Take Your Travels Home – an Italian Dinner Party

In April I travelled to Italy for 2 weeks with my mom and Patrick.  We started our trip in Bologna, which is in the region considered the “food belt” of Italy, and then made our way down to Florence and Rome with stops in Ravenna, Parma, and Siena.  At first we started counting how many delicious bottles of wine and bowls of pasta we consumed but it was starting to get ridiculous by day five so we stopped.  Needless to say we ate very well and have a true appreciation for the amazing fresh food products there.  Whenever I am travelling in a place like Italy, busting with fresh vegetables and cheeses in all the lovely outdoor markets, I am desperate to just cook and cook.  Until I get a villa in Tuscany that’s probably not in the cards but I do bring as much back with me as possible.  I try to pack as light so we have room to bring back the good stuff you just cant get here in the states – its tough leaving that extra pair of shoes behind but its worth it when you can drizzle fresh green olive oil straight from the fields.

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Our amazing friends watched the kitties while we were gone and I figured what better way to thank them then dishing up some of the goodies we smuggled in along with a menu full of our favorite dishes.  I also had brought home some beautiful entertaining pieces like this amazing cobalt blue acrylic pitcher.  In Florence I purchased small Chianti bottles and then repurposed them as salt and pepper shakers.  To add a little elegance to the evening I bought place cards from one of the beautiful paper stores in Siena.

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Of course lots of delicious Italian reds were drunk and both Dave and Ashley and Devin and Erica went home with hand painted olive dishes from Florence as a thank you.  Honestly, no one wants to sit through a slide show of your vacation no matter how awesome it was – but here is a delicious and fun way to share your experiences with folks back home.

Menu

Cheese plate with Parmesan and fennel sausage from Florence

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Tagliatelle with Bolognese Sauce

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Porchetta Style Roast Pork

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Fennel Salad

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Affogato with chopped chocolate covered espresso beans

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The cheese and sausage we got from the incredible Mercato Centrale in Florence.  I had been there once before and described it as my version of heaven but they have managed to make it even better.  The first floor food market, which has been in operation for hundreds of years, has everything you can imagine from cured meats, to vinegars and fresh vegetables.  However, now you can take an escalator to the 2nd floor and a whole new layer to the market opens up.  It’s as if the next generation of the families that operate downstairs decided they needed their own new hip spot to play.  There is a cooking school, a small Eataly outpost and amazing spots to have pizza, a beer or watch cheese being made.  The bolognese was inspired of course by our time in Bologna but honestly it was not the best version I have ever made.  The taste was really rich and deep but I didn’t love the texture so stay tuned and hopefully I will find a version I like that’s blog worthy.  The porchetta is my attempt at a version we had at Il Latini in Florence.  This is a unique Italian experience that’s a little confusing at first (definitely get a reservation) but so incredible.  Food just keeps coming and coming including this ridiculous meat plate with porchetta, Florentine steak and a whole duck!  It was delicious and one of the best nights we had.  I threw in a fennel salad with lemon dressing just to lighten things up, basically fennel sliced thinly with a little red onion, lemon, olive oil and shaved parmesan.  To finish things off we had Sambuca we brought from Rome and affogato, the world’s easiest dessert.  Scoop vanilla gelato into bowls and pour over hot espresso – done.  I added chopped chocolate covered espresso beans for crunch.  It was a great night and a terrific way to remember our trip.  Buon appetito!

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Crusted Pork Tenderloin

I honestly don’t know what I used to do before I found this recipe.  We must have it at least once every two weeks for dinner because it’s so easy, healthy and versatile.  Pork tenderloin is the king of weeknight meals as its quick cooking, portion controlled and cheap – but don’t sleep on it for a nice dinner party either.  It’s the perfect main protein when you really want to fancy up the sides or apetizers.  It’s also incredibly easy to scale up if you want to make 3 or 4 tenderloins for a crowd.

