Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Pork Tenderloin, Blueberry Balsamic Reduction

This won't be shocking to most of you- there's a lot of people out there whom I dislike.  Shitty drivers are at the top of the list.  I don't even have to be driving in my own car and poor motorists still piss me off.  I'm talking about those alley-honkers.  Them dipshits fly down the alley and then lay on the horn as they near the end, warning about their approach.  So cars traveling properly in the street, people walking their dog(s) on the sidewalk, and kids on their bikes are supposed to yield to them because of an audible warning?? I don't think so.  Proper etiquette would be to slow down, (or not do thirty mph through an alley to begin with) perhaps even make a full stop, and make sure you don't plow into something.  Like me, enjoying a leisurely stroll where I should be, on the sidewalk.  Save the horn honking for what it was meant for- the lightest tap to alert someone to stop looking at Facebook on their dumbphone cause the light is green, laying on the horn whenever a cabbie does the slightest thing to annoy you, and multiple short blasts to gain the attention of a hot chick or for when you are saying goodbye as you drive off from a loved one you won't see for a while.  No other times, including alley-honking, is a car horn necessary.  

On the other hand, I really like some people, especially the Grandmas.  I wanted to make something nice to thank Omma for babysitting the lovely Clare for a few days.  A somewhat quick dinner, as this was a weeknight, but certainly a meal that was restaurant quality.  Thanks to Clare's other Grandma, I had a pork loin doin some chilling in the freeze that was begging for some grill time.  Pair that with a silky blueberry balsamic gastrique, and you got a tasty dinner that says thank you.   

The title of this dish says 'reduction', cause I thought 'gastrique' might sound too fancy for you, but that is the proper moniker.  It's not a difficult task, it's just french for a vinegar/fruit/sugar combination that is heated and reduced in volume.  So go ahead and reduce that sauce, knowing you're practicing classic french technique.  She'd be proud. 

Grilling or oven-roasting a pork loin is easier than cooking burgers, cause you don't have to make the burgers!  You're not buying pre-formed patties from the store, are you?  Let's hope not.  Want more pork tenderloin recipes?  This one is good for the upcoming fall, this guy here is tasty year-round, and if you act soon, there is a small window left of summer to squeeze this herby citrusy grilled loin on your dinner plate. 

Speaking of not much time remaining in summer, the tail end of the season means there's been a lot of dead animal on the grill for months.  Not sure about you, but I'm craving some lighter dishes like this mouth-watering recipe that I can't wait to eat to change up the pace, and this other veggie dish will do the same and use up some zucchini from the garden.

Now, for some important deets.  The way hogs are bred these days, the chances of eating an undercooked piece and ingesting trichinosis is on par with getting struck by lightning.  A touch of very slight pink in the middle of a loin is cooked to perfection.  Of course you could also cook until not pink throughout, but without a brine in this recipe, I would yank it off the grill at about 155F and it should reach the ideal 160F while resting.  Don't let the FDA scare you into thinking otherwise. 

Pork Tenderloin, Blueberry Balsamic Reduction
3-4 servings

EVOO
1/2 medium yellow or red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 C dry white wine
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 C blueberries, rinsed
4 TB good balsamic vinegar
1 TB light brown sugar
1 ts fresh lemon juice
2 TB unsalted butter, cold, diced
S&P
1 lb pork tenderloin, trimmed of any silver skin (that's the concentrated section of silvery fat that will not melt, but don't trim off all the little pieces of fat!)

Fire up the grill for high heat, about 400 degrees F (alternatively, roast in a 375F oven for 22-25 minutes).  

For the Blueberry Balsamic Reduction-
In a medium saute pan, cook the onion over medium heat in a few TB's of EVOO.  Cook about four minutes until translucent, but not brown.  Add the garlic and stir for 30 seconds, then add the white wine.  Stir well, scraping any fond off the bottom of the pan.  Increase the heat to medium-high and let reduce for a couple minutes, then add the blueberries, balsamic, and brown sugar.  You could mash up some of the berries with the spoon, most will burst with the heat during the 10 minutes or so it will take to reduce.  Stir/smash a few times during this time.

