The goddess of protein

Curried Pork Loin

I think I have mentioned this before, but my boyfriend’s mom is a wonderful cook.  I’ve known this great lady for  more than a couple of decades now and besides being smart, witty and a gorgeous woman, she is a genius in the kitchen.  She is one of those cooks who can try something once, analyze the flavors in her head and file the information away for later.  I have never seen her reach for a cookbook and she seems to be able to make anything. 


Why did I call this post “the goddess of protein”?  My boyfriend’s mom was a dental hygienist in a former life.  When she went to school, she had to learn about nutrition.  Nutrition has always been something she continues to study and through the years, she has been a champion of protein.   As the food fads have come and gone over the years, she has ignored any new fangled reasoning that says things like substituting processed vegetable proteins for meat or margarine for butter is better for you.  Time and time again, she seems to be proved right.  She believes the body needs plenty of protein and that red meat is good for you because of the high quality protein and B vitamins the meat provides.  That being said, if you eat at her house, you will most likely eat something meaty and probably red meaty, but I have always noticed that she always serves a balanced meal.  There will be a healthy starch and plenty of vegetables too.  The secret to her healthy habits is to shun refined sugar and processed foods.  She cooks her food from scratch and anything she makes will taste better than what you will eat in a restaurant.   This woman is in her sixties now and you wouldn’t know it.  Over the years , she has always looked a decade (or two) younger than she is.  When I first met her son, people would consistently mistake her for his sister.  Her diet advice does work!


Some of the best meals I have ever had have been at her house.  When I was younger and learning to cook, her son taught me how to make many of their family staples but I would sometimes ask him to call her and ask her how to make certain things.  One day when he was talking to his mom, she described a pork roast she made, it sounded so delish that I asked him to ask her how she made it.  Since she never uses recipes, I was expecting her to give him general directions about the process and not give him approximations of how much of this or that to use.  She was able to tell him exactly how much of each ingredient to use off of the top of her head and the “recipe” he wrote down was perfect.  Anything in the recipe that is an approximation is what it is because you don’t need measurements.  What a goddess!!  I have made this roast over and over again and I am always stunned at how perfect it is.  The only thing I changed was to double the basting sauce.  The sauce that results from this recipe is like manna from heaven.  I always require pools of it to ladle over the meat and onto a hot steamy pile of long grain brown rice, which is the perfect partner for this dish.  Round out the meal with your favorite pile of simply steamed veggies and a good red wine and you will be an extremely happy diner.


Pork loin roast with curried apple sauce

For the roast:

2 ½ lb (or slightly larger) Pork Loin Roast

Garlic powder


Curry Powder

6-10 cloves of garlic (or more), halved or quartered if large


For the sauce:

½ cup teriyaki sauce

2 tbsp mustard powder (Go for a mild not hot mustard like Coleman’s)

2 cups fresh apple juice

1 cup white wine

½ tsp powdered ginger

2 tsp curry powder

3 to 4 tbsp honey (less if using a sweet light honey, more if using a complex dark honey)

garlic powder, to taste

onion powder, to taste

pepper, to taste


Preheat the oven to 450 degrees f.  Poke holes in the top, bottoms and sides of the roast and insert the garlic cloves or garlic clove pieces into the holes.  Pork loin roasts are usually two pieces of pork tied together, jam some garlic in between the two pieces of pork.  The garlic will cook in the meat and give it a nice garlicky flavor but the garlic never really softens all of the way.  I like the garlic pieces even though they are still pretty intense.  If you love garlic be generous with it.  If you aren’t a big fan (I will lose my respect for you but…), use a lot of garlic anyway and eat around the whole cloves that fall out of your meal.  Liberally sprinkle the garlic power, oregano and curry powder over the top of the roast.  When you are ready to bake the roast, lower the heat to 325 degrees f, put the roast in the oven where you will roast the meat for at least a good half hour before you begin to baste the meat.  Cook the roast for about 45 minutes per pound (I cooked the 2 ½ pound roast for about two hours which was a little long but we like our pork a little well done around here).


