Okay, I don’t really know what you had for dinner last night. But I know what I had for dinner last night and it was so good I wanted to share it with you. It was a pork loin roast, with stuffing and two veg on the side. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Okay, so maybe not wonderful when put like that, but it was what I did to the pork and to the green beans that made it wonderful.
I’ve had the pork loin roast in the fridge for a couple of days and I wanted to make sure I cooked it yesterday so it wouldn’t spoil. I have a habit of taking things out of the freezer and changing my mind. I knew I had a box of Stovetop Stuffing in the pantry so I thought about doing a stuffed pork roast. My first thought was to cut the roast into very thick chops, put the stuffing in the bottom of a baking dish and put the pork on top. What happens is the juices from the roast will seep into the stuffing while it’s all cooking and create kind of a stuffing pudding thing. Only trouble with that is the roast will dry out and leftovers will be terrible. The stuffing will taste good, but it’ll be fairly soggy.
Then I remembered a recipe where you can butterfly the meat, stuff it with various things, roll it up and tie it, and bake it. The original recipe used a beef roast but it wouldn’t be too hard to adapt to a pork roast. But as I reviewed the recipe, I realized that all I was doing was moving the stuffing to the interior. The roast would still be dry if it wasn’t eaten immediately.
The difficulty is that Partner/Spouse was working way late and I was unsure of arrival time. I wanted the roast done so all I had to cook were the two veg sides and the stuffing, because by now I’d decided to make the boxed stuffing as a side as written on the box for the sake of timing. So putting aside the puzzle of the pork roast, I turned to the two veggie sides I wanted to make. I wanted to make fresh green beans, and frozen corn. Not together, though. I like corn okay, but I have to be in the right mood for it. Green beans I can eat any day, all day. So the corn was just going to be steamed, tossed with a little butter, and seasoned. I wanted to sauté the green beans but I’d done that so many times, I wanted something a little different. So I let that simmer in the back of my brain and turned back to the roast.
I wanted to keep the roast moist which meant not overcooking it. But if I finished the roast early it would either have to stay in the oven as it cooled which would dry it out, or come out of the oven and be reheated which would dry it out. I needed something as a barrier to keep the moisture in the roast. My first thought was searing it, but being such a small roast (just about a pound, not much more than that) searing it would cook it pretty thoroughly. There was always the tried and true bacon wrap technique which was always a good idea, but bacon wrapped pork roast seemed a bit redundant.
I went back to the stuffed pork idea and looked at the recipes for a few minutes. They all called for butterfly cutting the roast so it was one uniform thickness when laid flat. There are many techniques for butterflying any piece of meat, on or off the bone, and I’ve used most of them at some time or another. The most important thing in the process is to use a very sharp knife. Dull knives just won’t cut it. Pun intended. So with my small roast, I made a cut in the top third of the roast all the way across it to about a half inch from the edge. Then I made another cut angling down to the bottom third of the roast and cutting back the way I’d come to half an inch from the edge. Then I laid the whole thing flat and pressed to hold it’s shape. The idea is to press the filling into the meat and roll it up, tie it, and cook it.
But an idea occurred to me, probably inspired from one of the many cooking shows I’ve watched over the years. Since I couldn’t keep the moisture in given my particular circumstances, what if I added moisture to the inside during the filling process? I’d already decided against using a dried bread crumb filling, but what if I simply used herbs and spices? Rather than go full bore exotic, why not use Partner/Spouse’s favorite, garlic? At this stage, the meat itself would hold the garlic in place, but it wouldn’t add any moisture to the whole thing.
Garlic! I remembered a stuffed chicken breast I make once in a while (and wrote about once here in the blog) where I used butter to hold several cloves of minced garlic in place inside a pocket I cut into a chicken breast.
So I spread room temp butter all over the inside of the roast. It’s always better with butter, right? Then I sprinkled salt, fresh cracked pepper, and about a quarter cup of powdered garlic (I was out of fresh) over all the butter. I rolled the roast up tightly which had the added benefit of placing some of the fat cap into the interior of the roast adding more moisture. Then I looked for kitchen string to tie it up with. I have some somewhere but couldn’t lay my hands on it immediately so I just rolled it up and laid it seam side down in the baking dish. I drizzled some olive oil on the top, about a teaspoon, and sprinkled it with salt and pepper. It went into an 300 degree oven and cooked for an hour and 15 minutes, then I turned the oven off and left it alone.
