January 28, 2014

Porchetta Style Pork Loin with Polenta and Wild Arugula Salad with Clementine Dressing (Weeknight Dinner Success!)

Porchetta, polenta and wild arugula salad
This is an incredibly delicious (and achievable!) weeknight dinner.  It is also SO delicious, you won't want it just on weeknights- it is also something I'd feel completely comfortable serving company- the flavoring of the pork is wonderful, balanced nicely by the creamy polenta (made the same way you make grits) and the bitter spiciness of the wild arugula is well matched with the clementine vinaigrette.

This recipe uses a center cut pork loin, which is larger and has a little bit more fat than the pork tenderloin cut.  Pork tenderloins are about 3 inches in diameter and weigh probably up to 1 lb., but a center cut pork loin is about 6 inches in diameter and their weight can start in the 2+ lb. category, this particular center cut pork loin that I used was 2.4 lbs.

As a disclaimer, this is not 100% authentic porchetta.  Porchetta usually uses a very fatty outer layer, that becomes crispy (and delicious, ps).  While I am 100% in favor of authentic porchetta, I have come up with this alternative because a) not everyone has access to pork belly and b) while I am 100% in favor of authentic porchetta, I want to suggest a somewhat healthier alternative!

Porchetta Style Pork Loin
Serves 4-6 people
2 Tbsp fennel seeds
1 Tbsp red pepper flakes (this is spicy, adjust down for your taste)
1 tsp dried 'rubbed sage'
2 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp garlic salt
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

2.4 lb. center cut pork loin
Pam grilling spray

You'll want to make your rub and apply it to the pork a few hours before you will roast it- 2-3 hours is sufficient- this is also what makes this nice and easy and do-ahead.  Let's make our rub!  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit.  On a small baking sheet, place the fennel seeds and red pepper flakes.  Place in the oven for 4-5 minutes, careful not to burn.  They should start to give off a lovely roasted scent.  Combine with the remainder of the rub ingredients, and, using a mortar and pestle, or some approximation of that system, crush the rub.  This doesn't have to be exact, or completely thorough, just some crushing.  I used the pestle portion of a mortar and pestle but in a larger bowl to accommodate the amount of rub.

Porchetta before roasting
Apply the rub to the pork loin, on all exposed areas.  This is more of a sticking to it process than actual rubbing.  You just want as much of the rub to adhere to the outside as possible.  Now I spray a jelly roll style baking sheet (that just means a very shallow pan with 1/2 inch sides) with Pam grilling spray.  The Pam grilling spray is just high temperature cooking oil.  Canola would also be fine, but olive oil has too low a smoke point.  Just use some type of cooking oil that can withstand high heat.  I place the pork on the baking sheet and cover with foil and refrigerate until I am ready to roast it.  Easy, right?

Now it's getting close to dinner time, and I'm going to take the pork out of the refrigerator and allow it to come closer to room temperature before I roast it in the oven.  This is a good idea for most meat that you cook, it helps it cook more evenly.  While you're allowing the pork's temperature to rise, preheat your oven to 300 degrees fahrenheit.  The pork will take a total of 40-45 minutes in total to cook, so you can plan backwards from when you want to eat using that amount of time.  Allow an extra 5 minutes for the meat to rest before you cut it and serve it.  This is how to roast the meat:  first, roast it for 20 minutes at 300 degrees fahrenheit.  Then, increase the heat to 425 degrees fahrenheit and roast it for another 20-25 minutes- the internal temperature you want to achieve is 145 degrees fahrenheit.  Remove the pork from the baking sheet and place it on a cutting board or plate to rest for five minutes before you slice it into 1/2 inch slices.

Porchetta resting after roasting

While the pork is roasting, make your polenta and your salad.

Creamy Polenta
Serves 4-6 people
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup polenta (double check amount with your brand of polenta)
1/2 stick unsalted butter
2 pinches sea salt (I like red Hawaiian sea salt)

In a heavy saucepan, heat the milk and cream and medium high heat, stirring occasionally.  You want it to just start boiling.  Once it is hot enough, add the polenta, turn the heat down to medium low and stir with a whisk.  The polenta I use cooks very quickly, so yours will depend on your polenta.  Keep stirring while it cooks.  Once the liquid has been absorbed and it has a nice porridge consistency, add the unsalted butter and salt, stir until incorporated.  Turn off heat and cover until ready to serve.

Let's also get our lovely salad ready!

