julia child, mastering the art of french cooking, julie powell, french cuisine

Turning the Other Cheek

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“The criss-crossed layers of burns on my left forearm are my special power symbol.” – Julie Powell


How does one tell one’s husband that he’s married a complete idiot? By serving up a plate full of pork chops and buttered green beans, of course!

I had been planning last night’s menu for days, and I must say, it sounded tasty: Cotes de Porc Poelees with Haricots Verts a l’Anglaise – I (casserole-sauteed pork chops with blanched, buttered green beans). I had marinated the meat the day before in a mixture of lemon juice, olive oil and herbs (my hands smelled like garlic all day), and the thick chops were finally ready to cook when I got home. They looked and smelled incredible!

First things first, The Book said to preheat the oven to 325 degrees while heating up a couple of tablespoons of cooking oil in a casserole on the stove. I used an oven-safe pan, and let the heat really crank up. Meanwhile, I was supposed to remove the meat from the marinade and dry it off with paper towels. First obstacle: it seemed we were out of paper towels. I almost resorted to toilet paper, then remembered we had some party napkins in the pantry – gold and silver from our New Year’s Eve party. They’d do in a pinch!

Only, I didn’t realize how much the napkins would stick to the meat, and I spent a good five minutes peeling soggy bits of gold and silver paper shreds off the chops, the whole time thinking to myself, “Thank goodness I didn’t use toilet paper!!” Finally ready, I carried the meat over to the stove on a plate to set into the oiled pan. And here’s where things took a nasty turn…

I have to pause here and broadcast the following disclaimer: there are times in life when one’s lack of knowledge is overruled by one’s use of common sense. There are some things we just inherently know not to do: don’t use a hair dryer in the bath tub; don’t play golf in a lightning storm; don’t wear red into a bull fighting ring. I know hot oil is hot. And I know it pops and splatters when it’s heated in a pan. I know this. Really. I do. Now back to our story.

I picked up the first pork chop with a pair of tongs and, from what I felt was a safe distance away, held it over the pan with the intention of setting it carefully into the hot oil. But at the last second, the meat slipped out of the grasp of the tongs and dropped heavily into the pan, sending an explosion of grease up and out of the pan…and splattering onto my arm and – worst of all – my face. Yep – I’ve sustained my first cooking-related injury. Let me tell you, it was a doozy.

The two major spots on my left arm stung the worst at first, but I was most concerned about the large spot on my left cheek. I abandoned the pork chops momentarily and rushed to the bathroom mirror. I felt like Kevin Spacey in the movie “Pay It Forward”, but was relieved to see that in reality, I looked more like Tina Fey. A large, crescent shaped burn was forming just to the side of my mouth, but it didn’t look too bad. I put some ice on it to keep the swelling down and forged ahead.

Pork Chops on the Stove

By the time all of this drama had died down, the pork chops were a nice light brown on the bottom, so (armed with tall oven mitts) I used the tongs to turn them over and cook the other side. When they were done cooking, I set them onto a plate and drained the fat out of the pan. Adding some butter, I put the meat back in and basted it with the melted butter, then covered the pan until I could hear the meat sizzling (which didn’t take long at all). I set the covered pan in the oven and let the meat cook for about 30 minutes, turning the pork chops over about half-way through and basting with more of the butter.

While that was going on, I turned my attention to the green beans. Julia’s method of preparing green beans was just the way my family made them when I was growing up. Rinse fresh green beans and snap the ends off, then add them to a pot of boiling water. After about 10 minutes, when they were tender yet still a little crunchy, I drained them in a colander in the sink. At this point, we had completed the task of Haricots Verts Blanchis (blanched green beans), which is the first step in cooking green beans for other Julia recipes. Why stop there? I took the recipe one step further by tossing the beans into a pan to evaporate their moisture, then emptied them into a serving bowl and added butter pieces to the top. Ta-da! Haricots Verts a l’Anglaise!

Buttered Green Beans

About the time the beans were ready, the meat was done cooking in the oven. I pulled the pan out, peeked inside and couldn’t believe how good the pork chops looked! These were unlike any pork chops I had ever made before – thick and juicy like steaks. I set the meat aside and drained some of the pork fat from the pan, then added a half-cup of beef stock to the pan. Bringing it to a boil, I used a wooden spoon to scrape all the yummy brown bits from the bottom of the pan and it all came together to make a delicious sauce to pour over the meat.

While I waited for Ben to come home, I kept a clean towel of ice pressed against the burn on my face – it didn’t seem to be getting any worse, and I was trying to figure out how I was going to explain this minor setback. Needless to say, Ben was NOT happy when he got home and learned I had done nothing more than to put ice on my wounds. Much to my embarrassment, he immediately called my brother-in-law, a fireman with medical training. His professional opinion (luckily for me) was that it didn’t sound serious, so an ice pack it was. I can laugh about it now, but man, talk about a learning experience. As Ben pointed out (and I had already considered), what if that grease had splattered into my eyes?? Who knew working in the kitchen would necessitate safety goggles? I’ve decided my next purchase should be one of those outfits a bee keeper wears. That ought to do the trick!

Cotes de Porc Poelees & Haricots Verts a l'Anglaise

The dinner was awesome. The pork chops didn’t taste like a typical cut of pork – they were thick and hearty and the sauce on top really brought out the flavors from the marinade. The green beans were the perfect balance of tenderness and crunch (who knew that all this time I’ve been overcooking my green beans??), and they were super tasty! But then again, what wouldn’t be when it’s been flavored with butter and salt? This is definitely a meal we would make again. Until now, we had pretty much written off the pork chop in general. I only knew how to pan fry them, and they always came out overcooked and dry. This recipe has completely changed our view on pork chops. Yum!

So, in conclusion: if you run out of paper towels in the kitchen, don’t try to substitute toilet paper or cheap party napkins; be extra careful while working around hot oil (consider wearing long sleeves and a Halloween mask for protection); and finally, if you experience a slight miscalculation and burn the dickens outta your face, don’t give up – just turn the other cheek and keep on cookin’. 

Off to obtain a cold compress… husband’s orders.


Today’s French Lesson:
“Excusez-moi. Où est l’hôpital?”

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One Response to “Turning the Other Cheek”

  1. Rachel says:

    Splatter screens are VERY helpful. :)
    Glad you are okay!
    Loving reading about your adventures, hon’.

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