Saturday, August 28, 2010

roasted pork tenderloin with peach lambic glaze

This recipe started out as a dish for two friends who came over for dinner one night this summer. I’ve been brining and pan-roasting chicken breasts for months because I love how tender and juicy it makes them, but since I had just served that to one of our guests at another dinner just a few weeks beforehand, I figured I should use a different meat this time. I ended up making a wild mushroom sauce to go with the pork, but this week, when I made it again just for D and me, I thought something sweeter and less heavy would be nice; hence the lambic glaze.

Brining the pork beforehand will make the juiciest tenderloin you’ve ever had. D said it had the texture of filet mignon, yet it tasted like pork. Awesome. Plus, it's super easy. Over half of the ingredients are just for the quickly stirred-together brine. The only real components you need for the recipe itself are brined pork, lambic, olive oil, and salt and pepper.

I served this with a skilletful of sautéed corn with basil, garlic, and Parmesan (which I'll post soon) and Laura Calder's recipe (from French Food at Home) for Roasted Cumin Carrots. If you don't like peach lambic, I'll bet the black cherry (or "Kriek") flavor would be really good, too.

roasted pork tenderloin with peach lambic glaze
1 pork tenderloin (a little over a pound)
1 quart cold water
1 tbsp. whole black peppercorns
1 tsp. dried thyme
2 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
2 large (or 3 to 4 small) bay leaves, broken in half
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup salt
1 bottle peach lambic
freshly ground pepper

Brine the pork tenderloin: In a large bowl, whisk together water, salt, and sugar until they’re completely dissolved. Stir in peppercorns, thyme, garlic, and bay leaves. Cut off all visible fat and gristle from the tenderloins, and then rinse with clean water. Add the pork to the brine, and use your fingers to press the spices into the meat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to several hours.

About a half-hour before cooking time, remove pork tenderloin from refrigerator. Be sure to remove all the peppercorns. Rinse the meat well with clean water, and pat very dry. Crack some pepper over top of it (no salt - that's in the brine). Put it on a plate, cover it, and let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Make peach lambic glaze: pour an entire bottle of peach lambic into a saucepan. Over medium to medium-high heat, boil gently until it’s reduced to a third of what you started with and is the consistency of a syrup. Add a teaspoon or so of sugar if you like it a little more sweet than tart. Otherwise, it’s done.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high to high heat, add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. When it begins to smoke a bit, add the pork and sear well on both sides (peppering the other side when you turn it) until it’s well-browned, a couple of minutes per side.

Take the skillet off the stove and immediately put it in the preheated oven. Roast the pork for 20 to 25 minutes, turning once and basting once or twice with the lambic reduction, until a thermometer inserted in the center reaches 135 or so degrees. (I know they say 140 or 145, but trust me, it will come out perfectly medium-well this way.)

Remove to a plate, tent the meat with foil, and let it rest for 10 minutes. Slice it into thick rounds. Save the glaze and pan juices and drizzle them over the top of the pork slices.



Friday, August 20, 2010

once-a-year cream of mushroom soup called because, for the sake of my arteries, I don't think I should eat this soup any more frequently than that. Luckily - or unluckily, depending on how you see it - this recipe produces a pretty modest amount of soup, though it actually begins with a healthy amount of liquid.

But first, let me explain why I got a bee in my bonnet about making up a mushroom soup recipe. A few weeks ago, I went to Florida for my annual beach trip with my girlfriends from the University of Georgia. The five of us are now scattered all over the country, but we reconvene every summer in Melbourne Beach to drink margaritas, sit in the sunshine, read glossy magazines we would never otherwise buy, and earnestly discuss the Harry Potter books while swimming in the ocean. This year, we actually had the chance to visit the newly opened Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios theme park in Orlando. Excited as kids, we showed up early in the morning just before the park opened, lined up to get in, and spent four hours touring Hogwarts Castle, drinking butterbeer, and riding dragons and hippogriffs. At lunchtime, predictably, we were all exhausted, overheated, and ravenous. Just outside the Harry Potter section of the park, we found a restaurant called Mythos, which is supposedly the Best Theme Park Restaurant in the World, and we put in our names for a lunch table. Forty-five minutes later, we were sitting in a cushy booth, drinking large glasses of water and eating freshly baked rosemary bread with butter. When I saw the cream of mushroom soup on the menu, I knew I had to try it because it's so rare to find a restaurant that carries it. Also, you know, what do you crave most when you're hot, tired, and hungry, if not something warm and dairy-based? ;)

