Whoever decided that Labor Day marks the end of the "grilling season" has never stood in front of a warm Weber on a crisp fall afternoon. Between the football and the drop in temperatures, fall is a fantastic time of year to cook outdoors.
The change in seasons also changes what I like to grill. The fish, shrimp and seafood that grill in the summer is replaced by lamb, pork and heartier cuts of meat. Roasted tomatoes and young garlic are replaced by sauteed brussel sprouts, and roasted turnips and potatoes. Despite the fact that my house has central heat, I plan meals like I have to stay warm in a yurt.
Much of this is due to the fact that vegetables like tomatoes are no longer in season, while brussel sprouts are just coming on. But I can get either product all year. No, the real reason is the trigger the weather flips. I no more want shepherd's pie in August as I want ceviche in February.
That being said, pork tenderloin is my meat of all seasons. It's easy to cook, flavorful as hell and a relatively cheap cut of meat. A few years ago, when my wife and I lived in North Carolina, a lot of pork tenderloin moved through our little Chapel Hill apartment. She was going to grad school and I was working a couple jobs to help make that happen, so a four pound tenderloin that could feed us for several days was a household favorite.
Now that we're into the fall, I like to pair the tenderloin with a seasonal hash of carrots, apples, onions and potatoes. You could even swap out the potatoes for squash or pumpkin, or just add it to the mix. I also add a bit of bacon to punch up the flavor and because I like bacon. A poached egg works real well, too.
To go with the dish, I like brown ales and dark beers. Honestly though, any fall seasonal would work. We've moved from the light, refreshing pilsners and pale lagers of summer to the darker, richer beers better suited for fall and winter.
In fact, I've been sitting on the bottle of Autumn Maple from The Bruery that I picked up in August. I bought it with this post in mind, but it was also just too damn hot at the time. Who wants a sweet, malty high alcohol (10.5%) beer when it's 96 degrees outside? Screw that and pass the hefeweizen.
To make this Belgian-style dark ale, the Placentia, Ca., brewery uses yams - lots of yams - molasses and spices, including cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. The result is deeply rich, spicy ale that's just a bit sour and more than a bit sweet.
If you can't find a bottle of Autumn Maple or just want to try something else, grab a six pack of Sierra Nevada's Tumbler brown ale. The craft brewing community has gone wild for big, hoppy India Pale Ales during the past few years, but Tumbler shows that the heavy weights of craft beer do other styles of beer just as well (that said, Sierra Nevada's Tornado Extra India Pale Ale is an outstanding hoppy beer).
So grab a coat and get outside, there's grilling to be done.
Grilled Pork Tenderloin and Fall Hash
(Makes six servings)
1 4-5 pound pork tenderloin
1 apple, Granny Smith or similarly crisp apple, diced
4 carrots, pealed and diced
6 potatoes, diced
3 cloves of garlic, diced
2 red onions, pealed and diced
3 strips of bacon, fried and diced
1 lemon, halved
1 egg, poached (optional)
Salt and black pepper
Generously season the tenderloin with salt and pepper, and set aside while you prepare the grill. For this recipe, you'll need two zones - one hot, one cool - so you can sear the tenderloin before allowing it to cook slowly for 90 minutes.
When the grill is ready, sear all sides of the meat until brown and then place the tenderloin on the cool side of the grill with the fat cap up and close the lid.
As the pork cooks, prep the rest of the ingredients, making sure the apples, carrots, potatoes and onions are diced the same size so they cook at the same rate. The dice should also be small, so it cooks fairly quickly.
After the pork has been on for an hour, place a pan on the sideburner or on the grill and fry the bacon. Remove the bacon from the pan and add the diced carrots, potatoes, garlic and onions, and season with salt and pepper. Sautee for 20 minutes or until the potato browns and softens (as an alternative, you can sautee the vegetables for 10 minutes and then stick the pan on the grill for 10 minutes). Add the diced bacon and apple, and cook for another 10 minutes. Remove everything from the pan so the apples don't overcook.
(If you want to add a poached or fried egg - and you do - now is the time to cook the egg.)
After an hour and 20 minutes, the pork should be about ready to come off the grill. Using a meat thermometer, the internal temperature should be 165 degrees. If it's fully cooked, allow the meat to rest for 10 minutes before slicing. Before serving, squeeze a little lemon on the pork.
And if you haven't already, pop open the beer and enjoy.
After work on Thursday, I headed over to the Penn Quarter Farmers Market to pick up some items for a Thanksgiving side dish I had in mind. To say that it was cold was an understatement (even in mittens, my hands were freezing), but my friend James and I braved to cold nonetheless.
The Penn Quarter Farmers Market, part of the FreshFarm Market organization of farmers markets in the DC metro area, was established in 2003 and is a stone's throw from the National Mall. I have frequented the market several times before because of its close proximity to my office and its hours (3 pm to 7 pm), but usually only during the high growing season. At its busiest, the Penn Quarter Farmers Market has 18 food vendors, ranging from fruits and vegetables to meat and dairy. Visitors of this market tend to enjoy the convenience of its location to their offices and the hours (like myself), which means they can pick up something fresh from the farm for dinner that night. I use it as a market to supplement what I am scheduled to receive in my CSA box or to pick up a nice loaf of bread or a pastry from The Bread Ovens at Quail Creek Farm for that evening. This time, however, I had an express mission to find the remaining ingredients for my stuffing for a Thanksgiving potluck dinner.
