Pork Tenderloin- How I adapt a basic technique to create endless flavor combinations

One of my go-to quick weeknight dinners is pork tenderloin. It cooks in about 30 minutes, and there are endless ways to vary the flavors to keep things interesting. I’ve learned the basic technique of how to cook a pork tenderloin and now I just adapt it on the fly based on what I have on-hand. This post will have less precise measurements, as I don’t measure anything with this recipe. I just eyeball it. Here is what I do:

Pork Tenderloin- Master Recipe

  1. Preheat oven to 400. Heat an oven safe skillet (I use a large cast iron skillet) over medium high heat with about 1 TBSP of olive oil.
  2. Season the tenderloin. At the very least, salt and pepper the entire thing before cooking. (More on seasoning later.)
  3. Sear the tenderloin on all sides until brown. This takes about 10 minutes.
  4. Spread the tenderloin with a glaze if you’re using it (more on this later) then transfer the skillet to the oven and cook for 18-20 minutes depending on the size of the tenderloin (18-20 minutes for about 1.5 lbs). The internal temperature should reach 145 degrees when it’s finished.
  5. Remove tenderloin from the oven, and place on a cutting board to rest for 10 minutes. While the tenderloin is resting, you can make the pan sauce if you choose to (more on this later).
  6. I serve this sliced in 1/2 inch slices with the sauce.

That is my basic pork tenderloin recipe. Now the fun begins!

Adapt the seasonings

Here are some ideas on how you can adapt the seasonings for your pork tenderloin:

  1. Try an herb rub. Mix together salt, pepper, and some dried herbs such as sage, thyme or rosemary. Add a finely chopped garlic clove and a few teaspoons of olive oil. Rub the tenderloin with this herb mixture prior to searing it.
  2. Barbecue flavors. Try mixing some brown sugar, paprika, and chili powder for a smokey bbq rub.
  3. Marinate. Mix about 1/2 cup olive oil, 3-4 TBSP soy sauce, 1 TBSP dijon mustard and 2-3 TBSP various dried herbs such as sage, thyme, rosemary. Whisk together and pour over the tenderloin either in a bowl or a large ziplock baggie. This one you would need to do ideally 4-6 hours before you cook it.

Add a glaze

I typically make a glaze out of jam that I have in my fridge. Usually I have some pear cranberry jam, or peach jam in my fridge and I use that as the base for my glaze. I take about 1/4 cup of jam, add 1-2 TBSP of an acid such as red wine vinegar or fruit juice, and 1 TBSP of dijon mustard. Whisk that together and spread it on the tenderloin prior to baking.

You can also spread your tenderloin with dijon mustard and brown sugar as well. Or try equal parts soy sauce and honey.

You have to make sure your glaze doesn’t burn before your pork is done, so keep an eye on it. You might have to cover it with foil to finish the cooking so it doesn’t get too dark.

For the tenderloin I just made, I used some leftover fresh cranberry sauce that I had as the jam and I used orange juice as my acid.

Finish with a pan sauce

Once you’ve added your glaze and roasted your tenderloin, then you have the opportunity to use the pan drippings to make a delicious finishing sauce. This is why I like to sear and roast the tenderloin in an oven safe skillet, then you can make the sauce in that same pan and not waste any of the drippings.

First, remove the tenderloin from the skillet and place it on a cutting board to rest. Then add 1-2 finely chopped garlic cloves and 1 shallot or a small onion finely chopped. Saute those in the pan drippings for about a minute. Then add a liquid to de-glaze your pan. You can use a dry red wine, stock, or fruit juice here. I add about a cup or so. Use your spoon/mixing tool to scrape all those nice crispy bits off the bottom of the pan. Simmer this for a few minutes (less than 5) until it has reduced and becomes thicker.

I will often add fruit to my pan sauce as well because pork pairs so well with fruit. Some of my favorites are apples and pears. I’ll thinly slice them and add them in with the garlic and shallots. Then they get soft in the liquid you use to de-glaze your pan. You will have to reduce your sauce a bit longer, since the fruit will release juice as it cooks.

For this most recent tenderloin, I used sweet cherries (about 1 cup, seeds removed and cherries cut in half)! This was the first time that I’ve used cherries, but I had them on-hand and needed to use them up. I used red wine as my deglazing liquid and the sauce was delicious!

There are so many variations on this basic pork tenderloin recipe that you could probably have a different one every week with no repeats. I love learning a technique by following a recipe, then branching out to experiment with my own flavors. Once you have the confidence to move beyond a recipe, then you can begin to be creative with the flavors that you enjoy, and it gives you more flexibility in using what you have on hand with less waste.

Let me know the flavors you choose!


