Month: April 2013

Tastes and Sights of Puerto Vallarta

Ah, vacation… that magical time to awaken, explore, immerse, unplug, and recharge, all at once.

I recently returned from six days in Puerto Vallarta. I’m not sure exactly what initiated my choice in destination, other than I was sitting on the couch one night cold night in January and decided I’d had enough of winter.

Puerto Vallarta, on Mexico’s western coast, and it feels like a coastal small town and a high-end resort destination rolled into one.

One of my favorite things about vacations is the food. I love wandering through the grocery stores and farmer’s markets, braving street carts and trucks, discovering new flavors, ingredients and cooking methods, and asking locals for their recommendations. All the while, I’m taking mental and sometimes physical notes, figuring out what I can incorporate into my own cooking (and eating!) back home.

After this vacation, I have a new-found love for “real” tequila, and and I can’t wait to recreate a couple of my favorite dishes, including tacos al pastor (“in the style of the shepherd”). I’ll be chronicling my efforts over the coming weeks.

For now, a few pictures to put you in a vacation mood.

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Marinated Pork Tenderloin

???????????????????????????????Pork tenderloin might be one of the most underrated proteins. It’s versatile, cooks quickly, and is relatively inexpensive.

Yet growing up, I don’t remember ever eating it — and my dad raised hogs. When I moved out on my own, I would see recipes for pork tenderloin, but get frustrated when I went to buy the meat. I’d never bought meat from a grocery store before — a topic for an entirely separate blog post — and the way tenderloins were packaged threw me.

A typical recipe calls for a 1 lb. tenderloin, but I could only ever find it in one of two ways: 1 lb. tenderloins pre-marinated or sealed in a “pork broth solution,” or huge packages of 3 or more pounds. Surely those big packages weren’t the right cut, were they?

It was only later that I realized the larger packages at standard grocery stores were actually multiple tenderloins packaged together. A couple years later, I moved to a neighborhood with a Trader Joe’s, which does sell plain 1 lb. tenderloins.

The bigger packages aren’t necessarily a bad thing. This recipe is easy to scale if you’re feeding a crowd. Or, make a second batch of marinade in a separate bag, and throw it into the freezer. Put the extra batch in the refrigerator the night before you want to serve it, and it will marinade as it thaws.

Avoid the versions packaged in a marinade or broth solution. It’s way more sodium than you  need, and not that great.

This recipe is best on the (outdoor) grill, but it works well in the oven, too. When I’m grilling, I like pairing it with whatever seasonal vegetables I can throw on the grill, maybe some sweet or fingerling potatoes, and cinnamon applesauce. If I’m indoors, I swap in steamed green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, or whatever else I have on hand.

Marinated Pork Tenderloin

Adapted from Cooking Light

Yield: 3-4 servings

1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup orange juice
1/2 tsp black pepper, plus more to taste
1/2 tsp salt, plus more to taste
1 lb pork tenderloin

Preheat grill to medium-high, or preheat oven to 400°.

Remove pork from bag and discard marinade. Lightly season meat with salt and pepper.

If grilling, place pork on grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill for 20 minutes. If using the oven, roast for 35 minutes. Cook until a thermometer registers 160° (slightly pink). Let stand 10 minutes before slicing thinly.

Simmered Black Beans

I love workhorses in the kitchen: versatile ingredients and dishes are a lifesaver for busy people who don’t have time to cook from scratch every day, but get bored eating the same leftovers more than once or twice (especially if you’re cooking for one or two people).

Black beans  might top my list of kitchen workhorses. Black bean soup, fish tacos, Chipotle-style “burrito bowls,” breakfast burritos or tostadas, nachos, veggie burgers, tossed into a salad, or simply heated up and served in a bowl, over rice or quinoa or alone…. really hard to go wrong. They’re also one of the most economical protein sources, and vegetarian to boot.


Canned black beans are easy and inexpensive, and if you opt for the kind without added salt, your fingers won’t swell up from sodium overdose.

But if you make them from scratch?

You may never want to buy canned beans again. You will, of course, but you’ll forever be comparing them to their fragrant, thick, nutrient-dense homemade cousins.

And there really is no comparison.

Do yourself a favor, and knock out a batch of these this weekend.

Simmered Black Beans

From The New York Times

Yield: 6 servings

1 pound black beans
2 quarts water
1 tablespoon canola oil or extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 large garlic cloves (or more), minced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro, plus additional for garnish if desired
Kosher salt to taste

Rinse the beans; soak in water for at least six hours or overnight. (If they will be soaking for a long time in warm weather, put them in the refrigerator.)

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven, and add the onion. Cook, stirring, until it begins to soften, about three minutes. Add half the garlic. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, about one minute. Add the beans and soaking water. The beans should be covered by at least an inch of water. Add more as necessary, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and skim off any foam that rises. Cover and simmer one hour.

Add the salt, remaining garlic and cilantro. Continue to simmer another hour, until the beans are quite soft and the broth is thick and fragrant. Taste. Add additional salt and/or garlic if needed. Let sit overnight in the refrigerator for the best flavor.

Advance preparation: The cooked beans will keep for several days in the refrigerator and will freeze well.