Wednesday, November 19, 2008

some dishes are worth extra effort - recipe: savoury cornbread recipe: cheater's pulled pork tenderloin

My brother, Adam, is a fabulous cook. He could easily earn his living in the kitchen. I've tried on several occasions to persuade him to come and work with me, but his answer is always the same, "Dane, I cook as a hobby and for love, not as a business."

When Adam is interested in doing something, he does it right. In order to enjoy a better cup of coffee, many of us go through the effort of grinding the beans just before brewing. Adam, however, takes it a step further: he roasts the raw green beans himself (where do you even buy raw coffee beans?).

He makes wine — not from a kit, but by crushing grapes in his garage! The guys in his winemaking club rightfully insist that you can't make a Ferrari out of Volkswagen parts.

So, as serious as he is about his coffee roasting and wine making (among other things), he is just (if not more) serious about making good quality food from scratch.

You'll soon appreciate why I'm sincerely disappointed when I have to miss one of Adam's renowned family dinners. I had a difficult time narrowing down the list, but here are some examples:

  • While he was still a high-school student, Adam prepared a barbecue brisket that required love and attention for about 36 hours. On top of that, he also made homemade barbecue sauce, baked beans, coleslaw and double stuffed baked potatoes (yes, I have a good memory for meals I've eaten).
  • Handmade pastas (no pasta machine either — just an old rolling pin).
  • Artisan pizzas (we bought him a pizza stone one year because he knew this would result in a better crust) — and you guessed it, he makes his own dough and amazing sauce from scratch.
  • He even makes his own cheese in a small shed in the backyard (just kidding, but who knows what the future holds).
  • Incredible Roast Chicken with all the fixings.
    He and his lovely wife, Michelle, prepared this for David and me this past Thanksgiving — they served it with "browned butter" mashed potatoes, squash, parsnips and carrots.
  • His famous chili — and he never forgets the essential accompaniments — grated extra old cheddar cheese, full-fat sour cream, fresh salsa, chopped cilantro and corn chips.
  • Pulled pork with cornbread — this is definitely one of my favourites. Although, as you can see, it is definitely difficult to choose.

Adam prepares his pulled pork in a traditional manner which can demand hours of attention.

I love the taste and texture of the meat but don't always have the time to devote to making it, as this typically involves making a dry spice rub, "mopping" the meat with a basting sauce every hour or two, soaking and replenishing wood chips, you get the idea).

I've created a super-easy way to have a similar taste and texture with a lot less work.

The secret to tender meat (even if you use inexpensive, tougher cuts) is cooking it "slow and low" (slow meaning that you cook it for a long time, low meaning that you cook it in a low temperature oven).

I've nicknamed it "cheater's pulled pork tenderloin."

It's hardly a recipe, but here goes.

cheater's pulled pork tenderloin

  • Take two trimmed pork tenderloins and put them in an oven-safe baking dish.
  • Top with about a cup of your favourite barbecue sauce.
  • Secure dish with a tight-fitting lid. Bake in a 200-225 degree F oven for five or more hours. (I just put it in the oven in the morning and leave it there until mid to late afternoon).
  • After it is finished cooking, pull the pork with a few forks (it will "pull" apart very easily) and let it sit in the barbecue sauce (it won't be as thick) to soak up the juices and flavour.
  • That's it. Serve it with cornbread (or store-bought rolls if you're in a hurry) and a salad.

Below is my brother's famous cornbread recipe, adapted from Christine Cushing's recipe.

Savoury Cornbread - serves six to eight wedges


  • 1 1/2 sticks, or 12 tablespoons, of unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 leek, thinly sliced (white and light green parts only)
  • 1/2 cup minced red onion
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh herbs — such as chives, parsley or cilantro (or you can use a mix)
  • 1 cup corn kernels (fresh from the cob, canned or frozen)
  • 1 1/4 cups shredded extra old cheddar cheese, divided


  • In a medium saucepan heat two tablespoons of the butter over low heat. Add leek and minced red onion. Cook, stirring frequently, until leeks and onions are very soft and just starting to turn golden, about 15 minutes. Set aside and let cool.
  • Place one tablespoon of the butter in an eight or nine-inch cast iron skillet (or use an aluminum cake pan) and heat in oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir in the cornmeal.
  • Melt the remaining butter in another bowl and whisk in the eggs and buttermilk. Pour the wet buttermilk mixture into flour-cornmeal mixture. Add the leek-onion mixture, fresh herbs, corn and three-quarter cup of the cheese. Stir with a wooden spoon until just combined and some flour remains visible.
  • Do not over mix.
  • Swirl hot pan to coat with butter. Spread batter into pan. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes or until tester inserted in centre comes out clean and edges are crispy and golden. Let cool in pan on rack for five minutes. Serve hot or warm.

