Friday, March 20, 2009

Coq Au Vin

I have been teased in the past by friends who find it amazing just how much I love chicken and how often I will order it at even the nicest restaurants. I think my prediliction stems from my upbringing as my mother would make chicken curry pretty much on a weekly basis for me. I also gave up red meat for several years and so I relied on chicken even more during those years. I recall during my senior year of college (part of my non-red meat eating days), when I was finally off the university meal plan, I would buy a pack of boneless, skinless chicken breast every week to cook for the week's dinner (I wasn't very adventurous back then). I was the only one of my roommates who ate any meat and there was inevitably some controversy over the "chicken bag", aka the plastic grocery bag that contained the chicken breast pack. Being a little bit more laid back about bacteria in those days, I somehow always forgot to separate out the "chicken bag" and threw it into the house's collection of plastic bags. My roommates were disgusted at the thought of inadvertantly using the "chicken bag." Now that I think about it, the ongoing "chicken bag" controversy is likely responsible for my reputation for excessively loving chicken.

I still love chicken just as much today but I try to avoid boneless, skinless chicken breast, which frankly tastes like cardboard to me these days. I have been trying to master several classic chicken recipes and have already blogged about chicken with 40 cloves of garlic and Zuni Cafe's roast chicken. Last weekend, I decided to try my hand at coq au vin, a rustic French dish traditionally made with an old rooster (while I would love to try old rooster, I made do with a whole cut up chicken). The dish is essentially a braise and perfect for the continuing dreary weather in New York (it snowed on the first day of Spring!). I used a combination of two recipes -- a Barefoot Contessa recipe I found on the Food Network site and a recipe from Molly Stevens' book, All About Braising, which I have discussed before. I used a very cheap red wine for this recipe, which did not hurt the flavor of the dish at all. I also decided to strain the sauce after the braising period for aesthetic purposes but that is completely unnecessary. I served this with mashed potatoes and roasted cipollini onions, instead of the traditional pearl onions.

Coq Au Vin


1 3 - 4 lbs. whole chicken, cut into eighths
4 ounces bacon, diced (I had to use turkey bacon because my husband does not eat pork)
kosher salt & pepper
1/2 lb. carrot, peeled & diced
1 yellow onion, diced
2 or 3 cloves garlic, sliced
2 Tbsp brandy
1/2 bottle (375 ml) dry red wine, such as a Burgundy
1 cup + 2 Tbsp chicken stock
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp fresh thyme
3 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 bay leaf
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp tomato paste
olive oil
flour for dredging, about 1/2 cup
1/2 lb. cremini mushrooms, cut into quarters
2 Tbsp Marsala wine


1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.

2. In a large Dutch oven, cook the diced bacon over medium heat until well browned and crisp on the outside but with some softness remaining inside. If using turkey bacon, you may need to add a touch of olive oil. Transfer the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels.

3. Season the chicken all over with salt and pepper. Spread the flour on a wide shallow dish and dredge each piece of chicken, shaking off any excess flour.

4. Add one tablespoon of butter to the rendered bacon fat (if using turkey bacon, you will likely have to add a tablespoon of olive oil) and heat over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted, ease the dredged chicken pices, skin side down, without crowding the pot. Brown well on each side, around 7 to 10 minutes total, until a deep golden brown crust forms. Transfer the chicken to a large platter to catch the juices and repeat the process with all the remaining chicken pieces. Lower the heat a touch if the second batch of chicken pieces begin to burn.

5. Pour off any excess fat from the pot, and then add a tablespoon of butter and melt over medium heat. Add the onion and carrot and saute until the vegetables are beginning to soften and are flecked with brown, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and bay leaf and cook for another minute. Add the tomato paste and smear throughout the vegetables.

6. Add the brandy and bring to a boil to deglaze, scraping the pot with a wooden spoon to dislodge the crust that should have formed at the bottom of the pot. When the liquid is almost gone, raise the heat to high and add the red wine, 1 tablespoon thyme, and 2 tablespoons of parsley and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-high and simmer rapidly until the wine reduces by about half, about 15 minutes. Stir in the reserved bacon and the stock and bring to a boil.

7. Add the chicken pieces back to the pot. Make sure to place the chicken breasts back in the pot skin side down balanced on top of the other pieces (this helps prevent the breasts from drying out). Pour in any juices that collected as the chicken sat and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot and place on a rack in the lower third of the oven to braise.

8. After 15 minutes, turn the breast pieces over with a tong. At the same time, make sure the liquid is not bubbling too fiercely. If it is, lower the heat by 10 or 15 degrees. Continue to braise for another 45 minutes or until the breasts and dark meat are fork-tender.

9. While the chicken braises, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan. Add the mushrooms and saute until they start giving off their liquid. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and thyme. Once the liquid is almost evaporated, add 2 tablespoons of chicken stock. Once the chicken stock evaporates, add the Marsala wine and saute until the mushrooms are browned nicely.

