Posts Tagged ‘food’

Boneless… Yet Dry As a Bone

September 23, 2012

Pork scares me. I don’t like to cook it. It never turns out right. Any time I have made pork loin before it was dry and inedible, even with a pile of sauce on it. Other times, I under cook meat for fear of it drying out. I leave pork to the experts and enjoy roast sandwiches, pulled pork BBQ, and ribs when I go out to eat.

Recently I inventoried my freezer in an attempt to use up the many sauces, leftovers, and concoctions that filled it. Two things I found gave me the courage to try the dreaded pork loin again: apple cider concentrate and cabbage. (Yes, I froze a quarter of a cabbage. There’s only so much of it one person can eat in a week.)

After a few words of encouragement from some pork-cooking friends and a lovely cut from a grocery store, I did some research. The clock was ticking on the meat in the fridge and I had a free morning to spend cooking and potentially salvaging a roast. I got out my standards: Joy of Cooking, Julia and Jacques, Grilling, and started taking notes.

Roast Pork Loin

Roast pork loin with onion.

That, my friend, is the picture of success. I culled tips and techniques from the cookbooks but followed my own instinct and fortunately, it was spot on. Finally, after 6 years of vegetarianism and 6 years of eating and cooking meat again, I have retrained myself to cook meat properly (I owe a lot of thanks to my themometer!).

Apple Cider Pork Loin

created by Sarah Johnson


  • small pork loin
  • 1-2T thyme
  • 1t salt
  • 1-2t pepper
  • 1-3 cloves garlic minced
  • 2t mustard seed
  • 1T cumin seed
  • ½c apple cider concentrate
  • ½t tabasco sauce
  • small onion
  1. Mix the herbs together to make a dry rub for the pork (thyme, salt, pepper, garlic, mustard seeds, cumin).
  2. Coat the pork loin with the dry rub, wrap or cover and let sit for at least an hour or overnight.
  3. Mix the apple cider and tabasco. If using concentrate, thin it out 1:1. If using regular cider, add 1T brown sugar.
  4. Slice the onion into rounds and place on the bottom of the baking dish.
  5. Place the pork on top of the onions.
  6. Pour the cider mixture into the pan.
  7. Bake for about 90 minutes at 350F until the internal temperature is at least 150F (it will still be a bit pink).
  8. Baste! This is the most important part of keeping the meat from being dry. After the first 30min I baste about every 15min. I also check the temperature each time I baste which is a great way to keep from overcooking the meat.

Notes and Variations

This is a simple recipe. The beauty of pork and many other meats is that they are a blank canvas for you to use your favorite palette of tastes. I used this relatively standard seasoning mixture but any blend will do. The simplest way to make this recipe is with herbs de Provence. Since this frequently comes in a jar, the steps are open jar, rub seasoning on meat, bake.

One other important note about this recipe is that it was inspired by turkey. My go-to Thanksgiving recipe for turkey is courtesy of Jacques Pépin. The basting liquid in this recipe uses apple cider with a touch of tabasco sauce. I like the way it tastes so sweet with just a touch of spice that you can’t quite figure out. It seemed like an appropriate flavor for bland pork and I believe I was correct!


Start with Perfection

May 24, 2012

I love a good soup. The flavors blend together so you can’t tell what’s in it yet each elememt contributes something that would be lost without that specific ingredient. A perfect harmony of the fewest possible ingredients that creates intrigue and comfort in one spoonful.

Perhaps I have astronomical aspirations or am embellishing the simplicity of soup. The reason, at least, is because I cannot make a simple clear stock. I use my leftover chicken bones fanatically – to the point of buying and roasting a whle chicken just so I can make some stock. I pile on the veggie scraps, taking care to leave out any pungent ones like broccoli or cabbage. I’ve made some good lentil soups and pumpkin is a personal favorite. And yet a simple egg drop soup is beyond me.

