Coq au Vin

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Dear New York Weather: it’s almost June, and yesterday I was wearing a sweatshirt and I had the heat on. And it’s almost June! I understand you have your peculiarities, that you’re grappling with a diminishing ozone and toxic emissions, but I bought some cute new short sleeve shirts from UniQlo in SoHo (what a deal!) and I want to wear them, ok?

But in the meantime, I forgive you because if it weren’t for your unseasonable chill, would I have tried my hand at Coq au Vin, a traditional cold weather dish? The answer, I think, is no. And what a loss that would’ve been because this dish, this French classic of chicken braised in red wine, may be one of the best dishes I’ve ever cooked. We devoured it.

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How To Roast A Duck

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Certain foods are meant to be cooked at home: roast chicken, pot roast, spaghetti and meatballs. Other foods are meant to be eaten out: steak tartare, sushi, a flaming baked Alaska. Sure we can make those latter foods at home, but often times they’re not worth the hassle or the danger (raw steak at home? setting cake on fire? I’ll let a pro handle that, thank you).

Duck, I’d wager, is something most of us eat out. We expect the skin to be crispy and for there to be some kind of glaze. It’s a fancier food unless we get it in a Chinese restaurant and then it becomes a mysterious food: how do they make this duck taste so good? And why, when I try to make duck at home, does it either bomb dramatically or make me sick or both?

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Mustard Chicken with Bacon and Cream

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This is not a recipe for the faint of heart. It’s a recipe you can only get away with in cold weather–VERY cold weather–and even then you may hear that spiky haired fitness guru from the 90s, Susan Powter, in your head screaming: “Stop the insanity!”

Susan Powter has a point: you’re about to bake chicken with cream (almost 2 cups) and bacon (1/2 a pound). The recipe, like the recipe below this, also comes from David Tanis’s “A Platter of Figs” only I substituted chicken for the originally intended protein: rabbit.

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Tuesday Techniques: Cooking with Demi-Glace (Hunter Chicken)

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Tom Colicchio, that most formidable of judges on “Top Chef,” shocked me the other night when, during an interview on PBS’s series Chef’s Story (with Dorothy Hamilton) he revealed that he hadn’t gone to cooking school, he taught himself everything he knows using Jacques Pepin’s “La Technique” and “La M├ęthode.” (This is corroborated on his Top Chef bio page.) “Let me get this straight,” I said to myself. “To cook on the level of Tom Colicchio, to be that formidable, all I have to do is buy two books by Jacques Pepin?”

The answer was a resounding “no.” No, I wouldn’t have to buy two books; I’d only have to buy one–those two books have been consolidated!

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Yes, this is THE book that Tom Colicchio worked his way through to become the toppiest of Top Chefs. When you open it, you feel like you’re looking at a physical fitness textbook from 1965. Every technique is broken down photographically the same way that an old P.E. book would break down a jumping jack: Stand legs apart (photo), lift hands over head (photo), leap in the air (photo), spread arms and legs (photo), land (photo) and repeat.

There’s something musty about this book, something incredibly dated (there are chapters on making orange baskets and apple swans). And yet, that’s all on the surface. Underneath that surface are the core fundamentals of French cooking, fundamentals that have launched thousands of careers, that are responsible for some of the finest food being prepared in this country and around the world. For example, just opening the book randomly, I find Technique 158: “Cleaning Squab and Other Poultry.” Most of us don’t find ourselves with a dead squab on our kitchen counter on a regular basis but many of us have dined in restaurants that serve squab. When that squab shows up at the kitchen door, does the chef shriek and moan: “How in the world will I clean this domesticated pigeon?” No: he knows his technique. That’s why fundamentals are so, well, fundamental. They’re at the core of all great cooking; they are the wings that allow the greatest dishes to soar.

I want my dishes to soar. I get asked all the time: “Are you always going to be an amateur? Are you ever going to go to cooking school? Who’s your favorite Golden Girl?”

The answers–maybe, no and Dorothy–suggest that I embrace my lack of experience while showing an absolute willingness to advance. My Colicchio revelation–that you can teach yourself French techniques by practicing from this book at home (“I used to cut up stalks and stalks of celery practicing my knife skills,” he said on the show) leads me to declare Tuesdays to be Technique Tuesdays. Each Tuesday we will attempt a new technique from this book and hopefully, through my own experimentation, you will be inspired to try them too. Maybe, after a few months, we’ll be master chefs and we’ll open a restaurant. Or maybe we’ll realize we have no natural talent and quit cooking and become accordion players. Only way to find out is to begin…

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How To Roast A Chicken

Of all the dishes in my repertoire, this is the one that gets the biggest wows, the one that Craig requests the most often, the one that never fails to impress: it’s the roast chicken from the Chez Panisse cookbook with a few touches of my own (namely: potatoes and garlic). This video will show you how easy it is and then, after the jump, I’ll post a recipe and a few more tips.

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The Oscar Post: Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic, Saveur Magazine’s Apple Cobbler (with vanilla ice cream, of course) and Dazzling New YouTube Technology

The day after the Oscars the questions were pretty standard: “What did you think of Jon Stewart?” “Were you disappointed Brokeback didn’t win?” “What did you think of Charlize’s dress?” Sadly, no one asked the one question I wanted to answer: “What did you have for dinner?”

The dinner, you see, was the best part of the whole night! Observe:

Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic

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Apple Cobbler with Vanilla Ice Cream

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You’ve got nothing on me, Wolfgang Puck! Well: you have a restaurant fortune and a QVC Empire, but do you have my joie de vivre? Just count my exclamation marks and I’ll put you to shame!!!

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