Tales of food, sex and friendship




Posts Tagged ‘food’

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.

Season 1: Episode 2

December 7, 2010

Mia mounted the stairs to the Pilates studio two at a time. Her long limbs, which usually made easy work of the climb, felt heavy and slow. It was still dark outside but, even though she was exhausted and could have quite happily stayed in bed for hours, she was determined to get in a good workout before her first client arrived.

This time of year always presented a challenge to Mia. She had a very precise lifestyle; a routine that she rarely deviated from. Structure permeated every aspect of her life: what she ate, what she did, where she went and with whom she went. She didn’t like to think of herself as stuffy and uptight, but, well… she didn’t exactly cut loose that often. So the month of December was a nightmare for her sense of control and order. She tried hard to make it to the endless Christmas parties and pre-holiday catch-ups, and she always enjoyed them when she was there, but every late night and cocktail she had seemed to stimulate a little voice in the back of her mind: You’re going to regret this tomorrow.

She opened the appointment schedule to see who her first client for the day was going to be. She really hoped it was one of the many retirees she regularly saw. Instead of a fully charged workout, they were usually more interested in a chat and some light stretches, which was about the tempo that Mia felt capable of today. Her heart skipped a beat as she saw the name filling the slot.

Nick!

Generally, Mia knew exactly when Nick was going to visit the studio. He must have phoned yesterday, after she had gone home, and booked the session. How typical that he – of all her clients – would be coming for an unexpected class the day she’d woken up late, on a morning when she hadn’t even bothered to wipe off the small amount of makeup she’d put on last night, and when she was wearing her single most unattractive outfit.

Nick was charming. He was attractive and funny and had all the older ladies at the studio wrapped around his little finger. He had become her client about eight months ago as part of his rehabilitation for a nasty back injury he’d received cycling through the French Alps. As you do. But even after eight months of weekly visits, at which she’d pushed his injured body to the limits with Pilates, Mia still got butterflies when she saw him. Now, she was aching with anticipation.

Anticipation of what, she didn’t know.

She hadn’t told her housemates about Nick. She knew they wouldn’t understand why she didn’t just ask him out on a date. She wished she could be more like them. They were always taking men out for drinks or dinner; the epitome of empowered, modern women. Although, not so much Ana these days, Mia thought. Ana had been seeing someone for a few months now. Although the relationship seemed serious (in Mia’s mind, dating someone for a few months was commensurate to being engaged!), Ana had never introduced him to her housemates, leaving Mia and Willow to assume the nights that Ana didn’t come home she spent at his place. Either there or at work.

* * *

Mia focussed on getting prepared for Nick’s arrival. She hadn’t eaten breakfast at home, bringing instead a take-away tub containing her homemade muesli and a water bottle filled with organic soy milk. With slightly shaky hands Mia transferred her breakfast into a bowl. She didn’t cut any corners with her muesli and it was rich with whole hazelnuts, puffed rice, dried orange, almonds and cranberries. A few ripe, cut strawberries were thrown in for good measure.

She knew she had to work off some of her nervous energy, so she lay down on the Pilates Reformer machine, carefully placing the bowl of muesli next to her. This gave new meaning to the term working breakfast! She put her foot on the support bar and gracefully lifted her right leg towards her at the same time as pushing the carriage away with her left. The spring-loaded machine allowed her to both stretch and strengthen at the same time. She took in a deep breath as she pulled her leg closer towards her, increasing the intensity of the stretch. The butterflies were back with a vengeance. She exhaled slowly, bringing the Reformer carriage back to neutral and trying to calm her mind.

Why does he have this effect on me?

She closed her eyes, breathed in slowly, and pushed the carriage away once again.

* * *

Someone was gently stroking the sole of her foot. Inhaling through slightly parted lips, she opened her eyes and found Nick gazing at her. He slowly ran his hand down the inside of her leg and rested it on her inner thigh.

She exhaled.

Without taking his eyes off her, Nick’s firm touch travelled up her torso. He paused slightly, cupping her small but firm breasts. Her whole body felt electrified. She inhaled and arched her back slightly, longing to feel him closer. He brought his mouth close to hers and, teasing, gently caressed her neck. Mia clutched the side of the bench and used it to arch her body up further towards his.

