Pork Chops Stuffed with Goat Cheese and Pears

A few months back, a new restaurant was getting ready to open doors in our neighborhood. I walked by, and loved the decor – contemporary country with an eclectic flair. Couldn’t wait until we finally had a casually elegant place, hopefully with good food, nearby. I checked their menu. It looked very promising.  One thing immediately caught my attention – Pork Chop Stuffed with Pears and Goat Cheese. For a carnivore, who loves experimenting it sounded like the perfect combination of savory, sweet and tangy. I was looking forward to trying it.

Weeks passed and the restaurant was still not ready to open. Waiting for city permits, they told me. My mouth was watering every time I thought of that pork chop. I couldn’t wait anymore.  It was prime pear season, after all. I did some research online hoping to find a recipe for pork chops with pears and goat cheese that I could make at home. No luck. Millions of recipes for pork chops and none with those ingredients.

Well, here I had it. A perfect opportunity and an inspiration to develop my very first original recipe.

The meat, cheese and pears were going to provide the texture and the sweet and savory taste. I was planning to add onions, as I do with almost every meal I cook. But I needed some distinct aromas to complete the sensory experience. Cumin goes really well with pork and I wanted to see what adding coriander would do. A brief search on some flavor pairing sources also suggested rosemary. Hmm! That may be that last touch of fragrant freshness that I was looking for.  About an hour later and a tablespoon of balsamic reduction on top, I couldn’t believe that the first attempt delivered such a delicious creation. It turned out great!

I have made these pork chops on multiple occasions since, tweaking here and there every time, and they are always very well received by family and company. In fact, when I made the recipe for this post, Aaron couldn’t resist and had two big pork chops in one sitting.

When the restaurant finally opened, I was disappointed to discover that the item was not on the menu. I wonder why.  So, for now, mine is the best Pork Chop with Pears and Goat Cheese I have ever had.

Thank you, Mack & Kate’s, for the great idea!

I’d love to know what inspires you in the kitchen. Have you developed your own recipes? What was the most successful? What was the biggest disappointment?

Pork Chops Stuffed with Pears and Goat Cheese

Serves 4

For the pork chops

  • 4 thick pork chops with a bone on the side (the bone helps keep the pork chop together when we cut a pocket for the stuffing)
  • 2 pears, not too soft (I prefer Bartlett as they are sweet and flavorful)
  • 6 oz. goat cheese, softened
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 sprig rosemary, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt divided
  • 1 cup bread crumbs

For the balsamic reduction

  • 1 large shallot diced
  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar

The total time needed to prepare this recipe is a little over an hour. If you have more time, I will recommend letting the pork chops sit in milk for a couple of hours. The milk is a great tenderizer.

Set oven to 350°F.

On the side opposite of the bone, cut a horizontal opening in each pork chop to create a pocket for the stuffing. The bone should serve as the bottom of the pocket.

Mix coriander, cumin, black pepper and ½ teaspoon of the salt. Rub the pork chops inside and out with spice mix and set aside.

Start balsamic reduction:  mix vinegar, shallot and brown sugar in a small saucepan and place on medium heat.  After it starts boiling, turn heat down to medium-low and let simmer until content is reduced to 1/3 of the original amount.

Sauté onion.  Core pears and cut in small cubes. Mix sautéed onions, pears and soft goat cheese in a medium bowl. Add finely cut rosemary and a pinch of salt.

Use a spoon to stuff pork chops generously with goat cheese and pears mix. Lightly roll stuffed pork chops in bread crumbs. Make sure bread crumbs cover the pocket opening to prevent stuffing from coming out.

Brown pork chops on medium heat on both sides. Arrange in a greased baking pan. Roast for 30-40 min. or until thermometer placed in the middle of a pork chop reaches 160°F.

Sprinkle each pork chop with one tablespoon balsamic reduction. Serve with white rice.  

©The recipe and pictures in this post are copyright of the author.

Pork Chop

Posted in Holidays, Main Dishes | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

The Advent of Feta

Back in the day, in Bulgaria, when we used the word cheese we meant one thing only: white, salty, crumbly– feta cheese.  Feta was synonymous with cheese. In fact, we only had two types of cheese, the white feta and a yellow soft one called “kashkaval”.  We didn’t have a big variety not because Bulgarian cuisine didn’t care much about cheese. On the contrary, cheese was part of pretty much every meal.  But we were happy with the two types we had.

In the US, I truly enjoy the great variety of cheeses from all over the world I can find here. I discovered cheddar, I learned to appreciate Stilton, I fell in love with goat cheese and ordering a cheese plate before dinner is one of Aaron and mine favorite indulgencies.  But every once in a while I find myself craving that tangy, savory and creamy texture that with just a little touch can transform the character of even the simplest meal.  

The familiar flavor of feta is what I crave but there are many reasons that make me come back to it over and over again. Although still fatty, feta has a lot less fat and fewer calories than other cheeses (30% less fat and calories than cheddar). It is also rich in beneficial nutrients like calcium, protein, vitamin B12, phosphorous (helps absorb calcium) and riboflavin (helps metabolism). It does contain a lot of sodium but due to its rich flavor you don’t need to use much. Just a little bit is enough to satisfy the taste buds.

