Wednesday, February 25, 2015

French Comfort...Coq Au Vin

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This could easily have been titled, "What to do when there's nothing to do" or "What I made last Sunday during an ice storm".  Yes, I know, it's been a tough month for those of us above and below the Mason Dixon Line.  The North has been buried in snow and the South has been a a toss up between snow and ice.  We are all sick of this weather and starting to get on each other's nerves. It's called cabin fever and it's time to cook up a storm!

I haven't made this dish since the late 1970's.  The reason I know is that, inside the page on the Julia Child cookbook, there is a notepad sheet of paper with my husband's name on top from a job he held when we were first married,  There are some notes in my handwriting that are so old I could barely read them.   In it I've made some slight substitutions to the order of the directions that cut down the time by about half an hour, It also eliminates having to wash two extra pans without affecting the flavor or the end result.  All my life I have tried to cut back on unnecessary pans and steps, even as a young cook. I could give a master class on this technique.

Coq Au Vin is one of those recipes every serious student of French cuisine should attempt to make early on in his or her career. From the browning of the chicken pieces in bacon and butter to the proper way of  thickening the sauce at the end, it is a master class in French country cooking. Be grateful someone came up with the beurre manie.  The alternative, in the olden days, was using the blood from your newly butchered rooster.  And yes, you are no longer required to chase and butcher the bird.  Chicken pieces are acceptable although a whole chicken cut into pieces would be more authentic.  I used chicken pieces, like thighs and legs.  If you must use breasts, split them in half.

You also learn about the term depth of flavor through a few easy techniques such as sauteing the pearl onions and the mushrooms in the drippings of the browned chicken, prior to adding them to the stew.  This is the step I moved up, using the same pan as the one I had previously used to saute the bacon in butter and brown the chicken pieces.

Following is the original recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1 with these slight changes.

Do try to make this recipe the day before you serve it, Once it cools, it can be placed in the refrigerator overnight.  When you bring it out the next day, if there is any fat, skim it.  Then slowly reheat at a very low temperature.  I made it early in the day and it was finger licking good.  It was even better the next day.

As to the wine, please use a decent and hearty French wine.  You can get a good one for less than $10 at Costco and, last I heard,  Two Buck Chuck is not being produced in Burgundy! What grows together goes together, I can't say that enough.  It applies to fats also and, in this case, butter and  bacon and not olive oil are the way to go.  One day is not going to make that big of a difference in your heart rate or your weight.

I suggest that before the next winter storm is announced, and I think you have a pretty good chance of this, you have all the ingredients on hand.

As I finish this post the snow is coming down hard in North Georgia.  Madame Mere will finally get her snow.  I hope my gardenias survive this winter.

Julia Child's Coq Au Vin


3 to 4 ounce chunk of lean bacon

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 1/2 to 3 pounds frying chicken, cut into pieces

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus additional for seasoning

1/8 teaspoon pepper, plus additional for seasoning

1/4 cup cognac

3 cups young, full-bodied red wine, such as Burgundy, Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone, or Chianti

1 to 2 cups brown chicken stock, brown stock or canned beef bouillon

1/2 tablespoon tomato paste

2 cloves mashed garlic

1/4 teaspoon thyme leaves

1 bay leaf

12 to 24 pearl onions

1/2 pound mushrooms, I used baby bellas

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons softened butter

Fresh parsley leaves


Remove the rind and cut the bacon into lardons (rectangles 1/4-inch across and 1-inch long). Simmer for 10 minutes in 2 quarts of water. Rinse in cold water. Dry.

In a heavy large heavy bottomed casserole or Dutch oven, saute the bacon slowly in hot butter until it is very lightly browned (temperature of 260 degrees F for an electric skillet). Remove to a side dish.

Now sautee the onions and the mushrooms separately until a slight amber color.  Remove to another plate, separate from the chicken.

Dry the chicken thoroughly. Brown it in the hot fat in the casserole. (360 degrees F for the electric skillet.) Remove to a plate.

