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Monday, October 25, 2010

Pork Tenderloin with Gorgonzola Cream

I used to not enjoy pork (outside of pork belly) very much. I always found the loins dry and a little "blah". But back when I was going to culinary school and becoming very serious about beginning a new food-related career, I decided that I should be comfortable cooking anything, even those cuts of meat that I was personally not crazy about. Thus began my foray into the world of pork loin. Not before long I began to develop a better understanding and big appreciation for the pigs leaner parts.

The key to succulent pork loin is in keeping it moist and juicy. One way to do so is to brine the pork for a day or two. This works very well, IF you plan and shop for your meals several days in advance. But, if you're like me, you're planning the majority of your meals day-of. So, it then becomes extremely important to not overcook the pork. We have been conditioned to be very afraid of underdone pork, and while we definitely don't want rare pork (underdone pork has an unpleasant texture and increases the risk of food born illness), we also definitely don't want very well done pork either (which results in piece of meat that has the texture of shoe leather). I cook the tenderloin until it reaches an internal temperature of just above 140 degrees; much above that and it starts dryin
g out. Another key to keeping the pork tender is to let the loin rest before slicing (at least 10 minutes). The resting period allows the juices to redistribute and be absorbed by the meat, rather than losing them all on the cutting board.

I served this pork tenderloin along side the apple fennel salad from my previous post. It was a great pairing because 1. pork and apples are a natural flavor combination and 2. the richness of the pork with Gorgonzola cream is cut by the freshness and crispness of the raw apple fennel salad.

When shopping for your pork, look for meat from animals that have not been treated with with hormones or antibiotics. I look for Berkshire (or Heritage) pork which not only is much more flavorful and better marbled, but also came from pigs that were not treated with growth hormones, had room to move around, and were treated more humanely than commercially raised pigs.

One last note, it is quite important to use real cream is this dish (Mom, I'm talking to you). I rarely use cream, but in this particular dish, using cream (versus milk) results in a much silkier, richer sauce. Let's indulge, together.

Pork Tenderloin with Gorgonzola Cream Sauce
Adapted from Bon Appetit

2 servings

For the pork:
1 pork tenderloin (about 3/4 pound)
salt & pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
2 teaspoons olive oil

1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced

For the sauce:
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 cup heavy cream
splash (about 2 tablespoons) dry white wine

1/2 cup Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Pat the tenderloin dry and season liberally with salt and pepper. Heat canola oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add pork and sear, turning occasionally, until seared on all sides (about 10 minutes). While the pork is searing, whisk together the mustard, olive oil and thyme. Transfer pork to a baking sheet and spread the mustard mixture over all sides of the pork. Transfer to preheated oven and bake until the inside of pork registers at between 140-150 degrees (about 15 to 20 minutes). Transfer pork to clean cutting board and let rest at least 10 minutes.

While the pork is in the oven, prepare the sauce. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook for another minute (to cook off the raw flour taste). Whisk in the white wine and stir until absorbed. Gradually add in the cream while whisking. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until thickened (about 2 minutes). Add in the crumbled Gorgonzola and stir another few minutes until sauce is smooth and has reached your desired consistency.

Slice pork against the grain and transfer to serving plate. Ladle sauce over the pork and enjoy!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fennel, Apple & Tarragon Salad

I am tempted to call this The Perfect Fall Salad, but that may be a little too bold. So I'll just say its really, really good. And, best of all, it's so simple (only 5 ingredients, not including salt and pepper). Fresh fennel and apples are so good right now, they don't need to be dressed up much to make an impressive and delicious salad.

This side dish is crunchy, sweet and tangy and really showcases some of the
season's best produce. Because it highlights the wonderfully fresh flavors and crisp textures of the apples and fennel, it is a great compliment to richer entrees (I served it alongside a sliced pork tenderloin smothered in a Gorgonzola cream sauce... I'll post that recipe in a future entry!).

Fennel, Apple & Tarragon Salad

Be sure to prepare the dressing before slicing the apples so that you can immediately transfer the slices to the dressing (the lemon juice in the dressing will prevent the apples from turning brown).

4 side dish servings

2 granny smith apples
2 fennel bulbs
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, minced

juice from 1 lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

Prepare the dressing in a large bowl by whisking together the lemon juice, o
live oil, tarragon and a pinch of salt & pepper.

Thinly slice the fennel and apples and immediately place in the bowl with dressing. Toss well and season to taste with salt & pepper.

To serve, pull the salad out of the bowl using tongs or your hands and transfer to another bowl or platter (there may be a little leftover dressing).

Monday, October 11, 2010

Is Eating Green An Unrealistic Goal?

I was on the subway back to Brooklyn at 7p.m. this past Saturday night trying to come up with an idea for dinner. We were meeting friends out for drinks later that night so I had a narrow window of an hour and a half to plan, shop for, and prepare a meal. I ended up deciding I would pick up a few groceries on my way home and make a simple vegetarian meal.

