Charcutepalooza Challenge: The Brine

When this month’s Charcutepalooza challenge was announced as Corned Beef, I was relieved that other brining options were available. I’ve got nothing against corned beef, but with leftover bacon in the freezer, and half of the prosciutto in the fridge, I was glad to take on something I could serve as a weeknight dinner. G. had already earmarked the brined pork chop recipe in Ruhlman’s book, so that was an easy choice to make.

brined pork chop with fried okra

brined pork chop with fried okra

I was surprised that the chops only needed to set in the brine for 2 hours. I’ve often done lazy marinades overnight in the fridge. But, after having cooked the pork, I wouldn’t want it any saltier.

brine mixture

preparing the brine: salt, brown sugar, juniper, garlic, sage

We picked up a cast iron fry pan this weekend, and this was the best alternative we have to grilling. We’ve had a few warm days in March, but we also saw snow this week. Not quite grilling weather.

take a bite

brined pork: cooked perfectly in cast iron

Our verdict? Delicious. Perfectly tender meat with a great deal of flavor. My small foray into brining has me seeing the potential. Perhaps I’ll try the chicken or turkey next time.

There is one member of the family who hasn’t been happy about all of this meat-making. Everything’s been too delicious to share with poor, dear, dog.

sad puppy

the saddest dog in the world

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Bacon Challenge, and Braised Pork Belly

This weekend I started my bacon for February’s Charcutepalooza challenge. I popped over to Savenor’s in Cambridge where one of their butchers rolled out an entire pork belly on his wood block and asked how much I’d like. I wanted it all, really, but managed to limit myself to a cut that ended up just shy of 5 lbs. I was going to ask for 3lbs, just enough to make 2 good sized slabs of bacon, but remembered a delicious crispy pork belly dish at Craigie on Main, and wanted some extra for cooking.

pork belly slab

Ever wonder what 5lbs of pork belly looks like?

For the homemade bacon, I cut out two slabs of about 1.8 lbs. Not for any particular reason, but that’s just how they came out. I prepared the salt cure mix as described in Ruhlman‘s Charcuterie and then added my seasonings – brown sugar, maple sugar, maple syrup. I rubbed one of the slabs with a bit of homemade cajun seasoning (cayenne, allspice, paprika, garlic and onion salts, black and white pepper) before rolling in the salt cure, to see if I could get a bit of heat in with the sugar.

pork belly salt rub

can't wait til this is bacon

Well, these two are now hanging out in the fridge, and I’ll get to cut them up and smoke them next week.

In the meantime, I took the left-over bits of pork belly and made a quick meal. I had a bit of pork broth left over from my weekend boudin project (more on that soon, I promise!), but a seasoned chicken broth will do just fine. If your broth is plain, add some dried herbs during the braise, and the pork fat will do the rest of the magic.

braised pork belly

braised pork belly with vegetables

Braised Pork Belly with Cabbage, Parsnip and Carrots
1 lb (or more!) pork belly
1 head small savoy cabbage
2 carrots
2 parsnips
1 – 1.5 cups broth
Preheat the oven to 375F. Wash the carrots and parsnips but do not peel. Halve and cut into 1″ long slices. Remove the heart of the cabbage, halve, then chop roughly.

Heat a cast iron dutch oven over medium heat. Add the pork belly, fatty sides facing down, and brown on all sides. Once browned, add broth with the carrots and parsnips, along with salt and pepper to taste. Place cover on dutch oven and braise at 375F for 40 minutes. After 40 minutes, stir in cabbage, and braise for another 5-7 minutes, until cabbage is soft. If your cabbage hasn’t wilted, you can stir it on the stove top removed from heat, as the cast iron will retain some heat for a while.

Serve, and enjoy!

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Charcutepalooza: Duck Prosciutto Two Ways

I’m a bit late in getting my first post in for the Charcurepalooza challenge, so I thought I should at least try to up the game a bit. I decided on two different seasonings for my duck breast – Maple Sugar and Juniper Berry/Bay Leaf.

