Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Rosemary Corn Muffin Crust

One day, I will cook like Thomas Keller.  I will brine every piece of meat (to season it and keep it juicy! says Keller), I will temper it (letting the cold meat come to room temperature is apparently "critical" to even cooking), I will use a proper thermometer to ascertain doneness (instead of prematurely slicing it open to take a gander at the center), and I will let the meat rest after roasting (to allow the juices to redistribute while the meat-fibers firm up, which enables the meat to hold in more juice... TK really harps on this).  I will even finish my dish with a scattering of fancy gray salt, instead of Morton's.  Alas, the motivation to boil two quarts of water with a panoply of herbs, spices and salt, chill the giant salty tub overnight, and then reserve four hours to brine a little slip of tenderloin, continues to evade me.  Nor have I fretted about cooking the tip of the tenderloin slightly more than the center, nor stressed about the meat juices running amuck in the pan and sizzling skyward to leave my roast dismally dry.

Maybe Keller's cooking methods will produce a blissfully delicious, elevated pork experience (in fact, I have no doubt that they will), but I think my rogue roast, untempered, unrested, all juiced up and raring to go right from the oven, would give Keller's fancy-pants pork a run for its money!  It even looks just as fancy (see picture).  All you need for this tasty tenderloin (with its savory, crispy, corn-muffin crust... who doesn't like crust?) are a handful of ingredients and an hour.  Your pork will be juicy and fabulous, I promise!  The loin is among the leaner cuts of the pig, so in keeping with the wholesome theme I served this little piggy with plumped-cherry brown rice and a nectarine blue cheese salad (recipes included).  Start the rice first because it takes the longest!  These quantities serve ~4 hungry people.

Rosemary Corn Muffin Pork Ingredients
1 (1 lb) pork tenderloin
salt and pepper to season the roast
olive oil for the pan (~1T)
2T butter
2 minced garlic cloves
1c. crumbled corn bread/muffin (homemade leftovers work best... store bought can be used in a pinch, but they will make a sweeter, stickier coating)
2t. finely chopped fresh rosemary
2T Dijon or hot sweet mustard

Preheat the oven to 425 and pat the pork with a paper towel to remove excess moisture.  Salt and pepper the pork.  In a large saute pan, heat the oil until hot and shimmering (but not smoking).  Add the pork to the hot oil and caramelize on all sides, then transfer to an oiled baking dish.  You might want to line the dish with tinfoil first for easier cleanup.  If the skillet has begun to smoke, let it cool a bit and then add the butter.  Once the butter melts, add the garlic and cook until golden and fragrant, ~30 seconds.  Remove the pan from heat and stir in the rosemary and corn muffin crumbs.  Season with additional salt and black pepper.  Spread the mustard over the pork, and pat on the crumb mixture.  Roast until the internal temperature of the pork reaches 140 to 150 degrees, ~30 minutes (or you can crudely slice open the pork to check for pinkness, as I did).  Check the pork at about 15 minutes, and if the crumbs are browning too quickly, tent the roast with foil for the remainder of the cooking time.  If you have the patience, allow the roast to rest for 10-15 minutes before slicing and serving.

Ingredients for Plumped-cherry brown rice with pine nuts
1c. short grain brown rice
2.5c. water
1T butter
1/3c. dried cherries
1/3 c. pine nuts
2 1-in. pieces of fresh ginger, peeled

In a medium saucepan combine the rice, water, butter, ginger hunks, and cherries.  Bring to a boil, stir, reduce heat, and cover.  Allow the rice mixture to simmer undisturbed for 50 minutes.  In a small saucepan, toast the pine nuts until they release their oils and just begin to brown.  Remove from heat immediately and set aside until the rice is done.  While the rice cooks, prep the pork and the salad.  When you are ready to serve the rice, remove the hunks of ginger and toss in the pine nuts.

