s how you get the nice golden crust with the juicy center. If the oil’s too hot, the outside will burn before the middle is cooked.

Look at that! Approximately 5 lbs of pink, fat-strewn hog heaven. How can you not want to maul that down with some cilantro? Nick sliced the chunks about half way through to give more surface area to brown in hot lard. That means more flavor!

One by one he carefully lowered each piece into the hot lard. (Hot Lard, that’d be a great band name)

No stranger to greasy knuckles (that’d be another great band name), he constantly checked the temperature with his handy frying glove. Like I said before, he wasn’t screwing around. He takes his lard simmering seriously, as he should.

You’re eyes are not playing tricks on you, this does look delicious!

After about an hour he took the pork out. He tented it in foil while getting the tortillas steamed. This allowed all of the juices to re-distribute throughout the meat.

Once the onions and cilantro were chopped, salsa (his was home-made, I think chipotle, not sure but definatley some sort of roasted and dryed chili) poured into serving dish, and tortillas nice and warm, he shredded the pork and we proceeded to carnitas like we’ve never carnitas’d before.

I wish I had a turkey fryer now. These were so tasty all I can do is wait until he decides to buy more lard. Until then, fond memories will have to suffice.

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Last night was the perfect night to grill up some juicy pork tenderloin. I’m not one to waste an opportunity like that, especially with a bunch of rain in the near future forecast. So, that’s exactly what I did, I grilled up some juicy pork tenderloin.

I made a simple marinade using 2 garlic cloves minced, 3 green onions thinly sliced, the juice from 1/2 lemon, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons sake, 1 tablespoon mirin, 1 tablespoon sesame oil, and 1.25 pounds of pork tenderloin. Before letting the pork take a dip in the marinade I stabbed it all over with my knife to allow the marinade more easy access to the juicy center. I covered it and let it sit in the fridge for about 2 hours, taking it out about 30 minutes before grilling.

For my veggies I used 1 red bell pepper chopped, 1 clove garlic minced, 1/2 onion chopped, 3 fingerling potatoes chopped, 1 head of broccoli, 5 shiitake chopped, 1 tablespoon butter, and 2 tablespoons soy sauce. I also used the juice from the other half of the lemon, but forgot to get that in the pic.

I melted the butter in a hot pan and then fried the potatoes in it for about 10 minutes till they were a bit crisp on all sides. Then, I added the onion, bell pepper, and garlic. I let them sweat down for about 6 minutes. After that, I added the shiitake and broccoli and let everything cook for about 7 more minutes. In came the soy sauce, then the lemon juice along with some cracked black pepper, and then I served it up.

While the veggies were cooking I grilled up the pork. On my grill, each grill is different, tenderloin cooks best on the top rack with the heat at med-high. I can leave the pork for about 10 minutes each side leaving it just slightly pink in the middle, the way fresh tenderloin should be. I let it rest for 10 minutes and then sliced it up.

Of course, white rice was on the side.

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Last night I made a simple burger out of ground pork and one of my usual marinades. To make it into a burger, I mixed the marinade into the meat for flavor and added some bread crumbs to help hold it together. Grilled up to perfection, these could also be pan-fried or even baked. But why when you can grill?

To make the burgers used about 1 inch of ginger grated, 3 garlic cloves grated, 3 green onions thinly sliced (white and pale green parts only), 1.25 lbs of ground pork, a few slices of bread ground into bread crumbs, 1.5 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon sake, 1/2 tablespoon of mirin, and 1/2 tablespoon of sesame oil.

I threw it all into a glass bowl and mixed it together, along with some black pepper, with a metal spoon until the flavors were evenly distributed throughout the meat. By using a metal spoon I avoided having the heat in my hands melt the fat. This helps keeps the burger juicy while it’s on the grill. Once mixed, I let the meat for about 10 minutes or so to let the flavors settle. Then, I formed 4 patties and set them aside, covered in the fridge, while I prepared the rest of dinner. To cook, I took them out about 20 minutes prior to grilling. I grilled them over medium high heat for about 8 minutes on each side. This allowed nice grill marks while keeping it juicy, yet cooked.

I made miso soup using 1/2 onion sliced, 3 shiitake sliced, 3 fingerling potatoes chopped, 7 leaves of nappa cabbage sliced, and 1.5 tablespoons of miso.

The other side I made was a simple veggie mix of 1/2 pound of snow peas, 5 small garlic cloves minced, 1/2 tablespoon of butter, a handful of bean sprouts, 1/2 orange bell pepper sliced, and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce.

I melted the butter in a skillet and then added the garlic. I let the garlic cook for about 30 seconds and then added the orange bell pepper. After the pepper had fried up a bit in the butter, about 5 minutes, I added the cabbage and let that cook down for another 5 minutes. In came the soy sauce with some black pepper. When the soy had cooked off, just a couple of minutes, I added the bean sprouts. The sprouts have enough water so that you don’t need to much soy. When it was all cooked down for a few more minutes it was ready.

Of course, we had white rice along for the ride.

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There are two good reasons to drive out to Naperville: Ribfest and……… well, if anyone can think of another reason let me know. At the ripe old age of just over 2 months, Yuki and I thought it was high time that Otis experience the finer pleasures in gastronomy. So, off to Naperville we went.

Being a veteran of Naperville Ribfest I remember two pitmasters providing ribs that are a cut above the rest. Pigfoot is one of them, but the line to get their swine popsicles was insane! The other was Mojo’s, and their line was much shorter, only 5 people in front of me. Still, the line took about 20 minutes to get my ribs! They really cut back on the hired hands this year, and it really hurt the overall experience.

