Happy Birthday: A Dessert Retrospective

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Had a lot of tasty things made for me for my birthday over the years. This banoffee pie made by a friend of mine last year is definitely in the top five! 

Today’s my birthday! I’m 27, y’all!

I may be a for real grown-up and have been for a few years now, but birthdays still stir up in me a slightly crazed, child-like glee for all things sweet and frosted.

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Culinary Experiment #9: Spiced Pork Tenderloin

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I know I usually hide behind cute pastries and fabulous veggie recipes. This is not one of those times.

Before this post, I had never cooked any sort of meat before. Sure, I’ve microwaved or baked pre-cooked meats. But I had never cut, prepared and cooked raw meat.

I’m not particularly squeamish about working with raw meat, but I’ve always been afraid of under-cooking  it.

But this time was different. Instead of talking myself out of cooking it like I always do, a few days ago, I committed myself to actually cooking with raw meat. Why? Two reasons:

  1. My dad asked me to. Pork is one of his favorite foods. He doesn’t have much cooking experience and my mother refuses to touch the stuff. Pork, in every conceivable form, really grosses her out. Also, It’s Father’s Day weekend and so I can’t just say no to him. It’d be like telling your kid the night before that he’s getting absolutely nothing for Christmas. Yeah, you see that tree? All sparkly and festive for tomorrow? There’ll be nothing, nada, zilch under it come Christmas morning. Stop crying. 

Ok, maybe it wouldn’t be that awful if I said no. But when it comes to gift-giving holidays, my dad’s not into presents, he’s into food. And cards. That’s all. So if I take away the food, this year’s Father’s Day would be pretty crummy. Also, he rarely ever makes culinary requests like this, so why not?

  1. I had the perfect recipe on my Hobbies Cookbook list to use. I’d be super efficient this weekend: put a smile on Dad’s face and cross off another dish on my list. Win. Plus this recipe was perfect for a beginner like me. Nothing too complicated. Just a girl and her frying pan.

The outcome? I think my very first attempt at making Spiced Pork Tenderloin was a success. A surprising success, as you’ll soon see in my recipe notes.

The pork was juicy and had a lovely caramel sweetness to it. It wasn’t cloyingly sweet: there was  just a hint of of the brown sugar which led nicely into the spicy kick that came from Sriracha base I used for the marinade. Even the scorch marks had a nice flavor.

Both my dad and brother enjoyed it as well and even went for seconds. And you know what? It’s been two days, and no one got sick (as far as I know). Yay!

There were just a few slight changes I made to the recipe based on the ingredients I had access to:

  1. I used a 2-pound pork loin instead of a 1-pound pork tenderloin. I’m not sure if there is a difference between “pork loin” and “pork tenderloin” but they look similar in shape to me even though on their packaging they’re labeled differently. But judging based on my results, I got the taste I expected when I read the recipe and my photos of the finished dish looked similar to Cooking Light’s photo, so I honestly don’t think it matters. But in the interest of full disclosure: Yes, I used pork loin instead of tenderloin. I also used 2 pounds of pork rather than 1 pound because I snagged the last unflavored/original pork loin my local Walmart had and it happened to be 2 pounds; which leads me to the next change I made…
  2. I ended up doubling the recipe for the spice marinade to compensate for the extra pound of pork. 
  3. I used dark brown sugar. The recipe didn’t specify what kind of brown sugar to use: light or dark; so I just used what I had on hand.

Two important observations I made while preparing this dish:

  1. Pork fat is tough to separate from the meat. There’s a ton of connective tissue. If you’re a beginner, it would probably be best to slice your pork loin into the pieces you want first and then trim the fat from each piece. It’ll save you time and energy that you’d otherwise waste fighting with that connective tissue. It’s much more manageable to cut off little pieces of fat than having to tackle a huge sheet of it.
  2. The sharpness of your knife is important. It sounds simple but it’s vital to trimming pork. Seriously, that connective tissue is no joke.  Your knife shouldn’t be so dull that you have to constantly saw your way through the meat. You need a super sharp knife to cut through that tissue.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Don’t hesitate to let me know what you think. I’d love to hear your opinions, questions and stories!

Thanks for reading and I hope you have a lovely week!

I’d also like to thank Alyson Haynes of  Cooking Light magazine for writing the piece from which this recipe originated and myrecipes.com for posting Haynes’ article about this recipe.

Culinary Experiment #8: Garlic Scallion Noodles

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Confession: I don’t normally cook/saute/fry things in butter.

I love butter. For toast. For cornbread. For baking. But with the exception of making pancakes, butter never hits my skillet.

It’s just not how I grew up. My mom always used canola or vegetable oil. And only recently did I discover the joys of using olive oil. Don’t get me wrong, buttery sauces are nice, but if I’m frying or sauteing something, I want a cleaner taste. I want to taste what I’m frying, not necessarily the oil/fat I’m frying with.

I wish I could say this recipe turned out amazing, but it just sort of fell flat. But I will say it wasn’t all the butter’s fault. Just most of it.

I just felt like this recipe couldn’t decide between producing a smooth garlic butter sauce or stir-frying the noodles. And maybe that was supposed to be the genius behind it: that you could potentially get the best of both worlds– fried noodles in a creamy kettle corn-esque sauce does sound kind of awesome.

But the meal just didn’t come together for me.

