Spring Break in NYC and The Other White Meat: Pork Tenderloin

pork tenderloin whole foods dinner recipe

Pork Tenderloin Mise En Place

A good friend spent this past weekend in Vail – at this time of year some of the airlines fly directly from NYC to Vail – Puff Puff. Anyway, she texted me an overview of the scene at the airport: Moms and Dads on Blackberries, kids being tended to by nannies while waiting to board the plane. Yeah, it’s private school spring break in New York. Check your FaceBook or Instagram feed and you’ll see what I mean.

Sean Lowe the Bachelor pork tenderloin

Book Club…

For six months a year, on Monday nights, I have book club (read: The Bachelor Watching). My hosts cook a lovely dinner, we catch up on life and then spend two hours soaking in The Most Dramatic Season Ever.

On one such recent Monday, this UWS couple admitted to me that they were the ‘worst parents ever’. Why? Well, because, GASP! Their son’s spring break was rapidly approaching and they had nothing planned for him. To make it worse, their son is, indeed, in private school and is sure to be the only five-year-old to return after the hiatus without tales of skiing, snorkeling, swimming with dolphins and all around hobnobbing with the rich and famous.

I tried to console them and ease their shame with the story of my own upbringing. OK…I went to private junior high school. There I said it. And, while other families were jetting off to Eleuthera (yes, I had to google the spelling on that) and Jackson Hole and Little Dix Bay, we stayed home. Sure, my mom might take us to the mall (aka The Stamford Town Center). But, for the most part, we spent the two weeks of vacation in the affordable comfort of our own home. And I turned out ok. (Zip it, this isn’t a question).

Staying home for spring break never bothered me. But there were other cost cutting measures that did make me feel different than my well-traveled classmates.

Growing up less fancy than some of my friends may be why I have always been a little prejudiced against cheaper meats…like pork: The Other White Meat.

Truth be told: I don’t like pork. Sure, I love bacon…but that’s not the pork I mean. I’ve never been a fan of the pork chop. It’s not the more interesting or expensive lamb chop. And, until three weeks ago I thought that I hated pork tenderloin…It’s not the fancy beef tenderloin after all.

But, at a recent ‘Book Club’ dinner, my gracious hosts prepared an amazing pork tenderloin that may, if you’re like me, change your mind about the other white meat.

Pork Tenderloin (serves 4)

Tiny apartment tips:

  • Always mise en place – IOW set up your ingredients and take a pretty picture
  • You always have to buy more fresh ginger than you need for any one recipe, so when you buy it, peel it, wrap it in Saran and then put it in a baggie and into the freezer. It’s easier to grate this way and lasts a long long time
  • You’re going to need a meat thermometer…OXO sells a small one that’s tiny apartment friendly. The face has a smaller diameter that fits nicely in a drawer

Ingredients:

  • A 1 – 1.25 lb Pork Tenderloin – I priced these at several UWS locations and found that the ones at Whole Foods are not only very competitively priced at $14.99/lb, but also the prettiest.
  • pork tenderloin asian flare whole foods

    Pretty Whole Foods Pork Tenderloin – but does sort of look like Alien

  • 3 TBSP Freshly Grated Ginger – I go heavy on ginger because I just love it
  • 2 Cloves Garlic – minced
  • 2 TBSP Rice Vinegar
  • 2 TBSP Low-Sodium Soy Sauce…OK, I used the packets from a Shun Lee delivery
  • 3 TBSP Toasted Sesame Oil. Yes, there’s a difference between sesame oil and toasted sesame oil…it’s about $6 – but go for it.

