Slapdash Souvlaki

May was an INTENSE month here at the Ali Does It household. LongJohn went to daycare a month earlier than scheduled and I had a whole four weeks to get all the stuff done on the house I hadn’t had an opportunity to do when we moved in … because of the whole having-a-baby thing. Some of those projects are still in progress but I have SO MUCH to show you when they’re ready to be shown. If May was intense, then June is even more so. I went back to work full time AT A NEW JOB. And on my first day, I had HAND surgery. Today I’m having hand surgery on the OTHER hand. So things are a little nuts, to say the least. Luckily I have a bit of a backlog of posts for you guys. Let’s start with this one for the barbecue, now that we’re officially into grilling season.

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The Pie is a huge fan of souvlaki. We’re fortunate that some of the best souvlaki in town is only a short drive away. But it’s actually pretty easy to make your own souvlaki at home, provided you have some time to prep. Here’s how you can do it.

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First, let’s start with that most essential of condiments: tzatziki. You can always buy this but it’s easy to make as well. I rarely measure my amounts because I find they vary depending on my mood but here’s an approximation for you. Start off by grabbing about 1/2 cup plain yogurt and plopping it in a few layers of cheesecloth in a colander. Wrap it well and put something with a bit of weight on top. Place the colander over a bowl and shove it in the fridge for a few hours. I use Balkan style yogurt for this, but if you have Greek yogurt you can skip this step.

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After your yogurt has been pressed and some of the water has drained out, you can unwrap it and give the cheesecloth a bit of a rinse. You’re going to need it in a second.

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Grate up about half a cucumber. Plop the cucumber bits onto the cheesecloth, wrap it up, and give it a good squeeze over the sink and get rid of excess water.

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Now, tip that into a bowl together with the yogurt, some minced garlic, chopped fresh dill, salt, pepper, a few drops of lemon juice, and a drizzle of olive oil.

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Stir, stir, stir! Shove that back in the fridge for a few hours (preferably overnight) to let the flavours mingle.

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For the souvlaki we’re going to create a marinade. Start by finely chopping up a small red onion. I’m being smart here and using a large red onion because I’m making the recipe twice and chucking half of it in the freezer.

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Throw the onion bits in a large Ziploc freezer bag and tip in about 1/2 cup olive oil,

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2 tablespoons red wine vinegar,

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and 4 tablespoons lemon juice.

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Next plop in about 2 cloves minced garlic, 2 teaspoons dried (or fresh) oregano, and of course salt and pepper to taste.

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Wrangle yourself a decent-sized pork tenderloin (you can do this with chicken breast too). Don’t be tempted to use a pork shoulder or any other cut for this, as they’ll be too gristly when cubed. Trust me. I did it once when they were on sale and I regretted it. Pull the tough membrane off the tenderloin and trim any excess fat.

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Cut it into cubes.

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Chuck those cubes into your freezer bag.

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Seal the bag carefully, give it a good smushing together, and bung it in the fridge for several hours. While you’re waiting, grab some wooden skewers and plop them in a tray of water to soak for at least thirty minutes before you grill.

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When you’re set to start, shove the cubes of marinated meat onto your skewers (I like to use two skewers per so that they’re easier to flip) and grill until cooked through and at an internal temperature of about 145°F.

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Serve over rice with a hefty side of your fresh tzatziki and enjoy the summer!

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Sizzling Summer Skewers

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Skewers are fun to eat and simple to construct; however, if you make a large number of them, then you will probably get annoyed with both the assembly and cooking, because it will take forever.  If you’re making skewers in large numbers I suggest making it a team activity.

Start with a marinade.  I had chicken and pork, so I decided on two different marinades.

For the pork: I peeled the membrane off this pork tenderloin and cut it into bite-sized cubes.

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Then I assembled the marinade: buttermilk as a base (and tenderizer), sriracha, teriyaki, pineapple juice, fish sauce, and garlic.

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Mix that sucker up and shove it in the fridge overnight.

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For the chicken: I trimmed the fat off several boneless, skinless chicken thighs (cheaper than breasts) and cut them into chunks.

