Category Archives: 2019 Cookery Project

2019 Cookery Project — Pork Loin with Cherries and Shallots

Pork Loin with Cherries and Shallots

Pork Loin with Cherries and Shallots

This one is significant because it’s the first serious homemade meal I’ve cooked since The Flood that trashed my condo on Memorial Day weekend. I’ve spent the last three months dining mainly on takeout, deli, and leftover Easter candy, which gave me first-hand proof that the old adage is right: “Man shall not live by rotisserie chicken alone.”

Pork loin is ridiculously easy to cook, easier, even, than boneless skinless chicken breast.* I blended elements from a recipe for Pork Loin with Cherry Vinaigrette that I found in Bon Appétit with a complementary one for Spiced Pork Tenderloin with Cherry-Thyme Pan Sauce from Epicurious, and came up with this.

Despite appearances, btw, the pork was not overcooked. It was much pinker than it appears in the photo.

Underappreciated gadget: I have to give special credit to the little plastic cherry-pitter that spends 99.9% of its time sitting on a shelf, ignored and unloved. I use it maybe three times a year, but when I need it for something like the pitted cherries in this recipe, it’s absolutely essential. Ever try to pit cherries manually?

The way this story should end is with the Pork Loin with Cherries and Shallots declared a culinary masterpiece, and everybody applauding like they do in r/ThatHappened.

Maybe next time. This was just OK.


Rating

★ Disaster. Inedible. Poisoned the cat.
★★ OK, but once is enough.
★★★ Mixed results. Something went wrong, but might try this again.
★★★★ Good, but lacks that special something.
★★★★★ Excellent. Goes into my “This is a winner” file.


* But boneless skinless chicken breast is much more versatile.

After The Flood—An Update

It’s been a while. Anybody still out there?

Regular postings will resume in the next few days. What follows here is a brief rundown on why I’ve been hors de combat since Memorial Day. It isn’t very pretty, and you may just want to skip this entry and wait for the new posts.


Summer of 2019 has not been anything close to the most wonderful summer of my life. In fact, I’d probably rank it near the bottom three, only slightly higher than the summer I spent in a Bulgarian prison (mistaken identity), the summer I got lost on the Appalachian trail and had to survive on berries and mushrooms for six weeks, or the summer when that Abercrombie and Fitch model kept calling me and emailing me and stalking me until I finally got the restraining order. (Actually, that one was rather fun.)

The season had started with such high hopes and great expectations! In late May I returned to Washington from a couple of weeks in gloomy and glorious Budapest,* restored, revitalized, and ready to live a much richer and more, well, elegant life. Think Gerald and Sara Murphy in Paris and on the French Riviera in the 1920s.**

The first warning signs came during an otherwise delightful visit by my Nevada brother and sister-in-law, when my long-standing pulmonary problems started to act up. I knew from experience that this meant I was in the early stages of a two- to four-weeks of low-level morbidity, marked by fatigue, marathon coughing sessions, and general yuckiness. And then The Flood happened.

Here’s where things get serious.

I wasn’t aware of it until later, but the whole mess—illness and injury, loss of autonomy and privacy, property damage and disruption of plans, and general uncertainty—left me seriously depressed and effectively paralyzed, unable to do much more than sleep, play online games, and watch immediately forgettable junk TV.  I stopped returning phone calls and answering email. My big project for the year, improving my cooking skills? Abandoned. I had no desire to be in my post-Flood, chaotically disarranged kitchen, and no interest in exploring new restaurants. I survived on deli take-out and on great quantities of Diet Cherry Pepsi.

It was only just before Bastille Day, six weeks post-Flood, that I (metaphorically) slapped myself in the face and told myself that I couldn’t continue to live the way I’d been living, that the numbness began to diminish. I turned off the TV in the middle of an episode of Can’t Pay We’ll Take It Away and made reservations at regular hang-out ARTECHOUSE and at a couple of good restaurants. Not only would I get out of bed and dressed before 2 PM, but I would also actually leave the apartment!

And I did.

