Thursday, October 25, 2012

Salmon coulibiac with foaming hollandaise sauce

Coulibiac is literally a fish pie.  I have always thought that fish pie sounded boring and inelegant.  But the word "coulibiac" to me, at least, is a lovely, musical word that plays a symphony in your mouth.  The dish itself is intriguing and complex in all its variations.

Coulibiac is of Russian origin, but legend has it that Auguste Escoffier brought the recipe back with him to France and then included it in The Complete Guide to the Art of Modern Cookery.  I'm discovering that coulibiac is a lovely, intricate combination of ingredients that are beautifully seasoned and beautifully presented.

I first fell in love with the idea when I saw Julia Child make one on her old PBS series The French Chef.

Not Julia's coulibiac--hers looked like a real fish.  With scales!

Warning: this is not something that you can just whip up for dinner on a moment's notice.  That is why having some wonderful rustic tomato sauce in your freezer and some pasta in your pantry comes in handy.

Coulibiac does take some time and preparation.  However, if you can make this coulibiac over the course of two days, then it's not difficult.  The first day, you can cook and prep your filling ingredients, the second day, you can fill and cook your pastry.  And you will still have time and energy to make your foaming hollandaise sauce.

Although it's not quick and simple, this coulibiac is delicious and terribly, terribly impressive.  Got a new boyfriend/girlfriend?  Boss coming over for dinner?  Mother-in-law hard to please?  Tired of fried catfish from the local catfish parlor?  This should cover all your bases and then some.  There is richness and texture in the filling and it's made in four individual meal-size portions that are pretty on the plate.

You can also make smaller, appetizer-size portions by fashioning the puff pastry scraps into lattice tops, but that is a lot of work.  How do I know this?  Because I've done it already.  So today, I'm opting for the meal-size pastry.

If you've never worked with commercial puff pastry before, you'll need a little patience.  It needs to be kept cold until you're ready to use it or it will become a squishy mess.  It's easily stretched out of shape and becomes sticky and gooey if it's too warm  How do I know this?  Because I've done it already.  It is a hot mess if you're not careful.

You can, of course, make your own puff pastry, which is not difficult.  But if you have a day job like I do, you want to take a few short cuts now and then.  Purchased puff pastry, I have come to realize, is not one of the cardinal sins of the culinary world.  But it's close.

I always did ride the fence.

In developing my coulibiac technique, I used a combination of different recipe sources so that I could get the flavor profile I wanted.  I often consult Delia Online for elegant and off-the-beaten-path recipes.  I also find that Epicurious is an almost limitless source of everything from the simple to the divine.  So my recipes today reflect those influences, but the procedure is my own.

If you're looking for a wine to accompany your coulibiac, consider French appellations.  Ask your wine guy at Spec's to help you find a white Bordeaux or white Burgundy, or a rose from the Loire valley.  My wine guy Bill and I recently paired this coulibiac with a lighter red Bordeaux, Chateau Falfas “Le Demoiselles de Falfas” 2008, and it worked nicely.  For my palate, I prefer a white or a rose, however.  You'll want something dry with good fruit structures, minerally and with a good acid component to balance the richness of this dish.

Ready to cook?

Salmon Coulibiac with Foaming Hollandaise Sauce

1 1 1/2 lb. fillet of salmon
1 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups water
salt and pepper
2 Tbs. dill, finely chopped

1 Tbs. butter
2 Tbs. minced shallots
1/2 lb. thinly sliced mushrooms
1/2 tsp. lemon zest
1 Tbs. lemon juice
1/4 cup dill, finely chopped
salt and pepper

2 Tbs. butter
1 cup chopped frozen spinach, drained
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1 large leek, chopped
2 Tbs. Pernod
salt and pepper

1 medium onion, minced
2 Tbs. butter
3/4 cup rice
2 cups poaching liquid from salmon
salt and pepper
4 Tbs. chopped parsley

1 17.3 oz. pkg. frozen puff pastry (such as Pepperidge Farm)
1 egg
1 Tbs. water

Pastry cut outs
Fresh herbs or seasonal flowers

Foaming Hollandaise Sauce (find recipe here)