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This one I cheated and used a store-bought teriyaki marinade that I got from Farm Boy.  It was worth it.

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Pour that over the chicken, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

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I also set a package of bamboo skewers in water and left those to soak overnight as well. This is so they don’t catch fire on the grill.

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Assembly time!  For the pork I used onion chunks, fresh pineapple and some red pepper.

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I always use two skewers to prevent the food from rolling around when I’m trying to rotate the suckers. It’s a bit trickier to put together (I did stab myself with one of the skewers) but worth it in the long run.

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For the chicken I had onion chunks, button mushrooms, and cocktail tomatoes.

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The button mushrooms turned out to be too small and kept breaking off, so I would use a bigger mushroom next time.

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Grill!  I made so many skewers I had to do about four batches.  It took FOREVER.  Make sure to check that the meat is fully cooked before serving.

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Tada!  All lovely and crispy!

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Pulled Pork Mac and Cheese

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Ando made this for Thidz’ birthday last week and it went down so well that he suggested I put it on the blog.  So here it is, adapted to his standards.  While the whole thing takes a little while to prepare, it’s all easy stuff that you can do in stages.  I ended up having most of it ready in the morning and then just chucked it together at the end and baked it.  But we’ll work from the bottom up on this layered casserole.  Also, the recipe says it serves 8, but really it serves 4 because you are going to want seconds.

BOTTOM:

Preheat your oven to 425°F and spray a 9″ springform pan with cooking spray.  My pan was a little wider, but that’s fine.

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In a teeny bowl, mix together 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, and some salt and ground black pepper to taste.

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Peel 2 medium sweet potatoes.  I only had large ones, so I opted to just do one, but I could have used both and it would have been fine.

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Use a mandoline to shave off super thin slices.

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Chuck those pieces in a bowl, drizzle with a few tablespoons vegetable oil, and add in your spice mix.  Toss with your hands until the oil and spices evenly coat all the potato pieces.

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Layer the sweet potato slices evenly in the bottom of the pan.

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Bake for 15-20 minutes until they are softened and starting to brown.  Ando wanted to bake them longer to make them more crisp, so I tried that, but I found that once you piled the rest of the ingredients on top they went soft again anyway, so don’t worry too much about that.  The Pie hoped for a thicker layer of sweet potatoes (because I only used the one potato and my pan was wider), so next time I would go for two.

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MIDDLE:

Grab yourself some pork tenderloin.  I had a boneless pork loin rib here that was on stupid sale so I used that.

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You’ll need 2lbs pork, cut into 2″ chunks.  If I did this again, I would cut the chunks larger, just so your pulled pork strings end up being decently long.

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Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil and add in the meat.  It goes gray almost immediately, which is kind of gross.  Reduce to a simmer and leave that on the go for about an hour.

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Drain the pork and use 2 forks to shred it into little pieces.

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Then you’re going to need some barbecue sauce.  Ando expressed concern that the sauce tended to overpower the more delicate flavours of the macaroni and cheese on top, so we picked out a milder apple butter sauce and it worked out fantastically.  The sweetness of the apple really worked well with the pork.

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So you pour 14oz barbecue sauce all over your pork and mix it in.

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Then you add in 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar and stir that in as well, then set the whole thing aside.

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TOP:

Bring another saucepan of water to a boil and add a pinch or two of salt.  When it’s boiling, add in 8oz elbow pasta (MACARONI) and cook according to your package instructions.  When it’s ready, drain the water, saving about 1/4 cup of it.  Add the water back to the pasta in the pot.

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Add to the pasta 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese (I think the sharper the better), 1/2 cup grated Gruyere (we used Jarlsberg), and 1/4 cup creme fraiche (which is next to impossible to find in Newfoundland, so we used sour cream instead).  Because Ando suggested boosting the flavour of the mac, I added a few crumbles of blue cheese (Rochefort) as well.

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Stir that up until it’s all melted, then add a few drops of hot sauce (we used Tabasco) to taste.

