I tend to squirrel away items, including food. Hello, producers of Hoarders TV shows? I think I'm your next candidate. When I'm at Costco, the power of bulk buying takes over, I inevitably make the rookie mistake every time, despite my frequent visits, and I wind up with something weird like a huge block of gorgonzola cheese or three pounds of baby green beans. Hey, it happens. I can be like Liz Lemon from 30 Rock, and just sit on the couch and eat cheese all day, but everything else needs a purpose, lest it rot in our crisper drawer.
I defrosted a pork tenderloin because again, I squirrel food, which includes buying meat on sale and wrapping/freezing it for later use. Digging through the pantry, I found a random bag of dried wild mushrooms. I can't remember why I bought it, but there they were. These seemingly unrelated items came together like a puzzle in my brain and I got cookin'.
The mushrooms were rehydrated in hot water and chopped up. The mushroomy liquid was reserved for a pan sauce. I took a leftover shallot and finely diced it, saving half for the sauce and the other for the pork stuffing. I wilted some fresh spinach that was already getting wilty in the fridge and added the mushrooms and shallot with some salt and pepper. The mixture became the stuffing for the pork tenderloin, laid down the middle and then tied it all up with string to keep it together. I salted and peppered the outside of the stuffed tenderloin, seared it in a hot pan to give it a bit of crust, and then let it finish off on a baking sheet in the oven. I deglazed the pan with the mushroom liquid, along with some marsala sitting in the pantry, added the last of the shallots, a bit o' seasoning, and let the sauce reduce.
The green beans were lightly blanched in boiling water, drained off, and then tossed with a little salt, pepper, some olive oil, and crumbles of the gorgonzola cheese. This made for a pretty side dish next to the slices of stuffed pork tenderloin. I think the point of these unplanned meals is to show that cooking doesn't have to be a labored, heavily-planned event. It can be inspired by whatever's available, and the flavors can be pushed and pulled to work together, even if on their own, the ingredients don't look like they'd play nicely in the sandbox.
Denise Sakaki is a freelance food writer and photographer living in the Pacific Northwest.
(Image: Denise Sakaki)