When Partner/Spouse arrived at around 9pm, I started the corn and stuffing, but still had to think what to do with the green beans. I figured I’d just add some bacon to the water and cook it all together. It was down home and tasty. But I didn’t want it that way. The got me to thinking about the various ways to cook bacon and I thought about the water bath method. Light bulb goes off!
I put a half cup water and two tablespoons of butter in a skillet large enough to hold the green beans in a single layer. I turned the heat on medium and waited for the butter to melt then put the green beans in a single layer. I simmered until all the water was gone. I turned the heat off and let them sit. They browned from residual heat and the butter flavor was evenly distributed throughout.
So we had a garlic stuffed pork roast:
with Stovetop Stuffing (very good stuff), steamed corn niblets, and sautéed green beans.
What did you have?
If any of you follow or liked or “friended” me on Facebook (and you’re welcome to do all that if you like, but if you decide to friend me, let me know where we know each other from) you’ll know that yesterday I spent the morning making bread. I didn’t want the sandwich rolls I normally bake. And the English Muffin Bread wasn’t exactly what I was after, either. So I decided to make Julia Child’s Basic White Bread recipe. It’s easy enough, although the stand mixer gets quite a workout. And I posted on FB the finished result, two perfect loaves of white bread suitable for sandwiches, toast, or whatever else you wanted.
One loaf is already nearly gone. It’s tasty.
I belong to several groups on FB. Many of them are writers groups, but almost as many are food groups. One was started recently by a FB friend and is called Food Interactive. It’s a fun group of people who enjoy cooking, sharing, posting photos, laughing at themselves and each other, and sharing the ups and downs of life in their kitchens. So I posted the picture there.
I got an immediate response. Lots of likes and many comments. One comment from the group’s leader was “I want to see the inside!”
It’s a long held truism among bread bakers that you must let the bread cool completely. All the steam has to be released of the bread will be gummy when you slice it. If you slice it. There’s something about the aroma of freshly baked bread that starts a shark style feeding frenzy among humans. So I held off for a little while, making sure the bread was cooled, then sliced it so everyone could see the “crumb”. The crumb is the white inside part of the bread and you want it to be tight so there’s an “al dente” quality to it, but you also want it to be airy so there are small pockets to catch whatever you’re spreading on the bread. Here’s how this batch turned out:
While waiting, I was working on final edits for the blog book, and fielding banter with other members of the group. One lady asked for the recipe.
That was kind of daunting. In Julia’s cookbook, it’s two pages long. It’s not broken into steps, either. It’s two pages of text broken up with very little white space. It’s necessary to read the entire recipe to get a sense of what’s happening. Then read each of the sections to know what you’re trying to accomplish next. So I promised the lady I would scan the pages and post them to the group today since I was working yesterday.
One enterprising member of the group went to the internet and found something and posted it with the comment “Is this the recipe?”
Boom! It was. So now the group had the recipe and I didn’t have to scan or retype the detailed instructions.
Except I already had.
Trying to get a jump start on today. So there we have it. Julia’s White Bread recipe in two formats. And it’s a tasty, easy loaf to make. I’ve tried making just one loaf, but find it disappears too quickly.
Many people think there’s some mystique or magic to making bread but there really isn’t. It’s mostly just a matter of having the right equipment, and having enough time because it does take time to make. Most of the time is in the rising process. Most good breads are risen twice. This helps develop strong gluten strands to hold the shape of the bread, and it helps develop a richer flavor as the yeast develops and spread throughout the loaf.
I sometimes use a bread machine to get through the mixing stage and the first rising stage. There are all kinds of short cuts and things, but I don’t use them too much (apart from the bread machine) because I think the quality and flavor suffer a little bit. And I find that the bread machine tends to make a tougher loaf when I make the bread completely start to finish in it.
So, the two things to take away from this post are: 1) bread making is easy but a time hog (though you can do other things while it’s rising); and 2) check out Food Interactive on Facebook. It’s a good group of people and lots of fun to hang out in.
