We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sear-Roasted Pork Chops with Marsala Cream Sauce

by Michelle

   My husband is not a big pork lover, so when he recently left home for a few days to attend a seminar, our daughter, Maddie excitedly requested I make her favorite pork chop recipe that we learned to prepare from Auntie Linda. I'm sure everyone has a similar story, a special dinner reserved when one parent is out of town. It might even be a frozen dinner. I remember enjoying Marie Calendar's chicken pot pie when I was a kid and frozen dinners were strictly a no-no if dad was at the table. 
   My husband fondly recalls when his dad was away from home, he and his two brothers would look forward to their mother whipping-up Beef Roll-Ups, a tasty combination of thinly pounded steak filled with simple bread stuffing and smothered in a tomato infused gravy. This sounds like a meal that Jay's dad would adore, so no one quite knows why this particular entrée was on the naughty list.  
   I like pretty much anything doused with sauce. My maiden surname is French afterall; it is in the gene pool. And the marsala sauce couldn't be easier: one cup of marsala wine with one-third cup heavy cream. The sauce is reduced in the oven while the pork continues to cook.
   This recipe is so simple that a novice cook could feel rather confident preparing it. We love to serve the pork chops with mashed potatoes, the better for drizzling more marsala cream sauce. And you'll want more sauce; trust me. You may substitute boneless pork chops, but the bone-in chops have more flavor.
   While this time I chose to make mashed potatoes to serve with the pork chops, I also like, and perhaps even prefer Milanese Mushroom-Saffron Risotto. Since I had two cooked sides, Sautéed and Caramelized Mushrooms, and Sautéed Spinach with Garlic, Shallots, and Lemon Juice, I preferred to have an uncooked veg in the form of Grape Tomato Halves Tossed with Balsamic Syrup Vinaigrette lending a touch of brightness to the meal.

Sear-Roasted Pork Chops with Marsala Cream Sauce

Grape Tomato Halves Tossed with Balsamic Syrup Vinaigrette

by Michelle

Grape Tomato Halves Tossed with Balsamic Syrup Vinaigrette

   I recently splurge purchased a bottle of Organic Creme by Il Tesoro de Modena, a condiment that is made by reducing balsamic vinegar to a thick syrup and adding natural fig flavor which adds a burst of flavor when drizzled over a cheese plate, ice cream, cured meats, grilled vegetables, and this easy salad recipe.
   For a do-it-yourself approach, it is easy to make a balsamic condiment by pouring inexpensive balsamic vinegar into a medium saucepan and boiling the liquid until reduced to a syrup consistency.

16-ounces (1 pound) grape tomatoes or sugar plum tomatoes
4 to 5 garlic cloves, minced
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
about 2 Tbsps balsamic reduction of your choice
about 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
about 2 Tbsps olive oil
about 1 to 2 tsp fresh thyme, minced
about 1 Tbsp minced fresh Italian parsley

1. Wash the tomatoes and shake to dry. Cut each tomato in half through the stem. Place the tomatoes in a bowl and add the minced garlic. Sprinkle the tomatoes with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, stir. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir. Taste. Adjust the seasoning, as needed to suit your taste. The tomatoes can sit for awhile, up to an hour before serving. The flavor will develop as they sit. Just stir every so often.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Coconut Oil Hot Chocolate (Sugar Free)

by Michelle

   Back in mid-January, Linda significantly changed her diet by opting to adopt a gluten-free lifestyle. Subsequently, in a mere four months, Linda lost 50 pounds. Really, it's stunning, if you give it a full moment of thought. And, Linda is not the exception. Many people are finding a new lease of life by going gluten-free and their results are similar, the weight comes right off. To be clear, Linda also eliminated all refined sugar, processed vegetable oils, grains (for the most part) and legumes from her diet as well.

