15 February 2011

A Veritable Cornucopia of Valentine's Edibles (Verily)

The plan for Valentine's Day proper was to partake in some SF Beer Week shenanigans and get a cheap dinner and instead do a big, fancy meal cooked at home the previous day. The Beer Week event was a shit-show and we went elsewhere, but the dinner was a roaring success. We had worked out a decent menu consisting of things we both agreed would be delicious: a candied walnut, cranberry, and feta salad with a cranberry vinaigrette; rosemary and cranberry pork tenderloin with sauce; roasted root vegetables tossed in oil and herbs; hand-made truffles.
You'll notice a theme running through the meal - cranberries. We thought it cute to have a culinary theme, especially a red one (the default color of Valentine's). Spoiler alert: a very sugary theme can be a bit oppressive, especially when you have cranberry juice instead of wine with the meal. Do note that each dish, except the truffles (more on that later), was delicious on its own; having a link between two dishes is nice, and I'm sure a greater chef could have made it work. Also, cranberries turn purple-ish when cooked into things like sauces.
Also I want to re-iterate something: the pork was amazing. Seriously, a delicious testament to porcine perfection. It may not have equaled the levels of NOPA's pork chop (and, if you happen to find something as good, TELL ME) but for home-cooked meat I don't think I've had much better. The recipe was quick, easy, and not intimidating for a non-meat-cooker such as myself. Recipes, photos, and cutesy stuff follows.

The day started off innocuously, with a lazy (and atypically warm) morning. I had finally procured some spelt flour, so I cooked the vegan pancake recipe using it (all spelt flour instead of 50/50 buckwheat/pastry). E whipped up an amazing strawberry syrup to top them with, as well as a wonderful surprise. Very sweet, both in flavor and reception. The spelt flour was also pretty good; they looked more like pancakes but they were missing the bite I've come to expect from the buckwheat.
After that, we went out to procure supplies for the cooking. I made a critical mis-step here, one that would come to bite us later. Below, you can see E imagining how delicious the truffles will be when shaped and enrobed. Sadly, it was not to be. When a recipe asks for "bittersweet chocolate" do not, even for a second, think you can substitute 100% dark chocolate.
We used this truffle recipe, decimated (using the modern definition, not the ancient roman definition). Except with the incorrect ingredients mentioned above. The truffles, once coated, looked wonderful as you can see below. The taste is something of a surprise - dark, bitter, and draining your mouth of moisture if eaten plain. The walnut-encrusted ones fared the best, being mostly edible.
With our truffles cooling waiting to be shaped, and ticking lightly of a culinary timebomb, we moved on to more successful ventures: candied walnuts from scratch! Melting sugar is fun, roasting nuts is easy, and tossing the two together is incredibly messy and sticky. I recommend you do it. These walnuts, left to cool and set on a cookie sheet, would become a constant snack as you moved through the kitchen. It was nigh impossible to pass by the sheet without taking a bite, and neither of us had the willpower to do anything about it. I am left with the leftovers, sitting in my cabinet, begging to be consumed en masse.

From here, we moved on to the veggies. We didn't do anything special - take a parsnip, a carrot, and a large turnip. Cube them, toss in oil, salt, and rosemary, and place on a bed of chard. Put in the oven at 450 degrees for around an hour. The chard will get incredibly crispy, probably too much so, but everything else will be delicious. At about 10 minutes left for them to cook, we dribbled leftover chicken stock on the sheet, our secret ingredient.

The salad was simple, but delicious. As this post is already gargantuan, and I still have the main attraction recipe to go, I'll simply link to the vinaigrette recipe and let you figure out how to combine mixed greens, candied walnuts, feta, and dried cranberries into a delicious side. Go on now, it isn't hard.
Cranberry and Rosemary Pork Tenderloin
Serves 2 + 2 lunches worth of leftovers
~35-40 minutes
1.5 - 2 lbs pork tenderloin
1 large shallot, diced
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup whole berry cranberry sauce
pinch of salt and pepper, freshly ground

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Take 1 tbsp of the butter and melt it in an oven-safe skillet (cast iron, preferably) over medium-high heat. Rub salt and pepper on the pork and sear in the skillet. Once seared, immediately put it in the oven. Remove when the temperature reads 160, which should take 20-30 minutes.

5 minutes before you think the pork will be done, sautee the rosemary and shallot in the remaining 1 tbsp of butter; when you remove the pork from the oven, pour all of the drippings into the shallot pan. Cover the pork to keep it warm while you do the rest.

Add the vinegar, chicken broth, and cranberry sauce to the pan, heating over medium heat for 10-15 minutes while stirring. It should thicken a bit during this process. Remove pork from cover, slice, and cover in sauce. Enjoy.

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