Friday, May 11, 2012

Pecan-Crusted Boneless Pork Chops

It's time for another recipe. Although I've really cut down on eating meat, I still like to take the time to grill up a nice cut on the weekends. This weekend I pulled two boneless pork loin chops out of the freezer and began to consider how I would prepare them.

If you have a good cut of meat, you can never go wrong with salt, pepper, a bit of olive oil, and a well seasoned gas grill. And these two chops were almost half an inch thick--perfect for grilling.

But I had something more elaborate in mind. In particular, I wanted to use some of the pecan halves I bought from the nut and seed guy in the commissary a couple of weeks ago. Pecans are imported, of course, and extremely expensive no matter what time of the year you buy them, often costing USD 30 or more per kilo.

But I do get tired of almonds and pistachios and I don't care for walnuts all that much, and sometimes I get a hankering for pecans. As a result, there was half a kilo of pecans sitting in my fridge.

Pecan-crusted grilled chops sounded like just the thing but I hadn't tried this particular preparation technique before and wondered how to get the nuts to stick to the chops.

As usual, I turned to The Joy of Cooking for inspiration. There I found a recipe for a yogurt-based marinade that I thought would work well. Here is my variation on their recipe.
  • 8 oz plain unsweetened yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp yellow mustard (Dijon would work great but I couldn't find any in the commissary; the original recipe called for powdered mustard but I thought that regular mustard would work fine and it did)
  • 2 to 3 Tbsp honey (this is my addition; I thought it would make a nice counterpoint to the mustard and mesh well with the pecans; plus sugar in a marinade tends to make a glaze when grilled, which I thought would help keep the pecans stuck to the meat)
  • 3 lg cloves garlic peeled and minced
  • 1/2 cup pecan halves chopped
Mix all ingredients in a shallow bowl. Completely cover meat with the marinade. Marinate in the fridge for 2 hours, turning the meat a couple of times.

Grill slowly on a piece of foil.

The pork came out perfect: evenly cooked and incredibly moist, and studded with pecan bits.

I served the chops with frozen spinach, which after I thawed by microwaving, I sauteed in butter and olive oil with some salt. Yeah, I know, frozen vegetables aren't my first choice but I always keep some around since fresh spinach is hard to come by here.

Training Azza (5)

I mentioned that my big-dog friends like to let Azza play with their dogs. Here are some photos of Azza playing with Nellie. It's not the nicest yard but it happened to be the one we decided to try on the day that I remembered to bring my camera.

PM worries that Nellie might be a bully. She does like to pound the stuffing out of my rambunctious puppy but always stops when Azza lets her know she has had enough.

A tired dog is a good dog. She's covered with sand and dog spit. Like she cares.

Here is a nice picture of a tired pup who decided that curling up next to Harry was better than being wiggly and annoying. He is fine with her being so close as long as she is quiet.

Summer Is Here!

Much hotter days are to come but Harry will still enjoy his weekend naps in the sun.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Training Azza (4)

With Azza's significant fear issues, I have been trying to introduce her to as many different experiences as I can. This means I walk a fine line between constant transition and routine, the latter being something that anxious dogs really need.

She's now more willing to approach scary new things. My "what is that?" command is well reinforced and she will nose-touch most scary things for a treat. I got her to nose touch then jump over some flapping safety hazard tape the other day. Her first response was to hackle up and growl at it. After the rewarded interaction, she ignored it, as she should have done from the beginning. It's a slow process.

I've got two friends with large dogs who like to walk with me and Harry and Mimi. My friends are also good sports and are willing to take walks with Azza too. (I never walk all three dogs at the same time. For one, I don't want to draw any attention to the fact that I have three dogs. I also find it extremely difficult to walk with Azza, who needs constant training still, and have a normal, restful walk with H and M at the same time.) When out with Azza, we've taken to slipping into yards of empty houses and letting our dogs blow off steam with some rough play and chasing. Azza is very consistent with her communication signals and really likes to play with the larger dogs.

If Azza were a fox terrier, this mounting behavior would result in a blood bath. Mimi is instead grabbing a toy to taunt her with.

