Friday, October 21, 2016

Pork Loin Roast with Apple Gravy

Pork and apples are a perfect pair. I mean, if there's a Brady Bunch episode about something, it must be good. But there are a couple aspects of today's recipe that take "pork chops and applesauce" to the next level.

First we brown the seasoned pork loin roast to create a tasty crust. Then we nestle the pork into sauteed vegetables and apples so all the flavors meld while they cook in a hot oven. Now—here's the key to juicy, tender pork—use your instant thermometer to check the temperature and pull that roast out of the oven when it reaches 135-140 degrees. It will continue to cook while the meat rests. Finally, we create a rich-but-simple apple pan sauce. You'll be going back for seconds. Probably thirds.

Pork Loin Roast with Apple Gravy is the kind of hot dinner that would make Peter Brady proud.

Let's get cooking!

Pork Loin Roast with Apple Gravy
Adapted from The Food Network

2 pounds pork loin roast
Salt and pepper
3/4 teaspoon Fines Herbes*, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 carrots, cut into 1" chunks
3 ribs of celery, sliced 1/2" thick
1 onion, peeled and sliced 1/4" thick
2 apples, peeled, cored, and cut 1/2" thick
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 cup apple juice or cider
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard or grainy mustard
1 tablespoon butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Season pork generously on all sides with salt and pepper and half of the Fines Herbes. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add pork and cook until browned on all sides, about 4 minutes per side. Remove pork to a plate and set aside.

Add carrots, celery, and onion to now-empty skillet. Season with salt and pepper and remaining Fines Herbes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are beginning to soften, about 8 minutes. Stir in apples.

Move veggies and apples to the side and nestle pork in the center. Place skillet in the oven and cook until pork reaches an internal temperature of 135-140 degrees, about 45-50 minutes. Transfer pork, vegetables, and apples to a plate and tent with foil. Allow pork to rest until it reaches an internal temperature of 145-150 degrees.

Meanwhile, return skillet with cooking juices to high heat. (TIP: Put an oven mitt over the handle of the skillet so you don't accidentally grab the hot handle. I learned this the hard way, and it hurts.) Whisk in vinegar, scraping the bottom of the pan to incorporate any browned bits, and allow to cook until it's reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Whisk in apple juice and allow to cook until reduced by half again, another 7 minutes. Turn off the heat and whisk in mustard and butter.

Serve sliced pork with apples, vegetables, and apple gravy.

*Don't have Fines Herbes? I'm a big fan, and this might be a perfect excuse to try something new! But if you don't feel like it or if you've gotta get dinner on the table stat, just skip it or try substituting tarragon or thyme. Honestly, I often sniff around (literally) in my spice cupboard and see what smells good. Make it your own!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Edible Beard Man

A recent Facebook post from my friend Andy showed his daughter stirring scrambled eggs on the stove. It made me think I should start teaching my boys how to do more in the kitchen than use the microwave, but I'm still worried about them burning the house down — or burning themselves!

My youngest, Sam, does love to cook, though. Amy gifted my boys Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes and it's perfect for cooking with kids. Sam has bookmarked quite a few recipes inspired by the characters in Dahl's books.

We took a stab at making Mr. Twit's Beard Food and it was pretty fun — and definitely the kind of thing many boys would enjoy eating. Mr. Twit's most noticeable trait is his very messy beard, which contains leftovers from his meals. Yuck. But who doesn't like playing with their food?

You can change things up anyway you like with this general recipe. Since mashed potatoes form the base, you can let your child craft an edible version or his or her favorite character. I could see my niece Layne forming Elsa's long braid instead of a mashed potato beard, for example.

So, if you're faced with a rainy day or a long afternoon, get into the kitchen with your kiddos and see what they create.

Mangia! Mangia!

