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Punktastic Voyage

“We have a brûlée torch if you want to brûlée anything,” Punky typed to me by way of apology that her oven wasn’t working. This is going to be awesome, I thought! And by this, I mean going to Napa and cooking with Punky. It wouldn’t be a workday without Punky and I excitedly chatting each other explicit culinary details of the previous night’s dinners. We both love to cook and have partners who love to sous, so I knew that we were in for some delicious times in Napa.

Now with the above spread of wines available to drink, we knew that simplicity was key. Hence beyond salt, pepper and olive oil, the dishes we made had no more than three ingredients. In fact, ingredient count was exactly one, two and three. Here’s a rundown of a meal I’ll never forget.

Check out the awesome grill marks Punky made on the pork chop!

1) Grilled Frenched Pork Chop: After rubbing the one-inch-thick chops with olive oil, salt and pepper, grill them for 7-8 minutes a side. Let them rest for 5 minutes or so before serving.

Punky at the grill, tending the “pig nuggets” – sweet potatoes

2) Sweet Potatoes with Brûléed Goat Cheese: Halve the sweet potatoes and coat them with extra-virgin olive oil. Salt them but do not pepper as pepper will make the potatoes bitter. Grill the halves for 15-20 minutes. Test for doneness by squeezing the middles with a pair of tongs; where you apply the tongs will easily give toward the centers of the potatoes if they are ready. Take the pig nuggets off the grill, top with goat cheese and go crazy with a brûlée  torch. When the desired brûlée-ness level is achieved, dust the cheese with freshly cracked black pepper.

Adding browned pancetta to the brussel sprouts

3) Caramelized Brussel Sprouts with Pancetta: Brown the diced pancetta. When it’s done, put it on a paper-towel-lined plate to drain. Keep some pork fat in the pan, though, and add the halved brussel sprouts and stir for a minute or two. Add a few tablespoons of white wine to the pan; you should hear a very satisfying sizzle. Stir the sprouts and wine to combine, and then turn the heat down and add the pancetta on top. Cover the pan for 15 to 20 minutes. Uncover and taste a sprout. If it’s tender, crank the heat up. Don’t be shy about the heat and keeping the sprouts moving so they caramelize but don’t burn. Add some salt and pepper during caramelization, which should take a good 8 to 10 minutes.