I know I said I was going to make my Sunday Dinner posts a regular thing, but sometimes what I make is not that noteworthy.  However, nyuchick persuaded me to get the ball rolling again.  I guess when you look at so many food blogs and see the complicated things that some folks come up with, you think the simple dishes are not worth sharing.  But today, I am feeling sentimental so I will share.

There are certain foods that just remind you of home, of family, and are comforting when feeling blue.  Hence, comfort foods.  For me, one of these comfort foods is something my family calls Spanish rice.  I take no responsibility for how authentic it may actually be, but its intentions were definitely good when this dish was created.

Where did this Spanish rice come from?  My mother told me that essentially my grandmother made it up.  She came to the US when she was 21 years old from Puerto Rico, where she lived a life with maids and housekeepers and people who cooked for her.  As she learned to cook here in the US as a wife and mother, she tried to replicate the dishes she loved from Puerto Rico, but she could not find the same ingredients so she improvised.  I swear I probably ate this dish hundreds of times growing up and every time it was my favorite. A dish of this rice and some pan fried pork chops was a weekly staple at home.  The combination of the mushy tomato-y rice and the bits of corn and the simple spices make it irresistible to me.  And yes, the mushier the rice the better.  My mother would call this a bad batch.  I would call it perfection.

Now that I’m a grown woman and married, I find myself craving Spanish rice more and more.  Part of me just misses my mom’s cooking.  Part of me likes to feel connected to my Hispanic heritage, since I will admit I do not know much about it (tis true, I am not 100% cannoli).  But a big part of me loves any and all things associated with my grandmother, who’s been gone almost 14 years now.  I literally have nothing but fond memories of her . . . her perfume, her nail polish, her smile, her love of trash mags and soap operas, her sayings, her house, her daily presence in my life every day after school when I was a little girl.  She left us so long ago and even now, one thought of her turns me into a blubbering mess as if it were yesterday.  I don’t feel this way about anyone or anything but her.  Maybe it’s because she developed Parkinson’s and we slowly watched her slip away.  I remember the look in her eyes when she could not speak anymore.  I remember reading my grandfather’s last letter to her aloud at the funeral home before it was slipped into her coffin.  When she was gone, I planned my wedding wishing she was there.  Even now, I find sometimes talking out loud as if she was right next to me.  I constantly wonder if she would approve of the choices I’ve made.  I just miss her.  If a dish of rice is going to keep her alive in some way, then I will make the rice.

So today I had the craving for Spanish rice, so I gave it a whirl, with some modifications of course.  As much as I would have loved to make it with white rice, we only have brown rice in our house now so that’s what I used.  It was close, but not exactly the same.  But good enough, for sure.

Grandma’s Spanish Rice

Ingredients:

Two cups rice (preferably white rice, I used brown rice)

Olive oil

Fresh garlic, chopped

2 cups frozen corn (I used the one that comes in the frozen block 10oz seems to be enough)

Tomato sauce (homemade preferable, but today I used two small cans of hunts tomato sauce since I did not have any sauce defrosted)

2 cups water

Salt, pepper, garlic powder to taste

Stuffed manzanilla olives (today I used a small jar, since my husband loves more olives)

Directions:

  • If using white rice, wash the rice in a strainer until the water runs clear.  If using brown rice, skip this step.
  • In a large pot, sautee the chopped garlic in olive oil over medium heat.  Do not burn the garlic!
  • Add rice to pot and stir to cover the grains with the oil in the pot.
  • Add the corn and tomato sauce and stir to combine.
  • Add the water and salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste.
  • If using white rice, cook at medium heat until it resembles a thick soup.  Lower gas to half, cover pot and cook for 15 minutes.  If too dry add more water.  Cook about 10 more minutes until done.
  • If using brown rice, bring to a boil, lower heat to low, cover pot and cook until done, about 30 – 40 minutes.

Instead of the usual pan fried pork chops, I looked on my cookbook shelf for something different and found a recipe from my new Lidia cookbook, Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy.

Lidia is awesome. I wish I could do what she does.

Here’s the recipe – the only thing I omitted was the butter and used boneless pork chops and whole wheat flour, but I did everything else exactly the same. Pork was cooked perfectly and the sauce was delicious, not too lemony and very flavorful.

Pork Chops with Capers

Ingredients:

6 bone-in pork loin chops, 1 inch thick, 6 to 8 ounces each

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 plump garlic cloves, crushed and peeled

1/2 cup all-purpose flour for dredging, plus more as needed

1 large lemon, sliced in thin rounds

6 whole Tuscan-style pickled peperoncini drained

3 tablespoons small capers, drained

3/4 cup white wine

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

Directions:

  • Trim the fat from the pork chops, if necessary, leaving only a thin layer, and salt them lightly on both sides, using 1/2 teaspoon salt in all.
  • Put the butter and olive oil in the skillet, and set it over medium-low heat. When the butter begins to bubble, scatter in the garlic; let it heat and gently sizzle. Meanwhile, spread the flour on a plate or tray and dredge the chops on all sides. Shake off excess flour, and lay the chops in the skillet in one layer. (It may appear at first that there’s not enough room for all, but as the meat shrinks you will be able to nestle the chops in.)
  • Strew the lemon slices on top of the chops, and drop the peperoncini in between them. Cook the chops slowly, keeping them at a a gentle sizzle, turning and moving them in the pan about every 5 minutes, as they take on color gradually and evenly.
  • After 20 minutes or so, when the pork is lightly browned and caramelized on both sides, scatter in the capers, shake the pan to drop them onto the bottom, and turn up the heat to medium-high. When the capers are sizzling, push the chops aside, and pour the wine and lemon juice into the clear hot spot. Bring to a boil, and shake the pan so the wine flows around all the chops. Sprinkle over pan the remaining salt, and adjust the heat to keep the pan juices bubbling, steadily reducing and thickening. Turn the chops occasionally, so both sides are moistened and evenly cooked.
  • After about 10 minutes of reducing the liquid, when the juices are syrupy and glaze the chops, remove the pan from the heat. Sprinkle the chopped parsley all over, and give the chops a final turn in the pan. Serve right away, drizzling a bit of the remaining pan sauce over each chop.
Here’s the finished product.  A little bit Italian, a little bit Spanish.  Somehow, exactly like me.

Italian pork chops and Spanish rice. Cause I'm just like that.

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