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Everyone can get their hands on djion mustard, salt, pepper and olive oil – I bet the only thing that would trip
folks up here is having to grind your own coriander seeds.  I realize most people don’t even have ground coriander in their spice drawer let alone the whole seeds but this is definitely worth some real estate in your DSC04479kitchen.  First off ground coriander will not work here – all it will do is burn and leave a bitter taste to the pork.  But secondly the seeds are so much more fragrant and delicate than the ground powder or horrors of all horrors the coriander plant better known to some as cilantro.  Such a controversial herb – my best friend Karin is a cilantro hater so I basically removed it from my repertoire for years – but coriander and coriander seeds have no “soapy” or cilantroy flavor.  If you are really adverse then I would recommend using fennel seeds which I do on occasion just to mix it up.  However that still leaves us with the dilemma of having seeds we need to crush!  How is that making your life easy?  Well if you have a spice grinder it’s incredibly easy.  I have this one and love it.  Cheap and small it does the job.  If you have a mortar and pestle old school style that will work too.  Dont want to buy special equipment?  Just throw the coriander seeds into a plastic baggie and wack away with the bottom of a pot to crush them.  This pork is so delicious and easy you will be glad you made space for these seeds and I will hazard a guess you will find other uses for them like these insanely good looking fries from Bon Appetit.  This time around I served the pork with some roasted asparagus and my favorite whole grain mustard on the side but this pork can go with practically anything.  Roasted veggies just make a good side because you can throw them in the same oven.

Crusted Pork Tenderloin (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspired by:  Coriander Crusted Pork Tenderloin by Fine Cooking Magazine

Special Equipment:  spice grinder, mortar and pestle or just wack away at the seeds and skip both, meat thermometer

Ingredients:

  • 1 pork tenderloin
  • 2 teaspoons dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil

Preheat the over to 450 degrees.  Grind the coriander seeds onto a plate (I like to throw the peppercorns into the spice grinder and do them together but by all means just grind pepper directly onto the plate, as much as you want).  Grind pepper as well if you havent already and add salt.  Toss spice mixture around to mix (this can be made in bulk and kept in a baggie so you can use it anytime).  Rub the mustard onto the pork and then roll it on the plate with the spices making sure they stick all over.  You can do this in advance as well and just store it in the fridge for up to 24 hours before but honestly this process is so easy I usually just do it right before cooking.

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Heat the olive oil in a ovenproof skillet large enough to hold the tenderloin over medium-high heat. Cook the pork on one side for 2-3 minutes until brown, turn it over and then put the skillet into the oven.  The original recipe called for browning on all sides but the bottom gets really crusty in the oven so the double browning seemed like overkill.  Cook until the pork registers 155 degrees on a meat thermometer  about 18 to 20 minutes. Cover with tin foil and let rest for  5 minutes before slicing thinly.

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Crusted Pork Tenderloin

  • Servings: 2-3
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Print

Special Equipment:  spice grinder, mortar and pestle or just wack away at the seeds and skip both, meat thermometer

Ingredients:

  • 1 pork tenderloin
  • 2 teaspoons dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil

Preheat the over to 450 degrees.  Grind the coriander seeds and pepper on to a plate and add salt.  Toss spice mixture around to mix (this can be made in bulk and kept in a baggie so you can use it anytime).  Rub the mustard onto the pork and then roll it on the plate with the spices making sure they stick all over.  You can do this in advance as well and just store it in the fridge for up to 24 hours before.  Heat the olive oil in a ovenproof skillet large enough to hold the tenderloin over medium-high heat. Cook the pork on one side for 2-3 minutes until brown, turn it over and then put the skillet into the oven.  Cook until the pork registers 155 degrees on a meat thermometer  about 18 to 20 minutes. Cover with tin foil and let rest for  5 minutes before slicing thinly.

Turkey Tacos

Happy fiesta friday!  Even though it was a short week it sort of felt long so I hope everyone has a great weekend.  We are almost at a month of A Capitol Contessa and it’s really been a challenge but also so much fun.  Next week I will launch the menu calendar that will have weeknight menu suggestions along with a printable shopping list so stay tuned.  Also one more housekeeping note – our camera broke so the picture quality has been less than ideal of late.  Hope to get it fixed this weekend but if you were wondering why all the pics looked like cell phone shots it’s because they are!  Now on to the post…