My photos are deceiving: Yes, even if you mess up, this dish still comes out visually appealing. It’s that whole supermodel sporting a burlap sack thing. Sure, the outfit is a fashion nightmare, but it’s still a supermodel stomping down that runway. Sure, the noodles didn’t taste that great, but it was covered in a shimmery golden dressing of butter, brown sugar and garlic. Then it was adorned with emeralds—I mean bright green onions. The dish was still made up of everything most people fantasize about when it comes to food: butter, sugar and bright colors.

Here are the pros: Visually appealing. Nice nutty flavor from the soy sauce. Slightly sweet. Scallions add bright color and freshness to the dish.

Here are the cons: The butter congeals after a while and left the noodles soggy. Yes, you have to eat this while it’s piping hot or it can get oily and greasy tasting after a while. Slightly overpowering bitter garlic flavor.

But here’s what I did wrong (A.K.A. Recipe Notes Part I):

  1. When sauteing the garlic and onions, I didn’t really pay attention to how long I let it cook and I’m sure I didn’t stir it enough. And so, some of the garlic  and onions burned and left a bitter taste in the sauce.
  2. I should have used more noodles. The recipe called for “half of a box of noodles” but I reduced it to a portion that I could actually consume. The problem was that I reduced the amount of the noodles without reducing the amount of sauce I was making and so the small batch of noodles I made was forced to soak up a ton of melted butter that was really meant for half of a box of noodles. This could have contributed to the soggy noodle problem mentioned  above.

Some variations I’d like to try with this recipe (Recipe Notes Part II):

  1. While I was cooking, I thought about adding some red pepper chili flakes to the noodles for some heat. I might do that next time. I love spicy food and the flakes might help cut through the richness of the butter sauce.
  2. While the noodles photographed beautifully with the green onions, I’d still like to see more colors pop through these golden brown noodles. So next time, I’d probably add broccoli, carrots and red bell peppers to this dish.

Thanks for reading this post! I’d love to hear any of your comments or questions, so feel free to post a note in the comments section below!

I’d also like to thank Joanne Choi of “Week of Menus” for posting this recipe.

I hope you all have a lovely weekend!

Culinary Experiment #7: Pasta Puttanesca

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I don’t always write about savory recipes but when I do…they’re pretty awesome.

Seriously. After this recipe, I definitely feel inspired to cook more “real meals” instead of desserts or tiny appetizers.

When it comes to preparing food, I’m more of a dessert person. If there’s a party, I’m the one most likely to bring the sweet stuff. I love baking and it just comes naturally to me.

Main courses, on the other hand, don’t usually pique my interest enough for me to want to make them. Sure, I might drool over photos of them on Foodgawker like everyone else, but I hardly ever experiment with cooking new dinner dishes myself.

Also, I’ve had a few bad experiences with preparing savory foods. The spices would be all wrong, the texture would be gross and I’d just be standing there in the kitchen trying to salvage a hopeless dinner, having wasted an hour of my life and bunch of ingredients.

But then this spicy diva known as Pasta Puttanesca sashayed her way into my kitchen. At first I was skeptical. There were   a lot of ingredients. And I’d just come home from work, so I was super-tired. But as everything came together, it was just so…pretty. A myriad of colors and textures. Vibrant reds and greens and golden caramels.

The sauce in a Pasta Puttanesca is not just some simple, smooth pasta sauce. It’s chunky yet light. It’s earthy with just the right amount of heat. It has a tendency to be a bit brine-y, but a bit of dark brown sugar will soften that salty bite.

This sauce, if it were a lady, would be sultry, dramatic and fierce. It’s also very versatile. I can see it as a main course for either a girls’ night in or a romantic dinner for two. (Maybe use a touch less garlic if cooking for the latter though.)

A few recipe notes:

  1. Technically, I didn’t mince the garlic like it says to in the recipe. I had a jar of readily chopped garlic and just used that instead. It tasted great to me and didn’t seem to overpower the other ingredients. But I do like garlic and I don’t mind biting into a piece of it. I think the danger here though, as I’ve read recently on the America’s Test Kitchen website, is that bigger pieces of garlic are more likely to burn and turn bitter as you saute them with the onions and continue to cook the sauce after the tomatoes are added. But I think if you’re constantly stirring anyway and you keep an eye on it, it should work out fine and it won’t burn.
  2. When you get to the part of the recipe when you have to let the sauce simmer on low heat, be mindful of how hot your stove gets on the “Low” setting. My stove doesn’t get hot enough on the “Low” setting to actually simmer the sauce and so I had to turn up the heat to what’s considered “Medium” heat on my stove, 5. Like my mom says: “If it’s not bubbling, it’s not simmering.” Keeping this in mind is the difference between a great Pasta Puttanesca sauce and a weird gazpacho dumped onto your angel hair pasta.
  3. Presentation: You don’t have to place a scoop of this sauce onto a bed of pasta like I did in some of my photos. I just did that because the sauce is really the star of this dish and this post and I wanted to show off as much of it as I could. I personally think the dish tastes better when it’s all mixed up. You can even mix the pasta and the sauce in the skillet and serve it that way.
  4. I love shredded Parmesan cheese. You don’t have to top your Pasta Puttanesca with it. But I did and I love how it makes the pasta cheesy and adds a bit of creaminess to this spicy dish.

This is my fifteenth post! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this one and the other ones I’ve posted. Don’t hesitate to let me know what you think. I’d love to hear your opinions, questions and stories!

I’d also like to thank Beth M. of  Budget Bytes  for posting this recipe.

I hope you all have a lovely day!