Cooking from Kevin Gillespie’s ‘Fire In My Belly’

'Fire In My Belly' by Kevin Gillespie

Cover of ‘Fire In My Belly’ by Kevin Gillespie

At the Southeastern Flower Show a few weekends ago, I watched a cooking demonstration by Atlanta chef Kevin Gillespie, formerly of Woodfire Grill and the soon-to-open restaurant, Gunshow, discussed here in an Atlanta-Journal Constitution article. During his talk, he prepared two very simple and fresh salads and discussed the importance of appealing to all of our senses in preparing foods, as well as balancing different flavors and textures. His first example of this, a hybrid salad/quick pickle of carrots, is discussed further below.

After watching his demo, we both felt inspired to try not only the basic salad recipe he demonstrated, but also one from his new cookbook, Fire In My Belly. My husband managed to get his hands on an autographed copy, which he gave to me last Christmas.

I gave Kevin’s website a quick perusal on my phone as we left the flower show. We settled on making his Pan-Roasted Pork Chops with Apples and Red Eyed Gravy.  Because we also had several leftover carrots lingering in our crisper drawer, we also tacked on the ginger and carrot salad recipe he’d prepared at the demo.

The good news is that this dish was phenomenal. The bad news is that it was so delicious (and we were so ravenous) that I neglected to take a photo of the finished product. You’ll just have to imagine it. In particular, the gravy was so good that we threw manners to the wind and wiped every.last.drop of it off of our plates. I think I may have spied D actually licking his plate at one point… Afterwards, I posed the question on Kevin’s facebook page as to whether the gravy could be frozen into batches. He responded a couple of days later saying that he thought it’d work just fine, with the caveat to stir it up well and strain it to remove any remaining solids so that it isn’t gritty. This is good news, since this gravy was a fair bit of work! Don’t be deterred by the work; it was absolutely worth the effort!

Here’s a quick rundown of the carrot salad before I get to the main dish:

  • 2 carrots (preferably local and/or organic); try to get the different colored ones for the most visual appeal
  • About a 1-inch hunk of fresh ginger
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Honey
  • Extra-Virgin Oliver Oil
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • a mason jar
  • a Tupperware container or bowl to toss the ingredients together

Bear in mind that this is more of a pickle and less of a standard salad, so my proportions are approximate.

  1. Sliver the carrots using a y-shaped peeler (he highly recommended this style), or a regular vegetable peeler, or a box grater.  You’re looking for large, broad strips of carrots, including the peel, as thin as you can make them. (This is why the y-peeler is ideal.)
  2. In a mason jar, combine equal amounts of honey and apple cider vinegar. I can’t recall the precise amounts he suggested, but it wasn’t much. I’d go with a tablespoon or two of each. Shake vigorously to combine.
  3. Grate a bit of fresh ginger over your carrots and drizzle with the olive oil.
  4. Pour a few spoonfuls of the dressing mixture of honey/vinegar over the carrots, season with a little salt and pepper, and toss with a fork to combine.
  5. Let sit for a few minutes to marry the flavors. Taste and adjust as needed before serving.

On to the main course! Below is the recipe for the pork chops, available from Kevin’s website here and found in his printed cookbook, “Fire In My Belly- Real Food” by Kevin Gillespie. Published by Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC.  We made one minor adjustment because neither of liked the notion of draping molten plastic across our food.

Fuji apples – 3 crisp
Apple cider vinegar – 1 tablespoon
Honey – 1/4 cup
Turnips – 4 golf ball–size baby purple-top turnips or 1 baseball-size
Grapeseed oil – 2 teaspoons
Butter – 2 tablespoons + 1 t easpoon
Country ham, preferably Benton’s
about 1/3 cup cut into ¼ inch dice, 2 ounces
Pork loin chops – 4 thick chops, each about 8 ounces and 1 inches thick
Ground black pepper
Strong brewed coffee – 1 1/2 cups
Chicken stock – 1 ½ cups
Lemon juice – ½ teaspoon

1. Peel and core the apples. Using a mandoline, slice one of the apples into very thin rounds and put the rounds in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover and seal with plastic wrap, then microwave on 100 percent power until the apple is very soft and the kitchen smells of pure apple, about 5 minutes. Carefully remove the bowl from the microwave and let the plastic wrap shrink around the dish, creating a vacuum. Just let it sit there as the juices soak back into the apple. Cut the other 2 apples into ½-inch wedges and, in a small bowl, toss with the vinegar.

