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Friday, November 30, 2012

[Coq au Vin] Classic French Cuisine traced to Julius Caesar

Coq au vin[kɔk o vɛ̃] means Rooster(or cock) cooked with wine in English.
Even though it's called "coq" au vin, most coq au vin is made with chickn.
I'd love to make it with a real cock or rooster, but I haven't found one yet at any market.
The dish I make should be rather called "Poulet au vin" as I make the dish with chicken.

I know that Julia Child introduced coq au vin a few times at her show, even though I didn't have a chance to see one live. I should try her coq au vin recipe some time.
However, as I like my coq au vin recipe I got from an old friend, I stick to the recipe, for now.

The dish traces back to the time Julius Caesar's Roman Empire conquered Gaul, region of Western Europe during the Iron Age and Roman era, encompassing present day France, Luxembourg and Belgium, most of Switzerland, the western part of Northern Italy. So, the dish is invented about 2000 years ago!
According to the legend, the headman of an Averne(Gaul) tribe sent a rooster, symbol of the valor of the Gauls, to Romans who besieged him. Guess what? Caesar returned his politeness :( by inviting the headman to cena, the main meal of the day in ancient Roman culture, where he served the very rooster cooked with wine. 
I like the story. Don't you? It shows a flash of a wit of Caesar.

As the origin of the dish is Bourgogne(Burgundy), I mostly use a bottle of Pinot Noir from Burgundy,
but other mild dry wines of other regions would do.
Oh, by the way, not only Burgundy, but also Alsace, Champagne and Auvergne have claimed paternity of the dish. :) That is why there are many varieties of coq au vin such as coq au vin jaune(Jura), coq au Riesling (Alsace), coq au pourpre (Beaujolais nouveau), and coq au Champagne

You are supposed to use a coq(or a chicken) cut into 8 pieces. I tried to cut a chicken a few times, only to find that it would be a better idea to use chicken thighs and breasts that are already cut! :)
It's up to you. If you can cut chicken into pieces, without making a mess, please start from a whole rooster or a chicken, by all means. :)
I adore Julia Child and her recipes. But, sometimes, I like simple recipes too. 
Believe me. This coq au vin is not as complicated as Julia's. :)

Here goes my favorite coq au vin recipe.

a whole chicken cut into 8 pieces (or 6-8 pieces of chicken parts of your choice)
2/3 bottle (= 2 cups) red wine 
8 oz shallots 
8 oz button mushroom (or as much as you want)
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
4-5 thick strips bacon, cut into crosswise
2 stalks celery
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoon flour
Bouquet garni (bundle of herbs tied together 
with string, that includes parsley, thyme and bay leaf)


1. Wash chicken with cold water. Dry chicken thoroughly with kitchen towel. 

Season chicken generously with salt and pepper.

Cut celery into small pieces and carrots into thin sticks, and mushroom into slices. Slice shallot into thin rings.

Tie herbs of your choice with a string, to make a bouquet garni.

2. Saute bacon several minutes in a dutch oven or a heavy bottomed pan until lightly browned. I use a separate pan for sauteeing and braising, and a dutch oven for cooking in wine.

3. Add shallot and cook until shallot become translucent. Put aside.

4. Saute mushroom for 2-3 minutes. Put aside.

5. Heat butter and oil in pan to moderately hot, add chicken, skin side down first. Don't crowd the pan. (That is why I braise chicken in two batches). Turn to brown nicely on all sides.
Put aside. Leave fat in the pan.

If you braised chicken in a heavy bottomed pan, you continue to cook in the pan. If you used a separate pan for braising, it's time to move your chicken into a dutch oven/heavy bottomed pan with a lid.

6. Add carrot and celery pieces and cook for 2-3 minutes.

7. Add wine, bouquet garni(bundle of herbs) and garlic. Cover and cook for 20 minutes on medium heat, turning once.

8. Add bacon, shallot, and mushroom. Cook for 10 minutes.

9. Uncover the pan. Remove from the heat and add 2 teaspoons flour to thicken the sauce. Simmer 2-3 minutes.

Taste carefully and season accordingly.