Nectarine Blue Cheese Salad Ingredients
2 ripe nectarines
1 head of your favorite lettuce
a handful of arugula
1/4 c. crumbled Point Reyes blue cheese
1/2 c. pecans

Good quality olive oil, ~1/2c.
Juice of one lemon
White balsamic vinegar, ~1/4c.
Either 2t. peach or apricot jam, or a splash of flavored white balsamic vinegar (I used peach white balsamic vinegar)
Salt and pepper to taste

Tear the lettuce and arugula into salad-sized pieces, wash thoroughly, and dry.  Toast the pecans in a small saucepan until they release their oils and begin to brown.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool.  Cut the nectarines into bite-sized chunks.  Whisk the dressing ingredients in a small bowl, and adjust the oil/vinegar ratio to suit your tastes.  When you are ready to serve the salad, toss the greens and nectarines with the dressing.  Crumble the toasted pecans over the top, and sprinkle in the blue cheese.  Serve with the rice and the pork!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Low Country Boil

This dish was a lot of fun to make and eat, especially if - like me - you are trying to reconnect with your Y chromosome.

First: the big pot. There is something truly satisfying and virile about cooking with an enormous, round, cauldron-like vessel. (Some insight into my soul: I don't watch football on Sundays, I don't like cars with big engines, and I don't own a single power tool...so cooking in big pots is one of the few ways I can get in touch with my inner hombre.) Second, the boil frees us from the boundaries of the normal, "civilized" dining experience. The boil scoffs at serving dishes, preferring instead to be dumped unceremoniously onto the middle of a picnic table. This dish laughs at plates - those unnecessary middlemen that impede the food's journey to our mouths. The boil sneers at forks, spoons, and knives, electing instead to be devoured by the most efficient, crab-tearing, shell-peeling, potato-picking, corn-on-the-cob-holding tool of them all: one's own hands (disclaimer: you might have noticed plates in these photos.  Those were completely unnecessary additions to the meal, insisted upon by the X-chromosomes at the table).

This leads to the third reason this dish is so fun to make: it brings people together. Dinner can be a sterile, disconnected occasion (although never so in this household!), where dining tables are long and pristine, utensils clink and scrape against fine china, and the entire dining process is governed by rules of traditional etiquette. The boil, on the other hand, is meant for sharing, grabbing, poking, cracking, peeling, sifting, and devouring...all in very close proximity to your fellow diners.

So put away your china, crystal, and silverware...it's time to get down and dirty with a Low Country Boil!

Ingredients (Serves 6)
(Note: feel free to add or remove ingredients. This recipe is designed for substituting or spicing-up and down as desired)

Water - enough to cover the contents of the pot
Old Bay Seasoning - 1/2 cup
Crab Boil Seasoning Packet - 2 packets of Zatarain's
Salt - 1 cup
Hot Sauce - 1/2 cup

1 Large Yellow Onion, quartered
1 head of garlic, chopped horizontally
2 lemons, halved
3/4 lb. red potatoes
3/4 lb. Yukon gold potatoes
4 ears of corn, shucked and halved
1 lb. mushrooms
1 lb. brussel sprouts
1 lb. asparagus

4 Alaskan King Crab Legs
4 bratwursts, halved
1.5 lbs. prawns, shell-on

As mentioned above, you will need a big pot. A 4-gallon pot would be ideal for this size boil. If you don't have that big of a pot, you can cook it in batches, or in multiple pots.

1. Boil the water.

2. It is best to pre-cook the bratwurst, which gives the sausage a nice caramelized look and taste. While the water is heating up, cut the bratwurst into halves and cook at medium heat until browned (about 5 minutes). When the bratwursts are done, set aside and let them cool.

3. Begin chopping the veggies.

4. When the water is boiling, put in all the seasonings (including the garlic) and the potatoes. Boil for 7 minutes.

5. Put the rest of the veggies in, except the asparagus. Also put the sausages in the pot. Boil for 7 minutes.

6. Put the asparagus, crab, and prawns in. Boil for about 5 minutes. Try not to overcook the seafood...5 minutes should be plenty.

7. Remove from heat. Drain the water.

8. Cover the dining table with newspaper, then lay out a strip of parchment paper. Dump the contents of the pot onto the parchment paper - and begin the feast!