I found the ideal I’ve been striving for in giant bowls of noodles at Japanese restaurants so I raided the library for all non-sushi Japanese cookbooks. I read through Harumi’s Japanese Cooking first for a quick and easy introduction to Japanese dishes, then consumed myself so thoroughly in The Washoku Kitchen by Elizabeth Andoh that I wound up buying a copy. Both books confirmed the secret to a delicate, clear broth is seaweed! I don’t understand the science of it but apparently seaweed is gelatinous and imparts this quality to the broth when cooked carefully, as well as a very light flavor which can be enhanced by dried tuna flakes or mushrooms.

Stock Ingredients

Dried tuna flakes (bonito) and seaweed (kombu) are all that’s needed for a perfect stock.

The result? I’ve made soup every week for the last two months!

Fish Stock

inspired by Harumi’s Japanese Cooking and Washoku by Elizabeth Andoh


  • 4½c water
  • 15-20" piece of seaweed
  • ¼c dried tuna flakes
  1. Soak the seaweed in the cold water for 15min.
  2. Bring the water just to a boil over medium heat.
  3. As soon as the water is boiling, add the tuna flakes and drop the heat to low.
  4. Turn the heat off and remove the seaweed and tuna flakes after a few minutes (the tuna will start to sink).


I am not an expert in Japanese cooking or ingredients. I am only just learning. However, there is a wide variety of seaweed available and seaweed itself, from what I’ve read, is a misnomer. It should be considered a leafy green that grows in water. Kombu is recommended for making stock. I don’t know why. Perhaps it has the best gelatinous properties. It is important not to rinse it before use as the salt-like granules on the seaweed contribute to the stock’s character.

Tuna flakes (bonito) are available in many Asian markets and have a very strong smell but do not overpower the stock as they are used for just a few minutes. I encourage you to try making the stock as is but for vegetarians and those who do not like fish or strong fish smells while cooking, substitute a few dried shitake mushrooms.

Faster, Higher, Stronger

October 31, 2011

Ok, I’ll admit the Olympic motto doesn’t quite fit what I set out to do here. There are no illicit substances in these nuts so they won’t get you higher but they were made faster and taste stronger. I prefer to cook without a recipe in front of me, instead, following my instincts and vague recollections of recipes past. I did a pretty good job of replicating my own version of spiced nuts this time, adding a step of toasting the nuts first for best flavor and using a pre-mixed version of the spices. The only time-saver remaining is making the syrup. I think starting with a more even ratio of water to sugar will help.

Sweet and Spicy Nuts

Pecans coated with an assortment of spices and sugar.

Sweet and Spicy Nuts

created by Sarah Johnson
inspired by Santa’s Spicy Nuts

  • 1c pecans
  • ¼c brown sugar
  • 2T chinese five spice
  • 2t chili powder
  • 1t ginger powder
  1. Toast pecans in a pan over medium-high heat until slightly browned. Set aside.
  2. Sprinkle spice powders over pecans and stir to combine.
  3. Combine brown sugar and same amount of water in a pan over medium heat until thick, slow-bursting bubbles form.
  4. Pour the sugar mixture over the nuts, stir to combine.
  5. Let the sugar harden over the nuts before eating.

Notes and Variations

The sugar mixture needs to be cooked to the "hardball" stage, also known as the "fish eye" stage. I took this picture when my sugar mixture was nearly at the hardball stage. The problem here is that the bubbles were bursting too fast which means that the syrup was too thin still, but the bubbles are a good size.

Hardball Stage

Brown sugar and water boiling near the hardball stage.

The biggest issue with this dish is getting the sugar to harden on the pecans. I never do it right, don’t want to wait, and so just eat the nuts with a spoon while they’re still sticky. If you want to do this properly, you should spray a baking tray with oil, maybe even cover it with parchment paper then spray with oil, and bake the pecans for a few minutes on low heat so that the sugar hardens. I have not tried this, again, an issue of patience and hunger! It should work in theory though.

One more note about variations: nuts! I used pecans cause they absorb the syrup well, taste good with the spice and sugar, and were on hand. This would also taste good with peanuts, probably cashews, and most other nuts. Perhaps even a mixture of them all!