Penouche? Gesundheit

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My mom has been a candymaker for longer than I’ve been alive, learning the tricks and techniques from my grandmother. When I was young, she and my grandma Atkinson wrote a cookbook, Candymaking. It’s long been out of print, but it’s fun when I hear people who still refer to this cookbook on a regular basis. Growing up, I was surrounded with caramels, fudge, chocolates, and truffles. But my favorite was always a sweet treat called penouche.

The best way I can describe penouche is that it would be the love child of caramel and fudge. It has that thick, creamy texture of fudge, along with the sweet, caramel notes of a rich caramel.

For our neighbor gifts this year we decided to whip up some penouche, and I thought I’d share the recipe from my mom’s book.

Ingredients:

2 C whipping cream
1 T light corn syrup
2 C granulated sugar
1 C firmly packed brown sugar
3 T butter
1/2 C white compound coating or white chocolate chips
1.5 C pecans, toasted and chopped (if desired)

Line an 8-inch square baking pan with plastic wrap; set aside. In a heavy 4-quart saucepan, combine cream, corn syrup, and sugars. Place over medium high heat and stir with a wooden spoon until mixture comes to a boil. If sugar crystals are presents on the edges of the saucepan, wash down the sides with a wet pastry brush.

Clip on candy thermometer (if you don’t have a candy thermometer, use another highly accurate thermometer like a Thermapen (not sponsored–I just really like their stuff. But if you’re reading this, Thermapen, holla). Cook, stirring occasionally, to 236F (229F along the Wasatch Front due to our higher elevation/lower boiling point). Remove from heat. Without stirring, add butter. Let stand until thermometer cools to 210F. Without stirring, add compound coating. Let stand 1 minute. Remove thermometer. Add nuts and stir with a wooden spoon until white chocolate is melted and butter is fully incorporated. Candy should be thick and creamy. Scrape into prepared pan. Refrigerate 3 hours or until firm. Cut into 1 inch squares. Store in refrigerator. Makes 64 pieces.

While cooking, the penouche will stall right around the boiling point for several minutes while the water boils out. After that, it climbs quickly to 229F, so keep a close eye on it and don’t walk away. While stirring, stir gently to avoid having the sugar accumulate on the edge of the pan, otherwise the penouche will crystallize and lose its smooth, creamy texture.

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Fig Balsamic Glazed Pork Chops with Polenta

I have a  love/love relationship with balsamic vinegar. I can’t get enough of it. Fruity, tangy, and sweet, it is a perfect accompaniment to numerous types of food. If you’ve only tried it with bread at your local Italian restaurant, I’d encourage you to give it a try on pork, chicken, and even ice cream.

Like wine, the taste and quality of balsamic vinegars depends on the source of the ingredients and the process used to transform them into a vinegar. Balsamic vinegar (aceto balsamico tradizionale) starts its life as white grapes, which are pressed and the resulting juice is reduced down to 30% of its original volume. This reduction, called the must, is then placed into wooden barrels and left to age for a minimum of 12 years and for as long as 25 years (!!!).

I stopped by the newly-opened We Olive Store and Wine Bar in Trolley Square. I will have a profile on them later, but the short story is that they specialize in selling California olive oils and balsamic vinegars. I brought home a bottle of one of my favorites that I tried at the store: the mission fig balsamic vinegar. This vinegar is less tangy and more sweet, thanks to the addition of the mission figs, and I figured it would go perfectly with some pork chops.

Fig Balsamic-Glazed Pork Chops with Polenta Cakes and Wilted Spinach

Ingredients

1 tube of precooked polenta (I get mine from Trader Joe’s)
4 tablespoons fig balsamic vinegar
Olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
4 4-ounce portions of boneless center-cut pork chops, trimmed
1 10-ounce bag of spinach

Put the balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan, bring to a boil, and let it cook down about 1/3 of the original volume to concentrate the flavors (don’t go much more than that or you will have a syrup that’s too thick). Once cooked down, reserve the vinegar for later.

Place pork chops in a baking dish, cover each chop with olive oil, rosemary, some kosher salt, and black pepper. Turn the pork chops over and repeat.

Preheat a cast iron skillet and 2 tablespoons canola oil (or other high-temperature oil like grape seed) on medium-high heat. While it’s heating up, remove the polenta from the tube and cut them into 1/2 inch thick disks.

Place the polenta cakes into the skillet and cook until browned on both sides. Once cooked, put on a paper towel to remove excess oil from the cakes.

