The Perfect Pork Roast

Saturday evening we participated in our neighborhood’s autumn-themed progressive dinner party, and we volunteered as one of the main course homes. I was greatly looking forward to it but knew it would be a slight challenge with the timing of whatever we prepared for the entrée. We wanted to partake in the hors d'oeuvres so we knew it had to be something prepared in advanced and re-warmed; something we stuck in as we were walking out the door; or something with a quick cook since we were allotted only an hour and a half before heading to the dessert home. And it had to be seasonal. In an ah-ha moment, I remembered the cover recipe from October’s Bon Appetit, a gorgeous pork roast stuffed with mushrooms, apples, and kale, wrapped in prosciutto and baked with apples and hard cider. Talk about shouting Fall. Plus, it could be semi-prepared up to a day in advance and had a long enough bake time to allow us a few nibbles of appetizers and glass of wine at home #1.
I cannot take credit for preparing this beauty. That all goes to Craig. As we set out to prep on Saturday morning, I asked if he wanted to begin the pork, and he took charge. Other than soaking the dried mushrooms and apples and steaming the kale, he did the whole thing. Lots of steps, but certainly nothing difficult. Do have your butcher butterfly the pork loin and do not use pork tenderloin unless you significantly alter the cook time.

Since we changed none of the ingredients, I am simply including the link to the original recipe – with one very big PAY ATTENTION TO THIS note. The indicated oven temperature and cooking time are both WRONG. I used an oven temp of 375 degrees F., and it cooked in about an hour and fifteen minutes to 142 degrees F. stuffing temp. Next time I will take it out at 135 degrees F as it was ever so slightly overcooked.

This is truly an impressive dish. Make it. When you take it out of the oven, you'll guests will gasp. And it's as delicious as it's stunning.
We served it with butternut squash risotto and roasted broccoli.

Fusion Comfort Food

One night last week I was in the mood for something homey for dinner, comfort food – or – perhaps Asian. I know, different ends of the spectrum, but we’ll get to how I satisfied both cravings in a moment.

As I sat down to write this post, I got thinking about cravings, particularly for comfort foods, and why we have them. It’s clearly not linked to fulfilling a nutritional need, because typically comfort foods are not healthy, e.g., mac and cheese, green bean casserole, ice cream sundaes, etc. Comfort foods often take us back in time, and we associate a specific food with memories, some funny, some nostalgic. Comfort foods can soothe our psyches and invoke a sense of calm and security. Tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches remind me of Friday night dinners when I was little, or we went to Howard Johnson’s for fried clam strips. Coffee milkshakes still provide comfort just as they did 35 years ago after a visit to the orthodontist for an adjustment to braces. And the mention of tuna noodle casserole immediately reminds me of one person. My dad. It always has been one of his favorite dinners. American cuisine is defined by these kinds of foods, and interesting how so many upscale chefs have added buttermilk fried chicken, truffled mashed potatoes, and even cabbage rolls (check it out at Sidney Street with the rabbit!) to their menus over the last few years. These guys know what sells – and tastes so wonderful. Long live comfort foods.

Back to my cravings. I know, comfort foods typically do not invoke images of stir fry, kung pao, pad thai, lettuce wraps, or seared soy-marinated tuna. But sesame soy Udon noodles and cilantro and ginger meatballs do. Can I call it Americanized-Asian spaghetti and meatballs, with a side of (spicy) un-green bean-casserole? I had a recipe for ginger meatballs from Cooking Light that calls for ground pork, but I find these versatile enough that ground turkey, ground chicken, or grass-fed beef, which is what I had, works nicely. The noodles from the original recipe are rather blah, so I threw something together by instinct that turned out really tasty. So if you have a fusion comfort food craving, give this a try. You will be satisfied in a 2011 kind of way.
Gingery Meatballs with Noodles and Spicy Green Beans
Serves 4

1/2 C chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 C dry breadcrumbs
1/4 C finely chopped red onion
2 T low sodium soy sauce
2 t grated peeled fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound lean ground pork, turkey, chicken, or lean ground beef
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Place a foil-lined jelly-roll pan in oven. Preheat oven to 450°.

Combine first 8 ingredients in a large bowl; stir gently just until blended. Cover and chill 30 minutes. Divide pork mixture into 20 equal portions; shape each portion into a meatball. Arrange meatballs in a single layer on preheated pan.