However, once we got our Mojo on things were all right! Juicy and tender with a nice amount of hickory, Mojo’s does a really nice job with their ribs. To make sure we got a little something extra in our stomachs I got the beans and slaw as well. Standard beans and slaw, but let’s be honest here, it’s not the Naperville Beans and Slaw Fest!

As we were Mojo all over our faces our friends Tony and Sandra found us. They headed off to get some ribs as well. Sandra got her Mojo on while Tony braved the line at Pigfoot. When he finally got back with those ribs I remembered why they have the longest line. Their ribs are fantastic! I’m not sure I’d call them light-years ahead of Mojo’s, but they do have a certain joie de vivre about them.

Ready for another flavor of ribs I set out to find my calling. Not quite sure where to wait in line, I noticed behind Sgt Oinks a short, stout woman with a mullet ponytail working amongst the pitmasters. That, to me, says BBQ! Mullet ponytail it is. I’m glad I went there too as I don’t remember eating their ribs at past fests, but I do remember seeing their booth. Their ribs themselves were the meatiest of the bunch, which was nice. Their sauce was very cuminy, which is not a bad thing at all. I also got one of their sweet cornbread muffins as they were advertised as “The best north of the Mason-Dixon Line”. I wouldn’t put them above Mojo’s or Pigfoot, but they weren’t far behind either. Ideally I’d put Sgt Oink’s ribs with Mojo’s hickory smoke and Pigfoot’s sauce. Now that would be a Naperville Ribfest champion!

A fresh squeezed lemonade (all for the low low price of $6!) to wash it all down and we were ready to head back to the City. I only wish they had a different music schedule because Bruce Hornsby is playing today. We were stuck with some pretty awful and loud music. I think they were called  “The Sweetwater Band”. Honestly, they’re no better than the bands I was in back in college! That’s not saying much.

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Let’s be honest here…is there anything more fun that getting up at the crack of dawn, driving down to Mt Vernon with your younger bro, picking up a 16 foot truck, driving it to Carbondale, spending the weekend going through boxes and boxes of storage while trying to convince your step-father that he doesn’t really need all of those Oriental Rugs, driving the truck back to Chicago loaded up with furniture and dishes, and unloading everything into an empty garage? Obviously, this is a facetious question. There is one saving grace to the whole journey though…17th Street Bar & Grill in Murphysboro! If you are a fan of slow smoked, meaty swine lollipops like myself then this is your Mecca! Ode to Mike Mills and his grandma’s BBQ recipes!

Mike Mills has won numerous Memphis-in-May BBQ contests and is now a judge since no one seems able to beat his ribs. I blogged a while back about one of the outposts he opened up in Vegas, but this is the real deal. This is the place that happy dreams are made of. I’d walk on my hands and knees in 5 feet of snow all the way to 17th Street just to get a taste of these ribs!

Since I’m not a huge man (except where it counts!) my mom and I split a full rack but got extra sides. She loves their sweet potatoes baked with butter and cinnamon. Really, who wouldn’t? I love his BBQ baked beans. Again, who wouldn’t?

We also got some slaw to help push the meal through our entrails as well as some french fries to give me my carbs. Dr Atkins is an idiot! A meal without carbs is no meal at all.

It’s hard to tell from my phone pic, but just look at how juicy, pink, and tender that meat-stick is! It’s things like this that makes me proud to be an atheist with no nonsensical dietary laws written 3,000 years ago to live my life by. We are but animals, why deprive us of life’s simple pleasures like being atop the food-chain with the ability to season, sauce, and smoke? Ah, the philosophy of ribs, truly a religion worthwhile!

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Farmer’s Market season officially kicked off this past weekend, and I couldn’t be happier. While it’ll still be some time before the best produce is available (peaches, carrots, etc.), there are some great veggies ready for the taking. With Sunday not only being the first Wicker Park Farmer’s Market, but also being an absolutely beautiful day, Yuki and I took Otis out for his first taste of the fresh produce Michigan has to offer.

Jakes Country Meats was there some beautifully smoked pork products. All of their pork is smoked with wood and vegetables like beets and celery that contain natural nitrates. They hit me up for a couple of smoked chops and a package of kielbasa as I am a lover of kielbasa. Haven’t had the kielbasa yet, but I salivate every time I open up my freezer and see them sitting there just waiting to be thawed and thrown on my grill!

I also picked up some River Valley Kitchens asparagus ravioli, some beautiful purple asparagus, and a few butterball potatoes. Along with the smoked chops these ingredients were to become dinner.

I also used 2 tablespoons of butter, 1/4 onion diced, 3 garlic cloves minced, and a handful of parsley chopped.

In my large skillet I melted the butter and then sautéed the garlic, onion, and asparagus for about 6 minutes. I added the ravioli (since they were not frozen I did not boil them) and let the fry in the butter for about 5 minutes or so on each side. Then I tossed in most of the parsley and seasoned with some salt and pepper. I set it aside until my grill was done.

For the grill I cut the potatoes into wedges and drizzled them with olive oil, salt, and pepper. I grilled them on the top rack for about 8 minutes on each side. Since the chops were smoked they just needed to be heated, some nice grill marks were also in order. So, I just let them cook for about 3 minutes on each side.

On the side I made a very simple salad with iceberg lettuce, tomato wedges, and a lemon vinaigrette I made with the juice from 1/2 lemon, twice as much olive oil as lemon juice, salt, and pepper (emulsified into a smooth texture).

I will say this, the chops, while very delicious, were more like breakfast ham than dinner meat. They were a tad salty for the way I prepared them. If I were to buy them again, which I would in a heartbeat, I would serve them with a vegetable hash and a nice runny poached egg on top. Otherwise everything was fantastic.

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