For the pork-
With a preheated grill and your protein at room temp, oil up them grates and season your meat liberally with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper.  Grill on a fat side over high heat for 4 minutes, then turn 1/4 and cook its side for 2 minutes, then 4 minutes on the other larger surface, then 2 minutes on the other small side.  Most loins are shaped similarly, this will ensure an even sear on all sides.  Move to a cooler, indirect part of the grill and take the temp- 155F is the goal, continue to cook, turning every 2 minutes, until you reach that temp.  Remove from the heat and cover lightly with aluminum foil.  Don't even think of cutting into this little piggy for at least 10 minutes. 

Bring it together-
While your pork is resting, your sauce should be nicely reduced to purply goodness.  Remove the thyme sprigs, strain using a strainer or cheesecloth into a small saucepan.  Add a squirt of lemon juice, a pinch of S&P, and the cold pieces of butter.  Whisk well to create a shiny, yummy sauce.  Slice your loin bout 1/3" thick and plate on top of the sauce.  Sprinkle some fresh thyme for garnish.  Tastes well with a green salad, a side of rice pilaf, and a glass of Pinot Noir or Gamay.   



Thursday, August 23, 2012

Caprese Salad with Anchovy Vinaigrette

Back to school already?? But it's not even Labor Day yet!!!  Kids these days get screwed.  First they have to trick-or-treat during the daytime, probably supervised by their parental units, which pretty much wipes out any chance of fun pranks or general hijinks.  And now the school year starts before the annual end-of-summer Holiday?  That sucks.  Every summer goes by quick, but now they're getting even shorter.  Were you that kid that looked forward to going back to school?  Nerd. 

We discussed recently about how you should be eating all the fresh, local tomatoes you can find right about now, and conversely why eating tomatoes in winter is stupid.  It's August, there's no way you could tire of eating BLT's with those ripe beefsteaks that are weighing down your tomato plants.  And the plethora of grape tomatoes find their way into salads nightly, mostly green salads and the occasional octopus salad with fresh chili peppers, olives, and balsamic. 


If you're not growing tomatoes, I'm sure you can easily find them at the farmer's market or a nearby farm stand.

Not an anchovy lover?  This might be recipe to change your mind.  Get the good stuff, a small jar of the little fishies packed in oil, should cost you about five bucks.  Don't cheap out and get the crappy ones in the tin- that's not using quality ingredients.

Really hate anchovies?  Then maybe you should just make this caprese salad instead.  

Caprese Salad with Anchovy Vinaigrette
2 servings as large side dish

1/4 C good EVOO
4 anchovy filets, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium shallot, minced
2 TB red wine vinegar
1 lb heirloom tomatoes, grape or cherry tomatoes, sliced
kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 C cubed mozzarella
handful basil leaves, larger ones torn or chiffonade

Combine the anchovy, garlic, shallot, and red wine vinegar in small bowl.  Slowly whisk in the EVOO to create an emulsion, or toss everything in and zap it with a stick blender or in a normal blender.  Arrange the sliced tomatoes on two plates and season with S&P.  Add as much red onion to your liking, same thing for some cubed mozzarella.  Drizzle the vinaigrette on top, then add the basil leaves.  That tastes like summer, even if summer vacation is over. 





Thursday, August 16, 2012

Gremolata

In about the same amount of time it will take to post this, you could make this condiment.  Outside of traditional use, it can liven up any dish that needs it- veal, pork, beef, fish, or vegetable.

A lovely summer veg off the grill is zucchini- simply treated with EVOO, S&P, cooked very quickly over high heat.  Delicious in itself, yes, but even more tasty with this citrus, garlic and herb combo.  

When you peel the lemon, be sure to not get any of the white pith- that stuff is bitter.   


