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You may have noticed that with fewer than 10 days remaining in this 365 day project we’re getting a little lackadaisical. Can you blame me for rolling my eyes when this is the seventeenth mention of ice cream on the food list? Sure, we haven’t blogged about every single one, but we’ve covered several, ranging from Rumon’s Ice Cream and Violins Day to J’s mouthwatering Chocolate Raspberry Ice Cream Sandwiches.
I think we’ve got it covered.
So, today I am “waving my magic wand” as we say, and decreeing that September 22nd be dedicated to something more wholesome: Bread.
Participating in this blog has fueled my interest in bread-baking. Previous experiments with sourdough starter and home-baked bread wistfully convinced me that I really didn’t have a bread-baker’s schedule, but I’ve never been able to shake the desire to bake, and the blog has only magnified it. I can’t count the number of times since reading J’s Cinnamon Roll post that I’ve reminded myself to buy the Tassajara Bread Book, nor can I count the number of online bread articles that I’ve lovingly saved into my bookmarks folder.
Eva didn’t know this. She also didn’t know how much I enjoyed her blogs on Sourdough Rye and Homemade Bread. Yet somehow she was inspired to buy me “My Bread” by Jim Lahey. I swear she didn’t know I had pored over a half-dozen articles about this guy and his breads. A couple of nights after gleefully receiving the book I sat down and read it cover to cover. Then I bought bread flour and started baking.
If you’re not familiar with Lahey’s basic method it is quite phenomenal. You mix wet dough using a teeny amount of yeast, let it sit for 12 to 18 hours, fold it over a couple times, let it rise for another hour or two, and bake it inside a pre-heated dutch oven or similar lidded vessel inside your oven. No kneading. No fussing. The result is a beautiful crusty boule with a rustic, chewy crumb.
There will be times when you want a soft, fine crumb, and times when you want the ritual of kneading. There will be times you need a loaf in a few hours rather than a day. But the effort-to-outcome ratio on Lahey’s recipes is astounding, and it’s great to have recipe options that don’t gobble up big blocks of (active) time.
I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s full of instructive photographs and helpful guidelines. Beyond the incredible assortment of bread and pizza recipes in the book, he offers up instructions for making condiments and sandwich fillings as well as recipes to make use of stale bread.
To get familiar with his techniques I started with the basic bread. My second effort was the Pizza Bianca – a foccacia-like flat bread baked on a pizza stone. The hardest thing about all this baking is deciding what to make next.
So, I offer great thanks to Eva for giving me an easy outlet for my baking desires. And of course to Jim Lahey and all the other tremendous bakers out there who will inspire my efforts for years to come.
What would we be without eggs? I will argue that this simple, elegant food is more versatile and more critical to our cuisine than any other. The complex and unique protein make-up of eggs allows for tremendous culinary feats. Eggs can bind, emulsify or thicken and can render dishes fluffy or creamy or chewy.
There are many sophisticated foods that could not be without egg. Meringue, souffle, mousse, zabaglione, custard, sabayon, mayonnaise and hollandaise sauce are a few fine examples.
But eggs are also critical to more humble dishes. Most casseroles call for eggs as a binder, and most baked goods call for egg. Here’s a fun bit of baking trivia for you: when cake mixes were first introduced to the market the egg was already included in the mix in a dehydrated form. They were a failure, not because the product was inferior to those which now call for the addition of a fresh egg, but because housewives of the ’50s felt inadequate making a “just add water” convenience food. The directions were changed to require the addition of that one simple, wholesome ingredient, and the women suddenly felt that they were involved in and responsible for the resulting cake. To this day cake mix is a grocery staple. Such is the power of the egg.
I haven’t yet touched on the pure egg preparations. Fried, scrambled, poached, hard-boiled, soft-boiled, coddled, roasted or baked, as an omelette or a plain frittata, a simple egg well prepared is a delight all on its own. Chef Michael Romano claims that French Chefs will test the mettle of a new cook by asking them to prepare eggs “sur le plat”; a deceptively simple baked egg dish which calls for no more than butter, salt, pepper and shelled eggs with yolks intact.
The ubiquity of eggs helped me very much these last weeks. My first egg dish in thinking about the blog was a variation of Endives a la Flamande, a tasty combination of braised belgian endives and hard-boiled eggs with a lemon parsley butter sauce. It wasn’t very pretty, so there aren’t any photos. But I hope you’ll enjoy these other pics, many of which are of breakfasts my lovely friends prepared during our trip to the Sasquatch music festival this last weekend.