So while things here are still ugly—restoration of my condo and of the ~30 other units damaged by The Flood may not even be completed before the end of 2019—it seems life is finally, slowly, back on the upswing.

I’ll be spending the rest of my Unwonderful Summer posting here, dining out, and re-reading Living Well Is the Best Revenge and Tender Is the Night.


*It was my fourth visit to that endlessly fascinating city, my third in 18 months. I’ve told people that entitles me to honourary citizenship, but I may have been misinformed.

**See Living Well Is the Best Revenge.

2019 Cookery Project — Easter Lunch

Easter Lunch

Easter Lunch

A full plate. It’s a holiday!

Clockwise from the top, we have rosemary roasted onions, made with garlic, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, and rosemary, then sliced leg of lamb, with more garlic and more rosemary. There’s a dab of store-bought mint jelly at six o’clock.

The star of the show was the serving of Brussels sprouts with onion and crumbled bacon.

Rating

★ Disaster. Inedible. Poisoned the cat.
★★ OK, but once is enough.
★★★ Mixed results. Something went wrong, but might try this again.
★★★★ Good, but lacks that special something. for the onions.
★★★★★ Excellent. Goes into my “This is a winner” file. for the Brussels sprouts.


Lamb to the Slaughter

This seems an appropriate place for a certain memorable video.

From 1955 through 1962, Alfred Hitchcock hosted a television anthology series called Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Hitchcock only directed 17 of the 268 episodes—in those days, a television season could run to 40 weekly episodes—but he hosted all of them, displaying the famous Hitchcock dark humour during his introduction and closing comments to each show, and mildly trolling his advertisers before the mid-show commercials. His appearances were sometimes the best part of the episodes.

Here’s one of the classic Alfred Hitchcock Presents stories, written by Roald Dahl, starring an absolutely-perfect-in-the-part Barbara Bel Geddes, and directed by A. Hitchcock himself. It’s called Lamb to the Slaughter.

2019 Cookery Project — Slow Cooker Pot Roast

Slow Cooker Pot Roast

Slow Cooker Pot Roast

Every now and then, a fella just wants some good ole comfort food, and nothing says “Comfort” like a good ole Pot Roast, made in a good ole crock pot.  (I’m trying for folksy here. Just go with it.)

The recipe comes from Classy Cooking, and it differs from the last few recipes I’ve tried in that it’s not a rethinking of a classic dish, or a 21st-century version of an old favourite. It’s just really good pot roast, composed of the traditional beef roast, yellow onions, carrots, and Yukon gold potatoes. It’s seasoned with minced garlic cloves, Worcestershire sauce, minced fresh thyme, minced fresh rosemary, Kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper. The whole thing goes into a crock pot, gets doused with beef broth* and red wine,** and cooked on low heat for eight or nine hours.

Everyone knows that soups and stews taste better the second day. Since I slow cooked this overnight, it was technically the second day before I had my first taste of it, which was part of the reason it tasted so good.


Rating

★ Disaster. Inedible. Poisoned the cat.
★★ OK, but once is enough.
★★★ Mixed results. Something went wrong, but might try this again.
★★★★ Good, but lacks that special something.
★★★★★ Excellent. Goes into my “This is a winner” file.


* When I was young and poor, I thought you could get away with substituting beef bouillon cubes for beef broth. You can’t.

** I’d also advise against substituting grape juice for the red wine.

2019 Cookery Project — Pork Marbella

Pork Marbella

Pork Marbella

I’d mentioned Chicken Marbella fondly in my posting about an updated recipe for Beef Stroganoff, and a couple of days later, what did I find? A recipe for a revised version of the dish, using pork loin instead of chicken.

If I were the least bit paranoid, I’d suspect the editors of Bon Appétit of monitoring my blog. (I already know about the bugged phone and the intercepted mail, and I’m reasonably sure that the woman down the hall is on their payroll. Why won’t they leave me alone?)

Anyhow, I made it, and it tasted great. It needs an overnight marinade, but once that’s done, you can cook and serve the Pork Marbella in under an hour.

