Roast-Pork-Loin

It’s November 10th and we are just about 2 1/2 weeks away from Thanksgiving, which means the foodie blogosphere is abuzz with all things Thanksgiving related. There are hundreds of recipes for turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, sides, and all manner of desserts, but you don’t see a whole lot about alternatives for turkey. Sure they are out there, but they are certainly overshadowed by the number of turkey recipes available.

I know that there are people out there that won’t be eating turkey for Thanksgiving. Maybe you have a dislike for turkey, which I, personally, can’t understand. To me a perfectly cooked turkey is a delight and, in our house, occasionally roast one up at other times of the year just for the heck of it. Maybe you, or someone in your family, has an allergy. Or maybe last year’s turkey turned out to be a fiasco and you just prefer something a little more forgiving. No matter what the reason, you’re out looking for an alternative centerpiece to your Thanksgiving dinner, one that will dazzle your guests and earn you their praise and admiration. Hopefully, this recipe will fit the bill.

Roast Pork with Roasted Vegetables
serves 6-8

2 1/2 – 3 pound Pork Loin, boneless
3 heads Fennel
1 pound Asparagus
1 medium Red Onion, peeled
1 medium Yellow Onion, peeled
7 cloves Garlic, peeled
1/4 cup Sage, fresh, very finely minced
1/2 cup Olive oil, divided
Salt
Pepper, freshly ground

Preheat your oven to 400°F.

Cut the fennel in half, through the longer side. Cut each half into thirds, trying to keep a bit of the core attached to each piece. Place in a bowl. Discard the lower, fiberous end of the asparagus and then cut into 1″ long pieces. Toss into the bowl along with the fennel. Slice both onions into 1/2″ thick rings and thinly slice 4 of the cloves of garlic, adding to the other vegetables. Add 1/4 cup of the olive oil and toss to coat. Season generously with salt and pepper and pour into a roasting pan.

Season the pork loin with salt and pepper. Finely mince the remaining 3 cloves of garlic and mix with the sage and remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil. Rub this mixture onto the pork loin then place the pork loin on top of the vegetables, in the roasting pan. Place a meat thermometer into the pork loin ensuring that the probe is well centered. Place the roasting pan in the oven and immediately lower the temperature to 350°F.

Here, at home, my family likes our pork a little pink in the middle so I would remove my roast when the thermometer hits 145°F. If you are someone what still prefers your pork fully cooked pull the roast out when it hits 155-160°F. Any higher and you run the risk of dry, overcooked pork. This will take approximately 60-90 minutes, depending on your oven and how done you want your pork.

When done, remove the pork from the roasting pan to your cutting board and cover with foil. Give the vegetables a good stir and return to the oven and turn the heat up to 425°. Allow the pork to rest for 15 minutes, then slice into 1/4″ slices. Place on the center of a large platter, remove the vegetables from the oven and arrange around the pork.

Roast-Pork-Loin2

Dill-Jars

I’ve been on this fermentation kick recently. I just wrote about the Kim Chi I made, but I also have a large batch of Sauerkraut fermenting away, which, hopefully, will be done in 3 or 4 more weeks, which should give me a chance to get, at least, one more batch fermenting before the end of the local cabbages for the year. So it’s no surprise that, when I found myself with a bunch of dill and a surplus of small, pickling cucumbers, I decided to make up a couple of jars of deli style kosher dill pickles.

Dill-Fresh

Dill-Cukes

Making your own kosher style dill pickles is a great way to experiment with fermenting your own foods. Not only is it easy, but they can be done in as little as 3 days. Now my brother, who is way more into fermenting than I am would disagree here. He likes his kosher pickles to ferment for weeks and weeks. While I do enjoy these highly sour, pickled delights, I am more partial to deli style pickles which are also known as half-sours sometimes. While the fully fermented full sours eventually attain a green, slightly translucent flesh throughout the cucumber after a long fermentation, half sours retain some of their off-white flesh and, in my opinion have a slightly better crunch and a hint of freshness to them, whereas full sours usually don’t have quite the same crunch. Neither is better, it’s all about your personal preference. The great thing about making a couple of jars of these beauties is that you can test them at different stages to see which style is more to your liking.