In his hand he held a segment of strawberry, plucked from the bowl by Mia’s side. He gently placed it in her belly button, letting his hand forge a lazy trail between her legs before running his tongue along her stomach to collect his prize. Moving his mouth closer to hers, he transferred the strawberry to her swollen lips with his own.

She exhaled slowly, every part of her body tingling with desire.
She could wait no longer. Their bodies entangled, rhythmically pushing and pulling, pushing and pulling as she…

“Mia!”

Mia jumped, unsettling her bowl of muesli and spilling it all over herself and the Reformer machine as she scrambled to get up. A lone strawberry tumbled across the floor, only coming to a stop when a hand reached down to pick it up.

“Late night? You were sound asleep.”

Mia looked up to see Nick standing a few metres away. He tossed the strawberry in the air and caught it.

“I… err… I…  yes. Late night,” she stammered, her face bright red. Oh my God, please don’t tell me I was talking in my sleep!

He winked at her. “You looked like you were dreaming about something good, at any rate.”

* * *

Mia closed the front door behind her. It was good to be home. She ran her hand through her hair, finding a rogue seed that had obviously planted itself there during the breakfast mishap. Since her morning session with Nick she hadn’t been able to think straight all day. Every time their hands met she’d jumped back as if electrocuted. She was terrified he’d been able to tell what she had been dreaming about. She liked him, but wasn’t quite sure what she’d do if he actually liked her back.

There she was, completely out of her depth.

As she walked further down the hall she was surprised to see a large bouquet of flowers on the hall table. Her heart stopped.

They couldn’t be from him! Could they?

She peeked inside at the attached card, hopefully.

Ana. Thanks for this morning. M.

“M?” Mia was confused. She thought Ana’s boyfriend was called Tom? She let disappointment wash over her for only a second before closing her eyes and rewriting the card in her head: Mia. This morning was incredible. Yours, Nick.

 

Season 1: Episode 1

November 30, 2010

Ana pushed at the ornate wooden door of Medina and crossed the threshold. The smells wafting from the kitchen were alive with foreign spices, triggering memories of the summer she spent travelling through Spain and Morocco too many years ago. Her eyes took a moment to become accustomed to the dim light as she peered around the unfamiliar space. Low tables were surrounded by tasteful chairs, which were almost all occupied by small groups of people talking and laughing over cocktails. It was more like someone’s living room than a bar. Intimate and inviting.

She searched the well-dressed crowd for her housemates. They’d strategically arranged to meet here – a bar where their friend Johnny was part-owner and sommelier. But it wasn’t the prospect of free drinks that had lured them. It was more that, being Johnny’s workplace, he wouldn’t (or couldn’t) be late.

Tonight, however, it was Ana who was running hours behind time.

Six months ago she’d snagged a coveted job as a consultant at one of Melbourne’s most exclusive public relations firms. She knew, when she signed on for that hefty pay cheque, that her social life would be all but obliterated. The work days were long and often ended with client functions, which meant that sometimes she barely even saw the inside of her own bedroom. Her life, essentially, had been whittled down to rapid costume changes between work-related activities.

Initially, Ana had insisted to herself that she would rigorously maintain some sort of work-life balance – time to go to the gym, have coffee with her friends, establish a healthy and loving relationship with a boyfriend – but now, when she wasn’t at work, she was making up excuses to go back just so she could spend more time with him. Marc. Her gorgeous, charismatic, sexy and – utterly, tragically – married boss.

The attraction had been mutual right from the start. On that first day, when she had walked into the office, Marc had strolled over to her desk.

“Welcome,” he’d said. And that was all it took.

Bam! It was as though someone had sucked the air right out of her body. Thank goodness he’d been on vacation during the interview process; Ana didn’t think she would have been able to string a sentence together with those cool grey-blue eyes boring into her soul. Still, they’d managed to keep their hands off each other… for about three weeks.

Ana hated the fact that their being together could potentially ruin so many other lives. But then Marc would kiss her deeply on the lips and all the doubts she had about whether they should be together evaporated. How could something that felt so unbelievably perfect be so wrong?

Tonight she would blame her lateness on their ‘management meeting’ running over schedule. In reality, Marc had started undressing her as soon as she had walked into his office three hours ago. Slowly peeling off her silk blouse, he’d handled her as if he was unwrapping some kind of exquisite chocolate – then devoured her with the urgency of someone who feared she might melt if left exposed for too long.  Somewhere in the midst of their lovemaking – on the desk, his chair and the floor – she’d somehow managed to construct a strategy for dealing with a troublesome client and explained it to him between groans of pleasure.

