Saturday, August 27, 2011

Herb Marinated Pork Tenderloin and Garlic Lemon Farro

One night this week, I made Ina's delicious Herb Marinated Pork Tenderloin. It is featured in Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics, on p. 126.  Below is a picture of the ingredients that we started out with.  For this recipe, I only used 2 tenderloins, and I cooked them on the grill instead of in the oven, because it is just too hot right now to fire up the oven.

I have to go off on a little tangent here.  A lot of people think that pork loin and pork tenderloin are the same thing.  The fact of the matter is that they are not.  A whole pork loin weighs about six pounds.  A whole pork tenderloin weighs about one and a quarter pounds.  Both are nice lean meats.  Pork loin is mostly white meat, where as pork tenderloin is dark meat.  Dark meat is wonderful for grilling, because it doesn't dry out as quickly as white, and is therefor much more forgiving if you have to chase down your toddler in the middle of cooking and it goes a little longer on the grill or in the oven.  I encourage you to try dark meats.  The next time that you want to grill up some chicken try the boneless skinless thigh in place of the boneless skinless breast.  You might just be pleasantly surprised.

So back to the recipe.  I started the tenderloins on a blazing hot grill to sear the juices in, and then dropped the grill back to about medium high.  The total cooking time for the tenderloins was about 20 minutes, and then I let them rest for about 8 minutes.  When I cut in to the tenderloins, there was a small amount of pink right at the center of the loin, which is how I like it.  If you don't want to see any pink, just cook it a little longer.  Here is the tenderloin on the grill.  I forgot to take a picture of the finished product.

Beautiful grill marks.  While the pork tenderloin was on the grill, I had a pot of farro going in the kitchen.  I just cooked a cup of farro according to the package directions, with a pinch of salt in the water.  In a medium bowl, I squeezed the juice of one lemon, and added a tablespoon of olive oil, a chopped clove of garlic, a pinch of salt, and a grind of fresh black pepper.  I stirred the farro in, and added a bit of chopped parsley.  That is really all there is to making the farro.  Here is how the finished product looks.  If you are a fan of tabbouleh, you will like this farro.

I served this meal simply with a spinach salad and some steamed broccoli.  It was delicious and I will definitely make it again.  I really like herbaceous recipes.  I have thyme, rosemary, parsley, mint and basil growing in my garden (read that as my hanging baskets).  There has been a lot of research lately showing that herbs are nutrient dense more so than regular greens, so please use them liberally in all your dishes.  The marinade for the pork would be wonderful on chicken or even fish (with a shorter marinating time).  If you upped the rosemary, it would be delicious on lamb as well.  The recipe was another winner in our book.

Thank you Ina for the simplicity of this wonderful recipe!!

Monday, August 22, 2011

My Method for a One Skillet Meal

Way back when hubby and I were first together, we made the deal that as long as I would cook he would clean the dishes.  At the time he did not know what a messy cook I was.  Sometimes I feel bad for him with all the dishes and bowls and pots and pans that I dirty, so I take mercy on him, and make a one skillet meal. 

My idea of a one skillet meal has nothing to do with boxed or frozen meals.  For me really, it comes down to a single pan (usually cast iron) being used to cook everything.  Sometimes everything cooks at once in the pan.  Other times, like the meal I made this evening, I just keep using the pan over and over letting the food pick up all the lovely browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

This meal was pretty simple.  I started with a 1.25 pound flat iron steak (these happen to go on sale quite often here, and I love the real beefiness of this cut of meat).  I seasoned it simply with iodized sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper.  I heated my cast iron skillet on medium to medium high heat with about a tablespoon of grapeseed oil.  Once the pan was hot, I sat my steak in it, and allowed it to cook for 5 minutes on the first side.

While the first side was cooking, I sliced two red bell peppers, and a small container of cremini mushrooms.  When it was time to flip the steak, I added the peppers to one side of the pan beside the steak, and the mushrooms to the other side, as seen in the picture below.

I added more salt and fresh cracked pepper to the peppers and mushrooms in the pan.  I allowed the steak to cook an additional 2.5 minutes on this side, and then set it out to rest on a platter (this yielded a medium steak, which is a little more done than we like it and I will reduce the first side cooking time to 4 minutes and the flip side to 2 minutes next time).  When I removed the steak from the pan, I stir fried the peppers and mushrooms together until they were tender (normally I would have had onions in the mix, but GASP, I was out of onions). 