Poor turkey – cousin to the oh so popular chicken, usually overcooked and dry, blamed for making you sleepy and relegated to the 3rd thursday in November and then forgotten about the rest of the year.  No longer!  Making turkey doesn’t have to be an all day affair partnered with heavy sides and family drama.  Don’t go for a whole bird – just buy a breast or cutlets and use them in place of chicken to spice things up.  Or totally throw tradition to the wind and try these terrific turkey tacos.  Here you use turkey legs as they can do a long braise, the flavor stands up to a punchy sauce and they are CHEAP.  I changed up the recipe a bit to impart more of a smoky, chili flavor and to cook down the sauce even more so it becomes thick and mole-like.  I also included chipoltes in adobo (which I should have had in the pantry blog post).  These are smoked jalapenos stored in a vinegary sauce that you can buy in a can at really any supermarket these days.  They pack some heat so you will probably never use the whole can at one time – that’s fine, just transfer to a plastic container and store in the fridge indefinitely.  I like to puree the whole chilis with the sauce and keep that on hand as well to stir into sauces or mayo for sandwiches.  For zero effort you can add a smoky, spicy, tangy flavor to practically anything.  Thanks to Pati’s Mexican Table for this excellent pic to you see what the chipoltes look like and a recipe to make your own (which I am now dying to try).  If you aren’t familiar with Pati Jinich she is an incredible Mexican cook from the D.C. area who does lots of fun local food events and has her own cooking show so please check out her website.

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I really like these tacos served simply with chopped onion and a squeeze of lime.  If you wanted to skip the taco route you could serve this as a main course with rice and beans or in a sandwich sort of like pulled pork.  It freezes really well so make the whole batch and freeze the left overs in smaller portions so you can have a slow braised meal any night of the week.

Turkey Tacos (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:   Beer Braised Turkey Tacos by Food and Wine Magazine

Special Equipment:  none

  • 2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
  • one 2 to 2 1/2 pound package of turkey drumsticks, skin and fat removed
  • 5 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 large oregano sprigs
  • 2 to 4 chipoltes in adobo depending on how much heat you like
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 14 ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 2 ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded and torn into pieces
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 bottle of Mexican dark beer, such as Modelo Negro
  • 1 cup water

In a large dutch oven or pot, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium high heat. Sprinkle the turkey drumsticks with salt and pepper and cook for about 10 minutes until all the sides are brown.  Transfer them to a plate and add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pot.  Turn down the heat to medium and add the garlic, onion, oregano springs, chipoltes and tomato paste.

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Cook for about 5 to 8 minutes until the onion is softened and beginning to deglaze the plan. Add the canned tomatoes, ancho pieces and the cinnamon stick.  Now add the beer and water and scrape up any last brown bits at the bottom of the pan.  Return the turkey to the pot and nestle them in among the liquid and veggies.  Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer.  Cover and cook for about an hour, turning the drumsticks once.  Take the drumsticks out – you can tell they are done when the meat easily falls off of the bone.  Here see the before and after:

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Dont be a hero – let the turkey cool off before shredding it, otherwise you will seriously hurt your fingers speaking from experience.  While the turkey cools turn the heat up on the sauce and discard the cinnamon stick and oregano sprigs.  Cook the sauce until thickened about 20 minutes or until it’s the consistency you want.  This is why I subbed the whole fresh tomato in the original to canned tomato plus tomato paste.  The way it was originally written I felt it was a little too weak but look at how rich the sauce turns out with the tomato and chili flavor amped up.  Shred the turkey and stir it back in with the sauce.

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Now you can eat it right away, keep it warm on the stove for a while, or store it in the fridge or freezer for later.

Turkey Tacos

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Time: 2 hours
  • Print
Special Equipment:  none

  • 2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
  • one 2 to 2 1/2 pound package of turkey drumsticks, skin and fat removed
  • 5 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 large oregano sprigs
  • 2 to 4 chipoltes in adobo depending on how much heat you want
  • 14 ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 2 ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded and torn into pieces
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 bottle of Mexican dark beer, such as Modelo Negro
  • 1 cup water

In a large dutch oven or pot, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium high heat. Sprinkle the turkey drumsticks with salt and pepper and cook for about 10 minutes until all the sides are brown.  Transfer them to a plate and add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pot.  Turn down the heat to medium and add the garlic, onion, oregano springs, chipoltes and tomato paste.