When I was growing up, there were staples in the kitchen and pantry. Staples are the foods that are there all the time; that the family can’t do without. Some of the basics are flour and sugar and bread. It’s different for each family, but for every storm warning just watch what flies off the shelves of the local grocery store and you’ll get a good idea of what the most common ones are.
In our house, peanut butter and jelly, bread, apples, milk were the most used. As we grew up, moved around, our tastes changed and our staples changed. Cheese was added. Dill pickles, beef jerky, flour and corn tortillas found their way into our hearts. Apples went away, to be replaced by oranges, tangerines, lemons, watermelon, etc. Flour, sugar, milk, eggs, coffee were always there.
In our house now, our staples are flour, sugar, eggs, bacon, baking soda, and lettuce. We also have breads of various types, cheese of various types, cans of diced tomatoes, pasta, and nearly always can lay our hands on tortillas. Staples exist so a meal can be made on the fly. We had tacos last night with some of our staples. But this post isn’t about that, although the tacos were really good.
It’s about what I fixed for lunch yesterday using only the staples.
When I lived in Arizona, we learned a new style of cooking partly because everyone else was eating that way, and partly because it’s what was available in the grocery stores. Mexican food is incredibly flavorful, very filling, and very easy to make. I’ve written about tacos, enchilada, burritos, chimichangas, nachos, and salads in this blog among others. One of my first posts was how to make flour tortillas by hand. Not a terrifically easy process but totally worth it. I’ve even written about making corn tortillas, but I still have to work on those.
When I was a kid, though, I “created” something I was quite proud of. I took a corn tortilla, sprinkled it heavily with cheese and heated it in a skillet until the cheese melted. Then I rolled it tightly and ate it hot and gooey and tasting great. Then I found out everyone was eating these things and filled them with all kinds of things and called them rolled tacos, or taquitos.
Another great snack we had as kids was heating a flour tortilla over an open flame on the gas stove. You let it sit for a few seconds on the flame on one side until it bubbled, then carefully flipped it until it bubbled then took it off the flame. I usually ate it hot and toasty just like that. Others put butter on it, or sprinkled it with cheese, or sugar and cinnamon, or other things.
Then I hit on the idea of sprinkling a flour tortilla with cheese and heating it in the oven until the cheese melted and the tortilla was crispy and brown on the edges. I was quite happy with it and bragged to all my friends about it. They called it a cheese crisp and had been eating them for years.
Well, I was kinda let down, but continued eating them whenever I wanted to. Until I learned about quesadillas, but that’s another story.
Once I moved back east, I didn’t keep the staples for Mexican cooking in the house so I stopped eating it as much. I kept hearing about various restaurants that served authentic Mexican food, but they were usually Tex-Mex (good in its own right but not what I was used to) or highly institutionalized with much of it coming out of a can. Very little was fresh. And I kept hearing about something referred to as a Mexican Pizza. Turned out, it was just my cheese crisp with stuff on it.
So yesterday, I saw the flour tortillas, the cheese, and a can of tomatoes and thought, huh, why not?
I took the ingredients listed above and made lunch.
First, I heated the oven to 425. Then I prepped my baking sheet. Ever try to get cooked cheese off of anything? Yeah, me too. So I put a sheet of foil over the baking sheet. I lined the tortillas up and sprinkled them with tomatoes and cheese.
I baked them at 425 for 12 minutes. I gotta tell you, the aroma was amazing.
I ended up with this:
And it was so good. I made three, and was able to finish them, but only just. And I’m more than happy that I remembered them cuz in the future when I make these again, I’m going to make them so much more substantial. I’m already thinking about adding salsa fresca and refried beans. I want to add some season beef or chicken. Maybe turn it into a giant single nacho? Throw some sour cream and guacamole on top?
Mound the ingredients on it like a real pizza. The Mexican Pizza I heard about years ago. I’m really looking forward to experimenting with this and having a good time.
If you decided to play around with it, let me know what you come up with.
