Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sweet Potato Cakes with Sage

 It's a tad deceiving that I've headlined this post with a side dish, but I wondered how many would actually dig into an entry titled "Smoked Meatloaf and Sweet Potato Cakes with Sage".   I realize that the standard meatloaf (we'll get to the "smoked" part in a second) doesn't do it for most people.  I'm totally with you when I take a moment to relive some past meatloaf experiences (elementary school cafeteria, anyone?).  But I actually dig a good meatloaf and appreciate its kid-, freezer-, and leftover-friendly qualities.  We even ordered it out at a restaurant once (Lulu's, Richmonders) at the exuberant behest of the server, and it was as amazing as she promised.  It's no surprise that my two favorite meatloaf recipes come from my two favorite domestic ladies: Ina and Marth.  I've referenced Ina's turkey meatloaf recipe before (in Make Ahead), and it's quite good.  Today I am providing Marth's beef/pork version that is, believe it or not, packed with vegetables.  I've made this in a loaf pan as suggested and was a little weirded out with it sort of swimming in fat at the end.  (Sorry, I know that it totally not appetizing...just trying to provide fair warning.)  Here's a picture of the loaf - in all its smoked glory - instead just mounded onto a pan where the drippings can disperse away from the meat a little more easily.

Now, the cooking technique.  The average sane person doesn't fire up a smoker once a week.  So you can obviously do this in the oven - which is what the recipe recommends, after all.  For those that do have an interest in using a smoker or indirect heat over the grill, this strategy imparts tremendous flavor and really takes it from good to wow.  Ryan was especially proud of the smoke ring (grill speak) he achieved.

Finally, the delicious, healthy, and completely simple side:  sweet potato cakes with sage.  I found a blurb in Real Simple magazine listing six interesting uses for sweet potatoes, and this was one of them.  Seasonal ingredients are just the best, because they are the most fresh while being the least expensive!  I happen to adore sweet potatoes, so I was excited to happen upon some fun new treatments.  The article didn't provide any cooking instructions or quantities, so I just made it up as I went along, and it turned out to be a success.  Honestly, with fragrant, savory sage and beautiful fresh sweet potatoes sauteed in olive oil, it would be kind of tough to go wrong. Here's the scoop:

Sweet Potato Cakes with Sage

Peel and coarsely grate two large sweet potatoes, and place them in a large bowl.  Mix in about 1/3 cup grated onion, 1/2ish tsp of salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, one beaten egg, 2 Tbsp flour, and 1 Tbsp chopped fresh sage.  Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a pan and drop spoonfuls of the potato mixture into the pan.  Do your best to resist playing with them until you can see evidence of some browning on the bottom.  Otherwise, they'll fall apart!  When you peak underneath and they stay together, it's safe to turn them.  Once browned on both sides, serve them topped with a nice dollop of sour cream.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Apples x2

We have finally reached the bottom of the apple picking barrel, thanks to apple golden raisin stuffed pork tenderloin with a side of braised red cabbage with apples.  This is one of those sneaky little dishes that manages to look impressive while being totally uncomplicated.   More importantly though, it's cozy and full of flavor.

To start, you need a 3ish pound boneless pork tenderloin.  Ask someone at the meat counter to butterfly it for you so you end up with a nice, flat rectangle.  You can certainly ask to have it butterflied on the spot.  But a note to those with kiddies:  I've started calling ahead to have the meat butterflied in an effort to avoid meltdowns of the 18 month or 4 year old variety.  I just march right up and pick up my order without having to wait in the non-line (why no numbers, Whole Foods, why?) hopeful to lock eyes with the meat guy/gal before the last cow comes home.  I digress...  The stuffing is embarrassingly easy; I just jazz up the instant kind they sell in a bag with sauteed onions, apples and golden raisins.  I always keep golden raisins around.  They add great sweetness and are more interesting and complex than the traditional ones.

Here's the general can change this up a million ways, so have fun!

