Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bacon-Wrapped Pork Loin with Cranberries

I pulled this recipe from the March 2009 issue of Real Simple. As usual, I tweaked it and the results were a sweet and savory delight. It looks complicated but is surprisingly easy to assemble. I just need to remember to have a very sharp knife, because mine didn't look so great after I cut it into slices. The version below is my tweaked version. The photo belongs to Real Simple.

Bacon-Wrapped Pork Loin with Cranberries

1 2-pound piece boneless pork loin
1/2 tsp ground allspice
Black pepper
1/2 cup Craisins, soaked in water or juice and chopped
2 tbsp dried parsley
1 tbsp whole-grain mustard
8 slices bacon
1 tbsp cranberry-jalapeno jelly
1 tsp red wine vinegar

1. Heat oven to 350. Season the pork with the allspice and 1⁄2 teaspoon pepper and place on a rimmed baking sheet.

2. In a small bowl, combine the cranberries parsley, and mustard. Spread evenly over the pork. Lay the bacon slices crosswise over the pork, overlapping them slightly and tucking the ends underneath. Roast for 45 minutes.

3. In a small bowl, combine the jelly and vinegar. Brush over the bacon and continue roasting until an instant-read thermometer registers 150°; F, 10 to 15 minutes more. Let rest at least 10 minutes before slicing.

Substitution Suggestions: The original recipe called for cherries. I used Craisins soaked in -- get this -- raspberry Crystal Light. It was great! The original recipe also called for 1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley instead of dried. Either will work. Whole grain mustard is a must. You can use any jelly variety. I went with cranberry-jalapeno because I had it and I wanted the extra little kick. Currant jelly will work just as well.

Lessons Learned: I absolutely love what the jelly did to the bacon. It candied it, which helped crisp the bacon and add another layer of flavor. I may try baking bacon on its own and candying it with the cranberry jelly. (By the way, I love baking my bacon!)
There was quite a bit of grease from the bacon. Perhaps it could be undercooked and blotted before wrapping it around the pork. But, the pork really did require the full cooking time plus a little bit to get it to temperature. The bacon was just crisping at that point.
You don't necessarily need to soak the Craisins in juice, but they are pretty tart and I wanted something a little sweeter, which is why I soaked them in juice before packing them onto the tenderloin. Any fruit juice will do, I suppose. I liked the raspberry Crystal Light, even if it does sound a little bizarre.

Savory Polenta

One of my favorite childhood meals is mush -- polenta that has been chilled, fried, then served with powdered sugar and syrup. My dad would make it Saturday night, pour it into two loaf pans, then fry it up Sunday morning before church. My parents live 2,200 miles away, but whenever I visit, Dad pulls out a loaf pan and makes it. It's the thoughtful little things like that that really show me that my parents love me ... they remember that I love mush and hate stroganoff.
I've never made mush by myself. Somehow, I'm afraid I won't get it right. (Dad just eyeballs the measurements, which is how I do most of my cooking ... except for mush. I want the exact quantities.) But, thanks to some coaching from Dad and the following recipe from Alton Brown, that fear is now behind me. I tried this recipe a few weeks ago and wow, it was incredible! It's not the kind to top with powdered sugar and syrup, but with a few tweaks and omissions, it could be. This recipe can be served creamy or fried.

Savory Polenta

2 tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 quart chicken stock or broth
1 cup coarse ground cornmeal
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. In large, oven-safe saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and salt, then sweat until the onions begin to turn translucent (about 5 minutes). Reduce heat to low, add garlic and saute 1 to 2 minutes. Make sure the garlic does not burn!
3. Turn heat to high, add chicken stock and bring to boil. Gradually add cornmeal while constantly whisking. Cover the pot and place in the oven. Cook for 35 to 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes to prevent lumps. Once the mixture is creamy, remove from oven and add butter, salt and pepper. Gradually add in the Parmesan.
4. Serve immediately. Or, pour the polenta into a 9x13 cake pan lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate until completely cooled.
5. Once set, turn the polenta onto a cutting board. Cut into squares, triangles or circles, Brush each side with olive oil and saute in nonstick skillet over medium heat, or grill.

