Total Time: 2.5 hours for dinner, but I didn’t track time for the pie – I worked on it on and off starting the night before.
Sources: Pork Chops: Just Add Sauce / Brussels Sprouts and Potatoes: The New Family Cookbook / Pie: cooksillustrated.com
Servings: 8+ (Doubled recipes for pork chops and potatoes)
Note: The previously-posted menu got switched around a bit because my mother-in-law took us out for dinner on Thursday night, so the menu posted this weekend isn’t 100% accurate, and I didn’t write a post right away for last night’s dinner, so this post is off by a day.
Sean picked out the menu for his birthday dinner and, man, was it comfort food, but it was “I don’t feel guilty for having eaten this” comfort food, which made it even more comforting. This menu is also a sign of how our tastes have changed over time, because last year’s birthday dinner was gnocchi drenched in butter and chicken wrapped in prosciutto drenched in butter. There was a relatively small amount of butter in this meal.
It was tasty, though. I can’t totally speak for the pork because I ate the chop that I managed to burn a bit, but the sauce was tasty and complemented the pork well. Doubling the recipe wasn’t an issue, just plan for it to take almost twice as long because you have to cook the pork chops in batches and the pan sauce takes longer to reduce. Not a difficult recipe at all.
The brussels sprouts were amazing, and I never expected to say that about plain-and-simple brussels sprouts. Roasting them works very well and choosing small sprouts is definitely worth the time spent awkwardly rustling through the bin at Sprouts because they were tender and delicious. I did forget that this was the recipe I wasn’t doubling and put twice as much oil, salt, and pepper on them as I was supposed to, but much of that stayed behind in the bowl after putting them on the baking sheet. Besides trimming and halving the sprouts, which you have to do with any recipe, the prep was super easy and the cooking was almost entirely hands-off – just remove the tin foil ten minutes in.
But, oh, the potatoes. These were the best and easiest mashed potatoes I’ve ever made. You do have to peel and cut them into half-inch pieces, which, when you’re working with four pounds of potatoes, can be time-intensive, but once that’s taken care of, the process is as smooth as the end product. The potatoes cook in the buttermilk with just a touch of water, so there’s no draining water from a hot pan and trying to manage hot potatoes. You just turn off the heat, mash the potatoes in the pot, and stir in some butter and extra buttermilk. The potatoes are a bit runny at first but firm up nicely and the flavor is divine. I ate some with my lunch and then more after dinner tonight because I was really hungry today, and while they paired wonderfully with the pork and port-cherry sauce, they also hold their own quite well. Also, doubling was not a problem at all, so you can definitely feed a crowd with them, and I used powdered buttermilk because we never end up using the whole container of the fresh stuff.
And then there was the pie. Sean loves pie. Pie is his favorite dessert ever. Pie is also one of few desserts I have consistently been disappointed in. I will eat almost any pie with a graham-cracker/cookie crust, but I cannot stand traditional pie crust. It’s dry and bland and tastes like eating raw flour. Okay, it’s a little better than that, but it’s not good. Sometimes the filling in a pie is excellent enough that I will take little nibbles of the pie crust and eat the filling in large bites, leaving most of the crust to be scraped off into the trash can. It should come as no surprise, then, that I have always managed to talk Sean into an alternative birthday dessert that still makes him happy, even though he always wants cherry pie.
But this year, his birthday came shortly after I had read the July/August issue of Cook’s Illustrated (which I check out from the Tempe Library’s digital archives rather than subscribing to because I prefer to spend my money on cookbooks over magazines) which features a Plum-Ginger Pie with Whole Wheat Lattice-Top Crust and was intrigued. I was then browsing the Cook’s Illustrated website and found Apricot, Cardamom, and Vanilla Pie with Rye Lattice-Top Crust. It was the perfect opportunity: I love apricots, cardamom, and vanilla. Sean loves rye bread and pie. It was a crust I might not loathe. I was finally going to make Sean a pie for his birthday. I was finally going to make a flour-based pie crust. I suggested it to Sean and he thought it sounded delicious, though I discovered on Thursday night that he wasn’t even sure what an apricot was but just wanted pie.
Baking a fruit pie from scratch is a commitment. The dough was super fun to make and was really pretty (because rye flour is dark and beautiful and the butter marbles beautifully in it) but there were so many start-and-stop moments in the process. Everything has to chill multiple times. Plus, the filling has to sit and the pie has to cool for four hours. So I started Thursday night and finished it after I tutored on Friday and got this thing of beauty:
I am so proud of this thing. The filling was super juicy and didn’t really set so I ended up draining out some of it into the sink before slicing it and it fell apart while I was slicing it and the crimping of the edges wasn’t perfect but I made a lattice-top pie and it was delicious. The filling was tart and strong and the vanilla-cardamom combination was like a bit like perfume but not over-the-top. The rye crust brought it all into the perfect balance and it was the first time I had to be careful not to eat the crust too quickly because it was delicious but needed to be portioned out with the filling appropriately to make everything perfect. I don’t have a strong desire to make pie on a regular basis, but it was definitely worth the effort to finally give Sean a birthday pie. Maybe next year he’ll actually get himself a cherry pie…