I stood in my kitchen Sunday afternoon and began putting up washed dishes that had been left out overnight to dry. We had friends coming over for dinner later in the day and I wanted to make sure everything appeared to be in order.
My husband had just turned on the television in the living room and came into the kitchen to make a light snack to hold us over until our dinner guests arrived.
He rummaged through the refrigerator and found the remains of a log of Russian salami we had purchased about a week earlier at a European market we found in Baton Rouge. He then found an opened package of goat cheese before strolling over to the pantry to find some crackers.
He thinly sliced the salami, clumped the cheese and set the crackers onto a Cambodian Vandywood cutting board turned into serving tray and asked if I wanted some before heading back into the living room for what would certainly end up being his Sunday nap. My husband needs a Sunday nap. Because apparently he is a child.
But as I peered at the lovely mini-charcuterie tray he had made, I remembered a time not too long ago, when my mother and I traveled through Spain, Italy and France on our way to visit some dear friends in the United Kingdom. It was in France that we discovered the essence of the wine and cheese tasting.
The trip was about two years ago, and I had procured a quaint hotel room for my mother and me in Paris.
The hotel was small – just big enough to have an elevator, though a very old one. When I booked our room, I chose the least expensive option because we were traveling on a budget, but once we arrived and the lovely staff saw us, they upgraded us to a room with a view of the Eiffel Tower. I think it was just something about seeing a mother and daughter traveling and exploring life together that made them feel more generous toward us.
The hotel offered a wine and cheese tasting every evening. Now, I’ve had wine and I’ve had cheese, but this was very different. The cheese was creamy and extremely tasty, and the wine, paired with the cheese, had flavors I had never taken notice of in wine before.
I always hear people describing wine – saying it’s acidic or fruity or nutty – but this was the first time I actually tasted those flavors for myself. Or maybe it was just the fact that I was in Paris, and the idea of wine, cheese and bread is romantic. And I’m a hopeless romantic.
In that time, I grew closer to my mom in an unexplainable way. We laughed together, learned about other cultures together, met new people together … and all on a trip I wasn’t supposed to be on.
My father was supposed to go with mom, but due to issues with his Venezuelan passport and a visa, he was unable to go, so I got his ticket J (and it’s a good thing too, because I am fluent in English and studied French and Italian in school.)
As I put the last of the dishes away, preparing for our dinner guests, I served myself another cracker with salami and goat cheese, and started remembering my first time cooking French cuisine – in college while studying French.
In the school I attended in Mexico City, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM), when studying a foreign language, we were thrust into the culture of that language. So, for French, we learned language skills among other things – like French cuisine.
Though my French language skills have crumbled from my memory (I’m working to try to get the language back now), I don’t think I’ll ever forget the meal my professor taught us to cook.
Coq au vin.
It may have been because it was so delicious, or, more likely, it could have been so memorable because of the laughter and fun involved in preparing that meal with my classmates, like when I found out that my friend/classmate had smuggled two bottles of wine into the classroom so we could make the meal.
As I started reminiscing about Coq Au Vin, the ingredients started coming back to my memory, and I decided to try to reconstruct the delicious French meal, without the smuggled-in wine.
Coq Au Vin
(For 2 people)
(All measurements are simple approximations. I adjusted measures as I cooked)
2 Chicken quarters with skin (thighs and legs with bone)
1 cup Red wine, traditionally Burgundy (We didn’t have Burgundy, so I used Merlot – but any dry red wine will do.)
3 pieces of Bacon cut in pieces (approx 1/2 inch pieces)
¼ pound Mushrooms, cut into halves
½ Yellow onion, chopped finely
1 tsp Olive oil
1 tsp dried Thyme (use a couple of stalks of fresh Thyme instead if you have it!!)
4 Tbsp Butter (half stick of butter)
1 Tbsp Flour
½ cup Chicken Stock
Pepper, to taste
Salt, to taste
1. Season chicken with salt and pepper and set aside.
2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
3. On stove top, cook bacon in large pan (pan must be oven safe, as it will be going into the oven later).
4. Remove bacon from pan, leaving bacon grease.
5. Place chicken in pan with bacon grease and cook on medium-high heat until golden and skin is crispy – don’t worry about cooking the chicken thoroughly on this step. It will be cooked more later. You’re just trying to get a certain color on the chicken.
6. Remove chicken and place to the side.
7. In the same oil, sauté onions until translucent.
8. Add mushrooms until slightly browned.
9. Add butter until melted and add flour. This step will thicken your sauce.
10. Once mixed very well, add wine while pan is on medium heat for about 5 minutes.
11. Add thyme and allow it to cook for another 5 minutes.
12. Add bacon that was set aside earlier, and then stir in chicken stock and allow to cook another 5 minutes after mixed well, stirring as needed.
13. Add chicken and raise to high heat and pan-baste (scoop liquid onto meat as dish cooks) for approx. 2 minutes. Taste it and add more salt or thyme if necessary.
14. Take pan off stove top and place pan in oven on 375 for about 45 minutes.
At the 30 minute mark, open oven and baste chicken, then close oven and finish the cook.
If you see the chicken is ready before the 45 minutes is completed, remove from oven – everybody’s ovens work differently!
15. Remove from oven and let it cool.
16. Prepare with fresh vegetables and Bon appetite!