I can’t believe it has been one month since I last wrote. I never intended to be silent for this long, but sometimes life gets in the way.
Since December 22, many joys managed to tuck themselves between the several feet of falling snow in Boston. After some wonderful and cozy holidays filled with delicious food, festive drinks, and my incredible family and friends, my family was blessed with the birth of NINE flat-coated retriever puppies to our beauty, Leisl (one of whom will soon be ours!). Then, I started culinary school at the renowned Cambridge School of Culinary Arts! Both are events that merit well-deserved blog posts of their own (and they will follow, I promise), but then everything slowed to a halt on Wednesday when Nana decided to depart after her 92 years on Earth.
My grandmother Gertrude was born in 1918 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the year the Red Sox last won the World Series before their long-awaited 2004 win. She endured times of war, depression, and great loss, but was always a lover, and prioritizer, of a great meal. Into her 90s, Nana cooked and baked and made sure she ate three well-balanced meals a day. Cooking for one isn’t always the easiest, but for over thirty years, that is precisely what she did. She was the type of person (like her grand-daughter) who usually knew at breakfast what she would prepare for the evening’s meal. Nana loved lamb chops, roast beef and vegetables, potatoes, Venus de Milo soup, a good Italian sub, a hot slice of pizza (and I mean screaming hot, much like her tea). To say she was also a sweets fanatic would be an understatement. She loved cookies, lemon squares, brownies, candy, fudge, apricot danishes. I am oddly comforted by the fact that hours before she passed, I was learning how to make pâte à choux pastry in school, the base for her beloved eclaires and cream puffs, and my newfound favorite, beignets.
For me, cooking is soothing. On Wednesday night after a long, sad day and offers from the hubby to grab takeout on his way home, I couldn’t wait to get home and cook dinner (spaghetti putanesca). Then last night I retrieved my brother from the airport and welcomed him home with the lingering smell of bacon in the apartment, from the beginning stages of my coq au vin. Along with simply delicious mashed yukon gold potatoes made creamy and light with my new food mill, it was comforting, warm, and flavorful, and something I think Nana would have enjoyed.
Coq au Vin (adapted from Ina Garten and Julia Child)
4 oz. bacon, cut into lardons
3.5-4 lbs. chicken thighs and drumsticks
3/4 lb. carrots, peeled and cut diagonally in 1-inch pieces
1 tsp. chopped garlic
1/4 cup Cognac
1/2 bottle good dry red wine such as Burgundy
1 cup good chicken stock, preferably homemade
10 fresh thyme sprigs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 pound frozen small whole onions
1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, stems removed and thickly sliced
olive oil, salt, and pepper
Pre-heat the oven to 250 degrees.
Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the bacon and cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove the bacon to a plate with a slotted spoon.
Meanwhile, lay the chicken out on paper towels and pat dry. Liberally sprinkle the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. When the bacon is removed, brown the chicken pieces in batches in a single layer in the bacon fat for about 3-5 minutes per side, or until browned evenly. Remove the chicken to the plate with the bacon and continue to brown until all the chicken is done. Set aside.
Add the carrots, onions, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper to the pan and cook over medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the carrots start to become tender, but not soft. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the Cognac and put the bacon, chicken, and any juices that collected on the plate into the pot. Add the wine, chicken stock, and thyme and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and place in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is just not pink. Remove from the oven and place on top of the stove.
Mash 1 tablespoon of butter and the flour together and stir into the stew. In a medium saute pan, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and cook the mushrooms with a pinch of salt over medium-low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until browned. Add to the stew. Bring the stew to a simmer and cook for another 10 minutes. Adjust seasoning and serve hot with mashed potatoes.