Linda in November of 2011.
Linda 50 pounds lighter in June of 2012.
   Except for me. Ugh. I've lost four pounds... since February. I suppose I should be celebrating every pound shed, but there's that whole sisterly comparison thing going on and if it has been so incredible easy for Linda, well... why not me? Linda and I have spent many hours over the phone checking and double-checking our routines. We deduced that we are essentially following the same gluten-free ground rules. To verify that there was not hidden gluten in my diet, I spent an exhaustive amount of time compiling a Gluten-Free Baking Primer: From Alcohols and Vinegars to Flours and Starches.  All that and four pounds.
   To investigate further, earlier this month I met with Misty, Linda's gluten-free mentor. The conclusion was that I must - and this is not optional - eat two tablespoons of coconut oil everyday (read about the benefits of the incredible coconut). Or, if while I'm traveling, I cannot eat coconut oil, then I need to eat good fats in other ways (eggs basted in butter, anyone?) Misty also politely advised me, tongue in cheek, that if I eat much more dairy I should buy myself a dairy cow. So, I'm increasing my intake of coconut oil, and decreasing consumption of dairy - except for where it really counts like crumbled gorgonzola on the Rockin' French Salad or parmesan sprinkled over Chicken Piccata. Or a dose of cream in my hot chocolate. You get the idea.

Five months ago...
      For months, Linda relied heavily on Misty's Coconut Milk, Whey Protein and Blueberry Smoothie as a delivery mechanism for the coconut oil. Linda finally burned out on the delicious smoothie and looked for another way to accomplish her goal. The alternative turned out to be chocolate. Yay for chocolate and three cheers for starting out mornings with Coconut Oil Hot Chocolate. On her health quest, Linda has also obliterated most sugar from her diet. She fiddled around with various "natural sweeteners" that are widely available. Through trial and error Linda settled on a sweet combination (pun intended) of: Xylitol and Truvia to season her morning brew.
   There are a few points you should know before embarking upon this recipe. Xylitol, for many people, is a powerful laxative.That's the downside. The upside is that the human body builds a tolerance to the effects of Xylitol over the course of a week or two. Start with one-half to one teaspoon and work your way to two. May I suggest you have a leisurely morning at home the first time you try Xylitol? Just to make sure a bathroom is close by. So, I'm sure the former statement begs the following question: Michelle, why would I subject myself to building a tolerance to Xylitol? Afterall, it sounds like so much fun. The answer is that Xylitol is low carb, low calorie and diabetic safe. It is a natural sweetener that looks and tastes just like sugar - huge bonus. No weird aftertaste.

   Because chocolate typically requires a fair amount of sugar to taste great and Xylitol will leave you with short-term trots, Linda introduced Truvia into the mix. Truvia is a calorie-free natural sweetener that is a combination of Erythritol and an extraction of stevia leaves. One packet of Truvia provides the same sweetness as two teaspoons of sugar. Truvia is also suitable for use by diabetics. The drawback to Truvia is that it has a slight aftertaste. I don't mind the flavor, but Linda is more sensitive to it.
   As I'm building my resistance (which I like to pronounce with a terrible French accent), I am using one packet of Xylitol, one packet of Truvia and a small glug of maple syrup. You might prefer one packet of Xylitol and two packets of Truvia. Taste is such a subjective thing that you will likely need to do a little experimenting for yourself to uncover the right sweetness for you. In the meantime, the following recipe is what Linda has settled on and it is mighty tasty.
   As usual, Linda is ahead of the curve and is completely off coffee. I am not. In fact, I really like coffee and don't particularly want to stop drinking my morning dose. With that being said, I do understand the benefits of avoiding caffeine so I am dutifully (slowly but surely) switching from full caffeinated espresso (made in a stovetop Bialetti pot) to decaffeinated. The main reason is to curb my body from manufacturing excess cortisol which is the stress hormone. Additionally, switching from granulated sugar to the natural sweetener duo listed below, will prevent a spike in my blood sugar so that I will not crash before lunch. It's all about moderation, but this hot chocolate will make you feel as if you are being decadent, even though you are not. It actually helps promote weight loss!

Coconut Oil Hot Chocolate (Sugar Free)

   For the unsweetened cocoa powder we highly recommend Valrhona, and Ghiradelli is a nice alternative. Makes one 16-ounce mug or two 8-ounce cups.
   *Linda's note: I revised this recipe in October of 2014. For that post click here.