Gremolata

1 medium lemon, peeled in thin strips
1/4 C parsley, chopped finely
3 medium garlic cloves, minced

Mince the lemon peel strips, then combine with the parsley and garlic.  Mix well to get everything loving each other.  Can be stashed in the fridge for days and used on practically anything but ice cream or breakfast cereal.  

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Cucumber and Feta Salad with Pita Bread Crouton

I write about it every year about the same time, the fact that there is no other food that defines the season better than the tomato.  Summer=tomato.  And with the mind-boggling record heat this summer season, the tomatoes have arrived a bit earlier than usual.  Although I'm a novice at tomato gardening, I had a variety of plants in the ground a mere two weeks after we bought the land.  These fruits were ready (with a few green ones that fell off in the process) in only 2 months. Five inches high to five seven feet high in 8 weeks.  There's gonna be a lot of BLT's in the next few weeks, I got a big batch of tomato-basil mayo already giddy for the occasion. 

Everyone knows that tomatoes taste best right off the vine, preferably from your own yard, or your Mom's.  Everyone knows that supermarket tomatoes taste very bland, and everyone knows this is because of the produce companies genetically modifying these orbs to have a longer shelf life, full red color, and perfect round shape.  Profit over taste, is what that is.  You know why they do it, but do you know how it happens?  According to Cornell University plant biologist James J. Giovannoni, the tasteless big box store tomatoes have a mutated S1GLK2 gene that results in an extra DNA base which disrupts the gene's sequence, causing its protein to be truncated and therefore inactive.  This gene is essential for activating the production of chloroplasts, which are the organelles that capture sunlight for sugar production.  These chloroplasts are also a main contributor to the tomato's aroma molecules, so those tomatoes you buy in January have less sugar content and less flavor.  Those assholes! 


Why I am writing about tomatoes when there are no tomatoes in the recipe?

That's called irony. It's delicious.  Just like that ugly-ass tomato in the far right-upper corner, that will be super yummy.  The uglier=the tastier. 

We have a good friend who doesn't/won't/can't eat tomatoes.  She was once in Greece, and ordered a Greek salad.  This dish is usually a tasty combination of cucumber, feta, olives, sometimes  thin slices of red onion, and always hunks of tomato.  She asked for no tomato, I believe, multiple times.  When the plate arrived, she was a bit confused to find only a giant mound of tomatoes.  I don't believe she was too happy with that server, as the order wasn't completely understood.  As a side dish for a BBQ this friend attended, I made sure her desire to be tomato-less wasn't lost in translation. 


The cukes for this dish also came from the garden, but you can get them from the store- the only gene mutations in them are the seedless ones.  This is a great recipe to just get the cheaper seeded variety vs. seedless, as you have to dice them anyway, so cutting out the seeds is a easy extra step.

If you have smaller mint leaves, you can just throw them in whole or torn in half- large ones though, you want to chop to avoid chewing on a giant mint leaf. If you can't find watercress, it's not essential, but does add a nice touch.

Cucumber and Feta Salad with Pita Bread Crouton
4 servings as side dish

2 pita breads, cut into 1" squares
3 TB white wine vinegar
1/4 C good EVOO
pinch  kosher salt
3 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and 1/2" dice
1 bunch of mint, trimmed, roughly chopped (about 3/4 C)
1/2 bunch watercress, roughly chopped (about 1/2 C)
6-8 oz good feta cheese, diced
freshly cracked black pepper

Fire up the oven to tree five oh.  Place your pita squares on a sheet pan and  bake until crisp, about 20-22 minutes.  Shake pan and rotate halfway through, start checking them at 18 minutes.  Remove from oven and set aside.

In a small mixing bowl, add the vinegar and a pinch of kosher salt.  Whisk in the EVOO slowly, to ensure a nice emulsification.

In a large salad bowl, combine the cucumber, celery, and feta.  Add the dressing and toss well, then incorporate the mint, watercress, and pita bread crouton.  Season with pepper and again toss that salad.  Serve immediately to somewhat soon. 


