Saturday, May 31, 2014

A wonderful way to finish a meal!

             I’m not much of a dessert maker. Frankly, if folks are still hungry by the time we get to dessert at my house, I sort of get my feelings hurt.  But I’ve been going through notes from our trip to France last fall.  And there was one thing that I enjoyed that I’d never had before: a chocolate marquise with speculoos chunks.
                I went looking for marquise recipes but most had raw eggs, with the whites whipped to lighten the mixture.  I was pretty sure the one we had didn’t have the eggs.  Finally I went to the website of the culinary magazine “Cuisine et Vins de France” and found a recipe that was perfect.
                Speculoos are Belgian cookies, a sort of molded spice shortbread.  I couldn’t find them here but the popular Biscoff wafers are available in most local supermarkets.  They’re also a spice cookie, the ones you used to get on Delta Airlines back when they gave you more than one little bag of pretzels.  That’s what I used and they were perfect.
                There are several advantages to this dessert.  First, it is quick and easy to make.  And although good chocolate isn’t cheap, it’s still a fairly inexpensive recipe per serving. It can be made days ahead with no loss of quality, in fact it was better the second day than the first. And most important: it is REALLY yummy. 
                The original recipe suggests that you serve it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or with crème anglaise, a rich vanilla custard sauce. Both seem like overkill to me, especially the crème anglaise.  I scattered a few raspberries on the plate and added a dollop of whipped cream and nobody complained.

Chocolate Marquise with Biscoff Wafers

 1 8.8-ounce package Biscoff wafers
4 3.5-ounce (total 14 oz.) good quality dark chocolate bars (at least 60% cacao)
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 ¼ cups heavy cream
A large pinch ground cinnamon
Whipped cream and raspberries for garnish

                Spray an 8x5 loaf pan with cooking spray and line with plastic wrap. 
               With your fingers, crumble the wafers into chunks.  With a knife, chop the chocolate coarsely.
                In a saucepan over medium-low heat, bring the cream and butter to a bare simmer.  Add the chocolate and continue to stir with a heat-proof plastic scraper until smooth.  Add the cookie chunks and the cinnamon and mix together. Pour into the prepared loaf pan.
                Let cool a bit, then refrigerate for at least 6 hours.  To serve use the wrap to unmold the loaf.  You may need to wrap a hot towel around the outside to loosen.  Slice ¾-inch thick, put on individual serving plates and garnish with berries and whipped cream.  Serves 12.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Apricot-Lavender Pork

                 A while back, we hosted a wine tasting for the Alliance Française, featuring wines and dishes from the South of France.  One of the dishes I made was a pork tenderloin with an apricot-lavender compote.  It was adapted from the cookbook “Chocolate and Zucchini,” from Clotilde Dusoulier.  The book, her first cookbook, was named after her very entertaining blogof the same name, posted in both French and English.
                She presented it as a dessert dish, intended to be served over pound cake, or with crisp cookies.  It is delicious that way, but I wanted a sauce for pork tenderloin, so I made a few changes. It was such a hit that when we hosted our monthly dinner club the next weekend, I made it again.  Once again it was deemed delicious.
                Lavender is a very versatile herb but one rarely used in the US, partly, I’m sure, because it’s not easy to find. The only place I know to buy food-grade lavender in Memphis is at Penzeys, on Poplar near Kirby Parkway.  It is sometimes available in hobby stores to be used in sachets or other crafts. You must not cook with that.
                If you are planning an herb garden for this summer, you might consider adding a couple of lavender plants. For culinary purposes, I like the English lavender variety.  It grows well in full sun, and once established, tolerates drought well.  If the winter isn’t too harsh, it will probably even come back next year.  As a bonus, the plants are very attractive. 
You can use the blossoms fresh or dried in a variety of dishes—it is particularly tasty with lamb or pork. Dried blossoms are lovely finely ground and mixed with sugar to be used in butter cookies, cakes or as a sweetener for lemonade.
I served the pork dish with rice pilaf and asparagus that I roasted after drizzling with herbes de Provence infused olive oil that I got from Bazaar, an olive oil and balsamic vinegar shop in Collierville’s Carriage Crossing. I used the same oil to coat the pork.  It gave a subtle herbal flavor that was the perfect complement to the apricot sauce.

