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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Barding Pork

I've never had the best luck cooking pork. I've tried roasts, chops, tenderloins, the works. The results are usually a bit dry, a bit bland, and not really what I want for dinner.

That's why a technique like barding can be so useful in the kitchen. Essentially, you wrap a piece of lean meat with a piece of fattier meat before cooking to add flavor and moisture. Meats like bacon and pancetta work really well and can enliven any lean cut.

I tried this with a pork loin, inspired by a Martha recipe from her latest cookbook, "Cooking School: Lessons and Recipes for the Home Cook" as inspiration.

First, allow a two-pound boneless pork loin to come to room temperature for about an hour. Pat dry with paper towels, season lightly with kosher salt and more liberally with freshly ground black pepper. Heat a large, heavy ovenproof skillet over medium high and add enough olive oil to lightly coat the pan. Sear the roast on all sides, turning with tongs, about 6-8 minutes. Remove and let cool for about 15 minutes.

Take six pieces of butcher's twine, laying three or four pieces vertically and two horizontally on a large, clean cutting board, Take 12 ounces of thinly sliced pancetta and place about half of them on the twine in a rectangle shape, overlapping a bit, so the end result is about an inch larger than the roast on all sides. Then, rub the pork loin all over with minced fresh rosemary, place it on top of the pancetta and use the remaining slices to cover the top of the roast completely, overlapping again. Next, place a whole sprig of rosemary on top of the roast, tuck edges together and tie the twine around the whole package, first from end to end and then around.

Put the roast back into the skillet and place in 450 degree preheated oven. Roast for 40-50 minutes, or until the thickest part registers 138 degrees with an instant thermometer. Remove from oven, let the meat rest for about 10 minutes and cut into thickish slices to serve.

I subbed prosciutto in this recipe (my pancetta was frozen solid) and drizzled some extra virgin olive oil on top of the pork loin before and after wrapping to add some moisture. I served it with roasted parsnips and cipollini onions and a crisp green salad. This makes a great weekend meal for a family or small dinner party. Give it a try.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Food: Memory

I’ve always been mad for chocolate. Especially dark chocolate. Sweet, silky, sticky, creamy bliss. But lately, I’ve been loving vanilla. Real, pure vanilla, never the fake stuff. 

My newfound passion for vanilla blossomed last fall when my husband and I were in Paris. We made a pilgrimage to the exclusive Pierre Hermé pâtisserie. This is no trip to the corner bakery; many consider Pierre Hermé the best pastry chef in the world. 

We walked miles and miles to find this tiny boutique, tucked in rue Bonaparte in St-Germaine, then patiently waited in line to view the treasures inside.

Designed to remind customers of a jewel box, Pierre Hermé is famous for decadent, gorgeous sweets, true works of art. Most of the pastries are almost too beautiful to eat.

His legendary macarons come in seemingly dozens of traditional and exotic flavors, ranging from rose water to fleur de sel to white truffle hazelnut. Some are dusted with gold and silver leaf. We sampled many and fell in love with all.

And then, the éclair. Specifically, vanilla éclair. Honestly, I don’t even like éclair. Heavy, waxy icing atop greasy pastry with a tunnel of thick, eggy custard inside. Never been my thing.

But these feathery, dreamy vanilla concoctions elevate the lowly pastry to a lofty perch. The textured ladyfingers are light and soft as angel’s wings, and inside are pure pillows of what must be mascarpone, speckled with real vanilla bean.  These are true delicacies, to be savored slowly.

Chef Hermé, the youngest person ever to be named France's Pastry Chef of the Year, creates a new three-part collection each September and March, in a nod to couture. When in Paris, a trip to one of his boutiques is as important as the requisite visit to the Louvre or Champs-Élysées.

We sought out Pierre Hermé early in our trip, and went back again. And again. Months later, I can't get it out of my head. And my beloved dark chocolate has lost a bit of its luster.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sunday Supper

We usually eat Sunday supper with my family. This weekend, for a variety of reasons, we found ourselves alone on Sunday evening, opening up a whole new world of culinary opportunity.

Frankly, we were tempted to order pizza. Busy weekend and all. But I needed to hit the corner food market for a few items, and saw some beautiful rib-eye steaks on special. A few minutes later, I had a plan.

Steak is rarely part of our repertoire but it felt right on a crisp, sunny spring evening.

Sunday Supper Menu:

Grilled rib-eyes
Roasted local asparagus with extra virgin olive oil, parmesan shavings and lemon zest
Roasted baby sweet potatoes
Roasted cipollini onions
Sautéed portabellas and shittake mushrooms with shallot and local garlic

I dusted it all with a bit of fresh rosemary. We split one steak and saved the other for sandwiches or a salad later this week. Quick, easy and satisfying.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Chef Symon: Part II

Cars and food? You might not see the connection, but car people tend to be foodies, and a lot of foodies love cars. Case in point: Chef Michael Symon, who has been a fan of domestic trucks for most of his life. I've been writing about cars for a long time, and so when AutoWeek magazine decided to explore the connection between cars and food, I saw an opportunity to combine the two in a story about Symon (full disclosure, my husband Wes is AutoWeek's executive edtor, and since he is a wonderful husband who likes my cooking and wants to keep eating it, he gave me this assignment).

