new faves from Smitten Kitchen Everyday + pork tenderloin agrodolce with squash

new faves from Smitten Kitchen Everyday + pork tenderloin agrodolce with squash

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Cooking is my therapy. The way that I show up for myself most consistently. My best habit, and the one thing I find enjoyable even when functioning as a human person is completely out of the question, which it was for me earlier this year. For a few months I couldn’t see further than an inch in front of my face. I felt paralyzed. And I wasn’t taking care of myself. I wasn’t exercising, despite the fact that almost-daily exercise has been a way of life for me since middle school; I wasn’t reading any books, despite me living my very life to be shooketh by a book; and I definitely wasn’t writing. In fact, I dropped out of an online writing class three-quarters of the way through. For a couple weeks we lived solely on takeout and snacks because, during the worst of it, anytime I wasn’t at work I was on the couch.

Thankfully, the dark cloud passed with time and the help of medication, and as soon as I was showering again I was back in the kitchen. Cooking, I realized, was something that fulfilled both my need to use my brain and my need to be in constant motion. So I kept at it, one night after the other. And as the fog started to clear, my nightly dinner-cooking ritual began to reawaken some of my other good habits. The headnotes in cookbooks were an ideal light read, running out to buy a missing ingredient got me out of the house for a walk, and every evening there was usually something good to eat. What started with the basic human act of feeding myself, has brought me back to life from my zombie comatose existence, and the experience has taken my love for all things culinary to another level. Truth be told, I’ve sat down to write these words unable to form them enough times that I was tempted to be like “I cooked the shit out of some cookbooks this summer” and call it good, because that’s exactly what I did.

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This is one of the books I cooked the shit out of this summer, and now that I’m feeling better, I’ve got things to say! First and formostly, SmittenKitchen dot com has long been a favorite website of mine, not just of food blogs but the whole wide web. I stan for real. This book wasn’t a hard sell, and actually, it wasn’t even a sell at all as it came with the ticket I purchased to see her speak live at the SF JCC. That said, ain’t nobody here perfect (Deb says so herself), and as long as I’ve adored her I’ve also been wary of the fussiness her recipes can sometimes get me tangled up in when I least have the patience for it. (Weeknight attempts at these vegetable pancakes and this panzanella come to mind.)

So when the subtitle to this book came out as “Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites,” I naturally cocked my head to the side like “ma’am??” And sure enough, there are some recipes that prove my point. I mean, will I make the Siberian Pelmeni? Prob. I love a project. But that’s exactly what makes this book different from her first in a good way. Now, as a mother of two, she gets why someone might see cooking as an unpleasant chore, and she navigates the roads of kitchen hateration by acknowledging when a recipe really is a project, by getting creative with protein, honing in on one pan dishes, and incorporating lots of inventive meal prep ideas (both the “Vegetable Mains” and “Sandwiches, Tarts, & Flatbreads” look like meal prep to me).

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These recipes are ones I’ve found to embody the title of the book wholeheartedly. The Meatballs Marsala with Egg Noodles are both standard fare and Sunday Supper-worthy with a green on the side, and they are Cos’s favorite by far. The Wild Mushroom Shepherd's Pie takes a little more effort than the others here, but tastes twice as good as leftovers and makes an ideal packed lunch. (A guest of mine once requested thirds of this stuff when I re-heated some for a super casual nosh.) There is always a jar of breadcrumbs on my counter, half of which get used for Broken Egg and Crushed Crouton Kale Caesar salads, the other half I put on everything else; spinach can swap in for baby kale (don’t recommend reg kale here), and sometimes we even skip the super simple caesar dressing and keep it light with lemon juice and EVOO.

she got a lil burnt, but i’m into char so it’s cool

she got a lil burnt, but i’m into char so it’s cool

One of my favorite meal prep hacks of all time is the Haloumi Roast with Eggplant, Zucchini, and Tomatoes, because the effort is nothin’ but a no-brainer chop and bake that runs quietly in the background while you focus on the more hands-on parts of the prep sesh. (Just remember to set your timer.) Shouts also to the Broccoli Melts for making it into print from the site. The Miso Maple Ribs with Roasted Scallions are just gotdam delicious. You can even leave the scallions out if you want, who cares, the point here is Perfectly. Charred. Ribs. From. Your. Oven.

