Cookbook Review: No Regrets (Junior League of Portland, 1974)


No Regrets (1974) is compilation of recipes from the Junior League of Portland (Oregon).  Like the other Junior League cookbooks in my collection this is something more than a traditional community cookbook.  As with a church or Elks Lodge cookbook it contains recipes collected from members, but they are presented without attribution and intended to be sold to the general public.  No Regrets lacks the professional styling and unrestrained snobbiness of Private Collection – compiled by Palo Alto Junior Leaguers – but the recipe selection is, for lack of a more precise term, ‘elevated’ relative to contemporary community cookbooks.   I wish I had some context for the title, which seems out of place for a Junior League Cookbook.  I can’t tell if it’s meant to be some sort of “Live, Laugh, Love” mantra for affluent homemakers or intentionally subversive.  Either way, it looks great and slightly menacing in burnt orange block letters against an avocado backdrop.

I picked up my copy of No Regrets from the brilliant Robert’s Bookshop, which I heartily recommend to anyone traveling along the Oregon Coast.  The selection is astounding for a tiny little tourist town, with nearly 200,000 books spread across a sprawling labyrinth which includes, apparently, the innards of an airplane.  They have an entire room devoted (mostly) to cookbooks and single, large bookcase devoted to local (Pacific Northwest) recipe collections.   If I ever start running out of content for this site they will be the first place I visit.

Now these days Portland, Oregon calls to mind “the dream of the 90s” complete with vegan food carts, bearded hipsters, and a unicycling Darth Vader with flaming bagpipes.   In 1974 not so much.  The Portland of the 1970s was kind of a rough and tumble town, filled with adult bookstores and strip joints and run by bad cops and corrupt politicians.  Portland’s mayor was one Neil Goldschmidt, who later became governor and even later admitted to carrying on with an underage girl through most of his tenure.  The downtown districts now covered with luxury apartments were filled with old brick-and-metal warehouses.  The seeds of twenty-first century Portland were being sown, but they hadn’t yet taken root.

Whatever progressive elements were at work in Portland don’t appear to have had any place in the local Junior League.  Nearly every woman named in the cookbook is called by her husband’s name – i.e. Mrs. John T. Smith.  Presumably these men’s names would have been recognizable to members of the community.  Consistent with the Junior League’s reputation, the recipe selection reflects a patrician sensibility that seems entirely disconnected from Portland’s mid-1970s working class.  And yet this is still an eminently cookable cookbook.  There are the occasional recipes that call for pâté de foie gras or chateaubriand but there are plenty of options for weeknight meals and Sunday dinners.  Many of the church cookbooks I own from this era are heavy on condensed soup casseroles and molded salads.  No Regrets has a few of these, but tends to focus on from-scratch preparation and fresh ingredients.  

At home I primarily use this cookbook for planning dinners.   The Main Dish chapter is the star of the show here, and far and away the longest chapter.  Main dishes are primarily meat-centric but there are plenty of seafood options and ‘meatless’ egg and cheese dishes.  There is even a short list of recipes for preparing game meat.  Recipes range from simple weeknight meals, such as the quick and easy Broiled Seafood Sandwich or Chicken in a Hurry, as well as elaborate weekend meals such as Paella and Roast Lamb.   There are a surprising number of ‘ethnic’ dishes as well beyond the usual bean-sprouts-make-it-Asian casseroles.  There is a surprisingly competent sukiyaki recipe and an excellent Chinese-American Beef Chow Yuk, plus a few Mediterranean staples like Moussaka. 

And wine.  The Junior Leaguers love their wine and spirits.  The introductory pages are devoted to cooking with wine, wine pairings, and matching wine to the appropriate glasses.  Both white and red wines are common ingredients, as well as brandies, rums, and cognac.  The dessert section is filled with boozy Kahlua-filled concoctions and even the Pickles and Relishes chapter includes a crocked fruit recipe that’s roughly one-third brandy.   If you’re a teetotaler like me this may pose a challenge, in that many of the recipes call for a couple of tablespoons of wine here and there and assume that you’ll drink the rest of the bottle with the meal.  I’ve gotten in the habit of keeping good quality dealcoholized wine on hand – Ariel brand, if I can find it – for small quantity usage.  It’s a good approximation of an inexpensive table wine and freezes well in an ice cube tray or small containers.