Apple Golden Raisin Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

3-3 1/2 lb boneless pork tenderloin, butterflied
Instant Chicken Flavor Stuffing (I just use the WF store brand)
1 small onion, chopped
2 cooking apples (ex: Jonagold, Golden Delicious), peeled and chopped
1/3 cup golden raisins

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  In a saute pan, cook the onions and apples in bit of olive oil over medium heat until soft, about 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, prepare the instant stuffing separately.  Add the onion/apples mixture to the stuffing, along with the golden raisins, and stir to combine.  Allow to cool slightly.

Roll out the tenderloin flat and sprinkle it with about 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 tsp pepper.  Spoon a few generous scoops of the stuffing into the middle of the meat, then roll one side to the other.  Turn it seam side down, and tie it closed in two or three places with kitchen twine.  Brush the roll with olive oil, then salt and pepper it again. 

Roast on a sheet pan for 30 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and roast for 20-30 minutes more.  You're looking for an internal temperature of about 137 degrees in the meat.  (Note that the stuffing will register at a higher temperature.)

Though the braised red cabbage doesn't photograph so well, please trust me that it is truly delicious - thanks in large part to my friend, apple cider vinegar.  If you're not a cabbage fan, this side just might convert you.  It is tangy, sweet and savory all at the same time.  The apples offer a welcomed textural change from the cabbage - which, by the way, makes me feel healthier with every bite.

When flipping through my recipe binder recently, I noticed that I had unknowingly clipped two different recipes for braised red cabbage - who knows how long ago.  I guess I've been subconsciously longing for this dish.  And I'll tell you that it was totally worth the subconscious wait.  Incidentally, I didn't even select one of the recipes I clipped, and went instead with Tyler Florence, because his stuff is just awesome. One note: I omitted the fresh dill because I forgot to buy it.  I'm sure it's lovely in the dish, but I didn't miss it!

Before I sign off, here's round two of the Parmesan Polenta from TV Dinners Unplugged.  The leftover polenta set nicely in a baking dish.  I cut it into squares, fried it in super hot olive oil to give it a nice crust, and served it with store bought marinara sauce.  Yay for a totally new dish!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

TV Dinners Unplugged

TV dinners always have a protein, a starch and something green.  Other than that, the dishes I'm sharing today bear little resemblance to the little cellophane covered trays from back in the day.  Well, at least I am hopeful that they are slightly more exciting.  I grew up, not on TV dinners, but on plates that always had a protein, a starch and something green.  There is something comfy and satisfying about checking all of these boxes with a single plate.  While I did not plan to conform to this structure for two consecutive dinners, it happened to end up that way.  So I'm paying tribute to it in this post. 

Before explaining the preparations, I'll note that these photos seem to depict rather immense piles of food.  Though that's kind of the way we roll in my house, these quantities appear more generous than they were in reality.  It must be the camera angle or something; I just don't want you to think we make an absolute rule of gorging ourselves.  Well not every day, anyway.

Dinner #1:  Mongolian grilled flank steak with grilled potatoes and lemon broccolette. 

Flank steak is an awesome, under appreciated cut of meat.  It drinks up marinades beautifully and grills quickly.  Don't forget to cut it against the one wants to eat shoe leather (we learned that the hard way in Ryan's early grilling days).  If you don't have the time or interest to fire up the grill, you can use a grill pan on the stove.  Okay, here's the wonderfully flavorful marinade, courtesy of Weber. 

1/2 cup hoisin sauce
2 Tbsp oyster sauce
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp dry sherry
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 Tbsp canola oil
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp minced ginger
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

For the starch, we simply cubed russet potatoes, tossed them in olive oil, generous shakes of salt and pepper, and grilled them in a grill basket.  They take on an awesome, smoky flavor over charcoal, but since they darken fairly quickly, they'll need to be finished over indirect heat.  Same point on the cooking technique:  If grilling isn't going to happen for you, feel free to do these in the oven instead (400 degrees for about 30 minutes....flip once or twice along the way).  

Broccolette, otherwise known as baby broccoli, is super tasty, fresh, and a nice departure from standard broccoli crowns.  We just steamed it for about 10-15 minutes until tender but not mushy, then gave it a drizzle of fresh lemon juice and a sprinkle of kosher salt.

Dinner #2:  Balsamic roasted chicken with Parmesan polenta and peas. 