So it was sublime. And it wasn't just the hunger or the exhaustion, either.

I've been thinking about making a version of that soup for weeks, trying to figure out how to do it. I looked at a bunch of recipes from cooks I love but finally decided against all of them. Instead, I started by riffing off of a mushroom-and-thyme sauté that I made earlier in the summer. It looked like this...

mushrooms with butter, thyme, and white wine - mmm!
...and here's the recipe I ended up with. My strategy was to make sure each layer - the broth, the mushrooms, the shallot-and-garlic mixture - had plenty of complex flavors so that the soup wouldn't be bland. 

This is so incredibly not bland.  Trust.

cream of mushroom soup

16 oz. sliced button mushrooms
2 c. chicken broth
3 or 4 small shallots, finely diced
1 huge (or 2 small) cloves of garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. whole black peppercorns
10 to 12 stems of fresh thyme
1 tbsp. olive oil, divided
1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2  c. white wine
1/2 c. dry sherry
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 c. whipping cream, warmed
3/4 c. half-and-half, warmed
coarse kosher sea salt
coarsely ground fresh black pepper

In a small saucepan, combine chicken broth, 1/2 cup of the wine, bay leaf, peppercorns, 3 or 4 stems of thyme, a few mushroom slices, and about a teaspoon each of the shallots and garlic. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes until the flavors have infused the broth. Strain, keeping mushroom pieces. Set aside or keep on low heat.

In a large soup pot over medium-high, heat a couple of teaspoons of the olive oil and a few tablespoons of the butter. Add mushrooms, stir them to coat with the oil and butter, and crack some pepper over them. Don't salt them yet. Let them sit, without stirring them, until they’re slightly browned on one side. Stir and repeat a couple of times until all the mushrooms are a bit browned. Add another 1/2 cup of the white wine and 1/4 cup of the sherry. Deglaze the pan, stirring to lift the browned bits off the bottom. Add some salt to taste and another teaspoon or so of butter and stir to cover mushrooms. When mushrooms have absorbed some of the liquid, remove to a plate or bowl.

In the same unwashed pot, melt the rest of the olive oil and butter. Add shallots and a little cracked pepper and sauté for a couple of minutes over medium-low heat. Add garlic and keep cooking for another minute or two. Be careful not to brown it! When shallots and garlic are softened, add the paprika, some salt to taste, and the remaining thyme, white wine, and sherry. Stir and raise heat. Boil for a minute or so, just until the alcohol has burned off.

Add the broth and all of the mushrooms back into the pot and stir. (If you like some bigger mushroom pieces in your soup, pull a few of them out and chop them roughly before you puree it.) Remove from heat and puree the soup with an immersion blender. When it reaches the consistency you like, scoop out a cup of it and stir some it into the warmed cream and half-and-half, a little at a time, until you’ve combined them and they’re both relatively hot. Add the whole thing back to the soup pot. Bring it up to almost boiling, turn off the heat, and it's ready. Serve it in a shallow bowl with plenty more cracked black pepper and a few thyme leaves sprinkled over the top.