Wild Arugula Salad with Clementine Dressing
Serves 4-6 people
4 cups (not tightly packed) wild arugula leaves
pinch sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 to 1 clementine's juice (freshly squeezed)
high quality olive oil

Wild arugula with clementine dressing
In a wide bowl, place the clean arugula (use either pre washed or wash and dry thoroughly in a salad spinner) and top with a pinch of sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and 2 parts olive oil to 1 part clementine juice.  Toss and serve!

I hope you enjoy this dinner as much as we did and that it brings joy to your table!  Our family loved it, we had it on a weeknight, but I love it so much I might plan a dinner party around it...  Maybe you'd like to as well?!

Thank you for reading, I am truly humbled by your support and enthusiasm, thank you.



January 24, 2014

The Value of a Medical Second Opinion

I've had a problem, for about a year now, that I was beginning to think was unsolvable.  It started about a year ago, maybe a little longer than a year ago, on my right leg, I started to get some red patches.  At first it was only on the outside of my right lower leg, red, dry patches.  They didn't look very nice, so I just tried to moisturize the area more and I wore pants to cover it up.  I started to notice, though, that I also was getting dry, red patches on my torso and my hands.  I was still nursing my daughter at the time and I just chalked it up to being dehydrated.  This went on for about 2 months, me, ignoring it partially because I was sleep deprived and completely overwhelmed by having two children, one of them a new baby, and partially because I'd never had any significant skin problems before.

Finally, I went to see a doctor.  I went to a dermatologist and he diagnosed me with eczema.  Since I was still nursing, the prescription he gave me was safe, and, he had explained, wasn't as strong a dose as what he might have recommended if I wasn't nursing.  I diligently followed the directions, it was a topical cream that I was only allowed to use for two weeks at a time.  The areas on my torso and my hands improved in mere days and after about the first week of use on those areas, they never bothered me again.  My leg, however, was a decidedly different story.  I continued the cream for maybe 2 or 3 2 week sessions, and while I used it, it seemed to have a diminishing effect on the red areas, as soon as I stopped the cream, the areas on my leg would come right back.  I went back to the doctor a second time, and he changed the prescription to something still safe while nursing, but slightly stronger.  The same results- partial improvement while using, and then when I had to stop per the directions, it would come right back and in fact seemed to be getting worse when it came back.  A few more months went by.  I stopped nursing.  I went back, thinking now that I wasn't nursing, I could get the 'good stuff' and my problem would be solved.  Well, I got the 'good stuff,' so to speak, and the same thing happened, I would use it as directed for the 2 weeks, and then when I had to stop, the red patches would come back, and this time, they were spreading and becoming more raised, itchy, and uncomfortable.

This has spanned a winter, spring, summer, fall and now another winter.  I spent the majority of the spring and summer wearing pants and hiding my leg.  Anytime I bought any new clothes in the past year, every item I purchased worked around my no longer presentable leg.  I signed my daughter up for swimming classes and I was only willing to take her to swimming class if my leg was not looking too terrible.  She has missed more swim classes than I would like, simply because of my leg.

Fast forward to this past December- a friend of mine (poor thing) came down with shingles.  So painful, I've had three friends now (all relatively young, I might add), get shingles.  She was raving about a dermatologist she had seen, who she said diagnosed her in literally seconds.  I took the doctor's information and set about getting an appointment, but, I have to be honest.  My leg issue had gone on for so long I had honestly given up.  I had resigned myself to wearing pants and opaque tights for the foreseeable future.

I saw this new doctor yesterday- and guess what?  My leg isn't eczema.  It's psoriasis- and- the treatment the original doctor had prescribed had in fact made the whole condition worse.  This doctor patiently explained that I had most likely had this emergence because I had recently had a baby (having a baby is similar to having a suppressed immune system) and the type of treatment the original doctor had prescribed, the two weeks on, two weeks off, had in fact triggered the situation to be worse- kind of like cold turkey making the symptoms worse.  The pattern, that had emerged on my leg, which now spanned the top of my foot, the side of my lower leg, the back of my knee and all the way up the back of my thigh, was now red, raised and incredibly itchy.  She explained that the pattern followed a specific nerve and that is why it had formed that way.

The interesting news is that the first doctor was actually correct about the areas on my hands and torso, those had in fact been eczema, which went away very easily with his treatment.  The leg, however, had not been eczema.  I feel incredibly hopeful about my leg for the first time in a long time.  I look forward to taking my daughter to swimming and not feeling self conscious about my leg.  I look forward to wearing shorts and skirts in the spring and not worrying if my hosiery is opaque enough!

If you have any situation that is bothering you, or a serious situation that is complicated, it might be worth your time to get a second opinion.  I hope this has been helpful!

Thank you for reading,