The chicken is easily prepped ahead since it marinates in a baking dish that goes straight into the oven at cooking time.  The marinade is boiled down at the end and thickens to a gorgeous sauce for serving.

Upon reflection, the polenta was a little fussy for a week night... I sort of regretted taking that on, but the end result was pretty yummy.  Speaking of taste, the recipe was just for plain polenta; the Parm part was a spur of the moment addition (about 1/3 cup grated).  I really live on the wild side.  The image next to the recipe shows it in solid form in a baking dish.  I served it in an organic mound, but then did put the leftovers (lots!) in a square baking dish to set.  For round two - whenever it will occur - I'll slice, bread, and fry/saute the squares (or appetizer-sized rectangles?) and serve them up with some marinara sauce. 

The peas don't warrant discussion. But if you must know, I just microwaved them (frozen) in a covered bowl with a few tablespoons of water and flavored them with an itty pat of butter and shake of salt.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Pumpkin Lasagna

It doesn't get much more Fall-ish than pumpkin lasagna!  It's a warm, snuggly dish that over the years has become a must on my cooking to-do list when the leaves start to change.  The preparation is very easy and requires minimal cooking.  I happen to be a user of no-boil lasagna noodles.  Though they lack the toothier texture offered by the ruffles of the traditional variety, I think they're just fine.  The fact that their use eliminates the requirement to wash a (big) pot makes it well worth it in my opinion.  

This started as a low fat, low salt recipe.  Unfortunately, as such, it seriously lacked flavor.  So I've made some changes over time and will provide the recipe as I prepare it.  I've never tried it with the dried sage the recipe calls for.  Fresh is so much better that I just don't keep the dried stuff around.  Thyme, dried or fresh, is another great alternative. 

Pumpkin Lasagna

1/2 lb sliced fresh mushrooms
1 medium onion, chopped
1 1/4 tsp salt, divided
2 Tbsp olive oil
16-oz can pureed pumpkin
1/2 cup half-and-half
Herbs (Options: 2 tsp chopped fresh sage or 1 tsp dried thyme or 2 tsp fresh thyme)
1/2 tsp fresh cracked pepper
9 no-cook lasagna noodles
1 1/2 cups reduced fat ricotta cheese
2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

In a skillet, saute mushrooms, onions and 1/4 tsp salt in oil until tender; set aside.  In a small bowl, combine the pumpkin, cream, herbs, pepper and remaining salt.  Spread 1/2 cup pumpkin sauce in an 11x7 baking dish coated with cooking spray.  Top with three noodles.  Spread 1/2 cup pumpkin sauce to the edge of the noodles.  Top with half of mushroom mixture, 3/4 cup ricotta, 1 cup mozz, and 1/4 cup Parm.  Repeat layers.  Top with remaining noodles and sauce.  Cover and bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes.  Uncover; sprinkle with remaining Parm, and bake for 10 minutes longer.  Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting.
I also wanted to share the apple pie result from Fall Marathon.  I've tried a number of pastry recipes, and I've found Barefoot Contessa's to be the most delicious, as well as the most fool proof!  She uses a food processor, which makes it easy and fast.  I know pastry can be stressful. The best bits of advice I can give are to use super cold ingredients, don't dawdle (so those ingredients stay cold), and keep the pastry moving while you're rolling it out.  Give it a quarter turn with every roll; this gives you a nice circular result and also ensures that you'll be able to pick it up at the end!  This is kind of a weird thing to say, but I swear dough seems to sense nerves...kind of like a horse.  It never fully cooperated with me until I stopped being scared of it and took the position of authority.  Back to the recipe - I actually don't make the innards of her Barefoot's pie, since I think her quantity of citrus is a bit overpowering.  So I combine the techniques of my two fave gals and use Barefoot's crust and Marth's filling. 

