Thursday, September 26, 2013

Kirsten's Fried Pork Chops with Gravy, Biscuits and Root Vegetables

Scene stealing gravy and biscuits!

I've mentioned before here that I am absolutely not a fan of frying things. Don't get me wrong, I love to eat fried things! But hot oil and I have not been friends in the past, and it wasn't exactly something I was excited to try again after my last attempt ended in a smoky house and burns on my hands.

But as I've said time and time again on this blog, I'm trying to get more confident in the kitchen, and that requires doing some things I never thought I'd want to do again. So, without further ado, here's our latest pioneer themed post.

So I've discovered that pioneer themed recipes are surprisingly difficult to come by on the internet, and the ones there are tend to be repeats of the same basic things: Beans, biscuits, cornbread, cakes and the occasional recipe for soup. There's nothing wrong with any of these things, and honestly, cornbread is one of the greatest things mankind has ever created, but I wanted something a little more substantial for our next feature. It's all well and good to do one simple thing every now and then, but I already know how to make cornbread, while I don't have a lot of experience or enthusiasm in frying things on the stove. Basically, at some point in the future, I might need to invest in some actual pioneer themed cookbooks and hope they have more substantial ideas.

Still, I want to try and make sure I represent every era more or less equally, or as equally as possible, so I wasn't about to let myself give up, especially since Kirsten is probably my favorite character. As I've said before, aside from being my first doll, I've always related to her (and Felicity) the most, but while Felicity was sort of who I wanted to be as a kid, Kirsten was probably more accurate to who I was.

 And let's be honest, fall is a great time for hearty prairie food!

After doing a thorough search, I discovered this list of suggestions for pioneer recipes from My Recipes. Although none of these recipes were authentic, it did give a lot of good ideas to work with, and I felt like maybe we'd finally found a meal that would be a nice change of pace from our usual dinner routine without repeating what we'd already featured on the blog. We decided to use My Recipes' recipe for fried pork chops and gravy, which was originally published in Southern Living, and's recipe for buttermilk biscuits. I was excited to see that both recipes required buttermilk too, because I still had some left over from my blackberry cake and I was a little worried I wouldn't find reason to use it all before it expired.

Some of the other recipes we might revisit later, because they definitely sounded tasty!

 I mean, what's not to love about buttermilk pancakes?

One thing I will say right off the bat is that this dinner required a good hour and a half of prep time, and created a lot of dishes and general mess to clean up. It was good, but I don't think I'd recommend it for a large group! I'm feeling totally wiped out and am kind of glad I don't have anything else cooking related scheduled until Sunday. I definitely need a break.

Now I'm going to point out once again that these recipes were not cooked authentically, and they're not really entirely authentic, straight from the 1850's recipes either. But they are good, and they do follow the theme pretty faithfully. The person who gathered the original list of suggestions was going with a Little House on the Prairie theme, which has enough in common with what Kirsten would have eaten that means these are - in my mind, anyway - viable. It was not uncommon to have a meal with fried meat as a protein option and paired with vegetables and starches. Families who worked on farms needed to rely on what they could grow themselves, and so food was usually either fresh or preserved by hand from what they'd been able to produce earlier in the year. Meals with high caloric content were also a good thing, as the back breaking labor required to keep a farm (or wagon train) going required a good amount of energy from food to back it up.

I was left mostly to my own devices to start dinner, which meant I decided I wanted to tackle the easy things first. Fortunately, the easy things were also the parts that required the most prep time and would taste fine if they had to sit around for a little while, whereas I'm pretty sure a hot pork chop is several times better than a cold one.

The first thing I did was grease a roasting pan and chop up carrots and parsnips for a vegetable option. Both were common vegetables in any pioneer garden, and they're something that could be enjoyed fresh from the garden in the fall. My Recipes' pioneer suggestions did include a recipe for fried parsnips, which they explained was the most common way to cook them, but we decided since we were already going to be making the fried pork chops, roasting the parsnips would be a much healthier option. (Also, in my opinion, the less frying there was, the better!)

 Because I went the simpler way for them, there really isn't much to say about what I actually did to prepare them. I seasoned them with salt and pepper and left them in the oven to roast for about an hour, and my mom made sure there was butter on the table to add to them if you wanted. I didn't, and there's not much to say about them that's going to shock anyone: they tasted like carrots and parsnips, and I enjoy carrots. I'm still not sure how I feel about parsnips.

Next I decided to tackle the biscuits. I have made biscuits before, but always from Bisquick, and so I was interested if slightly intimidated to make them from scratch. Intimidated because the recipe emphasized how over handling the dough would ruin the biscuits, and so I was almost too afraid to touch them at all.