Meanwhile, place all of the sauce ingredients in a saucepan.  Bring the sauce to a boil and lower to a simmer.  Simmer for 20 minutes.  Taste the sauce.  If you like a sweeter sauce, add a little more honey.  If the sauce seems a bit sweet, add more garlic powder or onion powder.  Before you tweak the sauce, remember that the sauce will concentrate and the flavors will deepen in the oven.  Begin basting the meat after it has roasted for between a half hour to forty-five minutes.  Baste the meat every 15 to 20 minutes or so.  Serve the meat with plenty of sauce.


Sometimes only a large sausage will do

Sausage Sandwich

Cravings.  I don’t have those serious I have to have (fill in the nasty fast food blank) cravings I used to have.  Those: I don’t want to cook and I have to have this specific cheesy, salty, greasy, smelly, sweet, sour whatever it is from (fill in the nasty fast food place blank) sort of cravings.  I don’t want hamburgers any more at all.  I still want pizza quite often.  I still love Mexican food.  I don’t necessarily crave this stuff but every once in a while, something fast food like sounds really good.  The thing that is good about cooking something that would fit right into a fast food venue at home is that it is quick to have at home but it will taste a hundred times better because you made it at home and you are in control of the quality of the ingredients.


Sausages are often a bargain at my local market and they are really good quality.  I can pick from many different varieties from not so healthy pork or lamb to very lean, healthy poultry versions of the same thing.  Pair these delicious meaty morsels with fresh veggies and really good sourdough bread and you have something that transcends the pedestrian sum of its parts.


I made a couple of changes to the sausage sandwich recipe from a back issue of Gourmet and I like the results a lot.  One reason to try this recipe is for the onion and pepper mixture.  I made my own version a few times prior to finding this recipe and the sandwiches turned out ok.  Good but nothing special.  I stumbled onto this recipe, which calls for a garlic paste and fennel seeds, and it is nirvana.  The fennel seeds impart a sweetness to the caramelized veggies that is divine.  I hope you try it.  I think you’ll agree that this is one mighty fine sausage sandwich.


Sausage, Bell Pepper and Onion Sandwiches

Adapted from the December 1991 issue of Gourmet Magazine


3 Bell Peppers, preferably red, sliced thin


2 large onions, sliced thin


2 large garlic cloves, minced and mashed to a paste with a pinch of salt in a mortar and pestle


¼  tsp whole fennel seeds


¼ cup olive oil


6 hot Italian sausage links (or mild Italian sausage or mixture of both)


2 good quality, crusty, sourdough baguettes


In a large skillet, sauté the bell peppers, onions, garlic paste and fennel seeds in the oil over medium to medium high heat.   Sauté, stirring until the veggies are softened, and slightly browned.  Season with salt and pepper.  This should take five to ten minutes.


While the veggies are cooking, Heat a lightly greased cast iron pan over medium high heat.  Cook the sausages on all sides until cooked through about six to ten minutes.


Cut the bread into 5”-6” lengths to match the size of your sausages and split the bread down the middle.  If you prefer warm toasted bread, pop the bread into the oven for a few minutes to lightly toast.  Cut the each sausage lengthwise down the middle.  Insert a sausage into the bread so that it lays flat over the bread (that way you get a bit of sausage in every bite, yum!).  Generously spoon the onion/pepper mixture over the top of the sandwich.  Enjoy!


Purposeful leftovers


One of my first jobs was as a PABX (switchboard) operator for a Marriott hotel. One of the benefits of this job for a starving student was that they provided a free meal to all of their employees. The cafeteria either offered food that didn’t cosmetically look good enough to serve to our guests or we got hot food from a cafeteria-style lineup or if none of that looked very appealing, there were hamburgers, hotdogs, salad and fresh soup. We worked the swing shift so our meal was essentially a dinner meal although we really got the same choices that our coworkers got at lunch. After working there awhile, we got to realize that the cafeteria-style food might have been planned to frugally use the week’s ingredients as well as possible. It seemed to us that one day we would get roast chicken. The next day, some suspiciously familiar chicken pieces would be served in a creamy style sauce. The next day, we would get some sort of pasta or rice dish with a creamy style sauce and chicken chunks. One of my coworkers was very uncomfortable with this and dubbed this “chicken evolution”. My coworker would grill the daytime coworkers about what was for lunch and decide from there if it was going to be a soup and salad day.

