Saturday, February 7, 2015

Samantha's Port Pork Tenderloin and Baked Brussel Sprouts with Cheddar Cheese

A surprisingly stress free way to experience the food of a stuffier era!

My family was late to the Downton Abbey party, but when they got into it? They got into it. My mom and sister wound up watching the first two seasons the same way Portlandia characters watched Battlestar Galacita, and my mom has been a pretty religious viewer since then. I got sucked in last year, and have been trying to catch up on it ever since. It's addicting, fun to talk about with other people who are watching too, and as it's been a while since I've had a show like that in my life (RIP LOST), I've been enjoying getting indignant about plot choices and theorizing about what's going to happen next with people.

As it happens, the Edwardian era is something I've often struggled to find recipe ideas and suggestions for. Because of that (and my enthusiasm for the show) Edwardian Cooking: 80 Recipes Inspired by Downton Abbey's Elegant Meals has been a cookbook that's been tempting me for a long, long time, but I'd never gotten around to actually purchasing a copy for one reason or another. Fortunately, my aunt and uncle corrected this oversight this Christmas, and I've been impatiently waiting to give it a spin!

I can be a bit fussy about my cookbooks, especially when they boast they're historic. My favorite cookbooks have nice, colorful pictures of what you're going to be making, include some background on the recipe, and are very clear in their instructions. Ideally, they should also be able to be easy to leave open and access the recipe when your hands are covered in goo, but that's something that's so uncommon, it's not a deal breaker for me by necessity. Really, none of these things are true deal breakers, as a lot of the historic or historically themed cookbooks I have don't meet these standards, but it's easy to win me over with glossy pictures and well researched recipes.

While admittedly this book doesn't include pictures or drawings of the finished products, I really can't stress enough how much I love this cookbook. Not only does it have a really wide range of recipes, but it includes a lot of discussion of the history of the dish itself and where it draws its inspiration from. Virtually all of the recipes are authentic to the period and are meticulously researched, and the introduction to each of them provide trivia about the ingredients, the recipe and the episodes you might have seen your favorite characters munching on treats you can make yourself.

As a special bonus, this book also lies open and flat on a flat surface like a champ. It's excellently constructed and can lie flat even if you're looking at a recipe at the very beginning or the very end of it.

The book is broken down into sweet and savory tea items, and then all the courses for a dinner at the Abbey. Watching the show, you're definitely struck by how much work goes into making food for all those people by hand using equipment most people have phased out of their kitchens, so I worried a bit that the recipes - and especially the main courses - would be tricky to prepare. While some of the recipes seem a little fussy - several of the sweet tea items are things you need to make and serve immediately, or be very careful about when you try pulling them out of the pan or off the cookie sheet - several of the dinner items actually seemed like something my mom would just make for dinner for the four of us. The portions are also sized down to fit a more normal family size, rather than the ten or twelve people the Crawleys have over for dinner, which make them more approachable to tackle on a day to day basis.

I decided to try out the port pork tenderloin and cheddar brussel sprouts for dinner last weekend, mostly because they both seemed like fairly stress free recipes to get my feet wet and then see where things went from here. Both recipes - and most of the others - stress that the food cooked in the Abbey was all grown on the property, so the pork would come from pigs raised by the farmers leasing the Abbey's land and the sprouts would have been grown in gardens tended by other farmers or servants.

The recipe for the pork tenderloin explains that cuts like tenderloin were appreciated because they were easy to cut, thus limiting the chances of your guest using so much pressure to cut their food that it flies off the plate and lands on their clothes. Sounds good to me! The author notes that this is one of the only recipes they found that involved marinating the meat, which would have been done up to an hour in advance in the abbey. At home, you can marinate it in advance and leave it in the fridge for up to four hours.

Now, when I first heard it was marinated, I assumed we'd be shoving it in a bag with the port and some spices, but you actually just rub in two and a half teaspoons of salt, a half teaspoon of black pepper and two minced cloves of garlic into your one pound pork tenderloin, wrap it in plastic and set it aside in the fridge. The recipe recommended leaving it in for four hours.

After heating two tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet or saute pan, you add in the meat and brown it on all sides. Pour off the rendered fat, and then add two cups of sweet sherry. This all gets put into a 350 degree oven to get roasted for thirty five minutes. When it's done, let it rest for five minutes and then carve it thinly, because that's a lot more proper to eat than a giant slab of meat.

For a side dish, I decided to try out the baked brussel sprouts with cheddar cheese. I don't like brussel sprouts, but I do really like cheddar cheese, and I'm sort of trying to be better about how willing I am to eat vegetables. Admittedly, covering them in cheddar cheese doesn't really make them any healthier for you, but I guess you're still getting vitamins... and I realized I maybe don't hate these as much as I used to!