1.)  The day before you want to serve, prepare all the individual layers as directed below and refrigerate.
2.)  Put the salmon fillet in a baking dish or ovenproof skillet.
3.)  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
4.)  Pour wine, water, salt, pepper and dill into a skillet or saute pan large enough to hold the liquids and the salmon. 
5.)  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; add the salmon fillet.
6.)  Cover and bake in the oven for approximately 25 to 30 minutes.
7.)  Remove from oven and let sit, covered, to cool slightly.
8.)  When fish is cool enough to handle, remove it from the poaching liquid and remove skin, if any.  Refrigerate salmon in an airtight container.
9.)  Strain poaching liquid and set aside.
10.)  Melt butter over medium-high heat in a medium-size skillet.
11.)  Cook shallots for about 3 minutes, until just slightly translucent.
12.)  Add mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms deepen in color.  
13.)  Add lemon zest, lemon juice and dill; taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper.
14.)  Cool mushrooms and refrigerate in an airtight container.
15.)  In a small skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat.
16.)  Add chopped spinach, garlic, shallot and leek, cooking until shallot is translucent, about 5 to 7 minutes.
17.)  Add Pernod and salt and pepper to taste.
18.)  Cool and store airtight in refrigerator.
19.)  In a small saucepan, saute onion in butter until soft. 
20.)  Add rice and cook, stirring, until transparent. 
21.)  Add poaching liquid, salt and pepper and reduce heat, 
22.)  Cook about 20 minutes, covered, until rice is done.  Stir in parsley, cool and store in refrigerator airtight.

The next day:

1.)  Thaw puff pastry dough for about 1 hour at room temperature.
2.)  Unfold one sheet of puff pastry and cut into four sections;  place squares on a baking sheet.  Keep other sheet of puff pastry cool or in fridge while you work.
3.)  Onto each pastry square, layer rice mixture, spinach mixture, then salmon and mushroom mixture.
4.)  Season with salt and pepper.
5.)  Cut remaining sheet of puff pastry into four sections and top each mound with square.  Alternatively, use a pastry cutter to make decorative strips and weave or lay strips diagonally across mound.
6.)  Pinch edges and seal completely.
7.)  Make egg wash of egg and water and brush onto pastry.
8.)  Refrigerate for approximately 1 hour.
9.)  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
10.)  Bake for about 25 minutes, or until puff pastry is golden.
11.)  Serve with Foaming Hollandaise Sauce.  Serves 4.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

My thoughts on a $10,000 jug of barbeque sauce

Earlier this week, a 20 year old gallon jug of barbeque sauce sold on eBay for nearly $10K.  This story followed one from the previous week in which a cocktail made with a rare cognac was priced at almost $9000.  The stories don't end of the most expensive food and drink, rare whiskey in a one-of-a-kind decanter and, of course, Justin Timberlake's half-eaten French toast.

Photo courtesy of HuffPost Money

All of this makes me feel very sad.  While I have no intentions of judging how other people spend their money (since I myself live in a glass castle), I have to wonder how far we will go in our culture to commidify fame and status. Or how far we will go to acquire and confer status.

Additionally, what is deemed newsworthy?

Max Weber's unfinished 1946 essay on status groups (Essays in Sociology, p. 180-195) begins to sketch out the relationship between class and status, but never fully realizes the impact of celebrity on status ( Kurzman et al., 2007 Sociological Theory).  The notion of celebrity is arguably what defines American culture as distinct from every other culture on the planet.  To Charles E. Hurst (2005), celebrity is the spawn of capitalism and involves the commodification of reputation and status; celebrity is also seen as a product of the "culture industry" (Horkheimer and Adorno, 2002, Dialectic of Enlightenment).

Is having Michael Jordan's name linked with a container of barbeque sauce (stored for 20 years in someone's basement) what really bothers me?  Or is it the affiliation with a major fast food chain?  Is it the Macallan whiskey in the decanter, or the Lalique decanter itself that confers status?  What is it about these things that make them so incredibly prominent in the media?  These are questions that I wrestle with and eventually cast aside in frustration.

In the midst of what most of us now recognize as the worst economic recession since the Great Depression, what does it mean that people are willing to spend large amounts of money on items such as barbeque sauce linked with famous names and cocktails made with rare cognac, or even garnished with a diamond?  In what ways is that kind of spending considered useful by the spender?  Does that spending behavior indicate the desire to acquire status and celebrity?  Does the publicity around such events delineate class bias, define socioeconomic status, or is it merely a form of entertainment on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook?

