Tales of food, sex and friendship




Posts Tagged ‘Coq au Vin’

Season 1: Episode 4a (Christmas Episode)

December 25, 2010

Ana hung up the phone, closed her eyes and took an extra moment to savour the rich, heady scent of Willow’s coq au vin before walking in to see her friends. Judging by the aroma and the peals of laughter emanating from the kitchen, dinner preparations were well underway.

“Merry Christmas!” they cried, as she walked in.

Johnny pressed a glass of Prosecco into Ana’s hand and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek as he moved past to decant a wine he’d selected for their meal. Ana was grateful for the drink and took a long swig. She felt a pang of guilt – or was it regret? – that she had not been there for the afternoon to help with the feast. If it wasn’t for Marc, and his tantalisingly persuasive ways, she could have spent Christmas Day laughing and preparing dinner with her best friends.

She shook her head a little at the thought. Much as she craved Marc, more and more she found herself walking away from their passionate, secret trysts feeling frustrated and, well, lonely. As their affair wore on, Ana was beginning to realise that her boss was never going to leave his wife.

“Ooh… what have you got there?” enquired Willow, craning her neck to peek inside the large white box Ana was carrying. Ana cleared her mind of Marc and turned to face her friend with a smile. Lifting the lid, Willow clapped her hands together when she saw the figs. “Perfect!” she exclaimed, giving Ana a quick hug before opening the fridge and taking out fresh butter and cream and placing it on the bench. Ana couldn’t help but smile to herself at the memory of the figs, remnants of her lovemaking with Marc earlier in the day.

Mia was over the sink, topping and tailing French beans, stopping every few minutes to take a quick sip of her drink. In a pot next to her was a selection of deep yellow Dutch Cream potatoes, which had just been boiled. The steam from the potatoes curled up in long fingers, disappearing just before it reached the ceiling.

“What can I do?” asked Ana, moving around the room refilling glasses with the refreshing Italian wine. She was hoping the others had already had a bit to drink so they wouldn’t notice the way she swayed as she stood. She and Marc had polished off a bottle of Moët earlier and she’d had nothing to eat all day. Except the figs, of course. And Marc.

“You could mash the potatoes?” Mia replied. “Willow will be much happier if you do them. I don’t put enough butter in, apparently.”

“It’s Christmas Day. Calories don’t count, Mia!” Ana teased in a sing-song voice. She ladled cream, butter and salt onto the hot potatoes and started mashing furiously.

***

At around eight o’clock, the four friends sat down in the dining room and surveyed the feast that was spread out before them.

Mia had laid the table beautifully, incorporating fresh apricots and rosemary sprigs into a simple, stunning centrepiece. They’d taken out the bone china dinner set Ana had inherited from her grandmother; the vintage lead crystal glasses sparkling in the evening sunset. Their fine white plates soon brimmed with food. Tender pieces of organic chicken breast that had marinated overnight in a French Burgundy and then slow-cooked for hours throughout the afternoon. Green beans – quickly blanched in hot water, then cooled to retain their crunch – glistened with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and rock salt.  And the mashed potatoes sat up in peaks like small mountains of buttery fairy floss.

Johnny had carefully selected some beautiful wines to complement the meal and was pouring a 2004 Pinot Noir from the decanter into their glasses. He explained that it was from his friend Claude’s boutique vineyard on the Mornington Peninsula and that only 600 bottles had been made. He had been lucky enough to get his hands on four of them.

The sun was turning a deep scarlet pink as the night air set in. But the unseasonal rains that had robbed them of much of the start to summer finally seemed to have stopped.

***

Mia looked at her empty plate and gave out a satisfied sigh. She picked up a lone green bean with her fingers and held it up to her mouth, licking the rock salt off before devouring the vegetable. It always amazed her that food could take so long to prepare, yet no time at all to eat.

Johnny began clearing plates next to her as Ana and Willow disappeared into the kitchen to put the finishing touches to dessert. Watching a lock of her friend’s dark mop of hair fall over his eyes as he leaned over the table, Mia felt herself fighting the instinct to tuck it behind his ear. She could detect what had become known to all of them as Johnny’s Smell: Beer, cigarettes and cinnamon. The smell perfectly illustrated the contradiction within him. Johnny only ever wore black and rarely shaved or slept in his own bed, but he liked to keep bundles of ribbon-tied cinnamon sticks tucked away in his cupboards. Something his mum used to do, he’d told them one day when the girls had quizzed him about it.