2 Tbsps extra virgin expeller pressed coconut oil
2 tsps unsweetened Valrhona or 1 Tbsp Ghiradelli cocoa powder
2 packets or 2 tsps Xylitol
1 packet or 1 tsp Truvia®
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
Boiling hot water or coffee (preferably decaffeinated)
2 Tbsps heavy cream (optional, but oh so yummy and healthy)

1. Heat a kettle of water. The first step is to warm your mug with the hot water. Pour out the water.
2. Add the coconut oil to the mug and then the cocoa powder. Stir the coconut oil and cocoa powder together until melted. Add the 2 teaspoons of Xylitol and packet of Truvia and mix well. Add 1-3/4 cups of hot water (or decaffeinated coffee/espresso) into the mug. Stir well. Add cream if desired (highly recommended). Add vanilla extract. Stir again. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Preserved Lemons

by Michelle

 "Lots of cultures, from North Africa to Italy to Asia, came up with the idea of salting lemons as a way to keep them throughout the year. But in Morocco, that necessity really turned into the mother of invention, ultimately creating a culinary phenomenon that had a huge effect on the cuisine, to the extent that the preserved lemon completely displaced the fresh article. Moroccans don't even think of fresh lemons in connection with food beyond garnishing drinks and making lemonade." ~Mourad Lahou

   The new object of my affection is cookbook Mourad: New Moroccan by Mourad Lahlou. The self trained chef is owner of Aziza restaurant located in the Richmond district of San Francisco. I'm gearing up to prepare a Morrocan feast in July, so my first step is to prepare preserved lemons.

   This recipe is adapted from from Mourad: New Moroccan by Mourad Lahlou (Artisan ©2011). If you are even remotely interested in Morocco and Moroccan cooking, this cook book is for you. I devoured it - metaphorically, of course - from cover to cover.

Preserved Lemons

   I highly recommend removing and saving the peel from the lemons that you will be juicing. Lemon peel freezes well. When I find that I have a lot of lemons to juice, and I have a surplus of lemon peels, for me, I gotta make Limoncello. If that plan fails for whatever reason, there's always the option of preparing the best Lemon Cake on the planet. 

Ingredients for a for a 1-quart batch:
About 6 Eureka or Lisbon lemons (avoid Meyer)
About 6 to 10 lemons for juicing
About 2 Tbsps of Diamond® kosher salt per lemon

Wash the lemons in soapy and warm water.
1. Sterilize the jars and lids that you will be using either by boiling on the stove top for 20 minutes or by running through the dishwasher. Keep both lids and jars warm until ready to use.
1. Scrub the lemons really well with soap and warm water. Dry thoroughly.
2. Carefully cut six lemons into quarters, stopping within 1/2-inch from the stem. The lemon will be quartered, but still intact.
3. Spread the four quarters open and fill with as much salt as you can, up to 2 tablespoons. Place the lemon cut side up (to keep the salt in place) in the sterilized jar. Repeat with as many lemons as the jar will hold, pushing down so the lemons are packed into the jar. Put the lid on and let sit overnight.
4. The next day, press down on the lemons and add an additional salted lemon if space is available. If there's only a little rooom, it is fine to add a salted half or quarter lemon.
5. Juice the remaining lemons, a few at a time, pouring the juice into the jar until it is filled to the brim and the lemons are completely submerged.
6. Put the lid on the jar, turning it until it's just finger-tight. Put the jars in a dark spot such as a cupboard or pantry, but definitely not in the refrigerator. For the next week, shake the jar once a day to help dissolve the salt. Add more lemon juice if you notice that the lemons are no longer submerged.
7. Let the lemons rest for a month. If you notice a little bubbling around the edge of the jar lid, don't be concerned. It is a normal part of the fermentation process.
8. After a month, the lemons on top may have floated above the surface of the liquid, and they may have oxidized a bit, which is no problem. The lemon peel might be a little brown, but it is edible.