1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk together creating an asian marinade

grated fresh ginger pork tenderloin recipe

LOTS of grated ginger

pork tenderloin marinade asian

My new tiny baby whisk from Sur La Table. LOVE

2. Unwrap the pork tenderloin and place in a ZipLoc baggie

3. Pour the marinade over the pork

pork tenderloin asian marinade

Marinating Pork Tenderloin – pre-fridge

4. Seal the bag and place the marinating pork into the fridge for at least 2 hours and up to 6 hours. I marinated about 5 hours…During the marinating process, flip the bag every hour or so to ensure the meat is evenly marinated.

whole foods pork tenderloin recipe food

Pork Tenderloin, Post 5 Hour Marinade

5. About :20 minutes before cooking, take the pork out of the fridge and temperate (bring to room temperature)

6. Preheat oven to 375 degrees

7. Place the pork tenderloin on a cookie sheet lined with Reynold’s Wrap and into the oven

OXO meat thermometer dinner pork food recipe

OXO

8. Roast for :25 – :30 minutes – until the meat thermometer reaches 145 degrees

9. Remove from the oven and place the pork on a cutting board and cover with tin foil

pork tenderloin asian marinade recipe food

Out of the Oven and Ready to Rest – still sorta looks like Alien

10. Allow the meat to rest for at least :10 minutes..the Pork will continue to cook during this resting period

11. Slice and serve

tender pork tenderloin recipe food dinner

Perfectly Roasted. A little pink is AOK

I gotta tell you, I was a lot skeptical about pork tenderloin. I was even a little nervous when my hosts told me they were serving it for dinner. But this was really good.

I’m not going to try to convince you that staying in NYC for spring break is the same as skiing in Val D’Isere. And, a trip to the Stamford Town Center in March may not be exactly as fabulous as a sun-soaked villa in Nevis.

But, don’t be ashamed of The Other White Meat. When done well, the super-tender asian marinated pork tenderloin can be just as satisfying as other much more expensive competing meats.

Lifting the Curse of ‘Annie’: Sweet Potato Soup

Annie the musical Andrea McArdle

Annie The Musical

In 1978 for my something-something birthday (I was pretty young, so it was really more like my something birthday), my parents gave me tickets to see Annie. Are you serious!!! Amazing! I loved and still love a good broadway show. And, this particular one had my name. Brilliant.

andrea mcardle as annie daddy warbucks sweet potato soup

The Amazing Andrea McArdle

Kristy Mcnichol little darlings sweet potato soup

After ‘Family’ KM was in this teen flick

The show had debuted earlier that year and it’s tiny red-headed lead, Andrea McArdle, had rapidly become the toast of the great white way. I idolized her. She was really incredible. Eight shows a week, talk and morning show appearances. She was on Johnny Carson a bunch of times (too late for me to see) and sang a duet with my other hero, Kristy McNichol (who doesn’t love ‘Little Darlings’?), on The Mike Douglas Show.

So, you can imagine that when my parents told me we were going to see Annie on Broadway in the big city with Andrea McArdle, I was so so so excited….

The day of the show, I put on my best going to broadway frock and sat on the stairs waiting to get in the car and go. My mother drove into the city as my friend and I belted out the words to every song (except Easy Street, which I never really liked) in the back seat.

We enter the theatre and are ushered to our seats. I’m so excited at this point, I can barely contain myself. I open the program in hopes of learning everything I can about my broadway icon, Andrea McArdle…Then, it happened… An evil slip of white paper fell from the program….what? I read slowly as my dreams and hopes were shattered to pieces.

shelley bruce as annie sweet potato soup

NOT Andrea McArdle

In today’s performance‘ it read…

the role of Annie usually played by Andrea McArdle‘….

NO…

will be played by Shelley Bruce‘.

WHAT?!?!?!? Who the …is Shelley Bruce????

Shattered. And, I’ve been shattered ever since. Sure, I enjoyed the show (I mean, they sing a whole song about how great Annie is, duh) – but, certainly not as much.

You know I’m a little (read a lot) superstitious. So when a friend offered to give me tickets to Annie (now back on Broadway 35 years later), I wanted to do everything I could to send good ju-ju to the show. I mean, I couldn’t bear to experience the same disappointment again. So to honor Annie, Andrea McArdle, Lilla Crawford (current Annie) and red-headed orphans everywhere, I decided to eat only red, orange and orphan-affordable foods the entire day of the show.

Sweet Potato Soup (Serves 6)

Tiny Apartment Tip: Get a hand held immersion blender. It’s changed my life.