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Funky monkey banana cake

If you're like me, you have more ripe bananas on hand than you can eat.  Many of my overly ripe bananas make their geriatric way into my freezer, where they join other geriatric bananas in a large plastic basket.  They wait there, sleeping in their frosty black jackets in their cryogenic state, hoping for a resurrection of sorts.  The resurrection is usually in the form of banana bread with tons of nuts and chocolate chips (DISCLAIMER: this is not a healthy breakfast food, but my husband, the Sugar Addict, loves it and I figure if I'm using King Arthur flour and organic bananas there is some redemption in my future).  Or, lately, I've been making a rum-soaked banana cake I fondly refer to as The Funky Monkey, adorned with what I have come to call RumButterCreamCheese Frosting.  I see clearly now that there is likely no redemption in my future because this dessert is not for the health-conscious.  It is pure over-kill.

Be still my heart.

The cake recipe I'm going to give you today is rich, moist and toothsome.  People will want (and ask for) seconds every time you make it.  I'm a little proud of this recipe that I've developed over the years and even though I'm not a professional baker, I've acquired a few skills (DISCLAIMER: the author is not a pastry chef although she has wanted to play one on TV).

I'll tell you a little secret I've learned about appearing to be a skilled baker: it's the rum.  Shhhhh!

I have to digress just a little here to mention that I love The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, from which my recipe came to be adapted.  If you look at my disgustingly ridiculous collection of over 300 cookbooks, you can tell I really love The Fannie Farmer Cookbook because it's one of several with a torn binding.  Pages are falling out.  Many of the pages are stained.  I have made notes in the margins.  There are pieces of paper with scribblings on them stuck here and there inside.  That means it's a good cookbook (DISCLAIMER: the author's opinions are purely subjective; that means she is not a literary critic but has delusions of being one).

So here's my recipe.  Of course, you don't have to drizzle it with rum, nor are you obligated to use rum in the frosting.  It will still be perfectly delicious.  But if you want people to ask for seconds, or if you want your morning coffee break to be a little more pleasant, go for the rum.  It's truly decadent.

Funky Monkey Banana Cake with RumButterCreamCheese Frosting

     You can make this into a layer cake as well; just adjust the baking time accordingly.

1 cup neutral oil (like grapeseed or canola)
2 3/4 cups sugar
2 cups mashed ripe bananas (about 4 medium bananas
4 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract (Mexican vanilla is nice too)
4 cups cake flour (you can approximate cake flour by using 2 Tbs. cornstarch for every cup of flour called for and filling up the rest of the measuring cup with flour; or you can try to find cake flour in a well-stocked grocery store or specialty market--look for King Arthur, Swans Down or Softasilk)
2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. Divine Desserts baking spice mixture (or you can use an equal amount of cake spice)
1 cup buttermilk (I often substitute 1/2 cup Greek yogurt and 1/2 cup water, stirred together)
2 oz. dark rum

RumButterCreamCheese Frosting (recipe follows)

1.)  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.)  Grease a 1" deep sided cookie or sheet cake pan.
3.)  In an electric mixer or by hand, combine oil, sugar, mashed bananas, eggs and vanilla; beat well.

4.)  In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, salt and spice mixture.
5.)  Add flour mixture to wet mixture and blend.
6.)  Slowly add buttermilk and mix until well-blended.
7.)  Spread batter in greased pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
8.)  Cool about 10 minutes, then poke holes all over surface of the cake with a fork.
9.)  Drizzle with rum and let cool completely before frosting.

RumButterCreamCheese Frosting

1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbs. dark rum
pinch salt
1 lb. confectioner's sugar (about 3 1/2 to 3 3/4 cups)
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted (optional)

1.)  With a hand-held electric mixer, combine butter, cream cheese, vanilla extract, rum and salt on medium speed in a medium-size bowl.
2.)  Add confectioner's sugar and blend until completely incorporated.   
3.)  Frost cooled banana cake.
4.)  Sprinkled with chopped nuts if using.

Friday, October 12, 2012

She's no Jezebel

"Child, you're out of your mind. You know you can't wear red to the Olympus Ball."

"Can't I? I'm goin' to. This is 1852, dumplin', 1852, not the Dark Ages. Girls don't have to simper around in white just because they're not married." 

