And it’s March again. A year ago, we were like deer in the headlights watching as the world shut down; little did we know how difficult and different the following months would be. We’ve come full circle from the early days of Covid, and things are looking up: the vaccine is here, it’s getting warm, and crocuses are starting to poke out their purple heads. Spring has always been a time of new beginnings and renewal, and this spring, more than ever, feels like a (small) celebration.
In the spirit of new beginnings, I’m happy to announce that I’ve accepted a position as an assistant editor for the America’s Test Kitchen Reviews team (!!). The job entails testing ingredients and putting cooking gadgets and equipment through the ringer. Friends and family: expect lots of taste tests and recipe leftovers heading your way!
WHAT I’M EATING
Early spring is when the chefs and foodies of the world start promo-ing all things soft and mild: tender spring asparagus, pea sprouts, artichoke hearts, pink spiral ham. But my cooking is still slowly transitioning from hearty wintry flavors to those of soothing spring. So, what I’m eating is my riff on a Portuguese Bifana sandwich: Thinly sliced pork loin is simmered in a reduction of beer, garlic, pepper puree, and other aromatics, topped with caramelized onions and an unorthodox slather of chimichurri for a pop of acidity. Pile it on a Portuguese sweet roll, and it’s a delectably messy, savory meal. On the sweet side, a rather sinful banana bread cinnamon roll recipe has made a few appearances on my table: think banana bread meets cream cheese cinnamon buns. It’s a great weekend baking project or part of an ambitious Easter spread.
A Riff On A Portuguese Bifana Sandwich
Picture this: Thinly sliced pork, slowly simmered in beer with garlic, pepper puree and other aromatics served atop a sweet Portuguese roll with caramelized onions, Mozambique mayo, and chimichurri for brightness. This is my riff on the Bifana sandwich, and it’s piquant, messy and akin to a Portuguese French dip sandwich but with more flavor combos going on.
For the marinade and sauce:
1 pound pork loin, sliced into very thin rounds (1/8 inch)
1 cup light beer
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp dried oregano
1 Tbsp Portuguese pepper puree
2 tsp red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cumin
1 Tbsp lemon juice
For the chimichurri:
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp salt, plus more to taste
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
Mozambique mayonnaise (see last newsletter)
Portuguese sweet bread rolls or your favorite bread rolls
First, mix all marinade ingredients together and let pork marinade for at least 30 minutes.
To make the chimichurri sauce, combine all ingredients together and taste for seasoning. Set aside.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Remove pork from marinade (reserve marinade) and cook for about 3-4 minutes, flipping to brown both sides.
Pour marinade on pork and bring to a simmer on medium-high heat for about 5-8 minutes, until marinade has reduced by 1/4. Cover and remove from heat.
To serve, toast rolls and spread with a layer of Mozambique mayonnaise and caramelized onions. Top with pork and sauce, then drizzle on a heaping spoonful of chimichurri sauce. Serve immediately.
Banana Bread Cinnamon Buns with Banana Cream Cheese Frosting
Be warned: While this recipe is (I swear!) easy, it’s messy and takes a decent amount of time to make (though most of the time is just dough rising time). It uses an Asian bread-making method called tangzhong, which helps keep the bread moist for a longer amount of time. When you make the filling you’ll probably have extra left; I like to mix it into the frosting for an extra shot of banana flavor.
5 cups all-purpose flour (measure out 3 Tbsp from the total and set aside)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup whole milk, cold
1/4 cup honey
2 ripe bananas, mashed with a fork
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 tsp yeast
1 tsp Kosher salt
10 Tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
3 ripe bananas, mashed with a fork
1 cup brown sugar
4 ounces of cream cheese (1/2 bar), at room temp
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
8 Tbsp butter, softened
1 cup confectioners sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp filling
First, make the tangzhong. Whisk together 3 Tbsp of flour and 1/2 cup of water in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 20 seconds, whisk, then microwave again for 20 seconds. The mixture should firm up and have a pudding-like consistency. Continue microwaving for 20-second intervals if it’s still too runny, but it shouldn’t take more than 60-80 seconds total for it to achieve that consistency.