The duck breasts cured in salt for 24 hours, then washed, patted dry

duck prosciutto salt cure

duck prosciutto salt cure

Breasts are seasoned then wrapped in cheesecloth

left: maple sugar, right: juniper berries and bay leaves

left: maple sugar, right: juniper berries and bay leaves

and here they are hanging in the pantry til next week, or until their weight is halved.

keep the duck at 50-60f in a cool humid place

keep the duck at 50-60f in a cool humid place

Hopefully a few friends will be around when we cut into these next week. Now, onto the bacon challenge.

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New Tastes, New Goals

I’ve had a great start to the year, spending a week in Louisiana, eating everything in sight and taking notes.  I carried a red moleskin notebook on our trip to visit family and friends. Calling it my “food diary,” I documented each meal and new flavor we tried. New to me, that is. G, along with his friends Zach and Amanda, guided me through the best food that Acadiana has to offer.

Louisiana Food Diary

my food diary

We did stop briefly in New Orleans, though we unfortunately arrived the day of the Sugar Bowl, and entered a French Quarter awash in red team shirts (Ohio vs Arkansas). I had only an inkling of what the natives must feel of this constant rowdy tourist barrage to their home town.

After New Orleans, we stayed with friends outside Lafayette, LA and this is where I was shown a beyond-the-tourist, this place ain’t on yelp, Louisiana. I tried boudin balls (pork, liver and rice stuffing, breaded then deep fried) at numerous venues, had crawfish boil from a small-town dive beside their own crawfish ponds, ate alligator, had the most amazing rum bread pudding in the world, and tried to learn all I could about etouffee, gumbo and jambalaya. I hope I’ll be able to share more of my experiences when I have more time to write.

dwyers cafe, lafayette

dwyer's cafe, lafayette

Cooking into the New Year

G got me the best holiday present – an ice cream maker. I returned the favor with a waffle maker/griddle, so we’ll be testing out lots of new ice cream and waffle recipes.

Amy has tried and tested methods for her ginger beer, and I’ll be giving this recipe a whirl asap. After that- homemade rootbeer. I’d love to hear on anyone’s successes (or missteps) in this matter.

Over the last year, I got pretty comfortable with breads, working from no-knead recipes to more complex stuff. Beard on Bread is great if there are any folks wondering what to try after you’re bored with those no-knead recipes. But, I’d like to work more with starters and make a decent sourdough.

Lots of food blogger types have signed up for Charcutepalooza, and I think this is a great idea. I’ve just picked up duck breast for January’s Duck Prosciutto challenge. Still, there are some very specific things I’m putting on my own charcuterie to-do list:

Some cajun-specific things I’d like to create, if only because they are hard to locate around Boston:

  • Boudin (and Boudin Balls)
  • Andouille
  • Tasso

For those last three, I will probably start with Donald Link’s recipes and experiment from there. Oh, and here’s my list of cookbook I hope to break in during the new year.

John Besh: My New Orelans came courtesy of my big sis for Christmas, and I’ve already made one of the gumbo recipes this week. It’s gumbo weather, as they say.

We visited Donald Link’s Cochon Butcher with Amy and Paul, where we had boudin links, duck pastrami sliders and drank Abita. I should have picked up his book Real Cajun then. Still, it’s on order and should be arriving in a few days.

Joanne Chang’s Flour Bakery Cookbook is stillllllll on backorder. Nevertheless, I made her homemade pop tart recipe Thanksgiving morning (with pepper jelly! it was genius) and I look forward to trying more recipes once the book comes in.

Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman is the official guide for those signing up for the Charcutepalooza challenge.