Perfect Pie Crust:

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) very cold unsalted butter
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/3 cup very cold vegetable shortening
6 to 8 tablespoons (about 1/2 cup) ice water

Dice the butter and return it to the refrigerator while you prepare the flour mixture. Place the flour, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse a few times to mix. Add the butter and shortening. Pulse 8 to 12 times, until the butter is the size of peas. With the machine running, pour the ice water down the feed tube and pulse the machine until the dough begins to form a ball. Dump out on a floured board and roll into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Cut the dough in half. Roll each piece on a well-floured board into a circle, rolling from the center to the edge, turning and flouring the dough to make sure it doesn't stick to the board. Fold the dough in half, place in a pie pan, and unfold to fit the pan. Repeat with the top crust.

I use this recipe as a guideline for the filling. 

The BEST part: 
kids in bed....warm slice of pie....mound of vanilla ice cream....husband....pj's.....couch....
funny tv show.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Best Fish Dish Ever

After a relatively heavy weekend, we thought it would be refreshing to lighten things up a bit with a fish entree.  We had no idea that we'd stumbled upon one of the most incredible dinners ever when we selected salmon with red curry-coconut sauce from Weber's "Way to Grill" cookbook.  Please understand that I am not tooting my own horn when I say that I'm fairly certain this was better than any fish dish I've had at a restaurant.  I am tooting the horn of Weber for creating a sauce recipe of sheer perfection - and to be fully honest, my husband for grilling a mean salmon filet.  If you haven't gathered from multiple recent posts, I've totally been into Thai food lately.  The sweet/spicy balance of this dish struck the amazing chord I seem to continually crave.  And by the way, the sauce would be amazing over chicken, tofu or vegetables as well....I am most certainly going to try one of those preparations - probably tofu first.

Some might shy away from a recipe that calls for pantry ingredients outside of the common walls of garlic powder, bread crumbs and dried basil.  I mean, five years ago, I can't say that I was fully stocked with the required fish sauce, red curry paste and coconut milk outlined in this recipe.  I can confidently say, however, that the investment to gradually expand my pantry over time has been completely worth it.  It makes incredible, restaurant worthy dishes like this one possible with minimal planning.  I do realize this concept could be considered overwhelming, discouraging, or maybe even irritating, and I apologize if that's your stance.  I just have to make a plug for a diversified pantry as a stepping stone to enhanced meal variety.

But let's start with this recipe, which I followed with precision.  On the side, I made soba noodles (for the first time ever).  They are quick cooking, healthy, have a really satisfying texture, and soke up this sauce in a fiercely good way. 

Salmon with Red Curry-Coconut Sauce

1 1/4 cups chilled coconut milk, divided
3 1/2 Tbsp Thai red curry paste, divided
1 Tbsp fish sauce
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp light brown sugar
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 Tbsp finely chopped scallions

Prepare the grill for direct cooking over high heat. 

Scoop 1/4 cup coconut cream from the top of the chilled coconut milk, and transfer it to a small saucepan.  Place over medium heat and bring to a boil.  Add 2 Tbsp of the curry paste and cook, stirring constantly, until very fragrant, 3-5 minutes.  Stir the remaining 1 cup coconut milk to achieve a smooth consistency, and then slowly incorporate it into the curry paste mixture.  Add the fish sauce, soy sauce and sugar.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, and then adjust the heat to maintain a simmer.  Cook, stirring frequently, until thickened to a thin sauce consistency, 5-10 minutes.  Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1 1/2 Tbsp curry paste with the oil and generously brush the salmon with the mixture.  Grill the fish to your desired doneness (note: don't try to move the fish until it has cooked long enough not to stick). 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Fall Marathon

While I would be psyched to say that I ran a marathon, that would, in fact, be a lie.  I am instead reporting a marathon of food, which I just couldn't resist with the festive Fall season upon us.  We began Saturday with a scenic drive to Carter Mountain, where the annual Apple Festival was being held.  Though it was unseasonably warm for an event like this, the sunshine made it a beautiful day.  We filled bags with Jonagold, Fuji and Granny Smith apples and selected a relatively massive pumpkin (that ended up taking Molly's place in the stroller for its trip to the a few comments about my adorable baby), as well as some decorative gourds before heading home.

My mind raced with what to make first with this stash.  I opted for a few tried and true classics.  This recipe is from my dear friend Jess, who made a batch for us after Andrew was born.  They have been a Fall staple in my house ever since!

