Coq au Vin with Parsley Potatoes and Buttered Peas and Butter Spongecake

We have reached the end!! Actually we reached the end about a month ago, on December 17th, but I’ve had a crazy month. As I mentioned before, the girls were home for two weeks during the holiday break and then it took me another two weeks to get myself situated. I have attempted to sit and post for almost two weeks but my days have just gotten away from me so here I am. A month late. I know my posting has been sporadic for the past few months but to be honest, my heart has not been fully into this project. Things started to get really hectic around September and I think that’s when I started to lose a bit of interest in this. It’s just been hard to prioritize something that ultimately is just an option, a luxury. I’m grateful that I’ve been allowed to do this but when I look at the bigger picture it’s just not as important as other things in our lives. I’m glad I stuck with it but I’m also glad it’s over.

I ended up only doing two French meals for French week. I had originally planned on doing three but I forgot to marinate the meat for another dish so I just skipped it. This meal took a total of six hours to make so, you know, I think I can be forgiven.

We had our friends Jay and Rick over for dinner, as well as my cousin Robert. Jay and his friend Paul have a podcast,  Have You Seen This One? where each week they recommend a movie for the other to watch and then review the movies. A few months ago Jay and I got the idea to combine forces and watch an international movie to accompany my cooking. Originally we talked about doing it for Italian week but the three of us couldn’t get our schedules together. We settled on French week and chose The Absolutely Fabulous Movie. Jay and I are huge AbFab fans and the way we justified this movie for French week was that it takes place in the French Riviera. I know, it’s a bit of a stretch but both of us had already seen many of the other French movies we considered and, honestly, we just wanted an excuse to watch AbFab.

So the one thing I finally learned from this project was to plan ahead and to do as much prep work as possible beforehand. It happened too many times where I was like “Oh, that won’t take long because chopping the veggies will take five minutes and blah blah blah” and then it’s time to make dinner, guests are on their way, and I’m still chopping veggies after twenty minutes. Not this time! I made the dessert (a butter spongecake with chocolate-rum icing) and peeled the onions for the coq a vin the day before and early the morning of, I made the appetizer (roquefort cheese balls). I am positive this saved SO MUCH TIME. It also helped that James was home the day before so I was able to spend some much needed time in the kitchen. I also set the table almost seven hours before our guests arrived and that too helped.

I had never made a butter spongecake, or any kind of spongecake, before so this was fun. I think I’ve mentioned I’m not the best when it comes to baking because for some reason measured ingredients and I do not get along. I feel like baking involves a lot of chemistry and although I was pretty good at chemistry, I’m a D student at best when it comes to baking. I made the sign of the cross, lit a candle, and got to it. OMG, I was nervous. I think I read the recipe about four different times, kept reading every single step before and after completing it, and was just very thorough. As I poured the batter into the cake pan I thought to myself “If this doesn’t work, I’m breaking something.” The good thing was I had to wait until the next evening to find out if it worked out so nothing was broken that day.

Jay, Rick, and Robert were arriving at 7:30 so around 4, I started cooking my coq au vin. I had to cut up a chicken, which up until this point I hated doing because it always took me forever to do it, but I guess I’d done it so many times throughout the year that it literally took me five minutes to cut up the chicken. FIVE MINUTES! This was a huge ego boost for me and was a great way to start dinner making. I have a pretty good self-esteem as it is so you can only imagine how much “OH YEAH!” and dancing took place after this. It will remain one of the highlights of my year.

The coq au vin wasn’t too difficult to make, really. The most difficult part was lighting the cognac and shaking the Dutch oven until the flame subsided. James really enjoyed that and even filmed it for FB. I was just happy I didn’t burn anything or myself. Low expectations are the key to a happy life! To accompany the coq au vin, I made parsley potatoes and buttered peas. A note on the peas.

The recipe states “In France it is usually accompanied only by parsley potatoes; buttered green peas could be included if you wish a green vegetable.” I laughed when I read this because I could just hear the disdain in Julia Child’s voice. If you wish…just a little eye rolling there. So yeah, I made buttered peas and they were delicious Julia!

Instead of par-boiling the onions, which is an option and one many people seem to prefer, I baked them. I think this made the dish richer and more flavorful but I have no real evidence to back this up other than my happy tummy and those of my guests.

So I was done cooking everything, placed everything in their serving dishes, and I looked at the clock and it was seven. THIRTY MINUTES EARLY! I was so proud of myself! I know it doesn’t seem like a big deal but every single time I’d made food for friends during the year, I was cooking up until the minute they arrived or still cooking after they arrived. It made for a very frantic greeting and I think the food suffered a bit as well. I couldn’t give my guests or the food the attention they deserved and it was very nerve-wracking. But not this time because by now I was a pro!