Now that I’ve written that all down, it seems like quite a lot to get done over the next year. I guess we’ll wait and see, and have lots of beignets ready when I need a break.

beignets at cafe du monde

beignets and cafe au lait at cafe du monde

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Girl Scout Cookies, All Grown Up

Homemade Samoa Bars

Homemade Samoa Bars

Last week flew by, and I barely had time to bake. I think I made up for it last night, though, with this 2-for-1 recipe. I made Baking Bites Samoa Bar recipe last year with great success. I brought the leftovers into the office and nearly witnessed a fist fight over the last one. This year, I wanted to give them as holiday gifts, but I couldn’t find the chewy-style caramels needed for the recipe. I decided to make the caramel from scratch, and, as so often happens, I tipped my hand into the bar for a last minute substitution.

Feel free to make these bourbon caramels on their own, or as a part of the Samoa Bar recipe.

Full disclaimer: this recipe is time consuming, and/or requires a fair bit of multitasking. Make sure you read it through first, and have all your ingredients ready and measured before you start.

Bourbon Caramels

1 cup butter
1 lb brown sugar (light)
14 oz condensed sweetened milk
1 cup cane syrup (Lyle’s golden syrup will do, since I can’t seem to find Steen’s in the Boston area)
1/8 tsp salt
1 tbsp bourbon

Chop 1 cup (2 sticks) of butter into 1 tbsp sized chunks. Place into a large, heavy saucepan and melt over medium heat. Add brown sugar and stir. While stirring, add cane syrup then condensed milk. Increase heat to high, and bring candy to 235-240F. Once the temp is reached, continue to boil for 2 minutes while stirring constantly. You may need to reduce the heat a notch to maintain the same temp. Remove from heat, and add 1 tablespoon bourbon (or 2 tsp vanilla). Reserve 1.5 cups for the Samoa bars, and pour the remainder into a parchment-lined 8×8 baking dish. Let cool to room temp, then slice into candy size rectangles with a pizza cutter.

Samoa Bars with Bourbon Caramel

3/4 cup butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
3 cups shredded coconut
1 1/2 cups bourbon caramel (see recipe above)
14 oz chocolate chips (semi-sweet or dark, depending on your preferences)

Preheat oven to 350F. In a stand mixer with whisk attachment, cream softened butter and granulated sugar together until fluffy, a few minutes on a med-low speed (I soften the butter on a dish on the stove top while the oven is preheating). Add the egg, then vanilla, into bowl of stand mixer while reducing to a low speed. In a large measuring cup, stir salt into the flour. Slowly add flour to sugar mixture, about 1/4 cup at a time, with stand mixer continuing on a low speed. Scrape down sides as needed, and continue mixing until flour is incorporated. Roughly work with fingers to make sure mixture is consistent.

Dough for Cookie Base

Dough for Cookie Base

Turn dough onto well floured surface and roll out to roughly 13×9 rectangle. Place into the baking dish lined with parchment paper and press into corners with your fingers. Bake for about 20 minutes, until lightly browned around edges. Remove from baking dish and cool on baking rack.

While the cookie is baking, make the bourbon caramel on the stove top (see recipe above).

When the cookie base is done, reduce oven heat to 300F. Toss coconut into the same parchment lined baking dish you used for the cookie, and toast for 15-20mins, stirring 3-4 times, until golden brown.

While the coconut is toasting, melt the chocolate in a metal bowl set over a saucer of boiling water (or a double boiler if you have one). Once the chocolate has completely melted, remove bowl from heat and set aside.

Pour the toasted coconut into a bowl, and toss with 1.5 cups of caramel.

Caramel and Coconut Topping

Caramel and Coconut Topping

Spread over the cookie base, pressing down a bit with the flat side of a spatula to get it even. Let cool completely.

Cut cookies with pizza cutters into desired size (1×1 inch squares will make about 50 bite sized cookies), and dip each cookie into melted chocolate.  Don’t skimp on the chocolate– hold each cookie at the bottom and dip so that the cookie base is completely covered.

Dipping in Chocolate

Dipping in Chocolate

Then, set onto a clean piece of parchment paper. Optional – take remainder of melted chocolate, or melt more if needed, into a pastry bag, or a plastic baggie with the corner snipped. Drizzle remainder of chocolate onto cookies. Let set at room temp until chocolate is set. Refrigerate in an airtight container.

