It’s been ten days since we landed back in the United States and life has never felt more spacious. Which honestly, I did not expect after being gone for the better part of February.
Our days have been equal parts farm doing and farm dreaming since returning home– a balance I relish. We’ve inventoried seeds, worked to get new CSA members into our automated Welcome series, finalized CSA routes with our delivery driver, created new marketing materials for new partnerships, sent a bazillion emails, and begun hauling supplies into the greenhouse to build tables. But that’s only the half of it.
We’ve also just sent off our forty pounds of certified organic hemp to a processor outside Milwaukee and started to discuss what we want our product, our mission and our marketing channels to look like. I’m applying for grants for projects that inspire me and bring fun elements into our farm lives. We’re chatting about work schedules and discussing what we want our weekly routine to look like come harvest time. We’re revising our benefits package and dreaming up what a kind of work environment we want to intentionally build this year. The vision for this year’s on-farm events is starting to take shape.
There is so much good stuff building that the thing I’m excited about varies daily which is exactly where I want to be right now. I have always enjoyed the day-to-day work of farming and running a business— planning, planting, weeding, harvesting, marketing, crunching numbers. There really isn’t any task I don’t enjoy, but too much of this day-to-day work can make me feel stuck.
I’m a creator to my core. I’m at my most energized when dreaming and visioning are part of my weekly work flow, and it is such a fun time of year for this kind of work! We’ve got the whole growing season ahead of us and there’s so much anticipation about what we will have the time and space to grow and build.
I cook a lot when I’m in this kind of space because I treasure any task I can do with my hands that leaves my mind free to think. We’ve been pretty focused on eating as many healthy things as possible since coming back from vacation. I’ve been making grain bowls of amaranth and sweet potatoes, creamy tomato soup with the tomatoes from our freezer, big bowls of shaved Brussels sprouts turned into quick salads, and so many pieces of avocado toast topped with microgreens.
But my favorite creation post-vacation was actually a meal I first made back in early November when celeriac season had just begun at our farm. It was around the same time that we began clearing our deep freezer in anticipation of deer hunting and I was obsessively posting so many photos of toasted hazelnuts and sauted apples on toast. For me, this is where culinary creativity is born. A photograph of sauted apples on peanut butter toast inspires a new breakfast and eventually, a new way of thinking about how to use my fall apples. A need to clear the freezer has us eating pork chops a couple times a week. And suddenly, all those ideas combine into one perfect dish.
I love everything about this wintery meal. Its decadence and simplicity, the combination of textures and in-season ingredients, the easy ability to scale things up for a dinner party, and perhaps most of all, I love finally finding the perfect pairing to a tender, meaty, fatty brined pork chop. I had been craving it since mid-way through our European adventure. There is just something about overloading on carbs for 19 days straight that really makes you want a pork chop.
We began brining our pork chops a few years ago simply because a cookbook told us to. I don’t think I had every brined anything before that day but it was a time in my life when I was cooking recipes from cookbooks with no substitutions or changes because I wanted to expand my culinary repertoire. I was seeking new ingredients and techniques so I made the simple brine. The next evening we grilled the pork chops. They had the most perfect, almost indescribable texture. The exterior was crispy. The fat melted into the pork chop. The interior was as tender as a steak. The simple meat was truly transformed. We have really never looked back. We’ve brined hundreds of pork chops since that day.
Brining is simple. That I promise. It is essentially just dissolving some sugar and salt in water, letting it cool and throwing your pork chops into it. Yes, it does add one more step to the process and yes, it does take a tiny bit of advanced planning and no, you do not have to do it (skip steps one and two in the recipe if you aren’t in the mood to plan ahead) but I really, really encourage you to give brining a try.
Enjoy my friends and happiest of March days to you all,
CELERIAC MASH WITH BRINED PORK CHOPS
Much like the brining process described lovingly above, the maple apples, brown butter hazelnuts and roasted Brussels sprouts are all completely optional. I love this dish with all its perfect separate parts but also recognize that it’s a lot of steps and prep for a weeknight meal. Celeriac mash with a perfectly brined and grilled (or just grilled) pork chop will do just fine.
Takes 1 hour + 15 minutes for the brining step the night before
4 cups water
2/3 cup Kosher salt + 1 tablespoon Kosher salt, divided
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
4 garlic cloves, smashed
4 chiles de arbol
1 lemon, sliced
4 cups ice cubes
4 pork chops, 1-inch thick
1 pound Brussels sprouts, halved
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 twists freshly ground black pepper
2 cups celeriac, peeled and diced
2 cups gold potatoes, peeled and diced
1 cup whole milk
1/3 cup sour cream
4 tablespoons salted butter, divided
1 apple, cored and diced
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 cup toasted and roughly chopped hazelnuts
- The night before (or morning of) the day you plan to eat your pork chops for dinner, combine water, 2/3 cup salt, sugar, peppercorns, thyme, garlic, chiles, and lemon in a large stock pot. Bring to a simmer and stir until all the sugar and salt have dissolved. Add the ice cubes and stir until melted.
- Place pork chops in a large Tupperware, Pryex or bowl (that will be able to fit the 8 cups of water + the chops) and pour the brining liquid over the chops. Cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours (but no more than 24).
- When you are ready to make your meal, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss Brussels sprouts with olive oil, 1 teaspoon Kosher salt and the black pepper. Roast for 20 minutes then rotate the pan and roast 15 minutes longer.
- While those roast, bring a stock pot of water to a boil. Add the celeriac, potatoes and 1 teaspoon Kosher salt. Boil for 20 minutes until softened then strain, return to pot and mash. Add milk, sour cream, 2 tablespoons butter and remaining teaspoon Kosher salt. Taste and adjust seedlings as desired.
- **Meanwhile, heat remaining 2 tablespoons butter over medium high heat until it melts and then begins to foam and eventually begins to brown and smell a little bit nutty. Add the hazelnuts and toss to coat. Using a spatula, move the hazelnuts and all the brown butter into a small bowl.
- **Wipe out the pan you used for your hazelnuts. Add apples and drizzle with maple syrup. Gently saute for 5 minutes until just softened.
- Preheat grill to high heat. While that heats up, remove pork chops and pat dry with paper towel. Grill pork chops on each side for 4 minutes, closing the grill for the first 3 minutes to get good grill marks.
- To serve, put a couple scoops of celeriac mash on the bottom of a large, wide bowl (a plate is also fine). Serve pork chop on top of the mash with a side of the roast Brussels sprouts. Top the whole thing with the brown butter hazelnuts and/or maple apples.
** Is this getting too long? Let me again remind you that this step, though delicious, is optional.