Bake at 450° for 20 minutes or until done.

Sesame Noodle
Serves 4

6 ounces Udon noodles, cooked and drained
Onions and/or colored pepper, thinly sliced and sautéed or any other vegetables you have on hand
Ginger, grated
2 – 3 T low sodium soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T rice vinegar
1 1/2 T sesame oil
Asian chili-garlic sauce to taste
Green onions, thinly sliced

Whisk all ingredients (except noodles, vegetables, and green onions) together in a bowl. Taste and adjust ingredients as needed. Pour sauce over warm noodles and vegetables and toss to coat. Sprinkle with green onions and toss.

Spicy Green Beans
Slightly undercooked green beans – I did in the microwave on vegetable/fresh setting

2 T soy sauce
1 T rice vinegar
Asian chili-garlic sauce
Ginger, grated
Garlic, minced

Combine sauce ingredients and set aside.

Sauté ginger and garlic. Add green beans and sauté until starting to darken in spots. Add sauce and cook until thickened slightly.

Farewell to Fresh Figs

Despite our failure to grow a fig tree in the back yard this summer, we still enjoyed these nougats fresh a number of times in late summer and early autumn, thanks to the abundance of them at Whole Foods. I had never eaten figs other than in Newtons, but over the last few years I’ve fallen for them. Fallen hard, especially fresh. What’ not to love with their luscious, juicy texture, their earthy sweetness, and the ever so slight crunch from their seeds? They've starred in salads, stuffed with blue cheese and wrapped in prosciutto, in baked goods, and even just eaten fresh for breakfast. The last ones we had found their way into muffins, which were light and fluffy with a tender crumb. The figs provide noticeable moistness and distinctly a figy flavor. The crunchy, rich brown sugar and oatmeal topping finishes these quite nicely.

And now, we say bonjour, until next season, fresh figs.
Fresh Fig Muffins
Makes 18

1/3 C firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 C quick-cooking oats, uncooked
3 T finely chopped walnuts
2 T butter, melted
1 t vanilla extract
1 1/2 C white whole wheat pastry flour
1 C all-purpose flour
1/2 C sugar
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 1/2 C chopped fresh figs (3/4 pound) – or – 1 C chopped fresh figs and 1/2 C dried cranberries (NOT Craisins)
1 C nonfat buttermilk
3 T vegetable oil
2 t vanilla extract
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Combine first 5 ingredients in a bowl; stir well, and set aside.

Combine flours and next 4 ingredients in a large bowl; make a well in center of mixture. Combine figs and next 4 ingredients; stir well. Add to flour mixture, stirring just until moistened.

Divide batter evenly among 18 muffin cups coated with cooking spray, and sprinkle oat mixture evenly over muffins.

Bake at 400*F for 15 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove muffins from pans immediately, and let cool on a wire rack.

For muffin tops, bake at 375 and check at 11 minutes.

I baked! And it was good! Peanut Butter Blondies

I had such a frustrating day at the office last week that I had the desire to bake after work, something I never do (Craig almost fainted when he came into the kitchen). But I do know my parameters:  given the choice, I’ll always opt for a cheese plate or a glass of bubbly after dinner, so it could not be something too sweet since I’m definitely a savory person,  and if we’re talking chocolate, it has to be dark. Not being a weekend where calories and fat don’t count, and I do watch our nutrition more, I headed to Cooking Light. What did I find but Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Blondies?
The only changes I made to the recipe were to switch to half all purpose and half whole wheat pastry flour, reduce the sugar, up the peanut butter, and use dark chocolate – goodness, I did make a number of changes. These are super easy, and you likely have all the ingredients in your pantry. They are quite delicious, especially warm when the chocolate is gooey, with a distinct peanut butter flavor, and I like the recipe only make an 8x8” pan so you’re not tempted to overindulge – too much. A double catch will be mailed to Cincinnati pronto 'cuz Connor will love these.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Blondies
12 servings realistically

Cooking spray
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pasty pastry flour
1/3 cup dark chocolate chips or chunked from a bar, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg white

Preheat oven to 350°.
Coat bottom of an 8-inch square baking pan with cooking spray (do not coat sides of pan).
Combine flours, chocolate chips, soda, and salt in a bowl.

