Pork Tenderloin Tonight, Cuban Sandwiches Tomorrow

Pork Tenderloin with Sage-Lemon Vinaigrette Sauce

Pork tenderloin is one of my favorite weekday meal staples because it’s super easy to cook, as lean as white meat chicken and versatile.  I usually broil it, but on warm nights, it does great on the grill too. Pork tenderloins are really easy to cook, but they can serve a lot of people – so this is a great “company is coming” dinner.  Perfect for the holiday season!  (Even better: it’s really easy.)    I wanted to do something to spruce it up a little bit and so I started looking up some various sauces that I could add.  I came across this one, which was adapted from Bobby Flay’s Grilling for Life cookbook. 

I didn’t follow the recipe to a T (surprise, surprise) but I followed the idea of the recipe pretty closely.  I didn’t have any shallots so I skipped that, and I only had lemon juice from the jar so there was no zest either.  But, despite those missing elements and my propensity to pour without measuring, the sauce was DELICOIUS!  It added just the right element of fancy to our broiled tenderloin.

This would be a meal you could easily whip up for dinner guests, and the sauce adds just the extra degree of “oh la la” without too much extra effort.  I paired our pork tenderloin with local green beans sautéed in olive oil,  brown rice simmered in low-sodium chicken broth and green salads.  The whole thing took about fifteen minutes to pull together.  Who says eating healthy has to be hard work? 

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The next day, with our leftover pork, I made one of my all-time FAVORITE sandwiches: Cuban Sandwiches.  My mom made these a few times when i was growing up, and I was always so fascinated by how she smashed together the sandwiches before cooking them.  And the taste!  I love the combination of the sweet ham with the salty pickles.  The best one I ever had was in a little restaurant on the Baltimore waterfront called Little Havana.  I know mine wouldn’t quite compare, but making them at home is easy and a great way to use pork leftovers.

I thinly sliced the leftover pork and also used thinly sliced deli ham.  I layered both of those on a crusty sourdough bread slathered with mustard.  On top of the meats went a slice of Swiss cheese and 2 pickles.  (The pickles are the key elements – don’t skip these!!)  I wrapped the sandwiches in foil, and put them on a cookie sheet with a cast iron skillet on top to squish.  When it was time to cook them, I placed them on my grill pan with the iron skillet on top to keep them smushed. 

THEY were delicious.  I do have to confess to you thought that not every adventure in my kitchen is a succesful one.  My plan was to serve the Cuban sandwiches along with a Black Bean Soup.  I saw a recipe in Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill cookbook that looked really good and was super excited.  I love black beans, I love soup and the recipe looked pretty straightforward. 

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It was fairly labor intensive, starting with soaking the dry beans to roasting the jalapeno peppers. 

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It also called for cooking with wine.  I love cooking with wine.  Sometimes, I even add it to the recipe.

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In the stockpot, garlic and olive oil simmer together happily before onions and carrots join the fun.  Then the wine gets added in, the chicken stock gets added and the black beans go in and bubble away for about 90 minutes. 

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Well, I don’t even know if I’ll go into all the details… because the end result was so disappointing.  Truth be told, I’m sure it’s something I did… Bobby Flay seems to know what he’s doing in the kitchen!  My only guess is that even though the recipe said simmer for 60-90 minutes, that I should have let it go longer.  Bobby’s soup looked creamy and thick, mine was … not.  The texture was weird, and it was a bit watery.  Although I paired the soup with the Cuban sandwiches, there were no clean bowls in this house. 

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Afterwards, I ended up pureeing the soup and ate it this way.  (If anyone wants some pureed black bean soup… please come visit my lovely, stocked freezer.)

S othis is the truth about kitchen experiments: you win some, you lose some.  The pork tenderloin sauce experiment was quite successful, the black bean soup… not so much.  Oh well!

Feel free to leave me any thoughts about how I might redeem the black bean soup recipe should I try it again.  (Bobby, are you out there?  Help!!)

Parmesan Garlic Lamb Chops

I don’t know about you but I tend to eat a lot of chicken and fish, and sometimes you just need to change things up.  I had never cooked lamb before, but after seeing it in a few recipes I  made up my mind to try it.  I did some homework first, and found that loin, shank and leg cuts are comparable to beef and pork with regards to calories and saturated fat.  (About 150 calories per a 3 oz serving, and 2-3 g of sat fat.)  And, as it turns out, lamb isn’t as marbled as beef so it’s easier to trim the fat away before cooking.  Well!  This all seemed quite promising, so I rolled up my sleeves and got cooking.