Cook for about 5 to 8 minutes until the onion is softened and beginning to deglaze the plan. Add the canned tomatoes, ancho pieces and the cinnamon stick.  Now add the beer and water and scrape up any last brown bits at the bottom of the pan.  Return the turkey to the pot and nestle them in among the liquid and veggies.  Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer.  Cover and cook for about an hour, turning the drumsticks once.  Take the drumsticks out – you can tell they are done when the meat easily falls off of the bone.  While the turkey cools turn the heat up on the sauce and discard the cinnamon stick and oregano sprigs.  Cook the sauce until thickened about 20 minutes or until it’s the consistency you want.  Shred the turkey and stir it back in with the sauce.  Now you can eat it right away, keep it warm on the stove for a while, or store it in the fridge or freezer for later.

Spinach Pesto Pasta Salad

I am a huge fan of any kind of cooking that only requires boiling water and throwing a bunch of stuff in the food processor – especially when the temps reach 95 plus here in D.C.  Pestos are such a natural for summer cooking but most people are only familiar with the basil Pesto alla genovese, delicious for sure but there are lots of pestos out there to explore.  Pesto actually means a sauce made by pounding ingredients together so they can take a lot of different forms and don’t have to include basil or even be green!  In the old country nonnas used a mortar and pestle for their pestos but this girl goes for the speed and convenience of a food processor.  If you don’t have the space or desire for a big expensive food processor I would suggest spending the $30 or so and get a mini chop like this one.  You may have to make pestos like this one in batches so all the spinach fits in but that really just adds a couple of seconds to the process (and they come in so many cute colors!).  I of course have both a mini chop and a large 9 cup processor but that’s me.  They are great for sauces like this, for making doughs, for slicing veggies or grating cheese – they really are the all purpose work horses of the kitchen.  In less than 10 seconds my food processor took the ingredients for this pesto from disparate ingredients to a beautiful sauce.

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This pasta salad is a nice greek twist on a classic and a great way to get in healthy dark greens into your diet.  I made quite a few changes from the original recipe, mostly because it made enough for a small army.  However, don’t let that stop you from making your own changes.  I served this with ricotta salata instead of feta because I find the feta crumbles too much in the salad but it’s still delicious if that’s what you have on hand.  Orzo was called for in the original and I like that shape but any short cut pasta would work.  You may notice that I don’t instruct you to add any salt to this recipe which for a salt freak like me is rare.  However, the parmesan, ricotta salata and olives really add a salty punch so wait until the whole salad is composed before adding any salt – you may feel like me that you don’t actually need any.  If you wanted to make it a whole meal throw some grilled chicken on top and call it a day.  I served it with lemon marinated grilled pork tenderloin but it would also be great with a lovely piece of fish.  This salad also holds up really well and can sit forever so perfect for a picnic or BBQ.  I would say you could make it up to 3 days in advance and it would be just as good.

Spinach Pesto Pasta Salad (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  Orzo Salad with Spinach Pesto, Olives and Feta by the kitchn
Special Equipment:  food processor

  • 5 ounce package of baby spinach (baby spinach is a better pick here as its more tender)
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3/4 pound of orzo (basically 3/4 of the box)
  • 3 ounces ricotta salata
  • 1/2 cup kalamata olives

In the food processor buzz around the spinach, walnuts, pine nuts, parmesan, garlic, and lemon juice for a couple of seconds until all chopped.  Through the pour spout drizzle in the olive oil while processor is running.  Scrape the sides to make sure everything is combined, buzz again for a second if needed.  In the meantime cook the orzo, dice the ricotta salata and slice or chop the olives.  Drain the orzo, mix in the pesto, then stir in the cheese and olives.  Serve immediately, in a couple of hours or a couple of days!

