Archive | December, 2010

stocking stuffer pork loin

23 Dec

Lately, I’ve been obsessed with playing an iPhone game called Tiny Chef. As you’d suspect, this game involves cooking — rather, restaurateuring: Deciding what the kitchen will cook, serving dishes as they finish (before they spoil), decorating and expanding your restaurant, etc. It’s a bit like Farmville — absolutely ridiculous and yet inexplicably addictive.

In my real life tiny kitchen, I recently cooked up a festive stuffed pork loin with spinach and grape tomatoes. I had seen this dish on an episode of Jacques Pepin’s Fast Food My Way on PBS. In this Fast Food series, Pepin orchestrates a pseudo fancy three-course meal in the span of 30 minutes with very little prep help (take that, Rachel Ray!). I’ve always found Pepin’s style of dressed-down French cooking idyllic and charming reminiscent of A Year in Provence.

I found the stuffed pork loin needed more salt than called for, but I think it’s because I used a very mild cheddar cheese. I’d go sharp if I were you. All in all, a great 30-minute dish that would impress folks if you were to serve it for a Christmas feast. Happy Holidays!

stuffed pork tenderloin with grape tomatoes
what’s red, green and porky all over?

* 4 tablespoons olive oil
* 1/2 cup chopped onion
* 1 package (7 ounces) prewashed baby spinach
* 3/4 teaspoon salt
* 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
* 1 large pork tenderloin (about 1 1/4 pounds)
* 3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
* 1 box grape tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pints)

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the onion and cook for 1 minute. Add the spinach, pushing it down into the skillet, and 1/4 teaspoon each of the salt and pepper. Cover and cook over medium heat for about 1 1/2 minutes, until the spinach is wilted. Remove the lid and cook, uncovered, until the liquid from the spinach has evaporated. Transfer to a plate and let cool.

Trim the tenderloin of any fat and silverskin. To butterfly the tenderloin for stuffing, lay it flat on the cutting board so one end is close to you and the other end is near the top of the board. Holding your knife so the blade is parallel to the board, cut through the long side of the tenderloin, stopping when you are about 1/2 inch from the other side. Turn the tenderloin so the uncut side is closest to you and make another parallel cut below the first one, again stopping about 1/2 inch before you reach the other side. Open up the butterflied tenderloin and pound it a little to extend it to about 12 inches long by 7 inches wide.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Arrange half the spinach mixture down the center of the butterflied tenderloin and top with the cheese. Add the rest of the spinach, fold in the sides, and roll the tenderloin back and forth to evenly distribute and encase the filling. Wrap 2 strips of aluminum foil, each 1 to 2 inches wide, around the tenderloin to secure the stuffing inside.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large ovenproof nonstick skillet. Sprinkle the outside of the tenderloin with 1/4 teaspoon each of the salt and pepper. Place the tenderloin carefully in the skillet and brown it, turning occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Carefully remove the foil strips from the tenderloin and bake in the oven for 10 minutes, when it will be slightly pink in the center. Transfer the tenderloin to a plate, cover, and keep warm in the oven while you prepare the tomatoes (the pork will continue to cook as it sits).

Add the tomatoes and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper to the skillet in which you browned the tenderloin and sauté over high heat for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, until just softened. Divide among four warm plates.

Slice the tenderloin crosswise into 8 medallions and arrange 2 slices in the middle of the tomatoes on each plate. Serve.

Serves 4.

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old school chi-neez

8 Dec

When I was a kid, my Chinese grandpa would feed me dried scallops as an afternoon snack. He insisted these stinky salty golden disks that peeled apart like string cheese were actually sections of dried rattlesnake. I went around telling friends at school that I ate rattlesnake, which naturally made me super cool and popular.

In my Thanksgiving post, I mentioned my friend N made a delicious savory Chinese sticky rice flavored with an abundance of dried scallops. Recently, I decided to try my hand at making this Chinese specialty, just to see how tough it would be.

Surprisingly, once ingredients were gathered, it was just a matter of 3 hours of soaking time, plus 1 hour of mostly non-supervised cook time. Okay, so it’s 20 times longer to make than a stir-fry, but that’s what makes it old school Chinese!

chinese sticky rice with dried scallops, sausage and mushrooms
a fancy rice to fancy

* 3 cups short-grain “sweet” rice
* 1/4 cup dried scallops
* 1 cup Chinese dried black mushrooms or dried shiitake mushrooms
* 5 Chinese sausages, sliced 1/4″ thin on the diagonal
* 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
* 1/3 cup medium-dry cooking sherry
* 4 tablespoons soy sauce
* 1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
* 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
* 2 cups reserved scallop and mushroom liquid or reduced-sodium chicken broth
* Thinly sliced green onions for garnish

Rinse and soak rice in cold water at least 3 hours. Drain and let dry thoroughly.

Soak scallops and mushrooms in separate bowls of warm water for 30 minutes. Drain mushrooms and scallops reserving liquid for later. Rinse mushrooms to remove any grit, then discard stems and coarsely chop caps. Shred scallops.

Heat a saute pan over high heat. Add sausage and stir-fry 1 minute, then add vegetable oil to coat the pan. Add mushrooms and scallops and stir-fry 1 minute. Add drained rice and stir to coat (rice should look shiny with oil). Stir in sherry, soy sauce, sesame oil, and white pepper and stir-fry for a couple more minutes on medium head, adding a little of the reserved scallop liquid if rice begins to stick to pan.