I don't usually put mushrooms in stuffing and had no intentions of doing so until I stopped by the Mushroom Stand. Run by Ferial Welsh, the stand sells mushrooms grown in Chester County, Pennsylvania that are certified organic. The Mushroom Stand only sells mushrooms from Phillips Mushroom Farms and Mother Earth Organic Mushroom Farms which are not mass produced mushrooms from huge agribusiness conglomerations and their quality speaks for themselves. Even though it was biting cold, Ferial was kind enough to offer me suggestions for mushrooms that would compliment a savory stuffing. She handed me a sample of a maitake mushroom, telling me it had a mellow, woodsy flavor that would work well in a stuffing. I had never even heard of a maitake mushroom, let alone tasted one, so I was a bit skeptical. However, she was dead on in her recommendation. Not only did it have a refined, earthy taste to it, it wasn't overly chewy like some mushrooms can be - even when cooked. I tweaked the recipe I had in mind a little in my head and continued on in search of bread.
The busiest stand by far at the Penn Quarter Farmers Market is the Bread Ovens at Quail Creek Farm. Located on the Potomac River in West Virginia, The Bread Ovens at Quail Creek Farm use no preservatives or unnecessary additives in their breads, pastries, cookies and scones. If you are anything like me, this is a big selling point, as I am a label reader. If I can't pronounce it, it doesn't go in my body. I have spoken with various workers at the stand on several occasions about their baking process and their ingredients and have always received the same information. Their flours come from local millers and their yeast is fresh from breweries in their area (if only I could get in on some of those ingredients). When I asked which bread would work well as a stuffing, one of the guys pointed to a huge boule (and by huge, I mean it could also double as an ottoman) that I was almost convinced served as an anchor for the entire bread stand. This would definitely be more than enough bread to create a stuffing for a Thanksgiving meal (or a small army…which sometimes actually describes my family Thanksgiving dinners). Just as I was getting my change back, the crowd began to swell, so I high tailed it out with my ottoman sized bread.
My final stop was Cibola Farms, a vendor I know quite well from my visits to Dupont Circle Farmers Market. Cibola Farms is a meat purveyor that sells bison, poultry, pork products and goats (yes, I said goats). On my first visit to Cibola at Dupont Circle, I spoke with one of the workers for about 20 minutes about their farm processes and slaughter methods. Their animals are not caged but are instead allowed to roam and graze on actual grass. Rather than using chemicals or overworking the land with heavy machinery, Cibola Farms uses their hogs and goats to maintain the grass for grazing. After that very informative discussion (I will spare you the details of their slaughter methods, but trust me when I say they are humane), I have been a regular customer. I have tried everything from their bison (a slightly sweeter meat than beef but with its own strong flavors) to their pork sausages. And it was their sage pork sausage that I had in mind for the stuffing. I picked up a package and called it a day.
On Saturday morning, I gathered the onions, apples, fresh sage and celeriac from my CSA box, along with the bread, sausage and mushrooms from the market and decided to make a small test batch of the stuffing. My family takes their stuffing very seriously (an entire Thanksgiving meal was ruined once because a family friend had the audacity to show up with dressing, not stuffing…big mistake), something that has been ingrained in me. Although I won't be able to make it to Georgia for a family Thanksgiving, I will not show up to a potluck dinner with mediocre stuffing. And since this was a recipe I was making on the fly, I had to be sure all the ingredients worked well together. I was amazed at how well the celeriac, the root of celery, worked along with the mushrooms and apples, giving a sweetly subtle depth to the heartier flavors in the stuffing. A perfect addition to any Thanksgiving dinner.
Sausage, Apple and Mushroom Stuffing
2 loaves of quality white bread, torn into bite sized pieces
1 large onion (or 2 medium sized onions), diced
1 celeriac (the root of the celery), peeled and diced
2 apples (whichever apples are in season in your area), diced
32 ounces vegetable or chicken stock (preferably homemade), warmed up slightly
1 container maitake (or shiitake) mushrooms
2 tablespoons fresh sage
1 pound sage pork sausage
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees
Grease a large casserole dish and set it aside. Spread the bread pieces out on cookie sheets and bake them in the oven 5-10 minutes or until slightly golden. In a large skillet, brown the sausage and then place it in a very large bowl (the bowl must be big enough to combine all of the ingredients). Add the onions, celeriac, mushrooms and apples to the same skillet, season with the salt and pepper and cook until softened. Add the onion mixture to the sausage and then slowly start adding the bread cubes. Thoroughly incorporate the bread cubes into the other ingredients before adding another handful.
Once all of the bread has been added, toss in the sage and give the mixture another good stir. Pour in a portion of the stock and then stir it into the bread mixture. Continue this process until the bread mixture is moist but not a soggy mess. Pour the stuffing into the casserole dish, cover it with aluminum foil and bake it for 30 minutes. Remove the foil from the stuffing and continue baking it for another 10-15 minutes or until it is golden brown (but not burnt).