Substitution Suggestions: I threw in some sun-dried tomatoes (dried, not packed in oil) and it was a great addition. This could also work well with a variety of other cheeses. The original recipe called for red onion, but I prefer Vidalias.
I used a mixture of polenta and cornmeal. Either one will work.
I'm curious what would happen if I used milk/cream instead of part of the stock. I may have to try that at some point.

Lessons Learned: I loved cooking this in the oven. I've stirred the cornmeal mush for my dad in the past and it spits. This eliminates the need to dodge bits of boiling cornmeal shooting you in the eye or arm or hand or whatever else it takes offense to. And, it was incredibly creamy and smooth when I pulled it out. Not a lump in sight! (I wish I could say the same thing about my waistline!)

Pao de Queijo (Brazilian Cheese Bread)

In 1999, I was introduced to the delicacy of Pao de Queijo, or Brazilian cheese bread, at Rodizio's, a Brazilian rotisserie grill in Salt Lake City. These semi-gooey balls are little bites of heaven. They're cheesy, doughy, savory, piping hot and oh so good!

Texas de Brazil in Fairfax, Va., also serves these delectable balls as a complimentary appetizer. I usually ask for five or six servings since I've never found an adequate recipe to make them at home (and I've tried a variety of recipes, some of which stink up the house pretty good).

I once asked our server if there was a recipe the kitchen could share. She inquired and reported back that the restaurant buys them frozen and reheats them. She couldn't find the packaging to show me. I was very disappointed on multiple levels ... until recently.

I came across a recipe and it looked very different from all the other recipes I'd tried. So I gave it a try. It bombed. But, I took notes, tweaked several things and created a recipe that comes pretty darn close to the restaurant version. It takes 20 minutes from start to finish and I don't have to pay $45/plate at a nice restaurant to get them.

Disclosure: I borrowed this photo from another blog because my family is too busy eating these delicacies to be able to get a picture, but mine look just like these ones.

Pao de Queijo (Brazilian Cheese Bread)

1 egg, at room temperature
1/3 cup canola or vegetable oil
2/3 cup milk
1-2 tsp garlic powder (optional)
130 grams flour
45 grams corn starch
50 grams parmigiano reggiano, grated
50 grams queso fresco (Mexican farmer's cheese)
1 tsp salt (or more to taste)

1. Preheat oven to 400. Grease mini muffin tin. Combine all ingredients in a blender and pulse until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the blender to get all the extra flour bits.
2. Pour into mini muffin tin, filling 3/4 full. Bake 15 to 18 minutes until puffy and lightly browned. Serve hot.
Makes 2 dozen.

Substitution Suggestions: The recipe I based this on called for tapioca flour instead of all-purpose and cornstarch. Tapioca flour is not at generic grocery stores, so this flour-cornstarch mixture is a substitution. If you have wheat flour intolerance, use 175 grams of tapioca flour and omit the cornstarch entirely.
I tried using olive oil and rice flour. One word -- don't! The olive oil flavor overpowered everything else and the rice flour was too gritty.

ETA: I found tapioca flour and tried it (Bob's Red Mill, in case you were curious). Yep, it's a winner. It perfectly mimicked the little cheese balls that I love so much from Rodizio's.

Lessons Learned: I don't plan ahead usually, so my eggs are never at room temperature. I dropped it in a cup of warm water for a few minutes and took the chill off. It worked just fine.

When measuring the ingredients, I put my blender on my kitchen scale and measure away. Measuring queso fresco in a measuring cup is just too difficult. I put broken-up chunks of it in the blender and let the blades do the heavy lifting.

The batter should be the consistency of smooth pancake batter, perhaps a little thinner. If the batter is too thick to pour, mix in a little extra milk and/or oil.

I'm not squeamish about tasting raw egg, so I taste the batter to see if the salt content is OK. If you use all queso fresco, you will need to add more salt. If you add the parmesan (and don't use the nasty crap in the green can), you won't need more than the teaspoon the recipe calls for. If you omit the salt, your recipe will be bland.

These little balls are meant to be chewy inside, so I favor a shorter cooking time (perhaps even as short as 12 minutes). And, they are best eaten hot and straight out of the oven. I don't know how well they'll reheat, but my family of four eats all of them in one sitting, so it's not really a problem for us. If they start to cave in so they look like little volcanoes, pull them out or they'll lose the gooeyness!

The batter will keep in the fridge for up to a week.