February 23, 2013

Herb-Roasted Pork Loin

You probably know by now my eternal infatuation with pork.  Truth be told, it’s hard to shake it off especially since pork played such a major part into my upbringing.  Remember the Romanian Christmas traditions and all those elaborate pork dishes?  Yet sometimes, grandma Vicki would just hand me a fat slice of rustic crusty bread, heavily smeared with pork lard (yes, I know, pork lard!) and dusted with salt and paprika.  And I would be out the door and off with my playmates with a smile and messy red smudge on my face and the hunk of bread in my hand.  I’m not advocating pork fat here by any means, although I would have loved to be a judge in the Iron Chef America: Battle Pork Fat challenge a while back.  Anyway, you get the picture!       


So, when it comes to pork I like to go all out for big, bold and bright flavors.  This Herb-Roasted Pork Loin recipe stems from a recipe, which my grandma always makes for New Year’s or Christmas or whenever we feel like gobbling down a hulky piece of pork; and a Barefoot Contessa recipe for a tacky and garlicky herb paste.  I meant to tell you about this fabulous Herb-Roasted Pork Loin, last week, and offer you a solid choice for a celebratory Valentine’s Day dinner.  But then pain erupted, followed by an emergency trip to my dentist, and culminating with an imminent root canal.  I’ll spare you the grisly details but I can tell you that the rest of the week was pretty foggy after that.  Anyhow, I don’t think that you need a special occasion to make this fantastic meal.  But if you need one, the Oscars are just around the corner and this pork dish would be wonderful to savor before the awards; followed by a rich and nutty Walnut and Chocolate Cake and a glass of bubbly and fruity Prosecco drink!       

Seasoning the meat with salt and pepper (and maybe a pinch of paprika) would usually suffice to make a mouthwatering dish.  But then I stumbled upon this resinous and flavor packed rosemary, sage, thyme, garlic, mustard and lemon juice mélange, and I was smitten.  The pork is thickly swaddled in the mustard-garlic-herb mixture, prettily browned on all sides, then bathed in a shimmering pool of crisp white wine and roasted to perfection; it’s insanely delicious!  Slice and serve it with Sweet Green Peas or Creamed Corn and Mashed Potatoes, and spoon the pan juices over the pork slices and potatoes and you’ll be in heaven!  This phenomenal herb-roasted pork loin makes for an elegant dinner; and when cold and sliced and sandwiched between two chunks of bread makes for a quick and satiating lunch. 

And another thing – although no bird could ever replace the satisfying pork, a hefty piece of skin-on turkey breast, tied up and generously smeared with the viscous paste over and under the skin is ethereally delicious for a small crowd at Thanksgiving; and it roasts substantially faster than the whole bird.  Just saying...


Herb-Roasted Pork Loin
Adapted from my grandma Vicki and Barefoot Contessa

Makes: 8-10 servings


·         1 (2 – 2.5 pound) boneless pork loin roast
·         3 garlic cloves, minced
·         2 teaspoons dry mustard
·         1 Tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
·         1 Tablespoon fresh sage leaves, chopped
·         1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
·         2 teaspoon salt
·         1 teaspoon black pepper
·         4 Tablespoon olive oil, divided
·         2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
·         1 cup dry white wine


Preheat the oven to 350°F. 

In a small bowl, combine the garlic, dry mustard, herbs, salt, pepper, 2 Tablespoons olive oil, and lemon juice to make a paste.  Smear the paste evenly all over the pork.  Reserve 1 Tablespoon of paste.  Allow the meat to marinate for about 15 minutes.   

In a large skillet, heat 2 Tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat.  Add the pork and cook until brown on all sides.  Transfer the pork loin to a roasting pan and place it skin side up.  Pour the juices and oil from the skillet over the meat.  Smear the pork with the reserved 1 Tablespoon of paste.   Pour the wine into the bottom of the roasting pan.  Cover the pan with aluminum foil.

Roast the pork for about 1 hour.  Remove the aluminum foil and roast the meat for 15 minutes longer and until an instant-read thermometer registers 170°F when inserted into the thickest and meatiest areas of the pork.  When the pork is done, cover the pan with foil and allow the pork to rest at room temperature for 15 minutes.  