Thursday, August 2, 2012

'Old Fashioned' Cherry Pie

In Wisconsin, there are two sides to take.  You either want to recall Walker, or not. Just kidding, this isn't a political blog, I'm not gonna go anywhere near that mess.  This media is about something much more important, not to mention a topic everyone can agree upon- good food and drink, necessities to life.  The two opinions I speak of are how you, when in the great state of Wisconsin, prefer your Old Fashioneds- sweet, or not.  

Most Wisconsinites I know order (or make) theirs sweet, and always with brandy.  Korbel, to be specific.  Muddled with an orange slice, to be exact.  Some of them even know which bartender at the Club mixes them better than others.  Going beyond sweet or not, there are many other variations on the 6:00PM on a Friday at the supper club favorite.  I prefer mine with bourbon over brandy, which, along with the orange and cherry flavors in a standard Old Fashioned, make one hell of a delicious cherry pie.

I don't bake too many pies, but I finally have a kitchen windowsill to put a cooling freshly-baked cherry pie on. With Team USA competing in the Olympic games in the background, that's a sweet piece of Americana.  I'll work on the 1.5 more kid and the white picket fence thing for the complete Norman Rockwell painting.  

This recipe calls for canned cherries, but if you want to acquire fresh cherries at your local farmers market and stem and pit them, please do so.  The weather in 2012 has not been so kind for that sort of thing, the fruit crop from the farms in Michigan have suffered just as much as the corn crop from the farms in Iowa.

I show instructions to make a simple pie dough, or pate brisee, but you could also use a store-bought dough if you wish.

'Old Fashioned' Cherry Pie

for the dough-
enough for one 9" pie shell and top

12 oz AP (yes, always weigh) flour
8 oz butter, diced and very cold (as in, stash cut up in a small bowl in the freeze for twenty)
2-4 oz ice water
1/2 ts kosher salt

Combine the flour and butter in a large mixing bowl by rubbing the butter between your fingers, until you have pea sizes chunks of butter and smaller beads. The mixture should resemble coarse meal. Add 2 oz of ice water and the salt, mix gently until just combined. You might need 1-2 more oz. ice water, just use enough until the dough comes together without working it too hard.

You can also use your food processor to combine the dough.  Add the salt and then the water gradually, while pulsing quickly just until it looks like coarse meal.

Split the dough in halves, you can weigh or eyeball this. Shape into 1/2" discs and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 20-30 minutes before rolling out.

for the pie-
2 14.5 oz cans tart pitted pie cherries, drained well
3/4 C white sugar
1/4 C bourbon
3 TB cornstarch
2 TB freshly squeezed OJ
1 TB orange zest
1 TB unsalted butter

Your dough should be made and parked in the fridge for 20-30 minutes before firing up the oven to 350F.

Roll out the first pie dough into something that resembles a 10" circle, and using your rolling pin for assistance, lay gently into a 9" pie plate.  Place onto a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil, for easy clean up.  Crimp the edges as decoratively as you wish, trimming any excess.

Combine the cherries, sugar, bourbon, cornstarch, OJ and zest in a mixing bowl.  Mix well with a spatula to get everything liking each other, without beating up the fruit too much.  Once mixed, pour into your pie crust.  Roll out the other piece of dough, gently placing on top, again use your rolling pin for an assist.  Trim any excess you might have, then use a knife or a fork to create some vents in the dough- six stabs with a fork evenly spaced, or four half-inch slits with a paring knife should do it.  Pat the top (and especially edges) with a bit of butter, to enhance browning.

Cooking time will be about 70-80 minutes, until lightly browned and every room in your house, even the closets, smell like delicious cherry pie.  You will probably have some juices bubbling out of the crust, and that's okay...hence the foil-lined sheet pan for easy clean up.  

DO NOT cut into this bad boy for at LEAST two hours....or you'll have a runny mess on your hands.  Like Tim Berry always says about a fresh ice sheet, LET IT SET UP!  I recommend serving with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and then devour while you watch Team USA go for the gold.   But any way you slice it, it's a delicious piece of Wisconsin-cocktail-time-dessert.