Blog Author’s Note: We just microwaved the apple slices in a glass bowl covered with a lid; in hindsight, I’d suggest using wax paper instead because our lid warped under the extended microwaving time. The point is just to cook them. 

2. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat, parchment paper, or nonstick aluminum foil and set aside.

3. Add the honey to a 10-inch ovenproof saute pan and cook over high  heat, shaking and agitating the pan nonstop. When the honey starts to boil, the bubbles will be very large, and as it continues to caramelize, the bubbles will get smaller and smaller. It will only take about 2 minutes for the honey to caramelize. When the bubbles are small and the honey is caramelized, pour in the apple wedges and vinegar. Toss in a pinch of salt and return to a boil. Cook just until the edges of the apples start to soften, another 3 minutes. The apples will continue to cook and soften during the cooling process, so don’t worry if the centers are still pretty firm. Using a heatproof silicone spatula, scrape the apples and honey into a small mound at one end of the lined baking sheet. The apples will release a little liquid and form a small puddle of juice as they cool. The juice will be added to the sauce later.

4. Preheat the oven to 475°F.

5. Peel and quarter the turnips if they’re small. If you’re using one large turnip, peel it, cut it in half across the equator, and then cut each half into 8 wedges. This way, the pieces will be the right size and the cooking time will be perfect

6. Add the oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter to the saute pan and, over medium heat, swirl the pan until the foam subsides, about 30 seconds. Add the ham and saute until it’s golden brown, about 2 minutes, shaking the pan so the butter doesn’t burn. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the ham to a small mound on the other end of the baking sheet from the caramelized apple wedges. Reserve the ham drippings in the saute pan.

7. Pat the pork chops dry and season both sides generously with salt and pepper. Heat the saute pan with the ham drippings over high heat and add the pork. Cook for 30 seconds. Spread the turnips in a single layer over and around the pork and transfer the pan to the oven. Cook for 5 minutes, then carefully remove the pan from the oven. Flip the chops over and redistribute the turnips in a single layer over and around the pork. Return the pan to the oven and cook until the pork chops reach an internal temperature of 140°F, another 5 to 6 minutes. The turnips should be fork-tender. Transfer the chops and turnips from the pan to a plate and tent with foil to keep them warm. Remember that the pan handle is still hot, so use a towel or potholder to pick up the pan and pour out the fat. Return the pan to high heat, add the coffee and chicken stock, and stir with a wooden spoon, scraping all the browned bits into the sauce.

8. Carefully pour the sauce into a blender and set the pan aside. Using a slotted spoon, scoop the microwaved apples into the blender, reserving the juice. Add the cooked diced ham to the blender and blend until smooth, stopping and scraping the sides of the pitcher to incorporate everything into the sauce. Strain the sauce through a fine-mesh strainer and discard the solids. Return the sauce to the saute pan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cut down the heat so the sauce is at an aggressive simmer and cook, stirring now and then, until the sauce is thick and reduced to about 2/3 cup, 15 minutes or so. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the lemon juice and the reserved juice from the apple wedges. Swirl in the remaining 1 teaspoon of butter.

9. Pop the apple wedges into a microwave-safe container and heat in the microwave just to re-warm them, about 30 seconds.

10. Slice each pork chop in half on the diagonal, lay one piece flat in the center of each plate, and prop the other piece cut side up along the cut side of the flat piece. Spoon the turnips over the pork and drizzle about 2 tablespoons of the sauce on and around the pork. Garnish with the apple wedges.