There are a couple of things that I should cover off on before getting to the recipe. Like I said before, with fermentation and preserving in general, sanitation is of the utmost importance. Make sure all your equipment is clean and sanitized to keep the nasty micro organisms, that want to spoil your food, out. Secondly, salt used for fermenting foods should either be kosher or canning salt. Stay away from expensive sea salts as their high content of other minerals can create strange flavors and definitely stay away from table salt which is loaded with iodine and anti caking agents, both of which can ruin a batch of pickles in a heart beat. The other issue is cloudiness. It happens when fermenting foods occasionally. It really isn’t noticeable if you are fermenting in a crock, but when fermenting in canning jars, like I do in this recipe it can be noticeable. Chances are you needn’t worry, if you sanitized well and made sure that all your foods are under the brine. Cloudiness can be caused by a number of things, from hard water, to a quick fermentation in warmer weather, to small yeast blooms or overly ground spices. And yes, it could be caused by nasty micro organisms there to spoil your food, but again, if you followed safe sanitation practices this is probably the least likely scenario. As long as the pickles smell and taste fine, then this is not a problem. If it does bother you, you can always dump the brine, with some added vinegar, when you are ready to chill your pickles.

This recipe cheats slightly. I give my brine a slightly boost by adding just a bit of vinegar. Technically, you shouldn’t need to do this, but I like the added protection when making pickles. If you really want to be a purist you can leave it out but that’s up to you.

Finally, some recipes tell you to coarsely grind your spices while others will tell you not to. Personally, I like to just barely crush them to allow them to more easily give up their flavors.

Dill-Spices

Deli Style Kosher Dill Pickles
makes approximately 4 quarts

8 cups Water
1/2 cup Salt, canning or kosher
1 cup White vinegar
1 1/2 tsp. Mustard seed
2 tsp. Black pepper
2 tsp. Coriander seed
1 tsp. Red pepper flakes
2 each Bay leaves
approximately 36 each Cucumbers, small pickling cucumbers no more than 3-4 inches long
8-12 cloves Garlic, depending on how garlicky you want your pickles
8 head Dill, fresh

If using canning salt just mix into the water and vinegar and stir until dissolved. Set aside. If using kosher salt you will need to boil your water to dissolve the salt. Remove from heat, add the vinegar and allow to cool 70°F before using.

Meanwhile rinse your cucumbers removing all dirt from the surface. Trim off about 1/8 off the blossom end of the cuke and pack into sterilized quart canning jars. Pack them in tightly. I usually get about 9 per jar. Combine the mustard, black pepper, coriander, and red pepper and lightly crush them. Crush the bay leaves by hand and mix with the other spices. Divide evenly among the jars. Peel and lightly crush the garlic cloves and add to the jars. Finally top with the heads of dill, 2 per jar. Fill the jars with the brine ensuring that all food is covered by at least 1/2 inch of the brine and making sure that the brine is within 1/4 inch of the top of jar. Cover with sterilized canning lids and screw on the rings, but do not tighten.

Place jars on a tray, to catch any liquid that might bubble out and place in a dry spot, out of direct sunlight. Allow to sit at room temperature for at least 3 days. After that, taste a pickle every couple of days until you find just the right balance, between salt, sour and freshness, for your tastes. Once they are where you like them place in the fridge. Over the next week they will continue to mature a bit, but the fermentation will be slowed to almost a stop once they are chilled. Keep refrigerated and eat within a couple of months or so, although I doubt it will take you that long to go through them.

Dill-Jar

It’s been a long, hard couple of weeks the last few weeks. Work has been difficult as I’ve had supervisor out sick so I’ve been covering her shift, along with all of my work. It finally culminated on Friday when I had to let go of one of my supervisors. While normally I have no problems firing someone (because most often it has been because they weren’t doing the job and I have no tolerance for that kind of thing) this one was different as she had been doing a good job. Unfortunately, a drop in revenue made it necessary to eliminate a position. While the rational side of me knows I had no choice as I had to do what was best for the company, and for my remaining staff (if I didn’t lay off one then they would all have had to go to part time) the emotional side of me was wrecked over this difficult task. Unfortunately, this scenario has been playing out way too often in the recent years. Too many people I know have lost jobs due to downsizing or loss of revenue. I feel lucky that I still have a job, but my heart goes out to the many that have been unemployed for months and months. It is my hope that our elected officals can come together, put their petty partisan politics aside and come up with a solution to help the economy and the American people get back on their feet.

While I could go on and on about politics and the crappy weeks I’ve had, that’s not what you are here for so I should probably bring it back around to food. In my last post I promised a number of beet inspired dishes so today’s offering is a wonderful Autumn time side dish, Roasted Beets. Add to those beets some onion and a few cloves of garlic and you have a dish that delights both the sense of taste and smell.