Yes. Multitasking was definitely one of her fortes.

***

“Ana!”

Ana looked over to a corner table and spotted her housemates, Willow and Mia, sitting with Johnny, who tapped his watch and arched an eyebrow.

“Oh, please!” Ana snorted. “Like you’ve ever been on time for anything.”

Johnny shrugged in a good-natured way. He had many exceptional qualities, did Johnny. Punctuality was not one of them.

Ana blew kisses to her housemates, not wanting to get too close in case the perfume she’d applied liberally in the cab hadn’t managed to cover Marc’s scent. “This is a great place,” she said, sitting down and taking in the surroundings.

Johnny smiled broadly and blushed a little. “Yeah? You like it?”

“Careful,” teased Willow. “You almost look like you’re proud that you’ve achieved something.”

Johnny took a sip of his beer, trying to hide the smile. That was the price you had to pay for being a handsome – in a five o’clock shadow, black denim kind of way – 36-year-old former rock god. You could never be punctual or look too interested in anything.

“I think you should be proud,” Mia said, softly. “It’s wonderful.”

They weren’t the only ones who thought so. Although it had only been open for a few weeks, it was obvious that the Melbourne hipsters had already staked claim to Medina as their favourite after-work drinks establishment. The casual restaurant/bar had received glowing reviews from all the major press, with Johnny’s carefully selected wine list being touted as “unparalleled” and “a triumph” by the city’s leading critic. His friends never knew how Johnny had developed his talent for sourcing unusual and distinctive wines. All they ever saw him drink was beer – aside from the odd glass of red. In fact, despite having known him for close to 13 years, not one of them could claim they had him figured out. But Mia, Willow, Ana and Johnny had been friends for so long that the girls accepted his enigmatic ways as normal. Johnny was Johnny.

“So, really, what is your excuse for such appalling tardiness?” Johnny said in a mock stern voice, turning to Ana.

“Work,” chorused Willow and Mia, without giving Ana an opportunity to answer.

“Management meeting,” Ana said, ducking her head to hide her slightly crimson cheeks. It was getting harder and harder to lie to them, and she didn’t need her oldest friends reading her face tonight. “What are you drinking?” she said quickly, changing the subject.

“Champagne cocktail,” Mia said, handing her glass to Ana so she could try it. Ana took a slow sip. The Champagne bubbles tap-danced across her tongue and left behind an alluring hint of lychee and mint. She inhaled and caught a whiff of elderflower right at the end. The overall effect was smooth, sweet and brilliantly summery. Just what she needed to clear her head.

“Another four of these?” she said as she stood up for the bar.

“Beer for me,” called out Johnny. “And tell Franco to bring us some food.”

***

When the food arrived, the four friends jumped on it as if they hadn’t eaten in days. First, fresh bread – still steaming from the oven – and parmesan-infused olive oil for dipping. The peppery flavour of the locally produced oil almost masked the cheese infusion, but Johnny encouraged them all to savour its taste, to roll the oil over their tongues a few seconds longer to appreciate the subtle harmony of flavours.

Next, the kitchen sent out a parade of small plates. Freshly podded broad beans dressed with slivers of prosciutto; mushrooms slow-cooked in butter, sherry vinegar and a splash of cream; Kurobuta pork meatballs with a rich tomato ragu; and grilled haloumi between slices of fresh pear, topped with a drizzle of pomegranate molasses.

Ana bit slowly into a piece of the charred, salty cheese. She loved the way it squeaked against her teeth. The tart green pear and liquid molasses was a terrific match; the sharpness cutting through the fat of the haloumi and leaving her mouth alive with flavour. She watched as the molasses moved lazily down her fork and ran down her hand. Closing her eyes, Ana used her tongue to remove the thick treacle-like substance, imagining Marc slowly licking her and bringing her to the brink of pleasure – and then over the top – again and again.

 

***

No one spoke until all the plates had been wiped clean with bread and sticky fingers.

“So,” Mia said, after a suitable pause to pay reverence to the delicious meal. “Christmas. We’re still on, right? I’ve already broken the news to my parents that I’m not coming home, so there’s no backing out now.”