                   -- Fay Bainter, as Aunt Belle, cautioning Bette Davis, as Julie Marsden in the 1938 movie Jezebel.

Bette Davis in Jezebel (1938)

My dog, Jezebel, will be 13 years old this January.  She was a rescue puppy, found along with her mother and litter mates, abandoned on a busy highway near our house.  When she was a puppy, I fell in love with her because she looked like this:

Jezzie at about 3 months old.

The night I met her (having just recently lost my previous dog Michaelangelo), I did not think I was ready for another dog quite yet.  But when I picked her up and she nuzzled into my neck, it was all over but the housebreakin'.  She came home with me and spent that first night sleeping on my chest with a few occasional trips outdoors when she stirred or whimpered.

She was easy to train and eager to please me all the time.  Plus, there was the fact that she was so stinkin' cute--a big ball of fluff and so snuggly. Now, having come back recently from the groomer's with her end-of-summer cut, she looks like this:

Would you give this sad-looking doggie a biscuit?

Jezzie (we've forgone the formal name long ago) has a lovely temperament and she is always docile and sweet.  She's practically the perfect dog.  But I'm afraid I've done her a great disservice.  I've saddled her with a name attached to a very colorful history, yet it's one of ill repute.  Immoral, controlling, promiscuous--these are some of the behaviors associated with "a jezebel," a woman that is often considered to be brazen, impetuous and wicked.  The Jezebel of Biblical history was the daughter of the king of Phoenicia and became the wife of King Ahab of northern Israel.  She was noted to be domineering, evil and murderous.  Bette Davis' Jezebel was a tempestuous schemer that had a yen for a good scandal.

Jezzie is none of these things.  She is not royalty, nor does she act like it.  And she is certainly not brazen, impetuous, domineering, scheming, or even remotely evil.  Rather, she is cooperative, loyal and loving.  She is also sometimes skittish and a bit timid.  She is scared of the camera and hates having her picture taken.  My husband slyly arranged the photo above.  But Jezzie is always very agreeable and content no matter what.

Here's her favorite dog biscuit recipe, one I don't make nearly enough for her.  She deserves a better Mommy.

Jezzie's Biscuits

1 1/2 cups hot water
1 cup old-fashioned, rolled oats
1 Tbs. beef or chicken soup base (watch for MSG, sodium and additives; Roland makes an MSG and gluten-free base and Penzey's and Watkins are good substitutes as well)
1/3 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup powdered milk 
1 egg, beaten 
3/4 cup cornmeal 
1/3 cup nutritional yeast or brewer's yeast
3 cups whole wheat flour (you can substitute unbleached white flour, but you'll get a softer biscuit; I find that using half wheat germ and half unbleached flour is a reasonable substitute)

1.)  Preheat oven to 325°F.2.)  In a large bowl, pour hot water over oats, soup base and butter; allow to stand for about five minutes.
3.)  Mix in beaten egg, powdered milk and cornmeal and combine well.
4.)  Add yeast and flour, a little at a time while mixing. 
5.)  Continue to stir thoroughly, adding more flour as necessary to make the dough very stiff.
6.)  Roll dough into a 1/2 inch thickness and cut into shapes.
7.)  Place on lightly greased baking sheet.
8.)  Bake at 325°F for 45 minutes. 
9.)  Turn off oven and crack oven door, leaving biscuits in to slowly cool and thoroughly dry out.  Makes about  biscuits.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

One step forward...

...two steps back.

Just when I thought I was making a little progress with my husband in the food department, we suffered An Episode.

I asked my husband if he would have time to go to the grocery store for me this weekend.  There was a short list of things I needed--just four items--so that I could finish a recipe I was testing.  "Sure," he said, "I'll be right back."

Wait.  Before you jump to the conclusion that the point of this whole story is to tell you that my husband never comes home with what's on my list, I want to say right here and now that your conclusion would be false.  He's a great shopper, accurate and usually efficient in every way.  Usually.

Almost an hour later (it takes 10 minutes to get to the HEB), he arrives with several bags.  I later discover that he has left three bags in the garage on top of the chest freezer.  But more on that in a minute.  Of course, everything I had on the list is in one of the bags.  My jaw drops when I see what he is removing from the other two.  There is a large bag of snack-size Kit Kat bars and a quart of ice cream.  In the other bag are a large box of sugar-coated cereal, a package of chocolate-chip cookies and a bag of some kind of fried snack food that leaves neon orange residue everywhere.