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Spinach Pesto Pasta Salad

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Time: 12 minutes
  • Print

Special Equipment:  food processor

  • 5 ounce package of baby spinach (baby spinach is a better pick here as its more tender)
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3/4 pound of orzo (basically 3/4 of the box)
  • 3 ounces ricotta salata
  • 1/2 cup kalamata olives

In the food processor buzz around the spinach, walnuts, pine nuts, parmesan, garlic, and lemon juice for a couple of seconds until all chopped.  Through the pour spout drizzle in the olive oil while processor is running.  Scrape the sides to make sure everything is combined, buzz again for a second if needed.  In the meantime cook the orzo, dice the ricotta salata and slice or chop the olives.  Drain the orzo, mix in the pesto, then stir in the cheese and olives.  Serve immediately, in a couple of hours or a couple of days!

In honor of National Wine Day – pick your own house wine

Several years ago I decided to undertake a wine cork project just as most craft inclined drinkers have.  It was a wine cork wreath modeled after a cute one I saw at Screwtop Wine Bar in Arlington, VA.  Thinking that I couldn’t drink enough wine to produce that many corks in time

The dreaded cork project complete

The dreaded cork project complete

for the holidays I enlisted my mom to save her corks too.  When I got her rather impressive sized bag of corks I noticed that 75 percent of them were from the same bottles.  When asked she casually explained that those were her “house wines.”  Brilliant!  Only my mother would know to appropriate such a term and make it so chic in her own home.  Pick one red and one white that you really like, doesn’t have to be expensive, actually better that it’s not, that goes with most things and stock up.  Then you will always have a bottle or two squirreled away that you can pull out for guests and not have to worry.  Also over time people sort of naturally start to associate your home with that wine, good food, fun memories and being well taken care of.  Like a good restaurant if the customers leave happy and full you are likely to have them back.  Now for those of you who associate “house wine” with jammy yucky stuff poured out of a jug please know that I am referring to is akin to the lovely wine usually sold by the carafe in France or Italy.  This stuff is just amazing, local and so cheap.  More and more American restaurants are getting into this notion, especially with the advent of wine on draft so I suspect house wines will be coming to more menus over time.  If it helps think about the wines sold by the glass sold at your favorite restaurants.  Sommiliers always suggest you look towards that list if you are unfamiliar with wine or are

And yet another wine craft

And yet another wine craft

nervous about what to order by the bottle because usually its a list of wines that are easy to drink, not outrageously priced and tasty.  The theory being that if something isn’t well liked they won’t sell enough of it to warrant selling it by the glass and it will disappear from the list.  Ok if I have sold you on having your own house wine the logical next question is – which ones?  Well of course you should pick wines that you really like but also make sure they are crowd pleasers.  Don’t pick anything too strong or controversial (looking at you oaky chardonnays and heavy cabs).  My advice is go to a place with a good selection of mid priced wines and buy a bunch to try.  This kind of research is pretty fun so enlist some friends and figure out the crowd favorite.

wpid-20150520_190316.jpgFor my white selection I totally cheated and picked my Mom’s.  For years we just called it the “green wine” and still do – but its official ridiculously long name is Les Costieres de Pomerols Hugues Beaulieu Picpoul de Pinet.  Years after we started drinking it we discovered that the Inn at Little Washington serves it so we must be doing something right.  It’s light, with a hint of citrus and is delicious on its own (especially when its hot) or with food.  The bottle is just so French and gorgeous – how about that color???  Also the price is right – in D.C. I can find it for $8 a bottle at most Whole Foods and Wegman’s but you can also get it on sale sometimes at World Market or Total Wine dropping the price as low as $6 a bottle.  In Boston it seems to go for a bit more but for a French import you really cannot ask for anything better.  Some of you may have noticed that it has a screw top – this is a recent change and one I embrace.  Don’t turn your nose up at screw tops – they actually keep oxygen (the enemy of wine) out better than cork.

For reds I just sort of instinctively go towards Italy – their lush, balanced reds are so drinkable.  If I had the budget people would be drinking barolos every time they come over but alas it’s not to be.  I haven’t quite picked the perfect one yet but there are a couple of contenders at Trader Joes.  So celebrate National Wine Day and kick back and have a glass or two – I just heard the pop of a bottle of bubbly that I am going to share with my BFF.  I hope everyone has a great long weekend – let me know if you end up picking your own house wines so I can add them to my cellar.