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And last but not least for a millisecond, the Pork Tenderloin Agrodolce with Squash. This beauty right here is exactly - to a TEE I tell you! - what I crave in a recipe. Easy straightforward decadence, big flavors, protein and vegetables. {Chef kisses fingers} Agrodolce, as the headnote explains, is a classic Italian sweet and sour sauce, and having just been in Italy for two weeks for our honeymoon(!), I can see how Deb has put all her travelling and culinary adventures along with her hanger-wrangling mom skills, to their combined best use in this dish. Personified, this dish of red onions agrodolce’d over juicy pork and earthy squash would be that one chick at the party that everyone either wants to be or be with - model hot but also funny and down to earth, smart but not too sophisticated, dressed up but effortlessly so because she had less than an hour to get ready. She’s that bitch, and she knows it.

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Ultimately, I think Deb Perelman’s ability to sweet talk me into doing things outside my comfort zone (and sometimes my free time limits) is her superpower. She can make anything seem doable, because if you’re willing to go for it, everything is. But time is a factor, a luxury, and something most of us could use more of. This book recognizes that and offers up some really lovely recipes that explore our collective time-constrained desire for nice meals in a way I hadn’t really seen SK do before. That’s what I like best about it, second only to how it helped me cook my way back to myself.


Pork Tenderloin Agrodolce with Squash, adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen Everyday: Triumphant and Unfusssy New Favorites

Agrodolce Sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small red onion, sliced into thin half moons
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 tablespoons granulated sugar or honey
½ cup of red wine vinegar

A 2-ish lb (1 kg) delicata or acorn squash [will be trying with butternut soon, tbc!]
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper

1 heaping teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed with mortar and pestle
1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed with the fennel seeds [use 2 tsp of fresh if you’ve got it, no need to crush]
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
Black pepper, freshly ground or a few shakes of the shaker
One 1-ish lb pork tenderloin [my butcher carries ones on the smaller side, 0.9 lb, but up to 1.25 lbs will work for these seasoning proportions]

Heat the oven to 425 degrees

Make the sauce. Heat olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat (use an oven-proof skillet if you hate dishes and want to reuse for the pork). Add the onion and salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion has softened and is beginning to brown, about 10 mins. Stir in the tomato paste, and once it’s fully incorporated, add the sugar and vinegar. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until the liquid has reduced and the mixture looks like a pile of jammy mauve onions sitting in a pile of syrup (some juice should be puddled around the onion pile). If you plan to reuse the skillet, transfer the onions and the juices to a bowl. Don’t worry about wiping the pan out, a little syrup left is fine.

Roast the squash. Cut the ends off the squash, cut in half, and scoop the seeds out with a spoon. Slice the squash into half-rings about ½-inch thick. Use the tablespoon of olive oil to grease the sheet pan, then spread the squash out on it in one layer and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 25-30 mins, until bronzed on the bottom side. Flip and roast for another 5-10 minutes until the edges are brown and the center is tender.

Prepare the pork. While the squash is roasting, prepare the pork tenderloin. Combine the ground fennel seeds, dried or fresh rosemary, ¾ teaspoon salt, and a generous amount of black pepper in a little bowl (maybe your mortar bowl). Pat the tenderloin dry with paper towels, then rub the spice mixture all over, coating all sides. Heat a large ovenproof skillet (maybe the one you used for the onions) over medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. When the oil is shimmering, add the tenderloin and sear well on 3 or 4 sides. Spoon some of the agrodolce juice over the tenderloin before putting the skillet in the oven to roast for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the juices run clear when pricked with a knife (145 degree internal temperature). Let the tenderloin rest on the cutting board for 5 minutes before slicing it into thin rounds.

Serve. Pile the squash onto a platter and cover with two-thirds of the sauce. Arrange the slice tenderloin on top of the squash, drape the onions nicely over the top and drizzle on the rest of the sauce to finish.

cacio e pepe + italy

cacio e pepe + italy