Monday, November 28, 2011

A Better Pumpkin

I have never been successful at making a pumpkin puree suitable for pumpkin pie. I have done all the right things. I used the sugar pumpkin baked for long enough and pureed in a food processor, but it is always too fibrous or stringy. My sister and I discussed this a few years ago. Our assumption is we aren't getting the right pumpkins. Pumpkins are squash, so any squash puree could theoretically be used in place of pumpkin. Butternut Squash happens to be the right color, close in flavor, similar in sweetness, but it is also the perfect texture when roasted. There is a dispute as to which one of us came up with the idea to use the butternut squash, but since my sister remembered this year I'll give her credit, although we are not the first to consider butternut squash. However, the real credit goes to my Great-Grandmother Louise Larson for the recipe we based ours on. Karin and I made this for Thanksgiving this year. This was our first attempt and I wouldn't change a thing. This is the best "pumpkin" pie I have ever tasted.

Butternut Squash Pie
(Recipes Follow)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts are good. You can quote me on that. Growing up as a kid my mom would make Brussels Sprouts a few times a year when they were in season. She usually steamed them and served them with a heavy squeeze of lemon. I will admit that I still like them cooked this way, but steamed Brussels Sprouts can be less than enthralling next to the other roasted flavors they would often be served with this time of year.

They way the salty and smokey flavors in the bacon play with the bitterness of the Brussels Sprouts is about as complementary as food gets. I add the shallots for a bit of sweetness when they caramelize. Finally finished with a squeeze of lemon which helps cut the greasy flavors from the bacon fat and offset the bitterness in the Brussels sprout.

With Thanksgiving Day arriving in less than a week I thought I would do a trial run of my Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Shallots.

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Shallots
(Recipe follows)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin

Last June some friends of mine took me to dinner at a very nice restaurant in Sonoma, the El Dorado Kitchen. The dinner was a tasting to determine what would be on the menu for their July wedding. It also happened to be my birthday. The rule for ordering was we had to choose something from the restaurant's menu that the kitchen would be able to prepare for the wedding. Plenty of choices. We ordered Lamb Chops, Salmon, Halibut, and Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin. While I am a huge fan of pork, especially the tenderloin, it is a risky choice for wedding food. I gather there are quite a few folks who steer clear of pork. Religious reasons aside, who would have problems with tender pork wrapped in more delicious pork? The EDK pork tenderloin was, without a doubt, the best pork tenderloin I have ever had. (Thank you, and congratulations S&B)

I was so impressed with the EDK tenderloin that I had to try and make my own. This is my version inspired by the El Dorado Kitchen.

Pork Tenderloin is to Pork as Filet Mignon is to Beef. In fact they are essentially the same muscle in their respective animals. The meat is very tender because it doesn't do much work while the animal is alive. Like Filet Mignon this muscle isn't particularly flavorful by itself. However, pork tenderloin takes on added flavors very well. It does have a tendency to dry out since it is a lean muscle. This recipe is pretty forgiving though. Brining the tenderloin serves two purposes, first it adds a lot of flavor to the meat and second it helps ensure that the meat doesn't dry out. Cooking the tenderloin wrapped with what is essentially a layer of fat will further ensure that the meat stays moist. So even if you make a mistake or aren't paying attention and let the pork cook to medium-well (160ยบ F) it won't dry out.

Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin with Braised Greens and Mashed Potatoes
(recipe follows)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Stuffed Butternut Squash

Fall is here. I'm going to miss the wonderful tomatoes, avocados, arugula, basil, and berries that filled my kitchen during those warmer months. But, I have to say, I welcome the fall produce. I love the hearty harvests of the fall; the greens, the root vegetables, and of course the squash. I think this recipe is quite representative of fall. It's one of those dishes that helps stave off the damp chilly air that comes in with the fall here.
This recipe is more or less my own creation, but it was inspired by something my sister once made for me. You'll notice that there is no salt in this recipe. Feta has plenty of salt and I love how the cheese doesn't really melt, so you get bites of salty varied with bites of sweet. The aroma and natural sweetness of the squash is enhanced by the cinnamon, nutmeg, and black pepper. This dish is all about bringing out the natural sweetness in these ingredients, but I'm not looking for a desert.

 Stuffed Butternut Squash
(recipe follows)