Last updated on November 22nd, 2016
Six of us will be gathering at my house to celebrate a milestone birthday, and I’m trying to figure out a not-too-hard menu that would also be properly festive. These people are NOT adventurous eaters, so I was thinking something classic, but it also needs to be able to be prepared mostly in advance since we’re getting together on a weeknight.
Oh, man. This is so much fun because I absolutely love to plan out timing for dinner parties. Maybe I’m an event planning nerd, but figuring out what I need to prepare when—essentially doing a run of show for my dinner—might even more fun for me than having the party, in fact….
Here’s a menu with a few twists on classic dishes that you can prepare in stages so you won’t be overwhelmed and will have time to celebrate.
- Bibb lettuce with avocado, goat cheese, charred corn, dried cherries and sherry vinaigrette
- Brined, rubbed, and grilled pork tenderloin
- Smashed red potatoes with fresh herbs (whatever’s left alive in the garden, right?)
- Birthday cake of the guest’s choice!
Don’t freak out about that brining, rubbing, and grilling I’m suggesting for the pork. It can be brined the night before and dry-rubbed in five minutes on Friday morning, then thrown on the grill while you raise a glass to celebrate both the birthday and this great Indian summer weather.
Brined Pork Tenderloin
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Makes 6-8 servings
Pork and Brine
- 1/4 cup orange juice
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 3 bay leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 2-3 pounds pork tenderloin, trimmed of fat and silverskin
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/4 cup red pepper flakes (less if you’re spice-averse)
- 3 tablespoons fennel seeds, crushed in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Combine the orange juice, salt, sugar, bay leaves, peppercorns, and fennel seeds with a quart of water in a saucepan or stockpot and and heat gently, stirring, just until the salt and sugar dissolve. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.
Pour the brine into a large Ziploc bag, add the pork, and refrigerate overnight. To ensure the pork remains fully submerged, I usually place the filled Ziploc bag in a big mixing bowl and lay a plate or shallow bowl on top to keep everything pushed down.
Also, clean your lettuce and make your vinaigrette.
Friday afternoon when you get home:
Pat dry the pork tenderloins and discard the brine. Combine the above ingredients and rub onto the tenderloins. Wrap each coated tenderloin tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-3 hours.
Put a big pot of salted water on to boil.
Take the lettuce, vinaigrette, other salad components, and pork out of the fridge. Unwrap the tenderloins and brush off any excess spices from the rub. Husk 2 ears of corn.
Heat up the grill.
Scrub and quarter 3 lbs. of red potatoes, add to the boiling salted water and cook until tender, drain, smash lightly with a potato masher or fork, and toss with real butter, fresh herbs, and more salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover; you can reheat gently if it cools before it’s ready to serve.
Throw your corn on the grill until charred, then slice the kernels off the cob to add to the salad. Compose the salad.
Say hi to your guests and pour some Prosecco.
Put the pork on the grill, turning every 4-5 minutes, until the center of the meat registers 140 degrees F. Remove from the heat and let the meat rest for 10 minutes before slicing.