Hey, Y’all! I’m going to bite my tongue while I say this, but I think the warm weather is here to stay. I could not be more pleased. Writing on my porch, listening to birds sing and watching squirrels compete in ever-changing obstacle course challenges is definitely on my list of favorite ways to spend a day. I am feeling empowered now, since I have officially written 100 blog posts- a very exciting milestone for me. I wasn’t really sure where this blog would go when I began, or if anyone would read it. But I knew I needed an outlet to share the dynamic happenings of our food adventures and culinary creations.
I have learned volumes about fresh, local, seasonal food along the way- and my confidence in the kitchen has certainly grown. My go-to ingredients list has widened considerably, thanks to knowledgeable farmers and community-focused markets. But the experimental nature of our menu planning and recipe ideas remains the same as it was in the very beginning: driven by food that is beautiful, available locally (if at all possible), and intriguing to Adam and I at the moment. I am thankful that all these posts later, I am staying true to myself, playing with my food, telling you about it.
Today’s meal is no exception. I’ve cooked each of the components of this dinner at one time or another, but never all together and just like this. I hope you’ll enjoy – and maybe be inspired. As always, please feel free to adapt any method of cooking or particular idea to your own whimsy. Thanks so much for reading…
If you’re anything like me, every now again, you spot a piece of meat in your freezer that has been neglected for far too long. It’s a perfectly good cut of pork or beef that somehow has gotten passed over during menu planning several weeks running. And you realize- it’s time to use it or lose it. That was the case for us with this beautiful pork loin.
In our pork meeting, Adam and I discussed the possible cooking methods we could employ. Slow cooker? Mmm, just did that with a pot roast. Grill- nah, it was too chilly for that. Roasting pan in the oven? Well, our roasting pan just isn’t as thick and heavy as I’d like it to be. What we really needed in order to execute the vision that had begun to dance around in my head was a hard core Dutch Oven. The kind of pot that can be used on the stove top and transferred to the oven- complete with a lid, and plenty of room for large pieces of meat to be snuggled in with ample veggies.
This is a curse of mine…I get this idea in my head, and then I have to make it reality. But, how could we enact this plan on our tight budget?!?! We decided that we’d go on a hunt for our ingredients and our dream pot (so dorky), knowing full well that we may have to settle for nestling our pork loin into our regular roasting pan. Off to the Decatur Farmers Market we went.
At the market, there were some beautiful offerings.
white and red beets from Ivabell Acres,
a variety of delicious bbq sauce samples served with these yummy little corn muffins,
and tantalizing sweets from Little Red Hen Bakeshop.
They have actually been scouting out spaces to open a bakery here in Decatur, and they just signed a lease in the former Isabella’s storefront on College Ave. So, in a few months, you will be able to get your hands on their tasty treats
on a daily basis! Those blueberry scones are unreal, and I can’t wait to see what else they will have to offer in their own shop. Very cool.
When I spotted these carrots,
from Greg Brown’s Greenleaf Farms, I knew we were onto something. Then, we rounded the corner to Steve Miller’s Farm stand, and saw these babies.
Cabbage, you say? Nope. Those are the biggest brussel sprouts I have ever laid my eyes on. Steve informed me that the outside leaves work best when treated like baby collard greens. And the insides are just a super-sized version of the typical brussel sprout. There were even a few teeny weeny brussels tucked in toward the base of the sprout. Too fascinating for us to pass up.
So, a plan was coming together- slow roasted pork loin with brussel sprouts cooked two ways and carrots. I decided a carrot and parsnip puree would be a lovely way to go. All we needed were some veggies to build the base of our roast. And a pot. Maybe.
We walked over to the Cook’s Warehouse to price out the Dutch Ovens. Ahahahaha!! The Le Creuset collection is of the highest quality. But with a pricetag of over $200 for the small guy, it’s just out of our league. Those dreams were dashed real quick. We stopped by Target and saw a Dutch Oven made by Lodge- not quite the same as Le Creuset- but with a bottom line of $60, it seemed more feasible. The hunt continued at Home Goods and Marshalls, but to no avail.
