Back to Cooking – going French

I have cut back on my hours at work and one of my goals is to take better care of my kitchen. It’s a good time to explore new recipes and write about them here. No more take out!  Although there is some awfully good take out around… and fish tacos are cheap.  Maybe I’ll write about that too.

David just had a birthday and didn’t want a present.  What he wanted was a meal.  A French meal:  coq au vin and crepes suzette.  I pulled out Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, James Peterson’s Cooking, sharpened my knives, bought large quantities of butter and wine, and got to work.  To make Julia Child’s coq au vin, you actually have to use four different recipes:  brown chicken stock, braised onions, roasted mushrooms, and the final coq au vin.  I spent a lot of time flipping pages.  I bought a whole chicken because I was supposed to use the giblet and neck for stock.  Alas, my poor bird was giblet and neckless.  First dilemma. I ended up using scraps and the carcass.  That worked pretty well.

Second dilemma: I had to butcher the chicken.  As a mostly vegetarian person, this was new territory.  I had some pictures to follow, but somehow my chicken and the detailed chicken diagrams did not match.  Perhaps my bird was missing more body parts than I first thought?  I soldiered on and started hacking away, with a brief intermission when I hacked my thumb.  There was quite a bit of blood, but I managed to miss the chicken.  Human blood was not in the recipe, and I did not want to start over.  I ended up with a few extra pieces of fowl, but hey, who’s counting?

After that was fairly plain sailing, made easier by the large quantities of burgundy splashing around.  After a few hours of page flipping, a lot of stirring, and a few burns here and there, we sat down to an amazing dish.  The chicken itself was slightly overcooked, but the sauce, the onions, and mushrooms were so incredible it didn’t matter.  It is an experience not to be missed.  Julia Child suggests having it with potatoes, but I think you have to have some kind of bread as well, to sop up every bit of the incredible sauce. Otherwise people will start licking their plates, which is not really a part of an elegant dinner.

Then the dessert:  Crepes Suzette.  I have never eaten this, or even seen it, so research was needed.  Apparently it was all the rage in restaurants in the 1970’s, with waiters dishing up flaming sauce over perfectly folded crepes.  It sounds fun.  I looked to see if it was on any local restaurant menus, but no.  It definitely should be revived.  Flaming crepes – who wouldn’t want that?  Plus, after we ate it, we discovered that it is a wonderful dish – elegant and delicious, a grown up dessert with a mixture of bitter orange rind, sweet juice, rich smooth butter, and deep flavors from the Grand Marnier, all served over delicate crepes.

I’ve made crepes before without much trouble, but the elaborate directions for how to handle these dessert crepes intimidated me, especially the part about flipping them over using your fingers, because they are too delicate for a spatula.  I personally prefer not to pry things off hot pans with my fingers, and I was suspicious of Peterson’s casual comment that if you do it right you won’t get burned. Apparently I did it wrong.  Multiple burns ensued.  In the end I  pried up the edges with a spatula and then grabbed on with my fingers.  That worked, and the crepes came out great. .

I ditched Julia Child’s traditional version of the sauce, which involves rubbing orange peel with sugar cubes, until the oil soaks into the sugar.  I haven’t seen a sugar cube for years.  (That’s actually kind of sad.  I liked dropping them in hot tea and watching them dissolve.)  I went with James Peterson’s recipe, which is very simple – it’s just orange zest and orange juice cooked down and mixed with a whole lot of butter, You add Grand Marnier or Cognac at the end and light it on fire.  We turned out all the lights and oohed and aahed.  Then we poured it over the crepes, and there was great joy.  It was totally worth the burned fingers.

I made side dishes as well, and fish for the pescatarians.  It turned into quite a feast:

Parker House Rolls (Joy of Cooking). They didn’t rise as well as I wanted, but they were important for sopping up the coq au vin sauce.  A baguette would probably be even better. Grade:  B

Peas in cream (Grandma Nellie’s recipe).  Classic and easy, Grade A+

Garlic coated tilapia (from Rick Bayless’ Authentic Mexican – outstanding) Grade A for the recipe, B+ for the cook (I didn’t brown the fish quite enough)

Parsley potatoes.  Grade:  A  How can can you go wrong with new potatoes and lots of butter?

Coq au Vin (Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking) Grade:  A for the recipe (I didn’t make it A+ because of all the page flipping required).  A- for the cook – the chicken was overcooked, but everything else was terrific.

Crepes Suzette (James Peterson, Cooking) Grade:  A, despite the burnt fingers.

Overall dinner grade:  A.  Yum! David seemed very happy with his birthday present.  My fingers are recovering.

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