Edible Beard Man
Inspired by Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes cookbook

3 large potatoes
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup milk
(Note: Feel free to use instant mashed potatoes instead. Follow package directions.)
3-4 cocktail franks
4 mushrooms
1 hard boiled egg
1 black olive or 2 raisins
1 slice bread
Small bag potato sticks or "fries" (I mean the kind from the potato chip aisle, but you could also use cooked french fries.)
Small bag pretzel sticks
Handful of cornflakes
1/2 shredded cheese
Optional: 1/4 cup peas or carrots, 1/4 baked beans, ketchup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Peel potatoes and cut into large chunks. Place in medium pot and cover with water. Boil until potatoes are soft. Drain potatoes and return them to the pot. Add butter and milk and mash until everything is combined. Set aside and let cool for a few minutes.

Cover a baking sheet with foil.

Peel the egg and cut it in half.

Using about 1/3 of the mashed potatoes, form a base for the face on the baking sheet. It should resemble the outline of a football. Then use the rest of the mashed potatoes to form a beard that tapers at the end. You can make your beard rounded or pointy.

Position the egg halves within the opening of the face to form the eyes. You can flip the rounded yolk halves and place them upside down on the egg whites to make building eyes. Add a raisin or piece of black olive for the center of the eye.

Separate a mushroom stem from its cap and place between the egg eyes. Use two mushroom caps to make nostrils at the bottom of the mushroom stem.

Use the two remaining mushroom caps to make the ears.

Slice the crust off the bread and place it above the eggs to make eyebrows.

Slice the franks lengthwise but not all the way through. Place them on the mashed potatoes to form a mouth. Using the remaining bread, make teeth by pinching small pieces of bread together and rolling them into a pointy shape. Put the bread teeth between the sliced franks so they stick out at odd angles.

Next, make the hair. Stick the potato sticks or fries into the mashed potatoes above the eyes and ears.

Then, fill in the beard! Use potato sticks, pretzel sticks, cornflakes and whatever else your child likes to eat to make a messy-looking beard. Squirts of ketchup or dollops of baked beans look great.

Sprinkle the beard with cheese. Warm in oven for 10 to 15 minutes. Then watch as your child devours his or her creation.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Muffins

My son is four now (Four!! Insert all the crying emojis.), and he goes to preschool three mornings a week. He is a bit of a picky eater, and getting him to eat enough for breakfast that his little belly stays full until snack time is my morning mission.

We've been making his favorite No-Bake Granola Bars, but it was time to mix things up. Danny thought muffins would be tasty, but how to make a muffin that would be hearty enough to keep stick to his ribs? Enter superstar ingredient (and one of my kids' favorites): oatmeal.

These Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Muffins are healthy, delicious, and filling. They taste like a cross between Brown Sugar Oatmeal Coffee Cake and Baked Oatmeal. The sprinkling of cinnamon sugar on top might even convince your kids that they are breakfast cupcakes. Just sayin'.

Let's get cooking!

Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Muffins
Makes 10 muffins

1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 cup milk
1/2 cup no-sugar-added applesauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, divided
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

In a medium bowl, combine oats and milk. Set aside to soak for one hour.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease 10 cups of your muffin tin and set aside.

Stir applesauce, brown sugar, egg, and vanilla into the milk-soaked oats. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined.

Evenly divide batter between 10 cups of your muffin tin. Combine remaining 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 tablespoon granulated sugar. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar over batter. (I didn't use all of the cinnamon sugar. Use any leftover for cinnamon crisps! Mmmm.)

Bake for 16-20 minutes, until muffins are set and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Half-Day Chili Sauce

One of the best things about my neighborhood is that us moms stick together. And when school lets out early for the monthly "half-day" teacher inservice trainings, it's good to have a plan for how to fill those hours when the kids are usually in class.

Molly supplied the idea and the recipe for our most recent free afternoon. Luckily, Jeannie has a garden that won't stop producing tomatoes, I had a bunch of poblanos and onions and we were all ready and able to get chopping — and talking.

Our kiddos were just happy to be running around outside together all day.

Molly's recipe is from David Letterman's mom, Dorothy. (I never knew she wrote a cookbook!)

But with all the tomatoes and extra peppers we had, our version got tweaked a bit, and we nearly doubled the recipe. We divided everything among three pots for the final cooking process so that each of us had one to take home.

