December 22, 2010

Sweet and Spicy Pork Tenderloin with Lentils

December is going to be a short month for us, blog-wise, since we're headed out tomorrow for our annual east coast holiday tour. There's sure to be plenty of good food, but we will be spoiled, since we'll either be dining out or cooked for (and there are many talented cooks in both of our families). So as our parting post this month we leave you with one of our favorite winter dishes. This meal really hits the spot on a cold day; it's satisfying and filling without being overly heavy, and has just the right combination of sweet and spicy. We usually serve ours with mashed potatoes.

Sweet and Spicy Pork Tenderloin with Lentils (Serves 2)
Adapted from Michael Schlow, Bon App├ętit September 2003

- Cooking oil
- About 1/2 of a carrot, chopped
- 1 small shallot, chopped
- 1 small celery stalk, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 1 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
- 1/2 cup dried lentils
- 1 cup stock or water
- Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat, and when it's hot add the carrot, shallot, celery, garlic, and rosemary (exact amounts of these vegetables does not need to be precise, and you could certainly leave one out or add onion or bell pepper instead; they're here to add flavor to your lentils). Cook until the vegetables have softened (about 3-4 minutes), then add the lentils and stock or water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the lentils are tender and have absorbed all the liquid (about 30 minutes).

- 1 tbsp honey
- 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 tsp curry powder
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 3/4 pound pork tenderloin
- Cooking oil
- 1/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 tsp butter
- Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, vinegar, curry, and cayenne. Heat the cooking oil in a skillet over medium heat and cook the pork until brown on all sides. Brush the pork with some of the honey mixture and put the skillet with the pork in it in the oven. Roast for about 12 minutes (or until cook to your liking), turning it over halfway through.

Put the skillet back on the burner and add the rest of the honey mixture and the stock into the skillet. Turn the heat to high and boil until the sauce has thickened and reduced, then stir in the butter and add salt and pepper.

Serve the pork over the lentils and pour the sauce on top (make it even better by starting out with a layer of mashed potatoes under the lentils and adding side of roasted brussel sprouts).

December 16, 2010

Pad Thai

We like Pad Thai. And we think that it would be difficult to find someone who doesn't. Something that Thai food does very well is the brilliant combination of tangy, sweet, and savory (sometimes spicy too, though not in this particular dish). Pad Thai is an easy win - you can get it at any Thai restaurant, and you can find a Thai restaurant in just about any city these days. We ate at one in a small town in Colorado and found it was good, reliable, Thai food - with the addition of elk to the meat options.

We were inspired by a number of recipes that we found online, staring with Mark Bittman's, but in the end we drew on quite a few recipes to come up with our own version. The first thing we will say is - it was really, really good. The second thing is - it wasn't exactly what we expected. It was a little different from the standard Thai restaurant dish. It was maybe a little less sweet, and a little more tangy/savory. We liked it a lot, and it's easy to make so definitely worth trying at home. Once you have the general idea you can play around with the proportions of the ingredients that provide those three key tastes: savory (fish sauce), tangy (tamarind paste), and sweet (sugar).

Pad Thai (serves 2)

- 1/3 lb extra firm tofu, cut into cubes
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp tamarind paste
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1.5 tbsp fish sauce
- Peanut oil or sesame oil, for cooking
- 4 oz rice noodles
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/4 cup green onions, sliced into rounds
- An egg
- 1/2 lb bean sprouts
- 1 lime
- 1/4 cup crushed peanuts

About an hour before you are ready to start cooking, chop the tofu and put it in a bowl or plastic bag with the soy sauce to marinate. You can let it marinate for up to a day.

Next, heat the tamarind paste, fish sauce, and sugar in a small sauce pan, and cook together until the sugar has dissolved (about 5 minutes). Set aside.

Heat a splash of oil in a skillet or wok over medium heat and, when it is hot, add the tofu. Cook until browned, stirring frequently to get an even brown on all sides. Set the tofu aside.

To cook the noodles, heat a large pot of water until very hot but not quite boiling. Add the noodles and cook until just tender, about five minutes.

Add a little more oil to the skillet if needed and cook the garlic and green onion until just tender. Put the noodles and two thirds of the bean sprouts into the skillet and cook until the noodles have browned slightly. Push the noodles aside and add the egg in the cleared space. Mix quickly until the egg is just about cooked. Add the tofu and the sauce, mix well, and cook until heated through.

Squeeze some fresh lime juice on top of the noodles, then top with the crushed peanuts and remaining bean sprouts.

December 8, 2010

Apple Butter

Why, oh why, haven't we made apple butter before? I think in part because for some unknown reason we never really knew what it was. In case anyone else is unclear: it's like apple sauce. But better. It's cooked for much longer (a couple of hours) so that a lot more of the liquid from the fruit evaporates and you're left with a much more intensely apple flavor. Also, the long cooking process caramelizes the sugar in the apples (caramelize is the word that really hooked us here). The other reason we haven't made it may be because we didn't want to commit to the time needed to supervise the cooking of the apple butter. This Sunday was another rainy day, though, and the perfect time for slow cooking something on the stove (we left the house exactly once on Sunday, go to eat delicious homemade bagels at some friends' house. Then we baked a ridiculous chocolate fleur de sel caramel cake for a friend's birthday. Then we made popcorn. It was a good day).

We perused a few recipes to get an idea of the process but took most of our inspiration from 101 Cookbooks Apple Butter with Carolina B. Most apple butter recipes are for a much larger amount, which you can jar and feast on throughout the year. We weren't prepared to deal with sterilizing jars and just wanted a bit to try. We also made a few tweaks in terms of sugar and spices and also found that our cooking process was a bit different. I've been enjoying the apple butter for breakfast with yogurt and granola (pictured above), but it would be delicious on top of gingerbread or even as the base for a fantastic French style apple tart.

Apple Butter (makes about 1 cup)

- 1 pound of apples (this is about 2 medium to large sized apples. We used Pink Ladies)
- About 1 cup of apple cider
- 1/3 cup dark brown or turbinado sugar
- Juice of 1/2 a lemon
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
- Pinch of salt

Peel the apples and cut them into half inch to an inch cubes (you don't need to be very precise in your cutting, since they'll be pureed anyway). Put them into a medium sized saucepan with just enough apple cider to cover them. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook until the apples are soft (about 15 minutes). Let them cool for 5 minutes or so.

Pour the apples into a blender and puree, then return the mixture to the heat and bring it back to a simmer. Stir in the sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Reduce the heat to medium to keep a low simmer (we recommend keeping the lid on but tilted so that steam can escape; the mixture will bubble and splash quite a bit).

Keep cooking the apples, stirring every now and again to make sure that it's not sticking to the bottom, until the mixture has reduced and thickened a great deal. It will turn a darker color but if you put in as much cinnamon as we did (because we love cinnamon) it will be sort of hard to tell by color. You will know it's done by the thick consistency and the taste - it took us about an hour and a half.