Pork Loin with Rhubarb Port Sauce

IMG_3195I mentioned recently I feel rhubarb has an identity crisis. People think it is a fruit rather than vegetable because of its tangy yet fruity flavors. This fruit mentality often relegates rhubarb to the dessert cart. There are many recipes for crisps, tarts, pies, jellies, cookies, and cakes, but not too many highlighting rhubarb for the more savory entrée.

Although I made this recipe with a pork loin, the flavors will work well with roasted turkey or chicken. I think it would complement wild game too.

IMG_3186I moved rhubarb to the dinner plate with this recipe. I have frequently used cranberries to make a cranberry port sauce served with turkey at Thanksgiving and other holidays. This got me thinking. Since cranberries and rhubarb share a similar flavor profile – both tart and tangy – I should be able to substitute rhubarb for cranberries in this sauce.

While the pork was roasting, I got to work on the rhubarb port sauce. I started by chopping one pound of rhubarb into small pieces, about 1/4″ or so, that would be roughly the size of cranberries. To this, I added 3/4 cups of packed light brown sugar, 1 teaspoon of cornstarch, and 1 and 1/4 cups of ruby port. Why 1 and 1/4 cup of ruby port? Because that leaves 1/4 cup of port in a 375 milliliter bottle that the cook can then enjoy while occasionally stirring the sauce until it reduces and thickens slightly.

Time to start working on that rhubarb appetizer and cocktail. I have ideas.

Here is what I did:

Pork Loin with Rhubarb Port Sauce

Ingredients

3 to 5 pound boneless center cut pork loin
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
1 Pound chopped rhubarb (approximately 1/4″)
3/4 Cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/4 Cup ruby port
1 Teaspoon cornstarch

Directions

Prepare grill for indirect grilling, heat to 325°F.

Allow pork loin roast to come to room temperature and then season all sides with kosher salt and pepper. Roast until internal temperature of 145° F. Plan on approximately 20 minutes per pound for the roast to come to this temperature. Pull roast and let rest at least 5 minutes before slicing.

While the pork loin is roasting, add the rhubarb, brown sugar, port and cornstarch to a 3 quart saucepan. Bring to a low boil and then simmer until liquid is reduced to about half and the sauce begins to thicken; about 45 minutes. The rhubarb will be fairly broken down yet still slightly chunky. The sauce will thicken even more as it cools.

Slice pork loin into approximately 3/4″ slices and spoon rhubarb port sauce over loin slices and serve.

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Rhubarb Crisp

IMG_3150Rhubarb has an identity crisis. Botanically it is a vegetable, however most people think of it as fruit. Even the United States government defines it as a fruit following a 1947 customs court ruling. Regardless, I enjoy it’s tangy, mouth puckering goodness.

IMG_3165One of my favorite ways to enjoy rhubarb is baked in a crisp. My mother would make them frequently in the spring.

There is nothing better than a slightly warm serving of rhubarb crisp topped off with some fresh heavy cream. My mother grew up on a farm with dairy cows and I was often reminded of her having to milk thirty-five of them twice a day by hand.

I made a rhubarb crisp today and thought of my mother and those thirty-five milk cows.

Here is what I did:

Rhubarb Crisp

Ingredients

3/4 Cup sugar
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
3 pounds of rhubarb chopped into about 1 inch pieces (8 cups)
2 1/2 Cups old fashioned rolled oats (Quick cooking work too.)
1 Cup packed brown sugar
1 Cup melted butter
2/3 Cup all purpose flour
2 Teaspoons ground Cinnamon

Directions

In a large bowl, combine sugar and cornstarch. Add rhubarb and toss to coat. Spoon into a 12″ x 9″ baking pan.

In a small bowl, combine the oats, brown sugar, butter, flour and cinnamon until well mixed.

Spread over rhubarb. Bake at 350° for 50 – 55 minutes or until bubbly and fruit is tender. Let cool, but best served when still slightly warm.

Lomo al Trapo: Salt-Crusted Beef Tenderloin Grilled in Cloth

I first heard of Lomo al Trapo about four years ago when I read an issue of Bon Appétit Magazine where Steven Raichlen described this South American method of cooking beef tenderloin. Lomo al trapo literally translates to “beef tenderloin in a towel.” It’s made by wrapping a beef tenderloin in a thick crust of salt inside a towel, tying it up, and throwing it directly on a fire until it’s cooked.