Pumpkin Apple Muffins

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups white flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
3/4 tsp clove
1/4 allspice
16 oz can pumpkin
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, beaten
2 cups tart apples, peeled & chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift dry ingredients, including spices.  Whisk together pumpkin, oil, sugar and eggs.  Add pumpkin mix to flour mix, and fold in apples.  Grease muffin or loaf pan. Cooking times:

Two loaves = 50 minutes
Regular muffins = 20 minutes
Mini muffins = 15 minutes

How could I not make apple sauce?  I love to prepare it at home, because I can control its sweetness, spice and texture.  I happen to prefer it with some recognizable pieces of apple as opposed to a smooth puree.  Here is the recipe, which I opted to cut in half this time (still makes a boatload). It bakes in the oven, making it beautifully simple!

As I was overcome by the spirit of Autumn, and Ryan was is always overcome with the desire to smoke meat, we compromised by making an early Thanksgiving feast featuring smoked bone-in turkey breast on Saturday night.  I'm useless on providing any insight on this process, but I can provide a picture and tell you that it was awesome.  It was the most perfectly moist turkey I've ever had, and it had a great - but not overpowering - smoke flavor.

For one of our sides, I made the balsamic vinegar dressed roasted brussel sprouts inspired by my friend Matt (mentioned in On the Side).  These have a complex, sweet flavor, and I really encourage you to try them!  I am a converted brussel sprout hater, so I get why so many people think they're heinous.  They just need the right treatment, and this is a great one:  Trim off the bottoms, slice them in half and spread them on a sheet pan.  Toss with a generous glug of olive oil, a good amount of salt and fresh cracked pepper.  Roast at 375 for about 20 minutes.  Add a couple shakes of balsamic vinegar, toss, and roast for another 10 minutes.

While we're talking brussel sprouts, I must mention that bacon is another amazing accompaniment for these little guys while they roast in the oven.

Continuing our heavily themed weekend, we made pumpkin pancakes before church on Sunday.  They are sweet and fluffy, and the delicate spices warm your belly in the best way.  The kids love 'em too.

Pumpkin Pancakes

Whisk 1 1/4 cups flour, 2 Tbsp sugar, 2 tsp baking
powder, 1/2 teaspoon each cinnamon, ground ginger, and salt, 1/8 tsp nutmeg and a pinch of ground cloves.  Mix 1 egg, 6 Tbsp pumpkin puree, 2 Tbsp melted butter, and 1 cup milk; fold into dry ingredients...  You know the rest.

For Sunday lunch, we made Paninis using the leftover smoked turkey, topped with sliced brie cheese and cranberry conserve.   I so believe that a crusty bakery loaf is a must for Paninis.  That signature crunch just can't be achieved with the sliced stuff. 

Okay, I realize this post offers relative recipe/picture overload, but it was just that kind of weekend.  It's tough to not be inspired by the season!

PS - Apple pie is clearly on the list to enjoy the fruits of our apple picking labor, and I've already made the dough.  I'm holding out on making the pie itself until we've exhausted the rest of the carrot cake still living in the fridge... Yay for one exercise of restraint in a not-so-disciplined-otherwise weekend. 

Thursday, October 7, 2010


 My husband only asks for one thing for his birthday: a triple layer carrot cake.  I've been making it for years now, so it's become a fun ritual.  I'm rather particular when it comes to carrot cake, and there are a lot of varieties out there.  My preference is one that is moist, has a good dispersion of nuts and raisins, is not overly spicy, and has a generous, even layer of not-too-sweet cream cheese frosting.  My recipe is a hybrid of about three I've made, and I don't even recall the sources at this point.  I just know that it's delectable and worth all the effort.  Here's a good close-up of all the chunks.