While the peppers and mushrooms were stir frying, I chopped a large zucchini and after I removed the peppers and mushrooms from the pan, I added the zucchini along with the juices that had accumulated in the platter the steak was sitting in.  The zucchini really picked up the flavor of the steak from those juices, and the yummy bits in the bottom of the pan.  In the pictures below, you can see the color the zucchinis were when I started, versus the color they were after they grabbed on to all of that flavor. 

Once the zucchini were tender, I plated everything together on a platter, and placed the sliced steak on top.

Dinner was an easy clean up.  One cutting board, and one knife, a pair of tongs, a cast iron skillet, a platter, three plates, and three forks.  Hubby almost had it all cleaned up before I had his lunch packaged up for the next day.  I always try to make enough food that hubby can take leftovers for lunch the next day, because that makes him feel loved, and it means he doesn’t have to spend any of his “pocket money” on a meal out that is nowhere near as good as what he gets at home.

This entry has been more about a method of cooking than a single recipe.  Substitute whatever cut of meat you have on hand, and whatever summer veggies you have in the fridge.  Add lime juice, cumin and chili powder for a taste like fajitas.  Add a splash of Worcestershire sauce to the pan if you like that flavor.  Don’t be afraid to experiment with dishes, and make them your own.  This would also qualify as a five ingredient meal.  After all, we only used a steak, bell peppers, mushrooms, zucchini and grapeseed oil (salt and pepper are freebies in five ingredient meals).  Get in your kitchen, out on the grill or over a campfire, and give this method a try.  I am sure you will come up with something tasty!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Challah French Toast, YUM!!

This morning I made Challah French Toast from Ina's, Barefoot Contessa Family Style, p. 187.  We are members of a local CSA, and Challah came as the baked item in the basket this week.  When I saw it, I immediately thought of this recipe which I have made in the past.  It is the pictured on the front of the cookbook.

I only made two minor changes in the recipe, and that was out of necessity, but at least one thing seemed to enhance the recipe.  The first change that I made was to replace the the half and half or milk with heavy cream.  This is because I purchased a large container of Organic Heavy Cream at Costco last week to use in making the Shrimp and Corn Chowder.  I went for the large container because it was less than the price of a small container of non organic heavy cream at the local grocery.  One thing you will learn about me as you peruse my entries here is that I am cheap.  Excuse me I guess my friends would say I am frugal and would chastise me for saying I am cheap.  The other change that I made was to use the zest of a clementine instead of a navel orange (which is what I have used in the past).  The clementine zest seemed to be a bit more pungent than the navel orange zest had been when I used it in the past.  It was nice, because it really cut through the richness of the custardy french toast and the sweetness of the maple syrup.  A note on maple syrup...I use organic grade b maple syrup (I usually have to go to Trader Joe's or Whole Foods to get this), because I like the depth of flavor.  Just please if you are going to make your family wonderful from scratch french toast, don't ruin it with maple flavored syrup.

So here is the picture of our finished product.  It isn't as pretty as Ina's, but we didn't make 5 batches so that a food stylist could pull the prettiest ones and stack them perfectly on a beautiful platter.  This is what real food looks like, and it was delicious.  I hope you will try it some time soon.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Creamy Corn and Shrimp Chowder

I thought since this is my blog, the first recipe that I would post should be one of my own.  Take a look at how good this soup looks!

My hubby was in the kitchen with me making this recipe, and with our teamwork, we were able to get this chowder made in about 45 minutes.  That includes the time that it takes to make the stock.  In the same way that Ina is obsessed with chicken for chicken stock, I am obsessed with saving shrimp shells to make shrimp stock.  Every time we have shrimp, I toss the shells in a ziploc bag in the freezer.  Then when I am ready to make something like this, I have plenty of shells to make extra stock.  So now we have a few quarts of corn and shrimp stock in the freezer so that we can make this soup even quicker a few times over the Fall and Winter.