 Pork with Provençal Apricot-Lavender Compote

 3 1/2 to 4 pounds pork tenderloin
3 tablespoons herbes de Provence olive oil (or plain olive oil)
Kosher or sea salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small shallot, finely minced (about a heaping tablespoon)
1 tablespoon each white and dark brown sugar
1 pinch kosher or sea salt
1 pound dried apricots
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups water
2 teaspoons dried lavender blossoms. 

               With a small sharp knife, remove the silver skin from the pork tenderloins. Rub with oil and sprinkle lightly with salt.  Allow to rest until ready to roast.  Preheat oven to 450o.  About 30 minutes before serving, place the pork on a rack in a baking pan.  Roast for 20 minutes, or until the internal temperature is 145o-150o.  Remove from the oven and let rest, tented with foil, for five minutes before slicing.
                In a deep skillet, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the shallots and cook until starting to get tender, about 5 minutes.  Add the sugar and let it melt, without stirring, for five minutes.  Add the apricots and stir to coat.  Add the salt, wine and water. Bring to a simmer and cook until the apricots are tender, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the apricots to a bowl. Add the lavender to the liquid and simmer for 5 minutes, until the liquid is slightly reduced.  Return the apricots to the liquid, let simmer another minute or two. 
                To serve, place the pork on warmed plates, top with the apricots and drizzle with the hot liquid. Serve immediately.  Serves 8 to 10. 


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Savory Lentil Apple Salad

           A few weeks ago, I tried a recipe for a lentil salad with apples and a slightly creamy curried salad dressing. Although not bad, it wasn’t something I loved enough to write about. But it was visually appealing with the red apples so when I needed a side dish for a sort of Middle Eastern dinner, I tried it again.
      This time I used a different spice mixture, and left out the cream. I love the flavor of cardamom and ground coriander together, so I thought I’d try that. Normally I would use lemon juice to keep the apples from turning brown but oddly (for me) I had no lemons. Instead I used the juice and zest of a small orange. It was a perfect complement to the dressing.
       I used sherry wine vinegar, since it’s not as sharp as the red wine vinegar called for in the original recipe, and added a touch of honey. If you don’t have sherry vinegar, cider vinegar would work, but you might want to add a bit more honey to your dressing. Mix the salad all together and taste.
       For salads, the best lentils are the green French lentils, also known as “lentilles du Puy.” They don’t need to be soaked and stay firmer after cooking than brown ones. They are available at Fresh Market and some supermarkets. If you want to use the brown lentils, watch very carefully near the end of cooking to make sure they don’t turn mushy.
       I love this salad. I served it slightly warm for the dinner, but leftovers were good straight from the fridge for a couple of days. This would be a perfect dish for a picnic, when the weather finally turns a little warmer.
       Lentils are high in protein and fiber so it would also make a great lunch on a bed of greens.

Middle Eastern Lentil-Apple Salad

1 cup green lentils
4 cups water
1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup minced shallot (or red onion)
1 ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground coriander
¼ cup sherry wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
2 crisp red apples (Gala or Fuji)
1 small orange, rinsed off and dried

       Sort through the lentils to make sure there is no debris. Put the lentils, water and salt into a saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook until just barely done. This could take as little as 15 minutes or up to 25, depending on the age of the lentils. Start tasting after 15 minutes.
       Meanwhile, over medium heat, heat the olive oil in a large skillet and cook the shallots until soft but not browned. Add the cardamom and coriander and cook, stirring, about a minute. Add the wine vinegar and honey, bring just to a simmer. Turn off the heat and reserve in the pan.
       Grate the zest from the orange into a medium bowl. Squeeze the juice and put ½ cup into the bowl. Cut each apple into eight wedges from blossom to stem end. Turn the wedges on the side and slice. Add to the bowl with the orange juice and toss to cover all the surfaces of the apple.
       When the lentils are done, drain and then put into the pan with the shallot mixture. Toss together, then add the apples with all the juice and zest of the orange and toss again.
       I didn’t think it needed salt but taste and add salt if needed. If serving warm, let it sit for about 10 minutes, then taste to see if you think it needs a touch more honey.

