Cooking for one, cooking for all

Before I could even think of cooking for others, I had to learn to cook for myself.

I lived in dorms during the first year of college, but as soon as my sophomore year began, I was renting a small room (so small that my desk prevented the bedroom door from opening entirely) in a shared apartment in downtown Boston. My roommate and I had opposite schedules and never saw each other for more than a few minutes each week. And because I wasn’t living on campus, I didn’t have a meal plan, so grocery shopping and preparing meals was a whole new part of my routine. At 19, I was very much living on my own.

In the beginning, cooking seemed to take forever. I’d have the notion to make something uncomplicated – a soup, for instance, or baked chicken – but I’d end up eating way later than planned or feel forced to eat a disappointing dish. I called home to ask my parents, both avid cooks, for guidance. (What do I do with fish? How do I make your salad dressing?).  They’d dictate recipes, or stay on the line as I tried not to set fire to the kitchen.

As weeks passed, I got more adventurous, thanks to cookbooks and some of the early food blogs. I knew I was getting comfortable at the stove when I began inviting friends over. I cooked big brunches on Sundays, and hosted dinners for out-of-town guests.

While cooking was something I initially learned on my own, it was ultimately how I was able to bring people together. I cooked big brunches on Sundays, and hosted dinners for out-of-town guests. Friends and family liked my food. It wasn’t too long before they were asking me for advice or ideas.

These days, I’ll admit, I almost never use a recipe. For me, recipes act as reminders, mere suggestions. I prefer the challenge of cooking with what I have, substituting for this, adding that. The pork chop and radicchio salad here can really be approached as you like. The chop may not need much marinade, or you might want more spice, or more sweetness. The salad adds color and intrigue to the plate. Enjoy this meal with friends or alone. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

GLAZED PORK CHOPS WITH GRILLED CITRUS AND RADICCHIO SALAD

FOR THE CHOPS
2 center-cut or bone-in pork chops
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Drizzle pork chops with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper and let sit for 20-30 minutes. Combine balsamic vinegar and honey (or maple syrup) with one tablespoon of butter in a saucepan over medium heat for one minute, or until reduced. Set aside. Heat cast iron skillet over medium-high heat and melt one tablespoon of butter. Place pork chops (oil side down) onto the skillet, as soon as butter is completely melted. Drizzle oil and sprinkle salt and pepper to the exposed side of the pork chop, and let the first side cook for 3 minutes. Rotate pork chop, baste with vinegar reduction, cook for another 3 minutes on the second side, and continue to rotate and baste until the pork chop is browned, about 14-15 minutes total. Remove chops to cutting board and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

FOR THE SALAD
1 head of radicchio
½ shallot, finely chopped
1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 small orange (or similar citrus of your choice)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano
Optional: Nuts (such as pistachios) or chopped green olives

In a large salad bowl, combine oil, vinegar, shallot and fennel. Set aside. Peel citrus and divide citrus in half so that the slices in each half are still intact. Drizzle oil and sprinkle salt on the inside of each half and place that side down on the heated skillet. Drizzle a bit more of oil and sprinkle salt on the exposed half. Grill each side until brown and caramelized and heated through, set aside to cool off. Rip radicchio leaves from the bulb and put directly into the salad bowl with dressing and fennel. Add optional nuts or green olives, season with salt and pepper. Dice grilled citrus and add to the bowl. Toss, season to taste, and serve alongside pork chop.

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