I cook Professionally, for the rush and for fun, and I cook to relax and take care of myself. When I come home after working at the restaurants all day and night, I am hungry and have the energy for more. That may sound strange because I am surrounded by food all the time, but it’s true. I love cooking in competition also, which is a sort of ultimate test of cooking in a specific time frame and pulling out the best cook and performer I can be under the lights, camera, and pressure.
People always think that while you are cooking, you must be eating, but that’s not what really happens. As a chef, I constantly taste while I am cooking at work and when I come home I am needing balance and am hungry for dinner, playtime, and downtime. Cooking and entertaining is how I enjoy making people happy, as well as nurturing them when they are at the table at the restaurant or at a dinner party. I want the same kind of satisfaction at the end of a day or on an off day. Also, running around the restaurant all night is a serious body-warping workout that can be physically and mentally exhausting. I have my dogs to come home to and I work out a lot, mixing it up with yoga, kickboxing, boxing, and Korean swordfighting. My days and nights are in constant motion so, when I get home or have a day off to cook for my friends, I’m ready to eat. And, believe it or not, I’m excited to cook, too.
Cooking all day and working with my crews and cooking at events are fun and it’s my job, but when I cook at home, it is usually about relaxing and preparing something without the pressures in the restaurants. I make things that don’t take much time or effort, and if I am craving something that does take a little more time, such as Beef Stroganoff (page 144) I will start preparing it while I cook something else that I am definitely going to eat sooner, such as Grilled Pork Chop (page 139). You’ll recognize some of these recipes as classics, but with unexpected nuances or twists, because analyzing and reinventing a dish is exactly what I do as a chef.
Often I come home from work and despite my good intentions, I really don’t have much in the way of fabulous ingredients on hand. I might have a few cans of things and a stash of good spices and luckily a few pots of cooking herbs on the patio. Here’s where I must rely on my creativity and palate to come up with something satisfying and delicious. I find this an exercise in humility to let the ingredients speak for themselves, and I just have to pay attention. Sometimes these are the best recipes, and I have included many of them in this book.
The first chapter of this book offers recipes for my favorite condiments, including a great steak sauce, an endlessly useful tomato sauce, and a creamy horseradish sauce to wake up meat, plus basics like simple chicken and beef stocks, crunchy bread crumbs, and the best ways to cook eggs—coddled to hard-boiled to deviled. All are great additions that add layers of flavors to the recipes throughout the book. For most of these condiments, though, if making your own just seems like too much work, you can substitute store-bought. For example, you just cannot deal with making stock, buy cartons of chicken, beef, or vegetable broth.
In this book, I’ll show you how to stock your pantry, plan a little for more efficient cooking, shop for great ingredients and be inspired by them, think about combinations, and prepare delicious dishes. When I go to the market for myself, I try to think about what I am craving that week. I might buy whatever produce looks good at the time, pick out some meat or poultry and keep them in the freezer, and grab a few basic pantry ingredients, like garlic, potatoes, herbs, cheese, canned tomatoes, ginger, olives, and things that if you have on hand, just make it easier to come home and whip something up. I have written most of the recipes to serve two to four. However, I am often just cooking for myself or maybe another person or two, so cutting the recipe in half or in quarters should be easy to do here as well as doubling it to serve six to eight.
Typically, I go through phases when I get obsessed about reinterpreting a classic dish in a new and great way, or using as many tomatoes as possible at their seasonal peak. Or it’s an obsession with a regional cuisine or a technique I really want to master. This usually spills into making it both at work and at home. This sort of challenge is almost a game for me, in a way, because it’s how I keep food ideas coming. My home kitchen becomes my laboratory. From there, I might interpret those ideas for the restaurants. Grilled Pork Chop with Sautéed Apples and Onion Rings
There are rubs (dry) and there are brines (wet). I love brining pork and chicken to make them juicy and flavorful. But brining is a slow process because the meat must sit in the brine for hours to overnight. If I am cooking late and didn’t think about it the day before, I will do a nice rub on the meat to give it special flavor—and that’s what I’ve done here. Pork chops go with so many accompaniments, but I do love them paired with the acidity of apples or an applesauce and the bite of spicy greens. I like onion rings, in all their variety. Here is a buttermilk recipe, but you can substitute the beer batter from Curried Fish and Chips (page 154).
My other favorite accompaniment to pork chops is the spicy Korean pickled vegetable Kimchee (page 20) tossed with some fresh fruit such as peaches or plums.
Serves 2Pork Chops
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
4 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika)
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
2 bone-in, center-cut pork chops (10 to 12 ounces each)
1 tablespoon olive oil, if needed for the panSauteéed Apples
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Granny Smith apple, cored and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 whole star anise
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons brandy
Salt Onion Rings
3 cups canola oil, for frying
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more as needed
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 large yellow onion, cut into 1/2-inch rings and separated
Spicy greens like mizuna or arugula, for serving
For the pork, grind the fennel, cloves, pimentón, peppercorns, salt, and sugar in a spice grinder and rub all over the pork chops. Set aside for 30 minutes to 1 hour at room temperature.
Preheat the grill on high or heat a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat on the stove and preheat the oven to 375˚F. (Add the 1 tablespoon olive oil to the pan if cooking on the stove.)
Cook the pork on one side for 4 to 5 minutes on the grill or on the stove. Turn over and cook for another 4 to 5 minutes on the grill; if cooking on the stove, flip the chop in the pan, transfer the pan to the oven, and bake for 4 to 5 minutes. Set aside to rest for 5 minutes.
For the apples, in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat, combine the sugar, water, and a drop of the lemon juice. Cook until the sugar caramelizes to golden brown; turn off the heat and add the apple slices and star anise. Return the pan to medium-high heat and stir in the butter and the remaining lemon juice. Saute, stirring, for 2 minutes; add the brandy in the last minute of cooking with a pinch of salt. Simmer briefly to burn off the alcohol and thicken the caramel. Set aside.
For the onion rings, in a wide and shallow pot bring 2 cups of the canola oil to 360˚F on a deep-fat thermometer.
Combine the flour, cornstarch, the 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a few grinds of pepper in a bowl. Pour the buttermilk into a shallow dish or bowl. Dip the onion rings in the flour mixture to dredge, shaking off any excess. Dip in the buttermilk to coat, and then back in the flour mixture. Shake off the excess flour.
Working in batches, fry the rings until light golden brown, about 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with salt.
To serve, divide the apples between 2 plates and place a pork chop on top. Top with the onion rings and garnish with the greens.
Excerpted from Cooking Off the Clock by Elizabeth Falkner. Copyright © 2012 by Elizabeth Falkner. Excerpted by permission of Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.