Coq au Vin and Other High School Memories

July 16, 2009 at 6:02 pm Leave a comment

Coq au Vin  When I was in high school, my best friend Paula and I joined the French Club just in time to get in on a field trip to the Café de Paris in downtown Minneapolis for what was my first taste of gourmet cooking.  My mother was a good cook, but she tailored her menus to suburban family life.  On that particular October evening in the mid-sixties, I stepped through the door to a whole new realm of continental gastronomic intrigue; it forever changed my attitude toward cooking.  In fond remembrance, I decided to treat my perhaps less effusive tablemates to an approximate replay of that evening’s menu:  Coq au Vin Risi Bisi with Princess Salad, croissants, and chocolate mousse.

For the Chicken in Wine Sauce I took a quick peek at my Art of French Cooking, Volume I© for a general sense of ingredients and quantities, but took off on a simplified, non-traditional course from that point on.  The Ring of Rice and Peas and the Tossed Field Greens with Citrus Wedges are pretty self-explanatory and therefore easy to recreate.  I did substitute a Whole Wheat Baguette for the croissants and Sautéed Apple Slices for the mousse, due to both time and nutrition considerations.  So, while I guess I didn’t actually “go home again,” I got pretty darned close to the old neighborhood.  And I definitely enjoyed a singingly sweet whiff of nostalgia as that pot sat bubbling on the burner for the better part of the afternoon.

Today I’ve tucked a number of side notes and helpful hints at the bottom of the page as asterisked comments.  That way, you can decide how helpful they actually are, without having to interrupt the flow of things – unless your curiosity impels you to check them out mid-recipe.

To serve 6-8, the chicken will require:

2.5# skinless, boneless chicken thighs*            2 C full-bodied red wine – Burgundy/merlot

1 C rich chicken broth or bouillon                       2 large cloves garlic, minced, set aside**

1-1/4 C frozen pearl onions                                     1/4 tsp dried thyme

2 small bay leaves                                                        2 tsp tomato paste***

                        1 C well-cleaned, thin-sliced mushrooms      

Trim all the ugly white bits from the thighs and brown them in a large, deep (12″ wide by 3″ deep) non-stick skillet over medium heat about five minutes per side.  Add the wine, broth, garlic, pearl onions, thyme, bay leaves, and tomato paste; stir, cover, and reduce heat to a slow simmer.  Enjoy the aroma for at least two hours, stirring occasionally.  During the last twenty minutes of cooking, stir in the mushrooms.  

For the rice and peas side dish:

3-3/4 C water       1 C basmati rice            1 chicken bouillon cube          1 C frozen peas

Bring water to a boil, stir in rice and bouillon, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook about 17 minutes.  During the last five minutes or so, toss in frozen peas and cook until all water is absorbed by rice.

For the salad, I made a batch of Good Seasons Dressing™ using apple cider vinegar and olive oil, and followed the directions for a lighter version:  more water, more vinegar, less oil.  Drizzle a bit of this over mixed greens and toss in some halved orange and/or grapefruit sections and some slivered red onion.  Salt and pepper to taste.

The dessert apples are simple and do-aheadable:

 4-5 large, tender apples, sliced –  gala, Fuji                  1 tsp butter

1 TB DaVinci™ Sugar Free Caramel Syrup             1 C plain yogurt****

1 TB DaVinci™ Sugar Free Vanilla Syrup                6 TB toasted pine nuts

In a large non-stick skillet, melt butter over medium heat and stir in apple slices.  Cook over medium low until apples begin to color around the edges, and continue cooking – stirring frequently – until they are golden and slightly caramelized.  This may take up to twenty minutes.  Drizzle on caramel syrup and cook another five minutes, stirring occasionally.  Leave the apples in the pan and re-warm them just before serving. 

To serve, blend vanilla syrup into yogurt and dish apples into six serving dishes.  Top each with a few dollops of yogurt and 1 Tb toasted pine nuts.  Trust me, my friends:  This is almost as good as that chocolate mousse of memory, and your hips and thighs may just offer fewer complaints about running out of storage room.


*If you use bone-in chicken pieces, you don’t need to simmer them as long because they cook faster from the inside out with the bones conducting heat as they do, but do still skin the chicken to prevent over-fatting the sauce.

**Studies have shown that a garlic-rich diet protects against various cancers, but the latest scoop is that the health benefits of garlic are reduced if you toss it right into the pan after peeling and crushing it.  To maximize the health benefits, crush the garlic at room temperature and allow it to sit for about 15 minutes. That triggers an enzyme reaction that boosts the healthy compounds and prevents their destruction during cooking.

***Don’t you hate that wasted tomato paste – a whole can opened, only to use a tiny portion of it?  This time, scoop out the remaining paste by the tablespoon full onto a small plate and set the plate in the freezer over night to freeze solid.  The next day, plop the little tomatocicles into a baggy and return them to the freezer for future use – one tablespoon at a time.  Sweet.  (And thrifty.)

****I use plain full-fat yogurt for dessert applications because I think its mouth-pleasing richness is a good trade-off for a little milk fat and a few calories.

Entry filed under: Musings of a Midwestern Foodie. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

Thanksgiving in July The Characteristics of Character

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