It's Iron Foodie time!!! :)
OK, so first off, my fears of opening the package of mystery ingredients from Marx Foods to find something staring back at me were completely unfounded. Phew!! What the package did contain was the following awesome treats . . .
- Dried Aji Panca Chilies
- Bourbon Vanilla Beans
- Fennel Pollen
- Dried Wild Porcini Mushrooms
- Tellicherry Peppercorns
- Dulse Seaweed
- Maple Sugar
- Smoked Salt
I resisted the temptation to spill the ingredients to my foodie friends because I did not want to be influenced by their ideas. For whatever reason, what first came to mind for me was a bread of sorts. Then my brain wandered to lamb, but had I cooked lamb in this house, I would have risked being forever shunned ... at least banned from the kitchen. My sister and I will sometimes sneak in a lamb chop or some "real" shish kebab along with the beef tips when nobody is looking, but there is no way I could sneak a roast lamb past the king of this particular castle!
We were asked to indicate why we used the ingredients that we did and why the recipe speaks to our particular cooking style or philosophy. The problem with that for me is ... I have no particular cooking style or philosophy. Other than the fact that we tend to like things with a kick of heat, I cook and bake a little of everything. I've never sort of pigeonholed myself into one particular style. Armenian, Italian, Greek, Japanese, French, Chinese, good old fashioned American comfort food. You name it, I dabble!
As for why I chose the particular ingredients that I used, it just sort of came to me as I went along. Sadly, two ingredients were left out - the Bourbon Vanilla Beans and the Dulse Seaweed. Lucky for me, I didn't have any vanilla beans in the house and needed one over Thanksgiving, so although it didn't make it into tonight's dinner, I've already used the inside of one to make a vanilla pecan butter and tossed the pod into a bottle of vanilla to steep. The Dulse, on the other hand, brought me right back to being a kid. My best friend's father used to keep a pouch of Dulse in his car that we would snack on. He also happened to smoke a pipe back then, so I was always afraid I would dip [no pun intended] into the wrong pouch! 😏
Back to my Pork Loin ... This whole experience was a series of "firsts" for me. I make a killer crusted roast beef, but this was my first roast pork. It was also my first time using any of the mystery ingredients (well, I guess I've probably used vanilla beans before), and I got to try out my new silicon roast ties to boot! Oh, and then there were the veggies. I don't think I have ever eaten a parsnip before either. I've certainly never cooked one!
When contemplating the use of the smoked salt, I got it in my head to brine the roast, so that's exactly what I did, for about two days. I brought the brine to a boil to dissolve the sugar and salt, then let it cool to room temp, dunked the roast and took a running start at the fridge to fit it in there with everything else.
1 gallon water
1 c apple cider
1/2 c kosher salt
2 t smoked salt
1/2 c sugar
1 T maple sugar
1 t black peppercorns
1 t tellicherry peppercorns
2 bay leaves
several sprigs of thyme
As I mentioned, most of the "mystery" ingredients were new to me, so not wanting to be caught off guard, I looked into the mushrooms (I don't eat any kind of mushroom, but the rest of the family loves them) and chilies. Although I could probably have used them both dry, especially given the ingredients they would be commingling with, I opted to follow the noted protocol of reconstituting them in hot water. Besides, porcini mushrooms are apparently prone to picking up grit, so even if I was to opt to use them dry, I would still need to have brushed or rinsed them to remove any grit.
I was first debating between some sort of artichoke or spinach filling. I ultimately settled on spinach. It turned out that's where most of the flavors settled.
SPINACH FILLING :
30 oz frozen chopped spinach
3 cloves garlic
reconstituted and diced
1 Dried Aji Panca Chili,
reconstituted, seeded, and minced
3/4 c white wine
3 c fresh bread crumbs
2 T fresh thyme leaves
1/4 c grated Parmesan
1 t Fennel Pollen
1 t Fennel Pollen
I started by removing the roast from the fridge to come up to room temp so it wouldn't seize up when it hit the heat. Then I pulled out a big colander. That came in handy as I went along. I started off by dumping my spinach into it and running some hot water over it to thaw while I heated some olive oil with a pat of butter and started the garlic cooking over medium high. I squeezed the spinach (mostly) dry and added it to the pan to cook down with the garlic. I poured my mushrooms into the colander and gave them a quick rinse, checking for any remaining grit, then rough chopped those, seeded and chopped the chili, and stirred both into the spinach mixture, finishing it off with the wine and several turns of the pepper mill. I cooked down some of the wine but wanted to leave enough liquid to soak into the bread crumb mixture and retain its moisture while roasting.
Since the colander was free, I poured my roast into it so the brine would run out and the colander would catch all of the peppercorns and herbs before the garbage disposal got mad at me. You never know what kind of a mood it's going to be in.
While the spinach was doing it's thing, I moved over to the food processor and pulsed the bread, thyme, Parmesan, Fennel Pollen and a good amount of pepper, then stirred the spinach mixture into the bread mixture. Man, as much as I detest mushrooms, it's starting to smell really good in here at this point!!
