The other day I was expecting a package, and, when I went to the front door to see if it had arrived, I almost tripped over a hefty bag of potatoes and tomatoes! This was a much better surprise. From the note inside I discovered they had been generously given to me by my friends Eileen and Jim. The tomatoes and lovely potatoes came from the vines and dirt of their garden.
deliciously simple dinner
I didn’t set out looking for friends who love to cook and enjoy food the way I do, but these are the friends I have ended up with. When we get together, it is understood that what we eat will be an important part of the event, sometimes, the most important. My theory is that if people love food, and I mean good food, they have the same slant on the world that I do. I think to enjoy food is a true act of living in the moment. Yes, this sounds a little mushy, but truthfully, it is the only time I am really focused on one thing. It is when all my senses are so busy I have no time to worry, or plan, or be consumed by all the other petty nonsense that enters my head on a daily basis.
Potatoes from my friends Jim & Eileen's Garden!
Similarly, when I am cooking by myself, or with friends, the rituals of chopping and measuring and mixing brings a sort of peaceful hum to the air. There is a respect for the food, and your actions have to be filled with love (even if you are in a hurry sometimes!) because, your intention is to present this plate or bowl of food to someone who will enjoy each mouthful. All of my most memorable moments with family and friends have centered around food; nightly dinners, birthday and anniversary celebrations, Christmas Eve feasts and ordinary days changed into something much grander because a beautiful meal was involved.
Thyme from my garden.
This reminds me of one such memorable day last year. I would not remember the day so clearly or with such fondness if it weren’t for the meal we ate. I was in Ireland with my man Dave and the kids and we had planned to have lunch at the house where my brother-in-law grew up. It was a big ivy-covered farm-house set back from the road and surrounded by fertile vivid-green pasture land.
We had been invited to lunch by Simon’s mother and we were all very excited and hungry when we arrived. Mildred does all of her cooking on a solid-fuel cooker (stove), which was also responsible for heating the whole house. Cooking with one of these things can be tricky, as you have to get an expert feel for temperatures, especially if you are going to bake a cake or loaf of bread.
A view of the house from Mildred's garden
Unless you came through the front door, the way to the formal dining room was through the kitchen, and through another little room. It opened up to the main hall with the stairs, and a room on each side of the front door; the sitting room and the dining room. The house was sturdy with big windows with lots of panes of glass looking out onto one of the most spectacular gardens I had ever seen. Turns out Mildred was also quite the gardener!
some of what was spectacular about the garden
The dining room was sunny and cheerful that afternoon, and was set with china place settings. I sat down thinking about all the great meals that had been eaten in this room and how I was going to become part of all that. I prayed my children would behave like angels and that I wouldn’t spill red wine on her lovely crisp white linen tablecloth!
We dined on roast beef, gravy, yorkshire pudding, two kinds of potatoes, and vegetables. I was completely and utterly lost in the moment. I had wine with lunch, and every sip I took with my food is a taste I will never forget. We ended the meal with cake served with fresh cream and warm brandy butter. Everyone at the table appeared to be in the same state of revery, at least speaking for my kids and husband. Looking back, I recognize that what we were feeling was enormous appreciation for the room, the table, the food and the woman who went to the trouble to cook for us.
Walking the land after lunch (click on any picture to get a closer look!)
After lunch we walked the land, had a visit from some cows and horses along the way, and ended it all with a tour of the garden by Mildred.
When we came back inside it had begun to rain and we were all a little chilled. We were greeted in the warm kitchen by tea, and a beautiful chocolate sponge cake. I left the place wishing we could do it all again tomorrow.
The grand tour with Mildred
So, I cooked Jim and Eileen’s potatoes thinking about the generosity of friends, and how food has a powerful place in my life.
You will need: 1 pork tenderloin (about 1 lb or so), sliced a little bigger than 1/4″), 3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil, 1 medium sweet onion, diced, 1 large garlic clove, finely chopped, 6 sprigs fresh thyme, 1/4 cup white wine, 1 cup chicken broth, sea-salt, freshly ground black pepper, 8-10 cups fresh spinach leaves, 1 tbs unsalted butter, soft, 1 tbs all-purpose flour, 8 -10 medium potatoes (any color), peeled & quartered, 1 tbs cold unsalted butter, 1/4 cup heavy cream or whole milk, 1 tsp sea-salt, 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper.
1 – Prep all ingredients as instructed above
2 – Put saute pan on medium heat and add 2 tbs of oil. Add the onions and garlic and cook for 5 or 6 minutes until beginning to soften. Add thyme sprigs and cook for another minute.
2 – Lay the pork on top (in a single lay with a little over-lapping if necessary) and season with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes. Turn, season, and cook for same length of time. Turn up heat and add the wine. Let it simmer for 2 minutes before adding the stock. Bring to a simmer.
- Add the pork and season with sea-salt and pepper.
4 – Cover with heavy lid and simmer gently on low heat for about 15 to 20 minutes, or, until pork is soft.
* While pork is cooking boil your potatoes. When they are soft, drain and return to pot. Add the cold butter, milk or cream, salt and pepper, and mash until very smooth. Cover with a tea towel to keep warm.
add liquids and simmer for 20 minutes.
5 – Remove pork from liquid and transfer to a plate. Cover to keep warm. Put pot on medium heat. Mix the 1 tbs of softened butter and flour in a small bowl and whisk into sauce to thicken and flavor.
mix roux for pan sauce
6 – Cook for about 2 minutes or so. Taste and adjust seasoning according to taste. Place meat back into pot, turn of heat and cover to keep warm until ready to serve.
add the roux to the liquid
7 – Just before serving put a big saute pan on medium/high heat and add a tablespoon or 2 of extra-virgin olive oil. When pan is hot, add the spinach with a sprinkle of salt and pepper (and some cayenne pepper flakes if you like – I like!). cook for about 3 minutes (until spinach has wilted). Turn off heat.
Pork Tenderloin with mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach
Serve with mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach and a generous spoon or two of sauce.
One last look...