Take a minute to look at the special food section in the latest issue, which also includes pieces by my good friends Dutch Mandel and Jeff Vettraino. Note the photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman, an outtake from Symon's cookbook, due in November.

Finally, congratulations to Chef Symon, who won the coveted James Beard Foundation's 2009 Best Chefs Great Lakes award last night in New York. This is a huge deal in the food world. Symon took a chance on Detroit by opening Roast during this long and dreary recession and he is helping shape the city into a true restaurant destination.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Head East

Going to the farmers’ market is one of my favorite things. In Detroit, we’re lucky to have Eastern Market. In the midst of a major renovation, it’s about to become a world-class outdoor urban market and a great source for all things fresh and local.

On a typical spring weekend, you can find local asparagus, lettuces, onions, garlic, herbs, cheeses, honey, meats, beans, pastas, spices, jams, apple cider, breads and pastries. Michigan’s offerings only improve as summer progresses.

This year, the market will host a series of 26 live cooking demonstrations on Saturdays, May-Oct. The Taste of Eastern Market series kicked off May 2 with Food Network Iron Chef Michael Symon, owner of Roast, the Free Press Restaurant of the Year. The idea is to show shoppers how to creatively use the seasonal produce available at the market.

In that spirit, Symon grilled lamb t-bones, with Greek yogurt and a salad of fava bean, fresh peas, ramps (a cross between garlic and leeks), radishes, toasted almonds and feta with mint-chili vinaigrette.

His advice: buy the best ingredients you can afford and cook for your palate. Figure out what tastes and flavors you like and go with it... do you like salty, sweet, acid, or fatty flavors? Once you know that, you can focus your menus accordingly.

Consider contrasts in flavor and temperature and try to balance them with each meal -- such as the acid, tangy yogurt with the salty feta and fatty lamb, or plating the cool vegetable salad atop the grilled lamb.

Finally, he offered some tips for grilling or pan-frying meat or poultry:

-Unwrap, season with salt and pepper, rewrap and refrigerate for up to 24 hours before cooking

-Allow meat to come to room temperature (1-2 hours) before cooking

-If you want tender, juicy meat, let it be once it’s on the grill/skillet, don’t be poking, pressing or prodding on it

-If it sticks to the grill/skillet, don’t flip it, it’s not ready

-When it’s done, remove from the heat and let it rest for at least a few minutes before slicing or eating

By supporting local farmers, you are assured that your food is fresh, often organic, and in many cases, less expensive than at the grocery store. You know it hasn’t been flown or trucked 1,000 miles. Plus, it supports the local economy and we can all feel good about that in tough times. For the most part, the farmers truly care about food and are unwilling to compromise their standards to make a few bucks. And even if none of this interests you, strolling through the market offers great people watching.

So, this summer, I encourage you to skip the big box grocery. If you go, wear comfy shoes, bring a big bag or wagon, and lots of cash, preferably small bills.

Stay tuned for Part II with Chef Symon.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Go Fish

Some nights you just don’t want to put forth a lot of effort to get dinner on the table. Ok, lots of nights. But you still want to eat well. In other words, something like this ain’t gonna cut it:

Note: this horrifying sight comes to you from my friend John C., who provided the pic. I cannot be held responsible.

So, instead of a tinned, triple-processed, chicken-like product, consider making Mahi-Mahi with Roasted Tomatoes, a great healthy dinner for when you’re short on time. The sesame oil adds a deep, rich flavor to the fish. If you want to splurge, sprinkle a few toasted sesame seeds on top of the fish as you plate. I added Trader Joe’s sweet potato frites (thanks, Kelly K.) on the side and 20 minutes later we were enjoying a home-cooked meal:

Mahi-Mahi with Roasted Tomatoes
Serves 4

1 pint grape tomatoes
1 T extra virgin olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, crushed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

4 Mahi-Mahi fillets (4 to 6 oz. each)
1 T toasted sesame oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 T chopped basil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Slice tomatoes in half and place on baking sheet. Spray or drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, add garlic, salt and pepper to taste, and mix well. Roast in oven about 20 minutes, turning occasionally.

Meanwhile, heat a nonstick skillet on the stove over medium-high heat. Drizzle toasted sesame oil on both sides of fish. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Place mahi-mahi in skillet and cook about 3-4 minutes. Flip and continue to cook another 3-4 minutes.

Plate mahi-mahi and roasted tomatoes, and garnish both with basil.