Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Pork Roast with Currant Sauce

This is one of those things that I don't remember ever not eating. This is a classic food from my childhood and something I still make today.
  • 1 3-4 pound center cut pork loin roast (usually comes as two halves tied with string)
For marinade:
  • 1/2 cup dry sherry
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp dry ground mustard
  • 1 tbsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
Mix together marinade ingredients in small bowl or cup. Place roast in a plastic bag, then pour marinade over roast and seal bag, pressing out the air. Let sit at room temperature of 2-3 hours, turning occasionally.

The pork roast in the bag with the best marinade on earth.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Place meat in a shallow baking pan and roast, uncovered, until internal temperature reaches 150 degrees. Remove from oven and let rest for 10-15 minutes before serving or until internal temperature has reached 160 degrees.

The roast, resting.

While roast is resting, make the currant sauce:
  • 1 10-ounce jar currant jelly or currant preserves
  • 2 tbsp sherry
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup dried currants (optional)
Combine sauce ingredients in a small saucepan and allow to come to a simmer over medium-low heat. Stir occasionally.

The yummiest sauce on earth.

This roast is obviously not a 3-pounder. I think it was barely over a pound and a half. I also didn't marinade it for 3 hours; it was marinating from Friday to Sunday (change in dinner plans). It didn't seem to suffer any ill effects. And no, it wasn't on the counter the whole time. It was in the fridge, thank you very much.

I also have started grilling these roasts on the BBQ. I insert my meat thermometer into the roast, set it to beep when it hits a certain temperature, and leave it. Of course, making sure the BBQ stays at a high enough temperature to cook the roast is a bit of a challenge, so the roast does require some tending. This time around, it reached the temperature of doneness after only an hour and ten minutes; if I had just left it to cook for 2 1/2 hours as specified in the original recipe, it would have been tasteless shoe leather.

I use jars of currant jam or preserves or something that already has the whole currants in it instead of adding dried currants to the sauce. It just saves a step. Also, plain old black currant jelly is nearly impossible to find!

The finished product. I made oven-grilled asparagus and quinoa with shallots and garlic for side dishes. We had this with a 2004 Smoking Loon (California) Pinot Noir.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Braveheart: The Beef Heart Adventure

One of the more unusual pieces we got with our beef order last year was a heart. I had no idea what to do with it. Frankly, it scared me. It was huge and encased in a thick layer of fat. But there it was, lurking in our freezer, mixed in with the more conventional cuts of chuck roast and rib steak.

I turned to the Internet to help me find a recipe that would make something frightening into something delicious. After some searching, I found this recipe for beef heart braised in red wine. It sounded like a winner, so I filed it away for some future cooking endeavor.

Such an event came together last night at our house. I was joined in the kitchen by Kim, a new friend of mine who also happens to be an actual professional cook! She currently bakes cakes for Zingerman's Bakehouse. We discovered our shared love of cooking at one of John's company dinners last year; her husband is John's co-worker. We decided that someday we would get together and cook a big extravagant dinner for our families. That day was yesterday.

I had pulled the heart from the freezer on Thursday and put it in the fridge to thaw. After a couple of days it was still a big red frozen football so yesterday morning I set it, still in its vacuum pack, into a lukewarm water bath to hurry the thawing process along. After a few hours it felt malleable so I removed it from the package, rinsed it off, and contemplated it:

What have I gotten myself into?

Well, there was nothing else to do but take knife in hand and just dive in. The first order of business was to get rid of that fat rind, followed by all the weird little stringy veins and such that were hiding inside the heart. When I had done that, this was the result:

Not so scary now!

A few more knife strokes, some kosher salt and pepper, and I had a dish full of seasoned slices of heart ready to go into my big braising pan:

Even less scary. It looks just like flank steak!

I heated the olive oil and added the beef strips. I stirred them around so they browned sort of evenly (the pan was a little crowded), then added the chopped onion, carrot, fresh thyme, red wine, and beef broth. All that was left to do was cover the pan, reduce the heat, and allow it to simmer for the next hour:

Meanwhile, Kim was busy preparing her contribution to our feast: horseradish mashed potatoes and spinach salad with candied pecans and grated Gouda cheese:

Once everything was simmering, boiling, chopped, oiled, mixed, and fully prepped, there was nothing else to do but sit back with a big drink (or two):

The chefs of the evening taking a well-deserved break.

Finally, it was time to eat. We had the beef heart, mashed potatoes, roasted broccoli with shallots, spinach salad, and warm farmhouse bread from Zingerman's (imagine that).

The majestic feast.

The heart was slightly chewy but not tough, and had a rich, savory flavor reminiscent of slow-cooked pot roast beef. It wasn't in the least bit scary and I even had seconds. I had seconds of everything, in fact. It was all so delicious.