Unfortunately, despite of the growing popularity of feta in the US, I find good quality hard to come by. A lot of the brands sold in the grocery store are too dry, hard and salty. Most of them have Greek -sounding names but the true origin of the cheese is not disclosed. I try to stay away from those. The brand that consistently delivers good quality French feta is President. I am particularly pleased with their crumbled feta. For a chunk of feta though I prefer Vigo, a brand I discovered in my local Publix.  Their cheese is sold in brine which keeps it softer and creamier. It is displayed in the regular cheese section, not the deli, and is reasonably priced. (Oh yes, and I have to disclose, it is imported from Bulgaria :)).   I am also lucky to have found an international market in Nashville that carries Bulgarian feta in bigger containers and whenever I am in the neighborhood, I stock up on it.  

In my modest attempt to help the popularity of feta in America expand beyond the world of salads, I will be sharing a lot of recipes with feta in this blog. Recipes for breakfasts, appetizers, salads and even main meals.

Let’s start with a really simple one that I borrowed from Martha Stewart and have made many times now. These feta cheese bites are extremely easy, very flavorful and perfect for a cocktail party or any other gathering.

Feta Bites with Toasted Fennel Seeds

  • Chunk of feta -8 oz.
  • Fennel seeds – 2 Tablespoons
  • Zest of one lemon

Cut feta into small cubes (3/4 inch sides). Toast fennel seeds in a small skillet until strong fennel smell fills the air but before they start burning. Mix fennel with lemon zest.  Roll feta cubes in fennel. Spear with a toothpick. Enjoy!

I love this combination of savory feta, fragrant fennel and fresh lemon zest but if you find fennel too strong, these bites work great with toasted caraway seeds as well.

I usually serve them with one or two other cheese bites. Some ideas: diced feta and pears dusted with coriander on a toothpick, mini goat cheese balls rolled in crushed pistachios or in pomegranate seeds.

Do you love or hate feta? What is your favorite feta recipe?

Posted in Appetizers | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

A holiday tradition. In Bulgaria. And around the world?

This Christmas, Aaron and I decided to stay home.  We haven’t had much time lately to spend in the house and, tired of work and travel, thought this would be the best way to enjoy the holidays.  I wanted to create a homey and festive atmosphere and one childhood memory kept coming back to me.  

Back in Bulgaria, every year around Christmas and New Year, my mom used to make huge amounts of flavorful cookies covered in sugar and filled with nuts and Turkish delight.  The long hours spent cracking the walnuts and rolling dozens of little pieces in powdered sugar and the vanilla that filled the air in the process had become to symbolize the beginning of the holiday season.  The cookies lasted for weeks but every little bit tasted as delicious, if not more, as the previous one.  I had to make them too.

I got my mom’s recipe and it looked really simple. I too, decided to make a lot so I can bring to parties and give away. 

Not surprisingly, at a gathering with my Bulgarian friends, just the sight of the cookies was enough to elicit lots of memories and stories. Apparently every Bulgarian family had some version of these cookies, which my mom calls “little cigars” although they look a lot more like little crescents. Needless to say, everyone enjoyed them and asked me for the recipe.

A bit more surprising I found it that my Moldovan friends recognized the “little cigars” right away too, and, filled with sweet nostalgia, finished the box I took to another party in no time.

I was most intrigued, though, when a Mexican lady looked at them and exclaimed “Ah, those are Mexican wedding cookies”.  Turns out, that cookies with very similar appearance but also ingredients (flour, lard, wine, sugar and nuts), are traditionally prepared for wedding celebrations in Mexico. Isn’t it amazing how food traditions make their way around the world?

I wonder where the little powdered crescents originated.  What other countries have adopted them and what celebrations they typically prepare them for. Let me know if you know their story.

But even if you don’t, try the recipe below at your next party. My mom’s “little cigars” will not only bring a touch of old fashioned festivity but are sure to start a conversation.        

Holiday Cookies from Home

  • 1 cup white wine
  • 2 cups lard (Sold in your local grocery store in a shelf stable package where shortening is sold. The brand I buy is Armour)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups powdered sugar (divided)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • Flour – as much as it absorbs for medium-hard dough (I used 3 and 1/2 cups)
  • 1 small or medium box Turkish delight (Sold in Middle Eastern or international food stores. My favorite flavor is the classic rose.) Cut each piece into 4-5 smaller rectangular pieces.
  • 1 to 2 cups walnut or pecan quarters

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Place a cup of flour on the bottom of a mixing bowl. Create a “well” in the flour and add lard. Add ½ cup powdered sugar, wine and vanilla. Mix well (with your hands) adding flour as needed, until dough is semi-hard. It should be slightly crumbly. Divide into two balls. Roll each ball into a circle to about less than a ¼ inch thick. Cut triangles (base about 3 inches wide). Place a small piece of Turkish delight and a pecan quarter towards the bottom of each triangle. Roll into crescents. Makes about 60 cookies.

Place on a greased cookie sheet. Bake until just slightly golden (15-20 min.). Roll crescents in a bowl of powdered sugar while still warm (so the sugar sticks better), but not hot (so it doesn’t melt).

Posted in Bulgarian Recipes, Cookies, Sweets | Tagged , , , , , | 12 Comments