   "In Morocco, it's usually only the yellow rind of the preserved lemon, stripped of most of its white pith, that's used in cooking. In some long-cooked dishes a whole preserved lemon is sometimes simply thrown into the mix, and it eventually just melts away, but most of the time, the rind is used, and th erest of the fruit is discarded. That said, you may want to use the entire thing - and even they syrupy brining liquid - in various ways, as I often do. It all depends on the lemons you start with and your personal tolerance for flavor intensity." ~Mourad Lahlou

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Great Summer Reads from the Salvation Sisters

by Michelle
   Sometimes I wonder if a more effective list would be to offer the names of all the books I have read or listened to over the past couple of years that I did not like or would not recommend for one reason or another. 'Tis better to focus on the positive rather than the negative, don't you agree? So, without further ado here are books, in no particular order, that we sisters highly recommend just in time for your summer vacation.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
by Helen Simonson
Random House ©2010
Audiobook Narrated by Peter Altschuler
   This is a book that Linda listened to and then highly recommended to me. I planned to download it from Audible, but I was caught at an airport with nothing to read (horror of horrors), and purchased it at LAX when I happily spotted it at the news stand. The tale is cheery and will put a smile upon your face. In a word: delightful.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer
Dial Press ©2009
Audiobook Narrated by: Paul Baymer, Susan Dewidan, Roselyn landor, John Lee, Juliet Mills
    At the time, my twelve year old daughter and I listened to the audiobook on a road trip from Arizona to Northern California to visit my sister, Linda. Featuring five narrators, the audiobook is an absolute joy to listen to. Each character is vibrantly brought to life and the engaging story is a fictional account of the events that occurred on Guernsey Island during the German Occupation in World War II.
Dublin Murder Squad Series:
In The Woods (Penguin ©2008) Audiobook Narrated by Steven Crossley
The Likeness (Penguin ©2009) Audiobook Narrated by Heather O'Neill
Faithful Place (Penguin ©2011) Audiobook Narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds
Broken Harbor (Viking ©2012)
by Tana French
   Damn, Tana French can write. Lovely, fine prose. The common thread between the books is the Dublin Murder Squad, some characters do cross over into the subsequent novels, so it is important to read the novels in order to avoid spoilers. The novels are not crime novels that you would typically find in the genre. While the novels are technically mysteries, I found myself more involved with the character development and entering the psyches of the Murder Squad's investigators.

Royal Thai Detective Novels:
Bangkok 8 (Vintage Books ©2003) Audiobook Narrated by Paul Boehmer 
Bangkok Tattoo (Vintage Books ©2006) Audiobook Narrated by Paul Boehmer
Bangkok Haunts (Vintage Books ©2007) Audiobook Narrated by Glen MCready
The Godfather of Kathmandu (Vintage Books ©2010) Audiobook Narrated by Stephen Hogan
by John Burdett
   The son of an American GI and a Thai prostitute, devout Buddhist and ganja smoking Royal Thai Police Detective, Sonchai Jitplecheep navigates the underbelly of Bangkok solving crimes all the while striving to balance his karma. The nuanced observations by the author regarding the sex trade, drug trafficing, politics, corruption and east versus west perspectives on all topics is quite captivating and thought provoking. I bet you'll be hooked by the second chapter, farang!
by Gregory David Roberts
St. Martin's Griffin ©2005
Audiobook Narrated by Humphrey Bower
   Check-out the author's website, specifically the author's facts page. I had quite a bit of fun reading (with exagerated emotion) the author's bullet point biography - about a yardstick long - to my family one night over dinner. The book is loosely autobiographical, so you'll get the idea fairly quickly how things will surely go down over the course of the story. Rumor has it that Johnny Depp was committed to star in the film. The project was shelved last year, but perhaps it will be rekindled. We can only hope because it seems like a perfect role for Mr. Depp, in all the best non-Tim Burton ways.