Azza and Mimi continue to get along well. They don't play every day, although Azza certainly tries to initiate play with Mimi regularly, but when they do get going, it is quite the sight. Both dogs like to lie on their sides on the floor and jaw wrestle with gaping mouths. They never make a sound.

Jaw wrestling. This is a game of display. They never actually make contact.

Kicking each other is part of the game too, although Azza has the advantage since she is all leg.

I'm not teaching the basic obedience or the agility classes right now but I did get rooked into offering a puppy class for four weeks during April. I took Azza with me each week, and it turned out to be an excellent experience for her. The trips from hovel to car and car to classroom always presented us with an array of new and scary things. Her anxiety over parked cars is noticeably reduced, although I still have to drag her from the sidewalk up to my car, claws squealing on the blacktop. But to my amazement, she has now  jumped into the back of my car and into her crate two times! I suspect that she finds doing it herself less stressful than having me pick her up. Whatever the motivation, I like the result!

This is a very good example of the many expectations that I have for all of my dogs. I expect them to sit and wait calmly at doorways or gates. I expect them to get into my car on their own (if they are able; Harry gets lifted in these days). I expect them to sit quietly in a crate and not charge the crate door as I am reaching to open it. I expect them to wait calmly while I make their dinner (I teach mat or spot training in all my classes and of course use this training tool myself; Azza has a special spot in the kitchen where she waits for her meals). I expect them to ignore our neighbors (no barking). I expect them to walk on a loose lead in a line parallel to my general path. Considering the short time I've had her and her tender age, Azza is really doing well with all of these behaviors.

Puppy class dog pile. Azza and another golden on the bottom.

There were men and women and even a kid in the puppy class, which was great not just for Azza but for all of the puppies involved. At the end of the second week, I played "pass the puppy" in which each family group passed their puppy to the next group, who proceeded to touch and pet and praise and give treats to the puppy for about 30 seconds, when it was time to pass the puppy on. Not only did the puppies learn to deal with and even accept different types of touching, but they were handled by different kinds of people, and they got used to greeting people when their owners were not hovering over them.

There were three goldens from the same litter, another desert dog, and a Chihuahua in the class in addition to Azza. I let the larger puppies play off lead with each other for a few minutes at the beginning of each class. Hovering dog moms and our token kid.

I took an agility tunnel to the puppy class for the last two weeks. I love this photo! The dedication of some dog owners never fails to awe and inspire! The darling in the lower right is of course the Chichi pup. He did eventually go through the curved tunnel without such extreme measures on the part of his owners.
The "pass the puppy" game was extremely successful and everyone really enjoyed it. The main problem was that Azza peed every single time a new person approached her. She peed 8 or 9 times during that game. I say nothing to her but I find this submissive/appeasing aspect of her personality to be quite unpleasant. 

I'm really hoping that the peeing will fade with time. A recent visit to the vet suggests that it might. 

I took Azza to the vet for a booster vaccination and the ladies behind the counter were gushing and cooing at the sight of her. They know me well, and one said, I heard you were teaching her fabulous tricks. I replied that, no, I've really just been focusing on building a relationship with her and on basic obedience. 

Both women came out to greet and pet her and to my amazement, she didn't pee. She crouched at their feet in a submissive posture but she didn't pee.

Then a family came in, a mom with a girl aged about eight and a boy aged about six. Both kids were fascinated by Azza, who was making googly eyes at them and thumping her skinny tail on the floor. When they asked, I told them they could pet her. All three of them approached her and while there was a bit too much raising of hands over her head (Azza is head shy like many anxious/fearful dogs), she seemed willing to tolerate it in exchange for all the attention. 

Meeting and greeting three new people, and she still didn't pee on the floor!

I patted the couch next to the boy, a signal that I have trained all my dogs to recognize as an invitation to join me on the furniture, and Azza immediately jumped up next to him, curling up and leaning into him. He pet her all over (thank goodness for solid training; you can touch her anywhere and she remains calm). Both of them really enjoyed this!

I called to one of the women behind the counter and said, I suppose you could consider this a fabulous trick!

Out of focus but you get the idea! Look at his arm ever so casually draped across her. This was not posed. I simply handed him the leash and snapped the photo with my phone.