Excellent result.


Rating

★ Disaster. Inedible. Poisoned the cat.
★★ OK, but once is enough.
★★★ Mixed results. Something went wrong, but might try this again.
★★★★ Good, but lacks that special something.
★★★★★ Excellent. Goes into my “This is a winner” file.

2019 Cookery Project — Steak Stroganoff

Steak Stroganoff

Steak Stroganoff

Last month’s Epicurious featured a refreshing new variation on a classic recipe. I tried it, and it’s excellent.

Beef Stroganoff originated in Russia in the late 19th century and became popular in the US after World War II. The dish was to the 1950s what Chicken Marsala was to the 1980s: An elegant but easy dinner-party favourite.

I can’t remember the last time I saw Beef Stroganoff on a restaurant menu, but it’s never really gone away.

Here’s how Epicurious revived it: Instead of cutting the beef into cubes or strips before cooking, the meat—boneless New York strip steak—is pan-seared whole and served in 1/2″-thick slices.

But it’s what’s done with the buttered egg noodles that gives the dish its zing. Once the noodles are drained, they’re flavored with two teaspoons of finely grated lemon zest, two tablespoons of fresh lemon juice, and a half cup of torn dill.

This one’s a keeper.


Rating

★ Disaster. Inedible. Poisoned the cat.
★★ OK, but once is enough.
★★★ Mixed results. Something went wrong, but might try this again.
★★★★ Good, but lacks that special something.
★★★★★ Excellent. Goes into my “This is a winner” file.

2019 Cookery Project — Shrimp Creole

Shrimp Creole

Shrimp Creole

Still under the influence of my recent stay in Charleston, I craved* another taste of Southern cooking. Some spicy New Orleans-style Shrimp Creole seemed like a good idea.

The Recipe Critic gave me the instructions I needed for a fast and easy meal, in which the most time-consuming step was peeling the pound of previously deveined shrimp.

The result was good, and, more importantly, it tasted like something I’d find in a Louisiana restaurant.  Authentically Creole. This made me inordinately happy, and a bit proud. I’d created a dish using a flavour profile that was outside of my familiar safety zone, and it had turned out well, which is one of the core reasons that the whole Cookery Project exists.


Rating

★ Disaster. Inedible. Poisoned the cat.
★★ OK, but once is enough.
★★★ Mixed results. Something went wrong, but might try this again.
★★★★ Good, but lacks that special something.
★★★★★ Excellent. Goes into my “This is a winner” file.


*Note my use of the word “craved”. It’s rarely heard outside the South, where it usually expresses a longing or desire for something to eat, as in “I crave a nice big bucket of Popeye’s Spicy White. And a diet Coke.”

2019 Cookery Project — Frogmore Chowder

Frogmore Chowder

Frogmore Chowder

No Frogs Were Harmed in the Preparation of this Frogmore Chowder
(Mainly because Frogmore Chowder contains no frogs)

According to Wikipedia, Frogmore is a community near Beaufort, South Carolina, and the name “Frogmore Stew” was coined by one of the owners of a local fish company in the 1960s. I didn’t get a chance to try it in Charleston, even though it showed up on approximately 72% of the local menus, so I decided to make it at home. I used a recipe from The Washington Post.

The dish is heavy on the cream, which has never stood in the way of my search for a good recipe. (Cream and butter are our friends!) In addition to the usual suspects, the stock contains thyme leaves, white wine, and clam juice.

The other four main ingredients—the stuff that makes Frogmore Chowder the dish that it is—are corn, fingerling potatoes, shrimp, and kielbasa sausage.

Liked it a lot.


Rating

★ Disaster. Inedible. Poisoned the cat.
★★ OK, but once is enough.
★★★ Mixed results. Something went wrong, but might try this again.
★★★★ Good, but lacks that special something.
★★★★★ Excellent. Goes into my “This is a winner” file.

