Saturday, December 25, 2010

My Christmas with Superboy and Coq au Vin

I know I shouldn't be annoyed that people are concerned about me spending so much time by myself. It's nice that people care, and that they worry. Lots of people have no one who cares or gets worried, and it bothers them, so I should be grateful for what I have.

I still get annoyed.

I have explained, more than once, that I like being alone. I find it restful. Being alone helps me to decompress from work, personal stress, or whatever else is bothering me, but everyone I know seems to see it as some horrible fate to be avoided at all costs, and it's all I've heard for the past week and a half.

"You're not going anywhere for Christmas?"

"There's no one you can be with at Christmas?"

"You're going to spend Christmas... all alone?"

Eventually I got tired of just saying, "Yes, that's right," while giving people the blank uncomprehending stare of a social outcast, and I decided to find someone special to spend Christmas Day with:

christmas superboy

Superboy, the man who's never let me down.

We did all the usual Christmas things. I poured myself a tall glass of eggnog, and then we spent some time trimming the tree:

tree trimming

The Superman ornament ended up near the top, of course, while Spider Man ended up on the bottom, in the back. Once the tree was trimmed, we spent some time opening my Christmas presents:

christmas giftcards

Thanks for the Starbucks card, Mom and Dad!

Once that was over, I made some snacks (cocktail weenies in BBQ mustard sauce and leftover deviled eggs from Christmas Eve dinner at Jeannie's house), and then Superboy and I settled in for a day of heartwarming family movies:

holiday films

After the movies, I decided that I was going to cook a large, complicated Christmas dinner. I've been saving my friend Scott's Coq au Vin recipe for this for several months now, and after going shopping yesterday I was all ready to work on it today. Before anyone says anything, I (and, I assume, Scott) realize that this is not a traditional French coq au vin. It's a simplified American take on it using chicken breasts and only an hour or so of actual cooking time, so please don't lecture me like Tom Colicchio did to Casey on the third season of "Top Chef" when she said she was making coq au vin but really only made chicken in wine sauce for three hours.

Other than the hour of cooking time, this took me a little over a half hour of prep time, because there is a lot of slicing:

prep work (1)

I repeat, a lot of slicing:

prep work (2)

I did the bacon with kitchen scissors, because it was fast, and this marks the first time that I've ever used mushrooms in anything I cooked. I don't like them, particularly, but the recipe implied that they would cook down, so I went for it after I wiped them down with a damp cloth as I have been instructed by the Food Network. Rachel Ray says that if you wash them they absorb too much water, and you should wipe them down with a damp paper towel instead. I was also worried that if I left them out it would remove too much liquid from the recipe.

As you can see from the picture above, I had everything set out in bowls based on when it had to go into the pot, so that I could move from step to step. Not doing this used to trip me up horribly when I was trying to follow complicated recipes, but several seasons of "Top Chef" have finally drilled the importance of a properly prepared mise en place before I start into my head. Using the term "mise en place" also lets me imply that I know a lot more about cooking than I actually do, and really, who doesn't like to look smarter?

Once everything was ready, I rinsed my chicken breasts, almost lost one down the garbage disposal while performing the gross-ectomy ("gross-ectomy" is my own term for the process where I hold the chicken over the sink with tongs while carefully trimming off any pieces that look gross to me; this includes weird fat globules, big red veins, pieces that look a little gristley, etc.), and then dredged them in flour and arranged them in the bottom of the pan in some melted butter and olive oil:

browning the dredged chicken

After the chicken was browned on both sides (I gave it four minutes a side), I removed it from the pot, set it on a plate, and dumped in the bacon and minced shallots:

bacon and shallots

After that browned for about five minutes, I added the mushrooms, which steamed a lot, making the picture a little hazy:

added mushrooms

After five more minutes and a couple of stirs, I returned the chicken to the pan and added the herbs:

chicken and herbs

I'm used to rosemary and thyme, but this also called for herbs de Provence, and you would not believe the smell. As soon as it hit the chicken and the heat opened the herbs up it was indescribably appetizing, and I decided that I want to add herbs de Provence to everything, forever. I pretty much gave myself a facial leaning over the steaming pot to repeatedly inhale.

After the chicken and herbs were in the pot for a minute or two I added the carrots and the cabernet sauvignon:

wine and carrots

and then stirred it repeatedly, making sure to scrape my wooden spoon all over the bottom of the pan to deglaze it. They always say to do that on the Food Network, because all of those little bits in the bottom of the pan are where the flavor is.

After that, it just had to simmer with the lid on for a while:

simmering with homer and marge

As a side note, I highly recommend watching Dead Ringer, with Bette Davis, while preparing this. The movie starts out a little slow, so you can work on your mis en place and then go through the setups and cooking steps, and by the time you set the pot to simmer alone for a while the movie has picked up to the parts where you want to give it your full attention. It's a win/win for everybody.

When the timer went off I forked out a chicken breast, and decided to taste it immediately. It was so good that I was three or four bites in before I remember that there were also carrots I could be eating and that I should take a picture:

finished coq au vin

It's really good. I want to thank Scott for the recipe, even if I did wait three or four months to actually cook it.

I also want to thank Superboy, for making sure that I didn't spend Christmas... alone.


Liz said...

Merry Christmas Joel! If I had a hunk like Superboy, I wouldn't leave the house either.

Skald said...

Yes, I do know it's not "traditional" more of a chicken fricassee in wine, but I like it. And I'm very happy to know you did too!

Lauren P. said...

Yummy, I might try this. I love Superboy's hat-please tell me you were wearing a matching one!? I appreciate your comments about being alone. It is vitally important especially if your job is very people heavy. Mike and I are intentional about alone time even if we are both home. Miss you Joel!