Now sautee the onions and the mushrooms separately in the same fat as the chicken, until a slight amber color.  Remove to another plate, separate from the chicken.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Return the bacon to the casserole with the chicken. Cover and cook slowly (300 degrees F) for 10 minutes, turning the chicken once.

Uncover, and pour in the cognac. Averting your face, ignite the cognac with a lighted match. Shake the casserole back and forth for several seconds until the flames subside. MAKE SURE THE STOVE AIR VENT IS CLOSED OR YOU MIGHT HAVE AN UNHAPPY SURPRISE.

Pour the wine into the casserole. Add just enough stock or bouillon to cover the chicken. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic and herbs. Bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer slowly for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the chicken is tender and its juices run a clear yellow when the meat is pricked with a fork. Remove the chicken to a side dish.

Simmer the chicken cooking liquid in the casserole for 1 to 2 minutes, skimming off fat. Then raise the heat and boil rapidly, reducing the liquid to about 2 1/4 cups. Correct seasoning. Remove from heat, and discard bay leaf.

Blend the butter and flour together into a smooth paste (beurre manie). Add a little of the hot liquid from the sauce to make it easier to blend. Beat the paste into the hot liquid with a wire whip. Bring to the simmer, stirring and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes. The sauce should be thick enough to coat a spoon lightly.

Arrange the chicken in a casserole, place the mushrooms and onions around it and baste with the sauce. If the dish is not to be served immediately, place the mushrooms and onions on top of the chicken (see photo above) film the top of the sauce with stock or dot with small pieces of butter. Set aside uncovered for no longer than 1 hour or cool, cover and refrigerate until needed.

Shortly before serving, bring the casserole to a simmer, basting the chicken with the sauce. Cover and simmer slowly for 4 to 5 minutes, until the chicken is heated through.

Serve from the casserole, or arrange on a hot platter. Decorate with sprigs of parsley.

Slightly adapted from Mastering the Art Of French Cooking, by Julia Child

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

RIP Little Lucy

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We said goodbye to our beloved little girl Lucy this past January, nine month after she was diagnosed with bladder cancer.  She died peacefully in my arms next to her sister whom she adored. She was a trooper until the end.

Those of you who have been following this blog for awhile know her best as the Sous Chef of Lindaraxa and author of The View From My Corner and The View From The Top of the Stairs; but she was much more than that.  She was the best companion anyone could ever hope for and, above all, she was a lot of fun. It was easy to write her posts for I could read her mind almost as well as she could read mine..

I am going to keep this short for I still can't write about her without getting myself all worked up. She had a lot of friends on Facebook and Twitter and they have been most supportive in helping me get through these highly emotional months  .  It is gratifying to know she touched so many lives and made so many friends.   She had a lot of fans here too and I thought you should know, but it hasn't been easy and I miss her a lot.  I will be back soon but, as you can well understand, it is tough to share of oneself when one is not in the right frame of mind.

I will leave you with two posts ( here and here) from My Kitchen By The Lake and you will understand why we Westie lovers like this breed so much.  It's called Westitude and Lucy had it in spades.

Sail on, little one...

Saturday, January 10, 2015

A Bittersweet Start To The New Year

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About the only thing that is showing any beauty or color in the garden are the ornamental kale and cabbage I planted last Fall.  They are putting on quite a show!

At the end of October 2014

Mid December 2014

Early January 2015 

Meantime, back at the house....a pipe burst during the freeze we had the last couple of days and it happened to be in Mother's new apartment.  A piece of the wall in the guest bedroom had to be removed together with all the molding around the floor.  Additionally,  the padding for the rug and some of the hardwood floor in the rest of the apartment have to be replaced.  We have six large and noisy fans drying the floors and MM is back upstairs.  After seven months of problems and delays, we got to enjoy the place for less than two months.  Now we are back to square eight and another big expense.

The nostalgia that engulfed me at the beginning of the year has now turned into a full fledged depression.  Madame Mere and I both agree that someone down there doesn't want us moving into their old space.  The time has come for some drastic measures and a serious cleansing!

My new cleaning crew

Back in a bit.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

About Last Night...

