Saturday, 31 May 2014

Cooking in Columbus: Apple-Stuffed Pork Loin et al.

Hello, Food Fans! It's been a while for many things, as they relate to this blog, chief among them being a meal post. Last night, Brianne and I ventured to a local Meijer and amidst a growing sense of hunger bought a slew of ingredients which will eventually find a place here. For dinner, and in under an hour and a half, we pulled together a meal which stuffed ourselves with ingredients costing in total no more than $15. On the menu: apple-stuffed pork loin with toasted white rice, seasoned kale with bacon, and angel food cake with strawberry-rhubarb compote.

As is the case with many of my meals (and really most great meals in my book are concerned), I started off by rendering on medium heat the fat of three slices of hardwood smoked bacon in a large metal pan. In addition, I set the oven to 375°F. After most of the fat cooked out, I transferred the bacon over to an iron cast skillet, where the bacon fat finished rendering on medium-low heat and the bacon itself crisped up. The cooked bacon was transferred to a plate for later use.

While the bacon fat was rendering, I washed and prepped one bunch of kale by cutting the leaves off the stems. Tearing them up by hand, I carefully dropped the kale pieces into the bacon fat. (I stress here to be careful, as the moisture from the kale hitting the hot fat equates to splattering.) After the kale cooked down (reducing in size by about half and absorbing most of the fat), I deglazed the pan with a few tablespoons of chardonnay, scraped any remaining fond, added about 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper, gave everything a quick toss, turned off the heat, and covered the kale, relying on the moisture to finish cooking the greens.

Meanwhile, Brianne had cut the ends of two stalks of rhubarb, cut them in half, and then cut them further into half-inch pieces. She then put these into a pot, along with about 8 oz of strawberries cut into quarters. (The goal here is to get the rhubarb and strawberry into fairly uniform pieces so they cook evenly.) All of this went onto medium heat, along with 1/4 c each of granulated sugar and chardonnay.

Brianne then measured a cup of white rice and toasted this in a pot over medium heat, making sure to move the rice around so it didn't burn. To this, she added a cup of low sodium chicken stock and a cup of water. Following a rapid boil, Brianne then covered the rice with a lid and reduced the heat to low. As Brianne tended to the rice, I petite diced what would become the stuffing (inspired, in part by this recipe) for the pork loin, into which Brianne had cut slits: half a golden delicious apple, a whole small onion, and two garlic cloves.

After stuffing the pork loin, Brianne salt and peppered all sides of the pork, which I browned before carefully covering the entire pan with aluminum foil. This all then went into the preheated oven to cook for 25 minutes. It was at this point that I reduced the heat on the strawberry-rhubarb compote to medium-low.

Once the pork loin was in the oven, we checked the rice, to which I added another 1/2 c water, and a splash of the chardonnay, and seasoned the lot with about 1/2 tsp salt and freshly ground black pepper. With the heat turned off, and the pot re-lidded, I let the remaining heat and moisture finish off the rice.

Soon enough, the 25 minutes had elapsed. I took the lid off the kale and added the earlier crisped bacon to it. As for the pork loin, I added a touch of chardonnay, covered the pan again with the foil, and left this all alone to rest before plating. 

Also finished at this time was the strawberry-rhubarb compote, which I took off the heat completely to cool.

Et voilà ! The the servings of pork loin, rice, and kale were richly seasoned, the pork of which had a bit of heat from the the black pepper and garlic which was still somewhat on the raw end. On this note, and although the pork loin was cooked and not completely dry/tough, I would first cook the stuffing until browned and slightly caramelised, stuff the pork loin, and then cook it for 20 minutes. As far as aiming to cook on a small budget is concerned, the pork loin was on sale for under $5, and the stuffing ingredients brought the entrée to no more than $5.50 ($0.44 for half the golden delicious apple, and about $0.15 for the small onion and garlic cloves). The rice came out to about $1, considering the cost of a cup of the chicken stock is about $0.75 depending on quality, etc., and the relatively little expense (especially when bought and stored in larger quantities) of the rice itself, as well as the water, salt, and pepper. Finally, the bunch of kale was $1.29, and three slices of a pound of bacon plus the few tablespoons of chardonnay use to deglaze the pan brings this side dish to under $2.50.

For dessert, we bought a loaf of angel food cake (for the sake of simplicity and fewer ingredients to work with) and atop a few slices, added a healthy dollop of freshly whipped cream (1/4-1/3 c cream + a few tablespoons of granulated sugar, whisked together until thick and able to maintain soft peaks). And to finish this off, we added a few tablespoons of the strawberry-rhubarb compote which I thinned out slightly with a tablespoon or so of chardonnay. In total, our two servings of the light dessert came out to about $1.50. Then again, "light" is all relative, given how heavy the rest of our very filling meal was. (One might say, we were as stuffed as the pork loin, if not more so!) For these, and additional photos from last night's dinner, click here.

Do you have any budget-friendly dinner ideas? Post in the comments section below!

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