Exhibit A

My husband does not make eye contact.  Instead, he removes a spoon from the silverware drawer in a leisurely way and sits down with his quart of ice cream in front of the TV.  He has also carried with him his bag of Kit Kat bars, which I now see has been opened.  A number of them are gone.  The number of candy bars missing, I determine, is significant in a statistical way.  It is then that I notice that there is a candy wrapper on the floor in front of the door leading to the garage.  I decide to open the door.

This is the point past which most judicious and sensible people would not go.  But by now, most of you know that I possess neither of those virtues.

I open the door and there is literally a trail of candy wrappers from the garage to the driveway.  OK, well, I'm being a bit of a drama queen here (something I'm quite good at, you know, along with the hyperbole).

So, to be perfectly honest, there's not really a trail.  I see just two wrappers, but they seem to be lined up and pointing in the direction of my husband's car.  They do not, I tell you, point in the general direction of Divine Providence, but rather, point straight to Hell.  You know the old adage:  the road to Hell is paved with candy wrappers.

My mind is reeling.  I'm about to go down that rabbit hole over whether or not there might be a lot of dentists in Hell as I walk to my husband's car.  But I decide to abandon that frivolous exercise in actuarial science and now, part of me is thinking, "Is this really any of your business?"  Another part of me is thinking, "If I leave him in the house too long unattended, he'll probably go into a sugar coma." 

It is raining.  Hard.  I stand in the rain, peering inside my husband's car.  The front seat is littered with several candy wrappers.  And a mostly empty bag of hot fries, among the other detritus.  I turn slowly back toward the garage, a sense of demoralization about to sucker-punch me, and as I pass the chest freezer, it is there that I see an additional three grocery bags lying on top.  Inside the bags are cans of soda.  Twenty cans of soda in all, in assorted flavors.  AY YAY YAY!

Exhibit B

This is the time to note that my husband is not a large man.  He has almost no body fat whatsoever.  He can afford to eat almost anything he wants and not gain a pound (unlike his wife, who once, in her beloved mother's kitchen at Christmastime, inhaled the intoxicating aroma of baking Polish nut bread and immediately gained 5 lbs).  My husband is very active, very strong and, at least for now, very healthy.  He's never sick a day in his life.  So not fair!

But let's face facts: the man is a card-carrying, dyed-in-the-wool, hard-core Sugar Addict.  He is the Jesse Pinkman of high fructose corn syrup.  You could say he uses frequently when he's not at the lab with his frenemy, Walter White.  He is currently Under The Influence and, what's more, has been Driving Under the Influence.  And I am concerned about how much high fructose corn syrup is actually in our house at this moment.  I am also concerned about how much of it he consumes on a regular basis.

Today is a day that qualifies for both Off The Freakin' Charts and a write-up in The Annals of Metabolic Disasters.  And I am concerned about getting busted by the Sugar Police.

Oh, wait.  I'm the Sugar Police.

By now, I'm inside the house again and I notice he has made his way through most of the ice cream.  "How about some lunch?" I suggest.  It's almost 2 p.m. and I'm feeling a little hungry myself.  I'm thinking that my husband probably needs a little protein, some veggies.  Some real food from real ingredients not manufactured in a lab.  I'm recalling the food labels I've read that had 37-letter names.  With hyphens.  They required a PhD. in inorganic chemistry to understand what a person was about to consume.

"Um, well, I think I'm pretty full right now," he pats his belly and then resumes eating the rest of his ice cream.  He seems content and at peace with himself.  This vexes me to no end.  The bag of Kit Kats lies on the table next to him, waiting patiently for the next stage of his odyssey: Active Tooth Decay and Gingivitis.

"I saw the soda in the garage," I say, timorously.  He laughs.  "Yeah, well, that..."

"You know, maybe I'm being a little bit naggy here, but I'm concerned about how much sugar you eat.  You have to have something sweet every day.  That worries me."  I'm being very serious.  "I never know when I'm going to walk in here and find you in a sugar coma.  I have visions of you sitting in the HEB parking lot, inhaling half a bag of Kit Kats before you even start your car."

He laughs.  HE LAUGHS!!

"I can burn it off," he protests.

