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Birthday Dinner

My oldest son turned 25 yesterday. I had him when I was only 10 – jk. I know he is getting older, but I am at 29 and holding. Regardless, he loves to eat; wouldn’t know it by looking at Mr. Lean, but he does. And he loves stuffed, baked pork chops.

I learned how to cook out of necessity when my brother and I shared an apartment at Ohio State University. My brother was in dental school. I was a junior English/Education major. He studied a lot. I learned to shop, cook, clean and complain. I remember speaking to my mom on the phone one night after shopping for and making dinner topped off by my doing the dishes. Dear brother? He ate and left for a study session. I said to my mom, “If this is what being married is like, no thanks.” She assured me it wasn’t. I think she might have lied a little.

Anyway, if I wanted to eat food like “Mom used to make” while in Columbus, I had to make it myself. Mom gave me her recipes, and I practiced on my brother. He was a tolerate test subject, and I got pretty good at putting ingredients together which often resulted in fairly edible items. The stuffed pork chops were always a hit and became a family favorite. So stuffed pork chops it is for my son.

Here is how I make them…

Using any bread you might have on hand – Italian or artisan bread with a nice crust works best, but hot dog buns can do in a pinch – tear about 8 slices of the bread into bite size pieces and lay the pieces on a cookie sheet so the bread can dry out.

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Do this about three hours before you make the stuffing and to help the bread dry out, mix the bread around with your hands every now and then as you pass through the kitchen to get a snack. Hey, no snacking! You’re having stuffed pork chops for dinner. Geez!

Once the bread is dry, chop up one medium-sized onion and two stalks of celery.

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Using a large frying pan, melt one stick of butter (1/2 cup), add the chopped onion and celery and cook until the veggies are translucent; about 5 minutes. I also chop up fresh Italian parsley – about 1/4 cup – and toss that in for good measure.

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Pour the dry bread into a large bowl. Season the bread with 1/2 tsp of ground sage, 1/2 tsp of dried thyme leaves, and 1/2 tsp of poultry seasoning. You can also add parsley here instead of with the onion/celery mix. Salt and pepper to taste. Mix everything around to distribute the spices.

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Once the onion/celery/butter mixture is cooked, dump this onto the bread/spice mixture and mix again.  Grab a lump of the buttered, spiced bread and give it a squeeze. If it kind of holds together – you’re good to go. If it falls right apart, melt another half stick of butter and pour it over the bread, mixing again. Be sure to taste the bread mixture to see if you’d like to add any additional spices.

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Next, grab three or four thick center cut, bone-in pork chops.

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With a super sharp, serrated knife cut a decent size pocket into the side of the chop with the fat on it.  Set these aside.

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Now, you will need something to close the stuffed pocket on the chop. I use those skinny wooden skewers some people use for shish kabobs, but I score each one in the middle and snap it in half, otherwise it would not fit in my roasting pan. I also soak the wooden skewers in water for a few minutes so they do not burn to a crisp while in the oven.

With stuffing made and pork pocketed, take a small scoop of the bread mixture and stuff the pocket – not too tight -

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and then run a skewer from one side of the pocket to the other.

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Repeat for all chops. Remember, after you begin stuffing the pork chops, no more tasting of the stuffing with your porky fingers. Not to say your fingers are fat; they are just now covered in raw pork juices. Taste the bread before you stuff, then no more until after it is cooked!

You will have leftover stuffing, so grease a 2 quart casserole – I use Pam because I am lazy – and dump the rest of the stuffing mix in the dish.

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Crack open and lightly beat an egg and pour this over the stuffing mix in the casserole, then mix it in. Trust me, you’ll thank me later. Put a lid on the casserole or cover in aluminum foil and set aside. This extra stuffing only takes about 30 minutes to cook, so do not put it in the oven yet.

Place the stuffed chops in a roasting pan that has a lid. The only roasting pan I use comes from my collection of vintage Savory roasters. That’s another blog entry – did I mention I make my living (well, part of it) as a freelance writer and I mainly write  about antiques and collectibles? Got lots to share there too. I will do up a story on Savory roasters in the near future.

