Monday, July 11, 2011

Sauteed Pork With Brussel Sprouts Leeks and Apples, Plus, Creamy Polenta

OK - here's the picture of my latest creation.  Right off the bat I want to say that my daughter Mads took a much more appetizing picture - but I'm a spaz and I couldn't find the thingy to connect to the camera and the laptop to upload the pictures so I had to upload the ones I took with my phone.  Hopefully, you get the idea that this was delicious and not at all slimy.

This was really fun to create.  It started with Ina Garten's recipe for creamy polenta found on page 182 of her book, How Easy Is That? - I was thumbing through it yesterday looking for ideas for meals this week before heading out to the grocery store.  I love polenta - but no one else in my family likes it as much as I do - still every now and then I just need to make something I like, right?  Polenta is pure comfort food.  I think it's because I spent a lot of time in Kentucky in the summers and my cousin Martha was fan of grits back then.  Plain grits with melted butter.  I remember trying them for the first time in my Aunt's kitchen.  She had that crazy green and white trellis wall paper in her breakfast room that a lot of people had in the '70s.  And she had this beautiful chandelier over the breakfast table that was white and shaped like vines and flowers.  Martha made the grits for me, and at first I thought they were tasteless.  And gritty.  (Hence, grits - probably - right?) But then that butter melted in, and I added more salt, and I was hooked.  I cannot pass up grits if it is on a menu.  Nor can I pass up grit's Italian cousin - cheesey, creamy Polenta.  Fuggeddaboutit.  The best.  

Then I had this idea that the pork sirloin I'd bought would be tasty with the polenta - AND I had this thought that my sage outside - sitting pretty on my deck was getting a bit large and could do with a trim.  And it dawned on me that those things would taste nicely together - polenta, sage, pork...  

Of course when I went to make the grits polenta, I did not have most of the ingredients - despite going to the grocery store less than an hour before firing up the stove.  (see "spaz" in the 1st paragraph)  Ina calls for chicken stock.  I had beef stock.  Ina calls for parmesan - I had nought but a rind, dammit.  But I always have goat cheese.  And of course, when I was at Whole Foods, I intended to pick up some sort of vegetable to go with the pork and polenta but, as usual, I got distracted by something shiny and forgot - So, did what I always do and winged it.  Had about a 1/4 bag of frozen Brussels Sprouts and a 1/4 bag of leeks in the freezer - which I threw in after cooking the pork.  Wanted to make a wine sauce to deglaze the pan - no wine - only beer.  Used that.  Then I thought it looked like it needed plumping up, so I added the apple and it was a home run.

Sauteed Pork, With Leeks, Apples and Brussels Sprouts over Creamy Polenta

For the Polenta: 
(I made this to serve 4 people, three of whom claimed they didn't like polenta all that much - this recipe is easily doubled. Doubled it should serve 4-6)

1/4 cup olive or canola oil
10 or so whole sage leaves

2 Cups of Beef Broth (low sodium in you have it - you can also use chicken stock, homemade or not - you know me, I'm all about using what you have)
1 minced garlic clove 
4 fresh sage leaves
1 cup of polenta or stone ground grits
Kosher salt to taste (I think I used a tsp & 1/2 of it)
Freshly ground pepper to taste (probably about 1/2 a tsp - I love pepper)
1/4 cup of creme fraiche - (I can't figure out how to make that look French - but you know what I'm talking about) - or you can use sour cream - but creme fraiche is better - 
1/4 of goat cheese (instead of the parmesan - !  And better!  Who doesn't love goat cheese, right Ina?)

First, heat the olive oil until it is very hot, and drop your sage leaves in a few at a time until they are crispy.  Take them out and let them drain on a paper towel.  Repeat until all the sage leaves are crispy. Set this aside.  

In a medium sized pot heat the broth, garlic and sage leaves until the broth has hit a rolling boil.  Slowly, whisking constantly, add the polenta and continue to whisk until it is all absorbed.  Switch your stirring implement to a spoon and keep stirring until the broth is absorbed and the polenta is thick.  Take your polenta off the heat and whisk in the creme fraiche and the goat cheese.  Adjust your seasonings.  My seasonings were a bit salty because my beef broth was NOT low sodium, so I had to add more creme fraiche until it tasted right.  This is never a bad thing.  More creme fraiche is only ever a good thing.  