I know heart isn't exactly something one can find in the average grocery store, but I wouldn't turn down the opportunity to make braised beef heart again.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Sesame Chicken with Soba Noodles

Monday night I was getting dinner ready (putting together my mise en place) when I said, "You know...I really don't feel like cooking. I need a break." John said, "Well, then I will do it. I can cook, you know."

And so we have: John Cooks. One night a week I will get a break from the chopping and stirring and standing in front of the stove as John, my husband, flexes his culinary muscle. His first endeavor was Sesame Chicken with Soba Noodles (Real Simple Magazine, April 2007), which is something I have made on several previous occasions. If you have never tried soba noodles, I highly recommend them.
  • 1 8-ounce package soba noodles
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 7-ounce package mixed greens
  • 3 carrots, cut into matchstick-size strips or shredded
  • 1/4 sweet onion, thinly sliced
Cook the soba noodles according to the package directions and rinse under cold water.

Cut the chicken into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Heat the soy sauce and brown sugar in a large skillet over medium heat. Working in batches, add the chicken and sauté until cooked through, about 1 1/2 minutes per side. Transfer to a bowl and repeat with the remaining chicken.

Sprinkle the sesame seeds over the chicken and toss to coat.

In a small bowl, whisk together the ginger, vinegar, and oil. Divide the greens, carrots, and onion among individual plates. Top with the soba noodles and chicken. Serve with the vinaigrette.

Tip: To toast sesame seeds, cook them in a dry skillet over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer them immediately to a cool plate.

Yield: Makes 4 servings.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Espresso Biscuits

Ah, chocolate and coffee. What a combination. These delectable little biscuits are among my favorite cookie confections. This recipe is from The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook (2000), page 516.
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp espresso powder or finely ground espresso beans
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F with two racks centered. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, and espresso powder; set aside. Cream the butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Gradually add the flour mixture into the bowl, mixing on low speed and scraping down the sides of the bowl twice. Pinch off small wads of dough (about 2 tbsp each) and roll between your palms to form a ball about 1 inch across. Place balls on baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Using a fork, press the tines into the dough twice, creating a cross-hatch pattern and flattening the dough into a biscuit shape. Bake until just firm to the touch, rotating the sheets between the oven racks halfway through to ensure even baking, 10-15 minutes total. Transfer to a rack to cool.

Because there are no eggs, baking soda, or baking powder in these cookies, and one uses powdered sugar instead of granulated sugar, the end result is an intensely-flavored, dense, finely-grained biscuit that crumbles on the tongue.

I got 25 biscuits from this recipe when I made it yesterday because I make my dough balls slightly smaller than the recipe originally calls for (2 1/2 tbsp of dough for a total of 16 biscuits). They pack a mighty punch anyway so a small biscuit is just enough! Of course, I usually find myself eating several at a time...

Roast Beef with Tomatoes and Garlic

One of the cuts of meat we got with our side of beef order was a rump roast. I didn't really know what to do with it except snicker every time I said the word "rump." I was, therefore, very pleased to find a recipe for roast beef that specified rump roast (Real Simple, October 2007).
  • 2 pounds boneless rump or rib roast
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes
  • 1 head garlic, cloves peeled
  • 8 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Season the beef with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and place in a large roasting pan. In a bowl, combine the tomatoes, garlic, thyme, olive oil, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper. Scatter the tomato mixture around the meat and roast until the desired doneness (about 1 hour for medium-rare, internal temperature 125 deg F). Transfer the beef to a cutting board and let it rest at least 10 minutes before slicing.

Of course, being the adventurous cook that I am I decided that a few shallots would make a tasty addition to the vegetable mixture, so I peeled 3 big shallots, cut them into rough wedges, and tossed them with the tomatoes and garlic. I love oven-roasted shallots! Additionally, I took four redskin potatoes, quartered them, and tossed them into the pan after 35 minutes had elapsed. The potatoes cooked with the roast and veggies for the remaining 30 minutes and were done perfectly.

Tomatoes, shallots, garlic, and fresh thyme tossed with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Yum!

The rump roast and vegetable mixture, ready to slide in the oven.

The roast beef after resting for ten minutes and then carving. It was done to medium-rare perfection. I like my roast beef (and beef in general) on the pink side. The roast was two hemispherical pieces pushed together and bound with the string net visible in the ready-to-cook picture. When I cut the net away after the resting period was over, the roast parted by itself down the middle. I sliced one half and left the rest whole.

The finished meal. It took about an hour and 5 minutes for the roast to reach an internal temperature of 125 degrees. By then the garlic and some of the thinner shallot pieces had been reduced to charred lumps (the black chunks visible in the photo). The tomatoes and thicker shallots were delicious, however, and the potatoes were perfectly done. I think next time I won't cut the garlic or the shallots at all in order to lessen the possibility of them turning into bits of carbon.

The roast beef was tender, flavorful, and juicy. We only ate half of it so the rest can be turned into cold cuts for sandwiches or something.

We had this meal with a 2003 Chalone Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Monterey County, California).