Thursday, August 18, 2011

Make ahead dinner

When my husband and I first got married, I was not a very good cook.  Not because I lacked culinary skills, mostly because I lacked the time to devote to grocery shopping or preparing decent meals.  I was teaching a full day Kindergarten class and my husband had his own full time job in the military.  All of my free time seemed to be consumed with creating bulletin boards, writing lesson plans and conferencing with parents.  I have so much respect for teachers and the hard work and dedication that it takes to be a teacher. 

My husband was very patient and he never complained about the dinners that were thrown together with very little thought or planning.  They were less than gourmet - except when we had guests for dinner.  That's when I broke out the "company food".  With a little extra planning and preparation, I could pull off an extravagant meal with all trimmings.  Now, after 18 years of marriage, I think I have finally figured out how to plan and prepare delicious meals in spite of my busy life.  It makes me laugh to think back at how "busy" we thought we were when it was just the two of us.  Two teenagers and two careers later, I had no idea what it meant to be truly busy.

As busy as my life seems now, I know that there are a lot of you who have a whole lot more "on their plate" than I do.  Hang in there and "give thanks in all circumstances."  1 Thessalonians 5:18 

I want to share one of my favorite "make ahead" recipes with you so that you can create a delicious meal for your family - even on a busy night.  I used to reserve these pecan and bourbon stuffed pork chops for "company food" but I have learned that we can have them anytime by preparing them up to 2 days in advance.  This is also a great meal to serve at a dinner party because the chops can be prepared ahead of time so you're not scrambling to cook or clean up just before your guests arrive.  I also delivered this fully cooked meal along with heating instructions to a family from the church that needed "easy to reheat meals."

Stuffed Pork Chops
14 Tablespoons butter     
1 onion, diced              
1 cup celery                  
¼ cup smoked ham              
3 Tablespoons bourbon       
1 cup bread crumbs              
4 Tablespoons pecans, chopped    
8 ounces heavy cream
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
8 pork chops, thick cut with bone in
3 Tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons chicken boullion
2 cups hot water

Melt 6 T. butter in skillet.  Add ½ c. onion, 1/3 c. celery and ham.  Cook 10 minutes.  Add bourbon and bring to a boil.  Reduce.  Remove from heat and stir in breadcrumbs, pecans, ½ t. thyme and lemon juice.  Season with salt and pepper. 
Cut deep pocket in chop and divide stuffing evenly among chops.

Melt 3 T. butter in skillet.  Add chops and brown on both sides.

Remove from pan and add additional 2 T. butter.  Add 2/3 c. onions and 1/3 c. celery.  Cook 5 minutes.

Add 1 T. flour and cook 1 more minute.

Combine bouillon and water and slowly whisk 1 cup into vegetable mixture.   Raise heat to medium and stir in ½ t. thyme, ¼ t. pepper and ¼ t. salt.  Scrape bits from bottom of pan.

Return chops to pan and add remaining bouillon.  Baste chops with liquid.  Bring to a fast simmer and turn to low and cover with a lid.  Cook 1 ½ - 2 hours, basting every 20 minutes.

Blend 2 T. flour with 2 ½ T soft butter.

Remove chops from pan and bring gravy to a boil.

Add butter-flour mixture.  Simmer 3 minutes.  Add ½ - 1 cup cream until gravy thickens. 
Serve chops with gravy.

These pork chops are definitely not low in fat or calories but they are worth the indulgence every once in a while.  Don't be afraid of the long list of ingredients or the lengthy instructions.  Plan about 40 minutes to get the pork chops ready and another hour and a half of cooking time.

This recipe makes 8 pork chops so you may end up with some leftovers.  When I have pork chops left over, I transfer the cooked chops to a pyrex dish to cool.  Once they're cool, I cover and refrigerate or freeze them.  When I am ready to reheat the pork chops, I cover the pan with foil and put it in the oven for 20-30 minutes until they are warmed through.

Bon Appetit!

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