It happens to the best of us, even those who love their jobs, or at least can tolerate what they do each day from 9-5. Every once in a while Monday hits like a ton of bricks, quashing any latent serotonin residuals from the weekend and slapping you in the face with the reality of the 5 consecutive days of proletariat life ahead. It does not always happen on Mondays, if you're lucky you make it to Wednesday before your spirit is broken or you just plain run out of sh*ts to give.
I don't think it is about being miserable or chronically discontent, I'm neither of these. You see, even in the best of times, I've been known to catch a case....
Today was a prime example... and I should have seen it coming. A Sunday spent lounging rooftop poolside, sipping peach white wine spritzers with two girlfriends (marred only by a rather unsavory locker room encounter - story for another time) followed by more wine and a little too much ice cream at dinner at my Grandmother's house meant two things: heartburn and a comically uneven first sunburn of the season.
The combination of my physical ailments and the emotional strain of P and Harry being out of town made for a near sleepless night. I tossed and turned, suffering through a dream sequence that felt more like a high schooler’s Instagram feed - warped images, wonky colors, and no comprehensible aesthetic or narrative message - I awoke nauseated and confused.
The lack of rest made quick work of my idealistic (and admittedly uncharacteristic) after-work gym plans and the hot Baltimore rain dissolved any hope I had of a pleasant waterside walk to work. Even my wardrobe selection the night before did me no favors, red gingham and sunburn are not a good look.
By the time I walked out the door it was Monday 5, Chris 0...I'll spare you the excruciating work day details (no one likes a complainer) as I'm sure everyone has had their own struggles today, but let’s just say, I walked home a broken, rain soaked man.
Now let’s get to the point. This post is not a woe-is-me attempt to wallow in what I know is not such a bad day in the grand scheme of things... No, this post is about food and beating a case of the Mondays the epicurean way.
I know what you're thinking, and this isn't an "eating my feelings" episode either - that was Friday night after dropping P and Harry at the airport. Dinner tonight was a turning point, an adventure in the kitchen and a catalyst for saving the day, the evening and hopefully the week ahead.
Over the weekend I had the good fortune to receive the most thoughtful gift from a college friend who has since moved out of town but thankfully finds this blog palatable. Her family owns an olive oil and vinegar purveyor in various locations throughout New York state called The Crushed Olive. So, thinking of our culinary exploits, she so generously sent us a pack of several varieties of their product, oil infusions and aged balsamic in mouthwatering varieties, think eureka lemon, white truffle, or fig. I can only hope our usage can do her compliments and generosity justice.
I chose for this evening, a Harissa infused olive oil as the flavor impetus for my dish. Now I've got plenty of new flavor profiles to explore with this gift pack, but I needed a kick in the butt with the day I had, so Harissa fit the bill. Harrssa is a North African flavoring paste, made of several types of hot peppers (piri piri being the most traditional), as well as a spice combination that typically includes coriander, caraway and garlic. This vibrant red concoction lends a deep and sultry heat to the cuisine of countless Middle Eastern and North African nations and has even found its way into the Arab-rooted food in contemporary Germany and France. The eye catching color and the slow burn it promised in any dish I attempted, was enough to get my gears going and my head was already in a different place. I made a quick call to invite a neighbor who I knew was having her own struggle that day and I headed to the kitchen.
I worked with what I had. I knew harissa lends itself especially well to gamey meats like lamb or goat, and can be particularly good when working with challenging vegetable likes eggplant. I had neither of these on hand, however, so I opted for pork tenderloin and a risotto base. Beginning with the visual, I thought a creamy white Arborio risotto, studded with slightly charred cauliflower florets, would be a striking back drop to a dramatic harissa oil drizzle. The stage set, I decided to impart as much depth to the pork as possible. I marinated the tenderloin in a combination of harissa oil, sweetly aromatic cardamom, savory cumin, and added paprika for even more punch of color. I hoped the spices would take well to a slight char on the grill and play well in juxtaposition to the creamy risotto with just a squeeze of lime to brighten everything up.
The result, despite being my first foray into the world of North African inspired cuisine, was a resounding success. My neighbor and I forgot all about the troubles of the Monday and not so gracefully made quick work of our beautiful dish (if I don’t say so myself). I am excited to recreate and potentially augment the dish when P is back in town, and I expect harissa and its unique bite will become a staple in our kitchen.
So rather than a rant on the horrors of Mondays, let this post be instead a celebration of my escape from doom and gloom. This is my way of expressing my appreciation for the way cooking and eating offer refuge and respite in hard times, while also elevating and enriching already wonderful moments. I turn to food when I am inspired or when I need inspiration. It is both my creative outlet and my light in the dark.
This 20-something proletariat life can be tough, and I'm lucky I found my way to make the best of it…or at least survive a Monday.
Harissa-Cumin-Cardamom Crusted Pork Tenderloin
w/ Cauliflower Studded Risotto.
- 3/4 cup Arborio risotto
- 1 1/2 lbs pork tenderloin
- 1 medium white onion - diced
- 2 cloves of garlic - minced
- 1 head of cauliflower, cut into 1in cube florets
- 4 tablespoons evoo
- 1/2 tablespoon ground cardamom
- 1/2 tablespoon paprika
- 1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- 2 table spoons harissa infused evoo + 1 tablespoon for drizzle
- salt and pepper to taste
- Combine 2 table spoons evoo, cardamom, cumin, cayenne and harissa oil in plastic bag and marinate pork for at least an hour at room temp
- Pre-heat oven to 400F, toss cauliflower florets in evoo, salt and pepper. Place on foil lined cooking sheet and roast for 25 mins until they begin to brown
- Meanwhile, sweat onion and garlic in 2 tablespoons evoo until onions are translucent, add risotti and toast, about 3 mins
- Slowly add water, 1 cup at a time, letting the water cook down and stirring often until risotto is rich, creamy and tender
- All the while, heat grill and grill pork, 10 mins on each side until medium rare
- This should all come together at the same time, if it doesn't, make sure you've had enough wine so that you have an excuse.
- Once risotti is tender, add the cauliflower stir in any additional salt or pepper you like.
- Plate risotto as the base of the platter, and slice the pork about 1/2 in thick, fanning it our over the risotto
- Drizzle harissa infused evoo over top for color and a little more bite