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While taking down some of the Christmas decorations today, my eyes lingered on this photo of my parents at a New Year's Eve party in Havana in the 1950's.  She must have been in her late twenties and my father in his early 30's.  It is one of many favorites of the two of them. The expression on my father's face is so typical and just the way I remember him.  And Madame Mere, so stylish in her black dress and pearls.   No wonder she has aged so well, just look at that skin.

I wish we still dressed up like that when it comes to New Year's Eve.  It was so civilized.  Somehow jeans and a sweater don't do it for me when it comes to opening a bottle of Champagne...or sitting down to caviar, Duck A l'Orange and a Grand Marnier souffle.  That's what we had last night, for MM had her heart set on a special dinner and I concurred! Today she's on chicken soup and soda crackers, but she insists it was not "the rich food".

It is interesting the time we spend decorating our houses for the holidays and yet we shun doing the same for ourselves.  It can't be about cost, since what you pay for some of the "casual clothes" I see advertised today can definitely buy you a cocktail dress or two. I think a bit of rebellion or a quest for individuality has a lot to do with this because "dressing up" doesn't take more time than "dressing down" and you'd be surprised how different people act in the former from the way they behave in the latter.  In my book, as far as New Year's Eve is concerned, clothes do make the man (or woman). It would be wonderful to see a little glamour back in our lives.

If you notice a tinge of nostalgia in this post, you are quite right.  Maybe the news and events of the past years have me yearning for the time of my childhood, or maybe I am just tired of the way people dress today,  I'm always a little down on the first day of the new year but I always bounce back,  I'll be chirpier in a couple of days and back in the saddle!

Have A Happy New Year!

But...I was all dressed up!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Roast Duck Legs With Honey, Vinegar And Caramelized Apples

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I bought four duck legs last week with the best intentions of turning them into duck confit for pates and cassoulets in the future;  but I got lazy and decided instead to roast them and serve them with a sauce.  After glancing through a few cookbooks, I came upon this recipe from Marie Blanche de BrogliePrincess de Broglie, and decided to give it a try.  Her cookbook, The Cuisine of Normandy, is out of print, but I promise to post more of her fabulous recipes at a later date. The original recipe is for Magrets de Canard Saint-Wandrille,  the latter being a Benedictine monastery founded by Count Wandrille in 649.

Since we are nearing the end of the year I thought I would share it with you as it is a good candidate for New Year's Eve.  It is simple and easy enough to put together wherever you are spending the holiday and definitely up a notch or two to make it special.  You can accompany with wild rice and a vegetable like roasted Brussels sprouts.

 I have substituted duck legs for duck breast this time, but feel free to use either.   It's a great recipe and quite different from the way I usually serve duck.  This New Year's Eve, I am going to save the orange sauce for Crepes Suzette!

Serves 4*


6 duck legs (whole with thighs) or 4 boneless duck breasts
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup cider vinegar
2 Tb honey
2 Cups duck stock or rich brown chicken stock
6 TB butter
4 apples
Lemon juice
1 1/2 cups sugar
about 1/3 cup tap water
3/4 cup ice water

Preheat oven 425.

Season duck with salt and pepper.  In a heavy iron skillet brown the legs or breasts over medium high heat starting with the skin side down to render fat.  The meat should be cooked rare, 3 to 4 minutes on each side.  Remove the duck to a heated plate and cover it with foil to keep warm.

Pour the fat out of the skillet (but save it for later use!) and deglaze pan with the vinegar.  Add the honey and stock and reduce the liquid to about 1 cup.  Whisk the butter into the sauce, a tablespoon at a time. Pour sauce into a bowl and wipe the pan with a paper towel.   You will be using the iron skillet later.

Peel, core and quarter the apples.  Trim the quarters into football shapes and rub them with the lemon juice.

In a saucepan,  combine the sugar with enough tap water to moisten it.  Cook over low heat until it reaches a deep golden color.  Quickly add the ice water, but be careful to stand back from the saucepan as it will spatter.  Add the apples and cook them in this caramel until tender.  (if you don't want to go through this, cook the apples in brown sugar and water...a little Calvados or brandy wouldn't hurt!)

