Friday, March 21, 2014

Apéritif Friday - One Year Later

Wow. A year ago, I hit the publish button on my first Apéritif Friday post. I've had a blast sharing a window into our Friday nights with you all, and am grateful for the feedback and support. So on this anniversary, I'm throwin' it back to the first recipe I ever posted - Stuffed Pork Tenderloin and Roasted Cauliflower. This time however, I paleofied it. The first iteration, while phenomenal and worth the effort, included what I'd consider now to be a bit of a grody ingredient. Pizza Hut Breadsticks. There is no way my intestinal tract would cooperate now if I even tried that number on it. So instead, I used the following ingredients for the stuffing:
Six slices Pancetta
Two baby yellow peppers, diced
Half an onion, diced
Two celery stalks, diced
Two carrots, diced
An apple, diced 
Two chicken sausages, sugar, nitrite and nitrate free (only natural ingredients)
A couple of stalks of curly kale (nom nom nom - gotta eat this at least every other day), chopped
Fresh thyme 
Couple of sprigs of parsley
A couple of cloves of garlic, microplaned or chopped (not pictured, oops)
A stale piece of gluten free bread and a GF hot dog bun (just 'cause I had it in the fridge), cubed
A delicious cocktail (pictured in the back) to sip - this one takes a bit of time
OH! And of course, a Pork Tenderloin. This is actually a Pork Loin Roast from the 1/2 pig we bought. But I recommend Pork Tenderloin over a Pork Loin Roast. It's more tender. Or maybe we shouldn't have trimmed the fat off of our roast? I'm thinking we should have left it on, and perhaps our finished product (albeit delicious) would have been a bit more tender. Regardless, I know this works perfectly with a tenderloin, so I recommend using that rather than the loin roast.

Whew. I'm tired now. Too much rambling.

Anyway...Miller was pleased that we used this cut and ignorantly removed the fat cap. His human thought it'd be nice to fry that fat up for a doggie snack. Riiiiggght...his ever blooming 119 pound frame needs more lovin'.
I think the human just likes to mess with him. And play hide and seek. And spoil him like he's a human baby. Yes. That's it. He likes to pretend he's the third child we never had.

OK - back on the clock. Fry up that pancetta.
While that renders down and gets crispy, pull out the best Christmas gift you received - a kick butt chef knife. I'm serious. This is hands down my favorite Christmas gift ever. See? Miller's not the only one that gets spoiled around here. Thanks, Honey!

I really, truly enjoy sipping a cocktail (this night it was the Basil Fling - I told you I'm addicted) and chopping with music blaring in the background and all my people around me. This night, it was a little Bruce, a little Stevie Ray Vaughan, and a whole lot of Kahley's choice - "Stacy's Mom has Got it Goin On" or some such thing on Muse. It's her concession to us. Rather than killing us slowly with country music, she compromises and plays some decent tunes from the late '90s / early 2000s. The kids sometimes float in and out on Fridays, and other times they are there for the majority of the duration. Someday, I'm going to really miss these nights. But until then, I'll smile, sip and chop. And listen to and watch the antics unfold.
Once the pancetta is done, drain some of the fat, leaving a couple of tablespoons, and toss in the vegetables to soften and wilt them up over medium heat. Season them with salt and pepper.

While that's cooking, chop the chicken sausage and dice the bread and apple. In a separate pan, melt some ghee or butter, and toss in the bread, crisping it up over medium-high heat. Get them to breadcrumb consistency. Toss the garlic, thyme and chopped parsley in with the vegetables, and add the chicken to just heat it through. Add the breadcrumbs and apples.

Pause to giggle at the circus animal tricks. Fried fat could be a very useful training tool, if we were into training our pooch.
Back to the stuffing. Give it a stir, turn the heat off, and taste. Adjust the seasonings if necessary.
This is a very large amount of food - too much to stuff a tenderloin. But here's the beauty - this tastes awesome alone, and covers both the protein and vegetable equation of a paleo diet. It's also fantastic when warmed up with a fried egg on top for breakfast. I realize that gluten free bread is not necessarily doable for some, so omit that if you'd like. You could take about 1/3 of the stuffing and mix it with an egg or two to bind it better, but I did not. I could care less of the stuff falls out a bit. Once it cooks inside the roast, it all melds together and stays put. 

I'm getting ahead of myself a bit. Back to the roast. While you're cooking up the stuffing, employ your Sous Chef to cut the sucker in half, but not all the way through. Leave a "binder" on one end and open it up butterfly style, like a book. In the original recipe, he also punched it down to evenly flatten it out, but that wasn't necessary this time. 