Even though they had all been friends for so long, Mia felt as though she and Johnny had rarely spent much time together alone. Why was that? She knew that Willow was close with him – they all thought it was hilarious that Johnny and Willow used to date years ago – but it was always the four of them together, whenever Johnny was around. There was something about him that unnerved her. She couldn’t pinpoint what it was, but she never felt comfortable alone in his presence. He seemed unpredictable. Dangerous. A shiver ran down Mia’s spine. And she kind of liked it.

Mia’s thoughts were interrupted by the sounds of Ana and Willow returning to the dining room. Mia and Johnny both drew breath at the sight before them. Ana held a tray of ripe figs, opened like flower blossoms. Inside each was a dollop of glistening mascarpone. Next to her a beaming Willow held a golden cake piled high with fresh cherries. After the coq au vin, the vegetables and the wine, it felt like the final act in some decadent, Baroque feast. Mia felt filled with happiness as she watched her friends excitedly carving up the cake to expose the dense filling within, and tipsily sucking at the mascarpone-filled figs. Life was good.

Coq au Vin

December 16, 2010


Willow uses her favourite Julia Childs recipe for Coq au Vin and adds her own special touches to it. She loves the rich flavour of beautiful red wine and the tender chicken pieces. It’s a bit of work but a great dish to serve when you’re trying to impress someone!

Serve with smashed potatoes and french green beans, drizzled lightly in olive oil and lemon juice.

115 grams slab bacon, rind removed and cut into 1/2 inch dice

6-8 pieces organic chicken breast and/or drumsticks, skin on

fennel spice rub

1/2 cup all purpose flour

2 tablespoons olive oil

10 shallots

1 carrot, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 bottle of excellent quality dry red wine (burgundy, pinot noir or similar)

2 crushed garlic cloves

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

1 cup chicken stock

15-25 pearl onions

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 large field mushrooms, sliced (approx 2cm slices)

course salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons brandy

1 tablespoon butter at room temperature

1 1/2 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. In a Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat and then add the bacon, stirring until crisp, (approx 5-7 mins). While the bacon is cooking, salt and pepper the chicken all over and coat thinly in flour. Move the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels and set aside.

Add chicken in a single layer skin side down and brown. Turn the pieces over to brown the other side. Repeat if the chicken doesn’t all fit in a single layer. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.

In the same pan, add onion, carrot, and garlic and cook until soft and slightly browned (approx 5-10 mins). Add the tomato paste and cook with the vegetables for a couple of minutes. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Add the thyme and bay leaf. Reduce to about a cup and a half of liquid (approx 15 mins). Add the cup of stock and bring to a boil. Ladle out about 3/4 cup of the braising liquid and reserve for cooking the mushrooms.

Add the bacon and chicken back to the pot, including any accumulated juices on the platter and put the lid on the Dutch oven. Place this in the oven. After 15 minutes, check the pot to make sure it’s not boiling too rapidly. Adjust the oven temperature to maintain a simmer. Check the dish after another 30 mins to make sure it is immersed in the liquid. Cook for another 60-75 mins.

While the chicken is braising in the oven, prepare the mushrooms and onions. Heat the butter and/or oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Add the onions first and then a few mins later the mushrooms, stirring to coat with the oil and butter. Cook for approx 15-20 mins. Add brandy and simmer for 5 more mins. Put the mushrooms and onions aside until ready to finish the dish.

Remove the chicken dish from the oven and place the chicken pieces and the vegetables into a separate bowl. Combine the softened butter with the flour and stir, making sure there are no flour lumps. Whisk into the liquid and boil for a few minutes, thickening the sauce. Add the chicken, vegetables, mushrooms and onions back to the pot to reheat everything (approx 15-20 mins). Serve immediately.

Season 1: Episode 3

December 14, 2010

The rain had already soaked her shirt before Willow had a chance to open the umbrella. It might be the start of summer, she thought, but Melbourne still knows how to keep a girl guessing. Pulling her silk scarf out of her bag she wrapped it around her neck to keep out the unseasonably chill wind and biting rain. Hoisting her string shopping bag onto her shoulder, she began the short walk to the Victoria Market as the rain began an even more violent assault on the city.

She loved the market this early in the morning. By 6am all the fresh fruit and vegetable stalls were set up and she got to have her pick of the best produce. It always surprised people when she told them that, far from being quiet and empty, the market was alive with activity at this time. They buzzed with restaurant and café owners – as well as some serious foodies like herself – who all flocked to their favourite sellers like junkies to a dealer. This morning was a little quieter than normal, though, the rain keeping all but the seriously addicted away.