Ingredients:

  • 2 TBSP butter
  • 2 Carrots, peeled and diced small
  • 2 Celery Stalks, peeled and diced small
  • 1 large Sweet Potato, peeled and diced small
  • 1 Sweet Onion, diced smallish
  • 3/4 or so Cup Diced Cherry Tomatoes
  • 1 TBSP all purpose flour
  • 1/4 Cup Parsley chopped
  • 1 TSP freshly grated ginger – remember, you have some in the freezer
  • 1/4 TSP Ground Nutmeg
  • 4 Cups of Chicken Stock – I actually for the first time used 2 Knorr Chicken Bouillon cubes and it was AOK
  • 1/4 Cup of heavy cream (optional….)
  • Salt and Pepper

1. Bring 4 Cups of water to a boil and dissolve 2 Knorr’s Chicken Bouillon Cubes

sweet potato soup chicken bouillon cubes for stock

Just as good as stock in a box

2. In a separate pot, heat 2 TBSP of butter over med/low

3. Add the onions, carrots and celery and saute until very soft – about :15mins depending upon how small you diced

saute vegetables sweet potato soup

Saute Veggies

4. Add the tomatoes stir for about a minute

vegetarian soup dinner sweet potatoes annie musical

Add tomatoes, red like Annie’s Hair

5. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and cook :02 mins

sweet potato soup flour as thickener

Adding flour to help thicken soup

6. Sprinkle the Nutmeg and Ginger over the vegetables and stir

7. Add the diced sweet potatoes and stir just to combine

super food sweet potato soup

Super Sweet Potatoes – same color as Annie’s hair

8. Pour in the chicken stock and the parsley and BTB, RTS (bring to boil, reduce to simmer)

vegetarian sweet potato soup simmer

Soup A-Simmer

9. Simmer covered for :35 minutes – until the sweet potatoes are super soft

10. Remove from heat and using your brand new Cuisinart hand held immersion blender, blend the soup until very smooth….this takes a while because the tomatoes are pesky and escape the blades. Can’t blame ’em.

sweet potato soup puree hand held immersion blender

Pretty Pink Immersion Blender. Thank you Cuisinart!

11. Optional: Stir in the cream

sweet potato soup dinner recipe

Pureed and creamed and ready to serve

12. Serve with a garnish of parsley and a lovely dollop of sour cream

sweet potato soup vegetarian dinner recipe

Love a little dollop of sour cream…

Annie the musical sweet potato soup

The Exceptional Lilla Crawford

It may have been a silly and superstitious exercise, but I do think making the auburn colored soup helped.

Last night. 6:45pm.

I arrive at the theatre, wind my way through 45,000 or so 8-10 year old girls seeing their first show. I’m greeted by the first usher, she is holding the program, but doesn’t give us one. Instead, she directs us to a second usher….I’m anxious fearing the worst. I finally receive the program and in an attempt to delay the potential despair, hold onto it, clutched in my hand, closed until I reach my seat.

Then….I don’t open the program. Instead, I just flip it over and shake it, hoping no evil paper falls…..AND NONE DID!

The role of Annie would, indeed, be played by the exceptional Lilla Crawford!

OK, I can’t be sure that the soup had anything to do with it…but, 35 Years later….The sun DID come out and the curse of an understudy Annie is lifted!

NOPCME And Other Vanity Plates: Peas and More Pea Soup

pea soup with bacon and creme fraiche

Pretty Pea Soup – With Homemade Creme Fraiche and Bacon Bits

I sorta love vanity plates. I was driving a ton for a job – with a colleague/friend – up and down the west coast training people to sell fragrance. The countless hours in the car led to some in depth conversations….But, by about week 2, we already knew pretty much everything about each other, each other’s families, lives, histories, first loves, last loves, secret loves etc.

So we needed another way to pass the time. And, we were in California – land of the vanity plate. Coming from NYC and without a car of my own at the time, I hadn’t had a lot of experience with deciphering vanity plates. So, this became one of our favorite driving games. It’s like figuring out what text abbreviations mean now.

