Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pork Roast with Fall Vegetables

We are a Costco family and every so often we will buy huge quantities of meat and portion it out and freeze it in our big chest freezer.  We’ve got fish, chicken (parts and a whole one), ground beef, pork, even a turkey ready to defrost for the holidays!  Of course using these cuts of meat does require some planning because of the defrosting, but I’m getting better at it and at least it gives me some time to make sure we have the fresh produce I want to serve alongside said meat. 

The other night I decided that with the weather cooling here in New England, it was the perfect time to do a pork roast with some lovely root vegetables.  I normally make my pork roast with a honey mustard glaze that also features brown sugar (that I’ve adapted from an America’s Test Kitchen recipe) but because of my gestational diabetes, glazes like that are off limits for moi! I decided to try a spice rub instead.  This was a purely experimental spice rub, but I am happy to say it came out rather tasty. 

Spice Rub:
Onion Powder
Paprika Powder
Dried Marjoram
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
I just eyeballed the amounts and shook some of each spice into a small dish but I’d say about a tablespoon of each of the spices and salt and pepper to taste would do the trick. 

I patted dry the piece of pork roast (approx 2 lbs), scored the fat cap with a diamond shape, and then patted the spice rub all over the pork (top and bottom).

I placed the pork fat side up in a ceramic baking dish and put in a 350 degree oven for approximately 1 hour. (I allowed the spiced meat to rest while I prepped the vegetables so everything went in at the same time and the meat was not fridge cold).  Of course cooking times will vary depending on the size of the meat and your oven.  I find that my oven always takes longer than recipes call for. I think I need to get it calibrated… 

I also get nervous about pork and chicken because of the risk of illness if not cooked properly.  I was shocked not too long ago when a server at a restaurant asked me how I’d like my pork chops cooked.  I looked at him dumbfounded and said “all the way.”  I mean what other way is there?  He informed me that these days you can have your pork done medium… Well, not for me, thank you very much.  I have since learned that there are acceptable temperature ranges for pork that are definitely lower than what your typical instant read thermometer is set to.  Still I get nervous, but I tend to cook my pork roast until it hits 160 degrees in the thickest part (still less than the 180 those thermometers want).  Feel free to weigh in on this issue, by the way.  Since pork does dry out very easily it is a bit tricky to find the perfect temperature.  Once the meat hits my desired temperature, I let it rest for about 10 minutes before I cut into it.  This is probably one of the hardest things to do as the lovely aromas of roasted meat waft through the house!  But if you want to preserve any shred of juices left in that meat, you need to let it rest!  I cut the roast into approximately half inch slices and returned them to the baking pan to soak up some of that lovely jus. 

Roasted Fall Vegetables
1 Large Sweet Potato
2 Large Carrots
3 Medium Red Skinned Potatoes (any will do, this is what we happened to have handy)
1 Medium Yellow Onion
3 Small Parsnips
Garlic Cloves, left in the skin (I used 3, but you can use how many or little as you wish, or leave them out completely)
Drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (enough to coat all veggies)
Salt and Pepper to taste

I washed, peeled and cut the vegetables into approximately similar sizes.  The carrots being denser and taking longer to cook can be cut smaller, but I don’t mind a bit of crunch.  You can of course use whatever vegetables you like and whatever amount you like depending on how many you are cooking for and what your taste preferences are. 

I placed all the vegetables in a large roasting pan, drizzled the oil, added salt and pepper, and tossed everything to coat evenly. The pan went in the same 350 degree oven as the pork and cooked for about the same time.  Definitely keep an eye on the vegetables and give them a good stir a couple of times to allow for even caramelization (or to avoid burning one side).  And take them out if they are done before the roast and tent with some aluminum foil to keep in the heat. 

I used to peel my garlic when I’ve roasted veggies in the past and they always end up burning because they are just so darned small!  Since I’ve seen a few TV chefs roast veggies and actually throw in an entire head of garlic peel and all, I decided to give it a go, but since I am really the only garlic eater in the household, the entire head would just be overkill.  The 3 cloves with skin intact came out perfectly roasted, soft and sweet. 

As I mentioned earlier I was very happy with the flavor of the spice rub and the pork came out tasty and tender.  The fat tended to splatter and smoke a bit which set off our hallway smoke detector (which is super sensitive, mind you) whenever I opened the oven.  But that’s a common occurrence when I cook!  You can definitely remove the fat if you wish, but it forms a beautiful crispy dark brown crust that you won’t get if you do remove it.  If you are like my husband, you will just cut the fat off when you’re eating it. 