Return duck legs to skillet and roast in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes.  (Her recipe doesn't call for this but I cannot stand rare duck, and roasting crisps up the skin.  You might want to do less time if you are using breasts)

To serve, arrange duck legs, or breasts, on platter, pour sauce over them and surround with caramelized apples.


If you cannot buy individual legs or breasts, cut up a couple of ducks, cook what you want and save the rest for later use.  Don't forget to keep the liver for pate!

I suggest 6 legs for four people as they can sometimes be quite small.  The worst that can happen is you will have one or two left over which can be used in a salad or as an addition to beans.   

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Perfect Poached Salmon In A Bernaise Sauce

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I am rushing around this morning baking like crazy for the week ahead.  Yesterday I made the traditional black beans for the Christmas Day family lunch as well as cocktail cheese biscuits AND this easy poached salmon for dinner.  I bought a piece large enough to use the leftovers for the salmon mousse I will be making tomorrow for Madame Mere's guests from out of town.  Yes, MM is entertaining in her new apartment already! who would have thought...

This recipe was perfect and very easy to make.  The salmon should be cold so plan ahead, but it is also very good at room temperature.  I have to confess that  I simply did not have the time to cool it properly and I made it primarily to have leftovers for the the salmon mousse I will be making today.   One caveat, though...the cooking time in the recipe is different from that in the video.  Bake it for 15 minutes unless you like a  medium rare salmon which is very sophisticated but not to my liking.   It will still be very moist.

I love Alex Hitz but he is a big proponent of using salted butter in his cooking and I am not.  I prefer to control the salt myself and I have been cooking too long to change all my recipes now.  It is silly to buy one pound of salted butter just to make his recipe, so adjust the salt in the Bernaise sauce accordingly if you decide to use unsalted.

The recipe appears in this month's House Beautiful.

Perfect Poached Salmon With A Bernaise Sauce

For the Poached Salmon
Yield: 6 to 8 servings


2 tablespoons minced shallots
2 pounds boneless, skinless salmon
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1½ cups white wine
2 tablespoons salted butter, cut into quarters


Preheat the oven to 375° F. Add 1 tablespoon of shallots to a 9" x 13" baking dish and spread them out evenly.
Season the salmon on each side with the salt and pepper, then place it in the baking dish. Spread the remaining shallots on top. Pour the white wine over the salmon and dot the fish with the butter. Lightly press a sheet of wax paper onto the top of the salmon.
Bake the salmon for 10 to 12 minutes, (notice in the video he says 13-15 mins.) until cooked through but still rare. Remove it from the oven, pour off and discard the liquid, and let the salmon cool. When cooled, cover the fish with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 3 hours or up to 3 days. Serve with the béarnaise sauce.

For the Béarnaise Sauce
Yield: 1 cup


¼ cup white wine
¼ cup white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon minced shallots
1½ teaspoons dried tarragon
⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
⅛ teaspoon plus ½ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted butter
4 egg yolks
1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 pinch ground white pepper


1. In a large, heavy saucepan over high heat, combine the white wine, vinegar, shallots, tarragon, black pepper, and ⅛ teaspoon salt and boil until the mixture is thick and sticky, like syrup. Remove from the heat and set aside.
2. Melt the butter over medium heat in a heavy saucepan.
3. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine the egg yolks, water, lemon juice, ½ teaspoon salt, and white pepper. Process until thick, about 2 minutes.
4. When the butter has melted and is bubbling, pour it slowly into the food processor, with the processor running, until an emulsion forms.
5. Remove the sauce to a warm bowl, stir in the tarragon mixture, and serve immediately.
Top photo House Beautiful
other Lindaraxa

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Christmas Gifts...Dan's Mustard

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This year, instead of sending friends some of the jams and fruits I canned this summer, I decided to surprise them with something really special...Dan's Mustard.  No, Dan is not my husband nor is he even a friend.  I have never met Dan but I've worshiped him for more than three decades.

