I recently moved to a new apartment, and part of moving is getting used to new roommates and exploring a new kitchen. I have spent a lot of time with my new kitchen, particularly baking things like bread and cookies. My roommates are both fantastic. I’ve known Nick since we were 5 years old, so we are pretty used to each other. Becca is a relatively new friend, but she fits in perfectly. The three of us have many things in common, but one of my favorite commonalities is our love of food and cooking. In light of this shared passion, we’ve started Sunday Family Dinners. Each week one of us takes over the kitchen and prepares a meal for everyone. Becca started with fish tacos, Nick made meatballs two ways, and last weekend was finally my turn. Fall always makes me crave butternut squash in any form, so when I saw a recipe for roasted butternut squash in the Times I knew I had to make it. From there I thought backwards to figure out what protein I wanted to serve with my seasonal side dish. Ultimately I decided on a pork roast stuffed with a fruit stuffing.

I had never made a pork roast before, but after I saw my friends’ success with a gigantic turkey, I felt emboldened. That being said, my experience was not without obstacles. My first challenge was frenching the pork loin. I realize that I could have (and probably should have) asked the butcher at the store to do this for me, but I remembered seeing Alton Brown perform this procedure on TV once and he made it look easy. Never mind that he is a celebrity chef, I thought I could do it. What I forgot about is that we currently only have one (not particularly sharp) paring knife and that I actually know nothing about cutting meat. Fortunately in the end, my poor piece of meat looked decent. The cuts weren’t clean, but it looked fairly close to the pictures online.

The second challenge was stuffing my piece of pig. The recipe says to use a long-handled wooden spoon to stuff the meat, as if the loin is a giant mouth, impatient to consume the stuffing. This is not the case. Even though I made the appropriate cuts in both ends and shoved my hands inside to make sure the hole went all the way through, it was a big, gory mess trying to get the stuffing inside the pork. I tried the wooden spoon, a tablespoon, my fingers, a chopstick, etc., but I still had limited success. Ultimately, only the middle two pieces of the finished roast were stuffing-poor, but I’m still curious as to how to stuff it properly.

The last challenge was by far the most irritating. I finally had my meat prepared. I happily popped it in the oven and plopped myself on the couch for a short break. Not five minutes later, our smoke alarm starts going off. Anticipating the disgruntled attitude of this smoke alarm, I hopped on a stool and searched for the battery. After all, it is often better to be proactive. However, I ripped out the battery and the thing continued to wail in my ear. Nick was running around opening windows, Becca was fanning the alarm from below, I was getting more and more cranky. For about twenty minutes we took turns holding a plastic bag around the offending appliance until Nick finally got it to shut up. Eventually a maintenance man came to solve our problem: rip the smoke alarm out of the ceiling and sign a waiver stating that we agreed to this solution. Perhaps not the safest option, but definitely the most quiet.

Finally, we were able to sit down in silence and eat the meal. I was nervous that the meat would be underdone or overdone or otherwise inedible, but I must have had beginners’ luck because it came out PERFECTLY. This leads me to believe that the recipe is idiot-proof and I encourage everyone to try it, because it was delicious. The squash was a great side dish for the pork, and the vinegar in the squash dressing was a perfect compliment to the meal. I love my new apartment and I love my new roommates. Sunday Family Dinners couldn’t make me happier.

Sadly I don’t have pictures because I don’t have a fancy camera that takes pretty pictures (actually I do, it’s just not digital), but check out the recipes after the jump.
Pork with Winter Fruits and Port Sauce (from Gourmet, Dec. 2008)

yield: Makes 8 servings

active time: 1/2 hr

total time: 3 1/2 hr

Ingredients:
For stuffing:

  • 1/4 pound California dried apricots, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/4 pound pitted prunes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2/3 cup ruby Port
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 small shallot, finely chopped
  • 3/4 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 tart apple such as Granny Smith, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

For roast:

  • 1 (6-pound) bone-in pork loin roast (10 ribs), frenched, at room temperature 1 hour
  • 9 or 10 bacon slices

For port sauce:

  • 1/2 cup ruby Port
  • 1 small shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups water, divided
  • 2 teaspoons arrowroot

Preparation:

Make stuffing:
Simmer apricots, prunes, and Port in a small heavy saucepan, covered, 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 10 minutes.

Cook onion and shallot in butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add apple and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until apple is just tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in apricot mixture and cool.

Stuff and roast pork:
Preheat oven to 500°F with rack in middle.

Make a pocket in center of roast by making a horizontal 1 1/2-inch-wide cut into 1 end of roast with a long thin knife, repeating from opposite end so pocket runs all the way through. Then make a vertical cut through center (forming a cross) to widen pocket. Push about 1 cup stuffing into pocket using a long-handled wooden spoon (you may need to stuff from both sides if roast is long). Reserve remaining stuffing for sauce.

Season roast with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and put in a large flameproof roasting pan. Wrap with bacon, between rib bones, tucking ends under roast. Roast pork 20 minutes, then reduce oven to 325°F and roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted 2 inches into center of roast (do not touch bone or stuffing) registers 155°F, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours total.

Transfer roast to a cutting board, reserving pan, and let stand, loosely covered with foil, 15 to 20 minutes. (Temperature of meat will rise to about 160°F; meat will be slightly pink.)

Make sauce:
Skim fat from pan drippings and reserve 1 1/2 tablespoons fat. Straddle pan across 2 burners and add Port to drippings, then deglaze pan by boiling over high heat, stirring and scraping up brown bits, 1 minute. Strain pan juices through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, discarding solids.

Cook shallot in reserved fat in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in pan juices, 1 1/4 cups water, and reserved fruit stuffing and bring to a simmer. Whisk together arrowroot and remaining 1/4 cup water until smooth, then whisk into sauce with any juices from cutting board.

Simmer sauce, whisking occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Carve roast into chops by cutting between ribs, then serve with sauce.

Cooks’ notes:

•Stuffing can be made 2 days ahead and chilled.
•Uncooked roast improves in flavor if stuffed, seasoned, and wrapped with bacon 1 day ahead and chilled. Bring to room temperature before roasting.

Butternut Squash, Pecans, and Currants (from the New York Times)

Adapted from Balaboosta, Manhattan

Time: 30 minutes

2 small butternut squash (about 2 pounds each)

7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

5 thyme sprigs

Salt and pepper

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans

1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 cup Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar

1/4 cup currants

1/2 teaspoon chili flakes.

1. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Cut the squash in two at the base of the neck, discarding the hollow bulb end or reserving for another use. Peel the rest and slice into 1/2-inch disks. Toss the squash in a large roasting pan with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, thyme and salt and pepper to taste, and arrange in a single layer. Roast the squash, turning once halfway through, until tender and beginning to brown, about 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, combine garlic and one tablespoon of the remaining olive oil. Sauté until fragrant and tender, about one minute. Add pecans and sugar, and toss until the sugar has melted and the pecans are lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Whisk the vinegar into the remaining olive oil. Add the pecan mixture, currants and chili flakes. Mix well, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Arrange the squash on a warm platter and top with some or all of the dressing.

Yield: 6 servings.

 

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