Hold the spoon.

Failure, and making changs, and trying again.

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There's a whole pork loin in my trash.

That’s because not everything works out.  It was supposed to be a pork loin, trimmed and butterflied, stuffed with fennel, bacon and walnuts with a lovely fennel demi-glace.  It was going to be delicious and gorgeous and rolled into a perfect spiral.

Instead, it was a mess.  It came unrolled.  It was burnt.  It tasted like raw garlic.  So, it's at the bottom of a trash can.

Not everything works out.  Not every recipe is delicious.  Not every attempt yields a perfect photograph. Not every experiment yields the expected result.  Some days are better than others.

That day, developing today’s menu, was somewhere in between.  I got to spend the day in the kitchen. A couple of things worked out beautifully, but that pork loin, that was going to be the showpiece dish.  It was going to be the star of the show.

 And it's in the bottom of a trash can.

That's OK. No, really, that's OK. It takes failures to figure out what works and what doesn't. It takes experiments to understand why and how and even when something will all come together.  It takes practice and trial and error and repetition and learning what doesn’t work.

It takes a pork loin at the bottom of a trash can.

Cooking is always an experiment.  Sure, we've got thousands of years of history, recipes and techniques and tricks handed down from our Nanas, our grandmothers, our parents, our friends, our neighbors.  But those are imperfect.  I know my recipes are sometimes imperfect.  A restaurant’s kitchen, it's job is to turn that imperfect into perfection.  In this day and age, inundated with Instagram influencers and Facebook groups, by food TV and glossy magazines and strangely competitive neighbors we’re all pushed to reach for that perfection.  That perfection that was created in a professional setting, and painstakingly executed, polished, and re-polished by a team of seasoned professionals. That pressure is real, whether you’re some dude who spends a lot of his time thinking up, writing, and photographing food, or someone who’s rushing to get dinner on the table for a couple of nudgy eight-year-olds, your elderly grandmother, and a very insistent dog who thinks it’s people.

Usually, the person holding that spoon isn’t a professional.  Usually, we're not cooking as a team.  Sometimes, it's just you in the kitchen.  Sure, there might be help with dishes.  You may share cooking duties with your partner, your roommate, even your kids.  There might be help with ideas.  If you're me, there's going to be a lot of help with editing – both the plate and the words because my wife, Kate, is endlessly patient, knowingly kind, and … unflinchingly honest.  At home, in the end, it's still usually one person with their hand on the spoon.

And sometimes that means there's a pork loin at the bottom of the trash can.

This week's menu is a do over.  Not in the sense that I've done this menu before, though there's elements of it that I've cooked in the past.  It's a do over because I started out with one idea.  I tweaked it.  I polished it.  I cooked it.

It failed and I started over...

Well, not entirely.  I started over on the main dish.  I made changes and decided that, you know, this thing that I meant as a side dish is probably just fine as a main dish.  Then I tweaked other things and recooked this and that.

In the end, it all worked out.  It's a good meal.  

That doesn't mean I'm not angry about that pork loin at the bottom of the trash can.

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Corn Porridge Rolls

This cornbread isn’t cornbread.  At least not in the sense of most American cornbread traditions. It owes something to Portuguese cornbread, and something to the cottage porridge loaves and … mostly it’s just a way to make a dinner roll a little more interesting.  Using a pre-hydrated corn porridge means we can add a significant amount of cornmeal to the dough without meddling too much with the texture.  So these rolls taste a little like cornbread and a lot like a soft dinner roll and are generally great with anything from a cornbread like drizzle of honey and butter to a slice of rare roast beef and spear of horseradish - which is fair because basically they’re cornbread flavored dinner rolls.

100 g yellow corn meal (plus more for dusting)
200 g boiling water
100 g room temperature water
400 g bread flour
100 grams cool water
7 g yeast
25 g unsalted butter
10 g light brown sugar
9 g salt

In a heatproof bowl, pour 200 g boiling water over 100 g yellow corn meal.

Stir well, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and allow to cool to room temperature.

Add the hydrated corn meal, bread flour, 100 g room temperature water, yeast, butter, and brown sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a bread hook.

Process until a rough dough begins to form.

Add the salt, and process until the dough is smooth – about 5 minutes.

Cover, and allow to rise until doubled in size.

Punch down, and form into 8-12 evenly sized balls.

Slightly flatten each ball, then roll into a football (American, Australian, or Rugby) shape.

Dip the top (non-seam) side into raw corn meal and arrange on a sheet pan lined with parchment or a silicon mat.

Preheat your oven to 400°F.

Cover with a slightly damp towel and allow to proof in a warm place until a finger pressed into the dough leaves a mark (about 30-45 minutes ~80F).

Using a sharp knife or bread lame, cut a long slash down one side of each roll.

Bake at 400°F until browned and the rolls make a hollow sound when tapped – time will vary depending on the size rolls you chose to make. 

