Saturday, March 26, 2011

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST



I’ve dubbed this post a face off between the Paris Hilton of cakes and the fugly, but flavoursome Miss Piggy: one is heavily accessorised but with not much else going on. And the other? It won’t win any style awards... but its bones are good, and the meat on those bones even better.
Let me explain. So, I fell for this red velvet layer cake I spied in donna hay magazine, because it looked like a work of art (all her food is, as she’s a genius). Here you have a red(!) cake cut into layers, sandwiched with butter cream, and then coated with meringue icing. As if I could resist! 
But but but... not for the first time have I been seduced by looks alone (shallow, aren't I?), and the experience of making this cake felt much like when I buy that pair of killer heels in the window, slip them on and then try and do something basic... like walk down the street. You know the look. Any shred of sophistication is obliterated by the awkward challenge of staying upright. I digress, but it struck me mid-baking that this cake was just as excruciating, and it has ended up teetering at almost the same angle as I have on occasion.


Ok, so the execution of the cake is (probably definitely) my fault. I departed from the instructions, which said to layer 3 levels of cake. However my cake didn’t rise enough for that to be an option, even though I followed the recipe. It is my oven, is it the recipe? Why is it so? Not easily answered when you don’t have the creator on hand and you’re faced with a slab of cake, so I went for four. 
But where I really came undone was how to ice the cake with raw meringue, and then transfer it to a serving plate without the meringue sticking to knives, plates, me... aaargh! 
And it just didn’t taste like anything much. Kind of a symphony of buttery cream, barely there cake and glossy meringue. Bland layered upon bland. It also took a long time to make because of all the processes, though it might just be that time tends to stand still when you’re having to beat a butter cream for 15 minutes – kinda up there with light years travelling across the universe. However, I think kids (if not their parents) would love this cake anyway, because of its postbox-red colour and the meringue, which has the extraordinary capacity to glop in all the obvious places – fingers, pinafores, chins, the floor, and probably in places you’d never think to look and would hope you’d never have to, like behind cushions and under couches... so it’s clearly great for food fights. And for that reason alone, go to donna hay magazine Dec/Jan 2011, issue 54.
And my lesson? Some cakes should only recline gracefully in the pages of magazines and some shoes should only exist for stepping out of limousines (as Paris no doubt has harvested from her life experience (and the prison stint where she must have had time to reflect)).
But let me pause here for a minute, and enjoy the moment,
because here is its polar opposite, and the real reason I’m here today, (barefoot) in the kitchen. 



Yeaaah. She ain’t pretty. But this is my vote for the best stuffed pork loin recipe I have come across in all my years of cooking. If you’re tired of the staid marriage of pork and apple sauce, this is a rock star alternative with its wild rice and macadamia nut stuffing, intense sweet redcurrant jelly-based sauce, accompanied by a sweet potato mash and baby spinach salad. 

Roast Pork Loin with Macadamia Stuffing and Sweet-Potato Mash
Serves 6
1.25kg loin of pork
1 1/4 cup chicken stock
1 tbsp redcurrant jelly
600g sweet potato, peeled and chopped
40g butter, chopped
Green leaf and baby-spinach salad, to serve
STUFFING
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1/2 tsp mixed dried herbs
1 bacon rasher, rind removed and chopped
50g (1/4 cup) mixed wild and long-grain rice
1 cup chicken stock
100g (2/3 cup) chopped macadamia nuts
Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and add garlic and onion, stirring over low heat for 5 minutes. Add bacon, rice and herbs and stir. Then add the stock and bring to the boil. Immediately lower heat to simmer, and cover, for 15 minutes, or until rice is tender and the stock is absorbed (I found this actually took about 20 minutes so judge according to how tender the rice is). Then add the macadamias, stir and season. Set aside to cool.
Heat your oven to 200C. Cut 5-6 lengths of 30cm pieces of string and place them at 4cm intervals on your bench. Trim the fat from the pork, and place the loin skin-side onto the bench (and lengths of string). Spoon the stuffing into the middle of the loin and spread it length ways along the loin. Roll the pork up and tie up. 
(I actually find it’s easier to tie the ends first, and not too tightly. It’s a bit of a challenge because the stuffing will want to ooze out, but once all strings are tied up, it’s possible to stuff more in there. It doesn’t matter if some of it is exposed and bakes - it makes for some lovely crunchy bits.)
  
Grab a roasting pan with a wire rack and place the loin, stuffing side up, and roast for 1-1/4 hours, or until the pork is cooked. Remove from the pan and rest for 15 minutes.

Get rid of the fat from the pan and add chicken stock and the redcurrant jelly to the pan juices and stir over low heat for 5-10 minutes until reduced. The longer you reduce the sweeter the sauce will be. Strain. Meanwhile, cook the sweet potato in salted boiling water until tender, and then drain, and mash with olive oil and butter, and season to taste.

Slice the pork into 6 portions, and serve with the redcurrant sauce, the mash and a salad.  
A Gourmet Traveller recipe from a decade ago, it has never failed me and was my first step up into the world of dinner parties. As you can see, pretty doesn’t always make it to the plate. Sometimes fugly crashes the party.

But with a glass of wine and a good vibe no-one cares.
Alex


3 comments:

Anna said...

Oh yum! I'm definitely making this pork thing next time I'm getting my chef on - looks like an awesome variation of something my mum makes. Thanks!

Suzanne said...

You should definitely give red velvet cake another shot -- I am a big fan of it.
Maybe you should look for a US recipe. I know it is in one of the Magnolia Bakery Cookbooks, and I saw a great one on the New York Times web site: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/14/dining/141vrex.html

Happy baking!

Suzanne

Alex said...

Thanks Suzanne,

I will follow up your leads and try again. I've also been told the best red velvet layer cake in the world can be found in New York, so I will be on the hunt when I get there next. Thanks! Alex

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