Wednesday, February 24, 2010

teaching a beginner some easy-to-make dinners - recipe: pancetta-wrapped pork tenderloin with sage

Last Friday afternoon, I had the pleasure of teaching a friend how to prepare a few basic yet delicious meals. He’s a recent widower, and because his wife was very accomplished in the kitchen, he simply hadn’t yet learned to cook.

Prior to our lesson, I spent quite some time thinking about what would be appropriate to make. The dishes had to be nutritious and tasty, but with straightforward recipes accessible to a newcomer to the kitchen. No sense in learning complicated dishes that he would never attempt to make without assistance — as I said to him during our lesson, order the intricate meals in a restaurant when somebody else is doing the work! In the end, he would have to feel confident making them.

In all, we prepared five meals and two side dishes.

We started with pasta — we used fresh pasta because it cooks faster and it’s easier to tell when it’s properly cooked. Instead of bottled pasta sauce, we dressed the pasta with a store-bought pesto.

Next was a frittata, which is pretty much just a crustless quiche.

On to meal No. 3 — my dear friend Julie’s brown sugar salmon (go to for the recipe). I almost forgot how delicious and simple this recipe is. Just coat the salmon in a mixture of brown sugar, finely-grated parmesan and pepper, then bake for 12-15 minutes.

Next to last, we prepared flank steak, using a tried-and-true marinade from my former employer, Trish Magwood, of Dish Cooking Studio.

Lastly, we prepared pancetta-wrapped pork tenderloin. Credit goes to Chef Merla McMenomy, an instructor at Dish Cooking Studio. Although this recipe is fast and simple, it’s special enough for company, and definitely easy enough for any first time cook to master.

pancetta-wrapped pork tenderloin with sage

serves 2-3 (note: you can easily double or triple the recipe)


  • 1 pork tenderloin, trimmed
  • 4 slices pancetta bacon
  • 1 apple, sliced
  • 6 fresh sage leaves or 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • cracked pepper, to taste


  • Preheat oven to 425ยบ F. Slice apple into about five-eighths of an inch thick slices, and cover the bottom of a casserole dish with the slices.
  • Cover pork tenderloin with pancetta slices. Place pork tenderloin on top of apple slices. Top pork with sage leaves or thyme. Drizzle with olive oil and season with black pepper.
  • Bake in oven for 23 – 30 minutes (uncovered) or until pork is cooked to your liking.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

a big game requires chili - recipe: adam’s touchdown chili with the fixin’s

Last week, my brother Adam sent out the following e-mail message: “It’s Stupid Bowl week and I’m already thinking about the massive pot of all-day chili, served with all the fixin’s, that I’m going to be making on Sunday.

“We would love to have you over to watch Peyton club the proverbial baby seal and send Brees and the Saints marching home without rings. I hope I’m wrong and New Orleans wins, but Manning was absolutely surgical against the best D in the league in the Jets”.

Huh? All I read was: “blah blah blah massive pot of chili with all the fixin’s blah blah blah”. Adam later explained to me what Peyton, Brees, rings and best D all mean — thanks again Adam for the crash course.

Anyway, I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I’m not a football fan. I am however, a big fan of chili with all the fixin’s, and of course, a fan of my brother, sister-in-law, their son and our mutual close circle of friends who were also invited to attend.

Adam kept his word and served an amazing pot of chili (as I’ve always said, he’s a fabulous cook). The fixin’s included sour cream, grated aged cheddar cheese, minced scallions, and corn chips.

In my world, chili just isn’t complete without some crumbled corn chips on top. I didn’t like the taste of chili as a kid. However, I guess “chili nights” weren’t all bad as my Mom always served a tiny bowl of corn chips alongside each bowl of chili — guaranteed to be the only time that chips were served as part of dinner at our house!

adam’s touchdown chili with the fixin’s

serves 8 - 10


  • olive oil
  • 8-12 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large Vidalia onion, finely diced
  • 3 green peppers, finely diced
  • 1-3 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped (depending on desired heat level)
  • 1 cup shiitake mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup cremini mushrooms,roughly chopped 2 pounds lean ground beef (preferably drug free, naturally raised)
  • one 19 oz. can of red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • two 19 oz. cans of white kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • two 28 oz. cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1 large carton (798 ml) low sodium beef broth
  • red wine to taste
  • 2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
  • chili powder, to taste
  • cumin powder to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper and salt, to taste

ingredients for garnishes

  • green onions, chopped
  • sour cream
  • extra old cheddar cheese, grated


  • Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat for a minute or two. Add the onions, stirring occasionally as the onions begin to “sweat”, approximately five minutes. Wait another two to three minutes and add the garlic. After another two to three minutes or so, the onions will have lost some of their moisture and will begin to caramelize. Add the green peppers and mushrooms, continuing to stir occasionally for the next five to 10 minutes. If the mixture sticks to the bottom of the pan, just add more olive oil, one tablespoon at a time. You’ll know it’s time to remove the mixture when the onion is caramelized, but before it starts to blacken. Set the mixture aside in a bowl.
  • Rinse out your saucepan, and raise heat to medium high. Add another tablespoon of olive oil and wait a minute or two. Add the beef to the pan, stirring often as you brown the meat evenly. Once you see no more pink meat, add two tablespoons of chili powder and one tablespoon of cumin power. Stir the meat to ensure the spices evenly distribute themselves into the meat.
  • Add the vegetable mixture back to the saucepan. Stir up the meat and vegetables so they are evenly distributed. Add the crushed tomatoes and give it a good stir. Add the beans. Before stirring, move to the next step.
  • The next step depends on how thick you like the consistency of your chili. Some prefer a chili with lots of liquid and others more “chunky”. Start by adding one cup of beef broth, and then carefully stir so as not to mash the beans. Continue to add broth, a half cup at a time, until you have achieved your desired consistency. Add the dry mustard, brown sugar and chipotles. As the chili begins to simmer, turn down the heat as required to keep it to a simmer. Let the chili simmer for one hour.
  • Add additional beef broth, and a tablespoon or so of red wine if more liquid is required to maintain your desired consistency level. Taste the chili and determine if it requires more chili powder or cumin. As a rule of thumb, add another tablespoon of chili powder and a half tablespoon of cumin powder and stir to incorporate the spices. What is important is that you wait at least an hour before repeating this step again so you don’t overdo the spices.
  • Continue to let the chili simmer for six to eight hours, repeating the last step every hour.
  • About a half hour before serving, add pepper and salt to taste.
  • Start preparing your garnishes.
  • Ladle the chili into bowls, and garnish as desired.

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