YAKS (Yet Another Kale Salad)

Kale.  It’s chewy.  It gets stuck in your teeth.  It was-has-been-will-be everywhere all the time for a while yet – then 15 years from now we’re all going to think of this as the time when everyone ate kale.  Remember that?  Back when everyone ate kale?  Hahahahaha.

But I’ve really come around to it from a chopped salad standpoint.  When cut finely, the chewy leaves are a really great medium for stronger flavors and dressings, and if I go out of my way to find luxurious or gonzo ingredients to add to it I don’t even feel like I’m being made to eat health food.

Thus, the fried onions in this recipe. 

This is a weird one – molasses in a vinaigrette, crispy fried onions like you might put on a green bean casserole – but it works in part because the vinaigrette isn’t unlike old school American “French” dressing and the kale can really stand up to it.

1 bunch curly kale
1 cup crispy fried onions (below)
1 cup small cherry tomatoes
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp molasses
1 tsp cider vinegar
½ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp Dijon mustard
¼ cup crumbled blue cheese

Peel, trim, and mince or microplane the garlic.

In a non-reactive bowl, combine the garlic, cider vinegar, molasses salt, and mustard and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes.

Whisk the oil into the vinegar mixture.

Wash and cut the kale into thin strips.

Cut the cherry tomatoes into quarters.

Toss the kale, cherry tomatoes, cheese, and ½ the fried onions with the dressing.

Top with additional fried onions.

Crispy Fried Onions

1 medium white onion
½ cup AP Flour
½ cup cornstarch
½ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp baking Powder
oil for frying

Peel, trim, and half the onion from end to end.

Thinly slice the onion across the rings.

Place the onion slices in a non-reactive bowl and toss well with ½ tsp kosher salt.

Allow the onions to rest until softened.

Mix the AP flour, cornstarch, and baking powder.

Set up your fryer or a Dutch oven filled with several inches of oil and heat to 350°F.

Drain the onions, squeezing out some of the liquid that should have been expelled.

Toss the onions well with the flour/corn starch mixture, ensuring that any clumps break up and that each onion strand is coated.

Fry the onions at 350°F until brown and crisp. 

Drain on a paper towel and allow to cool to room temperature before using.

Fried Brussels Sprouts with Goat Cheese, Hot Honey, Almonds, and Mint

I’m going to leave off my usual rant (see several, okay many, past editions) about brussels sprouts and just say that I’m really happy we’re back in sprout season.  They’re wonderfully flexible, quick, and generally surprisingly satisfying.  This recipe is based (loosely) on a dish served at one of our local favorites - at least so far as the goat cheese and almonds go – and hot honey adds a nice sweet bite.  You can order hot honey online, or simply simmer some honey with a generous amount of red chili flake, then let it cool before straining it.  I make my own because I like it pretty much as spicy as I can get it. 

12 oz brussels sprouts
¼ cup goat cheese
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1 tbsp hot honey
1 tbsp finely cut mint leaves
½ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp red chili flake

oil for frying

Trim the stem end of the brussels sprouts and remove any loose or yellowed leaves.

Cut the sprouts in half.

Fry the sprouts at 375°F until beginning to brown and crisp.

Drain well.

Toss with salt.

Top with crumbled goat cheese, slivered almonds, and chili flake.

Drizzle with hot honey.

Garnish with mint leaves.

Serve hot.

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Stuffed Squash with Mushroom Demi Glace

This is it.  The dish that I’d intended to be a side dish, but once that pork loin edged over from mediocrity to spectacular failure, I rethought that.  You know, it’s just fine as a main course.  It’s that, in my brain, stuffed squash was a side dish, and not what it really is - a deliciously spiced force meat contained in a convenient vegetable casing.

Delicata squash are fun.  They’re mild, and flavorful, and compared to a lot of winter squash, easy to work with.  None of that slimy gross maw of a jack’o’lantern you get with pumpkins, and unlike butternut squash, you don’t feel like you’ve got to break out the axe and chainsaw and go at them lumberjack style. 

They’re also incredibly easy to prep and cook quickly.   This recipe uses some old world flavors – cardamom and ginger, dried fruits  that we sometimes associate with fruit cake.  But it works really well with the rich sweet squash – and adding a large portion of mushroom to the filling means we get a whole lot of umami in there too.

I’ve topped this with a mushroom demi glace – or rather a sauce that I’m calling a demi glace even though it’s probably not quite exactly a demi glace – but you could add just about whatever you wanted – brandy cream? A lightly sweet tomato and wine sauce? – or even forgo the sauce altogether.

1 large delicata squash
4 oz cremini mushrooms
½ lb mild pork sausage
1 shallot
1 cup bread cubes
1 egg
¼ cup Pecans
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp toasted bread crumbs or panko
1 tbsp golden raisins
1 tbsp raisins
2 sprigs thyme
1 tsp minced or microplaned fresh ginger
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper

Preheat your oven to 400°F.