 While the texture seemed like it was going to work out just fine, it turns out I was probably right to be at least a little afraid of the touching the dough. It was incredibly gluey, and kind of difficult to flatten out to actually get a flat mass to cut shapes out of even if you weren't worried about over handling the dough. Taking pictures of this stage turned out to be a bit of a fiasco, but I did manage to grab some of it on the island and on the tray.

The recipe said that you would be able to cut out about ten or so biscuits from the flattened dough with a cookie cutter, and I'm not sure if the "cookie cutter" (that green cup in the above left hand picture) I used was just too big or what, but I definitely didn't get ten round biscuits out of this. I got five, and tried to ball up the scraps as best I could to cook them too, and ended up with about twelve biscuits. The results were a little homely, but honestly, both the weird lumpy ones and the nice, round ones were easily the best part of the meal. The bottoms were nice and crunchy, and the insides were flaky and chewy and basically delicious in every possible way you want from a biscuit.

It was hard not to just stop everything and devour them all like Cookie Monster.

At this point, I was finally ready for my biggest test.

Hello, my old foe. We meet again.

Frying the pork chops. For anyone who's never fried anything before, frying can be kind of a pain. It takes a while, there's hot, scalding liquid involved which will burn if you don't watch it carefully, and it's just not really a good cooking style to try using when you've got a lot of people visiting for dinner. On the other hand, it's also sort of a pain when you don't have too many people to cook for, because it creates a lot of dishes to do for ultimately relatively little pay off.

That being said, it does create some tasty stuff if you do it right, and it's definitely not hard to imagine trying to cook something like this over a fire on the trail, or in a log (or more likely for a lot of people on the prairie, sod) cabin in the middle of no where.

I mixed up my seasoning first, and then got right to work getting the pork chops prepped and cooking.


One other thing I really learned this time around was I kind of hate the smell of buttermilk. I'm already not a huge fan of milk, but there's something about buttermilk that just does nothing good for me even if it does make really good biscuits and cakes. I'm also still not really over my squeamishness involving handling raw meat. It's not that it makes me feel sick or gives me chills or anything, I just don't like doing it, and tend to go "ew, ew, ew" until I'm able to put it down somewhere and immediately run to the sink to scald the top layer of skin off my hands.

Something recipe related that's worth noting is that the original recipe called for center cut pork chops, but we bought sirloin cut chops instead in hopes that they would be a little moister than center cuts tend to be. We also had to really up the spices for the rub from what the recipe recommended, because there was just no way the original amount was going to coat all four pork chops on both sides, so we eyeballed some extra ingredients before putting them on the pan.

At this point, the biscuits were also in imminent danger of being devoured by people who had smelled them and wandered into the kitchen hoping for a taste.

Put those back, Kirsten!

Not that I can really blame them, considering how I definitely snitched some (and some of the remaining dough) too, but it's a little distracting to be cooking something on the stove, trying to take pictures and yelling at people to keep their hands to themselves.

The pork chops were actually fairly uneventful once they were on the pan. We let them cook for a little over five minutes a side just to be safe, and then put them on a paper towel to drain a bit before serving them.

Which meant it was time to make the gravy. Apparently gravy - good gravy, anyway - is difficult to make, but despite my previous evidence to support this theory (see the story of our disappointing sauce here), I had no reason to think this would potentially be something complicated, so I just dumped the ingredients in the pan and stirred.

And lo and behold, it thickened into a pretty beautiful gravy.

Which was apparently so good that my grandfather ate the remainder of it on a biscuit instead of just leaving it in the pan. I'm not really a gravy person, so I'm definitely not well versed on what a good gravy is versus a not as good gravy, but he definitely is, so I'm taking it as a compliment.

Now, at this point, you know frying is not my favorite way of cooking something at all, ever, so you might be assuming that I definitely wouldn't recommend doing this recipe or any other that involves putting something in a pan with oil and hoping for the best, but actually, while I might not have necessarily enjoyed prepping it, I definitely liked eating this. The pork chops were tasty, and I think we were smart to get the different cut of chop. They weren't dry, and the breading was pretty tasty, and it's been a really long time since I've had a pork chop, so it was kind of a fun, different dinner for us to have.

I was also thrilled to not have another frying related accident in the kitchen! My hands are burn free, and the house doesn't reek of smoke, so overall, I am very pleased with how things turned out, even if this was kind of an exhausting meal to throw together relatively quickly. Despite that, I'm already looking back on it with fondness, and wouldn't mind trying it again. The only thing I'd really change is maybe doing something more exciting with the carrots and parsnips, because as it was, they were sort of boring. Maybe I'll do some more research into something to spice them up in the mean time.

And if nothing else, we're definitely making those biscuits again!

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