Serves 6 to 8 as a side dish, or 4 as a main dish

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Yummy Spanish Pork Tenderloin

               I think I’ve told you that upon the retirement of my husband at the beginning of September, we spent some time visiting our favorite parts of France. One of my much-loved areas is the South of France, and one of my favorite towns there is Aix-en-Provence.
                One evening we wandered into a nice little square that had several cafés and open air restaurants. After a leisurely apéritif in one of the cafés, we chose a restaurant for dinner, Tapas Café ( As you might guess, it features the small plates of Spain. We ordered an assortment of goodies and sat and enjoyed our selections, which came one or two at a time, as they were ready.  One of the dishes was an evening special, “Lomo de Cerdo con Chorizo a la Parilla.”  It was a pork tenderloin that had been stuffed with diced chorizo, rubbed with the smoked paprika of Spain, skewered to keep it closed, and grilled. Served with a sauce of red bell pepper, it was my favorite plate of the evening.

            Recently I thought I’d like to try something similar but the weather didn’t cooperate. It was too windy and rainy to grill.  No problem. I could easily do it in the oven.
Then I went shopping for Spanish chorizo. It’s a dried sausage, like a salami, unlike Mexican chorizo, which is a fresh sausage needing to be cooked.  I found it, but it was expensive. Enough to make this dish would have been around $12.  Pepperoni is similar enough in taste and texture for a dish of this sort. You can go to the deli counter of almost any market and ask for sandwich pepperoni.  Have it sliced a bit less than ¼-inch thick and dice it.
                So, a few recipe changes, a rice pilaf and a green veggie, and we had a lovely dinner for friends. All we needed was the weather and ambiance of the South of France!

Spanish-Inspired Pepperoni-Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

 2 pork tenderloins (total 2 ½ to 3 pounds)
5-6 ounces sandwich pepperoni
¼ cup good fruity extra virgin olive oil
½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
¾ cup diced onion
½ cup diced red bell pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
1 cup dry white wine

                Preheat the oven to 400o.  Trim the silverskin from the pork tenderloin and cut the tenderloin almost in half lengthwise, being careful not to cut it all the way through.  Set aside.
                If there is a casing on the outside of the pepperoni, remove it.  Cut into cubes a bare ¼-inch across. In a heavy skillet, heat the olive oil over low heat. Add the pepperoni cubes and cook, stirring occasionally, until they have rendered their fat and are crispy, about ten minutes.  Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon, leaving as much of the oil as possible in the pan. Let them drain on a paper towel.
When cooled, place them in a bowl with the parsley and toss to mix.  Sprinkle the inside of the pork with salt and pepper.  Stuff with the pepperoni mixture.  Tie at about 1 ½ inch intervals to close.  
In the fat remaining in the pan, brown the pork on all sides, especially the top.  Place in a baking dish.  In the same pan, cook the onion, bell pepper and garlic until soft but not browned.  Add the smoked paprika and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes. Scrape into the baking dish, surrounding the pork tenderloins. 
Deglaze the pan with the white wine, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom. Pour over the pork.  Place in the oven and roast until a meat thermometer reads 145o. This will probably take 20-30 minutes but start checking after 15 minutes. You may want to cook it longer, but 145o is high enough health-wise and gives you very moist and tender pork that is still a bit pink inside. Let the pork rest about five minutes, then slice, plate, and drizzle the pan sauce over each serving. Serves 6-8.