Peel, trim, and finely mince the shallot.

Pick (remove the leaves from the stems) 2 of the thyme sprigs.  Discard the stems.

Clean half the mushrooms (4 oz) by brushing off any dirt or other soil with a dry cloth.

Place the mushrooms in the container of a food processor, and process until reduced to a fine meal.

Add 2 tbsp of butter to a pan over medium heat.

As soon as the butter has stopped foaming, add the shallow and cook until just beginning to soften.

Add the mushrooms  thyme, salt , and pepper to the pan and cook over medium heat until most of the moisture has been driven from the mushrooms and they’re beginning to brown.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

In a bowl large enough to hold all the ingredients except the squash, beat the egg.

Add the bread cubes, sausage, raisins, pecans,  cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and the mushroom mixture.

Using clean or gloved hands, mix until the mixture is sticky and well-integrated.

Remove the stem from the squash.

Slice the squash in half lengthwise and use a spoon to remove the seeds and surrounding fibrous... stuff.

Mound half the filling into each squash shell.  Top the filling mixture with a scattering of bread crumbs.

Arrange the squash halves on a sheet pan – you may want to use rolled or wadded foil to help it sit upright.

Roast at 400°F until the squash is soft and the filling is well browned, about 45 minutes.

To serve, slice through, arrange on a plate, and top with mushroom demi glace.

Mushroom Demi Glace

2 cups beef stock
4 oz cremini mushrooms
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 small shallot
1 tbsp softened butter
½ tsp kosher salt
1 sachet unflavored gelatin

Peel trim and halve the shallot.

Clean the mushrooms of any soil by immersing in cool water, and rinsing.

Coarsely chop the mushrooms.

Add the mushrooms, beef stock, and thyme to a pan over medium high heat.

Bring to a low boil and cook until the liquid is reduced by half.

Strain out the solids, discard, and return the strained liquid to the heat.

Add the gelatin to 2 tbsp cold water and allow to “bloom” for five minutes.

Stir the hydrated gelatin into the simmering liquid.

Reduce until ~1/4 cup remains.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.

Add the salt and butter to the pan and swirl to integrate the butter.


Pumpkin Souffle with Maple Bourbon Sauce

It’s pumpkin spice everything season.

Unlike many pumpkin spice things, this actually includes some pumpkin – albeit in the form of canned puree because no one – myself included – can be bothered to clean, mash, puree, reduce, and whatever all that squash to make my own pumpkin puree.  Anyway, it’s really the spice we’re after – that warm curious baking spice that could have been called apple pie spice but instead is pumpkin spice (yeah, I know there’s traditionally a small difference – usually ginger and nutmeg but whatever).

Souffle has the reputation of being tricky, and it can be. The batch pictured probably didn’t rise as much as I hoped, and collapsed a little while I was photographing it.  This one is fairly simple – and even if you don’t get it perfect, it’ll still be a rather delicious eggy spicy thing that you can drown in maple bourbon sauce.  Even if it fails, think of it as a pumpkin spice dessert frittata and it’ll still taste great.

8 egg whites
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
2 tsp cornstarch
1/2 cup plus 4 tsp granulated sugar
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tbsp butter
Pinch ground cloves
Pinch ground allspice
Pinch ground cinnamon
Pinch grated nutmeg
Confectioners’ sugar as garnish.

Whisk together 1 tbsp of the milk and 2 tsp cornstarch, and set aside.

Add the remaining milk, pumpkin puree, sugar, and all the spices to a pan over medium heat. 

Whisk to combine well and bring to a simmer.

Whisk in the cornstarch slurry, return to a simmer, and cook for 1 minute.

Remove from the heat and pass the mixture through a straining – using a silicone spatula to push it through – to ensure there are no lumps.

Allow to cool to room temperature.

Add the egg whites to a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.

Process or whisk until the egg whites for soft peaks.

Fold ½ the egg whites into the cooled pumpkin mixture until smooth and even.

Carefully fold the second half of the egg whites in, taking care not to deflate the mixture.

Preheat your oven to 400°F.

Brush the inside of 4 ramekins with butter, then coat the inside of the ramekin with sugar.

Evenly divide the batter between the 4 ramekins.

Place the ramekins on a baking sheet.

Run a knife around the edge of each ramekin.

Bake at 400°F until puffed and beginning to brown on top.

Dust with confectioners’ sugar, and serve with maple bourbon sauce.

Maple Bourbon Sauce

¼ cup maple syrup
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup bourbon
2 tbs softened butter

Add maple syrup, sugar, and bourbon to a pan over medium heat.

Bring to a simmer and reduce until ~ ¼ cup of liquid remains.

Remove from the heat and swirl in the butter.

Serve warm.

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One more thing…

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