While this recipe works well with red beets, I prefer to use golden, Chioggia, or candy stripe beets. These beets tend to bleed off less color than your standard red beets, keeping the onions and garlic from taking on a pinkish hue. If that doesn’t bother you or you can’t find anything other than red beets go ahead and use the red.

Roasted Beets with Garlic and Onions
serves 4

2 pounds beets (I used a mixture of golden and Chioggia beets)
1 large onion
8-12 cloves garlic
3-4 small sprigs rosemary
3 Tbl. extra virgin olive oil
salt
fresh ground black pepper

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Peel the beets and cut into 1-1 1/2 inch cubes. Place in a baking dish. Peel the cloves of garlic and place in a bowl. Peel the onion and cut into bite sized wedges and add to the garlic. Add the olive oil to the garlic and onions and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper then pour over the beets. Add the sprigs of rosemary to the baking dish then cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake. After 45 minutes minutes remove the foil, increase the temperature to 400°F and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are tender and slightly browned (approximately another 20-30 minutes). Serve immediately.

You’ve heard me say it before and I’m sure you will it again, many times, from me, but great food does not always have to be complicated. Oftentimes all that great food requires is starting with a great product and using good technique. A perfect example of this is a very simple and straightforward roast chicken. With just a few, simple ingredients and good technique one can turn the ordinary into something sublime. Just ask most chefs and they will tell you that a perfectly roasted chicken is a thing of beauty and one of their favorite dishes. By the way, if you are wanting a lesson in roasting chicken, you can find my instructions here in one of my earlier posts.

This recipe kind of falls into the same category although it does have a few more ingredients that roast chicken, but not many more. Many people are not familiar with fennel, the vegetable. Sure, most everyone has fennel seed sitting in their spice draws (usually collecting dust) but not everyone is familiar with the vegtable, which is too bad as fennel is one of the most flavorful vegetables out there. The flavor is a very subtle anise flavor that pairs well with everything from chicken to fish to pork to pasta. I often shave the raw fennel bulb and add it to a salad for a nice crunch and vibrant flavor, but, by far, my favorite way to prepare fennel is to slowly caramelize it. Like onions and other root vegetables, caramelizing fennel brings out its inherent sweetness, while creating a rich, deep flavor that I find irresistable.

Simply add some leeks and a little garlic, along with some cream and you have a wonderful, cool weather sauce for pasta. Pair with a sauteed chicken breast and you have a meal that is warm and comforting enough for simple meal and yet, sophisticated enough to impress your favorite foodie.

Sauteed Chicken Breast wtih Fettuccine and Fennel
serves 4

1 bulb fennel, tops removed and some of the fronds reserved
1 medium leek, julienned, white and light green parts only
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs. butter
2 cups cream
salt
pepper

4 each chicken breasts, boneless, skinless
2 tsp. fresh thyme, finely chopped
2 Tbs. olive oil
salt
pepper

1 pound fettuccine
1/4 cup chopped parsley

To cut the fennel, slice in half from top to bottom, cutting through the core. Remove the core and julienne like you would an onion. In a large saute pan over medium heat, melt the butter and add the fennel. Slowly cook for 15-20, stirring regularly, until the fennel is a uniformed medium brown. Meanwhile place the leeks in a strainer and rinse to remove any grit and dirt. Once the fennel is done, add the leeks and garlic to the pan, along with some salt and pepper. Cook for 3 minutes making sure that the garlic does not burn. Add the cream and reduce by half. Taste for seasoning.

Meanwhile, while the fennel is cooking, season the chicken breasts with salt, pepper and the fresh time. Also bring 1 gallon of salted water to a boil. Once the fennel is half way done, and the water is boiling add the fettuccine and cook per the package directions. In another large saute pan, heat the 2 Tbs. olive oil, over high heat. Add the chicken breasts and cook until done (lenght of time will be determined by how big and how thick the breast are).

When the fettuccine is done, drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water, and toss pasta with the sauce. If sauce is too thick add some of the reserved pasta water, a little at a time, until you achieve the consistancy you desire. Taste for seasoning and adjust salt and pepper as needed. Divide the pasta among 4 plates and mound just above the center point of the plate. Slice the chicken breast, on a bias, into 7-9 slices and fan out, leaning against the pasta. Sprinkle with the parsley and a little of the fennel frond you reserved and chopped up.

This has been a great summer, here in Wisconsin,for a lot of farmers. We have had a relatively mild summer, with plenty of rain. It’s been years since I’ve seen corn and soy bean fields look as lush and green in the middle of August, and the corn is taller than I remember seeing it in ages. This has also been proven by the the shear abundance of produce at our local farmer’s market. Not only is there more of it, but everything is looking absolutely beautiful, from the large, sweet muskmelons, to the beautifully fragrant herbs, to the ripe, juicy peaches, it’s hard to beat the local produce this year!

