My mother, although multi-talented, had an aversion to the kitchen and has often said that I learned to cook at an early age “out of self-defense.” When she made chicken à l'orange by smearing a chicken with powdered Tang, I quickly developed a necessary passion for creating tasty things to eat. Somewhere in the family photograph album is a picture of me at the stove, age ten, happily stirring marinara sauce.

I developed a lifelong fascination with food; good food. There was even a foray of working as a chef’s assistant at a French restaurant during my mid twenties, just for fun. I had always loved watching Julia Child and knew that Mastering the Art of French Cooking was to be revered. It wasn’t until I read her biography (long before the Julie & Julia movie) that I really became fascinated with her work. From that book, I decided to prepare her recipe for mayonnaise.

Upon tasting it, I wept. . . .

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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Côtes de Porc Sauce Nénette et Concombres au Champignon et à la Crème

Pork Chops with Mustard, Cream, and Tomato Sauce.

And I served it with Concombres au Champignon et à la Crème (Cucumbers with Mushroom-Cream Sauce).

Two reasons for these selections: (1) The creamy mustard and tomato sauce sounded so very appealing. (2) Creamed cucumbers? Didn't know you could do that. So I wanted to do it.

Julia calls for 1" thick pork chops so I headed to Whole Foods Market. After all, if I'm going to be an accomplice to piggery-murder, I might as well go for the free-range, happy pigs rather than those who've lived their lives crammed in tiny cages and shot full of hormones. I selected boneless loin chops and at $8.99 a pound, these must have been exceedingly happy pigs.

You begin by browning the chops in rendered bacon fat and then baking them for 30 minutes, basting them in the butter as you go. Meanwhile, simmer a very generous amount of cream, reduce it, and whisk in tomato paste and English mustard.

The pork chops will have exuded lots of tasty, porky juices to which, of course, you add white wine, reduce that, and add it to the cream-tomato-mustard sauce. I could just hear Julia warbling away with phrases such as "exuuude their juices."

The cucumbers.
In all my days, I've never heard of cooking cucumbers so I wanted to try that. I should imagine that this recipe, like many others, came about when a French farm wife found herself with a bumper crop of cucumbers from the garden and with clever ingenuity, turned them into something gorgeous to eat.

There was a lot of peeling and scooping and slicing going on in order to end up with these cucumber sticks.
They get marinated in white wine vinegar, salt and sugar. Then you dry them off, add minced onion, basil, and butter, and bake them for what seems like a rather long time. The smell of baking, pickley cucumbers was pretty incredible.

Meanwhile, mushrooms get sautéed in a dry, stainless steel pan. It's really interesting to hear them squeak as you move them about, but this technique definitely intensifies their mushroominess. Cream and a touch of corn starch finish the sauce to which the baked cucumbers are added.
Here is the final meal.
The sauce for the pork was astounding. Upon tasting it, I had a sudden rush of dizziness. You know that feeling; when something suddenly overwhelming happens and you get that prickly wave across your scalp. Really. Then, I couldn't refrain from stamping my foot and uttering a curse word.

However, I was surprised that the mustard flavor didn't come through as much as I thought it would. After all, Coleman's English Mustard is pretty powerful stuff. Same with the tomato flavor. "Mustard" and "tomato" is what attracted me to this sauce and those flavors weren't pronounced as much as I would have liked.

Perhaps it's due to my American palate that's used to sensationalism. After all, Americans just don't "do" subtlety.

Conversely, the cucumbers had a bit to much "pickle" flavor in my humble opinion. I would have used less of the white wine vinegar, maybe a touch more sugar in order to let the cucumber flavor come through. Or maybe more cream and butter.

All in all, this was a wonderful meal and probably stands as an epitome of French cooking.

I definitely need to learn some French curse words for when sauces like these cause me to stamp my foot in uncontrolled ecstasy.


  1. How 'bout "sacrebleu!" or OMG in French. For the Southern amongst us, that's pronounced Suck-Ray-Blue. Of course if you utter that in deep south Texas it might have a whole 'nuther connotation.