French baguette is a perfect match with coq au vin.
However, other carbohydrate such as long grain rice or noodle will be a good company too.
Surprisingly, basmati rice makes a nice companion to coq au vin. :)


Coq au Vin

Monday, November 26, 2012

[Pantheon] The right place to see an evidence of the Rotation of the Earth and the Crypt of the French National Heroes

Panthéon (of Paris) is a great place to see an evidence that the earth rotates about 365.2425 times a year, i.e. once every 24 hours. :)
It is the same place where you can also see the burial places of some great people you must have read the biographies about, only if you like visiting crypts, cemeteries, or necropolis, which I do.

Originally built in the eighteenth century for a church dedicated to St. Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox tradition, Panthéon is served to honour great figures who marked the history of France.

In 1744,  Louis XV who was suffering from a serious illness, vowed, to erect a church dedicated to St. Geneviève,if he survives. When he was recovered,  Louis XV ordered the Marquis de Marigny, Director General of buildings, to build the monument instead of the old abbey of Sainte-Genevieve, then ruined church. 

Located in the 5th arrondissement(administrative districts of Paris) on the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève ( "Sainte-Geneviève mountain" in English), the Panthéon looks out over all of Paris.

(Pablo clinging on a Pantheon pillar. Photo taken with wide-angle lens)

 You will understand why Leon Foucault chose Pantheon to demonstrate his experiment, when you see the so-tall ceiling of the building.

(Interior Dome of the Panthéon)

(Interior of Dome from a different angle)

(Sainte Geneviève(Nanterre, c. 419/422 – Paris 502/512), the patron saint of Paris.)

This building was originally built to house the reliquary châsse containing the relics of Sainte Geneviève.

The triple dome of Panthéon is even grander from inside.
And at the centre of the dome, you can see the fameuse Foucault Pendulum.

You must have heard of The Foucault[/foo-koh/] pendulum even if you didn't know what it exactly was.
Foucault pendulum, named after the French physicist Jean Bernard Léon Foucault, is an experiment designed to demonstrate the rotation of the Earth.

 In 1851, physicist Léon Foucault looking for a tall building to demonstrate the rotation of the Earth. The Pantheon, civil place, seemed entirely appropriate.  Then, on March 31, 1851, Foucault used Pantheon for an experiment to demonstrate the rotation of the earth. A pendulum of 67 meters long attached to the centre of the dome , which swayed in the dome. 

The original sphere from the pendulum has been displayed at the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris, and a copy is now displayed at the Panthéon. The original sphere was temporarily displayed at the Panthéon in the 1990s (starting in 1995) during renovations at the Musée des Arts et Métiers. It's amazing to see the pendulum non-stop swaying, even though you already know that the earth rotates once a day :)

When Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, count of Mirabeau, French revolutionary, as well as a writer, diplomat, journalist and French stateman, died on April 2, 1791, France began to think to bury great men in Pantheon to acknolowdge the honour the country received from them.

The "Pantheon-isation" had been a tradition of the Egyptians, then Greeks and Romans. Pantheonisation is to give a great man the ultimate tribute to 'great man' of the French nation. Therefore, interment here is severely restricted to "French" great men.

In 1791, at the time of the creation of the concept of the French Pantheon, it was the national Assembly to decide whom to pantheonise. During the First Empire, Napoleon took over this privilege.

At present, the President of France chooses whom to pantheonise, however the family may object to this honour: the son of Albert Camus objected the pantheonisation of his father in 2009. 

Do you want to see some great Frenchmen buried at Panthéon?

Here go the ones I personally recognize. I do not doubt each of these great men pantheonised is a great personnel who honoured the country.

Voltaire: Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher (1694-1778)

Victor Hugo: French poet, novelist, and dramatist
Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame were among his notable work.

We visited his museum at Place des Vosges. You can see the post here.

Pierre Curie: French physicist, a pioneer in crystallography, magnetism, piezoelectricity and radioactivity.
Both Pierre and his wife Marie Curie were enshrined in the crypt in April 1995.

There must be a lot of visitors from Poland, the native country of the double-Nobel prize winner. 

Marie Curie was the second woman to be buried in the Panthéon, but the first honored for her own merits, her contributions to science.

Emile Zola:  French writer. 

He was considered the leader of naturalism and one of the most popular French novelists, most published, translated and commented on in the world. 