P.S.: I’ll be back on March 19!  Adrian and I are off to Romania to see our families for the next couple of weeks.  I won’t be able to post while away but I’ll return with stories and most certainly new recipes from my grandma Vicki!  Until then…

Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)   

February 8, 2013

Deconstructed Stuffed Pepper Stew

We’re still savoring the comfort food chapter.  I think it’s because of the frigid temperatures that I don’t feel like doing anything but cozying up to the fireplace (if only we had a real one) with a bowl of hot, homey and hearty comfort food. 

I’ve been craving Romanian comfort food, lately; something other than stuffed cabbage or pork goulash.  And to be honest, I’ve been dreaming of Grandma Vicki’s Stuffed Peppers recipe for a while.  This recipe has been on my to make list, but I wanted to somehow avoid the two inconveniences that the recipe entails: first, I wasn’t eager to waste my time in the kitchen stuffing pepper after pepper; and second, those little gypsy peppers traditionally used in this recipe are mighty hard to find in wintertime.  So, how to make a stew without having to spend an outrageous amount of time putting it together?    

But then it happened that a couple of weekends ago, Adrian and I paid a visit to our friends’ house to watch some English soccer games.  After lots of yelling and cheering while watching the games, Gretchen served us a delicious stuffed pepper stew.  The stew had all the ingredients for a stuffed peppers recipe but everything was chopped and blended together; and she called it “a deconstructed stuffed pepper stew”.  And the little lightbulb went off in my head!  Thank you Gretchen for helping me decide how to approach my grandma’s stuffed peppers recipe!  I have to admit that, once I heard the word “deconstructed” I wanted to race home and make the stew right away. 

Before attempting the impossible, I called my grandma and explained how I wanted to transform her beloved stuffed peppers recipe.  Of course, she said that I was crazy and that it would never work.  But, guess what, it worked out beautifully!  Only the aspect of the stew is radically different from my grandma’s recipe but the flavors that I love are all there.  In fact, I would say that there are various nuances and depths of flavor in this dish.  It’s also nourishing and it incorporates everything from proteins to starch and veggies. 

Of course, being a Romanian dish, I was indebted to throw in a smidge of paprika to coat the onions and meat in a mild pungency and give them that beautiful red color.  But the meat, rice, peppers and tomatoes are all able to shine through and add texture despite being engulfed in a sea of sweet, savory and tangy tomato sauce.  And then you sprinkle a few chopped leaves of parsley on top for a lovely green color and much desired freshness.  You could even argue that this stew is similar to a chili; a Romanian chili with rice but without beans.  Ultimately, this Deconstructed Stuffed Pepper Stew is a filling, flavorful and homemade Romanian comfort stew!

Deconstructed Stuffed Pepper Stew
By Simply Romanesco inspired by my Grandma Vicki

Makes: 6-8 servings


·         6 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
·         1 large yellow onion, chopped
·         Salt and black pepper
·         1 Tablespoon sweet or hot paprika
·         1 pound ground pork
·         2 large red peppers, cut into ½ -inch chunks
·         1 15-ounce can of diced tomatoes
·         1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
·         2 Tablespoons sugar
·         ½ cup white rice
·         A small bunch of parsley for garnish, chopped
·         Sour cream (optional)


Heat 4 Tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan over medium heat.  Add the chopped onion, season with a good pinch of salt and pepper, and cook until translucent, about 5-7 minutes.  Add the paprika and stir well.  Add the ground pork, season with salt and pepper, and stir well to coat with the paprika.  Cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until the meat is cooked through.  Add the red peppers and diced tomatoes and give it a good stir.  Cook for 5 minutes.

Combine the tomato sauce with ½ cup of water and pour it over the ingredients in the pan.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add the sugar and stir well.  Add ½ cup of water and stir.  Bring to a boil.  Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered for 30-40 minutes.

In the meantime, rinse the white rice in cold water.  Heat 2 Tablespoons of olive oil over high heat in a small saucepan.  Add the rice and stir.  Add 2 cups of water and season with a good pinch of salt.  Turn the heat to low and simmer uncovered until the water is absorbed and the rice is cooked.  When the rice is cooked, turn the heat off and cover the saucepan with a lid and let it sit until the stew is cooked.

