- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Most time-squeezed cooks prepare one show-stopping dish when they entertain and rely on carryout foods for the rest of the menu. Not Rachael Ray. For this Food Network TV star and cookbook author, singling out one recipe would be like asking a parent to select a favorite child.

“I’m an impatient girl, and that carries over to entertaining, but I don’t know if I could contain myself to one dish. The only prepared foods I buy are desserts, because I don’t bake,” says the author of “30-Minute Meals 2” (Lake Isle Press). She has two tips for fast and easy party preparations: Develop a theme to make menu planning easy, and use bold ingredients — not a lot of ingredients.

“I might have a tapas night or a Korean barbecue party. Then I supplement the menu with fruit, smoked almonds or other nuts to beef up the party offerings,” says Miss Ray, who prefers to host smaller suppers, not big cocktail parties, in her New York City apartment.

“I also prefer to use big flavors, not showy items. I use an enormous amount of garlic,” Miss Ray says. “It’s very important when cooking to use very big flavors. The dishes my friends ask for again and again are the simplest recipes. My favorite ingredients are balsamic vinegar, … onions, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh herbs and garlic,” she says.

Pork chops glazed with maple syrup, mustard and spices are a delicious example of Miss Ray’s gutsy cooking style. This autumnal dish was adapted to make an entree for a special dinner for two. Round out the meal with crusty bread, a green salad and pear tartlets from your favorite bakery.

Rachael Ray’s maple mustard pork chops with grilled apples

cup dark maple syrup

2 tablespoons spicy brown mustard

2 tablespoons apple cider

1 shallot, finely chopped

teaspoon allspice

teaspoon ground cumin

4 center-cut boneless pork loin chops, cut - to 3/4-inch thick

Extra-virgin olive oil

Grill seasoning blend or salt and pepper to taste (see note)

1 large Golden Delicious apple

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine maple syrup, mustard, apple cider, shallot, allspice and cumin in a small saucepan, and cook over moderate heat 7 to 10 minutes or until the sauce begins to thicken.

Coat the chops lightly in olive oil, sprinkle with grill seasoning blend or salt and pepper to taste, and cook on a preheated nonstick grill pan for 3 minutes per side.

Baste chops with the maple syrup combination and cook 2 to 3 minutes longer. Transfer chops to a baking sheet. Baste again with sauce. Place in a 350-degree oven; bake 10 to 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, slice the apple crosswise into -inch-thick rounds. (Do not peel or core.) Brush apple slices with lemon juice, and drizzle with oil. Season with grill seasoning blend and nutmeg. Arrange apple slices on grill pan, cooking 3 minutes per side or until tender. Serve apple slices with pork. Makes 2 servings.

Note: Grill seasoning blend comes from several manufacturers and is available in the spice section of many supermarkets.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES INTERNATIONAL

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