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Grandma would be so proud

When I was growing up, my grandma's once-a-year visits to our home were special times. The car ride from Chicago to the Twin Cities was a long one for her. Sometimes we'd go fetch her. Other times one of my uncles would deliver her to us. Because...

When I was growing up, my grandma's once-a-year visits to our home were special times. The car ride from Chicago to the Twin Cities was a long one for her. Sometimes we'd go fetch her. Other times one of my uncles would deliver her to us. Because the trip was such a long one, she'd always spend at least a couple of weeks with us.

When she wasn't working on her embroidery, taking care of our mending and ironing or watching "As the World Turns," she was cooking. I loved spending time with her in the kitchen, learning her tips and techniques, trying to measure the ingredients she used and then writing everything down so I would remember. She never used a recipe.

She would prepare all of our favorite Hungarian meals, but one thing that I always looked forward to was the day she would make fried breaded pork chops. Early on that day we would drive to my mom's favorite meat market (she loved meat markets the way I love chocolate shops and homemade ice cream stores) and my grandma would hand pick the pork chops she wanted to take back to the kitchen.

That afternoon, we'd grind the dried chunks of left-over bread that my mom had hanging in a cloth bag in the pantry to make crumbs. She'd beat some eggs in a pie plate and then line up her ingredients - pork chops, flour seasoned with salt, pepper and paprika, the beaten eggs, bread crumbs. She'd pass the pork chops through each ingredient, resulting in a thick cloak ready to form a crispy crust as they fried in a pan of hot, melted lard. With each bite, first would be delicious crunch, then tender and succulent meat.

I've prepared breaded pork chops. They never taste as good as the ones my grandma made. Maybe it's because I trim away all the fat before coating them in crumbs and I'm sure the lard gave them a flavor you just don't get from olive oil.

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Parmesan-Walnut-Crusted Pork Cutlets satisfied my recent craving for those fried breaded pork chops my grandma used to make. Using thin pieces of lean pork tenderloin makes a short cook time, but just long enough to form a crisp, golden crust of ground walnuts, parmesan cheese and flour.

I like to butterfly the tenderloin and then cut it into smaller pieces rather than cutting it into rounds before pounding to flatten. To butterfly the pork, use a sharp paring knife to cut carefully cut down the length of the tenderloin, but not completely through to the other side, leaving the uncut edge as a "hinge." When the meat is open, it resembles the wings of a butterfly. From that point, I cut the meat into 4 pieces slicing from one long edge to the other, then cut each of those four pieces in half so that I wind up with eight pieces of meat that are ready for a bit of hammering to form thin cutlets that will cook quickly. A meat mallet works well for this job, but my old mallet recently broke, so now I use my rolling pin.

I always have a chunk of my favorite Parmesan cheese in the refrigerator. Using fresh Parmesan in this recipe will give you the best flavor. I cut two ounces of Parmesan into chunks and then whirled them in my blender until they became crumbs. Then I added flour and walnuts to the cheese in the blender and whirled those ingredients until the walnuts were very finely chopped. You can also use Parmesan that's already been grated and comes in a plastic tub.

Walnuts not only add flavor and crunch to these cutlets, they add healthful monounsaturated fat. Parmesan is a lower-fat cheese that adds more nutty flavor and turns to crispness as it fries in hot olive oil.

Crunchy, tender and succulent - just as good as grandma used to make. Well, almost.

Parmesan-Walnut-Crusted Pork Cutlets
½ cup (2 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup walnut pieces
1 (14- to 16-ounce) pork tenderloin
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup milk
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided

Place Parmesan cheese in a blender or a food processor fitted with steel blade. Process until cheese turns into fine crumbs. Add flour and walnut pieces and pulse until nuts are ground to a fine texture. Transfer mixture to a piece of waxed paper.

Trim pork of any excess fat and sliver skin. Cut the pork into eight equal-sized pieces. Place the pieces of meat on a work surface and cover with plastic wrap. Using a meat mallet or rolling pin, flatten each piece of meat to ¼-inch thickness. Remove plastic wrap and sprinkle meat with salt and pepper.

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Dredge each cutlet in cheese-walnut mixture. Dip completely into milk, and then back into cheese-walnut mixture for another coating on both sides.

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add 4 pork cutlets and cook until brown on bottom side. Turn cutlets over and continue cooking until that side is brown. The whole process will take only about 5 to 8 minutes. Being very careful, pour hot oil out of the pan and use a paper towel to wipe out the bottom, removing all the little dark crumbs. Pour remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil into the pan. When the oil is hot, repeat the cooking procedure with the remaining pork cutlets. Makes 8 cutlets.

Tip from the cook--

--When shopping for pork tenderloin, you'll discover a couple of options in the meat case at your local market. You may see pre-marinated tenderloins. You will also find two tenderloins wrapped together in one package. For this recipe, use tenderloins that are not in a marinade. When you buy two tenderloins in one package, use one for this recipe and wrap the second one tightly to store in the freezer for another time. Typically, a single tenderloin weighs between ¾ pound and 1½ pounds.

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