Finally, I will add that there is a great deal of symbolism attached to eggs in different cultures. Beyond the birth and fertility and resurrection of Christ and pretty easter eggs and all that, there are some fascinating beliefs attached to eggs. Have you ever heard of Oomancy; the practice of divining the future by reading the patterns of tendrils of boiled egg whites? Or the old slavic and german practice of rubbing raw egg on your garden hoes to render your soil more fertile? foodtimeline.org (http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodeggs.html) has plenty more intriguing examples. And if you want a really juicy example, just ask Di about the Collectivo driver who likes his wife’s eggs spicy!
‘Til neggst time,
Coq au vin… The name conjures romantic images of checked tablecloths and candles flickering in wine bottles, arrogant waiters, and accordion music playing softly just around cobblestoned corners. The French have a way of turning rustic ingredients into glorious food that makes everyday life deliciously glamorous.
Coq au vin is no exception, especially when eaten for lunch at a long table outside in the Normandy countryside as I had the luck to do a few years ago, crickets chirping and the warm air redolent with sage and lavender.
A lovely alchemy created by simmering chicken in red wine with bacon, onions and mushrooms, coq au vin guest stars in “Kafka’s Soup: A Complete History of World Literature in 14 Recipes” by Mark Crick, who presents recipes in the voices of famous novelists. The recipes, which include Lamb with Dill Sauce à la Raymond Chandler; Tarragon Eggs à la Jane Austen; Tiramisu à la Marcel Proust; Cheese on Toast à la Harold Pinter; and Onion Tart à la Geoffrey Chaucer, present today’s dish as a Columbian, rather than French, favourite.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in the person of Father Antonio del Sacrament de Altar Castaneda, prepares coq au vin for a condemned prisoner, Fidel Agosto Santiago: “Santiago would eat his last supper the following night, and since the condemned man refused to accept food from his wife, the priest had taken on the responsibility.”
The ancient Romans may have been partial to this homely yet courtly dish, thanks to their traditional rivalry with Asterix and co. Legend has it that Julius Caesar’s cook created the first coq au vin recipe after the Gauls gave Caesar a tough old rooster as tribute for his conquering them; Caesar’s cook made the bird into a meal to serve back to the Gauls. Perhaps revenge is a dish best served hot after all…
But it’s more likely that coq au vin simply evolved as a local recipe in France. In 1864, a similar recipe – poulet au vin blanc – appeared in Cookery for English Households, by A French Lady. In one of the earliest printed recipes, published in 1913, the text claimed the recipe dated to the 16th century.
Delicious, glamorous, rustic, simple, historic, evocative, classic – a literary star; a historical gesture – on top of all of these attributes, the best thing about coq au vin may be that it’s easy to make, and the leftovers just get better in the fridge.
1 x 5 lb (2.25 kg) chicken, cut into 8 joints (I used chicken breasts)
1¼ pints (725 ml) red wine
1 oz (25 g) butter
1 rounded tablespoon softened butter and 1 level tablespoon plain flour, combined to make a paste
1 tablespoon oil
8 oz (225 g) unsmoked streaky bacon, preferably in one piece
16 button onions
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
8 oz (225 g) small dark-gilled mushrooms
Salt and freshly milled black pepper
Melt the butter with the oil in a frying pan, and fry the chicken joints, skin side down, until they are nicely golden; then turn them and colour the other side. You may have to do this in three or four batches – don’t overcrowd the pan. Remove the joints from the pan with a draining spoon, and place them in the cooking pot. This should be large enough for the joints to be arranged in one layer yet deep enough so that they can be completely covered with liquid later.
Now de-rind and cut the bacon into fairly small cubes, brown them also in the frying pan and add them to the chicken, then finally brown the onions a little and add them too. Next place the crushed cloves of garlic and the sprigs of thyme among the chicken pieces, season with freshly milled pepper and just a little salt, and pop in a couple of bay leaves. Pour in the wine, put a lid on the pot and simmer gently for 45-60 minutes or until the chicken is tender. During the last 15 minutes of the cooking, add the mushrooms and stir them into the liquid.
Remove the chicken, bacon, onions and mushrooms and place them on a warmed serving dish and keep warm. (Discard the bay leaves and thyme at this stage.) Now bring the liquid to a fast boil and reduce it by about one third. Next, add the butter and flour paste to the liquid. Bring it to the boil, whisking all the time until the sauce has thickened, then serve the chicken with the sauce poured over.