CHOCOLATE, MAPLE, SWEET ALMOND
Things about February: Celebrations of Saint Valentine and Love, Black History, Presidents Day, Cherry, Strawberry, Sweet Potato, the birth of James Joyce, Babe Ruth, Jules Verne, Thomas Edison, James Lowell, Winslow Homer, Victor Hugo, H W Longfellow are all part of this chilly little month, and then to top it off, February First is Baked Alaska Day. The Arts, Music, Food and Love, what can be better? Every month is a good month for food, but Love is the sole child of February. Let’s add maple syrup, pork loin and petite desserts to this Art filled month of challenge and change.
When our descriptions of favorite flavors and recipes goes beyond the senses of sight, smell, taste and feel there is only one thing left, and that thing is sound, the first Muse, Aiode: song and music. Why isn’t there a Muse of Food? Food is a long poem, a song of necessity and of romance. I’ve always seen my muse of food to be beloved friends.
A meal can be a symphony, an elaborate chocolate dessert is rhapsodic, when our table is beautiful it sets the tone. The Arts are present all around us. The Arts are what drives our minds to develop and grasp concepts and histories, the dasein of an age is seen in popular music, sculpture, philosophy, literature and paintings. This being there (dasein) is what states “I was and am here” and this is what makes things like Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Modern ages present to our understanding. A meal for one’s beloved must be a symphony of sight and flavors. This meal states that you are there for her.
Our recipes are pork with guajilla peppers, almonds, red wine vinegar and maple-tamarind glaze; and for dessert we have Date, fig and banana crepes with pomegranate molasses and honey. Make these two dishes as small bites so that you can have a fuller Valentine’s Night or soiree. There is a little bit of chocolate in each dish. Making several small tapas/bites/appetizers that can be prepared ahead and set out as part of a long night o f romance, conversation and pleasurable company gives you more time to simply be present to your companion(s).
Wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives/olive oil, honey, lentils, & almonds are the nine major food characters highlighted in the Bible. Sadly our modern grain modifications have made wheat and barley almost inedible by a significant portion of the worlds population (gluten intolerance). Happily, I am using almonds, figs, pomegranate, olive oil and honey in today’s recipes.
Maple syrup is a perfect sweetener, others are honey, blackstrap molasses, date molasses, grape molasses, extracts from the stevia plant and agave syrup. Maple syrup is graded from the best, AA through B. AA is pure, mild, light amber, it gets darker the lesser the grade which is why most of what you see in the store is dark amber Grade B. A fine point about maple syrup is that it does not freeze, so if you want to keep it indefinitely then after opening store it in the freezer. Maple syrup lasts two years unopened on the shelf, one year opened in the refrigerator and forever in the freezer. How’s that for a fantastic natural sweet flavor? Maple acts as a complement not as a puddle of syrup for our pork. All too often an inexperienced cook will overuse maple syrup (four times sweeter than sugar) on salmon and wild game dishes and then it literally leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
If you do not have maple syrup and want to make your own pancake syrup then follow this recipe for one cup of syrup:
½ cup granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla or maple extract
Caramelize the white sugar. Color will be tan. Heat the brown sugar water to a boil, do not stir. Add the caramelized sugar to the brown sugar water and stir/whisk until it thickens. Turn off the heat and stir in the extracts and butter.
The preferred way to cook this dish is in an iron skillet and to build the sauce with the pork as it cooks. Do not cook the pork over medium, after that it becomes dry, leathery, tasteless and inedible. Guajilla pepper is a mild, slightly fruity New Mexico pepper. We are using the dried version. Find them in any Mercado, Mexican and South Western section of the grocery store. Tamarind extract can also be found in any Mercado, Asian and Indian grocer. Tamarind is the central ingredient to all Worcestershire sauce and is widely used throughout one fourth of the worlds cuisines.
4, 2 ounce filets pork
¼ teaspoon coarse salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons potato starch, or cornstarch
2 tablespoons rice flour or wheat flour
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
10 slices white onion, thin
12 almond halves
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon tamarind
1 teaspoon Grade A or B maple syrup
Salt and pepper the 4 filets, these are also called tournedos in classic cuisine signifying thin center cuts from the tenderloin. Heat the oil and butter on medium high till it bubbles. Dust the pork in the starch/flours. Add the meat and cook one minute, turn and add the almonds, peppers and onions. Cook one minute. Turn and add the vinegar, tamarind and maple in that order. Cook one minute and then remove pork from the skillet. Swirl the sauce so that it combines and then pour over the meat.
Spinach and rose petal salad is a perfect complement to this classic dish.
Date, fig and banana crepes with pomegranate molasses and honey. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Even better is that our crepe recipe is gluten free. Learning to use alternate flours where once wheat/barley/malt were the primary sources not only lessens our use of intensely genetic modified foods it opens us up to a new set of flavors. Like any cook I love the taste of wheat and how easily it adapts to any form of cooking. But it does not mean everything must be wheat, it’s like the bacon thing, sure it’s good but this is not sufficient reason for them to be present in every meal.
The almond bark used in the recipe is also good for making coatings for cookies and fruits. You can find this in the bakery section of the grocery store right next to the white chocolate and chocolate bark.
Except for the banana use dried fruit for this recipe. If you have fresh cherries then by all means add them to the mix. This recipe will make 14 crepes. Freeze what you do not use. Place plastic wrap between each crepe to keep them from sticking together.
First, our gluten free flour base. The recipe is enough for four batches of crepes. This is also a base for cookies. I have found this combination to be the most versatile. To increase the wheat flavor add a tablespoon each of amaranth and sorghum flour.
2 cups brown rice flour
2/3 cup potato starch (must be starch not flour)
1/3 cup tapioca starch
Combine and store in air tight plastic or ceramic containers.
½ cup flour mix
1 tablespoon sugar or 2 teaspoons Splenda
¼ teaspoon fine salt
½ cup whole milk
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon rum extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons butter, melted for brushing on pan
Combine to smooth mixture in blender.
On medium, heat a 7 inch crepe pan or skillet. Brush with butter.
Pour 3 tablespoons batter into pan. Swirl so that the batter evenly coats the pan.
Do this until you have used all the batter. Put plastic wrap between each crepe as you stack them.
5 Dates, thin sliced
8 Figs, thin sliced
2 Bananas, chopped
2 tablespoons pistachios, crushed
2 tablespoons almond bark chocolate, grated
The syrup will be dark, sweet and sour. Pomegranate molasses is very thick and slightly bitter, hence the addition of honey.
5 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
5 tablespoons local honey
Stir together till smooth and fully blended.
Roll 1 1/2 tablespoons of the fruit mix in each crepe. Set on plates. Drizzle small amount of syrup over the crepes. Dust with powdered sugar.
Happy Valentine’s Day, share your love with all your heart.
Doors open to the world,
To the heart and soul.
Open to all,
With no flag
And no demand,
Food for us all,
A world alive,
Rich and never filling,
And as I set the flowers
You stood next to me.
By the table we kissed.
Scent of dawn and guava,
Ripening and rich,
There’s not much more
I could ask,
Just to stand here,
To be here
Next to you,
I don’t care,
By the kitchen we kissed.
I held your hand
And knew that by loving
You I was drawn closer
To the perpetual banquet.