The food was amazing! The cheese balls were very strong but that was expected because it was blue cheese. Pairing it with bagel crisps helped but I ate about three or four by themselves. I also love blue cheese so that might have just been me loving on the bleu. The potatoes? Yum. They weren’t too soft or too hard, they were the right texture and flavor. The peas? I love peas and I love butter so I ate a few spoonfuls. Now, what everyone really cares about: the coq a vin. If I were choosing the meals for my last week on earth, this would be Wednesday’s meal. Chicken Sekuwa would be Thursday’s meal, Moules Frites would be Thursday’s, and Frito Pie would be my last meal on Saturday. Hey, I don’t want to hear it. Frito Pie is fucking amazing and if you look down on it, it says more about you than me. That’s all I gotta say about that.

The onions and mushrooms were to diiiiiiiie for! The onions literally fell apart in my mouth; I barely had to chew them. They were so buttery and soft! I’m basically drooling just thinking about them. The chicken was so tender and juicy and my goodness, I want to eat this again. Everything was just perfection and it shouldn’t have been surprising because it’s one of Julia Child’s most famous recipes and this is why. It was just so freaking good!

This was the spongecake the day after. I forgot to take a pic of it that evening; let’s blame the six bottles of wine and two bottles of champagne for my forgetfulness…As you can see, nothing was broken so it turned out well. Even with it being a day old, it was surprisingly moist. I’m pretty sure that was because of all the butter and eggs.

So with full bellies and brains starting to float in booze, we sat down to watch AbFab. If you’d like to hear our review (and I know you do) please check out Jay and Paul’s podcast. My bit starts at the 45 minute mark.

So that’s it, my last meal! I’m going to start working on my Year In Review and with my track record, you can expect it some time next month. Also, it looks like I’ll have to post the actual recipes because I can’t find them online anywhere and that always takes forever. Until then!

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Chicken Breasts in Cream and Buttered Carrots and Asparagus

We are finally at the last week of cooking! Actually, we were there about a month ago but it’s taken me a while to catch up.

I saved French week for the very end because French food is so revered and is viewed by many as the best. I’ll save my thoughts on that perspective for another post but it’s safe to say, I was a believer before taking on this project. I knew it would be time consuming and it would require a lot of knowledge and effort so that’s why I saved it for the end. I figured that by the end of it, I would be a much better cook and would have some extra skills that would help me take on the Goliath of international cuisine.

One of my birthday gifts from James was Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1.  I’ve always wanted to buy this cookbook but I couldn’t ever justify spending $30 on it. I don’t know why; it’s huge, it’s a classic, it wasn’t ever going to be any cheaper, but I just couldn’t do it. But what I could do was ask someone else to buy it for me as a gift so when James took me to Book People for my birthday and said I could buy whatever I wanted (within reason) I grabbed this one and handed it over! Thanks James!

This cookbook is WORTH $30. It’s worth a lot more but $30 is a good starting point. I feel dumb praising it because I’m sure so many people are already aware of how great and amazing this cookbook is and you’re probably like “Yeah dummy, that’s why it’s a classic!” but I didn’t know until I owned it. It shows you how to do everything! The difference between chopping and dicing vegetables, the different ways to ice a cake, the reasoning behind using certain utensils, and (my favorite part) what to serve alongside your main dishes. This was extremely helpful and I wish more cookbooks did this, especially when you’re dealing with foreign cuisine. If every recipe had done this during my months long project, I would have done a lot less research in putting my meals together. I could have saved so much time! So yes, if you can, add this to your library. It’s most definitely worth it.

For the first night I chose an easy dinner of chicken breasts in cream and veggies of asparagus and carrots. I needed a meal that was easy and quick because that week was a little hectic. The recipe called for boneless chicken breasts but for some reason I bought bone-in chicken breasts. I didn’t think it would make that big of a difference, and it didn’t in terms of flavor, but it might have in cooking time. The recipe said to cook the chicken for a total of eight minutes in the oven at 400 degrees. I was a little skeptical of this because I’ve never had chicken cook so quickly but I tried it anyway. Yeah, eight minutes later, my chicken was still a little pink. Gross. It ended up taking almost twenty minutes for the chicken to be cooked but thankfully it just sat in the oven so I was able to do other things. I looked around online and this seems to a be a common problem so either Julia Childs and the French don’t mind eating undercooked chicken or she and the French have some high powered oven that is not available in the US. Also, the recipe said to cover the chicken in buttered wax paper. I have yet to figure out the purpose of this and I also couldn’t find an explanation in the cookbook so if any of you know the benefit of this, please share.

I didn’t really do anything special with the asparagus, just blanched them and then rolled in butter, but I did follow a recipe in the book for buttered carrots. It wasn’t complicated and it didn’t call for different ingredients but it did involve preparing the carrots in a way I hadn’t done before. I basically boiled the carrots and yes, I have done that before BUT not with sugar water. That sugar water made a huge difference because those carrots came out fantastic! Of course they were sweet but they were so yummy!

This meal was a great way to start French week! The chicken was, of course, creamy and rich and I couldn’t stop eating it. Both of the girls also ate this meal and I think this is when the baby fell in love with carrots because she’s been requesting them ever since. I made a pot roast with potatoes and carrots last night and all she ate were the carrots. I’m expecting lots of orange poop today.