Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Something Savory in a Sweet Week

Hi, internet friends!  It's Caramel Week!


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.
Enter pork.
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.
For the salad, The Husband was kind enough to shave the brussels sprouts finely.  In that effort, we decided that the mandolin I bought just for that purpose wasn't intended for brussels sprouts, no matter what the user guide said.  However, the experiment with potatoes went well, so I'm certain weekend lunches until the end of time will now include homemade chips/waffle fries.  Not complaining.
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.



This whole plate on a fork at at time is greater than the sum of its parts.  When each mouthful has the sprouts, apples, hazelnuts, pork, onions, and sauce, all of the taste buds are engaged.  Additionally, the different textures of the sprouts, the pork, the hazelnuts, and sauce (plus the wine/bubbly that we had) all serve to enhance the different elements that lend themselves to a beautiful mouthfeel.  Honestly, even though I didn't make dessert (see also: we filled up on brie), this really left us wholly satisfied and craving nothing more.

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:
Today I'm teamed up with my friend Carrie over at Bakeaholic Mama; she's made some amazing Milk Duds brownies - mmmmm... caramel and chocolate....mmmmm....

And don't miss out on the rest of this week's caramel craziness:
I hope that you enjoy reading through all of these wonderful recipes as much as I do, and please, let me know - what's your favorite caramel-based recipe to make?  If you don't cook with caramel, have you ever had a caramel sump'n-sump'n at a great restaurant?  What was it, and where was it?

18 comments:

  1. Mmmm...baked brie. Yum! My mom got me a brie baker for my birthday (or was it Christmas) a while ago and I don't use it nearly enough. Looks like I will be picking up some brie this weekend since I'm totally craving it now.

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    1. Oh my gosh - there is a device JUST to bake brie????? I need to find this. And the brie was PREFECT with the caramel sauce - it was a little salty, so it balanced out the sweet even better than just dunking a spoon into salted caramel. Um, not that...I would know anything about that...

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  2. Both treats look absolutely incredible!! Such a fun spin. And Brie = Good. Math is sometimes easy.

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    1. And delicious. My favorite kind of math.

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  3. I admit I was a skeptic when you proposed a savory pork & caramel dish. Rest assured, my nerves have been settled. This looks fantastic! The sprout/apple salad pairing is divine. I'm a believer in caramel pork now. And that's believer; not Bieliber. Aack.

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    1. It's all about balance. And now I sound like a hippie (my parents were hippies; let's blame them). I heart sprouts!

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  4. I can't figure out which one I want to dive into first... Life is hard.

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    1. Worst decision. You could totally have brie for dessert instead of an appetizer. And have that dessert for an appetizer.... man, life IS hard!

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  5. Roasting in the oven must be exhausting. Bwahahaha!

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  6. Ha! I make my hubs shave the brussel sprouts too! I love the sweet and savory combo. Caramel. It's what for dinner. Love it!

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    1. I'm so stealing and then copyrighting that! ;)

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  7. I still cannot get over the fact that you thought to substitute in Tamari! Marcus is basically addicted to soy (if left to his own devices, he would eat only white rice and soy sauce), so this may make caramel his new favorite thing. I especially love the brie AND tenderloin options. Brie is for book club, tenderloin, for when we're getting fancy with friends. :)

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    1. I never realized soy sauce isn't gluten free and that tamari is basically the same thing but gluten-less! Our friend is sensitive to gluten, so she sometimes has it in small doses, but if she's coming over, I want to make sure we don't have something that makes her feel yucky.
      When I was a kid, the only way I'd eat rice was with soy sauce - still love it! And brie is certainly for book club. Or...for those nights when you don't feel like cooking just for yourself. ;)

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  8. I am still wrapping my head around how amazing caramel and soy or tamari would be! Great post!

    P.S. No ginger!?!

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    1. No ginger - it makes me queasy (yes, I know that it's supposed to help with that). It's just too overpowering to me. But I'm sure that if you chose to use it, the dish would be equally tasty!
      And yes with the soy - it feels like a deeper flavor than just salt.

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  9. I can never resist caramel. Upside Down Apple and Caramel Cake is my go-to celebration cake....yum!

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    1. Oh, that sounds tasty - I love apple and caramel. Except I don't like caramel apples...

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