Back in the 80's, my mom picked up a bunch of Le Creuset cast iron pots at garage sales and proceeded to use them for almost everything, with the significant exception of everything else that was cooked in her electric skillets. My brother and I weren't foodies back then so we just thought these were very heavy, useful orange pots, rather than heavy, useful, and very expensive orange pots. Once we were adults we realized that they were expensive, and my mom was probably benefiting from peoples' wedding gifts that sat unused.
Around this time, everyone else realized that they were expensive, too, so my mom was not able to find any at garage sales for many years. Eventually I realized that I was just going to have to spend the money and buy new ones. By this time it was possible to find knock-offs at Costco, Sam's Club, etc. I bought a medium and a large round "french oven".
Naturally, once I had purchased mine, and moved across country, then my mom began to find them at garage sales again. She found a 9 1/2 quart (e.g. massive) dutch oven and a 5 quart "buffet casserole" (low pan with lid). They weren't officially part of my Christmas present, but I was more excited about them than anything else. She mailed them to me and they showed up this week. (The last part of the trifecta is a massive porcelain casserole dish from Williams Sonoma. It's still in transit.)
It is rather unfortunate that they showed up now that I am on a diet. Nonetheless, I can still find plenty of uses for them. Since I've never had a nice oven safe low pan with a cover, I tested that first.
I pulled out some center cut pork chops from the freezer and looked to see what else I had in the house that wasn't too fattening. The pork chops were boneless, center cut ones and had no visible fat. I'm sure I would've turned them into leather with any other cooking method, since that's what often happens when I cook pork. I used a recipe for braised pork cops with apples that I adapted slightly.
BRAISED PORK CHOPS W/ APPLES (and rum, and hard cider)
Serving Size= 4-6. Active time= about 10 minutes. Braise time= 15 minutes.
* 1 tbsp unsalted butter
* olive oil
* 4 thick cut pork chops (I used center cut ones. I'm sure it would be tastier with bone in ones)
* 2 teaspoon cinnamon
* 1 teaspoon cumin powder
* salt/ pepper
* 5 apples, sliced into wedges
* 3/4 cup dark rum
* 1/2 cup hard cider (the recipe called for regular cider, but this is what I had)
1) Preheat oven to 350F.
2) In a deep oven-safe pan (or dutch oven) over high heat, warm butter and olive oil (to barely coat bottom of pan).
3) While pan is warming, prepare the pork chops: Wash and fully dry the meat. Coat evenly on both sides with cinnamon, cumin, salt and pepper. Carefully place meat in pan and sear both sides until thoroughly browned; about 4 minutes each side. This seals in the pork chop juices and allows you to properly continue the braising. Do not be afraid to really brown the chops in this step.
4) Remove the pork chops from pan and reduce heat to medium. Deglaze by adding rum and scraping bits that have stuck to the pan up and into the rum. Add cider and apples. Braise the apple wedges in the juices until they are limp and have absorbed some juice; about 4 minutes.
5) Return pork chops to pan and move apples around the meat to cover sides and top (some may remain under the chops).
6) Cover pan and place in oven for 10-15 minutes until pork chops are juicy and succulent and liquid has reduced and holds a sweet, thick aroma. Serve with the apples crowning the meat and the sauce all around.
Anyway, I must say that this is a definite winner, and I'm not just saying it because I'm on a diet and everything tastes good. I'm also not just saying it because it's cold and snowy out and I was craving something warm and flavorful after a week of salads and cottage cheese, or because they have rum and hard cider in them. These really were a winner. Despite the questionable choice of boneless, lean pork, they were moist and relatively tender, perfectly done, and had great flavor from the apples and cinnamon. I used less fat than it suggested (maybe 1.5 tsp total) but that was almost too lean. Most of the alcohol boiled off during the braising so it didn't taste boozy. When I make them again I will probably use a bit more butter and add a bit of salt prior to putting it in the oven. If you're an onion fan, you could add a sliced onion in along with the apples. Or you could add a little bit of bacon. I'm sure that would be epic.
I served them with some quinoa. The original recipe suggested pairing it with polenta, which would probably be even better, but the quinoa was ok too.