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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Golden Crusted Pork Loin

Well, I guess I've been a little MIA lately, which is a little funny since all I've been doing is a lot of sitting around waiting for this baby to decide to come into the world. Granted, that means I haven't been doing a huge amount of experimental cooking since my feet balloon up to gargantuan proportions when I'm on them too long these days. I've been mostly sticking with the quick and easy "sure-things" when we aren't doing take-out or delivery. My due date has come and gone and we're just waiting for the little guy to decide to make an appearance. I'm not sure if its been a "nesting" thing or what, but the last two days, I've been very energetic and productive. Maybe that's a good sign? Please be a good sign. I'm ready to have my body back!

Last night, I had some pork tenderloin thawed out and was looking for a quick and tasty way to prepare it. I often butterfly my tenderloins and stuff them, but I just couldn't get up the gumption for that. My husband was dreaming of a pork tenderloin sandwich, but I was also wanting to forego any pounding and frying. I thought a nice crunchy crust might be found another way. Perusing through the pantry, I found what I was looking for... Panko (the perfect breading standby) and French fried onions (you know, the ones you put on top of green bean casserole). At that point I was on my way to a fabulously flavorful and easy dinner.

The breading goes on easy and stays on well through the cooking process. It comes out golden and crispy and very flavorful. I highly recommend it!

Golden Crusted Pork Loin
Yield: serves 4-6

1 package pork tenderloin (usually contains two loins)
2-4 TBS all purpose flour
2 eggs
1 cup French fried onions
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 TBS dried parsley
1/4 tsp salt
spray cooking oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil. If the loin looks excessively marbled, consider using a roasting rack to keep the loins from sitting in the excess fat as it cooks. Remove the loins from their packaging, rinse and pat dry. Prepare the egg wash by cracking the two eggs into a large, shallow container and beat gently. Then prepare the crunchy coating. In a food processor, pulse the French fried onions until they are similar in texture to the Panko. Mix the fried onions, Panko, Parmesan, parsley, and salt together on a shallow dish or tray.

Sprinkle the loins with the flour until all surfaces are lightly covered. Gently tap off any excess. Then dip each loin into the egg wash and roll around in the crunchy coating until they are evenly coated. Place on the baking sheet. Spray lightly with cooking oil spray. Place in the top third of the preheated oven and roast until a thermometer placed in the thickest part of the loin reads 150F. Remove from the oven and let rest for five minutes before slicing and serving.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Wine Steamed Mussels

I find it amazing how sometimes the dishes with the most flavor are the quickest to prepare. Take this dish, for instance. In less than ten minutes, you end up with a super flavorful broth and perfectly tender mussels. I had never prepared mussels before last night. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy and delicious they were to prepare.

They're especially easy if you purchase fresh cultured blue mussels. These mussels are "farmed" up in Canada off Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, but really they're not so much farmed as managed. The mussels grow in waters in which they are native, they are simply "encouraged" to grow in specific places. They eat their natural food (i.e. the "farmer" does not feed them in any way). They are then allowed to grow naturally. Lastly, they are harvested year round to end up perfectly fresh at your supermarket's fish counter. Why are these cultured mussels easier to cook with? Because they've already cleaned them for you! No need to soak or remove those pesky beards. I can appreciate that!

Being a mussel buying newbie yesterday was, I'll admit, a bit embarrassing. I asked for three pounds of mussels; it is recommended that you plan for a pound per person. Since we're big eaters, I figured I'd get an extra pound. They were surprisingly cheap, even at Whole Foods. I got them on sale for $1.99 a pound here in the D.C. area, but even their regular price is less than $4.00 per pound. So the fish monger weighed them out for me into a plastic bag, placed the price tag on it, and proceeded to attempt to hand me the bag... with it hanging open. I looked at him like he was crazy and asked, "Are you really trying to hand me this bag of messy shellfish without any further packaging?" He rolled his eyes (very politely, I might add) and told me that they needed to breathe and that if I closed the packaging up, I'd kill them. Oh. Duh. Okay.

