Sunday, September 26, 2010

Gourmet Cheating

Everyone needs a few dishes that make them feel:

a. capable
b. talented
c. proud

It doesn't HAVE to be something fancy.  If you can spice up a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese to perfection (the secret's in the Old Bay!) and that's as far as you want to go - awesome.  Although you're probably not reading this blog.  I think I've found one to add to my list, courtesy of Williams-Sonoma.

If you've never tried making a Williams-Sonoma recipe, I implore you to try.  If you get their glossy, pineapple-stamped catalog in the mail, you'll find them slipped between the so-beautiful-I-could-cry Ruffoni hammered pots and who-actually-buys-this-shit? frozen pigs in a blanket apps.  Just watch out for the ones that specifically pimp their products, like you can't make this without the evelskiver round pancake pan or Ad Hoc potato vinaigrette.  Boo. 

Instead of stalking your mailbox (or, by extension, mailman), you can always visit their recipe website section for a vast array of recipes to discover.  I especially adore it during the holidays, since they're not exactly into the mindless weeknight cooking philosophy. 

But sometimes you're caught between a work night and a grand holiday affair - a place where you have a little time and a taste for something elevated, but not quite a reason to break out the top-tier china.  I found myself feeling that way today.  God's sudden relinquishing of summer weather (sunshine and 80+ degrees Saturday, non-stop torrential rain today) made me want to create something hearty, flavorful... something in my Le Creuset.  I pulled out my giant recipe file, and started shuffling through possibilities.  Chicken?  Too pedestrian.  Beef?  A little too expensive, if I want something excellent.  Ah, what have we here?  Pork!  Portland's darling.  From bacon to belly, our city has a love affair with swine.  And I particularly pride myself in my ability to cook pork to perfection.  Except when I'm busy cooking a whole salmon for a group of fish-lovers, and forget about Matt's pork chop and let it dry into jerky.  That was the exception.

I lift a page torn from the January 2009 Williams Sonoma catalog, advertising a tragic yellow-hued Le Creuset line, All-Clad meat thermometer and $100 cutting board.  Roast Pork with Pears.  Mmmm, pears.  One of the few successful crops of this crappy year, ripening on nearby vines at that very moment.  "How about pork loin tonight?"  I ask Matt, who's waiting patiently for me to settle on the weeks' menu. 

"Sounds good," he agrees.

If the weather wasn't so terrible, I might have pushed for a trip to Gartner's for super-fabulous meat.  But today, even driving to Canby feels like a chore.  Fred Meyer cuts will have to do.  And since we weren't sure if they were charging $1.99 per LEEK or per POUND (and the produce staff is ever-so-helpful), we halved the amount from the recipe.  The trucked-in pears weren't quire ripe, but in this recipe it turned out working just fine.

The nice thing about this recipe was that it didn't take all day to make.  It tasted like it could have, but I was in the kitchen an hour or so.  You start by caramelizing the pears in olive oil while your loin waits patiently in a parsley, garlic and spice paste.  My paste was not so very pastey and more, uh, dressing-like, but it turned out being fine.  Watching the stubborn pears be seduced by the sizzling olive oil, slowing browning into soft golden candy made me just crazy for fall... I wanna go sweater shopping!! 

The pears came out and the pork got a good sear, creating lots of delicious sticky bits for later.  HURRAY FOR PAN SAUCE!  Does anything make you look quite as amazing to unsuspecting dinner guests as sauce that didn't come our of a bottle AND tastes incredible?  Oh but I'm getting ahead of myself.  After the pork gets browned, they get arranged in pretty layers for the oven.   

"That smells good, babe!" I heard several times, in between Seahawks touchdowns (woo hoo!!).  While it cooked for 38 minutes (the recipe called for 45-55 minutes for a 3.5 pound cut, and I used my pork prowess to compensate for our 2.94 piece) I worked on spaetzle.  But we aren't going to talk about the spaetzle.  I didn't like how it turned out.

Anyway.  So 38 minutes later it comes out of the oven, and goes underneath a tent of foil to rest as instructed.  The moment of truth was here.  Were my instincts right?  Am I going to sully my record?  Biting my lip, I grabbed a Wusthof steak knife and went in for the kill.


Not a nanosecond under or over.  The faintest hint of pink, super-moist, tender - what pigs are supposed to be.  "MATT!!  Come see the pork!"  I cry.  The second opinion?  Magnificent.  We can definitely agree on the important stuff.

I used a local vineyard's viogner in the pan sauce, one that held its annual Grape Stomping Festival this weekend.  As the sweet wine hit the pan, an unforgettable smell enveloped the kitchen.  Spicy, warm fruits, singing with the pears and crying out for the mustard.  I made unnecessary Food Network chef noises.  The food just felt so tied to this moment, like the recipe was waiting in that file for almost 2 years just for today.

The rendered pears and leeks created a lovely, rustic presentation for the pork.  It seemed almost a shame that we didn't have anyone over to impress, but I guess being able to thoroughly impress my best friend is pretty nice too.  It really felt as though we had treated ourselves to some fancy dinner out, but with less of a commute and way more compliments for me.  I'm giddy to have discovered this, and love Williams-Sonoma even deeper for bringing it to me.  I face down Monday feeling

a. capable
b. talented
c. proud

Fascinating what a recipe can do for us sometimes.  Hold on to those ones. 

October in Oregon Roast Pork with Pears


  • 3/4 cup packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1/4 cup packed roughly chopped fresh sage,
      plus whole sage leaves for roasting
  • 3 whole garlic cloves, plus 2 cloves, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 5 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 boneless pork loin roast, about 3 1/2 lb.,
      halved horizontally
  • 3 ripe red Anjou pears, halved lengthwise
  • 4 leeks, white portions only, trimmed, halved
      lengthwise and rinsed
  • 2 tsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 2 Tbs. whole-grain mustard
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream


Position a rack in the lower third of an oven and preheat to 400°F.

In a mini food processor, process the parsley, chopped sage, whole garlic, salt, pepper and 3 Tbs. of the olive oil until a fine paste forms. Spread the mixture on the cut side of one half of the pork loin, then place the other half on top. Tie the roast together with kitchen twine and tuck whole sage leaves underneath the twine. Season the roast with salt and pepper.

In a 5 1/2-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm the remaining 2 Tbs. olive oil. Add the pears, cut side down, and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Add the pork to the pot and brown on all sides, about 8 minutes total. Transfer to a plate. Place the leeks, cut side down, in the pot in a single layer. Set the pork on top and place the pears along the sides of the pot.

Roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the pork registers 140°F, 45 to 55 minutes. Transfer the pork to a carving board, cover loosely with aluminum foil and let rest for 10 minutes before carving. Transfer the leeks and pears to a platter.

Pour the pan drippings into a bowl and discard all but 2 tsp. of the fat. Warm the reserved fat in the pot over medium-high heat. Add the minced garlic and flour and cook, stirring frequently, for 30 seconds. Add the wine and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute. Add the broth and pan drippings and cook until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and whisk in the mustard and cream. Season with salt and pepper.

Cut the pork into slices and arrange on the platter. Pass the sauce alongside. Serves 8 to 10.

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