Samoas with Bourbon Caramel

Samoas with Bourbon Caramel

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Clementine Roasted Chicken

Tis the season for clementines. I have one of those small crates from the supermarket sitting on my kitchen table, and I couldn’t resist throwing them together with something savory.  It’s a bit of a peasant style duck l’orange.

crate of clementines

crate of clementines

Clementine Roasted Chicken

bake time: approximately 45 mins
prep time: 15 mins

1 3-5 lb whole chicken, giblets removed
3 clementines: 2 juiced, 1 quartered
1/4 cup honey
4-5 cloves, roughly ground
1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
1 small yellow onion
1 tsp flour * optional

Preheat oven to 375F. Wash chicken, pat dry. Season with salt and pepper on skin and in cavity.

In a small saucepan, combine juice from 2 clementines and flesh (about 1/4 cup), honey, cloves and ginger over medium-low heat. Simmer for 5 minutes, remove from heat.

clementine marinade

clementine marinade

Peel and quarter a small onion, and place in chicken cavity.  Place chicken in roasting pan.  Pour marinade over both sides of chicken. Scatter remaining clementine in quarters in the pan (rind intact), and place chicken breast down.

marinated chicken

marinated chicken

Roast at 375F for approximately 45 minutes – turning over halfway through – or until reaches internal temp of 165F with a thermometer place in the innermost part of the thigh. Place on a platter or cutting board to rest.

I chose to roast my chicken directly the the pan for this recipe so it would soak up the most of the marinade, and I recommend turning halfway through the cooking process so that both sides marinate evenly .

clementine roast chicken

clementine roast chicken

While the chicken is resting, remove the clementine quarters from the roast pan. Pour the pan drippings through a fine sieve into a cup or gravy boat. If you’d like a thicker gravy, add 1-2 tsp of flour and whisk thoroughly. Pour over plated chicken.

clementine chicken and whipped potatoes

clementine chicken and whipped potatoes

Serve with potatoes or rustic bread to sop up that delicious gravy!

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Winter Warmer: Skillet Mac & Cheese

I really love my cast iron dutch oven.  I bake bread in it, use it as a skillet for weekend brunch bacon, and try out my expanding repertoire of Cajun dishes. Cast iron is such a work horse, it’s certainly worth the extra effort to keep it properly seasoned.

Mac and Cheese works great in cast iron. It retains more heat than glass or enamel casserole dishes, so it cooks evenly, which comes in handy when you’ve got a dense dish like baked mac and cheese.

skillet mac and cheese

skillet mac and cheese

Most of the restaurants around around Somerville have some kind of Mac & Cheese on the menu (Highland Kitchen, The Independent, Trina’s). As far as comfort food goes, it certainly has taste and nostalgia in its favor. I also think it acts as a great basis for the clean-out-the-fridge type of cooking.  Cheese? almost any kind will work, grate it and toss it in. Meat? dice it. Milk or cream? Use them for your sauce. Got leftover greens or carrots in your crisper? Cut em up, toss em in. I think you get the idea.

bacon in cast iron

just add bacon

Skillet Mac & Cheese with Bacon
baking time: 25 minutes
total time including prep: about 90 minutes

1 lb dry pasta
2 strips bacon
6 tbsp butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups whole milk
8 oz cheddar cheese
8 oz gruyere cheese
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup breadcrumbs

Boil pasta in salted water – I usually remove it from the heat 2 minutes before the recommended time. Drain and set aside. Shred cheeses in a grater or food processor, and mix together in a small bowl.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Warm a cast iron skillet or dutch oven over medium heat on the stovetop. Add bacon, cook until browned, and drain on a paper towel.