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Mexican Marinated Pork Tenderloin

Pork tenderloin is the perfect protein – low in fat, quick cooking, hell they are even portion controlled so you can easily scale up or down.  Grilled, roasted, pan sautéed in medallions, stir fried in strips or cubed in stews there is just nothing this piggie cannot do.  I am not a huge fan of pork chops as I find they dry out and can become tough really easily.  Same can be said for pork tenderloin if you aren’t careful but an easy way to hedge against that is to marinate the pork, which will not only give it flavor but often help tenderize the meat and make it less tough (especially if there is acid involved as there is in this recipe).  Again you should view this as a method not a fixed list of ingredients.  For fiesta friday I made this with lime juice and chili powder but you could easily turn this italian with balsamic vinegar and garlic or greek with lemon juice and oregano.  Basically if you have some acid, ingredients that add a good flavor punch, some oil and a plastic baggie you are good to go.  Also please don’t be a snob about the gallon plastic bag – it’s not Pinterest worthy or stylish but it gets the job done, actually ensures that all of the meat gets marinated and what is better than disposable??

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I served this alongside last week’s quinoa salad which was delicious but it would also be great with an avocado and onion salad, chopped up and thrown into tortillas for tacos or quesadillas or sliced thinly on a taco salad.

Mexican Marinated Pork Tenderloin (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  easy street
Special Equipment:  plastic gallon sized baggie, meat thermometer

  • 1 pork tenderloin (or 8, honestly you can increase this to as many as your baggie can hold)
  • the juice of 2 limes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, grated or minced finely
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder (I had guajillo on hand but any kind or generic will do)

Put pork and all the ingredients in a plastic baggie, close the top pressing out as much air as possible and squishing everything together.  Marinate for 45 minutes to up to 2 hours.  You could do it for longer if you needed to but the lime juice can start to break down the proteins in the pork after too long and it will get mushy.  Sweet spot is about an hour – you can leave it at room temp in the baggie to marinate since you don’t want to throw a cold tenderloin on the grill anyway.  When you are ready to cook, heat a grill or grill pan on high and when hot pull the tenderloin out of the baggie, shake off excess marinate and throw on the grill.

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Grill for about 15-20 minutes depending on how big a tenderloin it is, turning every 5 minutes to get char on all sides.  A meat thermometer should read about 140 degrees.  Take off the grill and let rest under tin foil for about 5 minutes then slice and serve.

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Mexican Marinated Pork Tenderloin

  • Servings: 2-3
  • Time: 1 hour to marinate plus 20 minutes cooking
  • Print

Special Equipment:  plastic gallon sized baggie, meat thermometer

  • 1 pork tenderloin (or 8, honestly you can increase this to as many as your baggie can hold)
  • the juice of 2 limes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, grated
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder (I had guajillo on hand but any kind or generic will do)

Put pork and all the ingredients in a plastic baggie, close the top pressing out as much air as possible and squishing everything together.  Marinate for 45 minutes to up to 2 hours.  You could do it for longer if you needed to but the lime juice can start to break down the proteins in the pork after a while and it will get mushy.  Sweet spot is about an hour – you can leave it at room temp in the baggie to marinate since you don’t want to throw a cold tenderloin on the grill anyway.  When you are ready to cook heat a grill or grill pan on high and when hot pull the tenderloin out of the baggie, shake off excess marinate and throw on the grill.  Grill for about 15-20 minutes depending on how big a tenderloin it is, turning every 5 minutes to get char on all sides.  A meat thermometer should read about 140 degrees.  Take off the grill and let rest under tin foil for about 5 minutes then slice and serve.