When the stew is cooked, add the rice and stir well to incorporate. Check the seasonings and add more salt and sugar if necessary, for that perfect balance of savory and sweet.  Simmer for 5 more minutes.  Serve with chopped parsley and a dollop of sour cream on top.

Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)        

February 1, 2013

Mac and Cheese (with Bacon and Mushrooms)

I’ll go straight to the point and admit that I’m infatuated with homemade Mac and Cheese.  That being said and on the record, I also admit that I seldom make this legendary American classic.  And it’s most likely because mac and cheese is not such a cultural statement in Romania as it is here.  Of course, I know what it is and I ate it frequently as a kid (or so my mom says), but it was never deeply ingrained into my upbringing.  When Romanians talk about mac and cheese, we usually see it as dessert since we sometimes throw in sugar; or as a snack on a cold afternoon, or a light lunch, at best, and always after a generous bowl of soup.  And the preparation is typically less sophisticated.       

Still, this sinful comfort food must grace my tongue from time to time.  And my take on Barefoot Contessa’s recipe was the first American version of mac and cheese that I had ever tried.  It’s probably not your basic mac and cheese and more of a fancy adaptation of the classic but it’s utterly divine.  Funny how boiling some pasta, drowning a hefty amount of cheese in a puddle of thick and tasty white sauce, and baking everything together can send you straight to heaven with a mouthful.  The crusty top doesn’t hurt at all either; and while in the oven, the tomatoes wrinkle nicely and release their charming sweet acidity to cut through the cheesy richness and brighten the flavors.  Simply sublime!  

Over time, I played around with the recipe and tossed in simple ingredients like bacon and mushrooms that made the familiar gooey and creamy delight so much more special.  The smokiness of the bacon and the meatiness of the mushrooms are simply unbeatable.  In essence, a festival of flavors will explode in your mouth.  And I know that the Super Bowl is all about the ultimate comfort food, but if you decide to ditch it for this mac and cheese you will not be disappointed.      

Mac and Cheese (with Bacon and Mushrooms)
Adapted from Mac and Cheese by Barefoot Contessa

Makes: 12 servings


·         Kosher salt
·         Olive oil
·         1 pound elbow macaroni
·         Optional: 4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into ½ -inch pieces
·         Optional: ½ pound Portabella mushrooms, sliced
·         4 cups whole milk
·         8 Tablespoons unsalted butter (plus 1 Tablespoon – optional), divided
·         ½ cup all-purpose flour
·         12 ounces Jarlsberg or Gruyère cheese, grated
·         8 ounces white Cheddar cheese, grated
·         ½ teaspoon black pepper
·         ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
·         2 large tomatoes
·         1 cup bread crumbs


Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Drizzle oil into a large pot of boiling salted water.  Add the macaroni and cook according to the directions on the package, 6-8 minutes.  Drain well and put in a large bowl.

If you decide to toss in some bacon and mushrooms in your mac and cheese, this is what you have to do:  Heat 2 Tablespoons of olive oil and 1 Tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat.  Add the bacon and cook, stirring often, until fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp, about 6-8 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel and set aside.  Add the mushrooms to the skillet (there will be bacon drippings left in the skillet), season with a pinch of salt and pepper and sauté until cooked, 5-7 minutes.  With a slotted spoon, transfer the mushrooms to a paper towel and set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat the milk over medium heat but don’t boil it.  Melt 6 Tablespoons of butter in a large (4-quart) pot over medium-low heat and add the flour.  Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk.  While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for 10-12 minutes until thickened and smooth.  Off the heat, add the Jarlsberg, Cheddar, 1 Tablespoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg.  Whisk everything together. 

Pour the sauce over the macaroni and stir well.  (If using bacon and mushrooms, this is when you add them to the party and stir well.)  Pour into a 3-quart baking dish. 

Slice the tomatoes and arrange on top.  Melt the remaining 2 Tablespoons of butter in a skillet, combine them with the bread crumbs and toast slightly.  Sprinkle on the top.  Bake for 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top. 

Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)