"Yes, I know, but that's not the point.  I'm not worried about your weight.  I'm worried about your renal system," I tell him.

"I'm the Beast Master!" he asserts.  Which is what he says about every threat to life and limb.  And this is where I decide to give up.

Things could be so much worse.  My husband could be an alcoholic (but he doesn't drink).  He could be getting high every day (but he doesn't use drugs--won't even take ibuprofen or aspirin).  He could have other compulsive habits (well, he is a golfer), be abusive, or absent, or just uncaring.  But he is none of these things.  He smokes--that's just about his only vice.  Aside from Demon Sugar.  So I feel ridiculous complaining about his sugar binges.  I'm not his mother, he reminds me.

But I feel deflated.  I thought we had been making progress in the food department.  This is the man who came home from work one day last summer and told me that he couldn't finish a fast-food burger because "it just didn't taste very good."  This is the man who will now eat asparagus (but only if bacon is wrapped around it).  This is the man who recently suggested--with no prompting from me, mind you--that he take a picture of his, and I quote, "too beautiful to eat" salad in Las Vegas.  This is the man who told me that the prime rib he'd had recently at a nearly 5-star restaurant was "not seasoned very well and a little tough."  Sheesh.

I don't take this latest sugar binge personally, I just feel defeated.  I don't think that there is a way to win this battle.  Left to his own devices, my husband will make poor food choices and stimulate his dopamine receptors with simple carbohydrates instead of nourishing his body with whole, lovingly prepared foods.

But I cannot judge this.  After all, I have made poor food choices many times in my life and I'm sure I will continue to do so.  Don't we all?  Why, just several days ago, I was contemplating how to manage a sugar binge over my intense, albeit truncated, love affair with macarons while in Las Vegas.  What I am most worried about now, where my husband is concerned, is the sugar-induced stupor that will follow the consumption of so much in one sitting.  I've witnessed it before.  And I fear my husband indulges more than I know.

I obviously need some sort of 12-step meeting.  Right now, I should be calling my sponsor.  "Keep calm and carry on," I tell myself.  The old Stiff Upper Lip.  So, sighing heavily, I do the next thing that needs to be done.  Like my mentor Eleanor Roosevelt, I do the thing that I think I cannot do:  I wait a few hours.  Then I pour a glass of wine and I start to make dinner.

I had some thin boneless pork chops that I had purchased yesterday.  I wanted something really special for dinner and had been thinking about how I'd treat these pork chops to make them conform to my fantasies.  Whip them?  Chain them to the bed?  Make them roll over and bark like a dog?  Oops, wrong fantasy.

How about making a kind of schnitzel with a disgustingly rich and flavorful cream sauce?  And so you see, this is where the pot calls the kettle black.  Because my penchant for "a disgustingly rich and flavorful cream sauce" is, I suppose, no different than my husband's penchant for sugar.  I'd like to believe, piously, that I'm at least getting some nutritional value for my efforts, and that the sheer act of cooking in a conscious way would negate the frying and extra calories in the sauce.  Surely it would!  How righteous I could feel if it would!

But would it?  I have to humble myself, realizing the error of my own ways. If thy schnitzel offend thee, then throw it out.  But like the sinner who knows that confession is readily available, I pursue my original plan for the pork chops.  In a disgustingly rich and flavorful cream sauce. 

I did a little research and percolated some ideas.  I found a basic recipe whose flavor profile I liked.  But I wanted more.  I wanted a salty component in the sauce, and I wanted a little more punch on the plate.  I substituted full fat Greek yogurt, thinned down with chicken broth, for the heavy cream called for in the original recipe.  I deglazed the pan with vodka, added capers, sage, and a final flourish of chiffonade of sorrel leaves.

Pounded thin, lightly dusted in flour, fried and served with plenty of pan sauce, the final result was delectable.  I've decided a great addition to the sauce would have also been some mushrooms browned in butter.  To accompany the pork, we had wild rice that I had cooked in a little chicken broth with butter, onion and garlic, and also Roasted Haricot Verts with Shallot, Toasted Garlic, Gremolata Breadcrumbs and Parmesan.  Absolutely killer.  You can find the recipes for the pork and the haricot verts below.