Monday, August 16, 2010

spicy tomato bisque with pesto + grilled cheese on sourdough

I first made a version of this soup in the late winter of 2004, when I was a doctoral student living alone in an apartment on the east side of Athens, Georgia, in the middle of perhaps one of the loneliest periods of my life. Not coincidentally, this bisque got spicier and spicier as more time passed, I started dating D, and my life went on the upswing. This is the best version yet, but I doubt I'll ever stop tinkering with it. The secret ingredient (much as it is for Heidi Swanson's sublime recipe for Five Minute Tomato Sauce, which I have used in every meal including breakfast) is lemon zest, which zings up the canned tomatoes and makes them actually taste fresh.

As for the grilled cheese sandwich, I've learned the hard way that patience is a virtue. Toasting it slowly over medium-low heat ensures that the cheese melts and the bread gets the perfect shade of golden brown - and it means that there will be little crunchy, yummy edges where the cheese has seeped out the sides of the sandwich and hit the hot pan. On the other hand, cranking up the heat too high means lukewarm cheese and burned bread.

spicy tomato bisque
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. butter
1 white onion, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 26.46-oz. carton Pomì chopped Italian tomatoes (or regular canned crushed tomatoes)
1 c. dry white wine 
2 c. chicken broth or water
5 or 6 large fresh basil leaves
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cayenne (depending on how spicy you like it)
zest of one lemon
1 c. half-and-half, warmed (fat-free is fine if you're making it skinny)

Melt butter and oil in a soup pot and stir in the onions. Sauté over medium heat until soft and golden. Add garlic and stir for 30 to 45 seconds, just until fragrant.

Add wine and stir for a minute or two to deglaze pan. Pour in the carton of tomatoes with juice, white wine, chicken broth, basil leaves, thyme, oregano, cayenne, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat and simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes, or until reduced to the consistency of a thick marinara sauce.

Take the soup off the heat for the moment. Using an immersion blender, purée the mixture in the pot. Stir in the lemon zest and the warmed half-and-half. Let soup heat back up almost to boiling, and then turn off heat.

Ladle into bowls. Garnish with a little Parmesan and a generous dollop of pesto in the soup bowl, and serve with a grilled cheese sandwich.

*      *      *      *      *      *

Grilled Cheese on Sourdough
4 slices of fresh sourdough bread 
light mayo
butter or margarine
plenty of your favorite cheese

While soup is simmering, heat a skillet over medium-low. Spread one side of each sourdough slice with mayo and the other with butter. Place one slice butter side down in the skillet, cheese on top of that, and the other slice on top, butter side up. Slowly toast the sandwich until it's light brown on one side, and then flip and toast the other side. Remove to a cutting board and slice in half.

*      *      *      *      *      *

Homemade Pesto
the rest of a package of basil leaves (whatever you didn't use in the soup)
1/4 c. toasted walnuts or pine nuts
2 to 3 tbsp. Parmesan
1 medium clove garlic, smashed into a paste with a little salt on the side of your knife
1 to 2 tbsp. olive oil

Chop everything as finely as possible, and then mix it all together well.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

arugula salad

My friends know that the word "arugula" makes me giggle. When you say it, it sounds like the noise that an old-timey car horn makes: ah-rOOOO-gu-la

Anyway, this is one of the easiest salads I've ever made, and I can't seem to stop eating it. It's lovely: crunchy, peppery, salty, and a little bit tart. Even D likes it with his pizza, and he is emphatically anti-salad when it comes to pizza accompaniments. 

Another way we love to eat it is piled on top of a homemade thin crust pizza - we got that idea from an episode of The Best Thing I Ever Ate, where Ted Allen describes his favorite pizza, the arugula and parmesan pie from Graziella's in Brooklyn.

arugula salad
2 to 3 c. arugula leaves, washed & dried
juice of a lemon wedge (or two)
2 to 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. coarse kosher sea salt
1/4 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
2 to 3 tbsp. shredded or shaved Parmesan

Feel free to eyeball all of the ingredients and adjust the amounts for your own taste - you can't really go wrong here. Toss everything together just before serving and pile into salad bowls or on top of pizza. Enjoy!