Heavenly Food and Retreats

Sunset at Richmond Farm

Sunset at Richmond Farm, New Florence, Pennsylvbvania

Marinated mixed beans

Monday:          Marinated Beans with Grilled Bread (leftover Tagine)


Tulips – Kitchen Table at Casa Stuarti

Tuesday:          Penn Valley Pub – Philadelphia area (on business)

Soupe au pistou

Wednesday:    Soupe au Pistou, Grilled Bread


Thursday:        Sole Meunière, Roasted Potatoes, Salad


Friday:             Retreat at Richmond Farm

Fireplace in great room

Fireplace in Great Room at Richmond Farm

Saturday:         Retreat at Richmond Farm


Sunday:           Kale, Crème Frâiche, Cream Cheese and Feta Dip, Margharita Pizza

Snow Richmond Farm

Saturday morning, Richmond Farm

After introducing Beez to a French version of Ribbolita – Soupe de Pistou – I headed off for a weekend retreat at Richmond Farm, courtesy of my friends JCD and Judd, where the food was good and substantial, and the wisdom and comments of a youngish Benedictine monk helped me to take a good look at myself – I’m not sure how I survived.  I wish I could explain the effect on the soul of a weekend of silence in the country with a like-minded fellowship working on their relationship with God.  The responses to my efforts to date, ranging from polite tolerance to looks of concern for my mental state, indicate that I’ve not yet hit upon the formula.  Ah well, as a history professor of mine used to say, “The world has been going to hell in a handbasket for the last 10,000 years.”  (What’s the deal with the handbasket?)  Final Note:  On Saturday night, at Richmond Farm, we were served a glazed blueberry pound cake that was the closest I got to heaven all week.

Over the past few weeks we have been cooking some good food, but we haven’t really been nailing the French stuff until this week.  On Thursday, we had sole meunière (with brown butter for me, naked for Beez) that was worth writing home about.*  And then, on Sunday, we cooked by far the best Coq au Vin ever.  (Though we didn’t eat it until Monday when Billy was able to join us.)  This method left us with a moist, just slightly less than juicy chicken which is what you want because of the winey sauce it’s served with.  Other methods we’ve tried often lead to dry, but still very tasty chicken.  (Anything cooked with bacon, wine and aromatics is bound to be tasty.)  But above all, this method will give you the most wine-forward Coq au Vin you’ve ever had which, we imagine, is how and why the French enjoy it.

* We did not do that because, after all, we were already home and also we would have been writing to ourselves which, while it is not grounds for being declared non compos mentos, nonetheless, would have been disconcerting to family and friends.

One more point to make – there is nothing, this side of heaven which pleases me as much having a good dinner with family and friends.  And the Coq au Vin on Monday night fit the bill superbly well.  Everyone left the table satisfied and I was quite proud of myself which, come to think of it, I had been warned about during the retreat.

Below, you’ll find the recipe for Coq au Vin and, as an extra, the marinated beans on grilled bread we had on Monday.  The beans are as simple as good cooking gets, the Coq au Vin, not so much – but then no one is ever going to mention the great bean feast they had at your home.  (I would have shared the sole meunière but our local Bishop lifted the requirement for fasting this Friday in a transparent bid to curry favor with people of Irish descent.  Thus, it is not that important to cook fish this week.  As a side note, parishes all over the diocese are miffed at the Bishop’s sabotage of their annual fund raising fish fries.

Coq au Vin

(New York Times Special Section “The New Essentials of French Cooking,” February 19, 2017)

We’ve adapted this recipe slightly, and you can adapt it even more.  But I beg you to use bone-in, skin on pieces of chicken.  They will bring a depth of flavor to this dish that skinless or boneless chicken cannot even aspire to.  And the flesh of the chicken will have just the right texture, where skinless and boneless will be too dry.

Coq au vin

Timing:                        Overnight Marinade – 2-3 hours cooking and prep –

Should be cooked one day before serving to achieve best taste
(Note:  You can do a quick marinade and cook and serve on the same day, but you will have reduced a superior dish to an acceptable one)

Ingredients:                 Serves 4

3 pounds chicken legs and thighs (we used two legs and 6 thighs)

4 ounces lardons, pancetta or bacon diced into ¼ inch pieces (about 1 cup) – NOTE:  Lardons can be cut from the packaged salt pork offered in most grocery stores.  Bacon is too thin to give you the pieces of bacon that work best in this dish.

3 cups hearty red wine – we used a reasonably-priced Burgundy
1 Bay leaf
1 teaspoon chopped thyme
1 large onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
8 ounces mushrooms (use brown or white, not wild), sliced.  If you have some giant mushrooms in the pack, halve them before slicing – just think about the size it would be easy to pick up on a fork and eat.
2 cloves garlic, minced (in this recipe we used the full amount of garlic – we often use less, but in this case the garlic will cook down and you’ll get no garlicky aftertaste, merely a deepening of the other flavors)
1 teaspoon tomato paste (we used maybe 2 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons brandy
3 tablespoons butter
8 ounces pearl onions (we would use more – maybe 12)
½ teaspoon ground black pepper, plus more to taste
2 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
2 slices white bread, crusts removed, cut into triangles (I think this is prissy – we used slices of country bread cut into wedges.  You’re going to sauté this bread in butter and salt it to serve with the chicken.)
¼ cup or so of chopped parsley, plus more for serving


Marinate chicken overnight – preferably 1 day before cooking the chicken and 2 days before serving the dish.

