Thursday, October 17, 2013

a proper meal

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One of the gifts we got for our wedding was an amazing collection of five wines from my friend Tim. Tim has been a wine buyer for almost a decade and has phenomenal taste in both wine and food. He’s also, probably one of the most generous people I’ve ever met. He carefully curated the selection, so that each wine would be at its peak at a specific year in our marriage and offered tasting notes and advice on what each bottle would pair perfectly with. In case you’re wondering I totally cried when I opened the present, and so did my mom and all my aunts.

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Our first wine was the 2008 Lang and Reed Cabernet Franc. We paired it with marinated pork tenderloin, roast broccoli with walnuts, steamed green beans and cous cous and we drank it on a Thursday night, the week of our first anniversary. The wine was stunning and the meal was memorable. I can’t wait to keep working through these wines over the years, because more than just a cool collection of good wines, Tim gave us five occasions on which to prioritize ourselves, reflect on our marriage and to drink some really, really good wines. And if there’s anything I love more than a delicious glass of wine it’s having the opportunity to talk about my feelings over a proper meal. Talk about a customized gift!

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When a ‘proper meal’ is on the docket, pork tenderloin is arguably one of my favorite things to make. It’s inexpensive, easy and delicious and has a versatility that lends itself to many different types of cuisine. Normally, I keep it simple and rustic with a little garlic, olive oil and herbs; but I also love how pork works so well with Asian ingredients. I had just purchased a fresh bottle of soy sauce and a new jar of whole grain mustard and I was really itching to use them in conjunction with one another (because that’s the kind of stuff that I think about when left to my own devices). I came up with this marinade based loosely on a classic combination I like to use for baked chicken wings and it was totally delicious (if I do say so myself).

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I was able to let this tenderloin marinate for about 3 hours; however, I think you could get away with 30 minutes if you’re in a pinch. The finished product tastes like Chinese food. To be clear: I mean that in the best, most positive sense. It’s not a greasy gut bomb or overly sticky sweet (not that those types of Chinese food don’t have their time and place- and the time is usually after 2 a.m. and the place is almost always Cathay Pacific). What I mean is, this pork has a flavor that is reminiscent of the salty-sweet, hot pink boneless pork sparerib that you might get in your late night pupu platter; but it’s just a bit more refined and grown up tasting. Super flavorful, juicy, slightly spiced and a little sweet, this pork marinade is one I will return to again and again. Now I just need a couple more bottles of Cab. Franc to go with.

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1-2 lb. pork tenderloin
1/3 cup soy sauce
2-3 tablespoons whole grain mustard
3-4 gloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons brown sugar
Olive oil
1 teaspoon crushed Schezuan peppercorns (optional)

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Remove tenderloin from packaging, rinse and pat dry with paper towels. Generously salt and pepper all sides. Combine remaining ingredients in a gallon sized Ziploc bag. Seal, squeezing excess air out and massage everything together a bit. Add tenderloin to bag and zip closed, once again squeezing excess air out as you seal so the tenderloin gets the maximum exposure to the marinade. Set pork in fridge for 30 minutes, or up to 4 hours.

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Preheat oven to 425. Heat an oven-proof skillet or grill pan over medium high heat. Place pork down and let sear for 4-5 minutes. Flip pork and sear for another 4-5 minutes. Place the whole pan in oven and let roast for about 15-20 minutes, or until a thermometer reaches between 145 and 150 degrees. Remove from oven, tent foil over and let rest for 10-20 minutes. We like our pork on the medium to medium rare side, so I pull it at 140 and let it rest for a full 20 minutes. The carry over cooking during resting time makes it absolutely perfect for our tastes: slightly pink and super juicy throughout. If you’re sketchy on that, simply remove from the oven at a higher internal temp. Slice thinly and serve with veggies and starch of your choice.

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

this must be the place

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The first kitchen that was home to this blog was a slightly crusty rental in an otherwise splendid old apartment. It was an awkward set up where half the counter was around the corner towards the basement stairs. The stove stood against one wall, an island all its own and there was so little usable counter space that I turned to craigslist to buy a butcher block on wheels so I would have extra room to work with. Because of the age of our burner and mechanical ineptitude of Erica and myself, our heat would often go out and I would prep dinner in a full coat, scarf and hat until our landlord, Beachhouse, would come by and get the burner going again.

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But regardless of its awkward shape and dingy linoleum, I was able to cook many great meals in that kitchen. I threw my sister a baby shower, hosted tons of birthdays and I taught myself to cook a number of different things. I also had my first gas stove. A transition from which there is no going back. There’s only one way to cook for this girl: and that’s with fire.

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The second incantation of the Porky Dickens Test Kitchen had two walls of windows and east facing light. A boon for the photographs for sure and it was even pretty enough to get us noticed on a blog. In this place, I had just a scrap more counter space for prepping and a convenient little shelf for salts, oils and vinegars next to the stove. Oh, and the floors were faux wood, which classed up the joint a bit. In this kitchen I hosted festive Irish dinner parties, backyard barbecues, a mother’s day brunch and one night after dinner, I picked a fight with my boyfriend which was such an effective display of female manipulation that the fool asked me to marry him later that night.

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This kitchen was the birthplace of such seasonal super stars as pumpkin whoopee pies and cranberry moonshine and such incredible failures as the butterscotch pudding pie that wouldn’t pud. The room itself was still a bit dated and the shelves under the sink were held up with empty bottles of wine, but this place is where I hit my stride, as a cook, as a blogger, as a partner and a person. For that I will always love that space.

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And now we are in this place. The place. The most important room in our new house, the latest and last location for the Dickens Test Kitchen. My kitchen in our house: the place where innumerable meals will be made and memories will be cemented; where fights will be fought, faults will be forgiven and where (if we’re to trust MY family history) pants will probably be peed from laughing so hard.

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Not only is the kitchen always my chosen favorite space to spend time in, it’s the gravitational center of life at home. Everyone knows that no matter what the gathering and no matter how much you tell them to go hang out in the living room, anyone who comes to your house inevitably ends up hovering in the kitchen, whether you want them to or not (for the record, I always want you to, so long as you don’t stand too close, I’m all elbows when I’m in the zone). It’s the sweet spot with all the best smells, the brightest light and letsbeserious, the closest proximity to the wine. I can’t wait to see what we cook up here.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.