Build the roux – melt 4 tablespoons butter in bacon grease. Add 1 cup flour, and stir vigorously. Pour milk in a single stream.

pouring milk into roux

pouring milk into roux

Once the milk is absorbed, add cheese, but reserve 1/4 cup. Turn off heat and stir until cheese is melted. Turn pasta into the cheese sauce, then crumble in bacon.

assembling the mac and cheese

assembling the mac and cheese

Layer half of the breadcrumbs, then remaining 2 tbsp butter chopped into small pieces, then 1/4 cup cheese, then remainder of breadcrumbs.

layering butter, cheese and breadcrumbs

layering butter, cheese and breadcrumbs

Bake at 400F for 25 minutes. Add cover,  and bake 5 additional minutes. Remove from heat and let sit for another 10-15 minutes with cover on. Slice up with a pie wedge or slotted spoon and serve.

skillet mac and cheese with breadcrumb topping

skillet mac and cheese with breadcrumb topping

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Brown Butter and Pumpkin Cookies

I’m still recovering from Thanksgiving, which was wonderful, but had me cooking non-stop for 6 hours. For the last few days, all I wanted was instant gratification, hence these leftovers being used for cookies. Because, when the mood strikes you, the only thing you want at 8pm is a batch of fresh cookies, dinner be damned.

brown butter and pumpkin cookie

brown butter and pumpkin cookie

I tried these cookies a few ways – some with a pinch of crystallized ginger, some with a swirl of baking cocoa. Depending on whether your fancy swings towards sweet or savory, give either a try.

Brown Butter and Pumpkin Cookies
makes 3 dozen 2″ round cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, browned
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt

1 cup pumpkin puree
1 egg
1 tbsp bourbon (or vanilla)

* optional flavoring *
2 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tbsp diced crystallized ginger

Brown the butter: chop into tablespoons and melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk constantly, as soon as you see brown flecks appear, remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes. The butter should be a rich brown, with a nutty aroma, but not burned.

brown butter

brown butter

Add brown sugar and sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer, and pour brown butter into mixture. Cream together. Add egg, beat, then add pumpkin and bourbon and whip until fully combined, a few minutes.

forming batter

pour brown butter into sugar

In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt. Once thoroughly combined, add to the egg/sugar mixture in the bowl of your stand mixer. Blend together. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

pumpkin cookie batter

left: pumpkin batter with cocoa right: pumpkin batter with ginger

While your cookie batter is setting in the refrigerator, preheat oven to 375F. Cover your baking sheet with parchment paper, or a silicone baking mat if you have one. Drop the batter by heaping tablespoons onto the baking sheet. Press down on each cookie evenly with your fingers or palm to flatten.

pumpkin cookies

ready for the oven

Bake for 12-15 minutes. The top of the cookie will be just set. Let cool on a baking rack for a few minutes, if you can.

brown butter pumpkin cookie with cocoa

brown butter pumpkin cookie with cocoa

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Experimenting with Pizza

I did not come from a family of cooks. When I was a kid, Friday night meant pizza. This would probably thrill most kids, but I never liked the greasy take-out pizza with flavorless cheese and a thin spread of canned tomato sauce. As a grown-up, pizza heralded some sad un-apology by the company for working through lunch or dinner. So, I hope you’ll understand why I’ve strayed so far from the traditional pizza.

experimental pizza

L: Rosemary Potato Bacon Pizza R: Pumpkin Walnut Pizza

I owe my new-found love for pizza to my good friend Kendra. She loves pizza, and when she left Somerville for the slightly less frigid DC area, we held a party in her honor, and she insisted that we make pizza.  We laughed, we drank, everyone had an opinion about what combination of toppings would be best, and everyone agreed at the end of the evening that this was the best pizza we had ever eaten. So, thank you Kendra for changing my opinion on pizza, and for the dough recipe I now use all the time!

If you’re going to make your own dough, and I really believe that you should, start it the night before as it needs to rise twice.  I find it easiest to assemble and let rise overnight in the fridge (it will keep for 3 or 4 days), then rise again the day you’re going to be baking the pizza.