Triple Layer Carrot Cake

2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups veg oil
4 extra large eggs
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
3 cups finely grated carrots (about 1lb)
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Grease 3 9-inch round cake pans.  Line the bottom of the pans with waxed/parchment paper (also greased).  Using an electric mixer, beat sugar and veg oil until combined.  Add eggs, one at a time.  Sift flour, baking powder and soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg into sugar and oil mixture.  Fold in carrots, pecans and raisins without overmixing. Divide mixture evenly between pans and bake about 45 minutes.  Allow to cool completely.  For the frosting, beat 4 cups powdered sugar, 2 8-oz packages room temperature cream cheese, 1/2 cup unsalted room temperature butter, and 4 tsp pure vanilla extract until creamy. (The cream cheese and butter must be fully room temperature, or you'll get goofy clumps.)  Frost each layer generously!

We went to Patina Grill for Ryan's birthday dinner.  It is such a great place to go if you find yourself sans children one day, or all days, whatever.  We made a poor decision of bringing kids there once before, and it was a total disaster.  It's a bit more urban/modern than most of the places I've been to in Richmond and is a nice spot for a quiet dinner.  The menu is short, but inventive. Most importantly, what we tasted was brilliant.  With a couple nice glasses of Malbec, we shared two small plates, the first of which was seared scallops served with spinach gnocchi and topped with prosciutto.  You can see in the (fuzzy, cell-phone taken) picture that a lemon was offered for a last minute squirt of freshness and acid.  The flavor combination was incredible, but the unquestionable highlight - of the entire evening, I think - was the spinach gnocchi.  I almost started crying when it was over, because it was just that heavenly.  The second small plate was crab cakes served with house made fettucini and roasted red pepper-basil-bacon butter. The crab cakes weren't extraordinary, but I did really enjoy the texture of the homemade pasta. 

We shared one large plate: grilled beef tenderloin with red pepper-maytag blue cheesecake, roasted fingerling potatoes, and port-blackberry reduction. This was a great dish.  My favorite bite - because I'm weird like that - was to take a forkful of the perfectly cooked potato with some "cheesecake" (basically like a die for) and run it through the sauce on its way to my face.  

Between the birthday boy's impeccable company, delicious food, and peaceful ambiance, I'd say it was a pretty perfect date!  The fact that we had a massive, decadent carrot cake waiting for us at home was just an (indulgent?) added bonus.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Pork Fried Rice

This dinner was inspired by Robin Miller on the Food Network.  If you've never seen her show, it's all about weeknight convenience meals and streamlining the process by using the same components in multiple dishes. 

I had quite a bit of pork left over from the apple cinnamon feast the night before (see last post!).  Since I cooked the apples separately, I was left with simply flavored meat - olive oil, salt and pepper - that was just just asking for a new do.   I actually saw Robin Miller make this dish as a way to use leftovers, and I made a completely spur of the moment decision last night to give it a go....thus leaving the chicken sausage I had planned to make perching lonely on the second shelf of the fridge.  (Don't worry, little chicken sausage, I won't abandon you.)  Anyway, in addition to creatively using leftovers, the dish was tasty and satisfying! 

I've never actually made fried rice before, so I was excited to try it.  Having said all of that stuff about Robin Miller, I actually didn't use her recipe because of its mediocre reviews.  (I love reading reviews!  What did we do before the Internet?!)  I found a different recipe on and used it as a guide.   I loosely followed it with a few changes/enhancements: 
  • The meat was already cooked, so this changed the strategy slightly.
  • I swapped malt vinegar and sugar for a few splashes of rice vinegar because (omg) I didn't have malt vinegar.  Guess who will be going to the store this very day to purchase malt vinegar?!
  • I decided to double the sauce (all the liquid stuff) figuring the more flavor, the better, and this ended up being a great success. 
  • I used a vidalia onion instead of a red one, as that's what I had around.
  • I added shredded carrot and sauteed it at the onion/ginger stage for sweetness...and vitamins.
  • At the last minute, I added steamed hericot verts for some more green since we had some leftover in the fridge.
The fun part of all of this is that this dish occurred, more or less, by accident.  But you can make the practice of "cook once; use twice" an intentional one as well when it's time to plan out your week!

