Once in a while a cookbook comes along that offers reliably good recipes while also explaining the techniques or ingredients that lift those dishes beyond the ordinary. Pam Anderson's CookSmart: Perfect Recipes for Every Day (Houghton Mifflin, 2002, $28) is a recent example.
Anderson, a food columnist for USA Weekend and author of The Perfect Recipe, likes to tinker with recipes, always looking for ways to improve them. She undertook a kitchen marathon in researching this book, cooking more than 75 slabs of ribs to come up with a version that tastes just like the kind that sit all day over an open fire, and baking more than 60 cakes to fashion a recipe as easy as a box mix but as delicious as homemade should be.
As a result, CookSmart offers some recipes that will quickly become family favorites. And you can believe it when a recipe title claims, for example, to be "Oven-Fried Chicken That's as Good as Fried." (The secret to that simple concoction is using crushed Melba toast to coat the chicken. It has become a favorite in my house.)
Most of us would be delighted with any book that provides a standard or two in our day-to-day menus. But by explaining her techniques and walking us through her experiments, Anderson lets us in on some secrets that improve plenty of other dishes as well.
One example: Now that I've tasted Anderson's versions of pork tenderloin, I'll never cook another one without at least a few minutes of brining in water with sugar and salt, whether I use her imaginative recipes for curried-apple, rosemary-orange or sweet chili crust or simply make up my own.
Grilled Pork Tenderloins With Rosemary-Orange Crust
Serves 4 or 5
TO BRINE PORK:
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 package (about 2 pounds) pork tenderloins
1/4 cup orange juice concentrate
1 teaspoon brown sugar
4 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
freshly ground black pepper
Mix salt and sugar in 1 quart water in medium bowl until dissolved. Place tenderloins in brine; let stand about 45 minutes. Remove from brine, rinse thoroughly and pat dry.
Bring concentrate, brown sugar and rosemary to a simmer in a small skillet. Simmer until mixture reduces to about 2 tablespoons. Brush each tenderloin all over with the orange-herb mixture, then sprinkle with pepper.
Meanwhile, heat gas grill, with all burners on high, until fully preheated, 10 to 15 minutes. Use a wire brush to clean grill rack, then brush lightly with oil, close grill and allow grill to return to temperature.
Place tenderloins on hot grill rack; close lid and grill-roast for 7 minutes. (Grill marks should form.) Turn tenderloins, close lid, and continue to sear until dark brown grill marks have formed on the other side, about 6 minutes longer.
Turn off grill heat, and let meat continue to cook for 5 minutes longer. A meat thermometer inserted into thickest end should register between 145 degrees and 150 degrees.
If you want the pork well-done, close lid and continue to cook until meat registers desired temperature, but not higher than 160 degrees. Remove tenderloins from grill and let rest for 5 minutes. Internal temperature will continue to rise during resting period.