September 15, 2019

Maple Brown Sugar Cookies

We're only halfway through September, and everyone is already obsessed with pumpkin everything, Halloween costumes, and the 3 crunchy leaves on the sidewalk. I do love fall, but I don't think I'm quite ready to fully immerse myself in the pumpkin-spiced, dark-at-4pm cold. It's still 80 degrees outside! I need to ease myself into fall, which is why these maple brown sugar cookies are perfect. Maple is great all year round, but it reminds me of fall in particular. It pairs really well with all sorts of other fall flavors (apples, pumpkin, pears, and spices, just to name a few). Here, I'm keeping it simple with just maple and caramel-y brown sugar so the maple flavor really shines through. It's a great first hint of fall flavor without fully committing, and it's the perfect treat for kids, coworkers, or just yourself for surviving the awkward summer-to-fall transition.

Cookies are generally pretty easy to make, and this recipe is no exception. You don't even have to soften butter since you have to melt it all anyway, which gives you the perfect excuse to brown the butter for that extra caramelized, nutty flavor. The melted butter gets mixed with the brown sugar, then you add the maple syrup, egg, and vanilla followed by the dry ingredients.

Since one of the main flavors is brown sugar, I only use brown sugar here, no white sugar since the maple syrup also adds some sweetness. The brown sugar helps keep the cookies soft and chewy, too. What gets tricky is that the maple syrup is some extra liquid that you usually don't have to account for in cookies. I compensate by adding some extra flour, chilling the dough, and also knowing the limits of just how much maple syrup you can cram into the cookie itself. About a third of a cup is good to balance flavor and texture.

However, you can still get more maple into these maple cookies. One option is to use maple sugar, but that's expensive and would take away from the chewy brown sugar. My preference is to make a maple glaze, which is only two ingredients and can be slathered on to your maple-obsessed heart's content. It makes transport a bit difficult, so I'd either frost them just before serving or far enough in advance that they have time to set and dry in the open air a bit before storing. These cookies are soft and chewy but also cakey, so you could also sandwich them with some of that frosting for the extra maple flavor but easier packing.

1 Stick Butter, Melted & Browned (Browning Optional)
1 1/4 Cups Brown Sugar
1/3 Cup Maple Syrup
1 Egg
1 tsp Vanilla
3 Cups Flour
2 T Cornstarch
1 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Salt

1/4 Cup Maple Syrup
1 - 1 1/2 Cups Powdered Sugar

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and brown sugar together. Add the maple syrup, egg, and vanilla. Combine the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, then add to the dough.

Scoop the dough into balls and chill for at least 1 hour or until firm.

Heat oven to 375F and line cookie trays with parchment. Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes or until just set.

For the glaze, whisk the maple syrup and powdered sugar together. Drizzle on the cooled cookies.

Makes 32
Recipe Adapted from Sugar Spun Run

August 25, 2019

Mushroom-Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

Judging by the crazy spike in traffic in the past week and the Halloween decorations looming in Target, it's back to school season. I know everyone's schedules got a lot more hectic, and it's already easy enough for me to cave and just get food delivered, meaning that the need for easy but tasty dinners is much higher. Meals like this roasted pork dish only take an hour, make me feel super fancy, and make enough to feed the whole family and/or make leftovers for the next couple of days. They're perfect for weeknight cooking when you want something delicious, reasonably healthy, and in your stomach before Bachelor in Paradise is on.

Regular pork tenderloin is already a great starting point, but this filling really kicks it up a notch. It starts by sauteeing some onions, then adding mushrooms, garlic, and spices. This step is critical because mushrooms contain so much liquid. It's better to cook it all off now than have it all seep out from the pork during roasting. Fresh herbs will enhance the flavors, but dried ones will still taste great.

The one problem with the stuffing is that you need something to stuff it in, in this case the pork tenderloin. It's already so perfectly round and ready for roasting, and it can be a bit intimidating to cut it up and tie it back together. There are plenty of videos to make butterflying a bit more approachable, but essentially you're going to make one cut down the length of the loin, open it up, and make two more lengthwise cuts, one on each flap. It's helpful to take a meat mallet to the butterflied pork loin to make sure it's all even (especially at the seams), plus it makes it even more tender.

Once your pork is butterflied and your filling has cooled, you're going to spread the filling along most of the pork and roll it up, just like you would with cinnamon buns. Unfortunately, pork won't adhere back to itself like dough will, so it's best to use butcher twine or toothpicks to hold it together. Searing it prior to roasting will get some great color on it and help keep its shape. You'll still need to finish cooking the pork in the oven so it cooks through, but that frees up your searing skillet to make an irresistible pan sauce. Add a bit more garlic to the pork fat, deglaze with white wine, and stir in some chicken broth and herbs. Again, fresh herbs will brighten things up but dry herbs will work in a pinch. Once it simmers and reduces while the pork finishes cooking, stir in a splash of cream for some velvety richness and a little bit of luxury on a crazy weeknight. Serve it up with simple sides like some veggies and a mound of mashed potatoes and you've got quite the impressive dinner (the pan sauce makes a fantastic gravy).

