Monday, June 13, 2011

Pork and Peaches—Pork Chops with Perky Peach Salsa

The best thing ever happened a couple of months ago.  The USDA lowered the cooking temperature of pork.  Now pork can sit at a pink tinged 145 degrees instead of a crusty, chewy, floss-inviting 160.  The evolution of this change is directly related to laws passed in food safety. 

Even though there is much disturbing news these days about food production including E. coli infested sprouts in Germany, overcrowded, overmedicated, overfed cows and chickens, and genetically modified plants and animals, it’s amazing how far we’ve come in many ways regarding food safety.  The main concern about undercooking pork used to be trichinellosis, a disease provoked by tissue dwelling roundworms that caused fevers, muscle aches and a whole bunch of nasty.  The trichinella rate has declined exponentially since the 1940s.   In a survey by the CDC between 1997-2001, there were only 72 cases reported to the CDC, including 29 cases from bear meat and one from cougar meat (only 12 cases from commercial pork). 1

The rapid decline in trichinella is directly related to government policy.  Disgustingly, pigs were previously fed garbage contaminated with raw animal waste.  Only until garbage laws were passed in the 1950s did this rate begin to decrease.  Other policies enacted by the USDA have also reduced the rate of trichinella

Even though trichinella is killed by cooking at 140 degrees, there was concern by the USDA that due to uneven cooking, trichinella would survive.  This concern has now decreased and pork can be safely cooked to 145, also killing other potential microbes looming on the surface.

Now that I’m officially allowed to undercook my pork, I like it a whole lot better. There’s nothing like a quickly brined pork chop nicely grilled with a tangy fruity sauce on top. This peach salsa is bright and only slightly sweet, complimented by mint, cilantro and jalapeno. I know it’s a lot of fruit recipes lately, but I can’t help myself.  It’s summer!

Peachy Pork

4 center loin boneless pork chops
for the brine 4 cups water, 3 tbsp kosher salt, 1 tbsp brown sugar

For the peach salsa
5 ripe peaches
handful mint leaves--chiffonade
handful cilantro—chiffonade
1 large shallot finely diced
1 tsp salt
1 jalapeno finely diced
juice of 1 lime

Place chops in brine and let soak two hours in fridge.  Remove from brine and blot with paper towels to dry.  To cook, grill (outside or on grill pan) on each side about 7-8 minutes until golden on the outside and 145 degrees on inside.  Combine all ingredients for peach salsa.  Serve with cold salsa.

Trichinellosis Surveillance --- United States, 1997—2001. MMWR July 25 2003.  52 (SS06); 1-8.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hawaiian Style Pina Colada Creme Brulee

Ahh.  Wondrous vacation.  

sunset at our Hawaiian paradise

Makes a girl go from looking like this

Self portrait after a horrible night shift
to this.

It’s hard to come back from a romantic belated honeymoon with time in the sun, a cool Hawaiian breeze, tropical fruit, and lots of pleasure reading to 100-degree heat and C-sections. 


I love scientific research that is so obvious.  For example, a 2009 meta-analysis in the Journal of Occupational Health states that vacation has a positive effect on health.  People have actually spent money researching the fact that sitting on a sailboat drinking lemonade is more healthy than working a 12 hour shift overnight without sitting or eating taking care of 15 patients. Yeah, I know.   

Sadly, the same study suggests that coming back to work erodes away all positive effects of vacation between two and four weeks.  However, I have to disagree.  Having gone a six-month stretch between vacations this year with only one weekend off between, I think a vacation got me through about three months of that.  Then it was pure pain.

With this recipe, we can all go on a tropical vacation together.  I love pina coladas with their 1200 calories of rummy goodness.  I begged my husband to buy me ONE at the pool bar because it was 12 bucks.  (It wasn’t even that good.)  Now home, attempting to maintain my island spirit, I decided to make my own version of a pina colada in the form of a creamy crème brulee. This recipe has all the tropical hints of a pineapple and coconut without being overly sweet or cloying--just the elegance of fresh fruit and a tiny splash of rum wrapped in a ceramic package of a delicious custard and a crispy sugar shell.

Pina colada crème brulee

2 cups coconut milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp rum
2 tsp vanilla
5 large egg yolks, 2 large eggs
¼ cup brown sugar

Thin pineapple slices

granulated sugar to top

blowtorch! Or oven broiler

6 6 oz ramekins

Pre-heat oven to 350.  In heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat, whisk together coconut milk, cream, rum, vanilla and brown sugar.  Heat, stirring constantly until almost simmering.  In separate bowl, whisk eggs together.  Temper eggs by slowly adding 1/3 of the warm cream mixture to the egg mixture and then add the tempered eggs back into the saucepan with the rest of the cream mixture.  Continue to heat over medium heat, stirring continuously until mixture begins to slightly thicken, about 2 minutes.  Do not allow to curdle.  Strain custard with a fine mesh strainer.  Divide mixture between ramekins.  Place ramekins in large roasting pan.  Place pan with ramekins in preheated oven and fill pan with boiling water ¾ of the way up the ramekins to make a water bath.  Bake for 15 minutes and as custards begin to set, carefully place pineapple slices on top.   Bake for another 15 minutes until the custards are set.  Remove from heat, allow to cool and refrigerate overnight. 

The next day, add 1-2 tsp granulated sugar to the top of each ramekin.  With a blowtorch or carefully with the broiler, caramelize the sugar until it is golden brown. 

De Bloom J, Kompier M, et al.  Do we recover from vacation?  Meta-analysis of vacation effects on health and well-being.  J Occup Health. 2009;51(1):13-25. Epub 2008 Dec 19.