Okay, I’ve been away longer than I intended due to a few major issues going on. First, you all heard about the major blizzard that hit our area a week and a half ago. It dumped two feet of snow in our area and it took an entire day to dig us out. The repercussions from the storm though were further ranging. I had to drive home at the beginning of the blizzard when there was already 8 inches on the roads, and wind gusts up to 40 mph. I was giving a coworker and friend a ride home since he lived around the corner from me and his car wouldn’t handle the snow. It took us over an hour to go 12 miles. When I got home, I couldn’t even get up the twenty foot driveway and had to park in the yard to make sure I was out of the way of the snow plows. That wasn’t a real worry though since they didn’t show up for two days. But I will say I was shaking by the time I got home. We had near white-out conditions during the drive. However, the bridge had been treated and was actually the best part of the drive home.
The storm started on Friday evening and ended on Sunday morning. We were boxed in so we stayed put. Some people in the neighborhood tried to get out but ended up having to abandon their cars on sidewalks and other people’s yards. I’ve lived through many snow storms here in the DC area since 1987, but this was the scariest one I can remember. Oddly, we kept power through the whole thing so we just snuggled into the couch, ate popcorn, and watched movies.
The next thing that kept me away from the blog has been scheduling at work. Partly due to the storm, partly due to illness, and partly due to poor scheduling overall, I got called in every day off I’ve had over the past two weeks. (The snow storm were the only days off I got.) They were awkward hours, too. Usually in the middle of the day, or late at night, which are two of my prime writing times. It was nice because I picked up the extra hours to make up for the snow days, but I wasn’t able to get anything done on the blog like I wanted to.
Because, when I had writing time, I was working on the blog book! And I can now say that I am done with the writing portion. Final edits are completed. I’ve started work on the cover design and technical work on the account.
For those who don’t know, one of my goals in starting this blog was to collect enough stories and recipes to compile into a book. The whole thing was the brainchild of Partner/Spouse who one evening observed that most of the funny stories I’d been telling him centered around food. He suggested that I write the stories and put the recipes at the end of the story. I started the blog in part to write the stories and the recipes and to experiment with writing styles.
About six months ago, I started compiling the stories and recipes into a master file in Word. I made the choice to self-publish in Kindle Direct Publishing and there was a lot of work to get through. I had the help of some devoted readers and friends who read through the stories and editing.
Guess what? I’m finally one step away from uploading the master file to KDP. I need to take one more look at the file to be certain that all the stories and recipes follow the same formatting, etc. I’ve already started working on the cover design. If all goes as planned (and I’m flying blind here since I’ve never done this before) I will be able to publish the book before the end of February. Once the master file is uploaded, I still have some technical account issues to set up and iron out, but I’m closer now than I’ve ever been.
It’s scary and exciting at the same time.
Okay, so I’m going to close with a recipe for a throw-together meal we had the other day. It was Sunday. I was going to work late so I had all afternoon to plan and cook. I had some chicken thighs but didn’t have a plan for anything else. But I wanted healthy and good. Here’s what I came up with.
I tossed the chicken thighs in one tablespoon of olive oil. You don’t need a lot for this. I set the oven for 350. Then I spread the chicken on a rimmed baking sheet (you don’t want the oil leaking out into your oven, believe me.) I sprinkled the chicken with some kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder. Into the oven they went, and I started water boiling for some pasta. I used fettucine. I set another pan on the stove to make bacon bits (mmm, bacon!). While the bacon was crisping and the water was heating, I grated some cheese and set it aside, and cut some green onion stalks very thinly. When the bacon was done, I took them out of the pan and drained off all the fat, leaving the little bits on the bottom and sides. I left the burner on lowest setting so the pan would be ready for the pasta.
My original plan for the pasta was to heat up a can of tomatoes in the bacon pan with a dash of pear balsamic vinegar and toss the pasta in that and add the bacon bits when done. But I decided I was in the mood for something a little lighter. I looked around and came up with:
Pasta tossed in Caesar Balsamic Pear dressing with cut green grapes, bacon bits, and sunflower seeds sprinkled with cheese.
It was easy. I had a bottle of Caesar dressing with one serving left in it so I added a tablespoon of the pear balsamic vinegar and shook it all up. When the pasta was done, I used tongs to put it directly from the pot into the bacon pan. The heat of the cooked pasta and the little bit of pasta water on the fettucine deglazed the pan so the wonderful bacon flavor got all over the pasta. I poured the dressing over pasta and tossed it to mix thoroughly. Then I added not quite a quarter cup of pasta water to it which turned the dressing into a nice sauce. Then I added 2/3 of the cut grapes (I cut them in half lengthways) and the bacon and tossed to mix. I turned off the heat counting on the residual heat from the pan and the burner to keep it warm. I pulled the chicken out of the oven when it was ready and put it on plates. I put the pasta on the plates and divided the rest of the grapes between the two plates and sprinkled cheese over the pasta.
