Thursday, March 27, 2008

STL Delicious is on MySpace!

STL Delicious now has a second home on MySpace. Blogger will still be its primary home, but I think it will be a bit more accessible to the locals. Prepare to get friend requested like MAD, everyone!

Monday, March 17, 2008

RECIPE - Pancetta-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin with Sauteed Swiss Chard and Cannellini Beans

This was, by far, the very best recipe I've come up with so far. The most important reason is because it's delicious. Although it has three parts, it's incredibly simple. It also sounds pretty impressive. To make my Pancetta-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin with Sauteed Swiss Chard and Cannellini Beans, you'll need the following.....

For the Pork
  • 1 pork tenderloin
  • 1 small package pancetta -- I like Volpi because it's local and the package sizes are perfect for this type of thing. You could also use bacon, but I prefer the air-cured flavor and pliant texture of pancetta
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbs. soy sauce
  • 4 tbs. brown sugar
  • cayenne pepper
  • kosher salt
  • black pepper

For the Swiss Chard
  • 1 bunch swiss chard
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 2 tbs. olive oil

For the Cannellini Beans
  • 1 can (12 oz.) cannellini or other medium-sized, soft white beans
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

Okay, let's start with the pork. You'll want to marinate this for 3 to 4 hours, so plan accordingly. My marinade is made with apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, and 2 tbs. brown sugar.

I combine all of these in a Ziploc freezer bag, squeeze out the air, and stick in the fridge. I think I marinated this one for about 3 and a half hours, but anything less than 6 is fine. After that, the vinegar will start to "cook" the pork, making the outside dark and unpleasantly chewy.

Yargh, let's set sail for Pork Island!

While your pork is marinating, you can prep your swiss chard and beans. Swiss chard is what makes this recipe impressive because so few people are used to eating it. A leafy, spinach-like vegetable, swiss chard also comes with brightly colored stalks that are not only tasty to eat, but they're so beautiful on the plate.

To cook swiss chard, you'll just need the very basic ingredients of olive oil, garlic, and lemon. Crushed red pepper flakes are optional, but in this recipe, I'm using them in the beans.

To start, cut the stems off of your swiss chard. They're tougher and will need to cook a little longer than the leaves. Cut the stems into 1/2 inch pieces and set them aside.

Next, chop your leaves. It's okay to keep the upper stems attached, because as long as you chop them well, they'll be mostly separated from the tender leaves, anyway. Set the leaves aside. I placed the separate bags of the stems and leaves in the fridge to use later.

Next, prep your beans. Like I mentioned in the ingredients list, any medium-sized, soft white beans will do. There's nothing wrong with canned beans. I prefer them because I don't have time to soak. Loosely drain the beans and place them in a bowl along with the juice of 1/2 a lemon, 3 cloves of minced garlic, and 1 tsp. of red chili flakes.

Cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator. It's important to marinate the beans just like you're marinating the pork. Beans soak up a lot of flavor, and the garlicky, lemony heat will be a perfect addition to the swiss chard later.

Wait for 3 to 4 hours. Watch the Food Network Recipe Challenge and laugh at the people who worked really hard only to end up with an appetizer at TGI Friday's.

Once you've waited patiently, pre-heat your oven to 360 degrees.

Remove your pork from the marinade (SAVE the marinade!) and pat it dry. This is so your dry rub ingredients -- brown sugar, cayenne pepper, kosher salt, black pepper -- will adhere to the pork while it cooks.

Once you've thoroughly rubbed your pork with the dry rub, wrap it with your pancetta. I do this on top of a wire rack sprayed with Pam (great stuff, don't let anybody tell you any different) inside of a foil-covered pan. After you've wrapped it, spoon a little of the marinade on top. This will allow the pancetta to caramelize with some of the marinade's flavor.

After your pork tenderloin has been cooking for about 35 to 40 minutes (depending on your oven, mine was built in 1955), start on your swiss chard.

Remember how I said that the stems need more cooking time? Heat 2 tbs. of olive oil over Medium High. Once the olive oil is hot, add your stems. This only takes about 10 minutes, but stir them frequently to avoid charring.

After 10 minutes over Medium High, reduce heat to Medium and add your marinated beans. They will have released some garlic, lemon, and chili-infused liquid by this point, which will slow the cooking of the stems.

After only a couple of minutes (always stirring!), add your leaves. Stir a few times to coat the leaves with the olive oil and liquid from the beans. Much like spinach, swiss chard will reduce significantly in size as it cooks.

Cook swiss chard for about 5-7 minutes. Add a pinch of kosher salt and the juice from 1/2 a lemon towards the end to add flavor and further tenderize the stems and leaves.

After you remove the swiss chard from the heat, remove pork tenderloin from the oven. The pancetta should be brown and caramelized in some places but not all.

To see if it's done, slice the tenderloin at its thickest point. It should be juicy and slightly pink in the middle.

YES, pork can be served medium! Today's pork is raised to be far leaner than it was in the days when cooking it less than well was a health risk. Medium pork is tender, moist, incredibly flavorful, and almost silky in texture.

If your pork is done, slice it width-wise and serve on a bed of swiss chard. Top with pancetta. Although I'm sure you could enjoy wine with this, the beans are going to be pretty fiery. I recommend a bracing, hoppy beer like New Belgium's Springboard Ale.

The End.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Chain Restaurants Attack the Suburbs!