It sounds crazy, but it’s one of the easiest, most foolproof, delicious, and wickedly cool methods of cooking beef I’ve ever seen. Do this for a dinner party and your guests will at first think you’re crazy, but once that juicy slice of beef is on their plate and in their mouths they’ll think you’re a genius. Okay, maybe a mad genius. All it takes is beef, salt, a few seasonings, a towel, twine, and fire.

This post is more a description of a technique than it is a recipe. Just follow the basic steps outlined here and use your imagination.

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Wet towel with layer of kosher salt, fresh oregano and thyme. The salt should be about 1/4 inch thick.
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Fold the towel ends in like you would a burrito. Keep compressing the roast as you roll it to ensure good salt contact.
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Roast tied and ready for the fire.
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Nestle the roast directly in the coals making sure it is full contact.
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Pull the roast at about 95°F to 100°F and let it rest until it comes up to 125°F to 130°F. This will give you very nice rare cooked roast. Beef tenderloin is always better when cooked to rare or medium-rare. 
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Crack open the hardened cloth and salt shell to reveal a beautifully cooked tenderloin.
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Beautifully cooked tenderloin roast

Start by soaking a clean, kitchen towel in water. Do not use a towel that you value; you’re not getting this back. I purchase packs of six terry cloth bar towels that measure 16″ square at Target for about $4.00.

Ring out the towel and lay it out on a flat surface. Then spread a thick layer of kosher salt.

Add some fresh or dried herbs if you would like and then begin rolling the tenderloin up in the towel. When you get to the point where the towel will begin to roll under the salt, pull the towel back and continue to roll. You want the beef to be in full contact with the salt. Fold the ends of the towel in like a burrito and then complete the roll. Be sure to compress the roll as you go. You want this tight.

Once the tenderloin is completely rolled. Take some cotton twine that you have also soaked in water and tie the towel to the roast. I start with a tie that runs lengthwise and holds the ends together. Next, I tie the roast about every two inches.

 

 

Place the beef tenderloin package directly into the coal bed. I like to move it around a bit to get it nestled into the coals. I like to use lump charcoal for this as I believe it is cleaner. You can use charcoal briquets if you would like. Let this sit in the coals for about 10 minutes, flip and give it another 8 minutes or so.

Pull the roast out of the fire when an instant read thermometer reads 95°F to 100°F. The heat from the hot salt will continue to cook the roast. I pulled this one right before it hit 100°F and just a few minutes later it was approaching 104° After about 8 minutes the roast will be 125-130°F .

 

Once the roast comes to the desired temperature, crack open the hardened cloth and salt shell. Use a pastry brush to brush off any excess salt. I recommend saving some of the excess salt to use to season any accompanying sides you may be serving. The salt will have a nice smoky flavor. Discard the remaining shell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Move the roast to platter and carve to about 1 1/2 to 2 inch slices. The end pieces will be slightly more done. Open a nice dry Malbec and enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

Here is what I did:

Lomo al Trapo: Salt-Crusted Beef Tenderloin Grilled in Cloth

Ingredients

1 1/2 to 2 pound center cut piece of beef tenderloin, trimmed of all fat and silver skin
Kosher salt (Approximately 2 cups)
Fresh or dried herbs like oregano and thyme

Special equipment:
1 piece of clean cotton cloth, approximately 16 inches square, soaked in cold water and wrung out
Twine

Directions

Prepare a charcoal grill lighting a large chimney of lump charcoal. You should have a good layer of lump charcoal covering the bottom of your grill.

Spread the cotton cloth on a work surface. Spread the salt out on top of the cloth to form a layer 1/4 inch thick that extends to within 1 inch of the edge of the cloth. Place the fresh herbs or sprinkle the dried herbs evenly over the salt.

Place the beef tenderloin on top of the salt and herbs. Roll the cloth and salt around the tenderloin trying to maintain a compact roll. As the cloth begins to roll up on itself, pull the cloth back a few inches to ensure that the tenderloin completely encased in salt. Fold the ends in like you would rolling a burrito and finish the roll. When the roll is complete, first tie the roast lengthwise and then about every two inches.

Rake the charcoal out into an even layer at the bottom of the grill. Lay the wrapped tenderloin right on the coals. Moving it around a little as you place it to ensure that it is complete contact with the charcoal. The cloth will more than likely catch on fire so do not become alarmed. Grill for 9 to 10 minutes. Using long handled tongs, gently turn the tenderloin package over and grill for 8 minutes or until an instant read thermometer reads 95° to 100°F.

Remove the roast from the coals and let rest. The hot salt will continue to cook the roast. Leave the thermometer in the roast until it reaches the desired doneness: 125 – 130°F for rare; to medium-rare, 140° – 145°F. This will take as little as 10 minutes.