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Season it with salt and pepper and set it aside.

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CRUST:

Melt 1/4 cup butter and stir it up with 1/2 cup parmesan cheese and 1 cup panko breadcrumbs.

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ASSEMBLY:

Smooth the pulled pork over the sweet potatoes.

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Dollop the macaroni on top of that and flatten it down a bit.

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Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture on top of that to completely cover the macaroni.

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Bake for 15 minutes, until the casserole is hot through and the bread crumbs are browned.

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DISASSEMBLY:

Ideally you should be able to pop open the springform pan and cut this puppy like a cake.  My pork ended up being supremely saucy and thus too slithery to be architecturally sound in terms of casserole structure.  Meaning I tried to pop off the frame and then the whole thing went sideways — literally and figuratively.  So we just scooped it out with spoons, hence the lack of presentation.  Didn’t matter.  Ate it anyway.  And it was awesome.  Thanks Ando!

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Pork Medallions in Tomatoes

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This recipe mostly started because I received this can opener from Ando and Teedz for Christmas.

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They told me that they wanted photographic proof when I figured out how to use it.

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So here you go. The instructions are a little vague, saying simply that you put it on a can and rotate it slowly.

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And if you think that there was something lost in translation, the French version says pretty much the same thing, but with more poetry. Literally, it tells you to sprinkle some poetry on it.  The accompanying diagram implies that you do something like this:

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Which of course doesn’t work. There’s just not enough leverage.

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However, if you use it like an old army (or camping) can opener, it works quite well.

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And now that I’ve gotten that 14oz can of tomatoes open, I should figure out what to do with it, eh?

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I’m so excited with the possibilities that my hands are shaking.

I also have a lovely pork tenderloin here, from which I have removed the silvery skin and excess fat.

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So I sliced it into medallions, which I seasoned with salt and pepper.

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And chopped up an onion and some (rather overgrown) garlic.

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Then I heated a bit of olive oil in a cast iron skillet and browned the medallions, setting them aside when they were fully cooked.

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Then I chucked in the onion and garlic and gave that a stir.

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Lovely and soft now. I also squeezed in some lemongrass, oregano, and basil. Sounds like an odd combination but I like the lemongrass with the tomatoes.

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Then I added the tomatoes and brought it to a simmer. Smells so good!

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For a bit of starch, I added a generous sprinkle or two of this teeny star pasta, stellette. It takes pretty much no time to cook, about 7 minutes. If you want to skip this part, you can serve the dish on a bed of rice instead.

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When the pasta was ready I chucked in the medallions to reheat.

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And that is that. A hearty, hot, and quick meal for a cold, dark, winter’s night!  How’s that for poetry?

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Pork Tenderloin with Pomegranate Braised Cabbage

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I actually cooked this recipe up on Hallowe’en, but with my garnish it looked so darned festive I had to push back the publishing date to sometime when people start thinking of roasting chestnuts and Frosty the Snowman.  But for authenticity I am listening to Toccata and Fugue in D Minor while I type this up.  Spooky.  Yet festive.

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Anyway, there are lots of things you can do with pork tenderloin, and they’re extra handy when you’re in a rush because they cook so quickly. In addition to roasting up nice and tender in the oven, you can also slice up raw tenderloin into medallions for a fast fry, which is what we do here.  This recipe, modified a bit, comes from a recent Every Day Food.

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First you want to peel off all the silvery skin on your pork tenderloin, to make it extra tender.

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Then you can slice it up into relatively thin medallions.  Mine are about 3/4″-1″ thick.

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Then you will take a small cabbage (red one will be prettier, but I prefer the taste of green) like this one.

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And chop it all up into shreds.

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Now, heat some oil in your beautifully seasoned cast iron skillet and cook your pork medallions on medium-high until they are done all the way through and slightly brown on the outside.  Put them on a plate somewhere and cover them to keep them warm.

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Then take your cabbage and plop it in your still hot skillet.  Cook that, tossing occasionally, until it’s all wilted.

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Then pour in about 1 1/2 cups pomegranate juice.

