Domestic Goddess...

With our work schedules currently at odds (I'm home on weekends, Justin is at home on Thursdays and random Sundays), and Justin using my car to get to work in the suburbs, I've been spending my Saturdays largely stuck at home. I could walk over to the El or the Metra, or take a bus somewhere, but I spend enough time commuting during the week to want to put that kind of effort into getting myself places on the weekend. Instead, I've been trying to use my time productively, tackling my weekly chores like doing the laundry, and preparing an elaborate meal for us to consume when Justin gets home.

Today, even though the weather is frighteningly warm for March (I really don't see how people can continue to question the existence of global warming after this week), I decided to tackle a project that's been lingering on my to-do list for quite some time -- getting some use out of my massive (and massively expensive) Le Creuset dutch oven. I had meant to delve into the world of hearty braises this winter, but with the move, I ended up not cooking much at home through the majority of the prime braising season. When I found pork roast on sale this week, I scanned through my savory recipe board on Pinterest, and spotted a recipe from the folks at America's Test Kitchen that called for preparing it in a Dutch Oven, I decided to kill two birds with one stone, weather be damned!

Though roasted meat with apples and shallots was probably too heavy for a gorgeous spring day, it was totally worth it. This meal was delicious! Pork and apples are a classic pairing, and my roast turned out perfectly after using the probe thermometer that had been MIA in my kitchen for years until I found it during the move. The meat was juicy, tender, and cooked to just the right level of doneness. Plus, the bountiful herbs reminded me of a meal I might have eaten in France. I would definitely make this dish again, though maybe when it's cooler outside and it won't heat up my kitchen.

Good as it was, I was even more impressed by the mashed potatoes that I made to go with it, almost as an afterthought. Potatoes were on sale at the grocery store, and after discovering that Justin doesn't mind washing the potato ricer after making all those mashed sweet potatoes the past month or so, I decided to give regular mashed potatoes a try as well. However, these were no regular mashed potatoes, they were garlic mashed potatoes from Alton Brown, one of my culinary icons. I saw him make these on his show years and years ago, and they stuck in my mind but I never had a chance to give them a try until now. 

Simply put, these are the greatest mashed potatoes I've ever made. Maybe even some of the best I've ever eaten. The garlic flavor is strong, so I wouldn't recommend them if you're not a fan, and they manage to be rich even though they contain only half-and-half and no butter. Parmesan cheese adds a bunch of umami that makes the dish irresistible. I literally stood over the stove with a spoon eating them straight out of the pot after dinner when I was supposed to be putting away the leftovers. If you love mashed potatoes, you seriously owe it to yourself to give this recipe a try.

Pork Roast en Cocotte with Apples and Shallots
adapted from America's Test Kitchen

1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 (2 1/4 lb) boneless center cut pork loin roast, trimmed
8 shallots, peeled and quartered
1 lb. apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch wedges
1/4 teaspoon sugar

Place the oven rack in its lowest position and preheat to 250°F.

1. In a small bowl, mix together the herbs, salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Rub all over roast.

2. In a Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add roast and brown on all sides, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove roast and place on plate.

3. Lower heat to medium and add shallots to Dutch oven. Sauté 3 minutes. Add apples and sugar. Sauté 5 to 7 minutes.

4. Kill burner heat and add roast back into pan, along with any shed juices. Cover the pot with a layer of foil, and place the cover on top of that. Cook 30 to 50 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the inner temperature reaches 140°F to 145°F.
5. Remove roast from Dutch oven. Place on a cutting board, tent with foil, and let it sit for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, add some salt and pepper to the apple mixture, stir, and cover to keep warm.
6. Slice up pork and serve with shallots and apples spooned over it.

Creamy Garlic Mashed Potatoes
adapted from Alton Brown

1.75 lbs. potatoes (use whatever you prefer, I like red potatoes or Yukon golds)
1 tablespoon salt
1 c. half-and-half
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 oz. grated Parmesan

Peel and dice potatoes, making sure all are relatively the same size. Place in a large saucepan, add the salt, and cover with water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and then reduce heat to maintain a roiling boil. Cook until potatoes fall apart when poked with a fork.

Heat the half-and-half and the garlic in a medium saucepan over medium heat until simmering. Remove from heat and set aside.

Remove the potatoes from the heat and drain off the water. Mash and add the garlic-cream mixture and Parmesan; stir to combine. Let stand for 5 minutes so that mixture thickens and then serve.

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