Tap the tenderloin hard with the back of a large, heavy chef’s knife. The burnt shell should crack and easily come off. Brush any excess salt off the tenderloin with a pastry brush. Transfer the tenderloin to a clean platter, cut it into 1 1/2 to 2 inch thick pieces and serve immediately.

Fiesta Pork Chops

This time of year can be a challenge. School is ending and there are a million end of the year activities going on. On top of that, summer practices and ballgames are beginning, the lawn needs to be mowed and all the household chores still need to get done. It can be a real challenge to get dinner on the table, but this recipe can help. It’s just a few ingredients and clean up is easy since it is all made in one skillet. Dinner will be on the table in under 45 minutes from start to finish.

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Fiesta Pork Chops – Pork chops topped with black beans and salsa all made in one skillet so cleanup is minimal.

I’m the first to admit that I will take a short cut in the kitchen if I need to. This recipe calls for canned black beans and jarred salsa. Soaking and cooking beans is not the most difficult thing in the world, but it takes planning ahead. I have no problems using canned beans on occasion and I always make sure my pantry is stocked with several different types.

The pork chops I like to use in this dish are bone-in chops at least three-quarters of an inch thick. You can use boneless if you like, but I think the bone helps develop a deeper flavor. A thinner chop can also be used but it will cook much faster and the liquids may not have as much time to cook down.

Here is what I did:

Fiesta Pork Chops

Ingredients

4 bone-in thick-cut pork chops
Ground black pepper
2 tablespoon oil
1 (15 ounce) can black beans, with liquid
1 cup salsa
3 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

Directions

Season pork chops with pepper.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sear pork chops 3 to 5 minutes per side until golden browned.

Stir about 2 tablespoons of the chopped cilantro into the salsa reserving the remainder. Pour beans and salsa over pork chops. Continue cooking over medium-high heat until liquid is bubbling, then reduce heat to medium-low, loosely cover the skillet, and simmer until chops are no longer pink in the center and liquid has reduced by about half; about 20 to 35 minutes.

Asparagus and Crab Stuffed Walleye

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Asparagus and Crab Stuffed Walleye served with a Green Bean and Radish Salad.

I like dinners that are elegant and look like you spent a lot of time preparing but actually come together quite easily and quickly. My Asparagus and Crab Stuffed Walleye is one of those meals. This entrée would be met with oohs and aahs if served at a dinner party.

I prepared this with fresh walleye however any mild tasting white fish would work well with it. What ever fish you choose, just be sure that the flavor of the fish compliments the boldness and doesn’t muddle the flavor of the crab. It pains me to say this, as I have a general dislike of the fish, but Tilapia would be a good choice for this. I like to describe Tilapia as the true chicken of the sea: bland, boring, and over farmed. I chose walleye because I believe the mild, somewhat sweet flavor works well with the crab.

Here is what I did:

Asparagus and Crab Stuffed Walleye

Ingredients

Fish
2 Walleye fillets or other white fish, skin removed
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 Cup shallot, minced
2 Cloves garlic, minced
6 ounces crab lump crab meat (pouch or canned is suitable)
1/4 Cup ricotta cheese (whole milk)
1 Teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
3 Tablespoons chives, chopped
Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper
6 spears asparagus trimmed just a little wider than width of fillet

Lemon Butter Sauce
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter (plus a little more for buttering the baking dish)
Juice from one large lemon (Approximately 4 tablespoons)

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Heat olive oil in skillet over medium low heat and gently sautée shallots. Add garlic when shallots are translucent and just beginning to brown. Add crab meat, ricotta, Old Bay Seasoning, chives, salt, and pepper. Stir to fully blend ingredients together. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Lay out fillets on cutting board. Check over for pin bones while patting dry. Divide crab mixture between fillets spreading evenly the whole length of the fish. Place three asparagus spears on the widest end of each fillet. Roll up the fillet beginning with the asparagus end and place the fillet seam down in a lightly buttered glass or ceramic baking dish.

Melt butter. Briefly whisk melted and lemon juice in a small bowl then then drizzle all but about two tablespoons of mixture over fillets. Sprinkle a little Old Bay Seasoning over fillets for color.

Bake crab stuffed fillets for about 20-25 minutes or until they flake easily with fork. It will depend on the size of your fish. Start checking them after 15 minutes if you have smaller fillets.

Savory Spinach Pie

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A slice of spinach pie

My favorite farmers’ market in the Cedar Rapids area, the Hiawatha Farmers’ Market, opened this past weekend and I stopped by to say hello to some of my friends.