The wine:  I had two open bottles of wine in the fridge that I had sampled on previous evenings, both of which were lovely choices with this dinner.  My friend Bill The Wine Guy recently turned me on to McPherson Cellars and winemaker Kim McPherson of Lubbock, Texas.  Normally, I am unimpressed with Texas wines, but McPherson products are an exception.  I've sampled enough of them to know that they can hold their own against other great domestic wines.  McPherson Reserve Roussanne 2010 (Texas) was the kind of wine I prefer: dry, aromatic, and a good interplay of mineral and citrusy acid.  Notes from the McPherson Cellars website describe this wine as "candy lemon drop flavors and a delicate, herbaceous, tea-like aroma. Made with grapes from Bingham Vineyards, in the Texas High Plains, this wine is truly distinctive."  No lie!

Another wine recommendation is also one Bill introduced me to: Cuvee des 3 Messes Basses Rose 2009 (France).  It tastes like a rose from Provence should taste: herbal, crisp, a great balance of acid and mineral.  You'll taste a bit of red stone fruit and some floral notes such as lavender and violet.  It's dry and refreshingly welcome in warmer weather.  This wine has been so popular, however, that it's going to be hard to find locally.  Bill told me he couldn't keep it in stock.  Sorry, you'll have to come to my house.

Pork Scallopini with Vodka Mustard Cream 
Sauce, Capers and Sorrel

I grow sorrel, which has a pleasing peppery tartness, mostly for salads and garnishes.  If you can't find it, substitute arugula.

1 lb. thin boneless pork chops, trimmed of fat and pounded thin with a mallet (you can buy pork scallopini already prepared in the meat case or have your meat cutter or butcher do it for you)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbs. butter
1 Tbs. olive oil
2 oz. vodka
1 oz. lemon juice
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbs. capers, drained
1 tsp. dried rubbed sage, or 2 large fresh sage leaves, minced
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup full fat Greek yogurt
3 Tbs. coarse-grained mustard, preferably Dijon
1 cup sorrel or arugula leaves, in chiffonade

1.)  Season the pork with salt and pepper on both sides.
2.)  Put the flour on a plate or in a pie pan and coat each piece of pork on both sides, shaking off excess.
3.).  Heat butter and olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet until rippling.
4.).  Cook the scallopini in the hot skillet on both sides, browning well and reducing heat if necessary so they don't burn.
5.).  Drain on paper towels and keep warm while you make the sauce.
6,)  Turn the heat up to medium-high again, using the same skillet you cooked the pork scallopini in.
7.)  Add vodka and allow to reduce by one half.
8.)  Add lemon juice, garlic, capers and sage; stir well.
9.)  Add chicken broth, Greek yogurt and mustard, blending well.
10.)  Let the sauce simmer, reducing heat if it boils too fast.
11.)  Reduce sauce by one third.
12.)  Return pork scallopini to skillet, to reheat briefly.
13.)  To serve, divide scallopini among plates, spoon sauce over the top and garnish with sorrel or arugula.  Serves 4. 

Roasted Haricot Verts with Shallot, Toasted Garlic, Gremolata Breadcrumbs and Parmesan

Don't be alarmed by the quantity of gremolata breadcrumbs the recipe makes.  You'll be using
the leftovers (which can be stored in the freezer for several months) on everything from asparagus to broccoli.


Gremolata Breadcrumbs:

1 cup soft breadcrumbs (make your own from day-old bread)
1 Tbs. lemon zest
1 Tbs. minced parsley
1 tsp. garlic powder

Mix all ingredients together and store airtight in the freezer until ready to use.

Roasted Haricot Verts: 
1/2 lb. fresh or frozen haricot verts 
1 medium shallot, minced
olive oil, for drizzling
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. toasted minced garlic, such as Penzey's or The Spice House's
1/4 cup Gremolata Breadcrumbs
freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1.)  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2.)  Lay haricot verts on a baking sheet in a single layer.
3.)  Sprinkle minced shallot over the haricot verts. 
4.)  Drizzle generously with olive oil, then season well with salt and pepper.
5.)  Sprinkle with toasted garlic.
6.)  Roast for about 10 minutes, tossing with tongs from time to time to evenly distribute seasonings.
7.)  Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and a generous amount of Parmesan cheese.
8.)  Return pan to oven and turn on broiling element.
9.)  Roast, watching carefully, until breadcrumbs and Parmesan are toasted.  Serve immediately.  Serves 2 generously.