Scrape the tangzhong into the bowl of a stand mixer, then whisk in the cold milk.
Whisk in the eggs and honey, mashed bananas, vanilla extract, yeast, and remaining flour. Attach bowl to stand mixer and, using the dough hook, mix on low until no dry flour remains, about 5 minutes. Rest for 15 minutes.
Add kosher salt, and with the mixer running, add 1 Tbsp of butter at a time, waiting for each piece to incorporate before adding the next. Once all the butter is incorporated, knead for 5 minutes on medium-low speed.
Flour a clean counter, remove dough from standmixer bowl and gently shape into a rough ball (dough will be sticky). Grease a large bowl, place the dough inside and cover with plastic wrap. Let rest for 30 minutes, then fold the edges inward, rotating the bowl as you go, for a total of about 8 folds. Cover, and repeat 3 more times. Refrigerate, covered, for at least 8 hours, or overnight.
Remove dough from refrigerator and let come to room temp, about 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Meanwhile, make the filling: Whip the softened cream cheese using a standmixer fitted with a paddle attachment, about 4 minutes. Add the bananas, brown sugar and cinnamon and mix to combine. Set aside.
Spray a 9 x 13 Pyrex or metal baking dish with canola oil or other nonstick spray.
Flour a clean surface and roll and pat the dough out into a 12 x 16 rectangle, with the long side facing you. Slather the filling onto the dough, reaching to the corners, then scatter the filling with chopped pecans. You’ll have extra filling—reserve 2 Tbsp for the frosting.
Carefully, and tightly, roll the dough up from the side facing you—the filling is very wet, so some might ooze out the edges. This is fine. Once completely rolls, tuck edge under.
Using a sharp knife sprayed with cooking spray, cut dough into 12 rounds, placing each round in the prepared baking dish. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 32 minutes. Remove foil, then bake for 10-20 minutes longer, or until knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
Remove from oven and let cool.
While buns cool, make the frosting: In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and cream cheese until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the confectioners’ sugar, salt, vanilla extract, and 2 Tbsp filling and mix on low speed until incorporated.
Once buns have cooled, slather with frosting. Serve immediately.
WHAT I’M DRINKING
I’m still on my vermouth/aperetif + club soda/seltzer spritzer kick, but I do want to take a moment to talk about one specific aperitif that is one of my favorites: Fernet Branca. Known for its intensely medicinal taste, Fernet is a service industry favorite that I “discovered” during a college research trip to Argentina, where, mixed with Coca Cola, it’s the unoffocial national drink.
Even though I was a total alcohol noob (wine was still unpalatable to me at this point), I really took to the intensly herbal liquor, so much so that I operated under the delusion that since the Argentines walked around with thermoses of hot water for their yerba mate tea, I could do the same with a mix of Fernet and Coke. Yes, timid, rule-following college me regularly walked around Rosario, Argentina with a thermos full of Fernet and Coke—cringe! But even with that infamous time in my life, I still somehow maintain a love of the brownish green stuff.
What I’m Reading
I’m definitely biased now that I’m starting a job at America’s Test Kitchen (ATK), but their books and content is worth seeking out! I’ve been pouring over their book “How to Cocktail” (great for the cocktail curious) and their beautifully photographed book “Big Flavors From Italian America,” which includes a replica of Cranston-based Mike’s Kitchen’s famous baked polenta.
In non-ATK related reads, I highly recommend “Bitter Honey,” Letitia Clark’s gorgeous ode to Sardinian cooking. Her recipe for trofie with pesto, tuna and tomatos is divine, and I’m dying to try the linguine with bottarga and clams (if I can get my hands on bottarga). Though I’ve never been to Sardinia, I can almost smell the lemon trees and wild herb and salty ocean tinted air through Clark’s writing.