The recipe I started with called for a rack of lamb, which I was all about until I got to the butcher’s counter.  WELL THEN.   If you’ve bought one, you know what I discovered.  I quickly switched my plan to loin chops, and the end result seemed just fine.   Well, more than just fine.  It was stinkin’ delicious, ya’ll.

I seasoned the chops with some salt and pepper, then browned them in a pan with 2 T of olive oil (for about a pound of meat.)  They browned for about 4 minutes on each side, and then switched over to a plate to await their coating.

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I mixed together 1/4 cup of bread crumbs and 1T of grated pecorino romano.  (This is what I had on hand; most of the recipes called for parmesan.)  I coated them with a dollop of Dijon mustard (officially, prob a tsp each side of each loin… but it’s mustard, mkay?) and then another tsp of minced garlic on each side.  After they got their wet bath from the mustard/garlic, I patted on the bread crumbs/parmesan mixture.  A spritz from the olive oil mister and into the oven at 450 F they went! 

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They cooked for 15 minutes, while I prepared the sides. 

To go along with our chops, I made these roasted veggies from Trader Joe’s.  They are quite possibly the best frozen vegetables I’ve ever encountered.  (Unfortunately, to obtain them I have to drive a mere 160 miles down to Charlotte and back.)

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I also threw a handful of frozen spinach into the pan where I had browned the meat, with another tablespoon of olive oil.  I was thinking browned meat fat + spinach would = deliciousness.  I was wrong.  If anyone has a good suggestion for cooking spinach, please please let me know!  This was terrible. 

BUT, spinach disaster aside, the rest of dinner was fantastic.  The loin chops had just the right amount of garlic and crunchy coating without being overpowering, and the meat was super tender.  While I don’t think lamb will show up in my regular rotation, this is definitely a keeper and would make a great dish for a special occasion.  Minus, of course, the spinach.  Sorry, Popeye.

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Recipe* 

(I didn’t actually use one, I just looked at three or four and got the gist of them and went from there.  This is just one example and comes from Emeril, 2003.)

Ingredients

  • 1 rack of lamb, trimmed (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan

Directions

Season rack of lamb well on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat a medium skillet over high heat and, when hot, add the oil. When the oil is almost smoking, add the rack of lamb and brown well on all sides, about 6 minutes. Transfer the lamb to a plate and set aside to cool slightly before proceeding.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Using the back of a spoon, spread the mustard evenly over all sides of the lamb. Spread the minced garlic over the lamb in the same manner.

In a small mixing bowl combine the breadcrumbs and grated cheese and toss to thoroughly combine. Using your hands or a spoon, spread the breadcrumb mixture evenly all over the lamb, pressing so that the crumbs adhere to the meat.

Place the rack of lamb on a baking sheet and bake for 12 to 15 minutes for medium-rare. Allow lamb to sit for 5 to 10 minutes before carving into chops to serve.

Shrimp + Grits, Ya’ll

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Oh my gosh, ya’ll.  This one was on the BEST meals I have ever made.  And the best part was, it was pretty much on accident.  In the busyness of the holiday weekend, I didn’t do any meal planning.  This entire week I’ve been throwing together meals from our freezer, eeking out every last bit of creativity I have.  (I don’t recommend this as a regular strategy.) Yesterday I discovered a few packs of grits in our pantry, and with a bag of frozen shrimp, a bag of frozen corn and some goat cheese…. DINNER!

It was incredible.

To make: make grits per package directions and add in 1-2 oz goat cheese per person.  (I used about 4 oz for the 2 of us, and it definitely give it enough flavor.)  Add in the frozen corn while it’s cooking.

I cooked the shrimp with about 1/4 cup of light beer (3 “glugs” is literally how I measure) and salt, pepper and chili flakes.  Right before they’re ready to serve, I added another 1/4 cup (3 more glugs) of barbeque sauce.  The one I used is Sweet Baby Ray’s.

That’s it – it’s literally just heat and eat.  And prepare to sit back and receive the compliments!

(Not bad for a New Yorker, right?)