1 Yellow Onion, Diced
8 oz Mushrooms, Sliced
5 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 1/2 tsp Oregano
1 1/2 tsp Thyme
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp Onion Powder
1 1/2 lbs Pork Tenderloin
1 Cup White Wine
1 Cup Chicken Broth
1 Cup Cream

Heat some oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and saute for 3 minutes or until translucent. Add the mushrooms and 3 cloves garlic. Season with 1/2 tsp oregano, 1/2 tsp thyme, garlic powder, onion powder, and salt and pepper. Saute for 6-8 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Seat aside to cool.

Butterfly the pork and pound until thin. Spread the mushroom mixture evenly on the pork, leaving a 1-2" barrier along one of the long ends. Roll tightly and use butcher twine or toothpicks to close.

Heat oven to 400F.

Season the pork with salt and pepper. Wipe out the skillet, then add some oil over medium-high heat. Add the pork and sear until browned, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to an oven-safe dish and roast for 30 minutes or until cooked through.

Meanwhile, pour most of the fat out of the skillet. Add the remaining 2 cloves garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes or until golden. Deglaze with the wine and simmer for 3 minutes or until reduced. Add the chicken broth and remaining 1 tsp oregano, 1 tsp thyme, and salt and pepper. Simmer for 8-10 minutes. Stir in the cream and heat until warm.

Serves 4-6

August 15, 2019

Thai Steak Salad

My main qualm with salads is that so many of them have no substance. They're just piles of sad wilted vegetables that don't actually fill you up, so you end up bingeing on exactly what you were trying to avoid later in the day. The key to making a salad you enjoy eating is to add stuff to it that you enjoy eating and slather it in a good salad dressing. This salad has both juicy marinated steak and a bright homemade dressing that pairs perfectly with it. You can dress it up with whatever extra veggies (or fruits) you want for a hearty salad to keep you going throughout the day.

The steak is the component that takes the longest, but that time doesn't really count since most of it is just leaving the steak to marinate. The marinade consists of coconut milk, sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, brown sugar, and sweet Thai chili sauce. It's sweet, spicy, salty, and savory, so it should hit all the notes you're looking for in a meal.

Since it needs at least two hours to soak up all the flavors, you can prep it with your dinner and grill it before bed to take to work for lunch the next day, or you can prep it in the morning and grill it when you get home for a basically ready-to-eat dinner. Flank steak cooks up very quickly, just a few minutes on each side, and it stays incredibly tender with enough time in the marinade. Other steaks could work too if you have other preferences or another cut is on sale, just make sure it's a grilling steak and not a braising one like brisket.

The salad dressing highlights the flavors of the steak marinade without tasting too similar. It includes mangos, limes, sriracha, and spices for another sweet, spicy, salty, savory (and sour) blend of flavors. What makes the dressing so special is that the mangos are roasted, enhancing the natural sweetness and adding a hint of char to match the crust on the steak. A blender or food processor is key here, since the mangos need to be pureed until smooth and the olive oil needs to be fully emulsified for a creamy, cohesive dressing. The trick to emulsifying the dressing properly is adding the oil very slowly, basically just a trickle as you keep the motor running. If you're short on time, you can go with your favorite store-bought dressing, but as with the steak most of the time involved is pretty hands-off, and a blender or food processor makes the actual mixing a cinch.

The salad itself is very simple, just some greens, leftover mango, thinly sliced onions, and whatever else you feel like adding, maybe some shaved cucumbers or carrots. Anything you don't really want to eat can be easily hidden under the steak and the dressing. I caught my dad eating the dressing with a spoon, so you can throw your oldest, saddest veggies that have been buried in the back of your fridge all week and this will breathe some new life into them.

1 1/2 lbs Flank Steak
3/4 Cup Light Coconut Milk
1 T Sesame Oil
2 T Soy Sauce
4 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 tsp Grated Ginger
2 T Brown Sugar
1/3 Cup Sweet Chili Sauce

1 Mango, Diced
Chili Powder, To Taste
1/2 Cup + 1 tsp Olive Oil
Juice of 2 Limes
Sriracha, To Taste

6 Cups Mixed Greens or Arugula
1 Mango, Diced
1/2 Onion, Thinly Sliced
Cucumbers, Carrots, etc.

For the steak marinade, combine the coconut milk, sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, brown sugar, and chili sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Add the steak, toss to coat, and let sit 2+ hours or overnight.

Heat oven to 400F.

For the dressing, spread the mango onto a greased, foil-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with the chili powder (start with 1/4 tsp) and toss with 1 tsp olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast for 20 minutes until caramelized. In a food processor, blender, or using an immersion blender, pulse the mango, lime juice, sriracha, and salt and pepper until smooth. Slowly drizzle in the remaining 1/2 cup olive oil and blend until smooth and emulsified.

Cook the steak on a hot grill or grill pan until cooked to the desired temperature, about 4 minutes per side. Let rest for 5 minutes before slicing against the grain. Meanwhile, toss the greens, diced mango, onion, and other veggies together. Serve with the sliced steak and the mango dressing.

Serves 4-6
Recipe Adapted from How Sweet Eats