I just made a $200 coq au vin from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck. This is for a pot luck tomorrow with a small group of foodies to celebrate Julia Child’s birthday (August 15). We’ll drop off our dishes at the hostess’s house, then head to the movie theater to see “Julie & Julia.” Afterwards, we’ll feast. The rules for the potluck were simple: prepare and bring a dish using a recipe fromMastering the Art of French Cooking. I am one of the least experienced gourmets in the group.
I understand sales of Mastering the Art of French Cooking have ticked up since “Julie and Julia” hit the screens. Julie Powell’s book, not so much, but hey, a book deal from your blog, then a film adaptation of your book starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams isn’t so bad.
So how did I get to treat this group to my $200 coq au vin? Before I get into the shopping details, let me say, it’s my first coq au vin. I’ve always wanted to make this since I was 14. I could make Julia’s quiche and her potato and leek soup. I may have even tried crepes. But I’ve been slacking on the cooking recently. And I promised I’d use part of the summer to do some catching up.
First thing I realized was that I didn’t have the right tools particularly the right casserole. I needed something that could work on top of the stove as well as in the oven. French slow cookers can cost up to $250. So I had to go to one of the big chain stores. I called my sister, who’s more adept at kitchen stuff, to make sure I wasn’t goofing up. Bed, Bath & Beyond said they could special order and it would arrive in two weeks. I needed it in 3 days; so I went to Target. I bought a Paula Dean cast iron enameled casserole. I was just sure my southern sister wouldn’t let me down. I was set. But when I got it home and measured it, I realized it was too small.
Back to the mall and customer service. Bed, Bath & Beyond featured another TV chef’s tools – Emeril. I purchased one of his dutch 5 quart ovens in addition to other kitchen utensils. That cost me about $140. My sister says everyone should have a “designer dish,” something you can take out in public.
Groceries were another matter.
Pearl onions were one of those simple things that turned out not to be so simple. “Use frozen,” my sister said. Sacrilege! I protest. I was going to find fresh pearl oinions. And yes, Whole Foods had them hidden on a shelf under the fresh produce. But, alas, I could not claim the victory. Once I started cooking I realized I had red pearl onions. The recipe called for white. Should I go for the frozen? My mother got impatient with me and said, “Use the red ones!” She doesn’t know this is a $200 coq au vin. Maybe she’s right. When it comes to cooking, sometimes your mistakes can work in your favor.
I bought 3 slices of bacon from the meat counter. Eastern Market would’ve probably yielded the fatty kind with the gristle. But as I said, time was not in my favor. Convenience was priority. Somehow the parsley I dropped in my basket didn’t get into my shopping bag when I checked out. Fortunately, I wasn’t charged for it.
In San Francisco, somone told me coq au vin is best with an old rooster. I don’t know if that’s an erotic euphemism on age, but considering my limitations on time, Whole Foods had to be my supplier.
The cut-up whole chicken cost a little over $9 and some change. The last time I made a chicken for friends, the pan was full of water. It was also another first time recipe. I’m still traumatized from that experience.
Whole Foods didn’t have beef bouillon in stock. I was pressed for time. On the way home I got a box from So’s Your Mom deli in Adams Morgan for $1.99, plus the $3.50 lunch special – soup, french bread and butter and a slice of cheese.
A basic Remi Martin french cognac coast me $17. Makes me grateful I’m not into hard liquor.
Thanks to Trader Joe’s, I got a bargain on a 1/2 pound of button mushrooms and Cotes du Rhone wine. They didn’t have Beaujolais or a Chianti which can also be used according to the recipe. Apparently Trader Joe’s California suppliers don’t stock these wines including the Cotes du Rhone, so I had to go to the French section. I bought a bottle of 2007 Reserve Perrin for $9.99. When it was time to add it to the casserole tonight, I poured the required amount into the measuring cup, raised the bottle, then took a swig before pouring the wine from the measuring cup into the casserole.
Picking up the lost parsley on the fly saved me $1.00 from the Whole Foods price. But there’s something about Italian parsley that doesn’t seem to work for me.
My sister let me borrow her jar of bay leaves.
I spent half the day prepping. I prepared the onions first. A quick flash in boiling water, peel, cut a cross on the root end per Julia’s instructions in The French Chef Cookbook (she often revised her recipes), sauteed in butter, oil, added a cheescloth herb bundle, and those little red onions are delicious!
Onto the chicken prep. I had a flash back to high school biology class. And I have this cool little knife and kitchen shears. Another goof. The chicken I bought is too big. I’ll have to do some butchering. We’ve got some odd shapes in that casserole, but I did my first deboning.
Once it was time to get into the hardcore cooking, I turned on my silly French music and even started talking like Julia. I’m not good at that either. It seems cooking is all about time, organization, and concentration. I read the recipe at least 4 times before I started shopping. Once more before cooking.
We’ll see what the judges say tomorrow. In our email exchange we’ve got quite a menu (I’ll post the final later). Apparently, one of our cooks is having trouble with her french bread. It’s not rising. It’s been humid today. But it’s true to life as Julia describes in My Life In France (also adapated for “Julie & Julia”) when she was testing her recipes for french bread.
Someone’s also making a back-up coq au vin….to make sure there is enough for everyone. (The recipe is for 6 servings. There are 9 of us.) Our hostess says, like our birthday girl Julia, we’ll all be forgiving of our mistakes. I’ve dipped my tasting spoon into the pot. I don’t think I’ll embarass myself. Plus I have a pretty pot to step out on the town with. Bon appetit!