Yes that’s right, MORE roasted veggies…

As soon as it gets somewhat cold outside, I just start getting this compulsive urge to roast every single vegetable I come across.  I’d never thought of roasting onions as a stand-alone (just mixed in with some other root veggies), but there was a recipe in October’s issue of Everyday Food that made them look so scrump I couldn’t resist.  I was cooking steaks and homemade potato fries to celebrate the end of internal medicine month for Matt, and I thought roasted onions would be a great complement.

Celebratory dinner menu: spice-rubbed sirloin steaks, homemade tater fries, roasted onions, crusty bread.

I started with 2 6 oz spuds and used my brand stinkin’ new KitchenAid multi slicer to make the tater slices.  So much easier than doing them by hand!  I never got them evenly sliced, so I was always having a few burnt or a few mushy ones on the cooking sheet.  (Thank you, Mom!  We found this lovely device on sale at HomeGoods and my mom was kind enough to no-reason gift it to me.)

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Once sliced, I throw the taters in a ziploc baggy with about 2 tsp of olive oil and give ‘em a really vigorous shake.  Then I pour ‘em on a cookie sheet and sprinkle them with either kosher salt or a little bit of seasoning salt, depending on what kind of mood we’re in.  (Tonight was a seasoning salt kind of night.)

 

Those go in the oven at 450 for 15-ish minutes.  I really don’t know exactly how long they take, I am frequently opening up the oven to test them.  I apologize for my lack of exactness.

On to the onions!

Start with a gorgeous red onion.

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Chop, chop, chop.  Into wedges.  Throw in a bowl and add in some peeled garlic cloves.  Drizzle one tablespoon of olive oil over everything and then sprinkle liberally with rosemary.

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Before you put it all in the oven, lean in a get a big sniff.  Onions, garlic and rosemary OH MY!  Your house is going to start smell delicioso in about 2 minutes.  These also go in your 450 oven (convienent!) and they’ll take 15 minutes to roast.  If you remember, sneak over and give ‘em a flip about half way through.  I was busy manning the grill and forget to do this – turned out fine.

When they’re done, you MUST must must drizzle them with a little bit of white wine vinegar.  This was the yummy clincher.  The combination of the savory oil and the hint of vinegar worked really well.

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Serve and eat!

Goat Cheese Salad

As I’ve confessed, I like to rip off restaurant favorites and try to healthy them up a bit. One of my favorite meals here in town is a salad with fried goat cheese patties in it. Two places here serve it: 6th & Vine in downtown Winston and Riverburch Lodge. It’s a toss-up as to which one I like better. 6th and Vine might win solely because I usually eat it on their gorgeous back porch, and for better or worse, ambience is half my taste buds!

Anyways, I figured “Fried” + “Cheese” were probably two things I shouldn’t go too crazy with BUT on the other hand, goat cheese is one of the lowest in calories and fats. A few months ago, my Everyday Food magazine featured a recipe on how to make them using panko and it was way easier than I imagined.

I went to work and was so delighted with the results I had to share it. The key is to start with REALLY cold goat cheese, so it slices into nice disks. Then, you just drop each disc into a little bit of egg WHITE. After the egg white bath, they flip over to a bath of either panko crumbs or grind up a slice of WHOLE WHEAT bread.

After that they can go into a pan with just some spray olive oil and abt 1 tsp of oil oil per little disc. They don’t take long to crisp up before you need to flip them. The stats will depend on how much olive oil you use, and how many discs you put on your salad per person. Here’s a quick way to tally it all up.

I put three goat cheese discs on a salad with blueberries, a few chopped almonds, 1 T of olive oil and fresh ground pepper. It was words-fail-me delicious.

Goat Cheese Salad

Goat Cheese Salad

Meal Plan Follow Up: Pork with Peanut Sauce & Chicken Marsala

This was Monday’s recipe in my meal plan for the week, and I gotta tell ya’ll, it is one of my faves.

Pork with Peanut Sauce

Pork with Peanut Sauce

Unfortunately, I rarely follow a recipe exactly, so I forgot to tell you about a few tweaks I made. If you haven’t tried it yet, here’s a few pointers.
– If you bought pork tenderloin, broil it. It takes about ~8-10 minutes on each side, and it’ll have this delicious, crispy outside and perfectly tender inside. Plus, it’s way faster than the grill / oven.

Broiled Pork Tenderloin

Broiled Pork Tenderloin

– I use about half the peanut butter called for in the sauce, and gently bump up the soy sauce / rice vinegar to taste. I’ve made this the original way, and it’s a little too peanut butter-y of a texture and taste. I like it to be more runny, with just a hint of the PB taste. This is also key for cutting some of the calories. I forgot I had actually made this and posted it about 2 months ago, and you can see here the thicker texture as well as thinner pork chops. This week’s was much better… what can I say, my cooking is a work in progress!