I have to admit, now that I am a full time worker who has to cook for my household; I am guilty of “chicken evolution”. When we made the pork sirloin chops a few days ago, I made sure to buy more than we would need for one meal. A nice chunk of boneless meat or boneless chicken breast can easily be reused later in the week to add protein to another meal. I often make too much of a chicken dish so that I can add chicken chunks to pasta or salad. I look at this habit as being frugal with my time. It is just as easy for me to cook one pound of meat, as it is to cook two or three pounds and we can eat that food a second time without being bored. I really think this habit is a working girls healthy eating best friend. If I can whip up a healthy, made from scratch meal on a weeknight, I am less apt to eat junk.

I am a little behind on this post; I should have posted this a couple of days ago because we really made this meal the next day after our barbeque. What we did is we made the Spicy broccoli soba sauté recipe from Moosewood Restaurant New Classics and added reheated, leftover sliced pork on top. I have one tip about this recipe. I have made it several times. The recipe calls for one half pound of soba noodles. Soba noodles are expensive everywhere I shop for them and I have difficulty finding them. It seems like the stores I like to go to run out. Soba is quick cooking and thin in texture so it is really quite nice to use in this recipe. I have decided I really don’t mind a thicker textured noodle. Whole-wheat spaghetti makes a fine substitution. It has a similar nutty whole grain flavor. If you can find a whole grain angel hair, it would work well too. Whole grain pasta is definitely better on your pocket book than the soba. Also, since I don’t like to have a half-pound bag of pasta lying around, I double the recipe to use the whole pound since we like the leftovers for lunch.

Spicy broccoli “soba” sauté with barbequed pork

Adapted from the Moosewood Restaurant New Classics Cookbook by the Moosewood Collective

½ of a leftover barbeque pork sirloin chop per person, sliced

½ cup soy sauce

4 tsp sugar

4 tsp toasted sesame oil

2 tbsp cornstarch

2 tbsp brown rice vinegar (available in health stores) or rice wine vinegar or lemon juice

1 pound whole-wheat spaghetti

2 tbsp safflower oil

6 garlic cloves, minced

½ tsp cayenne

8 cups bite sized broccoli florets

½ cup water

1 cup sake

2 large carrots, peeled and grated

In a large pot, bring 6 quarts of water to a boil. Meanwhile, whisk together the soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, cornstarch, and brown rice vinegar until smooth. Set the sauce aside. When the water boils, add the spaghetti and boil according to package directions. While the noodles cook, warm the oil in a large saucepan or wok over medium heat. Add the garlic and cayenne and cook one minute or less until golden, stirring constantly. Don’t let the garlic burn. Stir in broccoli, water and sake. Cover and cook 3 to 4 minutes until the broccoli is tender but still bright green. Stir in the carrots and reserved sauce. Cook for a minute or two, until the sauce thickens. Drain the pasta and then add the pasta to the broccoli mixture, tossing until the pasta is coated with the sauce. Serve the pasta in bowls and top the pasta with the warm sliced pork.

BBQ Pork causes stress….


Most of the time, cooking is a relaxing activity for me. I pop into the kitchen, recipe in hand and become the musician playing someone else’s art. The recipe author is showing me the wonderful thing they created and I am enjoying the act of recreation. As long as I don’t have to impress anyone and I have plenty of time to do what I need to do, it is fun and stress free. Sometimes, it is almost meditative for me.

A few weeks ago, I bought some pork sirloin chops and wanted to try something new. I had a cookbook that had been forgotten about. It is “Williams-Sonoma: Essentials of Grilling”. Within this book is a page of basic marinades for different kinds of meat. The basic pork marinade looked like a good thing to try on my chops so I followed the recipe exactly except for my usual preference of using olive oil for the generic ingredient called vegetable oil. The chops marinated for the 3 hours maximum called for in the recipe for pork chops and after the requisite time on the BBQ they were pretty yummy but not as flavorful as I expected.