quick tip

This pulled pork "recipe" also works well with pork chops or inexpensive, tough cuts of meat. Feel free to experiment with the sauces that you use as well. You know all of those half-empty jars of chutneys or cheese accompaniments in your fridge that you're not sure what to do with? Throw them in.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

make it cheese please - recipe: swedish nuts

It's hard to believe, but the holidays are just around the corner.

I know from my own experience in the specialty food business that people are always looking for easy appetizer ideas to serve a crowd.

Cheese platters are a fantastic option as they do not require cooking and can be assembled in minutes.

Thinking back, cheese was definitely the appetizer of choice when my parents were entertaining. I can still hear my mother saying "save room for dinner."

Of course, she had good reason — I have to admit that there were more than a few occasions when I sat down for dinner already full from cheese.

Here are some tips on how to create a beautiful, balanced cheese platter:

• Use a selection of different cheeses (a minimum of three) — the best platters will include at least one hard, sharp cheese (such as cheddar), a soft, creamy cheese (such as brie) and a pungent cheese (such as blue).

• Try to choose cheeses from different animals.

For instance, try a sheep's milk cheese like Spanish manchego (a hard and sharp cheese) or French Roquefort (a semi-hard blue cheese); a cow's milk cheese like St. Andre (a soft and creamy triple-cream brie) or Swiss Gruyere (slightly sweet and salty hard yellow cheese) and a goat's milk cheese like Greek Halloumi (an amazing grilling cheese that tastes similar to mozzarella, though saltier) or Canadian chevre like Woolwich Dairy (try one of their spreadable herb or fruit crusted chevrai logs).

• If possible, opt for different coloured cheeses to ensure the most attractive presentation.

• Serve your cheeses with fresh or dried fruits, roasted or candied nuts, fresh bread and crackers (oops — I almost forgot the wine).

• Adorn the platters with fresh lime leafs or banana leaves (tuck underneath cheeses) for a stunning presentation. Both can be found at the New City Chinese Supermarket on King Street in Kitchener (beside the old OW Sports store).

• Use a wooden cutting board if you want a rustic look and feel. For a modern, elegant approach, plain white ceramic platters are best.

• Garnish the platter with beautiful fresh fruit like champagne grapes, figs, strawberries, kumquats, prickly pears and/or Chinese gooseberries. Specialty fruits can be found more readily during the holidays (although large "super-centre" grocery stores tend to carry exotic and tropical fruits all year).

• Hard cheeses like cheddar and manchego can share a knife but soft cheeses like brie and chevre should have their own knives so that their flavours do not intermingle.

• For the best flavour, always serve cheese at room temperature (assemble cheese platters about one hour ahead of time). Keep in mind that hard cheeses take longer to come to room temperature than soft cheeses.

• Plan on serving about one ounce per person of each cheese for an appetizer-sized portion. You may need to serve a little bit more per person if you are serving a cheese course.

Along with fruit and interesting crackers and flatbreads, I like to serve cheese with toasted or candied nuts.

"Swedish nuts" are perfect on a cheese platter, and make a delicious hostess gift.

This recipe is courtesy of Ruth Bricker, a good family friend (like a second mother, really) who serves these delicious nuts throughout the holidays. Mom obtained the recipe many years ago and now they're a Christmas staple at our house too.

Ruth Bricker's Swedish Nuts


  • 1/2 lb. blanched almonds
  • 1/2 lb. walnuts or pecan halves dash of salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 egg whites, stiffly beaten
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter


  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  • Toast the nuts in the oven until light brown, about eight-12 minutes. Stiffly beat two egg whites.
  • Fold sugar and salt into the stiffly beaten egg whites and beat again until stiff peaks form.
  • Fold nuts into the sugar-egg white (meringue) mixture.
  • Melt butter on a cookie sheet with sides (or use broiler pan) and spread the nut mixture on top.
  • Bake for 30 minutes at 325 degrees F. Stir every 10 minutes until nuts are covered with coating and are light brown and no butter remains.

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