So the chops are in the pan. Season the chops with ground pepper and garlic salt – I LOVE garlic, and pop the uncovered pan into a pre-heated 400 degree oven. The goal now is to brown the chops without burning the stuffing. Good luck. Come back in 15 minutes to check.

In the meantime, I prepare my sides. I have one done – the extra stuffing; but I still make a couple others so I have leftovers – hurray for leftovers! My boys like rice, so I will make some plain rice that they then coat with gravy – yum, but I also make another starch, and I need a veggie.

Usually with pork I make baked squash – my other starch. Any kind will do – butternut, acorn – or this odd little number I picked up at my favorite farmer’s market. To bake squash, I simply split the squash in half, scoop out the seeds and place it cut side down into a greased (Pammed) 8 x 8 in pan.

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The bowl behind the squash is my "compost" bowl. All veggies scraps are collected and will end up in my compost pile

I put this in the oven after the chops are browned. The squash needs about 45 minutes to cook and I like mine really soft.

Okay – 15 minutes have gone by. Time to check the chops. But first, quarter a small onion and gather together a few garlic cloves. Also snag two cups of water. Take the roaster out of the oven. The chops should just be starting to brown. Pour the water into the pan, toss the onions and garlic around the chops and put the lid on the roaster. Put the roaster back in the oven, turn the heat down to 350 degrees and go do something for an hour.

Check the chops every 15 minutes or so to see if they need more water added. Do not let them dry out. The onion, garlic, pork chop drippings and water are simmering away in that pan creating the base for the upcoming gravy. If the chops dry out – no gravy for you.

With a half hour to go before the meat is done, put the extra stuffing into the oven along with the chops and squash. Start your rice so it is ready, and now get the veggie going.

Since my oven is full, I will have to skip roasting my brussel sprouts and instead steam them. Quarter (or if they are small, halve) half a pound of sprouts and put them in a medium saucepan. Add enough water so the sprouts are sitting in water, but not covered. Next add a two teaspoons of granulated sugar – you heard me. These little babies can be bitter, so we are going to sweeten them up. When the meal is 10 minutes from being done, bring the sprouts, water and sugar to a boil, turn down to a simmer, stir occasionally and watch.  The sprouts are done with they are a bright green and can be pierced with a fork.

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Again, make sure you do not boil the sprouts dry. Turn off the heat, add a tablespoon of butter to the pan, season to taste with salt and pepper and you will have edible little green gems.

Take the roaster from the oven,

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remove the chops to a warm plate and cover. With the roasting pan sitting on the stove top, turn the burners onto medium. Make gravy by combining 1/4 cup flour – I use Wondra instead of plain flour since it mixes easier – and enough water until you have a thin floury mixture. Scrape the brown bits from the side of the roasting pan all while bringing the pan juices to a simmer. Slowly pour in the flour/water mix stirring constantly until a gravy forms. If it seems thin, do not panic. It will thicken as it cooks. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and turn off the heat.

Pull the casserole of stuffing from the oven and stir.

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Pull the squash from the oven and cut each piece in half.

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To assemble the plates – each person gets a chop (remove the skewer), a quarter of the squash (put a chunk of butter and a tablespoon of brown sugar on top of the squash – yum) a scoop of rice (I sneak a garlic clove from the roaster and mash it through my serving – I told you I like garlic), a scoop of sprouts, and a scoop of stuffing if they feel they’d like more than what is in their chops. Pour gravy over the chop, and if desired the rice.

The finished product!

Happy Birthday Tim!

2 comments to Birthday Dinner

  • Sheila

    Wow, I can even smell the pork chops! I can’t wait for a day off to make these for my family. Happy Birthday to your son!

  • Happy Birthday to your son! I remember 25 was a good age. Thanks for sharing this recipe with us. I’m always looking for a different way to make pork chops so I’m bookmarking this.

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