First though, my last week in Florida couldn't have been better. A friend of mine took me out to Bern's Steakhouse in Tampa, where I had a 10 oz. delmonico steak that was so tender I could almost have gummed it, had I not had teeth. The menu was more like a short novel and the wine list was the size of a coffee table book. The interior decorations were lush, reminding me somewhat of the room Alisdair Cooke used to sit in when he hosted Masterpiece Theater. They also have a separate dessert room upstairs where I ate bannana chocolate cheese cake, and drank cognac while the piano player amused himself with lounge versions of Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, and the cantina song from Star Wars. You really should check out their website, its nothing if not thorough.
I also cooked quite alot during that week. The "last supper," if you will, was coq au vin, and it was fabulous. The recipe was gleaned from It Must've Been Something I Ate, by Jeffrey Steingarten, the Harvard-trained-lawyer-turned-food critic for Vogue. I'm told that Steingarten is often reviled in the food blogosphere, and I suppose I can see why some might not like him. He is, at times, almost laughably elitist. Even the occasional self-deprecating comments come off as staged. That said, the man clearly knows how to turn a phrase, and his passion for food is unmatched by any writer I'm familiar with. The recipes in this book tend to be either astoundingly complex or to include ingredients that are difficult to find outside of, say, a small village in southern France or the Baja peninsula. His hyper-authentic recipe for coq au vin fulfill both categories. First, you have to find a rooster; second, you'd best start 5 days in advance.
I cheated on both accounts. A whole free range, dry-packed chicken plus a bunch of thighs was good enough for me. I did start in advance, but only by three days. The chicken marinated for two days in a combination of pinot noir and cognac, along with onions, celery, and carrots. I won't go through the recipe or all the steps, since there were so many, but suffice to say it involved nearly every piece of cookware I own, and took about 4 hours of vigilance for the final preparation. My favorite step is the placing of the chicken (coated with flour and browned in bacon fat) on top of the vegetables and bacon, whereupon a 1/2 cup of cognac is poured on top and lit. The blue flames lick the sides of the pot and eventually subside, producing a wonderful smell. The final remaining sauce is unbelievably good. I'm actually thinking about making it again this week (a slightly truncated version), then shredding the chicken and stuffing it into raviolis. We'll see.