Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Little Advice, or, All Thai'd Up

(Hmm. I seem to be "up"ing a lot in my post titles recently.
Maybe it's a sign.
I did see that movie "Up" a while ago with HC. It was good, but I wasn't aware of any long-lasting side effects... )

The most significant thing about raising a lovely family, in my opinion, is food. When well-adjusted people wax nostalgic about their formative years, you can bet your bottom dollar they mention food more than...more than...well, working toilets or adequate laundry-turn-over rates or being on time for "Godspell" rehearsal.

Which, in my case, is a pretty good thing.

Cooking I can do! (The other stuff I can do sometimes...sort of.)

Once accustomed into the routine of cooking dinner on a regular basis and even throwing together the occasional pancake or waffle, any domestic darling will come face to face with a common culinary conundrum: leftovers. Even worse, some family members I've heard of won't eat ordinary leftovers. They have to be disguised, transformed, reinvented, before they're considered appropriate nourishment. While I can't relate to this type of dysfunction (in our house labeling a doggy bag is no guarantee of victual security) I can at least help my fellow darlings arm up and prepare for battle.

(Side Note: I'd like to address a disturbing situation that has recently come to my attention. Apparently, some domestic darlings don't keep leftovers. This is not good. This is seriously not good. Leftovers save time and money, two things which are of the upmost importance to those running a household. Also, leftovers can provide some inspiration when nothing else does. The eternal question: what am I going to do with that? looms large in the dinner ponderings. It can produce many a tasty meal which might not otherwise come to be.)

In this post I'll try to illustrate how easy it is to use up some leftover pork chops without making them seem like leftovers. In fact, they won't even look like pork chops!

You ready? Here goes somethin':

The first step, if we're being literal here, is to prepare and serve pork chops to your adoring and gracious family. In my case, it was a couple nights ago, I was uninspired, and it was an off-the-cuff unbreaded, fried in the skillet pork chop meal with asparagus, rice and pan gravy. Boring, but sort of yummy. There were two large bone-in chops leftover.

I kept these leftovers in the back of my mind while I planned other meals. Being that the original preparation didn't have any thing fancy goin' on, I was aware that those pork chops could be turned in to just about anything. I was thinking of something involving pasta and a white sauce, barbecue and maybe even a sandwich or two.

Then, while forcing myself to think about our Thanksgiving menu and therefore leafing through some of my cooking magazines, I came across this bad boy:

Thai Lettuce Wraps. Ohhhhyeah.

I play favorites with Thai food on a regular basis: tom kha soup, pad Thai, panang curry...mmmmmmmm. When I lived in Chicago my apartment was above a Thai restaurant. Oh, for the days of waking up to the wafting smell of coconut milk intermingling with lime and chilis...

Here's the original list of ingredients:

2 pounds ground pork
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 small shallots, minced
1 large jalapeño, seeded and minced, plus sliced jalapeño for garnish
Juice of 1 lime, plus lime wedges, for serving
2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
1 teaspoon Sriracha (chili sauce), plus more for serving
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup chopped mint
1/2 cup chopped basil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup chopped salted peanuts
1 large head Boston or other leafy lettuce, separated into leaves

The directions are pretty straightforward. Combine the pork, garlic, shallots and jalapeno, and cook together in a skillet. Separately, whisk together all the ingredients listed from lime to chili. Add the mixture to the meat, along with all the rest of the ingredients. Serve wrapped in large pieces of lettuce.

Now, I know you're on the edge of your seat for how I manipulate this recipe. It's really pretty simple:

1. Chop the leftover pork chops into tiny little pieces.

2. Depending on how much there is, use the chopped chops to offset some of the ground pork (I didn't bother. I guess there was just extra pork in mine).

3. Follow the recipe. For some stupid reason involving my lack of discipline in the TJMax food section, I have a jar of dehydrated, chopped shallots which I reconstituted instead of buying fresh ones. They worked fine. I only had one lime and one jalapeno, so I didn't garnish the plates. Besides, my family doesn't really know what to do with garnishes. Once, when P and I were eating sushi I inquired as to why he never ate the wasabi or pickled ginger. Too spicy, I wondered? Too weird? His response: "Oh. That green stuff? I guess I just never took it seriously."

On the other hand, this is the same man who thought wedge salad was supposed to be eaten with the hands, like a piece of watermelon.

4. Serve to your family. They'll never know the history of that pork on their plate. They'll never know it's intricacies, it's dark and twisty path from lame leftover limbo to deliriously delicious dinner.

In some families, that's considered success.

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