This market is my favorite because it opens the earliest in the year and is the last to close in the area. It is also just the right size. It isn’t filled with the craziness of the Downtown Farmers’ Market which is more a place to be seen and not a farmers’ market. I build relations with the growers at Hiawatha which is what a market should be.

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Spinach pie cooling after coming out of the oven.

This visit to the year’s first market was simply to reacquaint myself with the vendors. I didn’t buy anything this visit as the offerings were mostly bedding plants. Some of the vendors have large green houses and so they were able to offer some items like lettuces and other greens as well as hot house tomatoes.

One green I am really looking forward to is fresh spinach and that got me thinking; I’m hungry for spinach pie.

Not finding any spinach at the market and a few days latter when this craving became an obsession, I did the next best thing. I went to the organic section of my grocery and bought a couple pounds of spinach. Craving satisfied.

Here is what I did:

Savory Spinach Pie

Ingredients

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onions, finely chopped
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds fresh spinach, larger stems removed, washed and thoroughly dried (See note)
8 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated
3 large eggs (one egg is used for an egg wash)
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
Pie crust for double crust pie

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Add the olive oil to a large skillet and sauté the onion and garlic over medium-high heat until the onion is translucent and beginning to soften. Season with salt and pepper. Add about 1/4 of the spinach, or whatever will fit in your skillet, and sauté until it cooks down. Repeat this until all the spinach is wilted. Continue cooking until most of the liquid is cooked out, about 10 to 12 minutes. Place spinach in a sieve and press the spinach to remove as much of the remaining liquid as possible. Set aside.

Whisk the cream, 2 eggs, and nutmeg together in a suitable bowl and set aside.

Fit the bottom crust in a 10″ pie pan. Layer half the spinach mixture in the bottom crust and then layer half the grated cheese. Repeat layers. Pour cream and egg mixture over spinach and cheese. Fit top crust over the pie and crimp the edges together. Beat remaining egg in a suitable bowl and brush over top crust with a pastry brush. Slit the top crust with a sharp knife to create steam vents.

Bake in 375F oven for 45 to 50 minutes and crust is golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool at least 30 minutes.

Note: You may substitute 2 10 ounce packages of frozen spinach for fresh. If you choose to do this, thaw and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. After you have sautéed the onion and garlic, add this to the skillet to warm though and incorporate the onion and garlic.

Roasted Beet, Goat Cheese, and Mint Grilled Cheese

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I have previously mentioned  I sometimes try to recreate a dish I had at a restaurant. Here is a good example. Lion Bridge Brewing Company, located in the Czech Village in Cedar Rapids, not only brews some tasty beers, but their kitchen creates some excellent food as well. The Mint and Beet Grilled Cheese is one of my wife Susan’s favorite sandwiches. The sandwich is described on their menu as “local roasted beets, mint oil, and warm goat cheese.” Susan has been begging me to recreate it.

I have, but with a few minor tweaks. First, we love beets and I didn’t think the original version had enough beets. Lion Bridge also dices the beets. I think the sandwich is more structurally sound if the beets are sliced. Secondly, they use mint oil while I used fresh mint. I believe the mint oil makes the flavors too pronounced. You want the mint to be subtle.

Here is what I did:

Roasted Beet, Goat Cheese, and Mint Grilled Cheese

Ingredients

1/2 pound roasted beets (2 medium sized beets)
1 sprig fresh mint (leaves only; about 12 leaves)
4 ounces plain goat cheese
4 slices sourdough bread sliced about 1/2 inch thick.
unsalted butter

Directions

Preheat oven to 425°F. Cut tops and root tip from beets. Wash and place on a baking sheet. Roast beets for about one hour or until the beet is soft and can be easily pierced with a fork. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Peel the beets when they are cool enough to handle. The skin should slip off relatively easily. Slice the beets into about 1/4 inch slices and set aside. The beets can be roasted ahead of time.

While the beets are roasting, set the goat cheese out to come to room temperature. Remove the leaves from a sprig of mint. Chop the leaves and slightly muddle the leaves in a small bowl. The muddling will release some of the mint oil from the leaves. Add the softened goat cheese and blend the cheese and leaves together so the mint leaves are well distributed. Set aside.

Heat griddle to medium-high heat.

Butter one side of each slice of bread. Spread one-half of the goat cheese and mint mixture on the non-buttered side of two of the slices of bread. Top the goat cheese with beets. Place the halves with the goat cheese and beets on the heated griddle facing up and top with the other slice of bread buttered side up. Grill until golden brown, about three minutes.

Slice in half if desired and serve.