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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Gaucho Steak with Chimichurri Sauce and Chocotarte

I once again do not have pictures of this meal but I have a pretty good excuse: we had company and I was too busy enjoying them and the food to remember to take pictures. Also, booze. So much booze. Like three bottles of wine and two six packs of beer. It was worth it!

The day started out not so awesome. My plan was to make gaucho steak, marinated eggplant, roasted potatoes, and chocotarte for desert. As I was prepping the eggplant, I read the last sentence “Let marinate for at least two days in the refrigerator for best results.” People always ask what I learned from the project. Well, this was week forty something and I still hadn’t learned how to read the entire recipe! So the marinated eggplant turned into roasted eggplant. Then something else happened with the potatoes but I don’t remember what…I ended up scrapping that recipe and making Raviv’s Potatoes. Raviv was our neighbor in Houston and he would always make these awesome roasted potatoes for barbecues. It’s a super simple recipe: make a spice mixture of cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, and S&P, dice potatoes, toss in oil and spice mixture, bake in the oven at 350 for forty minutes. At this point I was irritated with myself and the clock was ticking!

Another setback was the steak prep. I had planned on grilling the steak outdoors but then it decided to be really cold and rainy that night so I had to improvise and use the broiler in our oven. The problem with that was I didn’t have a baking sheet wide enough to fit all two and half pounds of flank steak so I had to divy it up onto two pans and then rotate the pans every few minutes so the meat would get the direct heat from the broiler. It wouldn’t have been so bad had we not already had our guests and their four kids over. Trying to talk to people and going back and forth from the kitchen is not fun.

But anyway, we finally got the kids down, gave them pizza, and then sat down ourselves to enjoy our dinner. It was good but it was meh. The thing was I’d had my roasted eggplant and Raviv’s potatoes before so there was nothing surprising there. The steak was decent but a little boring. I don’t think the chili water made all that big of a difference in the flavor. Everyone else said it was great but I was unimpressed.

What did impress me, however, was the chocotarte. I had made it earlier in the day and was a little skeptical about it. I had to soak chocolate wafers in milk and then make layers of wafers and a mixture of cream cheese and carmelized milk. I was just worried it was going to be really thin because wafers are thin. Well I guess that milk really worked its magic because those things puffed up! It ended up having the consistency of a cake; yeah, it was that puffy! I loved it and I typically don’t like caramel but I think the cream cheese dulled the sweetness and made it just a little tart.

That was the end of Argentine week. The food wasn’t that great but the company more than made up for it. Now that I think about it, I’ll have to have those friends over again and make them a better meal. I think they were just being kind.

Recipe, Recipe

Beef and Mint Samosas, Potato Cutlets, and Sesame Topped Semolina Cake with Coconut

I have really enjoyed this experience for many reasons but the biggest has been that it has encouraged us to have dinner guests. We’ve had friends over once a week for the past few weeks and it has been great. We don’t always get to make a lot of events with friends because they’re usually not kid friendly and babysitters are not cheap so any excuse to hang out is always appreciated. We had friends over for this meal and, um, I’m grateful we had such good conversation to make up for other things…

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