But time was of the essence. The farmers at the downtown Brooklyn greenmarket had packed up several hours earlier and I didn't have time to shop around. I decided that my neighborhood produce market would my one-stop-shop. I snagged a big head of cauliflower, a few purple potatoes and some assorted mushrooms. In addition to the oyster and crimini mushrooms that I purchase frequently and am familiar with, I also opted to buy a little bag of white beech mushrooms. I had not seen them in the market before, and although they were grown in China under unknown conditions, I made the decision, in the name of convenience, to turn a blind eye and buy them anyway.

I was still thinking I had made the best decision based on my time constraints, until I was cleaning and prepping the produce in my kitchen a few minutes later. I opened up my little plastic baggie of beech mushrooms and was immediately hit by a distinctly toxic smell. Could this be? I took another sniff. They didn't smell woodsy and earthy; they smelled like chemicals.

Needless to say, those suspicious little beech mushrooms did not make an appearance in Saturday night's dinner, but the whole thing got me thinking. How did those toxic-smelling shrooms end up in my kitchen? I mean, I write this food blog on local, seasonal eating for crying out loud!? Now, in this particular instance it was quite obvious that there was something very wrong with these mushrooms (I'm not exaggerating when I say they smelled like a household cleaner), but in many cases it may not be so clear. If they didn't give off such a toxic smell I most certainly would have eaten them. Am I (being a person that emphasizes the importance of knowing and understanding where our food comes from) a hypocrite or am I just totally unrealistic and idealistic in my mission?

I hope the answer to that question is: neither. The green lifestyle mission is in itself not unrealistic, however thinking that I will make the best decision, or take the best action, 100% of the time is unrealistic. The reality is, I have deviated from this ideal, and have come to terms with the fact that I will again. The next time I am at someone's house and they have prepared a commercially-raised grocery store chicken for dinner, I will probably eat the chicken instead of offending the hostess. There could quite possibly be a time when I will buy a piece of fish that I think is sustainable and come home to the internet to find out that it is on the brink of endangerment. And, can I promise that I will never again order Thai food delivery that arrives steaming inside of plastic to-go containers? Realistically, I can't.

In times like these I have to remind myself that I will never be a perfect green cook and consumer. I'm learning as I go and, last nights mushroom episode being an example, I sometimes make a less-than-ideal choice. And that will continue to happen from time to time. I admit, and expect, that.

But I have come to the conclusion that that is certainly not a reason not to make my best effort. I will continue to read and learn. I will continue to do my part in supporting local farmers, artisans and businesses. I will continue to make adjustments to my lifestyle based on what I feel is best for my husband and I, my community and our planet. And, very importantly, I will continue to remind myself that my efforts will, in fact, make a difference.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Ginger Apple Oatmeal (Welcome, Fall!)

This past weekend Andrew and I visited our two very good friends, Virginia and Rob, in beautiful Saratoga Springs. We love catching up with them over long, lingering meals. Like Andrew and I, Virginia and Rob are very much into eating well (from a taste, nutritional and environmental standpoint). During our day and a half stay with them we visited an apple orchard, picnicked in their local park and enjoyed a couple of wonderful meals in their home.

Our first morning there, we woke up to a bright and sunny, but downright chilly, morning. Fall has arrived! And it arrived in a hurry! The high for the day was only 60 degrees - a stark contrast from the near 80 degree temps we had experienced just a few days earlier. That morning we ate a delicious, hearty and seasonal breakfast that V
irginia prepared. She mixed old-fashioned oats with sweetly tart apples, golden raisins, candied ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon. It was so tasty and satisfying that half way through breakfast I jumped up and grabbed the camera and snapped a couple of pictures, citing that I wanted to post her recipe idea on the blog, hence the picture of the half-eaten bowl of oatmeal...

Virginia's Apple & Ginger Oatmeal
Virginia used buckwheat honey in this recipe, which is a dark-colored honey that has a spicy-malt flavor and is packed with antioxidants, but you could substitute regular honey or pure maple syrup if you can't find it.

4 servings

1 TBSP butter
2 apples, small dice
4 c. water
pinch of salt
2 c. old-fashioned oats

1/2 c. golden raisins

1 TBSP crystallized (or candied) ginger, small dice
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
fresh nutmeg
1/2 c. milk
3 TBSP buckwheat honey

Heat butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the diced apple and cook until softened, about 7 minutes.

While the apples are cooking, bring the water and a pinch of salt to a boil in a separate sauce pan. Add the oats and cook for 5 minutes, or until oats are tender. Stir in the apples, raisins, crystallized ginger, cinnamon, a few grates of fresh nutmeg and the milk. Simmer for another minute. Stir in the buckwheat honey and season to taste.