An Ode to Brining

October 31, 2010

I’ve had such a love/hate relationship with pork. I loved the sweet meat when I was little, loved the wonderful aroma that filled the house as it roasted. And then, suddenly, I couldn’t stand the papery dry meat that emerged from the oven every time, which had all the charm of cardboard. For a long time, I stopped cooking pork altogether.

Then I discovered that simply by plunking the meat into a salt water brine, I could revive the joy of pork. The added bonus is that if you throw in some herbs, you not only get fabulously juicy meat, you also get extra flavor.

Brine recipe:

2 quarts water

1/3 cup kosher salt

3 tablespoons of sugar,

a few cloves of garlic


black peppers

Bring this to a boil, pour it into a large bowl and chill in the refrigerator. When it’s cool, add a 6-rib pork loin roast (about 3 ½ pounds) and marinate in the refrigerator for two days.

Drain the roast and pat dry before browning and roasting. It will be fat, sassy, completely satisfying. Especially if you begin with a pig who led a happy life.


The Easiest Dish for a Crowd

October 22, 2010

What I wanted was a ham. I should have ordered one in the mail, because in this not quite holiday season, a great ham is hard to find. And so, because I’m lazy and a lot of people were coming to dinner, I settled for a filet of beef. (Actually, 3 of them.)

It is (next to ham, which needs nothing more than an oven to warm it up in), the easiest way to feed a crowd. But how to make it special?

I made this sauce – which really adds a wonderful zing of flavor. But I wanted something more. Pawing around in my spice cupboard I found an overlooked jar of truffle salt, and although it was old, I opened it anyway. The flavor literally leaped out of the jar and filled up the kitchen – it was that intense – and so I patted my filet dry (this is important) and sprinkled it liberally all over the filet before browned the meat in the pan. Even two days later I could still detect that wonderful truffle scent in my hair.

You brown a 3 to 3 1/2 pound filet in a pan until all sides have turned a nice brown, then cook it in a 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes (it should be at 120 degrees). Let it rest for at least 15 minutes (you can serve it at room temperature if you like), so it gets to 130 degrees for rare. Slice, inhaling the fine truffle perfume, and serve the rosy beef with this sauce.

Cook ¾ cups of minced shallots in 2 ½ cups of white wine until the wine is reduced to about ½ cup.

Mix a stick of soft, sweet butter with a third cup of mustard. Add to the cooled shallot-wine mixture with a couple tablespoons of cream and a half cup of cornichon pickles that have been thinly sliced into julienne strips.

This will generously feed 6 people


Another Great Meatloaf

October 16, 2010

When Amy Mastrangelo came up with this meatloaf for the low-fat section of Gourmet, I’ll admit that I was skeptical. I’m not a fan of turkey meatloaves, and the low-fat aspect of the recipe didn’t do much to spark my enthusiasm. So the week she presented it, I went home and made it for my family.

We all liked it. A lot. The secret is the mushrooms, which add flavor, texture and moisture. Amy used cremini mushrooms, but I like to throw in some shiitake for extra flavor, as well as a few dried porcini. Play with it.

This one doesn’t have the wow factor of Ian’s bacon and prune laced meatloaf, but for a weeknight dinner (and one without a lot of calories), it makes six or so people very happy.

Mushroom-Turkey Meatloaf

Cook 1 1/2 cups finely chopped onions with1 diced carrot and 3 cloves of smashed garlic in a bit of olive oil until softened. Add ¾ pounds of mushrooms that have been finely chopped in a food processor, a bit of salt and pepper, and cook until all the mushroom liquid has evaporated (about 15 minutes).

Add 2 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce, 1/3 cup chopped parsley and a quarter cup of ketchup and allow the mixture to cool.

Meanwhile soak 1 cup fine fresh bread crumbs in about a third cup of milk. Stir in 2 eggs and then mix into cooled vegetables.

With your hands gently mix in 1 1/4 lb ground turkey (if you can get dark meat, do; it will taste better), add a bit more salt and pepper and shape into an oval (the mixture will be very damp and moist), and put in a large pan. Brush the top with ketchup and bake at 400° for almost an hour (the loaf should register 170 degrees on an instant read thermometer).

Let it sit a few minutes before serving, just to reabsorb the juices.


Thing I Love 4

October 15, 2010

Matzo Brei for One

It’s a rainy day, and the wind is howling around the house, whistling through every crack. That must be why I’m making all my comfort foods. I’ve got a pot of chicken bones on the stove, slowly burbling into soup, and I have a sudden, urgent desire for matzoh brie. When Nick was little he called it “manna” – and it’s still pretty much that to me.

My mother always said that lots of butter was the secret to matzo brei, and I won’t disagree. Brei, incidentally, rhymes with fry…

* 1 matzo
* butter
* 1 egg
* salt

Break matzos into a colander into small pieces. Run under the tap and moisten well. Drain.

Melt as much butter as you will allow yourself to get away with in a large skillet. My mother says the secret of matzo brei is lots of butter, so if in doubt, add more. Beat eggs in a bowl. Add matzos and mix well. Put into pan and cook, stirring constantly, until eggs are set. I like it quite dry, because I love the crunchy little bits that you get at the very end. Salt to taste. Eat with enormous pleasure.

Note: There is a big debate, between matzo brei mavens, on the virtues of the sweet versus the savory sort. May I just say that sweet matzo brei is, to me, an abomination?


Pumpkin Pancakes

October 13, 2010

I made these today because I had some left-over pumpkin from the Swiss Pumpkin I made the other night. But I originally made them to use up that annoying bit of canned pumpkin puree that’s always left over when you make pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving.

Mix 1 1/4 cups flour with 3 tablespoons brown sugar and 2 teaspoons baking powder. Add 1/4 teaspoon each cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg and a pinch of clove. Add half a teaspoon of salt.

Separate 4 eggs. Put the yolks into a small bowl and mix in half a stick of melted butter, ¾ cup pumpkin puree, 1 ¼ cups milk and a teaspoon of vanilla.

Beat the egg whites in a separate bowl until they are just stiff.

Mix the pumpkin mixture into the flour mixture, and then carefully fold in the egg whites.

Cook in a lightly buttered cast iron skillet and serve with maple syrup. (These are particularly good with Blis, which is cured in bourbon barrels.)