I did manage to get the little buggers home without killing or spilling them everywhere. When it came time to prepare dinner, I simply rinsed them off and picked through them to be sure there weren't any damaged or dead ones. If you come across a mussel with a broken shell or one who is open and won't close with a little tap, discard it. Let the mussels hang out while you prepare the broth: garlic, onion, tomato, white wine, and water is all that's in there, but once the mussels add their juices and it all cooks together a bit? Divine!!

Steam the mussels over medium-high heat for 5-10 minutes, until the vast majority of them open. The amount of time it will take to cook them depends on the heat, obviously, but also how many mussels you've got in the pot. Although I've read conflicting reports, the prevailing wisdom states that you should also discard any mussels that don't open during the cooking process. It seemed best to me to be safe rather than sorry, so I followed that suggestion. Be careful not to overcook the mussels or they can become rubbery and unappealing. They're ready when they've opened so keep and eye on them. Once the mussels are done steaming, stir the pot and ladle them up. Be sure to serve them with some rustic bread to sop up those perfect juices!

Wine Steamed Mussels
Yield: 3 servings

2 TBS butter
1 TBS minced garlic
1/2 cup diced onion
1/4 cup diced tomato
1/2 cup white wine (such as Pinot Grigio)
1/2 cup water
3 pounds of mussels, cleaned and debearded
salt and pepper to taste

In a large Dutch oven or stock pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and onion and saute until they are slightly softened. Add the tomato, wine, and water and bring to a boil. Add the mussels and cover the pot. Let steam for 5-10 minutes, until most of the mussels have opened. It is recommended that you discard the mussels that do not open during the cooking process. Remove from the heat and give the pot a stir. Taste the broth and add salt and pepper to taste. Be cautious about salting the broth before cooking and tasting as the mussels give off a salty brine when cooking. Serve immediately with crust bread for dipping.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Farro Love

Curiosity about new foods is a key aspect of how I operate in the kitchen. Sometimes it takes a bit longer to get around to trying something than I might like to admit, but I'll get there eventually. Sometimes I get a little prompt by being presented a food while eating out elsewhere, and that's usually never a bad thing. Take this grain, for instance. I first had it about three months ago at a catered event and immediately fell in love. What a wonderfully flavorful, easy to cook, chewy, tasty delight!

Farro is a grain within the wheat family, but is botanically different enough that some people who are allergic to the modern wheat variety found most commonly in the grocery can tolerate farro. Farro is also known as emmer wheat, and while it appears to have been cultivated in antiquity (i.e. thousands of years ago), its modern resurgence is fairly recent (as in the early 1900s). Most farro available for purchase today in the United States is grown in Italy.

While farro berries look very much like wheat berries, they cook very differently because most farro you'll find has been pearled (had the outer husk and much of the bran removed). Removing this bran casing allows the grain to cook much more quickly. You can visually judge how much of the bran has been removed by looking at the color of the grain; the more bran that has been removed, the lighter in color the grain will be.

So, how do you cook farro? Easily! I usually cook about one cup of the grain at a time. This will leave you with between 2 and 2 1/2 cups of cooked farro. You can round out the taste of the farro by dry toasting the grain in the pot first before adding the water. Simply turn the heat to medium, add the grain, and stir periodically until the grain gives off a nice toasty aroma. At that point, add water to cover, about 2 cups if you are cooking 1 cup of farro. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. I have had equal success with cooking my farro covered or uncovered. Simmer until the grain is tender, about 30 minutes. It will still be chewy, but pleasantly so. Drain off any excess water and let sit for a few minutes to absorb any remaining moisture after draining.

You can then use the farro in any number of ways. I like it very much as is and there are plenty of recipes for farro salads that are really excellent. My favorite way to serve it, however, is as a side dish with a slight flavor boost. After draining, I add salt and pepper to taste. I then drizzle a tiny bit of extra virgin olive oil and a tiny drizzle of fresh squeezed orange juice into the grain and stir. Be cautious not to overdo it with the oil and juice; you want to highlight the natural flavor of the grain, not mask it. Stir and serve! Farro is another great way to include more whole grains into your diet!

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