Make-Ahead Monday: Breaded Chicken Cutlets

One of my strategies for getting dinner on the table quickly after a long day of work is having some go-to quick meals that I can make in large batches and freeze for later. One of the most versatile make-ahead meals that I almost always have in my freezer are these breaded chicken cutlets.

This recipe taught me how to successfully make a crispy cutlet that was still moist on the inside. I learned 2 things from this recipe:

  1. To have nice breading like what you have at a restaurant, you need 3 steps. First the flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs. This 3 step process leaves you with a nice crispy breading.
  2. Slicing the chicken breast to make 2 cutlets and pounding them to 1/4 inch thickness helps to keep the chicken moist since it won’t take as long to cook. By the time you shallow fry each side to crisp up the breading, the inside of the chicken should be cooked. This is the key to keeping the chicken moist.

I make this recipe about every 1-2 months, and I make larger batches with enough to freeze for a few additional meals. Before going to work, I’ll pull out the cutlets I need for dinner and allow them to thaw in the fridge throughout the day. Here are some of my favorite ways to use this chicken to have dinner on the table in under 30 minutes:

  1. Chicken Parmesan: I spread some marinara sauce in the bottom of a baking dish, add the cutlets, top with parmesan cheese and bake in a 350 degree oven until the chicken is warmed and the cheese is melted. You can serve this over pasta, or with a salad.
  2. Chicken with Artichokes: Heat about 1 TBSP of oil and 1 TBSP of butter in a pan and add 1 chopped garlic clove and a 6 oz jar of artichoke hearts (drained and rinsed). Cook until artichoke hearts are softened, about a minute. Then add about 1 cup of a dry white wine (if you don’t cook with wine, use chicken stock). Let it simmer for a few minutes until it has reduced, then add 1/4 cup of lemon juice and 1/2 cup of chicken stock. Finish the sauce with another pad of butter (about 1 TBSP) and some capers (1-2 TBSP). Continue to simmer it until it has thickened then add the chicken cutlets into the pan. Turn them in the sauce to warm them. This is great served over pasta.
  3. Chicken Cordon Bleu: Spread each cutlet with some dijon mustard, add some sliced deli ham, and bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes. Top with sliced Swiss cheese and return to oven for about 5 minutes or until cheese has melted.
  4. Chicken with Arugula Salad: This is my go-to! I just warm up the chicken in the oven at 400 degrees until it’s warm and crispy again, about 10-15 minutes. I make a salad with arugula, red onion, tomatoes, and capers. Depending on how many servings you’re preparing will depend on how much dressing you make. For dressing: Add equal parts red wine vinegar with olive oil to moisten the lettuce. Then add salt and pepper and toss the salad together. After tasting it, I’ll decide if I want to add more oil and vinegar. I add that to the bowls and top with the chicken cutlet. I love to finish with fresh shavings of parmesan, or even bacon if I have it.

Putting a little extra time in over the weekend to prep these cutlets in large batches will save you so much time on a busy weeknight. How will you use them for a quick weeknight meal?


Sober Penne A.K.A “Penne with Vodka Sauce, Hold the Vodka”

Life is a combination of magic and pasta.

Federico Fellini

Vodka Sauce?! I’ve ordered this in restaurants before and thought to myself, is there really vodka in there? And if so, WHY? Well I did a little research, and it turns out the vodka does have a few purposes. The vodka will help release some flavors that you wouldn’t naturally taste if they were absorbed in water. The vodka also serves as a stabilizing ingredient, helping the fats and waters come together cohesively. Basically, the vodka is helping to release some of the flavors of the sauce, and help it come together into a smooth mixture.

Emulsifiers: If you don’t know what an emulsifier is, let me give you an example. Have you ever had to shake up an oil and vinegar dressing to the point where you might as well just skip arm day at the gym? I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “They’re like oil and water, they just don’t mix.” Well friends, oil and water don’t make a cohesive duo until the emulsifier is introduced into the relationship. My favorite emulsifier to add into a dressing is mustard. Add a little mustard to an oil and vinegar dressing, and they can all finally be friends. I’m thinking of so many analogies that can go with this, but again, I digress.

The point here is that the vodka acts as an emulsifier in this sauce, helping the tomatoes and the cream mix together and be more cohesive. The reality is that the alcohol will mostly all cook out, and you won’t really taste it. You will just have a more smooth, cohesive sauce. The problem is that my husband and I don’t drink vodka, and we definitely don’t have penne with vodka enough to warrant me buying something that I won’t even taste in the sauce!

I did some experimenting with an existing vodka sauce recipe to find one that was still creamy and cohesive, but without having to use the vodka. What I found is that I just had to cook the sauce down a little longer and I thought it tasted great even without the vodka serving as our sauce therapist.

