Friday, March 30, 2012

From the Kitchen: Roast Pork and Peas, with a side of Mortification

It’s a twofer sort of day, folks! Two recipes (try at your own risk) for the low low price of free! And, even better, you get a personally shameful story to go with it!

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Allow me to set the stage: It’s a recent Thursday *cough, yesterday, cough*, and my darling husband isn’t feeling so good. Not so bad as to stay home from work, but bad enough that I want him to come home to a nice meal and a comfortable evening. I am at home, feeling not-so-fabulous due largely to the fact that I haven’t gotten myself together for the day, even though it’s now 4 PM. I happen to have a pork roast and a recipe I’ve never tried (well, three recipes I’ve never tried, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves). To make a nice meat-full meal on a day prior to a Lenten Friday, I decide that I’ll make the pork roast, buttered peas with shallots (because I have a few shallots around) and fresh homemade egg noodles (with the pasta maker given to me as a birthday gift by husband). Sounds idyllic, actually. A balanced, flavorful meal highlighting a large chunk of meat (the best kind, in my man’s estimation). How could I go wrong?

Well, I must have been feeling optimistic because there are a few key elements that might have made this meal a bad choice, even in the planning phases: 1) I do not like pork, generally speaking, 2) I have not made pasta successfully (one unsuccessful attempt under my belt); and 3) all the kids are home, crabby, and not acting particularly helpful.

Despite my reservations, I manage to get the roast in the oven at 475, propped on skewers in a casserole dish since I don’t have a proper roasting pan. I even remember to use the digital thermometer to alert me when the proper temperature is reached. I’m feeling amazingly domestic and fabulous. Husband is going to be impressed. I mix up the pasta dough in my KitchenAid mixer and get it resting for the requisite 30 minutes. I’m on a roll. I turn down the oven temp to 425, as required for the roast. Baby wakes up from his nap and I begin combining ingredients for the peas when the phone rings. Husband tells me he’s not going to be home as early as planned. OK. Not a problem. He then, however, goes on to tell me that a contractor friend is coming over, in about 5 minutes, to have a look at a sliding door that needs help. Hmm.

I quickly consider the situation. Me = unshowered & feeling gross = unpresentable. I agree it’s sad that I would have been OK with my husband coming home to see me that way, but my pride wasn’t prepared to deal with the unknowing eyes of a stranger. So… I get baby into the highchair and give him a snack. I bribe the 4 year old to watch out the window for the contractor. I run upstairs to try to not look like zombie-mom in 2 minutes or less. I run back downstairs. I hear knocking but fully believe it to be the 4 year old playing a joke on me. Then…

SMOKE. I notice that there is smoke wafting around the living room. And kitchen. And dining room. Not dear-God-my-house-is-on-fire sort of smoke, but super-hot-oven-meets-fatty-pork sort of smoke. Hmm. I run to open the bathroom door and start the fan to draw the smoke out, and open the basement door to block the family room fire alarm from going off. Fire alarm goes off anyway. I try to silence the family room alarm only to realize that it’s the one above the basement stairs. Hmm. I mute it. 4 year old is now screaming, “The guy is here! The guy is here!” Oh boy, he hadn’t been joking. I’ll bet “the guy” can hear everything. What must he be thinking seeing lots of small people peering out at him from a living room full of smoke?

I answer the door. I try to be polite and downplay the urgency of the domestic scene into which he is entering. The smoke alarm goes off again. Completely embarrassed, I remove the battery. I show the contractor out to the sliding door and excuse myself to deal with the baby and the “burning thing.” The 4 year old sticks around to watch the contractor, so I feel less awkward leaving a stranger (albeit a nice one) in my messy sunroom. Turns out the roast is not burning, just splattering grease everywhere in my oven. I put a piece of aluminum foil over it to contain it a bit, and let it keep going rationalizing that I have very little dignity to salvage if it does start on fire. I start some water boiling for the pasta.

I roll out the pasta, with the 5 year old deciding it looks like fun to help. Truthfully, she was helpful in keeping the pasta from folding up on itself, and I get 2/3 of it cut into wide flat noodles before the roast thermometer beeps. I open the oven door, releasing a giant cloud of greasy smoke into my face, just as the contractor comes back in. I am mortified, and also coughing. He politely waits for me to set down the mess before we discuss the the door situation. Ten minutes later he leaves, mercifully, and I can inspect the no-longer-sizzling roast. It actually looks good, but clearly I should have soaked the skewers since they are almost charcoal, and the drippings are a dark caramelized brown. The 7 year old wanders past and inquires about the good smell. Hmm. I let the roast rest, finish rolling the pasta and toss it into the pot (I have to re-roll about 1/4 of it because it got stuck together whilst waiting for me to get it in the water),  and start sautéing the peas. My husband comes in the door. I can tell he notices the smoke immediately but graciously doesn’t mention it. Did I mention that he is dreamy and wonderful, and especially thoughtful?