He was a major figure in the political liberalization of France.
The last years of his life were marked by his involvement in the Dreyfus affair with the publication in January 1898, in the newspaper L'Aurore, the article titled "J'accuse" which won a lawsuit for defamation and exile in London in the same year.

Remi was busy taking photos, as usual.

Pablo was not much interested in the French great men, so far.
He distracted me, almost constantly.

On the wall of the nave are some inscriptions on writers who marked the history of France in their struggle and their ideas, and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was one of them.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: Poet, novelist, aviator, disappeared during a reconnaissance mission July 31, 1944.

Remi got so interested in the story how he disappeared. That was why he picked The Little Prince for his English class presentation.

The way out to the hall from the necropolis, i.e. the end of the visit.

Remi and Pablo's favorite part of visit is buying a special coin at each monument.

This is that collectible coin Remi and Pablo collected eagerly.

The view of Panthéon from the Rue Soufflot.
I must have tilted the camera :(
Anyway, if you love necropolis/crypt, and/or are curious of Foucault's pendulum, you must see the outside and interior of this wonderful monument.

You can see more posts about my trip to France if you click the links below:

1) [Auberge Ravoux] Van Gogh's last residence in Auvers-sur-Oise
2) [Basilique Saint-Denis] French Royal Necropolis - The burial place of the French Kings
3) [2012 Maffliers] Kids grow fast... and we age faster...?
4) [Chateau de Chantilly] Le musée Condé - The generosity of a royal prince
5) [Balade gourmande] Brittany by sail: Unforgettable day on a traditional boat in Cancale
6) [Must eat foods in France] You must try these ten inexpensive food in France
7) [Four Representative Architectures in Paris] The most visited edifices in Europe - Part I
8) [Four Representative Architectures in Paris] Notre Dame de Paris - Part II
9) [Four Representative Architectures in Paris Part III] Musee de Louvre or simply Louvre
10) [Opera Garnier] The symbol of Elegance at the centre of Paris
11) [Mont Saint-Michel] Picturesque UNESCO Hertiage site in Normandy
12) [Place des Vosges] A Perfect Symmetrical Square in Paris
13) [Roland Garros] Visiting the glorious French Open venue
15) [Musee Rodin] How to enjoy masterpieces of the great artist, with 1€

Panthéon, Paris

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

[Cranberry Scone] Foolproof Quickbread recipe that needs only 30 minutes

A warm fruity scone with ample butter(or clotted cream) and jam is heavenly.

My favorite quickbread is lightly sweetened scones. I strongly believe that the true flavour of the scones come from cold butter. Cold butter gives a rich buttery flavour and flaky texture. I haven't been to Scotland where the scone is originated, yet. I have a big dream of having a beautiful afternoon tea to savour real Scottish scones with lots of clotted cream and  jam.

There are many reasons to love scones. But, one of the main reasons would be that it takes no time to bake a batch!

The classic scone should be shaped round. However, I usually make triangle shaped scones at home, mainly because it's quicker! :) 
The key point of making scone is to handle the dough as quickly and little as possible.

Believe me. I can guarantee that this cranberry scone recipe is a foolproof one. Moreover, it takes only  30 minutes from start to finish as a throw-in. I've made this at least a couple dozen times. You can throw in currants, dried blueberries or raisins.

Here goes the recipe:

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2/3 cup (plus 1 tablespoon) half-and-half
1/2 cup dried cranberries (or other dried fruits such as raisins or currants)

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. In a bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. 

3. Put dry ingredients in a food processor and butter cut into cubes. Food processor  would make your life a little bit easier, but a pastry blender will do, too. :)

Pulse twice for ten seconds each, or until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Or, cut in butter with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

4. Put crumbled mixture back into the bowl. Stir in 2/3 cup half-and-half until just moistened. 

5. Gently fold in cranberries.

6. On a lightly floured surface, pat the dough into a 1-inch-thick round. 

7. Cut into 8 wedges. 

8. place on a baking sheet and brush tops with half-and-half cream. 

9. Bake until golden brown, 13 to 15 minutes. Do not over-bake!

Let cool on a wire rack.
Isn't it easy? :)

I bake scones late in the night and eat it as breakfast in the morning. :)
A scone with cream tea is a great breakfast item :)


Cranberry Scones