I never cease to be amazed by the number of serendipitious coincidences happening in my life, especially when they occur hundreds of miles from where I live. On a recent trip up to northeastern Wisconsin I decided to take a break from driving around taking photos and rent a bicycle so I could ride through one of the state parks offering some incredible views, including the shoreline of a bay (and oh those hills). After handing over the required paperwork to the girl behind the counter (who I would later learn was the owner of the bike shop), she looked up and said something like 'you were my school Superintendent'. Other than my name and the town I lived in, nothing on this rental agreement would have given this information away. As it turned out she and her brother were in high school during my tenure. Knowing I was visible to some of my high school kids pretty much made my day, being visible to a former student make-up free and in my bike clothes on a day when I wanted to be invisible fell into that nebulous 'yikes' category. Note to self: At least wear a little mascara when going out in public.
When I made Tomato Jam for the first time last year I thought I had died and gone to heaven. However, it seems I may have only made entry into heaven's lobby. The Bacon Onion Jam provided the full-access pass. Seriously, the taste of this sweet and savory jam is a life-altering experience. And as perfect as a condiment this jam was to the Herbed Pork Sliders, it would be a game-changer served with a pate, on a grilled pizza (maybe with some blue cheese) or in an omelet. Oh, the possibilities for this jam's use are almost endless.
Decades ago I lived in Mississippi for a short period of time, dragged there by the person who shall remain nameless. It was there I had my first exposure to what it meant to be a northerner two hundred years after the Civil War (an experience that changed how I looked at the world), Southern Living Magazine, sweet tea, and sweet Vidalia onions. Way back when, Vidalia onions were only available in the 'south', but nowadays they are readily available in most grocery stores here 'up north'. Known for their delicate sweetness and high sugar content, there are no other onions quite like them. So when the list of ingredients for the Bacon Jam called for sweet onions, there was only one 'sweet' onion option, the Vidalia.
What is not to love about bacon? Especially a very thick cut applewood bacon fried crisp. Using the drippings from the bacon along with a tad of butter, the chopped Vidalia onions are sautéed until softened. After the shallots, balsamic vinegar, salt and light brown sugar are added, it takes approximately 25-35 minutes for the onions to transform into tender and caramelized bits of deliciousness as well as for the mixture to become 'jammy'. For even deeper caramelized onions, you could continue to cook the mixture on low for up to 45 minutes, however, just make sure you don't lose the 'jamminess' consistency. Fresh thyme and chives are the finishing touches adding another layer of flavor to this wicked sweet/savory jam.
To grill or not to grill or to roast or not to roast have usually been my pork tenderloin cooking method choices. As often as I have read about or watched on a myriad of cooking showing the process of first browning, then roasting pork tenderloin, I have been a little dismissive of the extra-step, extra-mess to clean up. The recipe for the Herbed Pork Sliders caused me to rethink this. Searing the pork tenderloin on high heat not only added flavor and a crust to the meat, but when followed by a relative short cooking time (20 minutes at 400 degrees F) allowed for a tender, moist finish to it. Combined with the cooking process, the rub made of dark brown sugar, dijon mustard, and fresh herbs completely transformed the pork tenderloins.
A platter of these Herbed Pork Tenderloin Sliders with Bacon Onion Jam won't last long. Accompanied by a couple of sides, it's all you will need for lunch or dinner. Using even smaller buns/rolls, they would make for a great meal starter or as a hearty appetizer for a late afternoon gathering. Don't forget to have plenty of your favorite iced cold bottled beer available. These sliders seem to call for it.
My notes to all of you: Plant fresh herbs in your garden. It's not too late. Have your favorite chilled beer in your refrigerator. It takes less than 30 minutes to make the Herbed Pork Tenderloins. If you have never tried the Colette Farmhouse Ale brewed by the Denver based Great Divide Brewing Company, try it. When you come across a recipe calling for searing the meat before roasting it, don't think you know better and skip the first step. Life is short, make stops along your travels, even it means you get home later than you had planned. Because you know what they say about best laid plans.
Herbed Pork Sliders with Bacon Onion Jam (inspired by the recipes shared in the May 2015 issue of Southern Living)
Herbed Pork Sliders
2 pork tenderloins (approximately 1 1/4 pounds each)
3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard (recommend Maille)
3 Tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, minced
2 Tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
18-20 small sized potato rolls or dinner buns
Bacon Onion Jam
4 thick slices applewood-smoked bacon slices, cooked crisp and chopped
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
2 medium sized sweet onions (Vidalia), chopped
3-4 large shallots, chopped
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar (recommend MiaBella Balsamic Vinegar)
3 Tablespoons light brown sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 Tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
Herbed Pork Sliders
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees (F).
2. Mix together dark brown sugar, dijon mustard, chopped thyme leaves and chopped rosemary until a paste forms. Set aside.
3. Rub pork tenderloins first with 1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkle salt and pepper evenly on all sides. Then Rub sugar/herb paste over pork tenderloins.
4. Heat 2 Tablespoons of extra-virgin oil in a large skillet. Add pork and brown on all four sides (approximately 5-6 minutes). Place browned tenderloins on a wire rack lined jelly roll pan.
5. Bake pork tenderloins for approximately 20 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the meat reaches 155 degrees (F).
6. Remove pork from oven and allow to rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing.
7. Spread mayonnaise on one side of the roll and bacon onion jam on the other. Add 2-3 slices of pork tenderloin to the slider. Serve immediately.
Notes: Sliders can be served with warm or cooled to room temperature pork. Pork tenderloin can be made the day before serving.
Bacon Onion Jam
1. In a medium-large skillet, cook bacon on low heat until crisp (approximately 10-12 minutes). Place cooked bacon on a paper towel lined dish allow to cool. Chop once cooled. Reserve drippings.
2. Add butter to drippings, increase heat to medium and add onions. Sauté until tender (approximately 10-12 minutes).
3. Add shallots, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, and kosher salt. Stirring constantly cook for approximately 1-2 minutes or until sugar dissolves.
4. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking, stirring occasionally for approximately 25-35 minutes or until onions are very tender and the mixture has a jammy consistency. Note: If you want the onions to caramelize further, continue cooking for up to 45 minutes.
5. Remove from heat, stir in chives, thyme and chopped bacon. Cool completely.
6. Serve immediately or refrigerate in a covered container for up to a week.
Note: The Bacon Onion Jam is the perfect condiment for the Herbed Pork Sliders, but would also be the perfect compliment to a liver pate or as a topping on a grilled pizza. If serving with a pate, bring to room temperature.
Sunset views at the shoreline of Peninsula State Park.
Pair of ducks swimming at sunset.