Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Spicy Southwest Pork Loin

First up on deck is a Spicy Southwest Pork Loin. Served with mixed grains, sauteed spinach, and an orange-chipotle sauce, this dinner clocked in at 625 calories, 25 grams of fat, 41 grams of carbs, and 56 grams of protein.

This meal took me about 20 minutes to prepare from start to finish, with almost no prep time involved. Really quick and easy, and HUGE on the flavor!

The Harvest Grains Blend from Trader Joe's is pretty awesome when it comes to a quick and easy side dish. I'm a big fan of carbs, and that's never going to change. What is changing is the kind of carbs I put on my plate. Whole grains provide more fiber and less sugar than their refined grain counterparts. Whole grains reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease. They also lower your LDL (bad cholesterol). See? Carbs are good if you choose the right kind (and eat in moderation). This Harvest Grains Blend contains Israeli couscous, split garbanzo beans, green & red orzo, and red quinoa, and clocks in at 170 calories per 1/4 cup.

Getting the grains ready to go is super easy. To boost the flavor I added a teaspoon of powdered low sodium chicken soup base. This runs 25 calories per tsp, and is a low calorie way of making my taste buds happy. I substituted extra virgin olive oil for the tablespoon of butter, added some sea salt, dried green onions, and some red pepper flakes. The great thing about this side is you can add just about anything to make the flavor compliment your dish, no matter what style or cuisine you're cooking. It's fantastic with fresh herbs, dried herbs, alternative liquids and fats (in moderation). Plus, once the water boils it's only 10 minutes before 4 servings are ready to plate. 

Next in the pan were the pork chops. Pork gets a bad rap. While it is higher in fat content than the other white meat, it contains essential antioxidants that aid in better immunity, is highly enriched in B vitamins,  and is a great source of iron. Center cut boneless pork chops contain less than 275 calories per half a pound! Make sure any excess fat is trimmed, and the thicker the cut the juicier the meat. I personally try to buy as local as possible, so the pork I purchased was raised here in SC. Not only will you get a fresher product by buying local, but you support your local economy too. Double win. I sprinkled the chops with some Smoky Spicy Southwest seasoning from www.CharCrust.com (which I purchased at the Peach Stand. Half of everything I buy is from this great little store... worth the drive to Fort Mill!). The seasoning adds less than 30 calories to the pork, creates a nice crust, and seals in the juices well. A basic blackening or cajun seasoning would be great too. Just a very little bit of canola oil in the pan and 4 minutes on the first side over medium-high heat starts it out well. Flip it and send it in to a 400 degree oven while you cook the spinach. 

Fresh cooked spinach is a super easy, super fast, SUPER healthy veggie. It's no secret that dark leafy greens are an essential part of a balanced healthy diet, and one that we probably don't get enough of on a daily basis. The key to cooking great spinach is to take it off the heat as soon as it's wilted: excessive cooking leaches out lots of great nutrients and makes it a bit mushy. I've got some spicy pickled garlic cloves (also from the Peach Stand) that pack about 3 times the flavor punch as a normal clove of garlic, and add zero calories. Sautee a few chopped cloves of garlic (throw in a couple more if you don't have the fancy pickled kind) in 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil for a few seconds, throw in your spinach, and add just a couple tablespoons of white wine to create the steam to wilt the leaves. Because you'll never convince me to leave my heavy cream behind, I added 1 tablespoon as the leaves wilted which created a really nice sauce for the spinach. The heavy cream added only 25 calories per serving and could easily be left out, but 25 calories is worth it to me! 

I'm going to share a secret weapon that will have you turning out meat that tastes like it was made by a pro: a meat thermometer. Go get one, and use it! Seriously, an analog thermometer is only about $4. No need for fancy digital. Pork production in this country has come a long way and trichinosis is no longer a concern like it once was. Pork chops cooked to a temperature of medium (145) will be much more juicy and flavorful than the dried up pork hockey pucks you remember from your youth. A hint of pink in the center is what you want to see.  Once the pork has been in the oven about 5 minutes, choose the thickest chop and insert the thermometer into the middle through the side. Once it reads 135-140, take the pork out of the oven. By the time you plate your food and set your table, the internal temperature will have risen to 145 and your pork will be perfectly cooked. 

I found this yummy sauce at where else? The Peach Stand. At a mere 30 calories per 2 tablespoons it's now a staple in my healthy sauce arsenal. I was shocked at how much flavor and spice there was in just a small finger-full of this sauce. This dish would also be great topped with fresh salsa, chimmichurri sauce, or even a slightly spicy barbeque sauce. 

One thing is obvious to me after completing this first "official" blog post: I need to find a way to keep them shorter! Some things I explained in this post, such as the benefits of whole grains and pork, I won't need to repeat in future blogs. I've tried to be detailed in my preparation of the meal, but I definitely could have expanded too! Cooking is more about feel and intuition than precise instructions and measurements. Go with the flow, follow the basic guidelines, and you'll likely surprise yourself. Everything is a suggestion, not a mandate.  If you've got questions, I'm happy to help. Part of this process for me is digging up some long buried knowledge and trying to find the passion for cooking I lost somewhere between sweating in a 110 degree kitchen and finding myself up to my shoulder in industrial garbage disposals. I know cooking can be enjoyable, and I'm starting to think healthy cooking can even be delicious! Let me know what you think if you try this dish out! 


  1. sounds amazing!! Im going to try this

  2. Oh my god, Marc and I are OBSESSED with the Harvest Grains from TJ's! They are amazing and you're right, they're the perfect blank slate for whatever seasoning. They really go with any meal. This sounds fabulous and I'll have to construct my own version with special local seasonings from the Union Square Farmer's Market :) I love this blog!!! Yay Megan!!!