9. Serve with Sourdough bread. The cooked garlic is soft and spreadable, and great on the toasted bread with butter.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Bacon Salmon Sandwiches

In my opinion, there are few things that fail to pair brilliantly with bacon.  Bacon even goes well with sweets!  Bacon and chocolate might not be for everyone, but don't tell my you haven't dipped a nice greasy stick of bacon into your pancake syrup... But I musn't stray into sweets (as I am inclined to do)!  Maybe I will post a bacon-chocolate recipe on my sister-blog, dedicated to sweets (Evil Batch), but for now back to our luscious bacon salmon sandwich.  The smoky richness of bacon harmonizes beautifully with the sweet meatiness of salmon, and since salmon is healthy (albeit tasty), you don't have to feel too guilty about adding a few indulgent strips of fatty pork.  I shouldn't let the bacon steal the show though, because this sandwich really showcases the flaky fresh filet, pan fried to perfection.  The peppery arugula and citrusy dressing add bright notes to contrast against the smoky-richness of the bacon-salmon combo, while caramelized onions chime into the sandwich symphony with pungent sweetness.  Creamy avocado softens and rounds-out the flavors.  Perfect eats for a warm evening.

*Note, cooking involves a lot of creative license, and often benefits from substitutions and variations to suit your personal preferences (unlike baking, which usually requires precise measurements for best results).  Thus, specified quantities are guidelines unless otherwise indicated.  This particular recipe offers approximate quantities to make four bacon-salmon sandwiches.

A little under 1lb of fresh salmon
Two handfuls of arugula
1 lemon
2 pinches of sugar
High-quality extra virgin olive oil (tasting oil usually has a stronger, fruitier flavor than generic olive oil - you pay for the flavor, but it's worth it)
Splash of white balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper for use throughout the cooking process
half an onion
8 slices of bacon
1 avocado
8 slices of sourdough bread (or if you have big long slices, use 4 slices, each cut in half to produce 8 pieces)
Olive oil for cooking (as distinguished from olive oil for tasting, used above)
Butter for buttering

Prepare the bread: preheat the oven to 300, and slather butter onto the sliced sourdough.  Lay the slices on a large baking sheet.

 Cook the bacon in a hot skillet until crispy.  Lay on paper towels to drain.

Prepare the caramelized onion: thinly slice the onion, add a heavy drizzle of olive oil to a saucepan, and place over medium-low heat.  Allow the oil to get hot, and then add the onion and stir to coat.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes and then add a pinch of sugar and turn the heat to low.  Continue cooking until caramelized, ~25 min.  Keep an eye on the onions.  Stir occasionally and add a drizzle of oil whenever the onions look dry or begin to scorch.  You can continue with the following steps as the onions cook...

Prepare the dressing: in a small bowl, combine about 1/3c. of the extra virgin olive oil with the juice of one lemon, a pinch of sugar, and a splash of white balsamic vinegar.  Whisk in salt and pepper to taste.  Sample the dressing and vary the ingredient quantities to suit your preference.

Prepare the fish: generously douse a large frying pan with olive oil (cooking quality), and turn the heat to medium.  When the oil is hot and shimmering (but before it smokes!), add the salmon skin-side down, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Cook the salmon ~5 minutes per side, or until it flakes easily when tested with a fork.  The cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of your filet - skinny fish will cook faster than chubby fish.

Halfway through the fish-cooking process, pop the bread in the oven to toast lightly, and toss the dressing with the arugula.

When the fish is done, remove the skin by sliding a butter knife under the edge and peeling it away.  It should come off easily.  Remove the bread from the oven, and top each slice with a quarter each of the caramelized onions, salmon, arugula mixture, and avocado.  Add two slices of bacon to each sandwich and top with a slice of toasty bread.  Serve with tomato soup, and any extra arugula salad.

Deconstructed Sandwich
If you don't like the idea of eating a sandwich for dinner, you can follow this recipe, but instead of combining everything into a hand-held meal, do the following:

Break the bacon into bits.  Toss the arugula mixture with the bacon bits, avocado, and caramelized onions for a savory side-salad.  Serve the filets with the salad and slices of buttered sourdough.