Combine sugars and remaining ingredients in a bowl; stir until well-blended. Add flour mixture, stirring just until blended. Spread batter in bottom of prepared pan.

Bake at 350° for 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out almost clean. Cool on a wire rack.

The Secret Recipe Club - Yummy Spicy Corn Muffins

For this month’s The Secret Recipe Club, I was assigned Erin’s My Big Fat Baker blog. At first I was intimidated what I’d prepare since baking is not my forte (look to the right, and you’ll notice few baking recipes). When I looked at her “About” section, I saw Erin’s a Purdue Boilermaker, just like Craig, so I knew I’d find something good. By the time this is posted, we’ll know who won the Penn State-Purdue game. Nittany Lions roar! I appreciate how philanthropic Erin is in her support of various online bake-offs, such as Frosting for the Cause and championing the use of local and organic.

A number of things did catch my eye (Tomato Jam, Peanut Butter, and Banana Cookies with Chocolate Frosting), but I settled on the Spicy Corn Muffins since we were having black bean butternut squash chili, and we had the last of our CSA fresh corn to use. We learned late season corn is weird. Some ears are so crazy-spare that you get 20 kernels per ear, and the worms love this stuff. Nonetheless, I really liked the idea of individual cornbreads since we're only cooking for two these days, and I’m assuming these will freeze well for future soup/chili nights. I made minimal changes, not surprising really since I was baking, one of the few times I cannot embellish a recipe. I subbed some white whole wheat flour for the AP, amazing cumin cheese from The Cheese People we got at the last Ellisville Farmers’ Market for the cheddar, and used red jalapenos I roasted and froze this summer. The only issue I had was that my muffins browned much quicker than the recipe indicates, which was actually quite to my liking. I really appreciated Erin’s hints and tips below in italics. These are really good.
Spicy Corn Muffins
Makes 15

1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
4 T sugar
2-1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 cup buttermilk
3 T butter, melted and cooled – may be a tablespoon less next time
3 T olive oil
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1-1/3 - 1 1-1/2 cups fresh, frozen, or canned corn kernels – I had a
1 medium jalapeño, seeded and very finely chopped (leave the seeds in for spicier muffins)
1/2 cup shredded cheddar, jalapeño Jack, or any other hard Mexican cheese

Pre-heat the oven to 400 F and grease/line two muffin pan (I got 15 muffins out of a batch).

Chop the jalapeño.

In a medium bowl whisk together the flours, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Set aside.

In a separate bowl mix together the buttermilk, butter, olive oil, egg, and egg yolk. I did this in my 2 cup pyrex measuring cup. 

Slowly pour the liquid into the flour mixture and carefully whisk it all together. Mix only until the liquid and flour are just barely incorporated. Over mixed muffins are a sin.

Gently fold in the corn kernels, jalapeños, and cheese. Scoop into the muffins tins. Be sure to only fill 2/3 of the way full! 

Bake 15-18 minutes, or until golden brown and an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Mine bakes much faster; check at 11-12 minutes.

Allow to cool before consuming! That is actually important with this recipe because the muffins fall apart if you try and eat them hot out of the oven.

Great Autumn Salad Dressing

This is a classic recipe in our home in the fall. I have no idea where I got the recipe (and made changes of course), but it's good. Really, really good. A few years ago some non-vegetable, non-salad friends were here for dinner, raved about it, and wanted the the recipe, the ultimate compliment. What’s not to like? It’s so creamy, a bit sweet, a bit of a bite from spicy Dijon, relatively low fat, versatile on whatever autumn greens/fruits you have on hand, and super simple to make. The pics really don’t do it justice. Trust me. Just try it.
Creamy Maple Salad Dressing

1/4 cup good quality mayonnaise (lowfat is okay)
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons white balsamic or Champagne vinegar
2 heaping tablespoons minced shallots, about 1 medium to large shallot
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper and salt to taste

I just throw everything in a large measuring cup and blended with the stick blender until thickened. It can be up to three days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Re-whisk before using.

Salad Ideas:
Romaine, mixed greens, spinach, blue cheese, bacon, dried tart cherries, spiced cashews, and diced apples or pears. What is seasonal and you have on hand.


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