The Theme Weavers have gotten back together for a week chock full of ooey-gooey goodness, so I hope that you brought your sweet tooth and are stocked up on butter.
As a kid, I wasn't a fan of caramel. This may be shocking to you, but bear in mind that what I knew as caramel were those horrid store bought too-chewy caramel candies. It was only when I got older that I discovered the diversity of truly good caramels and caramel sauces. Then I was introduced to salted caramel, and my world changed.
To be perfectly clear, anyone who says that salted caramel has jumped or will jump the shark and I can NOT be friends. Salted caramel is not a fad. It is a balanced flavor Way of Life.
As much as I love the salted caramel cupcakes at TopIt Cupcakes, the salted caramel apple pie I made for Thanksgiving (two years in a row) by Four and Twenty Blackbirds, and Megan's salted caramel sauce that I have been adding to my Greek yogurt for this entire last week, when we planned caramel week, I knew that I needed to do something that wasn't a dessert.
Partly because I wanted to be "practical," and partly because it was a great excuse to have our friend Dani over for dinner two weeks in a row (she's coming over next week for our Kentucky Derby themed dinner), but mostly because I knew that if I made a dessert, I would end up eating The Entire Thing. And that's not really working with my current plan of eating better right now.
Pork is a fantastic partner with caramel; it lends itself to a variety of sweet-ish fruit pairings well, so I knew that working with a pork tenderloin would be the way to go.
Now, let's backtrack for a second to take a closer look at my love of salted caramel. That it is salted is what makes it genius. That salt balances out the sweetness of the caramel, which can sometimes be cloyingly overpowering. Yes, salt can enhance the sweetness of sugary goods (this is why we add it to baked goods), but in enhancing it, that sweetness is tamed. Simply put, more taste buds are able to come to the party in your mouth.
What I wanted to have, then, was an even bigger party, one in which all the taste buds were mingling and jumping fully clothed into the pool. I had my salty and sweet, so I was on a mission to bring in the sour, bitter, and umami.
The perfect balance, I found, was a peppercorn-crusted pork tenderloin over a shaved brussels sprouts and apple salad, all drizzled with a soy-caramel sauce.
But first, in the spirit of Theming All the Things and because appetizers, baked brie with apples, hazelnuts, and tamari-caramel sauce.
If you haven't made baked brie, run - don't walk - to the store, get yourself the best brie you can possibly find, and do this. You're welcome.
All you have to do is plop that wheel onto a baking sheet (the rind is edible), poke a few holes in the top with a sharp knife or fork, put it in a 350° oven, and bake to melty deliciousness. Then sprinkle whatever you want on top. In this case, you're seeing some apples that were sauteed in a touch of butter and cinnamon sugar and some of those roasted hazelnuts. All of this was topped with that modification of Megan's salted caramel sauce I mentioned earlier (I used a tamari syrup instead of corn syrup and didn't add as much salt at the end).
Perfect on just about anything (or simply conveyed to the mouth on a spoon), we downed this atop gluten-free bagel chips and almond crackers.
And now back to the main course.
I followed the recipe for the tenderloin's soy-caramel sauce with only a few modifications:
- I didn't add ginger. It has no place in my house.
- I went with a red onion. We had a white onion, but the red onion was needing to be used, and we love the flavor that it offers. I chopped it pretty roughly so that we could get some big ol' bites.
- I used tamari instead of soy sauce for a fuller, saltier flavor and for the gluten-free option.
- I added more mustard. Because mustard.
- Since the sauce was a bit thin, even for a dressing, I added a splash of cream and let it simmer while the pork finished roasting.
To the sprouts I added thinly julienned apples that I had tossed in lemon juice (partly to keep from browning and partly to add another sour component) and roasted, chopped hazelnuts. That's it. It was as simple as could be. As the pork rested (roasting in an oven must be exhausting), I drizzled the warm dressing over this so that the sprouts would wilt just slightly. I still wanted the crunch of the green as a contrast to the tenderness of the pork.
Once the pork was rested and sliced, the medallions were plated over the salad, and yet more dressing was drizzled, this time with plenty of those roughly chopped red onions.
But if you're still in the mood to satisfy your sweet, tooth, fear not! The rest of the Theme Weavers have whipped up such an amazing array of delicious caramel treats that you'll be setting out the butter and checking your sugar supplies to make all of them.
Yesterday, we introduced the week with some dynamite eats:
- Kirsten at Comfortably Domestic showed us how easy it is to make dulce de leche in the slow cooker.
- Beka at Kvetchin' Kitchen made a caramel apple pie (already established as one of my favorites).
- Mads of La Petite Pancake made a caramel and banana bread pudding.
And don't miss out on the rest of this week's caramel craziness:
- Tomorrow Jeanne of Inside NanaBread's Head and Kirsten are tag teaming their recipes - chocolate-coated alfajores with salted vanilla bean caramel (Jeanne) and traditional alfajore sandwich cookies (Kirsten), our friend Haley over at The Girly Girl Cooks is sharing her Almost-Famous Fairground Caramel Sauce, and Lauren from Climbing Grier Mountain has made my heart race with dulce de leche milkshakes.
- Thursday, do NOT miss Kat's caramel corn sundae at Tenaciously Yours, nor should you miss the butterscotch pudding from the newest player in the Theme Weavers, Christina from Buffy and George. Beka is also back with a luscious red wine caramel sauce.
- For Friday, Madeline at Munching in the Mitten baked up a gorgeous caramel cake, and Megan from Wanna be a Country Cleaver has pear caramel mini cheesecakes
- Finally, Kirsten will be wrapping things up for us on Saturday with a DIY dulce de leche coffee creamer in which I am VERY interested, while Katie of The Hill Country Cook has a salted caramel pie (WHAT!?!?!?).