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Saturday, February 19, 2011

C'est Bon! Le Vrai Coq au Vin

My lovelies, I don't know how many of you have had the opportunity to try French country cooking, but let me tell you, it is fabulous-with a capital FAB and a capital ULOUS! We are not talking the stereotypical American idea of French cooking, with pretentious artistry and minimalist proportions (although in my experience, I have never found this to be the case in any French restaurant.) No, this is rich, hearty, succulent food.  Food that makes you have a food-gasm, complete with clutching the table, eyes rolling back in the head, and moaning.  Oh, yes.  It's that good.

Having said that, I should also tell you that it's not for the faint of heart cook.  French country cooking is about the quality of ingredients and the time spent reducing those ingredients to their most savory essence.  This means time and numerous steps.  In other words, French country cooking is a labor of love.

What to wear while performing this labor of love? Well, just to get me in the mood, I start with a bit of French lingerie (maybe tmi for some of you, but those who know me know I am not shy about my fetish for lingerie!)

Don't you love a good demi-bra? It's like a boost to your spirit as well as your girls!

And, since the weather here has been so very spring like...

A light and breezy white eyelet a line skirt with...

A fitted, 3/4 sleeve turquoise cardigan, and...

What every girl needs. A classic pair of black patent heels. 

I accessorized with a red necklace and stacked beaded bracelets, just to give myself a little jolt of color. To protect my clothes from the many steps of this dish, I wore my black and white polka dot apron from Anthropologie.  So pretty and feminine, no?

Remember how I said that French country cooking is not for the faint of heart? Well, fasten your seat belts, my lovelies, and hold on tight! This recipe is from Ann Willan, founder of La Varenne cooking school at Chateau du Fey.  

Le Vrai Coq au Vin (The True Coq au Vin)


1 onion, sliced
1 carrot, sliced
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 clove garlic
1 t. peppercorns
1 bottle (750 mL) red wine (I used a pinot noir)
1 T. olive oil

Combine the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, peppercorns, and wine in a saucepan, bring to a boil , and simmer for 5 minutes.  Let the marinade cool completely.

Pack the chicken in a deep, non-metallic bowl and pour the cooled marinade over the pieces. Spoon the olive oil over the pieces to keep them moist. Cover and refrigerate for at least one day or up to 3 days (I left mine in for 2 days), turning the chicken occasionally.

Take the chicken pieces from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels (this keeps the hot grease from splattering when you cook the chicken). Strain the marinade, reserving the liquid and the vegetables separately.  Heat the oven to 325 F.

The reserved vegetables will have taken in the color of the wine.


5-6 lbs. fresh chicken, cut up (I used 5 lbs of thighs)
1 T. vegetable oil
6 oz. thick sliced bacon, cut into lardons (thin strips)
3 T. flour
2 cups chicken broth
2 shallots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 large bouquet garni (large sprig of fresh thyme, 2 dried bay leaves green tops of 2 leeks, and the tops of 3 stalks of celery tied in a piece of cheese cloth)

To cook the chicken, heat the vegetable oil in saute pan or oven proof casserole over medium heat.  Add the lardons and saute until browned and the fat runs, about 5 minutes.  Transfer them to a bowl using a slotted spoon and set aside.  

The reserved lardons of bacon.

Add the chicken pieces, skin side down, to the pan and saute over medium heat until thoroughly browned, at least 10 minutes.  Turn them and brown the other side, 3 to 5 minutes longer.  Remove the pieces and set aside.

Your chicken should have a rich, golden brown color.

Add the reserved vegetables to the saute pan over medium heat and fry until they start to brown, 5 to 7 minutes.  Stir in the flour and cook over high heat, stirring, until it browns, 2 to 3 minutes.  Pour in the marinade liquid and bring to a boil, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens.  Simmer for 2 minutes, then stir in the shallots, garlic, and bouquet garni. 

The bouquet garni

Replace the chicken into the pan, pushing the pieces down into the sauce.  Cover the pan, transfer to the oven, and cook, turning the chicken occasionally, until the pieces are fork tender and fall easily from the bone, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. (I actually cooked mine for 1 and 1/2 hours.) Now, for the love of God, pour yourself a glass of wine and have a rest!

After you have had your wine, cook the garnish. 


2 T. butter
16 to 18 baby onions, peeled
8 oz. button mushrooms, trimmed and quartered
salt and pepper, to taste
1 T. parsley, (I omitted this since I am allergic)

Melt the butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the onions and brown them, shaking the pan from time to time so they color evenly, 5 to 7 minutes.  Lower the heat, cover, and cook the onions, shaking the pan occasionally, until just tender, 8 to 10 minutes more.  Lift them with the slotted spoon and add to the reserved lardons.  Put the mushrooms in the pan, with a little more butter if needed, and saute until tender, 3 to 5 minutes.