Prodigal Summer (Harper Perennial ©2001)
The Lacuna (Harper ©2009)
by Barbara Kingsolver
   A favorite author of we three sisters. Barbara Kingsolver narrates her own books, which worked well with Prodigal Summer, but took a little getting used to in The Lacuna, a book which includes Frida Kahlo as a primary character. I was gobsmacked upon discovering Ms. Kingsolver had the courage to write dialogue for the revered artist. Thankfully, she succeeded.
Jitterbug Perfume (Bantam ©1990)
Half Asleep In Frogs Pajamas (Bantam ©1995)
Skinny Legs And All (Bantam ©1995)
Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates (Bantam ©2001) Audiobook Narrated by Keith Szarabajka
Villa Incognito (Bantam ©2003) Audiobook Narrated by Barret Whitener
... and more by Tom Robbins
   Welcome to the wacky, wonderful, mind-blowing world of Tom Robbins. No one, and I mean no one, writes like Tom Robbins, except, of course, Tom Robbins. Controversial, philosophical, funny as hell. Highly quotable. Tom Robbins loves women, and women love Tom Robbins. Especially the Salvation Sisters.

The Sixteen Pleasures
by Robert Hellenga
Delta ©1995
   Don't let the title fool you, the book is not fodder for those that desire titillating subject matter. More than a few general public reviewers posting on Amazon seemed to be a tad disgruntled by that fact. If, by chance, you are headed to Florence, Italy read this book before you go. If you are not planning a trip to Florence also known as Firenze... well, you'll be jonsing to go by the end of the story. Immediately follow reading this novel by watching A Room With A View and you'll be booking flights.

The Mists of Avalon
by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Ballentine Books ©1982
Audiobook Narrated by Davina Porter
   The story of the Arthurian Legend of Camelot told through the feminine perspective.

The Help
by Kathryn Stockett
Penguin ©2009
Audiobook Narrated  by Jenna Lamia, Bahni Turpin, Octavia Spencer, Cassandra Campbell
   Most folks by now have read the book and seen the film. Although I enjoyed the film, the book is better. That is pretty much always the case, n'est-ce pas? The vocal performances by the four narrators is superb. My daughter, a young teenager at the time we listened to this book, was just as enthralled as I with the engrossing tale of friendship and burgeoning civil rights movement during the year 1962 in Mississippi.
Riding in the car with young adults:

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce Mysteries)
... and more by Alan Bradley
Bantam ©2010
Narrated by: Jayne Entwistle
   A great listen with a tweener in the car. My daughter and I had hours of fun listening to this audiobook while driving to and from school. The book encouraged me to refer to the kitchen as my  my sanctum santorum until someone informed me, I think it was Juliette, that the urban dictionary might help bring me up to date on the the latter day definition. I am now barred from asking people about his or her sanctum santorum. Foiled again.

Bloody Jack (Hartcourt Children's Books ©2002)
Curse of the Blue Tattoo (Hartcourt Children's Books ©2004)
Under the Jolly Roger (Hartcourt Children's Books ©2005)
... and more by L.A. Meyer
Narrated by Katherine Kellgren
   Follow the high-seas adventures of London-born and subsequently orphaned Mary "Jacky" Faber. Katherine Kellgren's spirited narration (and I do mean spirited) has inspired my daughter to perform lively impersonations of Jacky, and sometimes in the most unlikely of places, which always makes me belly laugh.

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, and The Heroes of Olympus series)
... and many, many more by Rick Riordan
Hyperion ©2005
   Perseus "Percy" Jackson, son of Poseidon, is the protagonist of this popular series that both boys and girls will enjoy. As usual, the book is soooooo much better than the film.

The Harry Potter Series
by J.K. Rowling
Arthur A. Levine Books ©1997-2007
Narrated by Jim Dale
   I posit that the best way to experience the publishing phenomen known as Harry Potter is to have Jim Dale read each novel to you. Fabulous. My family and I have listened to each book more than once. And naturally, boys and girls of all ages love to hear the spectacular tale unfold of the boy wizard that attends Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
In the Kitchen:

Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef
by Gabrielle Hamilton
Random House ©2011
   I admired this book for Ms. Hamilton's unflinching honesty about herself. She's a talented writer. If the whole food thing doesn't work out (snicker), she will have an ever hungry writing career to feed.

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly
by Anthony Bourdain
Co Prsa ©2000
Narrated by Anthony Bourdain
   The book that made Anthony Bourdain a household name. We sisters are fan girls.
Mourad: New Moroccan is a great read and Mourad is my new chef crush.
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