So here is my adaptation of a recipe I found in “The Complete Book of Pasta and Noodles.” Their original recipe is called Penne with Tomato Sauce with Vodka and Cream. I’m calling mine “Sober Penne.”



Roasted Carrots with Yogurt and Lemon

I love carrots pretty much any way you can prepare them, but one of my favorite ways to enjoy them is roasted. Carrots have a natural sweetness that comes out when they’re cooked and I love pairing that with this tangy yogurt sauce.

I had carrots similar to these a few years ago at a local restaurant, True Food Kitchen as a part of their fall menu. I had never had carrots prepared this way before and I loved them! I remember making notes on my phone about what I tasted so I could try to recreate them at home. The restaurant serves them with dill and pistachios, so when I have those on hand I add them on top as well.

I love to eat them alongside a grilled chicken thigh with similar seasonings. The yogurt sauce is great with the chicken as well!



Refrigerator clean-out and farmers market trip inspire dinner

“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces, just good food from fresh ingredients.”

Julia Child

You know what it’s like- you’re getting ready for vacation and you know you have some stuff in your fridge that won’t last until you get back. I hate wasting food, and before we left for vacation I was wracking my brain on how to use up some food we had in our fridge. My parents were also visiting for the day and we decided to go to our local farmers market to look around. I love going to markets and picking up in-season produce and supporting local businesses. This farmers market trip, combined with my need to clean out our fridge, inspired a delicious dinner that came together quick, and highlighted our produce finds.

Our first find- these BEAUTIFUL Chocolate Cherokee heirloom tomatoes.

The meal started to come together in my mind after tasting one of these tomatoes at the market. I’m salivating just thinking about them now! They were perfectly sweet with a rich tomato flavor, and I knew that would perfect on some nice toasted bread for dinner! I just sliced them up, sprinkled them with salt and pepper and a little olive oil, then layered in some basil.

I mean it’s peach season. Need I say more?

I could have a meal on market samples alone, especially in the summer! The samples of these peaches and the tomatoes are what sold us. They were so fresh and sweet that we didn’t need to do anything to them other than slice them up.

Ciabatta bread was our final market purchase. We toasted it with olive oil to make these crispy food vessels. I also had some left over salami and brie to add to the spread. Rather than calling these “leftovers,” I’m calling them Charcuterie!

Lastly we visited the bread stand and browsed their selection. You may have had ciabatta as the bread for a panini because it toasts up very nicely and can stand up to sauces and toppings without getting soggy. We sliced it about 1/4 in thick, arranged it on the baking sheet, and quickly doused them in olive oil. Toast them under the broiler once everything else is out of the oven, but keep a close eye on it because bread can go from beautifully toasted to a charcoal brick in what seems like the blink of an eye! This bread was the perfect vessel for our tomatoes and peaches.

We passed olive oil and a good quality balsamic vinegar at the table to go along with the toasts, peaches, and tomatoes. Try topping your toast with a slice of brie, a few peaches, a basil leaf and a drizzle of balsamic. You won’t be disappointed!

Zucchini Tart- My zucchini came from a large one that went a few too many days in the garden. That’s why the slices look like green apples because I had to scoop out the seeds like you would in a larger squash. A “normal” zucchini slice will be round and more uniform. I think their shape adds to the beautify of this rustic tart.

And the grand finale allowed me to use up the zucchini in my fridge. I also had about 1/4 cup of herbed goat cheese, a few oz of cream cheese that was already opened, and the remainder of a tub of plain greek yogurt. I had some fresh dill that was already probably past it’s prime as well.

When we found the produce at the market I began to think of a more veggie-forward menu and of a way to use up the zucchini. I searched the internet for inspiration and Voila! Zucchini Tart! I adapted a recipe I found online to use the ingredients I had on hand and I was really pleased with the outcome. You can find the recipe below.

If you’re thinking of starting a garden and you have a decent amount of space, I would recommend growing zucchini. You can start the plant from seed once the ground warms up (plant them in a small mound) and 1-2 plants will produce plenty of zucchini for a family to enjoy all summer long. This is a blessing, but I’m warning you now- you will get tired of eating zucchini! I’ve had to become creative in finding ways to use it, and recently was introduced to a zoodle pesto salad that I’ll have to share at a later time. I digress!

This dinner also left me thinking about the beauty of hospitality. My parents don’t get to visit very often, and I wanted to spend as much time with them as possible. I didn’t want to spend hours in the kitchen making a complicated meal, but I wanted to have something special that we could all share together. Sometimes the best form of hospitality is a quick and simple meal that allows for more time to enjoy conversations at the table, rather than something that takes me away from my guests to prepare over a longer period of time.

So now it’s your turn! What do you have in your fridge that can inspire dinner tonight? Are there any fresh finds at your local market that you can prepare minimally to highlight their natural flavor? Share with me what you make!