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Raise the heat a little bit and let that simmer down until it’s reduced to about half and starts to thicken.  I used unsweetened juice, so I suspect if mine had had more sugar in it it might have thickened a bit more (notice how there are two incidences of duplicated words in that sentence?).  At this point, add in about 3 tablespoons butter and a dash of red wine vinegar and you’re ready to serve.

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I garnished my rather sadly coloured green cabbage with some steamed frozen peas and some fresh pomegranate seeds for festivity’s sake, and we had roasted potatoes on the side.  It was highly tasty.

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Pork-Stuffed Belgian Sandwiches

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I originally had the title written as “pork-stuffed Belgians” but that didn’t seem right somehow.  I had a vision of a bunch of people walking around in Bruges with sausages coming out of all their pockets.

For the record, the Belgian is the name of the loaf I picked up from the Georgestown Bakery the other day.  Not to be confused with the sweetened tea bread served in Belgium, this is more of a sourdough French bread baked in a shape not unlike a gridiron football.  The thing is, I picked up two, because they were hot from the oven and the guy at the counter was very persuasive.  The other thing is, they’re not so good the next day — a little stale.  We consumed one for lunch that day, and then I had to think up what to do with the second one for dinner.  That’s a lotta bread.  So I kind of made this up on the fly.  I’m sure there are other variations out there, and if there’s one with a nifty name, please let me know.  Also it could use some tweaking so I welcome suggestions.

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Preheat your oven to 450°F and spray a baking dish.  Peel the membrane off one small tenderloin (enough meat for three people), just like we learned.

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I lightly basted the tenderloin with a few drops of Lee & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce, malt vinegar, and hoisin sauce.  Pop that sucker in the oven for about 25 minutes, or until the meat reaches an internal temperature of at least 135°F (for rare).

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Meanwhile, use a mandolin to thinly slice about four small new potatoes.  I sliced them into a bowl of water, to rinse the starch off.

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Drain the water and pat the potatoes dry.

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Thinly slice as well three small carrots.  We’re working with small today.

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Chop a few broccoli florets up and steam them.

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Toss the potatoes and carrots into a large frying pan with a bit of olive oil and sauté on medium-high heat for a few minutes.  Add in some sea salt to taste.

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Add in about three tablespoons malt vinegar and three tablespoons water and reduce the heat to medium-low until the vegetables are tender.

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Plop in your steamed broccoli bits.

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Plop in a few spoonfuls of plum sauce and teriyaki sauce.  Don’t forget another splash of the wooster sauce as well.

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Now cut your loaf (I used a Belgian, but you might want to try something with a little less bread in it) in half vertically. Slice a hole in each half, being careful not to puncture the sides of the loaf.  We want a little pocket.

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Butter that pocket.

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I thought we needed a bit more sweet in this salty meal so I spread the inside of the pocket with some lovely mango chutney as well.

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At this point your tenderloin should be cooked.  Plop it on a board and cut it up without allowing the meat to rest.  We want the juices to run so they run straight into the bread.

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Stuff pieces of the tenderloin into the pocket.

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Stuff your warm vegetables in as well.

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I had plenty of vegetables left over, and some meat, and that made a good lunch the next day.  I never want to see bread again.

Tips to a Tender Tenderloin

Pork tenderloin can be one of the best things to eat.  Ever.  If you eat pork, that is.

But it’s all in the preparation in order to make that tenderloin worth eating.

And the trick to good tenderloin is to remove the membrane before cooking.

Yes, you heard me right.

First you take off all the excess fat, of course.

Then you get hold of that ooey gooey membrane.

It’s slippery, so another handy trick is to pull it off with the aid of a paper towel.  It makes things grippier.

You may need a knife to get under the more stubborn bits of membrane still clinging tenaciously to the tenderloin.  Not to fear: you will prevail.  In this case, might makes right.Get as much of it as you can, then season or marinade your tenderloin and cook it at a high temperature, around 450°F or so, until the internal temperature is about 135°F, about 25 minutes.  Mmm!