10. When the chicken is fork-tender and pulling away from the bone, transfer the chicken to a deep platter or serving dish and cover loosely with foil to keep warm. Let the braising liquid settle for a moment and then, with a wide spoon, skim off as much surface fat as you can without being overly fastidious. Strain the solids out of the braising liquid and return the liquid to pot. Place the pot over high heat and bring the juices to a boil. Reduce the juices until thickened to the consistency of a vinaigrette, about 10 minutes. Lower the heat and add the mushroom mixture. Spoon the sauce over the chicken pieces, sprinkle with the remaining chopped parsley, and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Apple Spice Bars

I promise that this will be the last dessert post for awhile. I realize that I have been rather delinquent in posting recipes for anything that could constitute a real meal and my husband is getting a little sad that every time he expects say, coq au vin (something I will be posting about soon), he is instead presented with a sweet treat. As the winter season finally winds down, this is my last chance to bake up a storm in my kitchen. Once allergy season hits, all bets are off on whether I will even step into the kitchen.

Anyway, my latest baking foray were these apple spice bars. Because making homemade pastry crusts still intimidate me, I figured this is the closest I would get to a homemade apple pie. The bars turned out to be a cross between an apple pie and a blondie, which certainly is not a bad thing. The flavor actually improved on the second day. However, I did not love the consistency -- the bars were slightly too moist and sticky, to the point that they were falling apart. By the third and fourth day, they were almost a pile of mush. I actually used pourable light brown sugar in place of dark brown sugar, which I thought would lower the moisture content of the bars. I imagine that dark brown sugar might make these bars way too soft. My suggestion -- bake them and eat them all by the second day! As usual, I halved the recipe and the halved version appears below.

Apple Spice Bars


1 c. plus 1 Tbsp all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt (I added a touch more)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/16 tsp nutmeg (I added a touch more)
1/16 tsp allspice (I used ginger instead)
small pinch ground cloves
1/4 c. butter, melted
1/2 c. packed brown sugar (as I mentioned, I used pourable light brown sugar)
1/2 c. white sugar
1 egg
1/2 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 apple, cored and diced (a little less than 1 c.)
cinnamon sugar for sprinkling


1. Preheat oven to 350°F and line 8x8 pan with parchment paper.

2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves. Whisk to combine well and set aside.

3. In a large bowl, combine sugars and butter and beat until light and fluffy.

4. Add egg beating well to combine. Add vanilla extract and beat to combine. Fold in flour mixture a little at a time until just combined. Fold in apples.

5. Spread mixture evenly into prepared pan and sprinkle top generously with cinnamon sugar.

6. Place in oven and bake until cooked through, when top slightly bounces back to the touch, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely before removing from pan, cutting and serving. (Bars will be very soft.)

Makes 9 large or 12 small(er) bars.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Chocolate Biscotti

Biscotti was an acquired taste for me. I generally prefer soft, chewy cookies and I am not a huge fan of some of the flavors that are traditionally used for biscotti, like anise. Thus, I steered clear of the biscotti that was sold in the myriad of Italian bakeries in the Long Island town in which I grew up. However, over the years, I became a little bit more adventurous and grew to like the satisfying crunch of biscotti. I drink my share of tea and coffee and there is very little more satisfying than biscotti dunked in an afternoon cup. It doesn't hurt that biscotti are a teensy tiny bit healthier than other cookies because most recipes do not require any butter.

I found this recipe on my favorite online dessert chef's, David Lebowitz, fabulous blog. I was sorely tempted to forego baking the cookies a second time to keep the cookies chewy. However, biscotti once-baked isn't really biscotti at all (biscotti refers to "twice-baked" in Italian). In the end, these biscotti were very tasty but perhaps a little too hard and, thus, I would reduce the amount of time for the second baking. It is worth noting that the dough is extremely stiff so it may take some work shaping it into logs. I again halved the recipe without a problem and I have reproduced the halved version below.

Chocolate Biscotti


1 cup flour
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp top-quality cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1 1/2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract (I just used vanilla extract instead)
1/2 cup almonds, toasted and very coarsely-chopped (I omitted this because of my husband's nut allergies)
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp chocolate chips

For the glaze

1/2 large egg
1 Tbsp coarse sugar


1. Preheat the oven to 350°F degrees.

2. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.

3. In a large bowl, beat together the 1 1/2 eggs, sugar, and vanilla and almond extracts. Gradually stir in the dry ingredients, then mix in the nuts and the chocolate chips until the dough holds together.

4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Roll the dough into one log the length of the baking sheet (I couldn't stretch mine quite so far).

5. Gently flatten the tops of the logs. Beat the remaining egg and brush the tops of the logs liberally with the egg. (You won't use it all). Sprinkle the tops with the coarse or crystal sugar and bake for 25 minutes, until the dough feels firm to the touch.

6. Remove the cookie dough from the oven and cool 15 minutes. On a cutting board, use a serrated bread knife to cut the cookies into 1/2-inches slices. Lay the cookies cut side down on baking sheets and return to the oven for 20 to 30 minutes (I would halve this time), turning the baking sheet midway during baking, until the cookies feel mostly firm.

Note: Once baked, cool the cookies completely then store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Makes 15 - 20 cookies.