The instructions for this chili sauce are pretty simple and you can easily make adjustments according to what and how much you have on hand.

The best part? Getting some time with friends to chat and catch up while chopping and deseeding the peppers and tomatoes.

This sauce tastes so good on its own. You can use it to top all kinds of grilled meats or burgers. Molly uses the chili sauce as a braising liquid for a roast. I added some to a meatloaf. Let us know how you put this yummy sauce to work in your kitchen!

Mangia! Mangia!

Half-Day Chili Sauce
20 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped
6 to 8 large onions, chopped
10 medium green bell peppers, chopped
2 to 4 hot peppers (use your favorite, such as jalapeƱo or poblano)
3 tablespoons salt
2 cups granulated white sugar
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon ground pepper
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup cider vinegar

If you're not sure how to peel a tomato, follow these steps: Bring a pot of water to a boil. Score the bottom of each tomato with an X. Fill a large bowl with ice and cover with water. Once water boils, put a few tomatoes into the boiling water at a time. Let sit for just a minute, then transfer to ice water.

Remove tomatoes from ice bath after a minute or so. Starting at the X, peel skins off the tomatoes. They should slide off fairly easily.

Peel your onions and cut them in chunks. Cut up the peppers, too.

Working in batches, pulse the tomatoes in a food processor or blender until well chopped but not mushy. Transfer tomatoes to a pot. Then chop onions and peppers in the food processor and add to the pot with the tomatoes.

Add the spices, sugar and vinegar to the pot. All the laughter in the room from the fun conversations you'll have while making this chili sauce with friends is sure to add some sweetness, too.

Bring to a boil, then simmer for an hour or more until desired consistency.

Let cool completely, then transfer any sauce you won't use right away to ziplock, quart size freezer bags. You can freeze the sauce until you are ready to use it.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Quick & Easy Asian Beef

I don't know about you, but I'm in over my head this fall. I need to get dinner on the table fast. And it needs to be easy. Bonus if it tastes good and at least one kid will eat it.

So I've been searching this here ol' blog for my favorite super easy meals. We've got six years (SIX YEARS!!) worth of recipes here on Hot Dinner Happy Home, and sometimes I need to turn back to the classics.

This Quick & Easy Asian Beef is a definite family favorite. The salty goodness of soy sauce, bite of ginger, and smokey sweet flavor of dark brown sugar make this dish kid- and grown-up-approved. Steam some edamame in the microwave and open a package of frozen, pre-cooked rice, and you can have dinner on the table in 15 minutes.

With Quick & Easy Asian Beef, hot dinner is within reach!

Let's get cooking!

Quick & Easy Asian Beef
This recipe was originally posted in December 2013.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 teaspoons chopped fresh ginger
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Pinch crushed red pepper
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Hot cooked rice for serving

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add ground beef and cook, breaking up the beef into bite-sized pieces with a spatula, until beef is browned and cooked through, about 7 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. Stir in dark brown sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and crushed red pepper. Allow to simmer for 2-3 minutes until the sauce is thickened and all the beef is evenly coated. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve over rice.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Pumpkin Brownies

It might still be 90 degrees in Charlotte, but it's Fall, that time of year when everything comes up pumpkin. For example, while reading my People magazine (guilty pleasure) the other day, I found a recipe for The Cake Boss Buddy Valastro's "Pumpkin Chocolate Brownies."

I decided to try them out — minus the chocolate sauce, because my kids don't like frosting or icing. Plus, nine eggs, one and a half cups of butter and four cups of sugar make these brownies plenty sweet. In fact, the recipe called for four and a third cups of sugar and two and two thirds cups of butter, so I trimmed a bit. I also added a generous pinch of cloves, because you can't have pumpkin spices without the cloves.

The verdict: Pumpkin brownies deserve their place next to pumpkin lattes, pumpkin bread and pumpkin beer. Yum!

Happy Fall, y'all!