On our journey, we ran into some great plates including:

LXN1RLND:  Owned by my friend, Alex, who lived on Wonderland Drive

NA HE DNT: no explanation needed

8MPG: A Hummer owner making no excuses

L8ASUSL: For the terminally tardy

4RCEBWU: For the Star Wars junkie

One of my favorites, though, read simply ‘NOPCME’. Nopcahmah? Nopchemey? We spotted this one in the parking lot of a hotel and struggled to determine what it meant. And, then we found out that the owner was a urologist….And, his license plate advertised his business: No Pee? See Me!

So I thought about making Pea Soup…and realized that I had a ton of other vegetables that needed using. And I made…

Peas and More Pea Soup (Serves 6-8)

Ingredients:

  • leeks

    Fresh and Dirty Leeks

    2 slices of Bacon cut into small pieces

  • 2 Cups Chopped Leeks – 2 leeks, whites and light green parts – they’re usually pretty gritty, so wash them well
  • 1 Cup Chopped Onion
  • 2 Carrots, peeled and chopped small
  • 1 Sweet Potato – peeled, chopped and roasted until soft (see below)
  • 2 10oz packages of Birdseye or 365 Brand Frozen Peas – I used a combo of both
  • 5 Cups of Chicken Stock- I use Whole Foods 365 brand, it’s very well priced, rich and delicious
  • 1 TSP fresh Thyme leaves
  • 1 TSP Salt
  • leeks soup pea recipe

    Submerge Leeks to Clean

    1 TSP Pepper

  • Olive Oil
  • A tad of Gindo’s Spice of Life Fresh and Spicy Pepper Sauce – to taste
  • Creme Fraiche for garnish

Sweet Potato Prep:

  • sweet potatoes super food

    Super Sweet Potatoes

    Preheat Oven to 425 degrees

  • Line a rimmed baking sheet with Reynold’s Wrap Pan Lining paper – parchment side up
  • Spread the Sweet potato dices in a single layer on the parchment and gently sprinkle with Olive Oil – do not salt!
  • Bake for :08 mins, then toss and bake an additional :07-:08 mins until softened but not browned
  • Remove from the baking sheet and set aside

1. In the bottom of a large heavy bottomed pot (my 6qt Le Creuset, for example), heat 1 TBSP of Olive Oil over medium heat

2. Add the bacon pieces and render until crispy

smithfield farms bacon

BCN: Bacon Render Render Render….Crispy

3. Remove the bacon and set aside

4. To the bacon fat add a TBSP of olive oil and then add the carrots and stir – about :04 mins.

whole foods vegetable soup

KROTS: Carrots First

NOTE: You want to add the carrots first because they take longer to soften

5. Add the leeks and onion to the carrots and cook until softened – about :10-:12 mins stirring occasionally

pea soup recipe with sweet potatoes

OLC: Onions, Leeks and Carrots

6. Add the chicken stock, sweet potatoes, thyme, salt and pepper and bring to a boil

pea soup chicken stock whole foods

CHXSTK: Chicken Stock

7. Reduce to a simmer and add the frozen peas

365 frozen peas birdseye

+PS: Stir in the Peas

8. Simmer until the peas are softened – about :04 mins

9. Turn the heat off and allow the soup to cool – while it’s cooling, you can wash all of the prep bowls, knives and cutting boards you may have used

10. Set up a Puree Station: In my case…A KitchenAid blender and a second empty heavy bottomed pot on low

all clad puree kitchen aid station

PUR A STN: Puree Station

11. Transfer a few ladles of the soup to the blender and puree

pea soup vegetables

<PUR A: Pre-Puree – Needs to Cool

12. Pour the pureed soup into the second pot and repeat until all of the soup is pureed

365 chicken stock whole foods

> PUR A: Post Puree

pea soup recipe

PP N ACP: Post Puree in Pretty AllClad Pot

13. Serve with a garnish of Creme Fraiche and Crispy Bacon Bits

NOTE: Making your own Creme Fraiche is super easy – mix equal parts heavy cream and sour cream in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and leave out on a counter over night. In the morning, put it in the fridge and chill for about 4 hours. Done and done.

