As this time of year provides the chill in the air, our bodies and souls desire the warmth of homemade, freshly prepared offerings from the kitchen, and our noses seek out the dancing aromas of tasty and familiar sustenance. Fantasies of wintertime in Europe with fluffy, light snowflakes falling on the people gathering at the festive evening street fairs beckon me to wrap my good old friend the cozy apron around my waist and get to cooking a favorite family comfort meal. When I reflect on what comfort means to me, my heart whispers that it represents familiarity, something pleasurable and soothing that keeps the winters wind at bay and the cold out; it envelops my soul the way a soft, woolen sweater hugs my core when it wraps around me and creates a barrier against the outer elements. So is true of comfort food, especially the home-style, fried kind. Enticing, it brings warmth to the soul the way the glowing blaze of a kitchen hearth warms the body. The aroma that wafts off of the pan when food is being fried makes mouths water and bellies rumble with anticipation of what wonders await them. It suggests the best of “hominess”, the best kind of coziness, as all senses become awakened. Our ears hear the sizzling-popping of the frying, our noses smell the browning goodness emanating from the pan, our eyes see the changes in the color as it goes from light to golden to golden-brown and in turn how close we are to actually being able to eat, and our mouths provide the pleasure of the flavor of the delectable edible.
Pork schnitzel is one of Eastern Europe’s fine masterpieces of fried food. Simply prepared and hearty, schnitzel is a flavorful seasoned tender cutlet of pork loin with a crispy, golden crust of breading. As is true with so many classic recipes that come out of ‘old world’ countries, each family has their own twist on preparing this dish. The way schnitzel was served in our home made it one of the most comforting meals we would have; as a matter of fact, it has always been considered a bit of a “splurge” meal in our family, one that we would enjoy not only when our tummies needed warming, but our spirits needed lifting. If we had had a more-hectic-than-usual week, loaded with lots of activities, nothing sounded better to any of us than finally taking a load off and comforting ourselves with good food. The freezer would be perused for its offerings, and by golly if there was a pork loin in there somewhere; it would call out, “I’m in here, under the chicken thighs… schnitzel anyone?” Great idea, pork loin, don’t mind if we do. Schnitzel is typically served with boiled and buttered, quartered potatoes sprinkled with chopped parsley, but we almost always opted for creamy mashed potatoes as our choice of side, along with fresh, crisp and bright cucumber-tomato salad to give balance to some of the richness; but the topper that gave it that stamp of being our family recipe? Well… the topper, actually. This was what set our schnitzel apart from a more basic version: a zesty, garlicky vegetable sauce that was spooned over top of the fried cutlet followed by a sprinkling of cheese and then into the oven for a quick gratin. My, oh my! As if the fried pork itself wasn’t enough.
When I first introduced my husband to pork schnitzel, he instantly fell in love. With the schnitzel, but I was a close second. I joke! And now, if I make the occasional “naked” schnitzel without the vegetable gratin topping, he still gladly cleans his plate and licks his fingers afterwards, but can’t help but ask, “Maybe we could make the schnitzel with the saucy, cheesy topping again sometime, too?” Of course, hon. I know you love it, and I love you.
This is the time of year when glistening snow-globes clasped in tiny hands are shaken up, Viennese waltzes play softly and quietly in the far distance and I find my heart longing for childhood’s wintertime. Home is where my heart is, and in family, my joy. The kitchen is where it all comes together, woven through the fabric of our love and need for good fare, just as God designed it. When our bellies rumble in unison for comforting meals, schnitzel will most definitely be on our menu this winter season. And in the spring season, the summer season, the fall season…
Taste what’s good and pass it on.
*The Garlic-Vegetable Sauce/Gratin is also a wonderfully flavorful topping for breaded or grilled chicken breast, as well.
Pork Schnitzel with Garlic-Vegetable Gratin, Creamy Mashed Potatoes and Crisp Cucumber Salad
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Ingredients: (serves 4-8)
1.5 lb Pork loin, trimmed of excess fat and sliced into 8 cutlets
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon paprika
1tablespoon lemon juice
Salt/pepper to taste
2 eggs, whisked
1¼ cups breadcrumbs
Vegetable of canola oil for frying
1cup shredded mozzarella or Gruyere cheese
Ingredients: (makes enough for about 8 cutlets)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 carrots, shredded
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
¼ onion, chopped
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup chicken stock, hot
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt/pepper to taste
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon lemon juice
-Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and line a baking sheet with foil.
-Begin by pounding out the pork loin cutlets using a small mallet, to tenderize; place the cutlets into a medium sized bowl and add the garlic, paprika, lemon juice and salt/pepper to taste; rub ingredients into the cutlets, and allow to marinate for about an hour, or at least 20 minutes.
-While pork marinates, prepare the vegetable sauce by placing a medium-small pot over medium heat; add the butter and olive oil, and once melted together, add the shredded carrot, chopped celery, garlic and chopped onion; allow to sweat for about 2-3 minutes; next add the flour to this, and stir together for about 2 minutes to cook out the raw flour taste; next, whisk in the hot chicken stock, making sure to whisk/blend until very smooth; allow to thicken for a few minutes; finally whisk in the Parmesan, salt/pepper to taste, the parsley, cilantro and the lemon juice; keep warm.
– Create the breading station for breading the pork cutlets by adding flour to a large plate, adding the whisked eggs to a large bowl and adding the breadcrumbs to another large plate (the order should be 3 sections: flour, eggs, breadcrumbs); prepare another large plate to lay the breaded cutlets onto to hold for frying; begin by dipping each cutlet in the flour, shaking off the excess; dip into the egg wash, then the breadcrumbs, coating thoroughly; repeat the process until all cutlets are breaded.
-In a large frying pan, add enough oil to fill the pan about 1/3 of the way up; heat the oil on medium-high heat for a few minutes, and check the readiness by dropping in a small piece of the breading to see if it fry’s and floats; then add 2-3 breaded pork cutlets to the hot oil, depending on the size of your frying pan (be careful not to over-crowd), and allow to fry for about 3-4 minutes per side or until golden brown; remove and place onto paper towel to drain; repeat with all pork cutlets.
-When all cutlets have been fried, place them onto the foil-lined baking sheet and top each with a generous spoonful or two of the garlic-vegetable sauce, then top with a good sprinkling of the shredded mozzarella or Gruyere cheese; place into the preheated oven, and bake for about 5 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly; remove from oven, and keep warm.
Creamy Mashed Potatoes
Ingredients: (serves about 4)
8 large red skin potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 tablespoons butter
¾ cup milk
– Place the peeled, cubed potatoes into a large pot and cover them with water; add about 2 tablespoons of salt to the water, and place the pot, uncovered, over medium heat; allow potatoes to come to the boil, then gently simmer for about 20-22 minutes; once fork tender, drain potatoes, and return to pot; place pot over medium heat to allow potatoes to dry for a minute; remove potatoes from heat and add the butter and some of the milk, and mash until creamy with masher, adding milk as needed; add salt to taste, and keep warm.
Crisp Cucumber Salad
Ingredients: (serves about 4)
4 Persian cucumbers, diced
1 tomato, diced
¼ onion, diced
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt to taste
-Prepare the cucumber salad by combining the diced cucumber, tomato, onion, cilantro, lemon juice, olive oil and salt to taste; hold cold in refrigerator until ready to serve.