On Monday, we decided to do another round of these sirloin pork chops. I was putting together the marinade and realized that we had over three pounds of meat and the recipe was intended for between one and one and a half pounds of meat. Could this be why I didn’t think the marinade was as flavorful on the meat as it could have been? Did I shortchange the amount of marinade I needed? I doubled the recipe and then proceeded to tweak it. The recipe didn’t have garlic and boy did it need it so, in went garlic. The recipe called for red pepper flakes but I had some gorgeous fresh jalapenos that needed to be used up, what would happen if I used fresh chilies? Well who cares, sounds good to me. The marinade still needs something, what is it? What does it need? Scanning the spice rack… aha! Smoked paprika! The marinade is all set, in plops the meat about three hours before BBQ time. Perfect!

I think I mentioned in the opening post of this blog that I am trying to become healthy and lose weight. I have been going to the gym like a mad woman. At first, I was doing just cardio for about a half hour each trip to the gym, but lately my boyfriend has been helping me in the weight room. On Monday, I did something dumb. I drank a cup of coffee in the morning (if you knew me, you would know I am not a coffee drinker). Coffee is a diuretic. I also proceeded to forget to drink any other liquid all day. I hopped on a cardio machine at the gym and did a full half hour, drinking a bit of water but not nearly enough. Once I went downstairs to lift weights, I was weak and could barely lift my arms without the weights. I wasn’t sure what was wrong with me. Duh!

What does this have to do with anything? I got home and felt so weak I could barely move. My boyfriend convinced me that we were both too tired to cook (he would have to man the grill) and that it would be better to pick up take out food from our local health food joint. I argued and argued because of one problem with the pork marinade. It has a lot of apple cider vinegar in it. By doubling the recipe, I had used 2 full cups of apple cider vinegar to one cup of apple juice! I had visions of pork ceviche rolling around in my head. I felt so weak and messed up, that I stopped stressing and relented to buying food instead of making it.

The next day, I looked at the pork and it didn’t look so bad. I left it until dinnertime. The vinegar was cooking the edges of the meat a little bit but it didn’t seem so bad. Still, I wasn’t sure about the tweaks I made to the recipe and I was sure marinating the meat for 24 hours would cause a melt down of some sort. We fired up the BBQ in the evening and proceeded to cook the meat. It seemed very vinegary smelling so we both were nervous and I felt stressed.

When the meat was cooked, we served it with some Greek potatoes and steamed veggies. The meat was delicious. This time you could taste the marinade and it had a wonderful smoky tangy flavor. Served up with a 2001 Sunstone Syrah, it was wonderful.

BBQ Pork

BBQ Pork Sirloin Chops

Basic marinade adapted from Williams-Sonoma: Essentials of Grilling (enough marinade for three pounds of pork)

2 cups apple cider vinegar

1 cup apple juice

6 tbsp brown sugar

1 large yellow onion – diced

4 tbsp olive oil

3 tbsp hot sauce (I used cholula)

1 large jalapeno chili, seeded and diced

1 tsp salt

1 tsp smoked paprika

4 cloves garlic, minced

Combine all ingredients in a 9”x13” pan. Add sirloin chops and marinate for at least 3 hours up to 24 hours. Start your BBQ. When the coals are covered with white ash, add the chops to the grill. Cook turning once for about a half hour or until a meat thermometer poked into the thickest part of the chop registers between 145-150 degrees F. Remove the chops to a platter and allow to rest for at least five minutes before serving.

Post blog writing note: D’oh. After reading the recipe so that I could write it down for you, I realized that I missed the step in the recipe that calls for cooking the first three ingredients of the marinade over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved then adding the other ingredients. They don’t say to cool the marinade they say to add the pork at this point. Well, mystery solved. That’s why round one was a little disappointing. I guess my version of the marinade on round two is completely different than what the book intended, but it sure did turn out tasty anyway.