It’s August and that means tomato season up here. We’ve harvested a few off of the couple of plants we put out this year, and have already received our first batch from my brother, with plenty more to be had at the farmer’s market. I can’t understand why anyone would even consider buying a grocery store tomato this time of year. Sorry, but there is no comparison between a grocery store tomato, that travelled hundreds of miles and a beautifully vine ripened local tomato.

When you’ve got such great local produce simple is often the way to go. Why mask produce, picked at the peak of ripeness, in lots of layers and heavy flavors. Let the food speak for itself, besides, in the heat of summer who wants to slave over a stove for hours. Keep it fast and simple, is often my motto this time of year, as opposed to my favored long braises that I enjoy in fall and winter.

This simple pasta meets all these requirements. It’s fast. It’s simple. And it takes full advantage of the ripest, most flavorful local and homegrown produce. This pasta, is by no means innovative, but sometimes falling back on the tried and true is the way to go, besides, who can resist that classic combination of tomato, basil and garlic!!!

Classic Tomato Basil Pasta
serves 4

1 pound pasta (linguine or fettuccine)
2 large tomatoes (the freshest, ripest ones you can get your hands on)
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, hand torn into small pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. black pepper, freshly ground
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling, salted water. Cook to al dente. Do not overcook! Meanwhile core and dice the tomatoes into 1/4-1/2″ cubes. In a large saute pan, add the olive oil, garlic and black pepper. Gently heat until the garlic just starts to cook. Once the pasta is cooked quickly drain and toss into the saute pan. Turn off the heat underneath the saute pan and add the tomatoes and basil. Toss until everything is well combined and the tomatoes and basil have been warmed through. Season with salt, tossing again to mix then divide among 4 plates. Serve topped with Parmesan cheese and more freshly grated black pepper.

It’s been awhile since I posted last. Work has been keeping me very busy and I have just been too tired to write at the end of the night. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been cooking. I have, but I just haven’t gotten around to posting any of the recipes yet, so the posts over the next week should kind of catch me up….I hope.

I’ve kind of been on a Caribbean kick the last week or so and the other day I can across some really nice looking plantains at my local grocery store. My wife loves plantain chips so I decided that I would whip up a batch of tostones for her to try. Like plantain chips, tostones are fried, but they tend to be thicker and often are just a bit soft in the center. Personally, I prefer tostones over plantain chips any time.

You will find lots of recipes that say that the plantains must be completely green to make authentic tostones. That may be the case, but I’ve found that I prefer a hint of sweetness in my tostones so I look for plantains that are just a few days from being fully ripe.

Tostones are very easy to make but they do require a double frying, something you see often in Caribbean cooking, especially in Cuban cuisine. First peel the plantains. This can be somewhat difficult if your plantains are still very green as the skin wants to adhere to the flesh. Once peeled slice the plantains into 1 1/2 -2″ chunks. Deep fry these chunks in 300°F vegetable oil for about 3-4 minutes.

They will be lightly browned and have started to soften. Drain on paper towel and allow to cool.

Once cool, place each plantain chunk between 2 pieces of plastic wrap and gently smash them. To do this I usually use a small saute pan. Don’t slam the pan down, on top of the plantains, like you are tenderizing meat, or you will smash it into oblivion. I just place the pan on top and press down to flatten them.

Once the plantains have all been flattened, return them to the deep fryer set at about 350°F and fry until golden brown and crispy around the edges, about 4-5 minutes. Don’t overcrowd your pan. I usually do 3-4 at a time. Remove, drain on paper towel and sprinkle with salt.

I usually serve these with a traditional mojo sauce (a citrusy, garlicky sauce native to Cuba). This simple sauce takes about 5 minutes to make and is a great accompaniment to the tostones.

Mojo Sauce
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup lime juice**
1/3 cup orange juice**
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. ground cumin

Gently heat the olive oil until warm. Combine the remaining ingredients in a small bowl. Add to the olive oil, bring to a boil and cook for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. This sauce is best served the same day as it is made, though it can be stored for up to a week in the fridge.

**Note: Traditionally, the juice of the sour orange would be used, but they are difficult to find here in the middle of Wisconsin. If you can find them then replace both the lime and orange juice with an equal amount of juice from the sour oranges.

© 2009-2014 onceachef.com All Rights Reserved -- Copyright notice by Blog Copyright