Tuesday I made the Chicken Marsala. I listed the recipe here. Again, tweaks. (I’d be a terrible chemist and/or engineer.)

Chicken Marsala

Chicken Marsala

I love the sauce on this… it tastes even better the second day when the chicken has hung out in that sauce and just soaked it all up. This recipe originally came from WW “Simply the Best” cookbook, and they list the stats at 390, including the brown rice (which I did not list on the recipe). Sure beats Olive Garden’s 770 calorie version!

After I made it, I decided the grapes really didn’t add much. I think I would leave them out in the future, and put mushrooms back in. What’s chicken marsala without mushrooms?

I usually note in my cookbooks when I made a dish, what the reactions were, and any changes I’ve made. The last time I made this dish was actually November 26th, 2006. This is when I first start taking pictures of my food. I think I’ve come a long way in photography, as well as cooking. Here’s the original picture from nearly 3 years ago. I have no idea what setting I was using that made the dish look so…gray.

Original Chicken Marsala, Early Photography Days

Original Chicken Marsala, Early Photography Days

Tonight, Chef Salad is still on the menu and I’m looking forward to a lighter dinner. Okay, sort of light, this salad does involve bacon and cheese. Everything in moderation, right?

Simple Suppers: Week of September 14th

You ready to eat? Me too. Eliminate the “what’s for dinner” dilemma with some simple meal planning. Or, cheat and use mine.

Diner beware, this meal plan was based on what was on sale at my Harris Teeter (North Carolina) and what was in my freezer. I also rely on a lot of pantry staples that I keep on hand. I’ll include links to all the recipes, so double check to make sure you have all the ingredients you’ll need.

Pantry Staples: Spices, Vinegars, Soy Sauce

Pantry Staples: Spices, Vinegars, Soy Sauce

I really love when a lot of my recipes overlap on an ingredient or two. This week’s overlap, for some reason, seemed to be scallions and sour cream. Which is delightful, since both those objectives almost always seem to turn into science experiments in my fridge!

Get Hungry! I’ll give you the quick run-down, then details to follow.

Mon: Pork Tenderloin with peanut sauce, sauteed broccoli and a green salad
Tues: Chicken Marsala with whole wheat linguine, asparagus
Wed: Chef’s Salad
Thurs: Black Bean Tostadas with Spicy Chicken Sausage

Details here:

Monday: Pork tenderloin (half-price @ Teeter), with peanut sauce, sauteed broccoli and a green salad. I’ll be making the sauce and broccoli from this recipe, but subbing pork instead. You can, of course, stick with the flank steak si vous plait.

Peanut Sauce

Peanut Sauce

Tuesday: Chicken Marsala with roasted asparagus (on sale @ Teeter). This recipe originated from the Weight Watcher’s Simply the Best cookbook, and it’s wonderful. And EASY. (Yay easy.) You can eat it solo, or serve it over brown rice or whole wheat linguine. Matt will be having it over linguine, because we have some in the pantry. I’ll be eating it solo, because we don’t have that much in the pantry. To roast the asparagus, after you snap off the ends and wash them, throw in a ziploc baggie with 1 T of Olive Oil. Shake, shake, shake, and lay out on cookie sheet. Add a pinch of kosher salt, and roast in the oven at 400 for 10-ish minutes.

Wednesday: Chef’s Salad. I like this one because it’s a little bit decadent with the bacon (Oscar Meyer – on sale @ Teeter) but it uses a really light homemade dressing. I’ll actually sub half of the sour cream it calls for and put in Stonyfield Plain Lowfat yogurt. (Also on sale at Teeter. I know, isn’t this amazing???) You can order the meat from the deli and just ask them to slice it very thick, 1 inch, and chop it into pieces yourself.)

My Favorite Swap Ingredient

My Favorite Swap Ingredient

Thursday: Black Bean Tostada with Spicy Chicken Sausage. Brace yourself, I’ve got another Everyday Food recipe. (That’s my #1 source of recipes, so expect many to come from there.) I’ll use this recipe, and I’ll add in al fresco au natural chicken sausage to my hubby’s, so his isn’t a vegetarian option. For the chicken sausage, just tear open the casing, and brown in a nonstick skillet and mix in with the black beans. The spicy jalapeno one is the best for this.