This is how it went in our kitchen.  Hubby shelled the shrimp and dropped the shells into the stock pot along with shrimp shells that had been saved in the freezer.  I was at the same time stripping corn kernels from the corn cobs and dropping the cobs in the stock.  Speaking of corn, I live in the heart of corn country, and the corn that I was using for this chowder was phenomenal.  The corn was so sweet and fresh that I had a hard time making myself not nibble on the raw kernels as I was making it.  After the corn was finished, I chopped onions and potatoes, and that was really about it.  One last thing, as a southern girl, I have a canister of bacon drippings in my kitchen.  So of course when I made this recipe, I used bacon grease to saute the onions in.  Olive oil is of course just fine to use.

So, here is the recipe, which was actually inspired by one of the chowders in Jasper White's, 50 Chowders.

Corn and Shrimp Chowder

2 pounds medium to large sized shrimp
6 cobs of good sweet corn
1 ½ tsp. sea salt
8 c. water

Remove and reserve the shells from the shrimp.  Cut the kernels off of the corn cobs and reserve.  In a large soup pot, place the salt, corn cobs, and shrimp shells.  Cover with the water.  Bring to a boil and then allow to simmer for 30 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally and press down the shells and cobs to help them release their flavor.  When the stock is finished, you will need to pour the stock through a sieve to remove the solids.

While the stock is boiling prep the following ingredients:

1 T. of bacon grease or olive oil
2 T. of butter
1 large onion cut in to large dice
1 ½ tsp. paprika (preferably Hungarian)
4 medium sized potatoes
½ to 1 c. heavy cream or half and half

When the stock is done, heat the oil and butter over medium heat in a medium size soup pot.  Sauté  the onions about 8-10 minutes or until opaque.  Add the paprika and cook an additional minute.  Now add the potatoes and corn kernels in the pot and sauté around for just a minute.  Add the stock (if the stock doesn’t cover the veggies add water to make up the difference), and turn up the heat.  Once the liquid has reached a boil reduce heat and allow to boil for 10-15 minutes, or until the potatoes are done.  Remove the soup from the heat.  Stir in the shrimp and allow them to sit in the hot soup for 5 minutes.  They will cook from the residual heat without becoming overcooked.  Once the shrimp are done, add the heavy cream or half and half, and enjoy!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Why a Wanna Be Ina?

I purchased my first Barefoot Contessa cookbook way back in 1999.  I was a 21 year old single gal out living life and taking on the world.  I had a good job, I had my own apartment, I had a car, and I was partying it up until the wee hours all weekend long.

I was already well on my way to building a nice cookbook collection (I now have hundreds).  This cookbook was different though.  It had tons of bright pictures, and the recipes weren’t so complicated.  Even though I lived out in the sticks, it was easy for me to find most of the ingredients in most of the recipes.  I was hooked!

Later that year I met my husband, my Jeffrey if you will.  On our second date I cooked for him.  That was it for him.  We were inseparable.  Ina hooked Jeffrey with brownies, I hooked my Mr. Right with Chicken Parmesan.  But…there is a good lesson there.  Food can get you what you want (I typed that with a devious little smile on my face).

Ina and I both understand a few simple things.  Entertaining shouldn’t be daunting.  Comfort food is great for entertaining.  Forget expensive cuts of meat served with three different sauces, and horseradish potatoes stuffed into bell peppers along with a salad filled with vegetables that your guests have never seen or heard of before.  That is not the way to entertain.  A small group of friends in close quarters eating simple veggies and amazing macaroni and cheese, that is a good time.  You should be able to enjoy your guests when you entertain, and not be a slave to the kitchen!  Sometimes a good glass of wine and conversation with a good friend, are better than an evening out at a fancy restaurant.

It is important to take the time to cook for people on occasion to let them know that you care.  A pot of chicken soup for an ill friend, dinner for a family with a new baby, or making your spouse a meal to look forward to every week, all of these let the people you are cooking for know that they are important to you.

Back to the question at hand.  Why do I consider myself a Wanna Be Ina?  Ina is living my dream life.  She is surrounded by amazing friends, she has a devoted husband, and she writes recipes for a living.  What more could a girl ask for?

****Please note that all posts prior to this one are from my previous blog, but I thought that my fans and friends deserved to still be able to get to those posts.****