Sunday, August 21, 2011

Cookbook Challenge Finale: Julia Child's Coq Au Vin

Our final recipe for the past year’s Cookbook Challenge was an appropriate one on many levels and truly seemed as if meant to be. We chose the Holy Grail of our cookbooks; the Mastering the Art of French Cooking tomes from Julia Child. We went with the Coq Au Vin, that savory dish of chicken, wine, onions and bacon. We set aside most of this past Saturday to prepare the dish, but this undertaking proved to be a true journey in many aspects.
Tuesdayy will be the second anniversary of the birth of this blog. The Confounded Cook; the blog itself, was inspired by a viewing of Julie and Julia, a thoroughly entertaining Nora Ephron film based on a book about a blog that followed one person’s goal of making every recipe in Julia Child’s masterworks. The fact that we completed the Cookbook Challenge with 72 recipes certainly doesn’t measure up to Julie Powell’s completion of 500-plus recipes in 365 days but at least now we can say we have cooked a recipe from every cookbook we own. As the blog was inspired by Julie and Julia, it seemed fitting to end the challenge with a dish I’ve wanted to make for some time. I last tried Coq Au Vin a couple of decades ago, when I assisted in making it for a romantic evening we were creating for another couple, and even then it was not a Julia Child recipe.
When I mentioned to a co-worker who just happened to be named Julie that we were making Julia’s Coq Au Vin; she had a surprising reaction: she actually got a bit teary. She said that her mother used to prepare that dish for her and it was one of her favorites….she was practically swooning over the very thought of the dish. As we prepared the Coq Au Vin on Saturday, I found myself with goose bumps for another reason. We have been treated to a Julia Child dish of Beouf Bourguignon the past couple of years as a Christmas treat from our treasured friend Jane and these have become one of our favorite holiday gatherings. We have just found out that Jane will be facing some health challenges of her own in the coming months and she is foremost in our thoughts.
This past Saturday's creation of the Coq Au Vin took several hours as each component is lovingly prepared. The pearl onions alone were simmered with a handmade herb bouquet of fresh thyme and parsley from our garden along with a bay leaf ; all wrapped in cheesecloth. The mushrooms were also sauteed separately and everything is simmered in copious amounts of butter. Bacon is a primary ingredient and is used throughout. We got a little happy with the addition of the red wine, which then colored the dish a bit too much. I filmed the lighting of the cognac to capture the showmanship of the dish...we had the fire extinguisher nearby, just in case. I'm having flashbacks of my first attempt at blackening fish in our original apartment in Westport, when I set off alarms that resulted in everyone in the building evacuating. This was, thankfully, far less dramatic.
I remember when Jane first served the Beouf Bourguignon a couple of years ago and after the exhausting day-long process, she told us that she would seriously reconsider going through that much work for one dish again. It is just beef stew, right? Aren’t there a thousand shortcuts to achieve this same result? Then we tasted it. Swooning is an apt description; we literally felt drunk from the flavors cascading over each other. We begged Jane not to change a thing.
Indeed, when K and I were finally able to sit and enjoy this dish of our labors, we could barely speak to the result. We reveled in the dish, which we accompanied with a simple salad of greens and a side of couscous and found ourselves unable to properly describe how sensational the Coq Au Vin was. One of the most intriguing factors about some of Julia’s dishes is what she creates from the simplest of ingredients. The only spice was salt and pepper. We used cheap red wine. The bird was a cut-up frying chicken. The only pricey ingredient was the cognac, and we found a very inexpensive tiny airplane bottle at our local liquor store. The ingredients in this dish were not luxurious but oh, did we luxuriate in our enjoyment of the dish. This was the final CC recipe; number #72.
So, here at the two-year anniversary of the blog, we celebrate the end of the Cooking Challenge with an apropo Julia Child dish. Fittingly, we finished off the night with another viewing of our Julie and Julia DVD while nibbling on fresh farmer's market Black Diamond watermelon that we broiled with cinnamon and brown sugar for dessert. Watching the film again, I realize another similarity I share with those two women that I completely relish: the presence of an amazingly supportive partner who tolerates your seemingly endless madness to help you finish a project. Thank you for all of the fun we've had in the kitchen, K-Man. I continue to be forever grateful to those of you reading my mad musings and hope you stick with me. For the next year, I’m not going to tie myself to a challenge. Instead, I plan to have some fun. It’s been a tough couple of years and I’m looking to yuk it up a bit. So, I plan to lighten up some; body and soul, and bring some light and life back to the blog. I’m going to pay homage to my love of all things pop culture with some Pop Culture Cooking; celebrating some of my favorite things: film, literature, music. Etc.
My Mom always said that the primary survival instinct for our family is our sense of humor and fun, so I plan to celebrate that in the coming year. There are, most assuredly, some tough times ahead as that's how life rolls, but I’m ready to lighten up, but good.
Let’s have some fun, already!


The Everyday Foodie said...

Wonderful post, Greg! And congrats on the completion of your challenge. I have really been enjoying your writing lately, even more than usual, and I think this was a wonderful finale to your challenge. I can't wait to see what's to come!

Anonymous said...

YAY! HOORAY! AND CONGRATS on the conclusion of a fabulous journey! Can't wait to see what you do with pop rocks and pixie sticks in the coming months LOL!


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