City's Best Kept Secret

My favorite lunch spot in Richmond - hands down - is not really a spot at all.  It's a cart that parks on the street in front of my office building during lunch hours, only during the week, and only when it's not raining or too cold.  I am in love with the Tarragon Chicken Salad from Christopher's Runaway Gourmay.  If you think I'm overreacting about this stuff, you've probably never tasted it.  I have to believe the secret to its amazingness is vinegar.  I've tried duplicating the recipe at home on a number of occasions and thought I was brilliant to add, in addition to chopped fresh tarragon, tarragon vinegar.  Well, I am not so brilliant after all... it just didn't capture that perfect note this stuff delivers.  The mixture's also got a gentle sweetness that comes - I think - from the golden raisins that become reconsistituted by drinking up said presumed vinegar.  I attemped that tactic too with no success.  Why haven't I just asked for the recipe, you wonder?  Well, I did and was shot down with the response that the "secret sauce" remains a secret from even the employees.  It's probably because there's some illegal additive that makes it so addictive. 

I brought 5 lbs of it on a winery tour this past weekend for a dear friend's bachelorette party, along with a handful of Whole Foods baguettes that I tore into rustic quarters.  Despite its modest plastic packaging, it proudly took center stage in the feast.  While my brain is retreating to our table that sat in the glorious sunshine overlooking the tranquil vines (can you tell I'm enjoying this cerebral vacation?), I'll add that I made a simple but flavorful sun dried tomato pasta salad, another Barefoot classic, to serve on the side.  I'm providing that recipe below, as some of the attendees requested it.  I encourage anyone else to try it as well, as it's a buffet addition that's far more exciting and tasty than your standard pasta salad.   I typically make it exactly as outlined in the recipe.  In cases like this where I'm not certain about the palates of the group, however, I tend to omit potentially controversial ingredients.  So this time, the kalamata olives didn't make the cut.  I personally adore them, but I know a fair number of folks that don't!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Falling for Fall

It just takes one cool, crisp day to stir up my craving for the tastes of Fall.  Our kickoff meal of choice - cinnamon apple pork tenderloin with Parmesan mashed potatoes.  This dish is delicious, uncomplicated, and totally doable on a weeknight.  To me, a successful dish requires balanced flavors and must appeal to all the senses.  This pork recipe accomplishes this with its pleasantly sweet start, middle note of acidity, and satisfyingly savory finish. 

I don't really follow a recipe here, and I've made this using several different approaches.  So I can tell you honestly that it's not fussy!  The only key is just to not overcook the pork.  If you've got a meat thermometer, you're good to go!  I'll do my best to provide the notes of what I do, but please take liberties and make this your own.  This can be easily doubled for a crowd.

Apple Cinnamon Pork Tenderloin

Sear a 1-1.5 lb pork tenderloin in an oven-proof skillet in 1-2 Tbsp olive oil until browned on each side. 

Meanwhile, combine 2 Tbsp corn starch, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar (apple juice or apple cider work great too, but you might miss vinegar's tang), 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, at least 4 Tbsp brown sugar, and a handful of dried cranberries with 2 Golden Delicious apples that have been peeled, cored and sliced in a small bowl.

You can either dump this mixture on top of the pork on its way to the oven and let it cook that way, or saute it stove-top in a separate pan.  While I like the way the former option minimizes clean-up, I find the caramelized result of the latter method to be superior!  After the pork has browned on all sides, transfer the skillet to a 400 degree oven and roast for about 25 minutes.  You're looking for an internal temperature (in the thickest part of the loin) of about 145 degrees. 

Parmesan Mashed Potatoes

Again, I don't use a recipe for this; it's all about tasting and adjusting.  We all know how to peel, cube, boil and mash potatoes.  How you treat them is a matter of what you like!  I like them, well, naughty....there's just no match for butter and salt in my book.  I heat butter and milk in the microwave and add them warm to the potatoes to help prevent a gummy texture.  Then I just grate lots of fresh Parm on top, season and taste until it's yummy.  If I had to approximate my quantities, I'd say I used about 1/3 cup of skim milk, 1/4 cup of grated Parm, 2 tsp of salt and (GASP) a half stick of butter for about 4-5 large potatoes.  This is comfort food to me.  I'd rather save some calories earlier in the day to enjoy this dish than choke down a bland version.  By the way, sour cream is a lovely mix-in as well.

I'm sure there will be lots more fall recipes to come!