Wondering how this all came about? Read the first post here.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


From 'The Simpsons' episode "Lisa the Vegetarian," 1995:

Homer: Are you saying you're never going to eat any animal again? What about bacon?
Lisa: No.
Homer: Ham?
Lisa: No.
Homer: Pork chops?
Lisa: Dad, those all come from the same animal.
Homer: Heh heh heh. Ooh, yeah, right, Lisa. A wonderful, magical animal.

'Magical' about sums it up. I daresay pigs are the Harry Potter of animals.

Beware Lord Hormelmort!

So last week, I decided to cast a spell of delicious on my first slab of pork chops. For my recipe, I went to bettycrocker.com and looked for the simplest, highest rated pork chop recipe I could find, with the largest number of ratings. The winner by a mile was the Pork Chop Skillet Dinner:

Pork Chop Skillet Dinner

   pork loin or rib chops, 1 inch thick (1 1/2 lb)
   cup Progresso® beef flavored broth or chicken broth (from 32-oz carton)
   medium potatoes, cut into fourths
   small carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
   medium onions, cut into fourths
   teaspoon salt
   teaspoon pepper

   Chopped fresh parsley, if desired

  • Remove fat from pork. Spray 12-inch nonstick skillet with cooking spray; heat over medium-high heat. Cook pork in skillet about 5 minutes, turning once, until brown.
  • Add broth, potatoes, carrots and onions to skillet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer about 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender and pork is slightly pink when cut near bone. Sprinkle with parsley.

As a modern techie chef, I skipped the printer and made the recipe a favorite on my Betty Crocker iPhone app, the most awesomest cooking app in the world and currently featured in Apple's '12 Apps of Christmas' TV commercial. And I'm not just saying that because I worked on the team that developed it. I'm saying it because it has great recipes, simple functionality, is easy to use in the kitchen, is free, works without a data connection AND because I worked on the team that developed it.

(OK, no joke, this is a shameless plug. But it's free and I really do happen to think it's pretty cool. I helped come up with how it worked, so I pushed for features I liked and knew I would use. iPhone and iPod users, give it a try: Download Here.)

After thawing for a day in the fridge, I was ready to cook. These are bone-in chops, easily an inch thick, stacked four high.

De Niro in "The Untouchables"...                                                                ...and, say, "Goodfellas"
Two immediate problems arose. One, because of the overall thickness of the stack, the middle two were not yet thawed. Second, even trimmed each was the size of my hand; even the largest skillet I own couldn't hold all four plus the other ingredients.

I immediately made a compromise: The two (thawed) chops tonight, the other two for the next night. I kind of eyeballed the other ingredients: since I was using B-reds for my potatoes, I still used four. For the carrots, I just dumped in a third of a bag of baby carrots. The onions I reduced to two.

I made a couple other modifications. I chose chicken broth, and put in much more than the recipe called for. And I dusted the chops with Penzey's Bavarian Herbs seasoning, which has become a favorite of mine (Shannon discovered that it added a lot to burgers, and since then I've used it many times.)

From there, the recipe was pretty simple:




It smelled as good as it looked. Shannon and I sat down expectantly and...


That's the sound of a table knife sawing into a tough pork chop. OK, maybe it wasn't THAT bad, certainly edible, but much tougher and drier than expected, considering it had been simmering in an inch of broth.

Now, in fairness, this is probably the fault of the chef, not the recipe. The recipe has the following text attached to it on the BettyCrocker.com site, but unfortunately doesn't show up in the iPhone app (maybe a tweak for the next version):
Follow cook times for pork carefully. Today’s pork is lean and requires shorter cook times. Overcooking pork will make it tough.
Now, I don't know if reading that would have changed anything, since I did follow times carefully. But it does emphasize how unforgiving lean meats can be when cooking over high heat - no wonder so many pork recipes are cooked slow.

The flavor was actually very good. It reminded me a lot of the roasts my mother used to make in the oven. The vegetables were fall-apart tender and incredibly savory. I was pleasantly surprised at the onions, which had a mild flavor; now it made more sense to me why the recipe would call for so many. We ladled the extra broth onto the chops to make up for the lack of juice, and we both cleaned our plates.

But even if the fault was mine, Shannon and I agreed this one deserved a lower rating. I encourage you to try this one for yourself - a lot of people obviously have good success with it, it's easy and the flavor is good. I may have to come back and try this one later in the year once I've mastered the cook times a bit more.

In the meanwhile, I had two more chops waiting in the fridge...

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