By Friday, we like to kick our feet up and let someone else do the cooking. No, unfortunately, not our personal chef, just restaurant eating. Or, one of our willing friends or neighbors. So, I rarely plan through Friday. Hope this is enough to get you started on meal planning, using your pantry staples and grocery store sales. Get cooking!

*If you want to calculate the calorie counts for any of these meals, just plug your ingredients and servings into this here website and let them do their calculating magic.

Salmon & Simple Sauce

My husband voted this “best dinner in our new house”… so you’re receiving this recipe with very high marks from the dinner critic! (We’ve been in our new house since May, so that’s about 4 months of dinners!)

If you’re nervous about cooking fish, I understand. It’s taken me almost 4 years of cooking to really feel comfortable with recognizing when it’s done, and it turns out fish cooks a lot faster than I ever realized. But the health benefits and taste make it worthwhile, so start practicing! Harris Teeter had wild-caught Alaskan salmon sale last week, so I couldn’t resist these beautiful guys.

Salmon Fillets

Salmon Fillets

I seasoned the salmon with just a sprinkle of salt and pepper and then roasted it at 450 degrees (pre-heated oven) for about 10 minutes. You can tell it’s done when you stick the figure in, give it a slight twist and it starts to flake.
While the salmon is cooking, I whisked together 2 tablespoons of yellow mustard, 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard*, 2 tsp of brown sugar and a small chopped up green onion. When the salmon was done, I just poured the mixture over the top of it.
I served it with a green salad, as well as roasted squash and steamed green beans. The whole meal took about fifteen minutes from fridge to table. I’m not sure whether to be delighted or depressed that all these time-consuming recipes I’ve done in the past were beat out by this fifteen minute, five ingredient all-star. But I definitely know it will be a staple in the future.

Salmon with Simple Sauce

Salmon with Simple Sauce

If you’re not a fish eater, the sauce would be delicious poured over pork chops or turkey breast as well.

*I only had dijonnaise, which worked just fine and gave it a slightly creamier texture.

Restaurant Redo: Village Tavern Potato Chips

On our first date, Matt took me to Village Tavern, a favorite restaurant to many here in Winston-Salem. VT became our favorite date night place, and we’ve been there for every important celebration meal since we lived in Winston. After Matt proposed to me in a nearby garden, we walked over to Village Tavern where I found both of our families waiting there as a surprise to celebrate with us. A few weeks ago when we went to VT we were asked to fill out a survey of our experience. One of the questions was “How many times have you visited the Tavern?” We did some quick math and figured out that after 9 years in Winston, we had probably been close to fifty times.

All that is to introduce my at-home VT chips. VT is known for their delicious homemade potato chips – they are so perfectly sliced, and there always seems to be a mixture of some soft chips and some crispy chips. We don’t get the chips every time, as we know they’re not exactly the healthiest choice but they are one of our favorite treats.

So I decided to see if I could master the VT chips at home, and try to health-ify them a little bit. I use 4 oz of potatoes per person (FYI, each 1 oz of raw potato is abt 20 cals) and slice them reeeeeally thin. Laid them out on a cookie sheet, sprayed them down with Pam Olive Oil and baked at 450 degrees for about 10 minutes. A quick sprinkle of Kosher salt and paprika and onion powder and they were done. SO. GOOD.

VT Chips

VT Chips

Don’t worry, VT, we’ll still be back but I’ll definitely be making these chips at home! My next step is to purchase a mandolin so I can make the slices a little more even – that was the only challenge with cooking these because mine were slightly uneven, and some of the slices were still a little undercooked as other ones were getting crispy.

(As you can see, we really went for pretend restaurant at home. These chix soy patties from Morningstar make me feel just like we’re eating another Southern favorite, Chik-Fil-A patties!)

Fave Product: Morningstar Chix Patties

Fave Product: Morningstar Chix Patties

Fake Out

Fake Out

Farmer’s Market Sandwich

Every summer I start to get a craving for my favorite sandwich: roasted zucchini and summer squash with basil and cheese. When I was in high school, working in a little coffee shop-cafe on the Erie Canal, this was my all time favorite sandwich. Our version was heavy on the pesto and mozzarella. My version preserves the delicious fragrant taste of basil with the savory roasted veggies for a much healthier, but just as delicious summer time treat. Enjoy!