Typically Coq au Vin is served over something starchy-mashed potatoes, small fried potatoes or spaetzle.  I chose to do mashed potatoes.  Simply place a piece of chicken over the potatoes (or spaetzle), spoon garnish and sauce over the top.

Now that you have accomplished this, sit down, and have a taste.  After the moans and gasps of ecstasy have subsided, give yourself a pat on the back, my lovelies! Or better yet, let someone else give you a nice massage in thanks for an amazing meal...


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Breakfast in Bed for an Early Valentine's Day

Food is romantic.  Food is sensual.  Sweating away in a hot kitchen in grimey clothes is NOT.  So, how do you have a romantic, sensual breakfast in bed wearing that sexy French lingerie without having to wake up at 4 am (therefore killing ANY mood) and not sustaining 2 degree burns to those scantily clad areas? Oh, do I have a solution for you!

First, let's talk lingerie.  I am a HUGE lingerie addict.  I can't feel well put together, much less sexy, in cotton granny panties.  In fact, I wouldn't own a pair if you gave them to me.  This doesn't mean you have to buy the European set from Jane's Vanity (although, I highly recommend it if you can!)  Target has some very nice things, not to mention Victoria's Secret. Throw your significant other a bone (pun intended!) and tap your inner sex vixen.  Start every day knowing that no matter what everyone else sees on the surface, you look HOT underneath!

Now, isn't this infinitely more alluring than a worn an tatty white bra? Now add a robe for the kitchen, and we are set to make breakfast!

Since nothing ruins the mood faster than sleep deprivation (okay, young children kill it faster.  oh, and mother in laws too-but I digress) I like a breakfast that is quick, easy, yet tasty.  Enter Baked Ham Cups.  I learned this recipe from another online foodie, Lindsay Tarquino.

Doesn't this look scrumptious? And, it's easier than scrambling eggs with an infinitely more sophisticated palette. This recipe is for a large crowd, but you can tailor it to suit just you and your honey.

Baked Ham Cups:
12 Eggs
12 thin slices of deli ham (round)
1/2 Cup of your favorite cheese (I used Parmesan)
1/2 Cup diced scallions
Fresh cracked Sea Salt and Pepper

Preheat the oven to 400.  Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray.  Lay a piece of ham in each hole creating a little ham cup.  Crack one egg into each hole and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Bake the eggs for about 12 minutes…until the white is firm and the yolk is still nice and runny.
Carefully remove each egg from the muffin tin and top with grated cheese and scallions.  Serve hot!  Yield: 12

The best part of this recipe is the fact that all you do is pop the ham in the muffin tin with the egg and walk away until the timer goes off.  In the 12 minutes of baking you can make a pot of French press coffee, toast some crackin' rye toast, and pour the orange juice.  Add a fresh flower to the tray, saunter upstairs with your sexy self, and enjoy the fruits of your labor!
Cheers, my lovelies-and Happy Valentine's Day! 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Time in Paradise

It's been far too long, my lovelies, what with a trip to Aruba to visit with old friends and haunt my old stomping grounds, coming home to sick kiddos, and trying to set the house to rights after being away.  But, all is back to normal, and I have so much to relate!

First, let me tell you about all the wonderful places and food we had the pleasure to see and taste.  My husband and I stayed at Cunucu Arubiano, a small luxury inn/b&b. Set in the middle of the cunucu (Papiamento for 'countryside'), it consists of 3 brightly painted casitas that open to the warm, comforting Tradewinds that are a constant in Aruba. If you just have to have the a/c, they are fully equipped with remote controlled units, but trust me, it felt so lovely, you didn't want to turn it on! 

We were greeted with a lovely bottle of merlot when we arrived and plenty of bottled water to take with us as we hiked and swam. Each morning Andrea would start our morning with freshly made Dutch coffee (for me) and herbal tea (for my husband).  We would sit and have a lovely chat on the patio, and shortly Lissette (owner and breakfast cook extraordinaire) would arrive with fabulous farmer's omelets with mushrooms, green peppers, onions and Dutch gouda cheese. Perfect way to start the day!

Since Aruba was my home as a child, the places I wanted to see most were close to where I used to live, Seroe Colorado, or as it used to be known as, The Colony.  First, we visited Baby Beach, known for its pink tinged sands and calm, protected water.

Yes, this really is the place where I spent my childhood-peaceful, warm, and fun. There is a snack stand there, and we had the best sate (pronounced sah-tay).  Sate is street food.  Marinated pork or chicken, grilled or fried, served with the most heavenly peanut sauce and french fries.  I know, I know, not healthy by any stretch of the imagination, but, dear God is it delicious.  Now this is not like Thai satay.  This is spicier with (in my opinion) richer flavors.  The meat is marinated in onion, ginger, garlic, lemongrass and tumeric.  The sauce is also more complex.  Peanut butter, soy cauce,red pepper flakes, brown sugar, anchovy paste, garlic, ginger, onion and the secret ingredient-tamarind juice.  Look at the picture above, look until you can hear the waves and the feel the warm breeze of the salty sea air-now imagine sitting under a palm thatched stand eating sate.  Ah, that's heaven.