Season the chicken with 2 ¼ teaspoons of salt and ½ teaspoon of pepper and put into a large bowl with wine, a bay leaf and the thyme.  Marinate overnight or at least 2 hours in refrigerator.

On day of cooking:

Chop vegetables mushrooms and measure out wine and brandy.
Cook lardons (or bacon or pancetta, if you must)
If you are serving same day as cooking, peel pearl onions (blanch for 1 minute in boiling water to make this task less tedious).
Chop parsley
Remove chicken from marinade and pat dry.
Reserve marinade – this is the liquid you’ll be cooking the chicken in.


In Dutch oven (large is good here) with a tight fitting lid, cook lardons over medium-low until golden and crisp – 10 to 15 minutes.  Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper-towel lined plate.

Heat bacon fat over medium until just about smoking and then add chicken in single layer with space between pieces (you’ll have to cook in two batches) to sear until well browned – 3 minutes or more per side.  (We also seared the sides of the thicker thighs.)  NOTE:  you may have to add some oil to the pot – we did not.  Transfer chicken to a plate as it browns.

Add the onion, the carrot and half of the mushrooms and the remaining1/4 teaspoon of salt to the pot (we added a good pinch – maybe ½ teaspoon of salt) and cook until vegetables are lightly browned – say, 8 minutes or so.  Stir up the browned pieces from searing the chicken – lower the heat if vegetables start to burn.

Now you’re going to work quickly, so make sure all the rest of your mise is en place.  Stir in the garlic and tomato paste and cook 1 minute, then add the flour and stir in and cook for another minute.   Then remove pan from heat.

Push the vegetables to one side, pour the brandy into the empty side and ignite it with a match.  Once the flame dies down, add the reserved marinade and bring to a boil, reducing the mixture by about one half – cook for about 12 minutes.  Skim off any foam that forms on the surface.

Add the chicken with the juices on the plate.  Add one half of the lardons.  Cover and simmer over low for about 1 hour, turning the chicken pieces after 30 minutes.

At this point you can stop cooking and finish the dish on the next day.  As with most braises, this will give you the best flavor.  After pot cools, refrigerate.  Keep the lardons and mushrooms you have reserved separately and covered with plastic.
Finish cooking as follows:
If you’ve refrigerated the chicken, remove some of the accumulated fat from the top (you’ll lose some of the onions and vegetables as well).  Then bring to a simmer and cook down to thicken for about 20 minutes.

In the meantime, melt 1 tablespoon of butter and 2 tablespoons of oil in a skillet over medium-high.  Add the pearl onion, a pinch of sugar and a pinch of salt, cover, reduce heat to low and cook for 15 minutes.  Shake the skillet from time to time to turn the onions over.  Uncover, push the onions to one side and toss in the remaining mushrooms, raising the heat to medium-high and cook until browned, stirring the mushrooms frequently.  (Be gentle with the onions – you don’t want them to fall apart).  You should add the remaining lardons, if you cooked them the night before, to crisp them up a bit.

Empty the onions, mushrooms and lardons (if they’re in there) from the skillet and wipe it out.

In the same skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and 1 tablespoon of oil over medium until bubbling, then add the bread triangles and toasts on both sides until golden – may 2 minutes per side.  (Adjust the heat as needed.)  Remove the bread from the skillet, salt, and place on a small platter.


Coq au vin plate

Dip the toast triangles in the wine sauce and coat in parsley.

Add the onion-mushroom mixture and the remaining lardons to the pot.  Baste with the wine sauce, sprinkle with parsley and serve with croutons on top or on the side.

EXTRA                                  Marinated Mixed Beans on Toast

This is the simplest recipe for a meatless Monday you will ever find.  The only way to get simpler than this is to tell your family to go into the woods and forage for themselves.

Timing:                        10 minutes – if you’re pressed for time.
You can do this days ahead.  It’s good to let marinate for 30 minutes


1 shallot, finely chopped
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
½ cup finely chopped herbs (use two or more of the following -parsley, chives or dill, mint, cilantro)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cans of any of the following:  cannellini beans, navy beans, black-eyed peas, or chickpeas, drained and rinsed.  (We used a mix of cannellini and black-eyed peas – great taste and interesting look with the black-eyes)
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or Korean hot pepper flakes or ½ teaspoon of red pepper flakes.  (You can find the Korean stuff at Giant Eagle!)


Combine the shallots and the vinegar in a small bowl and marinate for 5 minutes.

Mix the herbs and the olive oil in a large bowl.  Add the beans, the pepper and toss to combine.  Season generously with salt, then add the shallot mixture and toss gently to combine.

Grill 4 large slices of hearty bread (the Fire Bread from Whole Foods is perfect) under broiler.


Place one slice of bread on a plate and spoon bean mixture over it.  Simpler and better than any salad from a salad bar.

snow Casa Stuarti

Snow – Casa Stuarti

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