In the same skillet, place the pork chops and cooked to your desired temperature (I generally cook my pork chops to 135-140F). About a minute before they’re done, use a spoon or pastry brush to coat the pork chops with 1/2 of the reduced balsamic vinegar.

Pull the chops out a few degrees before they hit your desired temp (they’ll keep cooking due to residual heat). I highly suggest a quick read digital thermometer like the Thermapen to gauge meat doneness. No more overcooked proteins, and no more guess work.

While the pork is resting, dump the spinach in the same skillet and cook down to your desired doneness. Throw in some salt and pepper to taste.

Place a couple polenta cakes on your plate, top with a pork chop, and put the spinach on the side. Drizzle any remaining balsamic vinegar over the pork, and garnish with fresh rosemary.

Serves four.

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Sous Vide Carnitas

As you may have seen from my Instagram stories, I continue to learn how to cook with the Anova Sous Vide cooker. I was excited to receive the cooker as a Christmas gift, because I’ve been wanting one for a while. Through precise maintenance of the exact cooking temperature, sous vide enables a cook to cook meats (and veggies) at a precisely exact temperature. So, instead of cooking a ribeye on a blazing hot 500 degree flat top or grill and overcooking the outside of the steak in order to get the center up to 135 degrees, with sous vide you just set the water temp at 135, submerge the meat, and the entire steak cooks to a perfect 135. After a few hours, take it out, quickly finish it in a hot skillet to brown the outside, and you’re all set. Perfectly cooked meat, every time.

Learning, like any cooking technique, takes a bit of trial and error. But with help from one of my favorite websites, Serious Eats, I’m finally getting the hang of it.

This weekend’s experiment: sous vide carnitas. There are few foods I enjoy more in life than a taco filled with deliciously crisp, yet tender pork carnitas. The crispy bits add a contrasting texture to the unctuous meat that inches these guys towards near perfection.

For the pork recipe, I used the Serious Eats Sous Vide carnitas recipe. For those that don’t have a sous vide, they also have an oven-roasted recipe as well. If you want any leftovers, you will want to get the full four pounds the recipe calls for. I thought that was too much, and only bought two pounds from local butcher Beltex Meats, and we ended up with hardly any leftovers for two of us. There’s a lot of fat that renders out, and the pork cooks down.

Some other tweaks I made to our version: I did a quick-pickle of some carrots, which added some nice bright contrast to the rich pork. We also topped ours with avocado and some peppadew peppers from Beltex (you can also find them at Harmon’s). Next time I’ll grab some cotija and maybe some crema to throw on top as well.

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Argentinian Empanadas

Pork buns, pasties, kolaches, pirozhkis, bierocks, the list goes on and on. Every culture, it seems, has their own version of meat contained within bread, all contained in a neat hand-held, portable package.

They are cheap, portable, and filling. Perfect for people who are on the go. I spent a few years living in Buenos Aires, and Argentinean empanadas were my go-to for a quick, delicious meal. Savory meat is enveloped in a flaky, tender crust.

Below you will find my go-to recipe for empanadas. You can find the empanada shells (“tapas”) at any latin market. Make sure you take note when buying: there are tapas for frying and tapas for baking. Be sure to pick the corresponding type depending on how you’re going to cook them. I prefer baking.

Or you can save yourself the trouble and just head over to Argentina’s Best Empanadas in Salt Lake and buy them ready-to-eat.

Recipe

2 lbs hamburger (85/15)
2 large onions
5 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons onion powder
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons cumin
2 teaspoons white pepper (black works as well if you don’t have white)
3 tablespoons whole oregano
6 hard boiled eggs, chopped
1 cup green olives, chopped

Tapas (you will want around three to four dozen tapas). If they are frozen, put in fridge and allow to thaw.
Egg white

Cook onions over medium heat with some oil for three minutes, then add hamburger and brown the meat. Add paprika, salt, onion powder, sugar, cumin, pepper, and oregano. Cook until onions are translucent. Remove from heat and chill. Once chilled, add olives and chopped eggs.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Take a tapa and fill it with a couple spoonfuls of the meat filling. Fold the tapa in half over the meat filling, line up the edges and pinch closed with fingers. Take a fork, press down along the edges to form a strong seal between the two edges.

Place the filled empanadas on a baking sheet, and be sure they don’t touch. Either use parchment or a Silpat to prevent sticking. Brush each empanada with egg white. Bake for around 20 minutes or until brown.

These are great to eat fresh out of the oven, or throw them in the freezer to reheat for a quick snack later.