The Northern Heartland is governed by the seasons — long winters, warms summers, and refreshing spring and fall. Shouldn’t the seasons and their harvests also shape the way we eat?

A new cookbook, The Northern Heartland Kitchen (to be published by University of Minnesota Press on October 2011) by Beth Dooley, presents delicious and practical solutions to the challenge of eating locally in the upper Midwest, showing that eating in season and locally is a tribute to the year’s changing riches — from the flavor of a juicy July tomato or a crisp October apple with salad, soups, stews, free-range meats and poultry, fish and game, farmstead cheese, wholesome breads, pastries and fruit pies.

The Northern Heartland Kitchen also presents stories and profiles of local farmers, butchers and chefs, but the highlights, of course, are the great recipes.

For this month, we recommend a great Oktoberfest-inspired recipe from the book (and there are many mouthwatering ones) for Beer-Braised Pork Chops with Pears, which spotlights the must-try seasonal beers from the region.

Recipe: Beer-Braised Pork Chops With Pears

This method of pan braising is perfect for game an inexpensive cuts of meat. Searing the meat first seals in flavor, and adding beer, wine, or stock keeps it moist while cooking and creates a pan sauce at the same time.

Use a strong beer to add a mysterious bitter edge to the sweet pears and peppery sage.

Serves 4.

4 boneless pork chops, about 1 inch thick
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 onions, thinly sliced
2 sage leaves
1/4 cup strong-tasting beer (such as Surlyfest, brewed with malted barley and rye) or red wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 pear, cored and thinly sliced
Chopped parsley

Trim some but not all of the fat from the chops. Pat the chops dry and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat, then add the chops to the pan. Brown each side, about 5 minutes total, then set the chops aside on a plate.

Add the onions and sage to the fat in the skillet and cook, stirring, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the beer and stock, and scrape up any browned bits left in the pan. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the onions are very tender, about 15 minutes.

Return the chops, with any juices accumulated on the plate, to the skillet. Scoop some of the onions on top of the pork and add the sliced pears. Cover and cook over medium heat, turning once, until most of the liquid has evaporated and a meat thermometer inserted into the center of a chop reads 145 degrees. Remove the sage leaves and adjust the seasoning as needed. Serve the chops drizzled with the pan juices and topped with the onions and pear slices. Garnish with the chopped parsley.

Seasonal Beers

Surly Brewing, a leader in the area’s regional breweries, releases seasonal beers, throughout the year. Surly, and a number of other rising artisan breweries, use small-batch methods that once made this region the center of America’s brewing industry.

Like many of our young breweries, Surly was started in its own owner’s garage. When it outgrew that, Surly opened Minnesota’s first new brewery west of the Mississippi since 1987. Surly beers are all full-bodied, but Surly is best known for Furious, a crimson-hued happy ale. Its seasonal selections include Abrasive Ale, a double IPA, and Hell, brewed for summer sipping. If you’re new to this lingo, just take a sip and you’ll get it right away. Surly comes in a can with a special lining that protects the brew from damaging light.

Recipe excerpted from Northern Heartland Kitchen by Beth Dooley with permission from University of Minnesota Press.


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