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Maple-brined Roast Pork Tenderloin, or adventures in amateur meat preparation

low lighting apparently makes food look like it comes from the 70s

I stopped eating meat when I went to college. I also changed my name. Both were pretty obviously acts of adolescent self-definition coinciding with the start of a new life chapter, which I basically knew even at the time, although of course I had other justifications. If you’d asked me then whether or not I thought the changes would be permanent, I’m sure I would have given vegetarianism better odds than "Margot." My parents still called me Stephanie, all my friends from high school still called me Stephanie, and even some of my new friends, on learning that "Margot" was a semi-adaptation of my middle name "Mariko," were insisting on using the Japanese version, as if my identification as if "Margot" was a sad capitulation to Western Culture that they were going to prove to me I didn’t have to make. Plus, there was no good reason for me to change my name; Stephanie wasn’t really that objectionable. Vegetarianism, on the other hand, seemed like a moral or socially responsible choice, and unlike the name change, it didn’t require anyone else to change their behavior.

I didn’t really consider the likelihood that if I just kept introducing myself as "Margot" to everyone I met for years, eventually the majority of the people I interacted with would think of that as my name—and, perhaps more importantly on the self-definition front, I would too. Which is precisely what has happened. Nor did I realize just how complicated the ethical implications of meat-eating were or give much thought to the idea that my vegetarianism would actually require people to change their behavior—that in fact, it might occasionally be a social imposition. And unless I somehow remained as autonomous as most college freshmen are, it would eventually me to either find a vegetarian to share cooking and eating duties with or require pretty behavioral changes on the part of any omnivore who I might cook for or who might cook for me on a regular basis.

So a decade later, my name is Margot, and I’m an omnivore.

But I’ve only started cooking and eating meat again in the last couple of years, and for most of that I was a pescetarian, so I’m really still a beginner at cooking meat. This was my first attempt at doing something, anything with pork tenderloin. I decided to brine it, because Alton Brown says that’s helps keep lean cuts like loin moist. As for the actual cooking, I decided to roast it because there’s a lot to be said for the ease and convenience of recipes that involve just throwing a piece of meat the oven for a long time so you can get on with doing other things. The various recipes books I consulted all suggested a blast of high heat to brown the outside and then long slow heat to cook the inside evenly, so that’s what I did.

like for real, this picture belongs in a 40-yr-old cookbook. i promise it was more appetizing in person.I didn’t get any Maillard reaction going on (which is what causes browning on the exterior) even thought the oven was preheated to 500F for half an hour. Maillard frequently escapes me. But other than, it was pretty delicious. You could taste the maple syrup, and it was perfectly pink and juicy and salty. I only had ground allspice, so I took it down from 1.5 T to 1 t. but I think that was still a little too much, so in the future I’d either get my hands on some whole allspice or cut it to 1/2 t. ground.

Served it with a quick colcannon-like dish I made by steaming unpeeled new potatoes whole while I chopped and then sautéed some cabbage and leeks in butter. When the potatoes were tender, I added them to the buttery cabbage and leeks with a generous splash of milk and some salt and pepper.

Pork recipe and instructions after the jump.

Recipe: Slow-roasted maple-brined pork tenderloin (adapted from the Joy of Cooking and Real restaurant recipes)

  • ~2 lbs pork tenderloin
  • 1/3 cup + 2 T.maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup + 2 T. kosher salt (do not substitute regular salt or it will be way too salty–or reduce significantly, possibly 1/4 cup?)
  • 1 1/2 cups hot water
  • 2 1/2 cups cold water
  • 3 bay leaves, crumbled
  • 1 t. ground allspice (or 1/2 T. slightly-crushed whole allspice)
  • 1/2 T. cracked black peppercorns
  • 1 t. whole yellow mustard seed, slightly crushed
  • 5 medium garlic cloves peeled and crushed

Dissolve the sugar and salt in hot water in a pot big enough to hold the cuts of meat and enough liquid to cover them. Crush, crumble, or crack the whole spices, add them along with the cold water, and stir. Add the pork loin, cover and refrigerate 6-24 hrs.

in the brine 

Preheat oven to 500, remove the meat from the brine and, and pat dry with paper towels.hog tied. ha! i kill me.

