Make this dinner for your valentine!

Few things are more heartfelt than home cooking.  It’s the work into which you put a piece of yourself (quite literally if you’re not careful in your cutting skills) and present to someone you care about (or at least want to impress.)  Some would classify cooking for someone an

(From No matter your love language, you're going to be touched by someone making a special meal for you.
(From No matter your love language, you’re going to be touched by someone making a special meal for you.

act of service, depending on your skill, someone would say it’s a gift, as Gary Chapman would call it, but I say food is a love language unto itself.  If you know someone has gone out of their way to prepare a special meal for you, then you can’t help but feel loved by that person.  If your special someone’s love language is acts of service or quality time, turn making this dinner into a date night, and you may end up with a few words of affirmation – with a little luck, some physical touch.

Chapman teachings aside, making food together is a great team-building exercise, and a lot of fun.  My husband and I made coq au vin together for a date night some time ago, and I knew I had to save this dish for now. (Romance isn’t meant for just one day a year, after all.)  There’s a few reasons to make this for a date night.  For one, it’s French, so that immediately sets a mood.  For two, you’re cooking with two kinds of alcohol, one of which you’re going to be setting on fire – exciting, ain’t it?  For three, we’re also cooking with copious amounts of butter, and when you taste it, you’ll have no regrets whatsoever.  Cooking vegetables in butter until they have a velvety texture adds just the right touch of decadence needed for a romantic dinner in.

Going out for Valentine’s Day is a bit overrated anyway.  If you’re going to go out, do it on the fifteenth.    Many of the fancier restaurants, aside from being booked solid early, have a limited and often much pricier menu for one of their busiest days of the year.  Unless you’re going to White Castle, and if so, you have to make sure you’re with the extra special kind of special someone who won’t dump you after doing so. No joke, they really do take reservations for Valentine’s Day.

This is Julia Child’s recipe, but to cook for two, I halved the recipe.  In this case, I couldn’t justify buying a bottle of cognac for only a couple teaspoons of it, so I used applejack brandy I had on hand. In lieu of using a chunk of bacon, I used a few strips of thick cut, and skipped the first step of the original recipe since strips of bacon doesn’t have a rind.

Coq Au Vin (from Julia Child)

  • 1-2-ounce chunk lean bacon

    My husband and sous chef, just after putting out the cognac's flame - not even high enough to threaten his beard.
    My husband and sous chef, just after putting out the cognac’s flame – not even high enough to threaten his beard.
  • 1 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1-1 1/2 pounds frying chicken, cut into pieces
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, plus additional for seasoning
  • dash pepper, plus additional for seasoning
  • 2 Tbsp. cognac
  • 1 1/2 cups young, full-bodied red wine, such as Burgundy, Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone, or Chianti
  • 1/2 – 1 cups brown chicken stock, brown stock or canned beef bouillon
  • 3/4 teaspoon tomato paste
  • 1 clove mashed garlic
  • 1/8 teaspoon thyme leaves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 12 Brown-Braised Onions, recipe follows
  • 1/2 pound Sauteed Mushrooms, recipe follows
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons softened butter
  • Fresh parsley leaves

In a heavy large heavy bottomed casserole or Dutch oven, saute the bacon slowly in hot butter until it is very lightly browned. Remove to a side dish.

Dry the chicken thoroughly. Brown it in the hot fat in the casserole. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Return the bacon to the casserole with the chicken. Cover and cook slowly 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.

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.

Happily bubbling after the flames shook out.  The hardest part of making this dish is waiting for it to get done.
Happily bubbling after the flames shook out. The hardest part of making this dish is waiting for it to get done.

Remove the chicken to a side dish.  While the chicken is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms. (See below)

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). Beat the paste into the hot liquid with a wire whisk. Bring to a 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, 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.

Brown-Braised Onions

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons oil
  • 18 to 24 peeled white onions, about 1-inch in diameter
  • 1/2 cup brown stock, canned beef bouillon, dry white wine, red wine, or water
  • Salt and pepper
  • Medium herb bouquet: 4 parsley sprigs, 1/2 bay leaf and 1/4 teaspoon thyme tied in  (or if you want to use dried, 2 tsp. parsley)

When the butter and oil are bubbling in the skillet, add the onions and saute over moderate heat for 10 minutes, rolling the onions about so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins.  Pour in the stock, season to taste, and add the herb bouquet. Cover and simmer slowly for 15 to 20 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but retain their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet. Serve them as they are.

Sauteed Mushrooms

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, washed, well dried, left whole if small, sliced or quartered if large

    Herbaceous, savory, and  totally worth the wait of making it.
    Herbaceous, savory, and totally worth the wait of making it.
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons minced shallots or green onions, optional
  • Salt and pepper

Place the skillet over high heat with the butter and oil. As soon as you see that the butter foam has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add the mushrooms. Toss and shake the pan for 4 to 5 minutes. During their saute the mushrooms will at first absorb the fat. In 2 to 3 minutes the fat will reappear on their surface, and the mushrooms will begin to brown. As soon as they have browned lightly, remove from heat.

Toss the shallots or green onions, if using, with the mushrooms. Saute over moderate heat for 2 minutes. Sauteed mushrooms may be cooked in advance, set aside, then reheated when needed. Season to taste just before serving.

I know this looks like a lot of pans on the stove, and it is.  It’s a lot to pay attention to.  But this meal tastes divine.  Even better with some roasted potatoes (they’re easy to pop in the oven and forget about them until serving.)  Serve with a warmed baguette, to soak up all that luscious gravy.  Making this meal is an act of love.  If your date sees that, they’re a keeper!

Tip of the week: Don’t cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink.  Skip the cooking wine and buy a bottle of cheap stuff.