We headed back toward home, shopping list in hand for the DeKalb Farmer’s Market, to grab parsnips and a few other items. We’d decided to build the base of our roast with leeks instead of the traditional yellow onion, and to pair them with apples. We still have access to lots of different apples from Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, and Washington.
We also a bought variety of peppers- Cubanelles, Hungarian, and Green Bells- since the Florida peppers have been totally delicious over the past few weeks. Thyme goes so nicely with apples and leeks, it seemed like a natural choice.
Last stop before we headed home was Kroger to pick up paper products, cleaning supplies, and other stuff not available at the market. Adam said to me, “Why don’t we just check out their cookware? You never know what they are going to have.” Low and behold, our Dutch Oven awaited us
amidst a host of random kitchen items in the aisle of our regular grocery store. In this vibrant shade of blue. And on sale- half off!!! It was $40 down from $80. Sold to a couple of very happy Prices. I love it when a plan comes together. And this one was panning out fabulously.
Back at the house, we were eager to get things rollin’ in the kitchen. Since a pork loin doesn’t have a ton of fat or connective tissue that would need an extended period of time to break down, it has a tendency to dry out quickly. How to avoid dry meat? Brining, my friends.
This time, we used carrot juice, apple juice, peppercorns, garlic, ginger, coriander seeds, mustard seeds, a few cloves, bay leaves, and salt and pepper. The juices would provide sweetness, so we didn’t need to add any sugar.
We tucked our pork loin in there and placed it in the fridge for a few hours to allow the brining magic to occur.
In the meantime, we cleaned our leeks.
I find this to be a tedious process, as you need to separate every little ring to remove the dirt that hides in there. And I fear I have a little bit of angst toward the leek. Only being able to use the white and light green parts always seems kinda wasteful to me, and there’s so little yield per stalk. We used six leeks in order to have enough onion to make a difference. On the upside, the sweet, buttery quality that a leek provides is quite special. And I do utilize the green parts in my chicken broth. In the end, it all works out.
Ranting aside, the preparation for this meal was pretty simple. Adam peeled the carrots, parsnips and garlic, and I diced up the peppers and apples. We chose both Pink Lady apples and Granny Smiths to impart sweet and tart flavors into the base of our dish.
In my mind, I envisioned our pork loin tied up neatly. Why? Maybe because it looks fancy. Maybe because I dreamed it would cook more evenly that way and keep its shape. Maybe because I have memories of my grandmother’s roast looking that way. Whatever the reason, I needed to do a bit of research to figure it out. We went online and googled “how to tie pork”, and this video was first in the queue. Pretty straight forward, I’d say. So, we pulled the meat of of the brine, patted it dry, brushing off any stray seeds, and Adam confidently forged ahead with the tying while I watched attentively. Hey- you gotta tap into your strengths, right? He has much better visual-spatial skills than I do- and I am not afraid to admit my shortcomings.
I believe his methodology was a little bit different from the guy in the video, but I was seriously impressed. It was even and taut, just as I had visualized.
Next, it was time to sear the pork. Salt and pepper was all the seasoning we used, because we were depending on the brining liquid to infuse the meat with intense flavor. We heated a thin layer of canola oil in the bottom of our Dutch Oven to medium- medium-high heat, and we created a crust on all sides.
It took about 3 minutes per wide side, and 1 – 2 minutes on the thinner parts. We used tongs to hold the meat on its ends to sear those too.
Next, we turned down the heat a bit, added our leeks to the pot
and stirred them occasionally until they were softened.
Then, we added the peppers
and let them cook down a minute or two before tossing in the apples and garlic.
Lastly, we poured in about 1/2 Cup of chicken broth.
I didn’t add a ton of liquid, because I knew the apples and veggies would give off their own moisture during the cooking process.
Almost ready for the oven!
I nestled in my meat, carrots, and parsnips and put on the lid. Now, here is where our experimentation day began to get the best of us. Time was not on our side…my original thought was to cook this baby at 225 degrees and let it go for several hours. And that would be the path I’d follow next time around. Since we had guests coming to join us, we had to bump up the temperature to 300 degrees and cook it a little faster than I liked.