I decided to tie the two pieces of loin meat together to make one even cylinder because I was afraid they wouldn’t cook evenly otherwise and it seems like a lot of the roasts I’ve seen on television have some sort of twine action. I don’t have twine, but unwaxed dental floss seems to work just as well.

Let sit for 30 min while the oven preheats so the meat comes to room temperature before cooking.

Roast at 500F for 10 min, and then lower the oven temperature to 200. Cook until the internal temperature reaches 145F, which could be as little as 20 minutes for a very small (2″ diameter or less) tenderloin or as much as 80 min. A 3 lb loin should take about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours total. After you take it out of the oven, tent a piece of foil over it and let it rest for 10 min.

Voila. Pork tenderloin roast.

Meet the ground cherry: a wish fulfilled.

like little paper lanterns, but, you know, less tacky

I’ve been dying to try these for what feels like forever. They’re basically just a tiny husk tomato*, and according to James Beard, they used to be quite common in many parts of the U.S. But now, for some reason, few people seem to have heard of them and I’ve certainly never seen them at any supermarket or on any restaurant menu. Perhaps, despite the fact that they supposedly grow well even in poor soil, they don’t take well to industrial-scale cultivation or don’t hold up well over long distances. Or maybe their scarcity has something to do with the idea that some varieties are believed to be hallucinogenic, which is apparently the reason there’s a law in Louisiana that says you can only grow smooth groundcherry for ornamental use. would louisiana let you grow "ornamental" marijuana?

The feeling of “forever”  is so variable. Ten consecutive hours of driving. Ten minutes waiting in line. Apparently, in time spent waiting to taste a ground cherry, forever is just over a year.  I first heard about them last summer when a friend from Ohio got some in his weekly CSA share. I went looking for more information, and the descriptions I found were unbelievably tantalizing: a fruit that tastes like a cross between strawberries, pineapple, and vanilla custard. They sounded like they might be the most delicious thing ever found in nature.

I kept an eye out at the farmer’s market, but must have missed their window last summer, or maybe no one was growing them for sale yet. Then, in February when Brian went to Egypt, he had something that fit the description perfectly, as improbable a place as that seemed to find an almost-completely unknown husk tomato cultivar. They wouldn’t have survived the trip, even if he’d been able to smuggle them past customs, so I waited and waited for summer which never comes fast enough in Michigan anyways. And for most of this year, too, I searched the farmer’s market in vain. I started to feel like they were some mythical creature, and I was Molly Grue.

But then this weekend, I spotted a handful of pint baskets full of what looked like the tiniest tomatillos I’d ever seen. At first, Brian thought I was pointing at the actual tomatillos, slicing-tomato-sized on the shelf below, as if my desperation had made me delusional. But no, there they were.

and the clouds parted and rays of brilliant light shone down and an unseen choir sang a C major chord

Are they the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted? Okay, probably not. But I’m not disappointed; they’re pretty great. The tiny seeds and mild acidity are definitely reminiscent of strawberry or kiwi, but with this rich perfume that is a little like vanilla but also entirely its own thing.

what if the "ornamental" marijuana also grew adorable paper-lantern fruit?When we got back from the market, I husked a small handful and ate them with some of the raspberries with plain yogurt and a little bit of maple syrup.

You can tell from the picture that some of them are a little green, which apparently means they’re not quite ripe, and just like  unripe tomatoes, those ones had a bit of crunch and bitterness. But left at room temperature, preferably with their husks on, they get sweeter and more golden every day.

A recipe coming soon, not that you need one if you do manage to get your hands on some. I totally agree with with James Beard: “When eaten raw [ground-cherries] are refreshingly sweet and rich.  It is mystifying to me that they are not more prized.” (from Cooking Books)

*which aren’t technically tomatoes, someone just pointed out to me. Husk tomatoes are in the same family, but a different genus than other tomatoes. And all of them related to nightshade, and someday I’ll write something about why so many people used to think tomatoes were poisonous.