Saturday, November 21, 2009

A new, Hole-some meal...and fast

I think that there is a general consensus that new recipes are scary. They sit there on the page, staring back at you with a pretentious grin ‘Try me, I dare you! I am designed to make you fail miserably and lose even more confidence in the kitchen, ha ha ha!’ Don’t lie, you’ve felt this way before about an inanimate piece of paper.

You mean I actually have to buy things outside of my usual grocery store list? And follow directions on a piece of paper while cooking? No thank you! I'll pass’ For many people the thought of taking on a new dish is just too risky for these reasons, and is so often why they get stuck in the same old ‘hum drum’ of weekly menus. And even though they complain of being bored of what they cook themselves every week – ‘Ugh, pasta and sauce again I guess…’ –the mere thought of the time, effort, and risk of trying something new makes this monotony still somehow more desirable. I’m always disheartened when I witness this restrictive mentality, and I often do my best to urge people to break free of their self-created limitations. The world won’t end if you don’t like it, I promise! And just think of the satisfaction and excitement of when you do (and will).

This is one of the reasons I was so excited to get to Jackson Hole, Wyoming; the next destination of my western travels (the landscape and beauty had a little something to do with it too I guess). Charlie had so often told me of his mom’s talent and creativity in the kitchen, and with every picture he would send me of some of her prepared meals, I would sit there drooling at my computer screen while staring at the deliciousness before me (that’s the bonus of taking a lot of pictures of food; many people think to send you their own too). And within one of the first afternoons of my visit, Maggie came back to the house and laid a xerox copy in front of me on the kitchen counter. ‘Stir-Fried Pork with Kimchi and Shiitake’ was the headline of the recipe on the piece of paper. "Wanna try it?" she asked. I was in, to say the least.

Because of how I am and what my interests are, I was curious and even moreso excited to try a new recipe, especially with kimchi in it (a Korean dish of fermented/pickled cabbage and other vegetables, often onions, garlic, and hot pepper. It is easily found in Asian markets and larger grocery stores). But I tried to picture how a person not so obsessed/passionate about food and cooking would look at this recipe. Solely reading the word ‘kimchi’ on the ingredient list would be enough to set off the sirens and red flashing lights in their brain ‘ABORT! ABORT! ABORT!’ And the recipe would be banished to the ‘No Way, Out of My League’ category. So I decided to take on the recipe with the ordinary home cook in mind, to see if these common sentiments would still hold true after going through the actual cooking process.

The next day, after a beautiful afternoon hike to Ski Lake and a relaxing sauna to follow, we set up our ingredients on the kitchen counter and began to make dinner. Maggie took on dicing and pre-cooking the pork tenderloin while I chopped the mushrooms. We sampled the tender pork and approved of its doneness (and wonderful flavor) and it was replaced in the pan with the mushrooms and scallions. Before we knew it we were ready to add the drained kimchi, which joined the cooking vegetables and gladly shared some of its briny juices with the pan sauce that was already forming in the skillet. After a few minutes of sautéing and mixing, the remaining flavorings were added atop the vegetables and the pork was incorporated back in to its final resting place. All of the flavors melded together as the whole dish came up to temperature. In the meantime the rice finished cooking, plates and silverware were taken out, and we had time to chat and enjoy a few sips of our glasses of red wine. With a final sprinkling of sesame seeds on top, we were ready to eat.

“Boy that was fast!” Charlie’s Gramma exclaimed as she pulled up to the counter. And she was right! Everything came together quickly and easily, and still a well rounded, healthy meal awaited us. No sweat, no tears, no straining of the brain. Sure, the ingredients were new and ‘risky’, but the dish could not have been more straightforward in its creation. And the flavor was fantastic! The rice soaked up the savory sauce, the pork was tender, the medley of vegetables had great texture and contrast of flavors, and with a spoonful of spicy chili sauce mixed in, we sat happily eating from our plates with our chopsticks. It was a Hole-some recipe…that was a Hole-in-one…made in the ‘Hole… Man, even the puns were easy! Nonetheless, it was a Dinner Success.

Yes, I hear you. There were two of us, and both of us like cooking. I understand your point. But, all this meant was that there were merely more than one set of hands to help make the meal preparation more efficient. This can be easily equated by cooking this with a friend or roommate, or simply preparing all of the ingredients before cooking if you’re solo. That way everything is waiting for you to add to them to skillet instead of needing to hastily chop mushrooms while the pork may be to the point of burning. Those are the moments when cooking gets stressful and scary. The secret to taking on new recipes is basic organization and preparation of tools and ingredients; habits that are indispensable while working in the kitchen. With them no recipe will be too scary to take on.

So go ahead, try this recipe. I dare you. With a willing and open mind, you will not only have a delicious dinner in your future but a newfound confidence and satisfaction in taking on the Unfamiliar in the kitchen to boot. And as you’ll find out, Success is always the best flavor in any dish you make.

Stir-Fried Pork with Kimchi and Shiitake

Serves 4

• 1 pork tenderloin (12 to 16 oz.), trimmed of silverskin and cut crosswise ¼ inch thick
• 1 TBS soy sauce
• Freshly ground black pepper
• 2 TBS peanut or canola oil
• 8 oz fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems trimmed, caps cut into ¼ inch slices
• 6 scallions, cut into 1 ½ inch lengths
• 3 large cloves garlic, minced
• 16 oz napa cabbage kimchi, drained and very coarsely chopped (about 2 ¾ cups)
• 3 TBS mirin (or 2 TBS sake or white wine plus 4 tsp granulated sugar)
• 1 TBS sesame oil
• Kosher salt
• ½ TBS toasted sesame seeds

In a medium bowl, toss the pork, ½ TBS soy sauce, and 1/8 tsp black pepper.

Heat 1 TBS of the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until you see the first wisp of smoke. Swirl to coast the pan, the add half of the pork and stir-fry until brown in spots and no longer pink, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Add another 1 TBS of the oil to the skillet and repeat with the remaining pork.

Add the remaining 1 TBS oil to the pan and swirl to coat. Add the mushrooms and scallions and cook, stirring, until the mushrooms are shrunken in size and the scallions are wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add the kimchi, mirin, and the remaining ½ TBS soy sauce and cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid released by the kimchi is reduced to about 1/3 cup, about 3 minutes. (The amount of liquid released by the kimchi is somewhat unpredictable – if there is an excessive amount, cook until it reduces or spoon some of it off). Add the pork and any accumulated juices and cook until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes more. Drizzle with sesame oil and stir well. Season to taste with salt and pepper, sprinkle with sesame seeds, and serve.

-Dawn Yanagihara
Fine Cooking Oct/Nov 2009

Remember to end your meal right with a delicious dessert. Sometimes nothing is more tasty, or pretty, than a bowl of good vanilla ice cream swirled with hot fudge and caramel sauce...

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