Both brussel sprouts and cheddar cheese are very English ingredients. According to the cookbooks, some families even have brussel sprouts on their family crests! The book also explains that cheddar cheese has been an aristocratic food in England since 1170 because Henry II liked it so much, he wanted everyone else to eat it too. I was especially pleased to hear this because one of my roommates in college was French, very, very snobby and totally lived up to the French stereotype of hating any kind of food that wasn't French, but especially "American cheese" like cheddar, which as I pointed out, is English and perfectly tasty.
The recipe advises you to slice your brussel sprouts in half and then cut out the cores, because the core is where the sulfur flavor and smell comes from. You're left with interesting little oblong Pac Man shaped sprouts, which get added into a saute pan with one inch of boiling water and a half teaspoon of salt. This gets cooked for three minutes, and then the sprouts are removed to a baking dish and covered with a tablespoon of butter, one and a half cups of cheddar cheese and a tablespoon of ground black pepper. This gets baked in the oven at 325 degrees for twenty minutes.

It was at this point in the evening that our oven short circuited, which as you can imagine caused me quite a bit of distress. Why do things always seem to go wrong when I'm cooking dinner? Fortunately, the pork was already mostly done by the time it happened, but I was worried about the sprouts. I wasn't sure how much they needed to cook in the oven, and I didn't want them to wind up being tough and undercooked, but it seemed like they came out okay. The cheese was melted and they were warm, so I was pleased.

After slicing up the pork, you've got a pretty nice plate, even if my plating maybe isn't as beautiful as the cooks in the show's would be.

So, how did everything taste?

The pork was super moist and flavorful. The sherry gave it a really good sweet taste that wasn't too bitter and boozy for me, while also keeping enough of the original flavor to make it clear what it was cooked in. The sprouts were delicious, with some nice crunch and without tasting like eating sulfur. Cutting the cores out created a nice little pocket for the cheese to melt into, and while they didn't settle into it perfectly or anything, there were several I got that tasted like they were stuffed with cheddar cheese. Always a good thing, in my book! These are both recipes I'd make again and happily because they were very tasty and surprisingly easy to make.

Whether or not you're a fan of Downton Abbey, I would absolutely recommend this cookbook. It might sound kind of fussy because of where it draws its inspiration from, and I'm sure there are some recipes in here that are more high maintenance than this was, but I really can't stress enough how easy this was to make. I often get stressed out making dinner for people because I feel like it's more time sensitive, especially if there's more than one thing involved in preparing it like a side or a salad, and I wasn't stressed doing this at all. Everything was simple to do and cooked relatively quickly, so dinner didn't feel like a huge production or an enormous waste of time, which definitely was not something I expected from a Downton Abbey inspired meal. Admittedly, I didn't do a five course meal for twelve people, but still.

This was a fun way to bring a little bit of one of our favorite tv shows into our home, and I'm really excited to finally have this cookbook in my possession. Everything is wonderfully researched and very interesting, and I strongly suggest you run out and get your own copy.

Even if you don't, you'll probably be seeing a lot more from this book in the future!


  1. *From Julie's doll mom:*

    I'm not a Downton Abbey fan, but I love pork and brussel sprouts. To me, brussel sprouts are like baby cabbages, so I really like them, core and all. And I usually eat some kind of pork roast or tenderloin at Christmas, so this may be a recipe to try.

    1. Well, obviously I'd definitely recommend it! I'm not a big fan of cabbage, but after trying these guys out, I might have to give it another shot. :)

  2. Awesome dish! WOW my family was so hooked on LOST it wasn't funny! Me and my brothers couldn't stop talking about it! My mum and sister like Downten Abbey too, Me not as much because i found it super confusing :/ LOL
    -Lydia from AGfernfriends

    1. It definitely took me a while to figure out who all the characters were, but now that I've watched more of it, I feel a lot more comfortable keeping up with people who have watched since the beginning, haha. Glad to meet another LOST fan too! I'm so incredibly fond of it.

  3. Your posts always make me so hungry! :D I might have to order this cookbook. I'm also a sucker for historical cook books. ^_^

    1. This is probably my favorite historical cookbook I've ever owned, as you can tell from my gushing about it in the post! Do you have any particular favorites? I'm always on the hunt for more.

  4. I'm sure the lady of your manor was pleased with the results. It's always nice to have some one else cook and this all sounded scrumptious!

    1. I think she enjoyed it! I know we're already talking about making it again, and since it went pretty smoothly, I'd be happy to give it another shot. :)

  5. I scour used book sales for really old cookbooks and have been lucky find a few (including one that was all for peanut related things from Virginia in the late 1800s). The internet can also be a good source of pdf versions of historical cookbooks.

    I can't stand brussel spouts but I use a filleted pork tenderloin instead of pork loin chops anymore when I pan fry them breaded in Ritz cracker crumbs (and a little garlic powder). The butcher cringed when he heard I was filleting the tenderloin then he tried it for himself and told me I was brilliant. :) (Go, me). It's a great cut and absolutely ideal for guests.

    1. Ooh, that sounds tasty! Might have to give that a shot sometime, we're definitely a fan of the cut around here. :)