Years later, I do now have a car…But, no vanity plates. Instead, I allow the DMV to assign me a plate and then I make up a meaning for the letters I get. My first license plates read:

911 URE = Emergency! You Are Excellent.

My next was:

411 XPC = For Your Information. You’re Extra Pretty-Cute.

You can really interpret them anyway you want. Maybe, on my car NOPCME would mean: Numerous Organic Produce Creates More Elegance…in a Peas and More Pea Soup.

Roll ‘Em Up: Stuffed Chicken Breast

spinach stuffed chicken breast

Rocked and Rolled

There’s a great scene in National Lampoon’s Vacation. Chevy Chase (Clark) and his fictional Wally-World-headed family get lost and end up driving through ‘The Hood.’ With the windows

chevy Chase vacation movie

Roll ‘Em Up!

wide open, and over the din of hooker cat calls and maybe even some jive from stereo-typical drug dealers and street pimps, he tells his family that being lost in such a neighborhood will make the Griswold’s appreciate what they have. Suddenly, through the cat calls from hookers on the street…there’s  a gun shot. Clark immediately urges his family to ‘roll ’em up’.

It’s important to know when to quit. When to call it a day. When the fat lady is singing. When the party’s over. When to ‘roll ’em up.’

I think we can all (sadly) agree that after about 2 minutes into the second quarter of last night’s BCS National Championship Game…It was time for Notre Dame to ‘roll ’em up’. I mean it was 21-zip. Even my cousin – the die-hardest of diehard Irish fans texted asking if there was a ‘mercy rule…or something.’ Brutal.

And so the 2012 season comes to a close. The Fighting Irish can head back to South Bend, a little battered, a lot bruised and, yes, without the title of National Champions. Time for them to roll ’em up and regroup for 2013.

As they rolled up their season, I rolled up some chicken.

Spinach Stuffed Chicken Rolls (Serves 4)

Ingredients

  • 4 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts – I bought the Perdue individually wrapped ones, but I think they’re small and might choose just the regular Perdue breasts next time
  • 1 10oz Package Birdseye Frozen Chopped Spinach
  • 1/4 Cup Progresso Panko Style Bread Crumbs
  • 1/4 Cup Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 1/4 Cup Cottage Cheese – you can use Ricotta Cheese, but, seriously, the cottage cheese was AOK here
  • 1 TBSP Butter
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees

1. Using the flat side of a meat tenderizer, pound the chicken breasts out to about 1/4 inch thick. The best way I’ve found to do this is to sandwich the breasts between either two pieces of Saran Wrap or two pieces of parchment paper on a cutting board. Pound from the center and sort of push out at the end of each pound.

perdue chicken breasts

Don’t pound it too thin!

2. In a microwavable bowl, defrost the frozen spinach – remove from package and zap on high for 3 minutes….stir and zap another 2-3 mins

birdseye frozen chopped spinach

Thawed and Smokin’

3. Squeeze the spinach to remove the excess water. I do use a kitchen towel for this and as long as you rinse the towel in cold water immediately after the squeeze process, the green ‘stain’ will come out easily in the wash

4. In a small fry pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Can you use oil instead of butter? No, it won’t brown the bread crumbs as nicely

5. Add the bread crumbs to the buttery goodness and toast them up. This doesn’t take long…just let them sit in the butter and stir after a few minutes. You want the bread crumbs sorta crispy…

progresso panko style bread crumbs

Toasting ‘Em Up

6. Once toasted, add the bread crumbs to the spinach

7. Stir in the cottage cheese and parmesan cheese. Add about an 1/8 tsp of salt and pepper.

Perdue stuffed rolled chicken breasts

Mix ‘Em Up

8. Place a heaping spoonful of the mixture into the bottom third of each chicken breast and carefully roll the breasts around the stuffing