With the spinach mixture set aside, I turned my attention back to the roast, giving it a quick rinse, then patting it dry. Not that I've ever cooked a pork roast, but if I was going to cook it as a roast, I would have left the fat intact. Because I planned on rolling it, I couldn't count on the fat cooking down, so I trimmed off as much as I could. I was expecting the roast to be rounder than it was, but I happened to pick up one of those "family packs" that included the roast, some chops and ribs, so I couldn't tell through the packaging that it was really more rectangular. Had it been rounder, I would have placed a really sharp long knife about 1/4" above my work surface and very carefully sliced and unrolled it to create a long thin slab. As it turned out, I ended up standing it on end lengthwise and making one slice almost to the bottom (like butterflying), opening it up and putting my knife against the cut to make another slice in the other direction, effectively opening it into three sections forming one large piece.
Then I seasoned it with a generous amount of the freshly ground pepper and a slight sprinkling of the smoked salt. I wanted to be sure that smokiness came through and didn't know how much might have penetrated with the brine. I slathered on the spinach filling and rolled that sucker up, trussing it with my new silicon roast ties -- so much easier than when I see people use twine!
Oops, I thought I had taken a shot with the filling on it - sorry!
I seared the roast all the way around - in a little olive oil with a pat of butter. Then I slathered the whole outside with a generous amount of the maple sugar.
When I checked out a few recipes for cooking times, they mostly started at 400 for the first 15" then went down to 350 for about 1'15". Because I didn't want the sugar to burn, I started it off covered.
Moving on to the veggies ...
I have no idea what made me decide to use parsnips, but I was pleasantly surprised to find they are kind of like a starchy carrot if you haven't had them before. It pretty much tasted like a mild carrot, but it had a little bit of a fibrous texture. I had thought it would be more like a turnip for some reason. Anyhow, never having cooked one before, I went online to see if there was something I needed to know. I read that you should boil them for about 4" before roasting. I also saw potatoes referenced on that same page. I have never par-boiled my potatoes before roasting, but what the heck. It suggested boiling the potatoes for 5" then tossing them in a strainer to rough up the edges so the end result would be little crispies around the edges. Having just had raw pork in my strainer, I thought it was probably a good idea to skip that step today!
I peeled and sliced three potatoes into thick rings and set them to boil, then sliced three parsnips and added them right in with the potatoes for a few minutes. I had gotten a package or those adorable baby carrots, so I knew they were small enough not to require pre-boiling. I figured what the heck and threw two quartered onions in at the last minute, then poured out all the liquid, set the carrots on top with the remaining sprigs of thyme and set the cover back on to steam for a bit before it was time to toss them in with the roast (about 20" before the roast comes out).
Before moving on to my Cornbread, I decided to take a peak at the roast and baste it. It smelled so good, I wanted to just stick my head in the oven for a few minutes, but that's never a good idea - even in an electric oven. 😏
Ooh, this was yet another first now that I'm thinking about it. I hate to admit this, but for the random occasions when we make any kind of corn bread, it has always been out of a package. To my credit, I will say that I think the only other thing I make from a package is brownies. I don't know why, but I much prefer a packaged brownie to homemade. Maybe that's just one of those - had it that way first - things. Anyhow, the cornbread was a HUGE hit. It was unanimously voted the best any of us have had anywhere, so it had to be the addition of Fennel Pollen. The only other thing I did to it that may have been "different" is that I assembled it a while before it actually needed to bake, so it sat out for a while. Maybe that allowed the cornmeal to soak up more of the moisture than it normally would have before baking, so it wasn't as dry as others - just a guess.
2/3 c butter
1 c sugar
1 2/3 c milk
2 1/3 c flour
1 c cornmeal1 t salt
2T sour cream
1 T Dried Aji Panca Chili, reconstituted and minced
1 t Fennel Pollen
Cream together the butter and sugar, then measure out the milk and beat the eggs right into the milk. In another bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking soda, and salt, then alternately mix the wet ingredients into the dry. Stir in the sour cream and peppers, then pour into a 13x9 pan lightly sprayed with cooking spray. It occurred to me at the last minute to include the fennel pollen, so I sprinkled it on the top, and being afraid it would burn, I used the back of a spoon to swirl across the top and sort of "bury" it in the batter. Bake at 400 for about 25" until a toothpick comes out clean.
I tried to get a close-up shot of this so you could see the little flecks of the pollen when it came out, but there was too much glare that close, so you'll have to take my word for it - it was very pretty up close!! 😋
As soon as I got the cornbread in the oven, I pulled out the roast, basted it again and nestled the veggies all around it with the thyme sprigs and a few pats of butter and put it right back in for the final 20".
Before you look at my final pictures and cry just a little bit, please keep in mind that the king of the castle requires all of his meats to be cooked to well done. It's easy to manage steaks and chops because we just leave his in longer. It does make it tough when roasting sometimes, but that's OK - it was still delicious!! The outside was just a bit dry for my taste. I was planning to make a gravy with the pan juices, but by then, my bum knee was yelling at me, and I couldn't bear the thought of standing in front of the stove any longer, so I opted to just spoon over some of the juice.
Kinda funny since I had to blog about this, so it's all right here anyhow, but I was told emphatically to write the recipe down so we could have it again! Yay!!
Mine may not be the sexiest entry in this challenge, but I definitely had fun participating and branching out to try new ingredients - not to mention managing to incorporate 6 out of 8. Now that I've finished this novel, I need to go back upstairs and hide the other two vanilla beans and the rest of the fennel pollen!! Ciao! 😊
A big thanks to Marx Foods for selecting me to participate in this challenge and to the Foodie Blogroll for bringing us all together!