2019 Cookery Project — Vince and Terri’s Chicken Chili

Vince and Terri's Chicken Chili

Vince and Terri’s Chicken Chili

I’d done almost no serious cooking for the 2019 Cookery Project since the start of the year, so once I made it home from Charleston, I was eager to get back into my own kitchen and get to work.

I love chili, but I’ve never been able to put together the right combination of meat, spices, liquids, garnishes, and other ingredients needed to create The Ultimate Chili Bowl. A few months ago, I was whining about that failing to my sister-in-law Terri—I do a lot of whining to relatives about various failings, a few of them even my own—and she promised to send me a recipe that she and my brother Vince use. Which she did.

The Verdict: This chili was good, as well as fast and easy to put together. I think the secret ingredient was the jar of mild salsa verde, something I’d never used before, which gave the chili a nice kick.

I’ve already used the recipe a second time, doubling the main ingredients and upping the spices by 50%, so that I could freeze most of this second batch in 1-, 2-, and 4-serving containers. There’s no such thing as having too much chili within easy reach.

But the quest continues. It may be that my search for the ultimate chili recipe is doomed to inevitable failure, like my endless attempt to find a place that serves fish and chips as good as the ones I used to get, a long time ago, at a little shop in San Francisco. But I’ll press on, like Joel Cairo and Kasper Gutman, despite the odds.

After all, ultimate chili is the stuff that dreams are made of.


Rating

★ Disaster. Inedible. Poisoned the cat.
★★ OK, but once is enough.
★★★ Mixed results. Something went wrong, but might try this again.
★★★★ Good, but lacks that special something.
★★★★★ Excellent. Goes into my “This is a winner” file.

2019 Cookery Project — Spicy Pork Roast with Leeks and Potatoes

Spicy Pork Roast with Leeks and Potatoes

Spicy Pork Roast with Leeks and Potatoes

This is the first meal of my 2019 Cookery Project — Spicy Pork Roast with Leeks and Potatoes. And Garlic and Kale. And the contents of a small spice rack. There’s a lot going on here.

It’s probably the last Cookery Project plate I’ll be posting until late February. The various Washington-area Restaurant Weeks start tomorrow and run through most of January. Shortly thereafter, I’m making an excursion to Charleston, SC, a city that shows up on most of those “Top Ten US Cities for Dining” surveys. I’ve never visited before, but I’ve got a little list….

So I’ll be eating well, but cooking little these next few weeks.


I got the recipe for this dish from Bon Appétit. It takes two or three days to put it all together.

What gives this pork roast its kick comes from the blend of spices that you put on the pork.  I started by toasting black peppercorns and fennel seeds, then blending them with red pepper flakes and cinnamon with a mortar and pestle. (I didn’t own a mortar and pestle before I decided to try this recipe, but, fortunately, the DC area is rich in 24-hour mortar and pestle stores. It’s something we’re known for.)

I covered the pork with the ground spices, sealed it in plastic wrap, and refrigerated overnight.

The rest was easy. The next day, I halved a mix of small red, white, and purple potatoes, cut some leeks into rounds, and sliced six garlic heads in half, crosswise, and, yes that’s full garlic heads, not garlic cloves. They filled the bottom of a big roasting pan. While I was chopping away at the vegetables, I also cooked half a head of garlic and a few sprigs of thyme in butter.

I put the pork on top of the vegetables, basted it with the melted garlic butter, and roasted the whole thing at a low heat. After a couple of hours, I removed the pork and let it rest on a platter. (This was easily the best-rested pork roast in America,)

Final steps: I raised the oven temperature to 500° and added some apple cider vinegar and a lot of shredded kale to the roaster. The well-rested pork when back on top. A half hour later, it was golden brown and beautiful.

After a final 20-minute rest, it was ready to eat.

Meal prep took forever, and there was a lot of stop-and-go action, but the result was well worth the effort.

2019 is off to a good start.


Rating

★ Disaster. Inedible. Poisoned the cat.
★★ OK, but once is enough.
★★★ Mixed results. Something went wrong, but might try this again.
★★★★ Good, but lacks that special something.
★★★★★ Excellent. Goes into my “This is a winner” file.