I may be a proud resident (and customer!) of St. Louis City, but a part of me is amused weekly by Bob Rybarczyk's Suburban Fringe column. This week's column, West County's Great, As Long As You Don't Like Food, reads like a hilarious dispatch from the hell I've avoided (gladly, considering the rent) for all my years in St. Louis.

It's not just the rent that deters me from the county. It's the stultifying sameness of everything planted like daises alongside the interstate. There aren't any independent restaurants. No business that doesn't have a professionally-designed Web site. Unlike the proprietors of my favorite neighborhood pho joint or burrito takeout, no server at Applebee's could ever be expected to recognize my face and say hello without fear of a reprimand from the district office.

I get Mr. Rybarczyk (oh, hell, he seems like the kind of guy who would insist on Bob) when he complains about gas prices and the hourlong round trip drive for a meal made with integrity. I wouldn't fault him for being apprehensive about $3.09 a gallon for a decent plate of food. I may never be willing to submit to the suburbs, but in a show of appreciative solidarity, I'll gladly buy Bob a beer if I ever see him in my neighborhood.

Monday, March 10, 2008

No Reservations Is Porn

God DAMMIT I love this show. I'm currently finishing a 6-pack and watching the "Into the Fire" episode, a sort of behind-the-scenes look at Brasserie Les Halles and the fun, fucked-up, glorious mess that is the kitchen life.

I'm not sure if I'll regret this one day or not, but at the moment, I think I'd rather have a drink with Anthony Bourdain than with Mick Jagger.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

REVIEW - Iron Barley

Iron Barley
5510 Virginia
St. Louis, MO 63111
(314) 351-4500

Iron Barley is one of those places everyone has heard about but will get around to visiting "one of these days." Well, "one of these days" is becoming less and less of an excuse, especially when you hear that it's been in the same unassuming location at Bates and Virginia for five years now.

Although it's hard to find someone who's been there, this disappears once you walk through the door. Once in, you find yourself looking into the faces of relaxed regulars who could probably amble back to the nearly open kitchen and dip a pinkie finger into the sauce. Just for a taste. The staff at Iron Barley could either crack the interloper over the head with a frying pan or just tell them to grab a spoon. It's hard to tell, because they look perfectly capable of both.

That's the thing about Iron Barley. What would seem odd in most places isn't here, and it's those kind of either/or paradoxes that are satisfying, well, either way.

A 20-minute wait in a place with no more than 15 tables might seem claustrophobic were it not for the genuinely welcoming atmosphere. Iron Barley's rough-hewn bar, strange collection of bric-a-brac, and well-edited beer selection make waiting a pleasant stopover to the eventual meal. The taps of Schlafly, O'Fallon, New Belgium, Goose Island, and the single A-B beer (Bare Knuckle Stout) were front-and-center, but the bottled menu on each table was nowhere to be found near our stools.

Like the bartender, our server embodied the apparent spirit of Iron Barley: casual, friendly, and humble. If you're looking for cleavage or giggles over light beer, this is not the place for you. Our server was able to speak like the very accommodating owner of a house we happened to stumble into after smelling good food from the street.

She also rattled off the specials menu without pause, no small feat considering it seemed as long as the regular menu. Iron Barley's standard appetizer list isn't too varied; there are only two options, and both are shellfish. I've no problem with BBQ shrimp or mussels with tomato cream sauce, butI was discouraged by the lack of effort on paper.

Part of the specials menu, a crab cake appetizer with roasted pepper sauce and field greens, arrived only about five minutes after we'd ordered it (a bonus, as we were now in the middle of our second round). A single cake, it was dense without being loaded with soggy bread crumbs and mayonnaise typical of most Midwestern crab cakes. I would have preferred more lump crab, but the meaty flavor and fiery bell pepper-and-chili sauce were well-balanced with the silky texture, cool greens, and crisp breading.

The entree menu at Iron Barley is longer than the appetizer list and predictably straightforward for a South City joint. Perhaps too straightforward. There are no descriptions, so I had no idea that my Oak Roasted Pork "Pruner" (an already large portion that I assume is even smaller than the more expensive "Lumberjack" option) came resting on a toothy red wine-barley risotto with mushrooms. This wasn't explained by the server, either, which I found odd. The risotto went beautifully with the smoky, sweet, and tender pork. Why not say something about it?

Our other entree was chosen from the much more descriptive specials menu - Beef Tenderloin Medallions with Spinach, Bearnaise, and Roasted Bleu Cheese. Our server pointed out that another version is listed on the menu as "Tenderloin of Beef Pepper Steak," but true to specials form, a few tweaks created a different dish every night.

I'm not sure if I have a talent for ordering the best thing on the menu, but the beef entree was excellent. It's a classic dish, really, when you consider that Entrecote Bearnaise with Creamed Spinach is a warhorse of old-school steakhouses. Iron Barley's version is simpler. The spinach is flash-sauteed with butter and soft onions and serves as a bed for the tenderloin slices. The bearnaise is covered with bleu cheese, which is the passed under a broiler instead of the more menu-friendly term "roasted."

Bearnaise is an overlooked sauce in most home kitchens and, increasingly, in restaurants. Few people understand how perfectly it complements something with little inherent flavor like beef tenderloin. Iron Barley uses an old sauce in a smart, modern fashion. Instead of being used to drown the tenderloin, the bearnaise lends moisture without ever taking away from the ideal char of the meat.

Deconstruction is fun, but only when a restaurant doesn't talk about. And Iron Barley doesn't.