Mia’s family all lived in Singapore and although she often went back for the holidays, this year she’d decided to stay in Melbourne and cover shifts at the Pilates studio where she was an instructor. Mia had come to Melbourne at 18 and had gained her permanent residency after finishing university. Her parents were upset that she hadn’t wanted to move back home. But ‘upset’ seemed to be their thing, as her biannual visits never seemed to quell their disappointment that she was unmarried (still!) and living with strangers (who were these so-called friends?) in a foreign city.

“I’m in,” said Johnny enthusiastically.  Christmas had never been a major thing for him, so he was secretly delighted to spend it with his best friends, rather than doing what he did every other Christmas day – sitting in his warehouse apartment, smoking joints and listening to vinyl.

On the flip side, Willow loved Christmas with her family. This year, however, she was exhausted and quite pleased that she could stay in Melbourne rather than make the Christmas Eve drive to her parents’ rural Victorian property where she and about 30 other relatives always descended. Willow had started a new job halfway through the year, teaching music at an elite private school in Melbourne’s inner-east, and already felt burnt out. Come the end of term, all she wanted to do was sleep for a month to catch up from the school concerts, intrusive parents and precocious high school students she had to deal with. She loved her job but sometimes she wished someone had warned her what an uphill battle trying to instil teenagers with a passion for anything other than modern music was going to be. If it hadn’t been discovered on YouTube in the last five minutes, they weren’t interested.

“Oh, I’m always in,” Ana said. Ana had a tumultuous relationship with her parents. Despite the fact that, of the three housemates, Ana’s parents were the only ones who lived in Melbourne, Willow and Mia had only met them once or twice. They were rich, snobby and had never played a huge role in Ana’s life. Ana doubted whether they would even notice if she just didn’t turn up on Christmas day. Besides, Marc had promised her a special Christmas surprise…

“Are you going to invite your mystery man to Christmas dinner so we can finally meet him?” Willow said.

“Mystery Man?” Ana said too quickly, looking startled. “I don’t have a mystery man.”

“Um, Tom? Your boyfriend? You know, amazing architect, all-round great guy? The one we are still yet to meet?!” Willow chided.

“Oh. Him.” Ana shifted nervously in her seat. “He’s going overseas. Saving a village with some cantilevered structure. Or something. He invited me to go, but…”

“Work?” Willow and Mia said together.

Ana laughed nervously. “Yeah. Work.” Not work, she thought to herself. Marc.

“I guess the only question left,” said Mia, “is: Willow, what are you going to cook?”

Along with her many other talents – singing, dancing, even knitting – Willow could cook. Boy, could she cook. She made dishes that enlivened your senses in such a way that it didn’t seem possible anything could smell, taste or feel as good. Some people had said her cooking was better than sex.

Well, almost.

“I’ve got some ideas for the main course – nothing too outrageous, but not too traditional, either,” Willow said. “We should all contribute something though. It’s Christmas, after all.”

Ana’s hand shot in the air. “Dessert!”

Mia shrugged. “Vegetables?” She knew that Willow would probably have that covered – Willow only ever envisaged meals in their entirety – but she also knew that ‘Willow vegetables’ were generally swimming in butter or cream. Or both. Aside from the occasional Champagne cocktail, Mia was generally regarded as a health nut and could mentally deal with only so many calories on any given day. Even Christmas.

“What should I bring?” Johnny asked.

“Wine!” the three women said in unison.

***

Several drinks later, the group poured themselves out of the bar. The temperature had dropped significantly and the wind lashed away at the trees.  It certainly didn’t feel as though tomorrow was going to be the first day of summer. Willow was belting out the theme song from Flashdance with great gusto even though she didn’t know the lyrics. Mia had taken her arm in an attempt to stop Willow falling over as she tipsily negotiated the cobbled laneway in her high heels.

As they passed a nondescript apartment building, Johnny stopped. “This is me.”

Willow let out a wolf-whistle and Ana made kissing noises in Johnny’s direction. Mia tried to keep the disapproving frown off her face. Johnny had spent the latter part of the evening texting someone and they all knew what that meant: booty call. The girls had given up questioning him on who his current lover was. He never gave them an answer, anyway. He gave them the finger and laughed as he pushed the glass doors open.

“See you on the 25th,” Willow called out to him. “Don’t forget to bring lots of wine!”

Johnny, his back to them, raised his fist in acknowledgement.

Linking arms with her friends, Ana smiled. “Come on, ladies. Let’s go home.”