Transfer mixture to rice cooker and add the remaining 2 cups of reserved scallop and mushroom liquid (or chicken broth). Cook on normal rice setting. If using a pot, bring rice to a simmer, stir once, then reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook 25 minutes more, then remove from heat.

Once rice cooker finishes cooking cycle, stir rice from bottom to redistribute ingredients and let stand, covered, 10 minutes before serving with green onion garnish.

Serves 8.

thanksgiving digest

1 Dec

Why does it take until December to finish digesting Thanksgiving? Not unlike past years, our cornucopia overfloweth with meat and starch treats in volumes and combinations that would horrify any pilgrim. Case and point, the Thanksgiving fat bastard himself: turkey cake. Two loaves of turkey meatloaf separated by a layer of cranberry sauce, frosted with mashed potatoes and topped with yams and marshmallows.

Yes, I ate it. Along with the deconstructed version the night before. My chef friend C made possibly the most gorgeous bird I have ever seen stuffed with a homemade cornbread and sausage stuffing.

Parsnip and potato puree, yams, cranberry sauce, creamed leeks, braised carrots, salad and amazing caramelized brussel sprouts rounded out our festive meal, which we nested among the gold leaf centerpieces I had crafted.

Post an Old Fashioned-induced dance party, I geared up for the night after Thanksgiving. Another evening of big eating. M’s turkey cake stole the spotlight, an impressive feat considering the presence of an Asian-themed banquet: two roasted ducks, scallop and sausage sticky rice, soy sauce ribs, homemade spring rolls, chinese chicken salad — plus candied yams and my favorite Roasted Bagna Cauda Broccoli.

Even sans cleaver, N made swift work of carving beautiful Golden Gate Meats ducks.

N’s sticky rice, a recipe of his mother’s, glistened with chewy goodness — studded with slivers of red lap cheong, dried scallop, mushrooms and water chestnuts.

K’s “old school Chinese” expertise showed through in a magnificent platter of golden spring rolls — each perfectly crunchy with an ideal portion of savory meat and vegetable filling. R’s soy sauce pork ribs melted off the bone in spectacular fashion, like a harlot proudly disrobing.

My contribution to the evening was a Chinese Chicken Salad minus the chicken because I have a weird chicken phobia. Really, it was just a butter lettuce and raddiccio salad adorned with crispy prosciutto, won ton chips and homemade garlic roasted peanuts. The secret is the dressing, which I’ll rudely refuse to share. I will, however, recommend you make these amazing garlic roasted peanuts to snack on by the handful or dress salads.

Garlic Roasted Peanuts
smelly and addictive… a treacherous combo

* 1 lb raw peanuts
* 5-6 garlic cloves, chopped roughly
* 2 tablespoon oil, peanut oil preferably
* 4 tablespoon soy sauce
* 1 tablespoon fish sauce
* 1/2 tablespoon sugar
* salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 325° F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper, then put peanuts on sheetpan. Dry roast for 15 minutes.

While the peanuts begin to roast, mix everything else except for the salt and pepper in a medium bowl. After first 15 minutes remove roasted peanuts from oven, mix the peanuts with the marinade, pour back onto sheet pan, then return to oven.

Continue to roast for 10-15 move minutes or until the peanuts are a light golden brown color. Take them out a little before you think they are perfect, because they will continue to cook on their own a little more after being removed from oven.

Allow to cool, then season with salt and pepper. Store airtight at room temperature for 1-2 weeks.

Don’t think I forgot about dessert! There were many notables including C’s fruit crostatas and P’s moist and tender rum cake. My T-day contribution: a silky dark chocolate tart with buttery cookie crust and the interior texture of a ganache. It’s ridiculously easy and impressive….excellent baking ROI.

Dark Chocolate Tart with Gingersnap Crust
adapted from Bon Appétit

Crust:
* 12 ounces gingersnap cookies (Trader Joe’s Triple Gingersnaps are best)
* 3/4 stick salted butter, melted

Filling:
* 12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
* 1 cup heavy whipping cream
* 2 large egg yolks
* 1 large egg
* 1/4 cup sugar
* 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
* Pinch of salt
* 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped crystallized ginger

For crust:
Preheat oven to 325°F. Finely grind gingersnap cookies in processor (yielding around 1 2/3 cups). Add melted butter; process until moistened. Press crumb mixture firmly onto bottom and up sides of 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom. Place pan on rimmed baking sheet.

For filling:
Combine finely chopped bittersweet chocolate and heavy whipping cream in heavy medium saucepan. Whisk over low heat until chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove saucepan from heat. Whisk egg yolks, egg, sugar, flour, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Very gradually whisk chocolate mixture into egg mixture until smooth and blended. Pour chocolate filling into crust.

Bake chocolate tart until filling puffs slightly at edges and center is softly set, about 30 minutes. Transfer to rack. Sprinkle chopped crystallized ginger over top. Cool tart in pan 20 minutes. Gently remove tart pan sides and cool tart completely. DO AHEAD: Chocolate tart can be made 1 day ahead. Cover tart and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Cut tart into thin wedges and serve.