Kids set the table (well, about 80% of it), and we finally sit down as a family to eat this highly questionable meal. I slice the roast into large slabs and, to my surprise, it looks positively amazing. I taste. Slight crunch to the herbed outside, deliciously moist and tender on the inside. Not like any encounter I’ve ever had with pork chops. I’m dumb-founded. It is absolutely the best pork I’ve ever cooked, and right up there with the best I’ve ever eaten. Nothing like pork chops. It’s like… eating pork-chop-shaped sausage. The herbs! The melt-in-your-mouth texture! It is JUST. SO. GOOD. The whole family loves it, including the baby. Husband takes seconds. The 4 year old asks for this meal for his birthday, including “those noodley things”. The peas are very good, in my pea-loving opinion, but clearly I am the one enjoying them the most. A success! A horrible, ugly, embarrassing success!! I decide that I need to snap pictures so I grab a clean small plate and pile on the food. I take photos to blog about. Then I eat the food on the plate. Then I lick the plate…

OK, I didn’t actually lick the plate. But every other detail is completely true. So… I now have a sneaking suspicion that high heat equals smoke, and also flavor. My house smelled like a restaurant after a brief interval with the windows open and the attic fan sucking fresh 45-degree air through the kitchen. I have never understood Anthony Bourdain’s obsession with pork as a food group, but now, I think I might be getting it. My eyes have been opened.

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Herb-Crusted Pork Tenderloin
(Paula Deen for Food Network)

Ingredients

1 (4-pound) boneless pork loin, with fat left on
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme or 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon dried basil or 2 teaspoons fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon dried rosemary or 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary

Directions

Preheat oven to 475 degrees F.

Place the pork loin on a rack in a roasting pan. Combine the remaining ingredients in a small bowl. With your fingers, massage the mixture onto the pork loin, covering all of the meat and fat.

Roast the pork for 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to 425 degrees F and roast for an additional hour. Test for doneness using an instant-read thermometer. When the internal temperature reaches 155 degrees F, remove the roast from the oven. Allow it to sit for about 20 minutes before carving. It will continue to cook while it rests.

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Sautéed Buttery Peas with Shallots
(Cook’s Illustrated Best Make Ahead Recipe)

Ingredients

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 shallot , minced
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 clove garlic , minced
1 pound frozen peas (3 cups) – do not thaw
2 teaspoons sugar

Directions

Melt the butter in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallot, thyme, and garlic and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in the peas and sugar. Cover and cook until the peas are heated through, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

I’ll blog about the pasta at some point, but I think it deserves its own post. Three recipes in one day would be a little much for this sometime blogger to keep up with. Happy Friday!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

From the Kitchen: Sugar Cookies for Lovebirds

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Bridal shower season is upon us. Last weekend I attended the celebration of the impending nuptials of a cousin-in-law to be. For favors, I got to help with some occasion-appropriate sugar cookies. I was inspired by the mountains of heart-turned-bride-or-groom cookie images on Google.

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The black for the tux was intimidatingly intense. I feared massive color bleed, but it was really not a big deal. A little feathering, and that could probably have been avoided entirely by giving the black another 12 hours to dry.

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Since I had to make these ahead of time, my mother-in-law froze them before bagging them as favors, and still, they looked great and tasted just as fresh after 2 weeks of Arctic treatment. I’ve frozen royal icing iced sugar cookies before, and you can read more about how I did it here.

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I also made some First Communion cookies at the same time… and I’ll show those off soon too. I’ve got to go get a kid to school!!

Monday, March 26, 2012

My Life in a Nutshell: Breaking the Blog Silence

Helloooooooo out there!

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It’s been long winter, but Spring is here and I’m feeling more optimistic about just about everything. Life is still crazy. I still don’t expect to be blogging much at all for a while yet, but I keep thinking about what I would blog about if I had an extra 2 hours every day for the non-essentials. But today I’m going to sneak in (at great expense to daily household progress) an update, and hope that I can find the time to do more in the near future. I might (or might not) schedule some blog posts about various projects I’ve been up to since the first week of January, or recipes I’ve been making, or small people I’ve been mothering. But here is a list, in no specific order, of the main things that have been occupying my time lately:

