Bright Spots

Posted on March 2, 2011

After months of eating darkly bitter greens and earthy, cellared root vegetables, lately I’m drawn to cooking with a lot of fruit: adding fruits to main course meats, tossing them together with vegetables and grains to make side dishes, starring them in a few  Sunday dinner desserts.  The sweet and acidic profiles of fruit make for a transition of sorts, a palate adjuster from the heavy, hearty, sustaining style of cooking to something lighter and infused with sparkling brightness.  I’m preparing myself for summer.

It might seem a bit of a challenge find a variety of good fruit to cook and bake with in February and March, but trust me, gems are out there.  You only have to know where to look.

HOTHOUSE RHUBARB

Grown indoors in the northeast, these neon bright stalks turned up at Whole Foods last week.  Hothouse rhubarb is more uniformly pink than its ground grown, in-season, celery-shaded counterpart, but it is just as good.  Sometimes it even tastes sweeter.  Pick it up if you find it.

Rhubarb can be chopped and stewed with brown sugar, mustard seed, and vinegar until soft, and served as an accompaniment to pork.  Or use it in my favorite way, in a dessert crumble that oozes with ruby colored syrup.

PRESERVED FRUITS

Maybe you spent the last gasp of summer and fall feverishly canning or preserving your farm stand bounties of berries or peaches or apples.  Or maybe, like me, you did not.  Do not rake yourself over the coals.  Instead, check out American Spoon Foods.

In 1979, Justin Rashid provided fruit from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to New York chef Larry Forgione, one of the pioneers of  American seasonal cooking, for use in his restaurants.  Two years later the two would collaborate on making these same Michigan fruits into jams, preserves, and even more simple spoon fruits.  Their dedication to fresh fruit brings to us the next best thing to fresh: that perfect moment in a fruit’s ripening time caught in a jar for posterity.

Today, the operation in Petoskey, Michigan, is still small scale – small batch production and small yield – and completely dictated by what is freshest and in-season at the time of canning.

This is not a big, impersonal operation trying to look boutique by using cleverly deceptive down home packaging; American Spoon Foods is the real deal.  Because of this kind of control, quality is excellent.  These are the preserves that you would make and put up at home if you had time to do so with your fresh, ripe, local, and without unnecessary additives or jelling agents.

Anything of theirs – jam, preserve, marmalade, spoon fruit – incorporating Michigan’s rightfully famous sour cherries is my favorite.  If there was one jar of anything with cherries left when you and I reached the shelves, I would fight you for it.  To the death.  You have been warned.

The cherries are delicious cooked down with a sauteed shallot, a little thyme, and some balsamic vinegar, then poured over sliced medium rare duck breast.  The peaches and the blueberries, either served singly or together, should be spooned over warm shortcake biscuits for a summer harkening dessert.

CITRUS

I wrote about blood oranges and making marmalade the other day.  The height of citrus season is just now wrapping up, but you’ll still find some good options at the market.  Meyer lemons, Ruby grapefruits, Cara Cara oranges or the Moros I used for my blood orange preserves – use any of these with a seafood dish and you’ll feel transported to a tropical island, or at least to a memory of a much warmer day.  As I wrote in a recent article for Local In Season, the bright zing of citrus holds the promise of better, warmer days.

Check out that article for tips on how to supreme (or cleanly segment) a grapefruit or any citrus fruits,

and then try marrying the supremed segments with the lemon butter sauce (recipe follows technique on Local In Season) and adding to seared salmon, scallops, or broiled swordfish.

Tonight, I’m glazing dinner’s salmon with a brushing of my homemade marmalade thinned a bit with orange and Champagne vinegar before baking.  I’ll report back.  I predict a winner.

BOILED CIDER


Abbie Batchelder of Joppa Fine Foods pressed this ingredient on me, assuring me it was a must try.  Made by Woods Cider Mill in Vermont, boiled cider is essentially freshly pressed cider reduced down to a concentrated syrup, one gallon becoming one pint.  Abbie listed many of her favorite ways to use the syrup – over pancakes, over ice cream – and Woods Cider Mill website lists several more.  Their suggestion of using it as an enhancement for apples in a pie caught my attention.  I had a few wintered over apples that certainly could use a flavor punch, and these that gave me the excuse to crack the bottle.

But I didn’t make pie.  I made dinner.

Pork and apples make a classic combination; we often roast a pork loin with quartered apples and onions with a splash of cider and honey.  Refining this homey roast with a cream and Calvados pan sauce creates a meal that feels special but is fairly easy to pull together for family or dinner guests.The concentrated fresh apple flavors of the boiled cider gave the last of my late apples some much needed zip.

If you don’t have the specialty apple brandy, substitute regular brandy in this recipe.  Or dry Marsala to add some caramel notes to the apple flavor.  I use an organic pork loin that has some fat on the surface and a vein of the dark meat on the roast.

You may also use a pork tenderloin in its place.  Chicken breasts will work well in place of  the pork.

Pork with Calvados and Cream

  • 4 Tbsp. butter, divided
  • (1) 2 1/2 pound pork loin, cut into 1/2 inch thick slices
  • 4 sweet firm apples, quartered, peeled and cored, each quarter cut into 3 or 4 slices
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup Calvados, brandy or dry Marsala
  • 1/4 cup Woods Mill boiled cider
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 200 degrees.  With meat pounder or rolling pin, lightly flatten each slice of pork to 1/4-inch thickness.  Place on a plate and set aside.

Melt 2 Tbsp. of the butter in a large saute pan set over medium high heat until the butter begins to foam.  Add the apple slices to the butter and sprinkle these with the sugar.  Stirring occasionally, allow the apples to caramelize to a golden brown.  When browned, remove the apples to a platter and set them aside in the warming oven.

Wipe out the skillet and add the remaining 2 Tbsp. butter to the pan set at medium high heat.  Season the pork slices with salt and pepper and cook these in batches in the butter until cooked through, about 2 minutes per side.  As each batch cooks, transfer the cutlets to a platter and keep these warm in the oven.

Without wiping out the pan this time, saute the shallot and thyme until the shallot begins to soften, adding more butter to the pan only if seems very dry.  When shallots are soft, add the Calvados to the pan and cook until it reduces down to a very thick syrupy glaze in the pan.  Add the boiled cider and the cream and stir, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  Bring the cream sauce to a boil, stirring.  Reduce slightly to a nice sauce consistency.  Season with salt and pepper.

Arrange a slice or two of pork on each plate and generously spoon sauce over these.  Top with warmed apples and serve.

©2011  Jane A. Ward