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Sweet mediocrity: Sauce turned out not so hot


Some days, your work is not excellent. Some days it is just so-so. Recently, for instance, I made a barbecue sauce that was the Roman Hruska of sauces, reminding me of the late Senator from Nebraska who spoke up for mediocrity.

It was supposed to have been a zippy topping slathered on top of pork tenderloin. The tenderloin, fixed in my kettle cooker, turned out fine. The sauce, made with honey, chili peppers, orange juice and orange zest, turned out to be more fruity than fiery.

These days, pork tenderloins are amazingly lean, sometimes sporting less fat than a fashion model. These fat-free types have to be kept a good distance away from the fire to keep them moist. If they aren't, you will end up with a loin of pork that's as dry and tough as a box of chicken nuggets.

Accordingly, I kept my charcoal briquettes on the sides of my kettle and kept my tenderloin in the middle of the grill. In cooking the tenderloin, I employed my latest sure-fire tool for figuring out when to take stuff off the grill. That tool would be the instant-read thermometer. You just stick it in a piece of meat, watch the needle, then act like an expert. If the needle says the temperature is too low, you cook longer. If the needle says the center of the meat has reached the desired temperature, 160 degrees for pork tenderloin, you pull the meat off the fire.

When my thermometer told me the tenderloin was done, I wrapped the meat in aluminum foil and started making the sauce. Technically, you are supposed to make the sauce before you cook the meat. That way the meat and the sauce arrive at the table in perfect harmony. But this particular day I wasn't working at peak efficiency and the fire was hotter than I expected. That is the way things go sometimes on the road to mediocrity.

The sauce called for half a cup of honey, a tablespoon of crushed red caribe chili peppers, a half-cup of orange juice and a tablespoon of orange zest.

For starters, the honey gave me trouble. Instead of flowing freely, as it does in the land of milk and honey, the stuff I had was recalcitrant. A bit of it came tumbling into the measuring cup, but then the majority of honey in the jar wouldn't move. It was a honey logjam. I added a little water to soften the honey up and put the jar in the microwave for 30 seconds. Eventually, I got enough honey flowing to get the half cup the recipe called for.

Getting the orange juice and orange zest -- the orange part of the peel -- was easy. But filling the chili pepper requirement was not. I did not have the crushed red caribe chili the recipe called for, so I substituted a combination of ground red pepper and ground chili peppers.

I mixed the ingredients and the resulting sauce had a pleasant citrus sweetness to it, but not much heat. It picked up a little smoky flavor when it was brushed on the slices of steaming pork tenderloin. It would probably be much better if I had used the correct peppers. My makeshift sauce was not bad, but not something that made me want to shout from the rooftops. It was so-so sauce for a mediocre meal. Some days that is the best you can do.

So-So Sauce

Yield: 1 cup

1/2 cup honey

1 tablespoon crushed red caribe chili pepper

1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

1 tablespoon orange zest

Combine the honey, chili pepper, juice and zest.

-- Adapted from "Jane Butel's Quick and Easy Southwestern Cookbook, (Harmony Books, 1998).

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