  • Small People – Always with the feeding, bathing, clothing, nursing, medicating, entertaining and task-mastering. We’ve been healthy for a few weeks now, and that is wonderful. I have a sneaking suspicion we’ve got a cold brewing, but so far it’s nothing to write home about. This insane school year is marching towards summer with a pace at times rivaling a snail, and at others that of an ornithomimus (one of the fastest dinosaurs, or so I’m told by the 7 year old). Getting everyone to take responsibility for her homework and getting ready for school is not always easy, but overall we are surviving and, at time, even thriving. I am being stretched but becoming better at managing the millions of small tasks that were previously completely overwhelming. The smallest person is almost one and is getting some teeth, so we’ve had clingy unpleasantness intermixed with our Spring Fever too. Finger foods, climbing (oh the climbing!), nearly walking, teething craziness. And a healthy dose of pudgy baby thighs to lighten my mood when it seems like too much :) (picture below showing someone who has recently learned to read and ride a bike with no training wheels, but who could not get herself psyched for such a beautiful day)

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  • Grandma – My maternal grandma passed away just two weeks ago. She had been battling her 5th cancer (she was quite a feisty fighter, as you might imagine), but had not been doing very well for the past 3 months. My amazing mom had been taking care of her 24/7 since December, and I was really only able to help with prayers and the occasional visit. It was hard to watch her ups and downs, but now that she is done with suffering, we are all relieved and glad that she was able to see so many family members, to make some memories, and ultimately, to receive Last Rites before her passing. Sad times can sometimes bring up questions of the purpose of life, or a fear of dying, or a feeling that you want to cling to what you’ve got while you’ve still got it (whatever IT might be… kids? spouse? looks? physical abilities?). But my Grandma’s passing helped me to remember that this life, the here and now and all the details that seems so important right now, really isn’t our ultimate purpose. We were MADE for more than that, and our life’s journey should be lived with a very clear finish line in sight so we don’t get lost along the way. And I think that a renewed focus on what I really truly want to do while I’m here was a priceless last gift from Grandma.
  • TheJuneBride Shop on Etsy – Well, in the midst of this nutty season, we blew right on past my 4 year Etsyversary in the beginning of February. And the 4 year anniversary of this blog, too. I really hadn’t even though about it until today! I’ve been chugging along in this season of Easter Egg Dye Kits, making new kits in my “free time” and shipping as the orders roll in. I’m working towards using up my stash and making as many finished kits as possible, for ease of sales and potentially for ease of moving (we’ll get to that later). I have a lot to list by way of wool flowers and a plan for a mother’s day promotion. I’d love to work on new products and have some ideas, but not as much free creative time as I probably need. Meh. It’ll happen when it’s the right time. I’ve been playing around with making some patterns, and successfully drafted a baby boy jacket. I’m still obsessed with more complicated garment construction but, again, no time to play right now (at least the kids can integrate work and play regularly!).
  • I’m Mad for my iPad – I think I mentioned before that I acquired an iPad last Fall. I love it so very much for its wonderful, life-enhancing ways. My husband would probably be jealous except that he has one for work too. And so it goes. Unpleasant tasks have become easier to do (it’s amazing what a gold star can do in the motivation department), chaotic things are now kept-track-of, life is organized into tidy lists and schedules, and I’m more efficient with less energy output than life before-iPad (BI… we’re now in AI- it deserves a moniker since this is a whole new era of living). I spend time daily using it to make more time in my day, so it’s a net gain. And a lot of fun too. I hope to share my favorite apps at some point, but it’ll have to wait for greener schedule pastures.
  • Living in the Kitchen – I’ve been spending a lot of time in the kitchen lately, trying many many new recipes (using the Paprika app in the iPad) and baking up some creative treats for a bridal shower (post with pictures to follow, I hope). We are hosting Easter this year since we’ve got a First Communion and a First Birthday to celebrate that day as well, so I’m currently planning tasty, make-ahead-of-time food and desserts. Our First Communicant requested decorated sugar cookies. So, while we’re on the subject, have YOU met Jesus? He’s very sweet and will stick by your side through thick and thin (mostly thick, in the case of cookie Jesus).

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  • Personal Goals – I have managed, with the help of Loseit.com and a very good friend to keep me accountable and inspire me with her own successful efforts, to lose another 10 or so pounds. I am now closer to the center of the ideal range on the BMI chart than I have ever been in my adult life. I estimate I weigh about what I did in high school, and I feel very good. I think I look better, have less inertia when it comes to energy-draining tasks like, say, mothering, for one off-the-cuff example. I am still not ready to tailor my dress form to my dimensions since I’m not sure I’ll stay at this spot. I hope to lose another 5 pounds, but right now that seems like the impossible dream. But then, I never would have thought I’d see this number on the scale in my life, and here I am. One day at a time…

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So there you go… I’m still here, still creating quietly, still fighting the good fight, still hopeful, still desiring to make more blog posts as time and family allows. Thanks for sticking around :) Happy Lent!