Noisettes de Porc aux Pruneax is an elegant, uncomplicated dish from the Portland (Oregon) Junior League’s 1974 cookbook, No Regrets.  English speakers can easily deduce “Pork” and “Prunes” from the title.  The word Noisettes literally means hazelnuts, but in this context Noisettes de Porc translates roughly as “pork medallions”.   The recipe seems to have roots in the Touraine region of France, renowned both for its wine and lush plum orchards.  A quick google search uncovers dozens of variants for this recipe.  There is a remarkably similar version published in Anne Willan’s Regional French Cooking, a full seven years after the Portland Junior League’s book.

While individual recipes vary, the key elements of Noisettes de Porc aux Pruneaux are as follows.   Prunes are cooked in white wine.  Pork medallions are quickly pan fried, then simmered in the prunes’ cooking liquid until tender.  The pork liquids and all the delicious brown bits are mixed with cream and prunes until thickened, and then drizzled over top of the pork medallions.   Some recipes have very strong opinions on what sort of wine to use – Vouvray seems to be a popular choice – but any dry white wine will do fine.  I used dealcoholized Chardonnay and it was still delicious (no one in our house drinks alcohol, and dealcoholized wine freezes well). Variants may include anything from Dijon mustard to peppercorns to warm spices in the sauce, but the end result is an invariably rich, sweet, and handsomely colored cream sauce.

The original recipe called for pork tenderloin, which I didn’t think was fatty enough to remain tender over a forty-minute simmer.   This is not the fault of the recipe’s author; domestic pork is considerably leaner than it was when the recipe was published, and I’ve had enough tough pork tenderloin to last a lifetime.   I opted instead for two fattier cuts: a streaky boneless pork roast with a thick, fatty lip, as well as a rolled pork belly “roast”.   Both worked well.  The pork belly roast was much more tender but also much more cumbersome – it requires an entirely different preparation.  The recipe I’ve given below assumes you are using pork roast, and hews more closely to the original.

This was a big hit with the family and ridiculously easy to make.  It requires a little bit of advance planning and ninety minutes of cooking but there’s very little active time.  Noisettes de Porc ax Pruneax demands a starch that can soak up the delicious sauce and a bitter vegetable to balance the richness.   I served this with simple brown-rice-cooked-in-stock and roasted broccolini.   Next time around I will probably serve it with mashed potatoes and asparagus or green beans.   And maybe make a double batch of the sauce and drink it.

No Regrets is not especially rare or expensive, and can still be found occasionally on AmazonThe Junior League of Portland does not appear to have published a cookbook since the late 90s, but they are still active in the community supporting education and working to eliminate violence against women.

Noisettes de Porc aux Pruneax (Oregon, 1974, adapted)

  • Preparation: 30 min
  • Cooking: 45 min
  • Ready in: 1 h 30 min
  • For: 6 portions

Instructions

  1. Soak prunes in white wine in a non-reactive bowl, covered, overnight in the refrigerator.
  2. When you're ready to cook, transfer the prunes and wine to a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer (uncovered) for 10-20 minutes until prunes are soft. Drain liquid and reserve, and set prunes aside.
  3. Slice pork medallions about 1½ inches thick. Season liberally with salt, pepper, and garlic powder and dredge lightly in flour (shaking off excess).
  4. Heat oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, pan fry pork medallions 2-3 minutes per side until golden brown, working in batches if needed. Pour off fat and gently wipe out skillet, getting rid of excess flour but taking care not to dislodge the tasty brown bits at the bottom of the skillet.
  5. With skillet still at medium-high heat add butter, stock, and reserved cooking liquid. While until well combined and mixture comes to a boil. Add medallions back to skillet - in a single layer if possible. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 45 minutes until pork is tender.
  6. About 15 minutes before the pork is done, turn on the oven to 275° F. When pork is finished cooking remove to a large casserole dish and cover. Place in the warm oven until ready to serve.
  7. Add cream to the stock remaining in the skillet. Bring to a slow boil, whisking constantly and dredging up any tasty browned bits from the bottom of the pan. When the sauce is thickened stir in prunes, currant jelly, and lemon juice. Continue whisking until jelly is dissolved and prunes are heated through. Add salt and pepper to taste if needed (you probably won't have to).
  8. To serve, place pork on the plate first. Use a slotted spoon to place a few prunes on the side, then drizzle liberally with the delicious sauce.

You may find a complete list of recipes I’ve adapted from No Regrets at this link.


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