Basic Pizza Dough
makes 2 medium crusts

2 1/4 tsp or 1 packet instant yeast
3 cups flour, more for dusting
1 cup water, warmed to 100-110F
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil

Proof your yeast: Warm water to 110-100f. Add sugar and yeast, stir to combine. Let sit for 5 minutes. Your yeast mixture should bubble.

proofing the yeast

proofing the yeast

In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Pour yeast mix into flour, and stir until fully combined. If you have a stand mixer with a dough hook, turn it onto a low setting (like 2) and let it knead until dough is elastic and gathers onto the hook. If you’re hand kneading, press and fold in quarters, turning 90 degrees each knead, until dough is elastic and does not stick to the lightly floured surface. Use olive oil to lightly grease the bowl, and turn the dough within the bowl to coat the surface.

Let rise – cover and sit in a draft free place for at least 4 hours (like an oven or microwave), or if you’re letting rise overnight, cover with plastic or a tea towel and place in your refrigerator.

punching down the first rise

punching down the first rise

Second rise: Punch dough down (always fun).  Form into two even sized balls. You can eye this, or use a kitchen scale. Set in a warm, draft free place for 1 hour. If you need to speed this up, heat your oven to 200F, then turn off. Place the bowls in the oven and let the dough rise until doubled, about 30 minutes. You want the yeast to warm, but you don’t want the dough to cook.

second rise

second rise

Preheat your oven to 375F. Roll out each dough ball into a rectangle or circle. Move your dough onto a baking sheet or baking stone, which should be dusted lightly with cornmeal. Now add your prepared toppings!

This first topping idea I took from veggie lasagnas I have made in the past. If squash and nuts worked so well with lasagna noodles, why not on pizza?

Pumpkin Walnut Pizza
1 cup pureed pumpkin
1/2 lb mozzarella, shredded
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped

Spread pumpkin puree across the top of dough. Top with walnuts, then cheese. Bake at 375F for 15-20 minutes.

pumpkin pizza with walnuts and mozzarella

pumpkin pizza with walnuts and mozzarella

This next pizza is almost a galette, but I don’t think you’ll hear too many complaints once you explain there’s bacon in there too.

Potato Bacon Rosemary Pizza

2 large yukon potatoes, sliced thin
1/2 lb ricotta
6 slices bacon, crumbled
1 tbsp freshly diced rosemary
black pepper to taste

In a fry pan, cook 6 slices bacon over medium heat. Don’t let brown, as you’re going to bake these again.  Set on paper towel to drain. Crumble when cool to the touch.

Slice potatoes thinly with a mandolin. In a medium saucepan, bring water to a boil.  When water comes to a boil, blanch potatoes for 2 minutes. Drain immediately and set aside.

Layer potato slices onto rolled out pizza dough. Top with pepper, crumbled bacon, rosemary and ricotta.

Rosemary Potato Bacon Pizza

Rosemary Potato Bacon Pizza

Bake at 375F for 15-20 minutes.

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Louisiana Pork Chops

thanksgiving menu

thanksgiving menu

Thanksgiving is bearing down upon us. It’s hard to muster up the energy to cook a weeknight dinner while I’m still planning and prepping for the main event on Thursday. But, this pork chop recipe couldn’t be easier.

Louisiana Pork Chops with Mashed Cauliflower

Louisiana Pork Chops with Mashed Cauliflower

A basic spice rub adds a lot of punch, and I took a bit of everything from the Cajun kitchen.

spices for marinade

from top, clockwise: paprika, black pepper, sea salt, cayenne, allspice, garlic powder, onion powder, sugar

A few minutes prep the night before will make sure you get full flavor.

prep: put rubbed chops into a freezer bag

prep: put rubbed chops into a freezer bag

Louisiana Pork Chops
2 center cut pork chops
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/4 cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp onion powder

Mix spices together in a shallow bowl, and rub into all sides of pork chops. Place chops in a freezer bag and refrigerate overnight.

Heat oven to the broiler setting. Once heated, place chops in a broiler pan and position chops on the lowest rack in the oven. Cook chops 8 minutes – flipping half way through. Pork should cook to at least 160F internal temp.


An empty plate


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