Sunday, March 8, 2009

It's Not the Method, It's the Madness

"The Cornucopia" - the Bridgeworks ConservancyIt has been one of those weeks*, and by the time I checked the kitchen cupboards, it was already Sunday and I was just too exhausted to even think about walking to the market, let alone braving the roads. So whatever was in the pantry was gonna have to do. And that's the real beauty for any aspiring cook: learning to improvise.
By force of habit I took something out of the freezer to thaw Saturday morning. On Sunday morning, I learned what it was. Pork was once again on the menu. I had no idea what I was going to with it, but was inspired by Hollywood to be a leaf on the wind. I had onion and garlic of course. There were roasted red peppers and fresh thyme in the fridge. I had a few Yukon Golds and some canned olives. There was plenty to choose from on "spice island", and I knew I couldn't go too far wrong with a slow-cooked sauce.
By now, everyone should know how to braise a piece of inexpensive meat: season with salt & pepper, brown on all sides in a Dutch oven with a little hot olive oil, add liquid and simmer for several hours. Here's where the madness comes in. Follow your nose. Sniff your spices. Which ones go well together, and which one clash? Oregano and basil say Italian, thyme and rosemary bespeak French. Cumin, allspice and coriander speak of faraway shores.
So many people let their fear of failure prevent them from even making an effort. What a shame. Get in there. Develop some chops. Trust your own instincts. Believe me, everyone screws up, spectacularly even. Learn from your mistakes and keep at it. Anyone can cultivate sound kitchen skills, it just takes a desire to learn and a willingness to try.
Boneless pork loin and ingredients on handNo shopping list required. I basically used what was on hand. A 3lb boneless pork roast, roasted red peppers, black olives, Yukon Gold potatoes, herbs, Marsala wine and spices.
Browing pork loinBrown seasoned meat in a couple table spoons of olive oil. Pork tends to be lean and dry now. If you have the time, brine your meat overnight in plain ol' salt water. We'll talk about brining liquids in Cooking 201.
Chopped red onionRule of thumb: any great sauce is gonna start with chopped, cooked onion. In this case red onion...
Whole fresh garlic bulb... and garlic. Everyone has walked into a house where onion and garlic are cooking. The smell is heavenly.
Potatoes, red peppers, onions and garlicAfter the meat has browned, sweat onions for 5 minutes, add garlic and cook another 60 seconds. Then toss in the rest of your ingredients, in this case, potatoes and peppers and warm through.
Return the browned roast to the pan and add cooking liquidReturn roast to the pot, add liquid and bring to a boil. Water is fine, vegetable or chicken stock is better. A dry white wine is best of all. Let your nose decide which spices to add. I liked the exotic promise of cumin and allspice.
Covered Dutch ovenReduce heat to low, cover pot and let simmer for several hours. Flip the roast every hour. The meat will talk to you. When it falls apart without any effort, it's done. Isn't my azure Dutch oven beautiful? Suck it, Williams-Sonoma!
Half-way through cookingLook at the difference in color after a couple hours of simmering. I am not cooking here, the alchemy is happening on its own.
Braised pork roast with brown riceFour hours later, I sat down to this. The pork just flaked on my fork. The sauce was rich and exotic, peppery and sweet. I am ashamed to admit I made a pig of myself.
I will beat this into you if I have to. Cooking does not have to be some big production or a dreaded chore. You're reading this blog, presumably you like to eat and possible prepare your own meals. Discover the joy of putting something delicious and pretty on the table. Make this your motto:
"I like a cook who smiles out loud when he tastes his own work. Let God worry about your modesty; I want to see your enthusiasm." -Robert Farrar Capon
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food
* I put in about 70 hours at work, pulled an all-nighter Thursday and, oh, U2 performed live at the office Friday morning.


Jeff (UK) said...

The pork sounds heavenly, but what were U2 doing at your office?

Muffie said...

They heard about the pork and said "I gots to have some of that!"