For the Pork:  

4 bonless sirloins of Pork cut into 1/4 inch strips. ( I have to confess, I don't know how much pork I had - I threw the package away before I wrote it down.  Suffice it to say, I had 2 packs of 2 sirloin cuts of pork - maybe a lb all together? I don't know (refer back to "spaz"))
1/8 cup or so of olive oil
2 TBLSP of fresh sage, minced
1 large apple, cored and cubed
1 1/2 cups frozen Brussels Sprouts 
1/2 cup frozen leeks (you can get these at Trader Joes!  Yay!)
1/4 cup beer (I used a darkish Mexican style beer - but something more stoudt-ish would be good too)
1 TBSLP butter - I used my salted Kerry Gold - because that's all I had (What DID I buy at Whole Foods yesterday, you must be asking yourself, and the answer is, I don't know.  Sigh.)
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a sautee pan or cast iron skillet until it shimmers.  Add the pork in batches and sautee it until it is lightly browned - just about 3-4 min a batch.  Take it out of the oil and let it sit - repeat until all the pork is cooked.  Add the frozen leeks and brussels sprouts (I didn't even bother to try and defrost them - if you have fresh ones of these things, you might need to pre-cook the sprouts a minute in a pot of boiling water or a microwave because they'll never cook here otherwise - fresh leeks you can just chop and throw in) - add the beer and scrape up all the browned bits from the pork.  When the leeks are nice and wilty and the sprouts are pretty much defrosted in the middle, add the apples to the mix, then return the pork and any of the accumulated juices to the pot.  Stir all this around until the pork is heated through - about 5 or so minutes - take one of your pieces out to check it - then stir in the butter and add salt and pepper to taste.  With a slotted spoon, remove the pork and sprouts, but try to leave some apple chunks behind.  Let your sauce simmer, and smash the bits of apple right in to thicken it.  

Serve the pork over the polenta - Remember that sage you fried?  Pour a bit of the oil over each serving and crumble your fried sage leaves on top.  

The sad thing is that I made the polenta fully expecting to have leftovers for lunch today - and darn my family - nothing is left.  (insert frowny face here.)

I believe this counts as a full meal because it included starch, protein and vegetable - even the dairy - all on one plate - which should make Mrs. Obama very happy.  OH - one thing we DID buy at Whole Foods - a very delicious strawberry rhubarb pie, which we ate for dessert.  Mmmmmm.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

LET THEM EAT CAKE! - Oops - wrong revolution, Still: CAKE!

Red Velvet.  I'm still perfecting it - so I'm not going to put the recipe up yet, but I couldn't possibly let a great title like that slip through my fingers.

Here she is - a grand old Lady:

My cake decorating skills leave a lot to be desired, I know.  Usually I'm a little better, but I was rushed last night because the girls had their own plans for fireworks and the like and I was trying to get at least one daughter (and her friend) to eat a hamburger so I wouldn't have to receive the, "Mom, I've got a bad headache can you pick me up NOW," call.  I hate that call - because if they'd only listened to me and had a little food...

Who am I kidding?  They don't listen to me.  They're 12 and 14.  In ten years they might be ready to listen to me but until then I do my best to speak through their father (for whom they still have a bit of respect.)

We had fun this Fourth.  Mads, her dad and I went to the usual parade - with the ooompa loompa band:

they old timey cars:

Plus your usual panoply of kids on bikes, floats made by parents featuring their infants, politicians (some more smarmy and blown dry than others) - police cars and fire trucks.  The guy on stilts was there, as he is every year as well as the creepy, yet still somehow cool horse drawn hearse from the historic grave yard that borders our town.  This is the very same hearse used in the 1800s to carry those who could afford it to their eternal resting places:

See what I did here - used my camera+ to make it LOOK old timey

even though I took these pictures yesterday- because I'm clever that way.  (Love those horses)

Any way - even though I'm still working on my red velvet cake recipe (because frankly the one above was a bit dry) - I'll give you the method - (because everyone has this recipe) - for creating my awesome cream cheese frosting with which I frosted my July 4 cake:

Super Fluffy Cream Cheese Frosting:
3 cups of powdered sugar
2 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter room temp
tsp of good vanilla (the best you can afford)
pinch of salt (just regular old table salt, not sea salt)
1 package of cream cheese - room temp as well - chopped up into bits about a table spoon in size

Sift the powered sugar.  Sift it again.  And just to be on the safe side, sift it one more time.  The main thing here is no lumps.  At all.  I mean it.  If you see a lump sift it.  Put your butter in a standing mixer if you have one - although a hand held is fine, it's just more boring because you have to whip the heck out of the butter - you just leave it in the bottom of the mixer getting all whipped up by the mixer until it's light and incredibly fluffy - then add the sugar about a cup at a time - letting it get all whipped into the butter before adding more.  When all the sugar is whipped add the vanilla and pinch of sugar then add the cream cheese a block at a time until it is all incorporated and very very whipped.  

Every time I write the word whipped I keep thinking that there's got to be a joke in there somehow involving Paris Hilton or a Kardashian - but I can't do it because I'm not a guy.  

Anyway - when all your cream cheese is incorporated and, well, whipped, you will have the lightest most yummy cream cheese frosting ever.  And if you want to make it chocolate, just swap out 1/2 cup of cocoa powder for 1/2 cup of sugar and sift, sift, sift and mix like mad.  People will love it.  Even if your  cake is a little dry.  

Happy 4th. Yay US.