Spoon the stuffing onto one side of the roast, fold it shut, then tie it up with twine. Mr Musky tied while I held it together. What teamwork. Then season the puppy. The roast that is, not the dog. We use this awesome mix, 
but you could use any mix of seasonings you like. Italian blend, Southwest, whatever flavor profile you're going for. Good ole S&P would work too. Put a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the meat,
and roast it to 155 degrees in a 350 degree oven. It'll take about 45 minutes to an hour. Just enough time for the entertainment to make fun of their father's attempt at the selfie. We took this the day before on a date.
Apples don't fall far from the tree around here. If you want to dish out a good dollop of sarcasm and exaggeration, then you'd better be able to take it.  
They crack me up. While feelings get hurt (faker) and mock apologies are made, chop up some vegetables to roast. I used a butternut squash, a head of cauliflower and some broccoli. I tossed it with some melted bacon fat (Mmmmmmm. Bacon.), salt and pepper and roasted it at 500 degrees for about 20 minutes while the pork rested, flipping them with a spatula 1/2 way through. I'm telling you, if you've never had vegetables cooked this way, it's a must try.
They are the perfect accompaniment to this hunk o yummy. And the wine is a must. Always the wine.
I truly enjoy doing this. This sharing of the food and drink and joy in my kitchen on Fridays. I hope you like visiting here and reading about it. If you have any ideas you'd like us to try, I'm a willing sucker!

We're off to thrill in some Spring Breaking. Coming soon - nothing but seafood with a spectacular view.  

XOXO,
Jen

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Sum is Greater than its Parts

It's no big secret here...I love me some good times with my girlfriends. With each passing Girls Weekend, I find that they morph into something bigger and better each time. Some of the faces remain the same, and I look forward to reuniting with the return attendees. But I also thrill in the inclusion of newbies to the party. There's no better way to reconnect with old friends, some of whom I talk to daily, others whom I haven't spoken to in years, then to romp around in the woods together for a few days.

This winter, which after last year quickly became one of my most favorite weekends of the year, I decided to include some people from both high schools I attended. Kahley cracked me up in the days leading up to this winter's festivities. "It's like the Hunger Games, Mom. Which District is going to win? Team Rockridge or Team Fox? And where does your loyalty lie? Just be careful, and may the odds be ever in your favor."

I rolled in laughter. Twenty-five years ago, she wasn't far off. These two factions may have squared off and hunted one another to the death through the woods, if for nothing else because we were idiotic 17 year olds with no life experience, a pinhead of common sense and a needle pointing to empty in the wisdom tank. But fast forward through scads of failed relationships until we found our lifelong partners, fourteen children who rule our calendars, enough heartache over the years to create our own Lifetime series, and we can unsurprisingly live in our own little version of utopia for four days. A world so good, with so much common understanding and appreciation for one another, that we don't want to leave. We are already talking about extending next year's outing and making Monday a mental health/travel day.

Team Fox...
...at the Eagle River Ice Castle in its last days of 2014. It was dismantled on the following Monday.
 And Team Rockridge.
Last year's winter weekend was unique in that we crammed so much activity into two and a half days that we all fell into a stupor of exhaustion and muscle regeneration every night by 8:30. I had to post four times just to explain all that we did. Because we squished so much fun into such a short amount of time, I felt a little pressure to exceed the repeat performance this year.

On the first full day, I announced our plans: "We're going to start off by cross country skiing to feed the chickadees. Then we're gonna return the skis and travel to Musky Mountain for extreme sledding. After that, we'll stop off for dinner, then journey out for a nighttime romp through the forest in snowshoes. Sound good?"

Five sets of eyeballs with brows raised in incredulous speculation eyed me. "Sure Jen. Whatever you say."
Funny sidebar - the FedEx man stopped in the parking lot to take a leak. That's not all he took - we commandeered him to snap this photo before we headed off into the woods. He's my deliveryman. Small Northwoods World.
Whelp, we made it to the cross country skiing adventure. And despite a significant decline in the birdy volume in the Nicolet National Forest (the extreme -30 degree temperatures are not conducive to sustaining the Northwoods chickadee population), we still were able to meet and greet a few little critters.
There is just something so Snow White about hearing that rush of wings as they descend for a snack.
 Think mosquito in your ear, times one thousand.
And although it's a bit unnerving to hear them whistling through the air and touching your skin, their little toenails? claws? digits? are delicate and light and almost tickly when they land in your open hand.
This'll never get old.
Ever.
Post skiing, it quickly became obvious that we were done. We refueled at a local restaurant.
The dampness of the air that day seeped through more than just our clothes. It was in our psyches, and our bones were ready to call it quits. Beer cheese soup and hot toddies helped.
After lunch we stopped off for one more cocktail and collectively decided that jammies, a warm fire and some wine and beverages at the cabin sounded like a five star restaurant.

What followed is probably my favorite part of the weekend. It didn't require some unique or extreme activity. It didn't involve shenanigans with strangers and an obscene amount of liquor intake. We simply sat around my kitchen table and talked. I pulled out a table topic card game, and we all took a turn reading a card and responding. Even though it was already happening on it's own, this game helped bridge the friendships I've made between these women. We learned about one another and listened to each other's funny life stories and more serious views on controversial topics. If that sounds like a miserable night in to you, I assure you there's no other place on the face of the earth that any of us would have rather been at that moment. Because what we played next was simply priceless.
I've mentioned it before, but Cards Against Humanity is the funniest game to hit the world maybe ever.
We played and laughed until our legs were crossed and our guts ached.
We had fun.
All together.
And we didn't even have to compete to the death in a manmade, controlled arena during a televised event to get there.