“Willow! Come stai, bella?”

“Lorenzo!” she sang, clambering over a stack of lush green broccoli to hug the man in the heavy leather apron. Lorenzo beamed back at her and reached behind her ear, magically pulling a plump apricot from the side of her head. Willow threw back her head, her copper-coloured hair darkened from the rain, and laughed with delight.

“Still a bit early in the season, but I give to you and you tell me how you think about it,” he said in his thick Italian accent.

Lorenzo was Willow’s favourite stallholder. Originally from Sicily, he and his wife had the best quality produce in the whole market, their exacting standards meaning that – without fail – their fruit and vegetables always looked and tasted perfect. They also managed to get their hands on things Willow rarely saw anywhere else, like purple cauliflower, white eggplant and rare varieties of heirloom tomatoes and potatoes.

“What’s on the menu tonight?” Lorenzo asked.

“I was thinking coq au vin and buttered green beans,” Willow said, inhaling deeply from a bunch of dried bay leaves, “I’m cooking Christmas dinner for my housemates and I wanted to have a trial run tonight while they’re out.” She took a thoughtful nibble of the apricot Lorenzo had given her. “But I’m not sure about dessert. The apricots aren’t quite ready to go yet, are they?”

Lorenzo shrugged his shoulders apologetically. “For others I say apricots good, but for Willow I say wait one more week. I know she is a perfectionist.”

Willow had to laugh because she knew it was true. For all her calm and happy-go-lucky attitude, she did not compromise on food. Everyone knew that and so, it seemed, did dear Lorenzo. It didn’t matter. She could trial the apricot and brandy pie she’d planned another time. Even though Ana had offered to make dessert Willow knew she would need to have a back-up plan come Christmas Day. Ana was more likely than not to forget, then find any shop that was open on the 25th and buy whatever sweet thing they had left. Without proper planning, it wouldn’t surprise Willow if they ended up eating a frozen cheesecake for Christmas pudding.

She was really looking forward to spending Christmas Day with her friends. Even though she, Ana and Mia all lived together, lately it felt like their lives were out of sync. Ana, especially, seemed constantly preoccupied; her job at the PR firm all-consuming. Long gone were their university days when they would close up together at the bar they had worked in and sit for hours, drinking and laughing, until the sun came up and they would stagger home to bed. Johnny would be there on some of those nights, too; a perpetual barfly and onetime bass player in a bunch of Melbourne rock bands, and as handsome and shambolic back then as he was today.

Willow smiled at Lorenzo and handed over the bay leaves, some fresh Australian garlic, two handfuls of smooth green beans and a kilo of Dutch Cream potatoes for some of her famous, artery-hardening mash. As she reached for her change she spotted a photograph pinned onto the refrigerated truck parked close to the stall.

“Who’s that?” she pointed.

“Him? Oh, that’s my son, Carlo,” Lorenzo said.

Willow looked closer. The man was stunning. He smiled out from the photograph, his dark brown eyes twinkling like he’d just been told a dirty joke. He was topless and his dark walnut skin glistened with water from some far-flung place. How had she never noticed this picture before?

“He just sent me the photo, that’s him on Amalfi Coast in Italy. He a chef there,” Lorenzo said proudly.

“Oh,” Willow said, disappointed. “I wondered why I hadn’t met him!” She thought she knew all of Lorenzo’s family. His wife Lucia and daughters Carla and Allegra were always on hand to help find her the best basil or mandarins or leeks. But none of them had ever mentioned Carlo and, for some reason, she felt flustered at the new discovery.

Lorenzo had been watching her face carefully. She had blushed when she’d seen his son – the girls always did – but this Willow was special. Whenever she came to their stall Lorenzo and his family always scrambled to serve her first, her happiness and good nature infected them all.

“You know,” he said slyly, “Carlo comes to visit in a few months. I think that you should meet then. You can talk food!”

Willow’s heart skipped a beat. Why was she reacting like this? It was just a photo, for God’s sake. But there was something about his smile, his eyes…

“Ok, Lorenzo. I will.” She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and waved as she walked away. There was still chicken to be bought from her favourite organic butcher and maybe some hand-churned butter from that little producer down the coast. There was a Christmas feast to consider before Willow could even think about the next few months.