Wednesday, January 18, 2012

UnRecipe: The Meals That Just Happen

If you've been sticking with my ramblings for this long, you'll know that this blog isn't so much about the intricacies of complex dishes or the following of recipes to the letter. Definitely not about recipes -- if I were on the Lewis and Clark expedition, we'd have found ourselves several miles down the Nile River after making a wrong turn in Albuquerque.  Don't ask how that would happen, but if I were writing the rules, I would make this happen. Food is something that just happens. The less you plan around it, the more you can just let the ingredients be your guide, and that's not a bad thing. Take this dinner in particular -- a roasted pork loin with a roasted root vegetable mash -- I really did just let the ingredients guide the way, and we wound up with one meal that stretched into several variations throughout the week.

The Dinner That Just Happens - Aimless Cooking at Wasabi's - Photo by Wasabi Prime
I know, it looks fancy and fussy, a mash of root veggies in the middle of a creamy soup and a little slice of pork tenderloin on top. Let's be honest, this shot was clearly for the blog -- a beauty shot, as it were. The meal itself was more like a random pile of all these ingredients on a plate, scarfed down with eager om-nom-nom-ness. Don't let the presentation throw you off -- I awoke on a Thursday morning, pulled our CSA box from the chilly front porch and found a mix of squash and carrots, and I always have some sweet potatoes on hand for cold weather months. I buy meat and freeze it for later use, pork loin being a favorite cut, since it's a good basic. Granted, it's on the lean side, so not a ton of flavor, but it's like a tabula rasa meat, so you can add whatever seasonings you want, cooking it in whatever manner you like. For meals like ours that go totally unplanned and seat-of-your-pants, it rolls with the punches nicely.

Pork loin doesn't always have a ton of fat, so, it also runs the risk of drying out and turning into a hockey puck. Not delicious. I seasoned the loin with an ample amount of salt and pepper and a light rub of vegetable oil before cooking. This particular cut was boneless, so no extra flavor from bone, but it did have a bit of a fat cap on one side. I lightly scored the layer of fat and in a hot cast iron Dutch oven it went. I did a good sear on the whole loin, starting with the fat cap. It gave it a nice crisp char, rendering it down, and I put a sear around the surface of the whole loin before removing the loin to a plate. I mostly wanted to get the lovely browned bits of flavor into the pot. I took the heat down a little and threw in a few pounds of rough-chopped carrots, sweet potato and an onion. I let the onion sweat a little and get the carrots and sweet potatoes starting to cook and soften. I added a bit of braising liquid -- if there's chicken stock available, I throw that in, but this time I just used a light beer. Keeping a few bottles of beer handy is nice if you want to deglaze a pan or get a braising liquid going. A dry white wine would also work fine.

One-Pot Cooking, My Favorite Way to Do a Meal! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
With the extra liquid in the pot and a layer of vegetables, the loin was added back in, the pot was lidded and into a 350 degree oven it went. Having the meat cook slower, in a lidded and moist environment helps keep it from getting tough, and you still get that nice browning from the initial sear. This is a good rule of thumb for cooking large cuts of meat and keeping it moist -- high heat first, then a slower, lower heat to finish off. When the loin was fully cooked, I let it rest and mashed the vegetables in the pot. On their own, this would be a meal, the slices of pork with a side of the mash. I had roasted the squash and made a simple soup -- basically chicken stock and the roasted squash; having a hand blender is helpful for finishing off creamy soups. But the main event was the pork and vegetable mash; the soup was just a nice side dish. We were able to stretch the pork into several different meals, having it with soup, the root veggie mash, and the large chunks of the loin could be reheated with other sauces and incorporated into other meals with other vegetables. Again, none of the meals really have much thought put into them beyond, "What do we have and what can we throw together relatively quickly on a weeknight?" While meals like these seem kind of disorganized and unplanned, they're relatively quick to make and are good for everyday meals. It's always easy to find special occasion meals, but for dishes that feed the household on a regular basis, it's nice to find one-pot meals or ingredients that are flexible to work with.

Multiple Meals from One Pork Loin at the Wasabi Household - Photos by Wasabi Prime

1 comment:

  1. Really enjoyed this. Great read. Looking forward to more!


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