Pumpkin Brownies
Adapted from The Cake Boss Buddy Valastro's recipe in the Sept. 26 issue of People magazine

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon table salt
Generous pinch of ground cloves
9 large eggs
2 (15 ounce) cans plain pumpkin puree
4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, melted
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Equipment note: This recipe makes two 9X12 pans of brownies! The batter barely fit in the bowl of my KitchenAid blender and some of it was sloshing out. Next time I will use a hand mixer and my largest bowl.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour and next five ingredients. Set flour mixture aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat eggs and pumpkin on medium speed until combined. Beat in sugar.

With mixer running, add in the melted butter in a steady stream. Next, gradually add in the flour mixture, stopping now and then to scrape the sides of the bowl. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Lightly grease two 9X12 baking pans and divide the batter between the two. Bake for 45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the middle of the brownies comes out clean.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Cranberry Pot Roast

Happy autumn, guys! It's always a bummer when summer comes to a close, but the cozy days of fall are some of my favorites. Sweater weather, apple picking, and comfort food? Yes, please!

Growing up, one of my favorite fall meals was Cranberry Pot Roast. My mom used cranberry juice in place of chicken broth. (Knowing my mom, she was out of broth one day and made an on-the-fly substitution. Way to get dinner on the table, Mom!) It's been years since I've had Cranberry Pot Roast, and when the crisp weather rolled in, I decided it was time to give it a whirl. Instead of cranberry juice, I used cranberry sauce. Just the canned stuff, people. But if you have leftover homemade cranberry sauce, by all means, use that.

In addition to being delicious and make-ahead friendly, I love Cranberry Pot Roast because it's forgiving. After adding the veggies and popping the roast back in the oven for the final 45 minutes of cooking time, I decided to take the kids to the park. "Oh, we'll be back in time to turn off the oven. No prob!" So an hour later when we were flying down the slide, and I finally looked at my watch...whoops! We hustled back to rescue the roast, and this baby was no worse for wear. It was perfectly tender. Now this is the kind of meal that fits with my lifestyle.

Let's get cooking!

Cranberry Pot Roast
Adapted from Pot Roast with Bacon and inspired by my mom

2 tablespoons olive oil
3-4 pound beef bottom round roast
Salt and pepper
1 rib of celery, diced
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 1/2 pounds carrots, divided - dice 2 carrots, and cut the rest into 1" chunks
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 (14 ounce) can whole cranberry sauce (or use homemade)
1-2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 bay leaf
3 parsnips, peeled and cut into 1" chunks
8 ounces whole cremini mushrooms
Cooked egg noodles or mashed potatoes for serving
Chopped fresh parsley for garnish, optional

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

In a large Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high. Season beef generously with salt and pepper. Add beef to pan and cook, turning as needed, until all sides are browned, about 8-10 minutes total. (You'll know it's time to turn the beef when it's easy to flip. If it's sticking to the pot, it's not ready. Give it another minute to cook then try again.) If the browned bits on the bottom of the pan start to burn, turn the heat down to medium. When the roast is browned, remove to a plate and set aside.

Add diced carrot (set aside the carrots cut into 1" chunks until later), celery, and onion to the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft, about 8 minutes. Stir in garlic, sugar, and thyme until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Stir in cranberry sauce, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Return meat to pan. Pour in enough chicken broth so the liquid reaches about halfway up the side of the roast. (For me, this was about 1.5 cups of broth.) Add bay leaf to the pan. Bring liquid to a boil. Cover, turn off the stove, and put the covered pot in the oven.

Allow the beef to cook for 3 hours, turning the meat over a few times while it cooks. Add the remaining carrots and parsnips to the pot, making sure they're submerged in liquid. Re-cover the pot, and cook for an additional 45 minutes to 1.25 hours (if you're at the park), until meat and vegetables are tender.

Remove meat and vegetables to the serving dish and cover with foil to keep warm. Skim any fat from the liquid remaining in the pot. (If you have one, you can use a fat separator to remove the fat and then return the liquid to the pot.) Bring the cooking liquid to a boil over medium-high heat and allow to simmer for 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour cooking liquid over meat and veggies and serve over buttered egg noodles. Garnish with parsley if you're feeling fancy.