Either way, the goal is to cook your pork until an internal thermometer reaches 145 degrees, and then take it out and let it rest.
Adam has been working his way through the Southern Biscuits cookbook that I got him for Valentine’s Day. And he decided to make cheddar chive biscuits to go along with our meal. Baking is not my forte, so all I did was saute the chives.
I’ll show you what he did, but please forgive my lack of detail.
He mixed up the dough and cheese,
added the chives and rolled it out by hand. Then, he used our cute little biscuit cutters
Lastly, he brushed them with eggwash
and they were ready to bake. And, I must say, those biscuits were incredible!!!!
Gabbing with your guests can lead to over-cooking your portein. Beware…ours was a few degrees further along than that.
Apparently, I also need a remote thermometer that I can attach to myself like a walkie-talkie or something. I’ll put it on my Christmas list. ; )
We removed the pork and let the carrots and parsnips hang out while we prepared the brussel sprouts.
Our cooking treatment for these wonders
began by removing the leaves and chopping them into large ribbons.
We got some garlic into a pan with a little EVOO
and let it become fragrant. Then we added a pinch of red pepper flakes.
Next, we added the leaves to the pan
and tossed them with the oil. We let them cook down a few minutes to soften, and then we added about a cup of chicken broth
and a pinch of sugar, just like you’d add to collards. We wanted them to simmer and soak in the liquid- letting go of most of the bitterness the greens brought forth.
Part two of the brussel-arama was to cut those big sprouts into bite sized pieces and place them, along with the little buds, onto a sheet pan.
We dressed them simply with salt, pepper, and olive oil and placed them in a 425 degree oven to roast. They would be the crisp component in our dish.
I knew they’d cook up quickly, so I fished my carrots and parsnips out of the veggie bath,
and got my immersion blender and just a few other necessities
to finish off my carrot and parsnip puree.
In a small pot over medium-low-ish heat, I melted my butter and added my veggies. I poured in my broth and a little of my milk and let it get nice and hot in there. Then I began blending, adding more milk as I went. I seasoned with salt and pepper and pureed it until it was smooth and lovely. And astonishingly delish.
Lastly, I wanted my apple, leeks and peppers to act as sort of a sauce for our pork. And the only thing that would have made it better than it already was- cooked down and luscious- was a touch of sour cream.
I stirred it together
and took the brussels out of the oven.
The leaves were finished too.
Time to slice up the pork
and plate this all-day affair.
Oh my. The brining process granted our pork a moist tenderness that boasted a beautiful, well-balanced flavor. The carrot and apple juices really did their work to impart sweetness.
The gigantic brussel sprouts were gone in a matter of seconds. I loved being able to enjoy them both crispy and braised- that slightly bitter cabbage-y magic shining through. The parsnip and carrot puree became a dunking station for everything on my plate- the spiciness of the parsnips making a real mark on the balance of the dish. The apples, leeks and peppers turned into something delectable- like buttah in my mouth. I could taste the slow melting together of their strengths. A happy party for my tastebuds, this was an experiment that I would repeat.
As if that wasn’t enough food indulgence, our friends brought over amazing homemade vanilla ice cream and waffle cone bowls.
We got to embellish our desserts with peanut butter m & ms and even rainbow jimmies- near and dear to my South Jersey heart.
Doesn’t it look like fun?!?!? It was fun. All day- the whole process. Makes me warm and fuzzy to think back on the entire day and the transformation of ideas into the reality of a memorable dinner with friends. And, thankfully, there were leftovers to make Monday seem not so far from home.
I hope that you are enjoying this early Spring and embracing the exciting local ingredients that are calling your name. Or- even just making it a priority to get into your kitchen a few times a week. I hope you are experimenting and becoming more comfortable with ingredients that may have seemed scary to you before. Mostly, I hope that you are enjoying every single day, being thankful for all of the delicious moments along the way, and sharing them with those who make you smile.
Happy cooking and eating to you,