Good manners is supposed to prevent the cook from saying “Yum!” but “Yum!” It was so good. Partner/Spouse suggested cutting the chicken into bite-sized pieces next time and tossing into the pasta.
For no other reason than we had it in the freezer and needed to use it, we made a great big bone in spiral cut ham this weekend. It was not the classic Honeybaked ham; it was home cooked with a homemade glaze.
Whenever I think about ham glazes, I think about the “standard” glaze used since the middle 1900s. It consisted of pineapple juice and brown sugar mostly and was basted onto the ham at regular intervals to impart a sweet and fruity flavor to counterbalance the saltiness of the ham itself. There was a great Simpson’s bit where Marge is planning a dinner party where she’s making a glazed ham and decides she has time for one more baste on the ham. She opens the oven and the ham is so hot, and there’s so much juice and sugar on the ham, the whole thing is glowing like a nuclear reactor.
Growing up, my mom made glazed ham fairly regularly, always a huge piece of meat with the bone in the center. She did the same thing with it every time. She cross hatched the top and stuck whole cloves in the intersections of the cuts. She placed pineapple rings in a regular pattern over the top. Then she made a glaze out of the pineapple juice and brown sugar. Sometimes she would add a spoonful of prepared mustard to give it a kick. The glaze would crust up and brown. The fruit would char and get crispy. The cloves just sat there. You didn’t want to accidentally eat one of those suckers. Nasty critters, they were.
That’s the same glaze everyone I knew made. There were slight variations but for the most part it was just pineapple juice and brown sugar.
When I moved to the metro DC area, I “discovered” another glazed ham called a Honeybaked Ham. There were specialty stores for this delicacy. It was spiral cut on the bone so slicing it was easy. They baked the ham in a honey sauce, then just before packaging, they would put sugar on the top and torch it creating a caramelized crust. People were addicted to that crust.
Once I realized there were other ham glazes, I started experimenting with my own creations. One of my favorites was to mix mustard and honey in a small amount of hot water and spread that over the ham about half way through the cooking process. I’ve also used straight barbeque sauce right out of the bottle. I’ve never put cloves on the ham. I never liked the flavor they impart. And they can get in the way, and destroy your tongue if you happen to bite one.
Once Partner/Spouse and got together and compared notes on our cooking methods, etc., we agreed we hated the standard glazes for most meats and embarked on a campaign to learn new glazes, and new techniques. We tried some that were less than successful, but mostly we found glazes that were good, just nothing really terrific.
Then he found one that turned the corner for us.
It was a root beer glaze that needed to simmer for a couple of hours to blend the flavors and to reduce to a thick, sticky glaze that would adhere to the ham, or whatever other meat we were cooking.
You put no more than a quarter cup of brown sugar in a pan with a couple of tablespoons of water and let the sugar dissolve. Then you add a tablespoon of either Worcestershire sauce or soy sauce, plus a couple of teaspoons of vinegar, and a pinch of pepper flakes. Then you add an entire can of root beer. Don’t use diet because you want the sugar to caramelize. You can add some onion powder if you want. We did. Put it on a very low heat and allow to simmer for at least a couple of hours. You want to gently steam the water and bubbles out of the glaze. Don’t stir unless you think you need to keep it from burning.
You can do all this while the ham is cooking. Once the ham is about 3/4 of the way done, spoon one quarter of the glaze over the ham. About fifteen or twenty minutes later, baste again. Keep doing this until the glaze is done and the ham has a deep rich brown color. Finish the ham, slice, and eat.
This weekend, though, we found we didn’t have any root beer. The only soda in the house was Pepsi. Since we weren’t going to use the recipe we knew, he decided to experiment. We ended up with Pepsi, strong Irish mustard, lingonberry jam, and a pinch of pepper flakes.
Boy, did THAT taste good on the ham!
We also had mashed potatoes with celery root, and sautéed green beans and asparagus with onions and almonds.
No reason for a big dinner except we had the stuff on hand.