Next, we visited Bachelor's beach, so named because back in the day, that's where the bachelors would go to swim in the buff.  Now, it is best known for kite surfing.

There are loads of these little lean-tos along the coast, made from the flotsam and driftwood that finds its way to the shore.  The water is a little rougher here, but still swimmer friendly.  the strong wind and the relatively calm water creates the perfect conditions for kite surfing, and you can watch them zipping back and forth as they flip and jump up in the air.

The next day, we visited Roger's Beach back in Seroe Colorado.  When I was a child there was a lovely long dock to jump off of, and people would store their sunfish sailboats on the sand.  It had a pavilion with a bar and tables.  The pavilion is still there, but the dock is no more.  The beach is still gorgeous, and if you want to be in a quiet beach this is perfect for you.  No crowds of bussed in tourists and the beach is calm and gentle.

Off to the left of the above picture, is the fishermen's boats.  You cannot be anything but happy when you see them.  The bright colors of the boats against the happiest of all colors, turquoise, is enough to banish all unpleasant thoughts away.  Don't believe me? Take a look.

Now, tell me I was wrong.  Nope.  Can't do it, can you? The answer to all weather related depression problems-go to Aruba and look at the boats and the water!

The next day we picked up some pastechis at a little take away and headed for Seroe Colorado Point and the rough side of the island. Pastechis are like empanadas, but the bread enclosure is lighter and the fillings have a various influences.  They come in many flavors.  The Dutch ham and cheese, the fish stew, a decidedly Chinese vegetable (like an egg roll filling), chicken curry, and meat (really more of ground beef jerk).  We chose vegetable and meat. Up we drove to the top of Seroe Colorado Point, packed away our pastechis and water, slipped off our flip flops and slipped on our sneakers, and we were off. Down the side of the cliff towards the blue, blue deep water, crashing and foaming below us. We skittered around the edge of the cliff, shimmying to the edge to cross a small natural bridge carved by millenia of waves and wind pounding into the hard rocky coast.

So, with this as our view, we tucked into our pastechis and water. Nom, nom, nom.

Since our hostess had an fundraiser for her son to attend the next morning, she arranged for us to have breakfast at a absolutely wonderful restaurant in downtown Orangestad called De Suikertuin.  It means 'sugar bowl,' and they serve Dutch cuisine for breakfast and lunch.  I had the traditional Dutch breakfast-brown bread toasted with two boiled eggs, thin slices of gouda cheese, salami, Dutch ham (oh so good!), sliced tomatoes, and a homemade croissant with strawberry jam.  If you didn't know already, I can really eat! My husband ate the Dutch pancakes, which are like a thick eggy crepe baked in a oven, with walnuts and bananas.  Topped off with freshly squeezed orange juices and a top notch lattes (with homemade sugar cookies, I might add), and we were set for the day.

Since we were meeting my old school mates for dinner later that evening, and we didn't want to be exhausted, we returned to Baby Beach to lie, lizard like, on the warm sands (with loads of sunblock, of course!) and swim in the shallow water.

That night, we met with my two school friends to catch up on the many years since we had seen each other at a locally owned, but in the heart of the tourist area, restaurant called Gianni's.  As you guessed, Gianni's is an Italian restaurant, and it is fabulous! My husband and I each got Spaghetti Formaggio e Tomati. Made by taking fresh, homemade pasta (cooked to perfect al dente), sauteed fresh tomatoes and garlic and placing these in a massive bowl made from a wheel of parmesan reggiano.  The server then takes a ladle of vodka, lights it, and tosses the pasta and tomatoes with it inside the bowl of parmesan reggiano.  The effect? A masterpiece of showmanship and flavor.  The heat from the vodka melts just enough of the cheese to coat everything with the sharp tang of aged parmesan.

For dessert, salami chocolati, a dense flourless roulade with almonds and dark chocolate mixed in, sliced thinly and served with fresh whipped cream. So tasty!

Alas, we had to return back to home after a trip of wonderful old friends, fabulous new friends, beautiful beaches, incredible food, and marvelous weather. Already we have replicated some of the dishes we had in Aruba (posts to be coming soon! I promise!), and when we return in the summer, I will learn even more.

Oh, I know I did not comment on my clothing, but in a nutshell-a silver grey bikini and a fab retro black and white polka dot one piece both from J. Crew, MEK jean shorts, a white Massimo shirt from Target as a cover up, plenty of Neutrogena sunblock SPF 100+, flip flops and that's it!

The retro.

The grey-and, again, no that's not me!

So, for the Aruba post that is all.  I have more things to tell you about what's been worn and cooked since my return, but that must wait for another day! In the mean time, eat well, look fabulous, and watch the new episode of What Not to Wear tonight!

Cheers, my lovelies!