Simple dinner for one (with leftovers)

This spoon rest is one of my favorite kitchen tools. It was handmade by Chicago-based Circa Ceramics–they do all kinds of colorful, functional porcelain pieces fired with funky screen prints (these lidded bowls are another favorite). I found it last year while I was browsing the Renegade Craft Fair on a stifling summer day in Wicker Park. I met the artist at the fair and told him I wanted a custom spoon rest with the piggy parts print. He slipped me a business card while juggling a wiggly baby boy in his other hand. Two weeks later, I visited the studio where he had made and glazed it, paid him right then and carried my spoon rest home to put to work that very evening. It was lovely to work with the artist throughout the entire process–it made the piece that much more valuable to me.

But I digress. My piggy spoon rest got quite a workout last week with Sunday pot pie, Tuesday lentils, Thursday bolognese and Friday paella. So on Saturday, tomato-poached eggs offered a light yet satisfying counter to a week of meat-heavy meals. Penny the Peanut and I had the house to ourselves, so I poured a glass of wine, served my eggs on the fancy china and turned on Downton Abbey (oh, the shame). It was the perfect night in.

As for the eggs, I started by sautéeing a small onion, half a red bell pepper and a few cloves of garlic in olive oil. I poured in a can of chickpeas and some whole tomatoes in tomato purée. Then I carefully cracked four whole eggs into the pan and sprinkled sharp white cheddar cheese over the top. A quick bake just to set the whites, a sprinkling of parsley and dinner was served. A few hunks of baguette helped me sop up all the egg yolk and tomato broth.

Tomato-poached eggs with chickpeas

    2 tablespoons olive oil
    1 small onion, diced
    1/2 red bell pepper, diced
    Salt and pepper, to taste
    1 teaspoon sweet paprika
    1/4 teaspoon cayenne
    3 cloves garlic, minced
    1 14-oz. can chickpeas, drained
    14 ozs. whole tomatoes in tomato purée
    4 eggs
    4 ozs. sharp white cheddar or feta cheese, diced or crumbled
    1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped, for garnish
    Crusty bread, for serving

Method: Preheat the oven to 425°F. Heat a small Dutch oven over medium-high heat, and add the olive oil, onion, bell pepper, salt and pepper. Sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Next stir in the paprika, cayenne, garlic and chickpeas; cook for 1-2 minutes until everything is fragrant and reddish-tinted.

Add the tomatoes and crush the whole pieces with your spoon. Check the seasoning and adjust as needed.

Next, carefully crack the eggs one at a time into a small bowl and pour them into the pot, allowing some space between the other eggs and the edge of the pot.

Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top. Put the lid on, and slide the pot into the oven. Bake for 7-8 minutes, just until the egg whites have set and the yolks are still good n’ runny. (Up the bake time by a minute or two if you like your yolks a bit more done.)

Remove the pot from the oven, and allow to cool for about 5 minutes. Taste to make sure the seasoning is to your liking, and adjust if needed. To serve, spoon 2 eggs into a bowl along with some of the chickpea-studded broth. Top with a sprinkling of parsley. Serves 1 with another meal leftover. This dish is even better on day 2.

Portuguese-style stewed pork

It’s winter in Chicago. Although we’re having a really mild one, I’m getting tired of bundling myself in the same calf-length, sleeping bag-esque Chicagoan’s winter coat every time I leave the house. I think it’s all this bundling and unbundling in preparation for braving the outdoors that makes me crave more meat than usual.

Katie and Marge trudge through the West Loop for cocktails, photo by Caroline Connelly

Those of you who have spent any time with me at all know that pork is one of my most favorite things. In any form–steak, chops, belly, jowls, ribs, shoulder or ham–it is fatty, luxurious and satisfying. Pork shoulder is particularly great to cook with because it’s inexpensive and likes long, slow cook times.

I found this recipe in the colorful little recipe box that came with my tagine, which I got for Christmas a few years back. The sleeper hit of this stew for me was the lemon. Cooking thinly sliced lemon creates this heavenly, softened acidity, and the essential oils in the peel perfume the savory pork with a hint of bright citrus.

I like serving this with my oven-baked fries, which I’ll toss with some of the toasted cumin seed, salt and pepper.

Portuguese stewed pork

    2 tablespoons cumin seed, toasted and ground
    2 teaspoons sweet paprika
    Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
    1/2 cup cilantro, roughly chopped and divided
    2 tablespoons lemon juice
    2 lbs. boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1-in. cubes
    Olive oil, as needed
    1 medium onion, roughly chopped
    3 large cloves garlic, minced
    1 cup dry white wine
    1 cup chicken broth
    1/2 lemon, cut in paper-thin slices and quartered

Method: Combine the cumin, paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons pepper, half the cilantro and lemon juice in a bowl. Rub this paste into the pork and marinate for two hours at room temperature (you could also marinate it up to 8 hours in the refrigerator–just be sure to bring it to room temp before cooking).

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy skillet or Dutch oven over high heat, and add the pork chunks in a single layer. (You may have to do this in batches.) Sear on all sides until golden brown. Remove the pork, and cover it with foil to keep warm.

Add a bit more olive oil to the pan; add the onion and sauté for about 10 minutes, until soft. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute until fragrant. Deglaze the pan with the wine. Slide the pork back into the pot and add just enough stock to cover the meat about halfway. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover the pot and simmer over low heat for 2 hours, until the pork is falling apart.

Add the lemon slices to the pot during the last 10 minutes of cooking.

Check the seasoning, and adjust as needed. Sprinkle the pork with the remaining cilantro, and serve.