The next day I ditched the notion that we had to cram scads of activity into the day in order to have a successful good time. I recalled from the fall version of Forty Somethings Gone Wild (really not appropriate for a Lifetime-esque program) that some of the best times with friends are the sitting and doing nothing moments. Like when we talk on the boat for hours. Or sit in the cabin and linger over coffee. My mates agreed.

We finally shed the jams, layered up and headed out to the Minocqua Winter Park for some more snow fun.
We started with snowshoeing, trekking off in search of a tea house that promised warming libations on the wintry jaunt. However, our coffee lingering that morning put us a tiny bit behind schedule, allowing a mere hour on the trail before we had to return to the chalet for our next activity. So when the tea house didn't materialize on the trail, we created our own respite area.
And pulled out spirits from home.
I highly recommend Rumchata for wood trekking. Delicious. But not to disappoint it's creamy, aromatic cousin, the minty fresh Ice Hole also made a star studded appearance, via a bota from circa 1992. One of the handiest vessels that stands the test of time through Big Ten college football games and raucous canoe trips, this handy gadget will surely remain a wintertime constant in the great North Woods for years to come.
Pleasing many a customer...
...even yours truly.
Heading back, the lighthearted chatter and giggling resumed, amplified thanks to a good dollop of Vitamin D, warming rum, refreshing schnapps and perfect weather. Not to mention the occasional sink hole that gobbled up an unsuspecting gal.
Or the woody nest that entwined the locks of another.
A perfect site for one of those chickadees to snuggle into, no doubt.
The sinkholes got even the best of us. Er, I mean, the most fit.
But when the leader of the group face plants, do we rush to her aid and offer assistance?
Why of course not. We snap photos for posterity, squeezing our legs together to hold our bladders tight. Naturally.

At one point, I stopped for a lovefest. I told all my gals, with our districts now united, that when our husbands die and we're all alone, they are all welcome to join me in my Utopian Commune in the Woods. I'm calling it UCW. Where only females are allowed, and everyone must pull her weight. So you do cross fit? Sweet. You're the wood chopper. Shoot a gun really well? Awesome. You're the hunter. Domestically challenged? No problem. You can do dishes. We all have our talents, and we're gonna make some interesting times for ourselves in our latter years.

To top off a perfect afternoon, we saved the best for last.
We flew down a 600 foot chute on tubes, bouncing off a netted barrier at the bottom of the hill, squealing and giggling like little schoolgirls the entire time. But not all sledders chose a blue or red tube.
Meet Ted, a Minocqua Winter Park volunteer, kickin' it old school.
I chatted him up after snapping his photo. And learned that this impressive winter park also offers cross country ski lessons to enhance the wintertime fun. Guess what's already on next year's itinerary? Given that we all fell flat on our butts at least once the day before, some lessons are certainly in order.

I had the joy of spending twelve hours in the car catching up with this dear friend.
She flies in from Florida for this fun. FLORIDA! She enjoys telling everyone where she's from, and that she was on the beach in 78 degree weather the previous weekend.
That aside, she can assemble and direct engineers like nobody's business on a conference call while using interesting words like bifurcate. It's amazingly entertaining to listen to a corporate meeting when you've got nothing to do with it and aren't the one herding the cats. Quite amusing.
She also doesn't hesitate to dole out the sarcasm, which I love and adore, after sharing a bottle of wine with another sassy little thing.

She's my go-to girl for sound fashion advice because she always, always looks cool.
Except for when she trips over the pavement or the slippery X-C trail and face plants.
We have that in common, among many other talents.
Like finishing one another's sentences. The other four bared witness to that more than once over the course of the weekend. That'll happen when you know someone for 35 years and still talk about sheer nonsense on the phone for hours on end.

This one?
Showed me extreme kindness years ago by just being herself and didn't even realize it. I've never forgotten that.
Her quiet, confident way nestled in perfectly with the group. And she most definitely will be coming back with some homemade treats, compliments of her husband. Her face here?
Pretty much sums up the weekend. She told her daughter all the stuff we did, and her college student replied with, "Mom, you are so cool." I couldn't agree more.

One of these girls is not like the other. Here, you can hardly tell which one!
 But it's a little more obvious here.
I love her wide smile, and she loves herself a spin down the hill.
She's like an old shoe. I mean that as the most genuine of compliments. She fits me well and feels good for my soul. Always.

This sweet little cupcake might call you Sunshine.
Or Sweetheart.
Or Sunshine Sweetheart.
But the most ironic part of all? SHE is the sweetest one. She's just dripping in sugary sweet goodness. She fills the room with good juju everywhere she goes. And to her sweet husband? She didn't say one bad word about you. Not once, all weekend long, even when prompted by the table card game. We all promise.

While I love them all individually...
...the weekend wouldn't have been the same if even one of them weren't present.
Our selfies would have been lacking.
Our laughs would have been less.
And our sum most certainly would not have outweighed its parts.

XOXO,
Jen




P.S. Thanks to Michelle...
...for taking so many pics of the weekend. It was a joy for me to set the camera down for a while and just soak it all in. All pics not watermarked with jenczupek.com were snapped by this soul sister. Or by someone who picked up her camera.