9. Secure the rolls with a toothpick or two

perdue chicken breasts stuffed with spinach and cheese

Package ‘Em Up

10. Heat 3 tbsp of olive oil in a medium fry pan

11. Brown the stuffed rolled chicken breasts on all sides – about 2 mins per side

perdue stuffed chicken rolls dinner

Brown ‘Em Up

12. Transfer the browned, stuffed, rolled chicken breasts to a baking dish and put into the oven

13. Bake until cooked completely – about :10 mins

perdue individually wrapped chicken breasts

Bake ‘Em Up

14. Remove the toothpicks, slice and serve.

For the Fighting Irish 2012 was a pretty good season –  and in the spirit of Clark Griswold, I will appreciate what we had – a 12-0 regular season for the first time in forever. Even evil Brent Musberger admitted that Coach Kelly had returned the team to a position of leadership. Last night was tough times. And, there is no mercy rule in college football. In spite of being rolled over, Notre Dame didn’t roll ’em up until the very end. They even scored 14 points in the second half – a little pride saved.

It’s on to 2013 for the Irish. Until then, try rolling up some chicken.

Avoid the Party Pooper: Serve a Party Popper

bridseye frozen chopped spinach

Every Party Has a Pooper: That’s why we invited you…

Let’s just face it…every party has a pooper. Just the way it is. Sometimes she’s the low-talking dinner party guest seated next to you – You start with a lot of ‘Excuse me?’ and ‘I’m sorry, what did you say?’ and then at some point you give up and just start nodding and agreeing. You may be agreeing to a 5am yoga class or the absolute NYC No-No: a ride to the airport…But, at a certain point, you can’t hear, give up and resign yourself to the polite nod.

Evertyhing is just TERRIBLE

Bah-Humbug!

Sometimes he’s the bah-humbug type who monopolizes you during the cocktail hour. You know, ‘the city is so crowded with holiday revelers’, ‘the weather is terrible’, ‘I just don’t FEEL like Christmas’ etc.

She’s the food hater. The wine snob. The terrible gifter – the one who brings a clearly despised re-gift or a coffee mug filled with jelly beans – what?

There’s just always one.

One way to avoid being monopolized by the party pooper is to provide yourself with an escape route. Bring an appetizer that needs some care – escape to the kitchen. And, if you really need an out – even if there’s a waiter there – offer to serve the hors d’oeuvres.

One of my favorite passed hors d’oeuvres is the Spinach Party Popper –  much better than a pooper!

Spinach Parmesan Party Poppers (makes 20)

Ingredients:

  • bridseye frozen chopped spinach

    Mise en place…

    1 10 oz package of Birdseye frozen chopped spinach – defrosted and squeezed dry of excess water

  • 3 large eggs gently beaten
  • 1/2 medium onion grated or minced
  • 3 TBSP butter melted
  • 1/2 Cup Parmesan cheese – grated
  • 1 Cup Progresso Italian Style bread crumbs
Progresso italian style bread crumbs

Always in my freezer

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

1. In a microwave safe bowl, defrost the spinach – about 6 minutes on high stirring halfway through the process

2. Using a dishtowel – squeeze out the excess water from the spinach

Allow the spinach to cool a bit…

3. In a bowl, mix together the spinach, eggs, onion, butter, parmesan cheese and bread crumbs

spinach balls appetizer recipe

Ingredients Mixed and Ready for Ballin’

4. Using a small (melon ball sized) scoop, make balls from the mixture and put onto a rimmed baking sheet lined with Reynold’s Wrap pan lining paper

pan lining paper spinach balls recipe

Shiny on the bottom, parchment on the top

5. Bake for 20 – 22 minutes – just until the balls are firm

vegetarian hors d'oeuvres

Perfectly Firm Party Poppers

6. You can either serve immediately…Or, if you need a party escape: allow to cool, transfer to a travel container and take to your next holiday party. Just reheat for about :10mins on 300 before serving

birdseye frozen chopped spinach appetizers

Could he be avoiding the party pooper by serving the poppers?

Even if you are not expecting a party pooper at your next holiday event, the spinach party poppers are a perfect passed hors d’oeuvre. And, because they are vegetarian, a crowd pleaser: They might even make a Scrooge smile, and, as far as you’ll know, they’re a favorite of low-talkers everywhere.