Peep my pantry

Andrew, a good friend and also our real estate agent, says the moment he knew we were going to buy our house was when Patrick saw the deck and when I saw the pantry.  He is right – it was love at first sight.  It didn’t hurt DSC04473that the kitchen it was attached to was also beautiful but after living in tiny cramped apartments with galley kitchens for years the thought of an honest to goodness pantry stopped my heart cold.  Even before we moved in I was already at Home Goods buying clear glass containers with images of perfectly coordinated dried goods dancing in my head.  The girl who has been reading Martha Stewart magazine since she was in elementary school designed and redesigned what these magical shelves would look like.  The reality is a bit less adorable and more practical – though I did get me a lot of those glass containers.  A pantry is meant to be used and cannot just hold artisanal olive oils and dried apricots (for color of course) but also has to house the industrial jar of Skippy and packets of Equal.  One must be realistic about your family, lifestyle and the kind of cooking you do as well as space constraints.  I have the luxury of buying random jars and bottles that catch my eye at ethnic markets without the first clue of what to use them in because I have the space.  If you don’t be choosy and just keep on hand the necessities.  Think about how you eat – do you do a lot of whole grains?  Then it makes sense to buy wheat berries in bulk and keep them in a large refillable container.  Are you a baker?  Then it’s not unreasonable to have 3 or 4 types of flours in hand to bake with (and yes you can tell your spouse I said so).

No matter what size your pantry is (and let’s be honest for most people its half of one cabinet in your kitchen) you should arm yourself with key ingredients so that you can easily pick up one or two things at the store and be able to create a whole meal off of what you already have on hand.  This makes life easier at the grocery store and for those times where you get really stuck – sick kid, snow storm, Scandal marathon that you don’t want to leave the house for – and just want to make something easily.  Here are some suggested lists of what would be helpful to have on hand.  Remember – this is all personal so don’t go out and buy things willy nilly, use this as a guide to think about what you already have and what you could probably do without or what you could augment your existing stock.  Once you start cooking a ton or stubble across the dream pantry then you can buy all the pomegranate molasses and rice flour to your hearts content.

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General Pantry

  • olive oil for cooking and olive oil for finishing – a high quality olive oil will get ruined when cooked with so just use the good (i.e. expensive) stuff for dressings etc.  I get amazing quality stuff imported straight from Italy at A. Litteri in D.C.
  • vegetable or canola oil
  • a variety of vinegars – I have sherry, red wine, white wine, balsamic, apple cider and rice wine but try a bunch and see which works for you
  • dried pasta – I like De Cecco
  • rice – I keep basmati, aborrio (the kind for risotto), and brown rice
  • couscous
  • whole grains – I like farro or wheatberries
  • breadcrumbs (regular and panko if you have the space)
  • honey – good quality honey makes all the difference.  Discovered Savannah Bee Company when I was in GA and love it for baking and with cheese)
  • soy sauce – go low sodium if you have the choice
  • fish sauce
  • sesame oil
  • agave
  • polenta (and grits if you live south of the Mason Dixon)
  • canned beans – I always have black beans, chickpeas and cannellinis
  • boxed chicken and beef stock – I usually use my own chicken broth but its good to have on hand in a pinch
  • cornstarch (for baking and also to thicken sauces)
  • cooking spray like Pam
  • spices (this could be a whole post but have on hand what you find you use most and toss after a year or so.  I just counted mine and I have 73 so that’s probably not for everyone)

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For the bakers:

  • all purpose flour
  • granulated sugar
  • light or dark brown sugar (trust me you can really use these interchangeably)
  • baking powder
  • baking soda
  • good vanilla extract – I use Nielsen Massey, pricey but lasts forever
  • chocolate chips/baking chocolate
  • espresso powder
  • cocoa powder
  • oats
  • cupcake liners

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In the fridge

  • dijon and whole grain mustard – Grey Poupon is the standard for a reason and for whole grain Les Trios Petits Cochons just blows the competition away
  • hot sauce – Patrick has a collection of over a dozen but my favorite is Devil’s Duel from Syracuse, NY
  • tahini – great for making hummus and all sorts of mediterranean dishes, also lasts forever
  • hoisin sauce
  • garlic chili sauce like this
  • jams for meat glazes or baking
  • maple syrup – I am lucky enough to get incredible maple syrup made by a dear family friend Beverly at her sugar farm Erabliere De Winter in Canada.  Just make sure to get high quality sttuff and please no fakes!
  • anchovy paste
  • mayo
  • walnuts, pine nuts, pecans (if you keep them in the fridge they won’t spoil – key for those of us who live in hot climates)
  • greek yogurt

Ok so what do you all keep on hand?  Did I miss a staple in your house??  This is the first of a series of posts on the best ingredients, tools, and party gear to have to make cooking and entertaining fun and easy.  Let me know what else you would like to “peep.”

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