As you may know, I spend my life in the company of women. At work I am surrounded by female students and colleagues, and at home I live with my wife and daughter. Only Hugh Heffner spends his life with a comparable number of the fairer sex, although I imagine his experiences are a little different to mine. We may both work in mansions, but I doubt his bunnies take such a keen interest in scones as the ladies who come on our courses.
Over the past three years working with the WI I have found myself gaining a much better insight into the female psyche, a bit like Mel Gibson's character in the predictable rom com "What Women Want", albeit without the leg shaving. Oh, and the mind reading.
I have, however, mastered the sewing machine and can sew a mean hem, and I also seem to be taking a keen interest in the floral displays in my garden, which is odd for a man of my age. Sometimes I worry about where this may end, that I may start to shop at Cath Kidston or hanker for spa days or join a book club or something. I wake up in the night having had a nightmare about doilies, and have to calm myself down with a rub of lavender oil on my temples. I even had to stop myself from watching Loose Women the other day. Yes, things are really that bad.
To date I've never really been a blokey bloke. I don't crave a flash car or find Top Gear remotely interesting. I've never downed a yard of ale, or enjoyed the homo-erotic grappling of a scrum on a rugby pitch or a punch up outside a Yates on a Saturday night. But maybe the time has come. Maybe in the interest of balance I need to watch Jeremy Clarkson and his buddies rather than Carole McGiffin and Co. Perhaps I'll ease myself in gently to my new world of machismo with a few minutes of the World Cup and see how it goes. "Come on you ENG-ER-LUND!", you may even hear me shout, as I pin the hem on the shirt I'm taking up.
Thankfully I have one area where I am in control of my masculinity and that is in my diet. I will never, no matter how many women pass through my kitchen, be able to profess a love of cupcakes or even chocolate. I need my meat and it is in meat that I find my escapism. I don't know what it is about a big lump of meat, but when it's there on a plate in front of me, things feel normal again. A juicy ribeye, a slab of pork belly, the meaty pile up of a full English breakfast or a dripping dirty burger. They are like an SAS task force piling in to extract me from the perfumed hostage situation I find myself in, their succulent fat and protein weaponry too powerful for anything that stands in their way, even that copy of Grazia that someone's left on the kitchen table.
Which brings me nicely to this week's dish. I've been cooking it a lot recently because I've been giving a lot of demonstrations to visiting groups. Pork chops can be cooked so badly so people avoid them, thinking they will always be dry and tough. The key is to buy nice thick cut chops, preferably free range and preferably on the bone. It is imperative you don't over cook them and vital that you let them rest once they are out of the oven or the pan. Brown and season them properly and you'll be rewarded with a succulent and tasty piece of meat.
I serve the pork chops with my British twist on the classic Indian Tarka Dal. Yellow toor dal is cooked to a puree then flavoured with a Tarka consisting of onions, garlic and sage. Cook the onions until they are nice and golden brown (but not burnt and crispy) and they will add beautiful sweetness to the dish. Make a simple juniper sauce and serve with some veg and all will be good with the world. Just don't serve it as a TV dinner in front of reruns of Sex in the City, OK?!
PORK LOIN CUTLET, SAGE AND ONION DAL, ROASTED CARROTS, JUNIPER SAUCE
2 pork loin cutlets, free range if possible
75g toor dal
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
1 large clove garlic
6 large sage leaves, finely shredded
4 small carrots, green ends still on if possible
40ml red wine
120ml dark chicken stock
4 juniper berries, crushed
salt and pepper
To make the dal:
Rinse the dal in cold running water until the water runs clear. Place in a small saucepan and add the water. Bring to the simmer and skim off the scum that forms. Cook for about 45-60 mins or until the peas can be broken down easily into a puree with a fork. You may need to add more water if it looks too thick.
In a small frying pan place the onions with the olive oil. Cook over a low heat for at least 10 minutes. The onion will shrink and start to go golden brown. Add the garlic and sage and cook for a further minute. You may need to add a splash more oil if the mixture is catching on the bottom of the pan.
Combine the onion mixture with the cooked dal, season well, and reserve.
To roast the carrots:
Turn the oven on to 180°C. Place the carrots in a small roasting tin and toss in a tbsp of oil. Sprinkle with salt and cook in the oven for 20-30 minutes depending on the thickness of the carrots. When soft, remove from the oven and reserve.
To make the sauce:
Place the Madeira in a small saucepan and place on a high heat. Allow to reduce to syrup. Add the red wine and reduce by half. Add the stock and the crushed juniper and reduce by half again. Taste for depth of flavour. If the sauce lacks depth, continue to reduce, then taste again and season. Sieve and then slake with cornflour if you need to thicken the sauce to a nice coating consistency.
To cook the pork:
Take the pork out of the fridge, ideally 30 minutes to an hour before cooking it and let it come up to room temperature. Heat a griddle pan or frying pan on a high heat. Pat the meat dry with kitchen paper then rub sunflower or olive oil on both sides. Season well with salt and then when the pan is smoking hot, place the cutlets in the frying pan.
Press down on the meat so that all of it comes into contact with the base of the pan. Cook for 3-4 minutes on each side depending on the thickness, then allow to rest on a warm plate for at least 5 (preferably 8-10) minutes in a warm place. The pork should be slightly pink in the middle.
While the pork is resting, warm up all the other elements. You will probably need to add water to the dal to bring it to the consistency of a puree (it shouldn’t be stodgy or like a thick porridge but should hold its shape on a plate).
To plate up:
Place a spoonful of dal on the plate, off centre. Place the cutlet on top, with the bone in the dal. Arrange the carrots on top of the meat then spoon around the sauce. Garnish with wilted greens (I like Cavolo Nero), and serve.