Dan's Mustard was one of the first things made when Hay Day opened its Westport, Connecticut store.  Together with its Peasant Bread it was one of its most popular products and probably sold enough to serve with all the salamis and ham sandwiches eaten in Connecticut. The recipe was created by the brother of one of the owners, Sally and Alex Van Rensselear, and has been in the family for years.

A bad picture of the original store in Westport but the only one I could find

Hay Day was my favorite place to go for a free Saturday lunch after a week of commuting to my job in New York City.   It was Martha Stewart's also.  She lived just around the corner from the store in those early days before she became really famous and moved to Bedford, New York.  When the neighbors started to complain about the film crews and the noise of her menagerie, off she went to greener pastures. The town cheered and life returned  to the way it was supposed to be in Westport, Connecticut.  We still had Paul Newman and he blended in just fine. Did I ever tell you he and Madame Mere picked corn in a field all by themselves one afternoon? She came back with two bushels.  But I digress...

Hay Day started as an apple farm that later sold pies, and later sold bread, and know the drill.  One thing they did, before anyone else caught on to the idea, was offer samples of their products, beautifully paired and displayed for everyone to taste.  Not just little samples, SAMPLES. You could have lunch and dessert and not spend a penny.  But we all did, plenty of it.  It was an expensive free lunch but two hours later you walked away with a smile on your face and a copy of the Rural Times, the store's weekly newspaper.  It had recipes and menu suggestions and tons of information on what was in season.  They also had classes and featured guests chefs and speakers at their kitchen as early as the late 70's.  No one was doing this at the time, not even Grace's or Balducci's in New York City and Barefoot Contessa was still a dream.  The place was like a club, you never knew who you were going to run into.

One of these days I will dig through all my boxes and look for some of the Rural Times I saved from those days.  They were beautifully illustrated and written by one of their staff.  The store eventually opened two or three other branches, one in  Greenwich that I remember, but they were not even close to the charm of the original one in Westport.  They merged with another group similar in size to theirs, next with Balducci's  and eventually sold out to a group of New York investors.

Together with this mustard. my favorites were the dips and the cookies, all made from scratch with the best ingredients. I can still taste the Oriental Dip and the crisp Chocolate Chip cookies. ( Don't get me going or we will never get to the recipe).  It was also there that I learned to pair Black forest ham with Brie and Dan's mustard on pumpernickel bread, a favorite and elegant combination in those days.

Now, let me give you a little advice.  Make the recipe exactly as it's written and use Coleman's dry mustard.  Don't be tempted to try as you cook, cool and save.  This is not chocolate sauce and you will burn your tongue over and over again, as I did five times, knowing full well it was hot (as in spicy). Trust me, it's foolproof and comes out just like the original.  Don't say I didn't warn you!

Dan's Mustard - Recipe from Hay Day Country Market, Westport Conn.
Makes: 2 cups

  • 1 cup (loosely packed) dry mustard, preferably Colman's English Mustard
  • 1 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt

  1. In a mixing bowl, stir the mustard and 1/4 cup of the vinegar together to form a paste. Then gradually add the remaining 3/4 cup vinegar, whisking until smooth and thoroughly incorporated.
  2. Beat the eggs in another mixing bowl. Add the sugar and salt, and blend with an electric mixer on high speed until thick and lemony in color. Add this to the mustard mixture and whisk to combine thoroughly.
  3. Pour into the top of a double boiler, and cook over simmering water, whisking occasionally and scraping down the sides of the pan as needed, until smooth, glossy, and thickened to the consistency of a thin custard, about 30 minutes (the mustard will continue to thicken as it cools). Remove from the heat, allow to cool thoroughly, pour into a clean jar, and refrigerate until ready to use. Tightly covered, it will keep well for months in the refrigerator
Bright Ideas
Serve with grilled hot dogs, braised bratwurst, or sausages.

Use as a sandwich spread. It's great with smoked turkey, almost any kind of cheese, and ham. (Try it with  Black Forest ham and sliced ripe brie on freshly baked rye or pumpernickel smeared with a generous amount of Dan's Mustard.)
 Recipe from: The Hay Day Country Market Cookbook
by Kim Rizk


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