I never resent time spent doing this. Early on in this blog, I wrote about how meaningful it is to me to cook for friends and family. It is my way of connecting and loving. And I am fortunate to have friends and family who appreciate my efforts, and who will connect and return the love.
Lately, when I visit my mother's house in North Carolina, I will often do a lot of the cooking because my mother being almost 78 years old (spry though she still is), enjoys a break. My youngest brother often likes to jump in and help while the rest of the family mills around or sits in the expansive kitchen / living room / dining room that is part of the fabulous layout of my mother's house. We are able to talk and joke, listen to music or even watch a movie together in this well-designed Great Big Room while the cooking is going on.
Thankfully, my mother's larder (and I mean this only in the figurative sense) is still well-stocked, even though she does less cooking now that my father is feasting on heavenly victuals. My mother is still very socially active, but it's obvious that cooking for yourself in your 70's is not as appealing as cooking for your family or life partner, who, of course, will be present to share the fruits of your labor with you.
My mother has always had a full larder. We joke about being food hoarders (not far from the truth), or being able to feed the entire neighborhood if the power went out for an extended time (also not far from the truth). My mother has been an adventurous cook (and an adventurous eater) all her life, perhaps not reaching quite so far for the exotic as her daughter, but I can count on her to have most of what I need when I visit. Like most serious cooks, I will often bring the things I need with me. But if time is short, I will flip my creativity switch on "HI" and use what's available, something I did this past weekend.
These meals are often among the most memorable. I leave it to you to decide whether the meal I recently created was memorable in a good way:
Spice-Infused Pork Roast with Apples, Fennel, Raisins and Cider Vinegar Pan Sauce
Serve this succulent roast with risotto and roasted asparagus. A good, fruity, light red with a little acidity is the perfect wine to drink alongside.
3 to 4 lb. pork loin or Boston butt roast
1 tsp. peppercorns
1 tsp. coriander seed
1 tsp. fennel seed
1 tsp. dried rosemary leaves
zest of one lemon
6 cloves garlic, minced
Extra virgin olive oil
4 to 6 slices thick bacon, optional
butcher's twine or strong, clean string
2 firm, tart apples, such as Granny Smith or Mutsu, cored and cut into eighths
2 large head fennel, trimmed and cut into 8 pieces, some fronds reserved for garnish
1 medium sweet onion, cut into bite-sized chunks (can substitute 1/2 red onion if desired)
juice of 1/2 lemon
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 Tbs. raisins
2 Tbs. brandy
2 Tbs. water
1 Tbs. cider vinegar, or to taste
1.) Trim excess fat from pork with a boning knife. If using a pork loin, butterfly the roast; if using a Boston butt, score the top surface about 1/2" deep with a sharp knife.
2.) Combine peppercorns, coriander seed, fennel seed and rosemary in a small skillet and toast over medium to medium-low heat until fragrant.
3.) When the spices are cool, put them into a spice grinder or clean coffee grinder and grind to a coarse texture.
4.) In a medium bowl, combine the ground spices with lemon zest, garlic, kosher salt to taste and enough olive oil to make a loose paste.
5.) If using the butterflied roast, smear all but about 1 Tbs. of the spice paste over the surface of the meat that you have cut open. Starting at one long end, start rolling meat up like a jelly roll, then tie roast in 3 places with butcher's twine. Smear remaining paste over top of the tied roast, but DO NOT WASH the bowl (you will be tossing some of the remaining ingredients in it). If using bacon, wrap it around the roast and secure with toothpicks. Let sit at room temperature for about 1 hour, or cover and store in refrigerator until ready to cook (tossing apple mixture in spice paste bowl and storing separately), up to 8 hours. Bring meat to room temperature before roasting.
6.) If using scored Boston butt roast, smear the spice paste over the surface of the roast, making sure you get the seasoning into all the crevices. DO NOT WASH the bowl (you will be tossing some of the remaining ingredients in it). If using bacon, wrap it over the roast and secure with toothpicks. Let sit at room temperature for about 1 hour, or cover and store in refrigerator until ready to cook (tossing apple mixture in spice paste bowl and storing separately), up to 8 hours. Bring meat to room temperature before roasting.
7.) Heat oven to 475 degrees.
8.) Combine apples, fennel, and onion in bowl that spice paste was prepared (you can do this early, following step 9 as well if you are storing to cook roast later).
9.) Add lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Toss until well-coated, adding a little extra olive oil if desired. Set aside.
10.) Combine raisins, brandy and water in a small heat-proof container and microwave for 45 seconds to plump the raisins. Set aside.
11.) Put pork roast in the appropriate sized baking pan and surround with apple-fennel mixture, then pour raisins and liquid over the apple-fennel mixture.
12.) Sear in preheated oven for approximately 20 minutes. Sometimes it helps to use the broiler element to brown the cap of the roast well.
13.) Tent pork loosely with foil and reduce heat to 325 degrees.
14.) Cook pork 30 to 35 min. per lb. If cooking a larger roast, such as the Boston butt roast, you can roast it at a temperature of 275 degrees for up t0 8 hours for a meltingly tender roast.
15.) When ready to serve, transfer roast to cutting board and let rest for about 10 minutes before slicing. Arrange sliced pork on a platter and surround with apples, onions, fennel and raisins, wrap loosely with foil and keep warm while you make the pan sauce.
16.) To make the pan sauce, strain pan juices into a small sauce pan and bring to a boil, reducing volume by one-third.
17.) Stir in cider vinegar and taste for salt and pepper. The sauce should just be mildly tart; add more or less cider vinegar to your taste.
18.) Serve sauce on the side with the pork. Garnish pork, if you wish, with reserved fennel fronds. Serves 6 to 8 people.
This wine was a perfect foil for the richness of the pork. It's what I call a "supermarket wine," but it stood up beautifully with the dinner, bringing a mouth full of plum and raspberry and, because of the oak, a spicy finish. Nicely prominent tannins, inky in the glass. A bargain at less than $12. And best of all, I found this in a little town in North Carolina at the local supermarket. Booyah!