Unfortunately I got started with dinner later than I should have so, it was quite late for Little Missy.  I had to ply her with some red pepper pieces as she grew antsy waiting for the proper meal (she by the way loves raw red peppers, and I often offer them up as an appetizer of sorts while I’m making the main meal – a great way to sneak in a vegetable!).  Because the veggies were done before the pork, I just fed her the vegs when they were ready and then the pork came later.  But I find this a pretty successful way to feed her anyway as opposed to overwhelming her with too many flavors and options at once.  

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Breakfast for Lunch

I knew I was taking a big risk planning to make an omelet for the little one for lunch since the former queen of quiche and lover of all styles of egg has long been turning her nose up at anything to do with eggs (unless they are in cookie form…) but I thought maybe bacon would entice her to eat the egg… that and a healthy dose of ketchup. So, for lunch I offered up a thoroughly uninspired but filling cheese omelet, bacon, and Heinz vegetarian baked beans.

These beans are not quite like the smoky molasses beaked beans you or I might be used to but more like the ones you would find in the Irish section of the supermarket, in a sweet tomato sauce. My husband, being Irish refuses to try this version of his childhood favorite purely on nostalgic grounds. But for the price difference between an imported can of beans and a “home grown” can (both by Heinz, mind you) I see no substantial difference in taste. Of course growing up I thought the British version of beans was simply vile so there are no nostalgic memories of eating beans on toast at the kitchen table for me. My memories are more along the lines of forcing down the nasty concoction, which was all too frequently part of my school cafeteria lunch (I’m shuddering just thinking about it). I’m happy to say though that I have since expanded my palate to be able to enjoy these little tomato-ey legumes, particularly when served alongside a proper Irish breakfast (that will have to be another post).

The bacon, I am very excited to share is Stop and Shop’s Natures Promise brand, which is uncured, and nitrite and antibiotic free. I recently discovered it on the top shelf of the bacon display tucked away in the corner. I don’t know if it’s a new thing or if I’ve just never seen it before (since I don’t make it a habit to peruse the bacon shelf too often), but it has become a favorite. It has a nice but mild maple flavor and is not too salty. And of course the major selling point to me as a mom and mom-to-be was the uncured, antibiotic and nitrite free part. I can confidently feed it to my little one and eat it myself, knowing it is not harming us.

I have in the past struggled royally with making a decent omelet. The eggs always have seemed to fall apart and it’s turned more into a scramble with stuff in it. Recently I happened upon Julia Child’s PBS episode on omelets and had an epiphany of sorts. I was shocked to see simply how much butter she used in her omelet pan, but it really worked. Julia’s omelet slid nicely in the pan as she shook it, on that lake of melted butter and then slid effortlessly onto the plate. Whereas my omelets have always stuck to my non-stick pans, even with some oil. That was my problem; I never used enough fat. Silly me, thought non-stick actually meant food wouldn’t stick to it. So, a while back I thought, why waste that lovely bacon grease? Why not use it instead of butter for an omelet. I think I need to add a little disclaimer here that we don’t often eat bacon and omelets, so those of you who might be gagging at the thought of all that grease can relax. Also, with the pan hot enough, the eggs don’t soak up the grease and with enough practice you can slide the omelet out of the pan and leave most of the grease behind. You can of course wipe off some of the grease with a paper towel before making your omelet too. But I have to say that with the well oiled pan, I have not had a problem with the eggs sticking and I haven’t really even needed a spatula when de-panning (if that’s a word) except to just guide the omelet to fold over. My only downfall has been that I can’t seem to make my omelets perfectly pale yellow like Julia did, which is how they are “supposed” to be, but I don’t really mind a little brown on my eggs!

Today’s omelet was a simple Swiss cheese version made with 3 eggs and 3 slices of Jarlsberg, since momma was making enough for both of us. Little missy had about a third of it, while momma ate the rest. Missy’s slice was slathered with ketchup, just to be on the safe side. Maybe it was the ketchup, but she thought it was pizza. I wasn’t about to correct her because that meant she was eager to put the first piece in her mouth. Thankfully she kept eating it after that. The bacon she outright refused even when I tried to convince her that she was really missing out. But I think it’s a texture thing. The bacon is just too chewy. After most of the pizza omelet had been devoured missy turned her attention to the beans, which were in a separate bowl. I don’t know about you, but I have greater success when I present foods separately. This is when the messy fun began. She allowed me to feed her the first couple of forkfuls but then wanted to feel herself. At first she allowed me to guide her hand in stabbing the beans and moving the fork to her mouth but soon Little Miss Independent wanted to do it all by herself. She stuck with the fork for a little longer, managing to stab one bean at a time. Most of them even made it into her mouth. But soon she ditched the fork for her hands. Ah yes, sauce was everywhere and those slippery little things had a way of slipping onto her lap, where they wound up smushed under her butt. But you know what? The important thing was that she actually ate the eggs and beans. That was a small victory in and of itself.