Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Quick Spring Dinners to Know and Love

With the spring semester wrapping up, summer coming on, and too many fun things to do to stay cooped up inside cooking all day, I have been turning increasingly often to pork tenderloin as my go-to dinner meat (every time I try to cook vegetarian, I end up with a hungry husband!).

Pork tenderloin is relatively inexpensive, can be treated with any number of quick spice rubs or marinades, cooks very rapidly (about 15 minutes, following the instructions below), and is always tender, juicy, and flavorful. What's not to love?

Usually, I take a nice long tenderloin and quickly rub it with spices (which result in a tasty crust on the meat after cooking) or marinate the meat for about 15-20 minutes. Consider these ideas:
1. 5 Spice Powder, a little cinnamon, and a touch of cardamon
2. Hot smoked Spanish paprika, a little garlic powder, and some salt
3. Dried oregano, dried basil, a touch of crush fennel, salt and pepper
1. Olive oil, crushed red pepper, crushed garlic cloves, lemon zest, salt & pepper

Once the meat is ready to go, I heat a good skillet (I use All Clad stainless steel - don't use non-stick as you want a crust to develop) over high heat with some oil (grapeseed or canola, for example). I add the meat (cutting into two sections if it is too long for the pan) and sear it until both sides are golden and crusty (a few minutes per side). Then I put the pan into a preheated oven (usually around 450 degrees). Continue to roast the meat until a thermometer registers about 130-135 degrees (you want some slight pinkness in the center of the meat).

Carefully remove the pan from the oven and put the meat on a cutting board. Cover loosely with foil and let rest a few minutes. While the meat rests you can make a little pan sauce to drizzle over it by adding some water to the hot cooking pan (If you use the marinade recipe above, add some fresh squeezed lemon juice instead). Scrap up the bits on the pan's bottom and reduce the sauce slightly. Don't burn your hand on the hot-hot handle!

Slice the meat into medallions and drizzle with the pan sauce.

Now that its spring, I like to serve the pork tenderloin with as many lovely fresh things as possible. Last night we had it with a saute of crimini mushrooms (though if your store has any morels in, go for those!), chopped up ramps (spring's glory! - pictured here), and fresh thyme (saute in olive oil with plenty of salt and pepper). I garnished the saute with a salad of raw, fresh pea shoots tossed with lemon juice and olive oil. It was fabulous!

Another good side dish idea is shaved brussel sprouts. You can either shave them incredibly thin, toss them with a lemon-mustard vinaigrette, a bit of shaved parm, and some salt and pepper (a lovely, surprising raw salad) or slice them thicker and saute them in olive oil with fresh spring peas from the pod, ramps, jalapenos, or any other delightful spring veggies you like!

Finally, for a bit of starch, there is no beating oven-roasted potatoes! Take some nice Yukon golds (beautiful right now) and cut them into wedges. Toss the wedges with some olive oil, salt, pepper, and dried oregano. Set them on a baking sheet (make sure the slices are not touching each other) and roast at 450 degrees until golden brown and puffy. Serve these with an aoili (I prepare mine the lazy way by taking good quality mayo and mixing it with the spices of my choice: usually either smoked paprika, a touch of olive oil and lemon juice or roasted garlic with a touch of olive oil and lemon juice).


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