Saturday, August 21, 2010

Eat Here-Oliveto

About a month and a half ago my husband and I found ourselves in downtown Oakland. We decided to make the most of our situation (we were childless for the afternoon) and get lunch somewhere. Deep in the heart of Oakland, on College Street, is a lovely cafe named Oliveto. It is technically Oliveto Restaurant and Cafe, but we did not know that at the time. It is situated on a busy corner, and it is an unassuming little place, just the kind I like.
When you enter the front door, a nostalgic stairway winds its way up to an unknown second floor (we found out later it was the restaurant area). We sat in the cafe, and promptly fell in love with the ambiance of this place. Sausages hanging in the fridge and a large wood burning pizza oven just added to the visually pleasing aesthetics of our table.
We started off with a tart that had thinly sliced potatoes, red onions and gruyere. With it's rich pastry crust it was a bit heavy for a starter, but nonetheless, very delicious. We then enjoyed a freshly baked pizza topped with thinly sliced red onions, sausage and an arugula salad. Absolutely delicious and fresh tasting.
We ended out our meal with a house made plum ice cream with plum caramel sauce. Very good, with a rich, full flavor. The bill ran us about $25 with tax and tip, which by all means is a very good price for a meal for two.
The menu changes quite often because the chef's rely on local, seasonal produce. Not a bad thing.
If  you are ever in the area, I would recommend you stop by Oliveto Restaurant and Cafe at 5655 College Avenue, Oakland, California, 94618.
You can also view their current lunch and dinner menus and see if there is anything that excites you.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Go-To Dinner: Pork Chops

We love to have company over and there is one meal I make more than any other when we have people over: Pork chops. Not just any pork chops, pork chops with apples. When I was a kid, I remember my dad talking about eating pork chops with applesauce. I thought that was pretty disgusting. Right up there with creamed tuna on toast and 'ramen-a-la-dada' (trust me, you don't want to know). Alright, I'll tell you. Ramen noodles cooked as usual and accompanied by cut-up hard-boiled eggs, mixed frozen vegetables and soy sauce. Not a big fan.
Anyway, back to the pork chops. As a young teenager, I made sure nothing on my plate touched the other items on my plate. I hated it when people served me and the mashed potatoes were touching the corn, and the gravy from my Salisbury steak was rushing to meet my buttered piece of wheat bread. Yucky! Or so I thought. When I began cooking as an adult, I realized some of the delicious unions that occur when foods meet.
I am not talking about those bland, tough chops with mealy applesauce smeared on top. This, I assure you, is not the meal I am describing to you. This meal is easily and quickly prepared, looks amazing and impresses every time. Don't you wish all meals went like that?
For starters, the pork chops are 'cured' in a mixture of salt, brown sugar and rosemary, that imparts a wonderful depth of flavor  and allows the pork chops to cook quickly and retain their moisture.
Secondly, the chops are fried in bacon grease. Now, if you are not in the habit of keeping bacon grease, get into it! Green beans, eggs, breaded zucchini and more reach astronomical levels when fried in bacon grease. Before you know it, you will be eating it with your breakfast cereal (ok, maybe not).
Then, you cook peeled apple pieces in the leftover grease with a bit of chicken stock, cinnamon and apricot jam. the emerging sauce has a hint of sweetness and gives you that magical union of fruit and meat. My husband asks for this meal at least every few weeks, and is always elated to find it on the menu for dinner.
I assure you, you will come back to this recipe time and time again-whether its to impress company, a quick weeknight dinner, or a way to use those lonely apples sitting on your counter.
Trust me.

Pan Fried Pork Chops with Glazed Apples

Serves 4
2 Tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
4 Thin-cut pork chops (about 1/2 inch thick each)
Freshly ground pepper
1 Tablespoon bacon grease, plus more if needed
2 Small to medium crisp apples such as honey crisp, gala, pink lady, Fuji or jazz, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 Cups chicken stock
1/3 Cup apricot jam
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar (or another if you don't have it)

Combine the brown sugar, kosher salt, and rosemary in a small bowl and stir together. Coat the pork chops on both sides with the mixture, gently massaging the meat with your fingers to jump start the curing process. Let stand for 15 minutes. Rinse the chops and pat dry with paper towels. Season the chops on both sides with pepper to taste.
Melt the 1 tablespoon bacon grease in a large heavy skillet over high heat, add the pork chips, and cook until crispy brown, about 2 minutes on each side.
Transfer the pork chops to a plate and cover with foil. Add the apples to the skillet and cook, stirring gently to brown slightly, about 30 seconds, adding a bit more bacon grease if the pan is dry. Add the stock, jam, vinegar and cinnamon and stir well. Cook until the sauce thickens and is rich brown in color, about 10 minutes. (Don't cook down the sauce too much, but if you do, simply add a little more stock.)
Uncover the pork chops and top with the glazed apples.
For a beautiful and festive variation, add 1/4-1/2 cup of dried cranberries when you add the stock.
We like to eat this with Green Beans....

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