After Pj's long day of hard work on his feet in steel toe boots and my long day of dirty diapers and housework, how do we have fun? By working the kitchen! We both learned to cook from our mothers when we were kids. Since we started dating, one of our favorite ways to savor the evenings is to make dinner together. For my birthday, in September, Pj gave me a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking volumes 1 & 2. I took 4 years of French language in high school and always enjoyed the cooking lessons that came with it.

 Tonight, we were feeling very uninspired with our usual dinner and pretty tired in general so we decided to spice up our "love of cooking" life with a recipe from Julia Child. We made " Poulet au Porto" or Roast Chicken Steeped with Port Wine, Cream and Mushrooms. It was everything we hoped it would be. Rich, comforting, meaty, complex in flavor, quick to cook, exciting and just perfect all around.  

Our tiny apartment kitchen is built for one but half of the fun of cooking together is dancing around the kitchen. He ducks his head as I open a cabinet. I sway my hips as he opens a drawer for a spoon and when it's all done, we have had food and a lot of fun!  This is our kitchen.....

I've been battling a really annoying dry cough for days so there will be no pics of my glamorous pajama-clad self. Instead, I leave you with Julia and a delightful vintage recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Julia Child in her French kitchen circa 1950
 * For this recipe, I totally cheated and used a hot rotisserie chicken from the grocery store instead of roasting my own ('cause that's the beauty of -not- living in the past! :) If you do this, be sure to save the juice in the bottom of the container in place of your "roasting juices" that the recipe calls for. Also, this recipe is perfect to cook with your man around because he gets to light the chicken on fire after pouring booze over it. Pj LOVED this part and said "I want to do it again!"*

The book cautions that this recipe cannot be created ahead of time because the chicken will lose its juicy quality. So, if you do the cheater method mentioned above, be sure to keep your chicken in the sealed container until you're ready for it. The book also states "This is the kind of dish to do when you are entertaining a few good, food-loving friends whom you can receive in your kitchen." The flaming cognac over the chicken is very impressive! :)

                             Poulet au Porto
"From Mastering the Art of French Cooking page 245"
                                For 4 people
a 3lb chicken                                            1/3 cup medium dry port wine
1 lb fresh mushrooms                             1/4 cup cognac
1/4 cup water                                            1/4 tsp salt
1/2 Tb butter                                             1 cup whipping cream
1/2 tsp lemon juice                                    1/2 Tb cornstarch blended with 1 Tb of the cream
salt and pepper                                         
1 Tb minced shallots or green onion 
  1. Roast the chicken in the oven careful not to over-cook it.  

2. While the chicken is roasting, trim and wash the mushrooms. Quarter them if large. If small, leave them whole. 

3. In a 2 1/2 quart saucepan, bring the water, butter, lemon and salt to a boil. Toss in the mushrooms, cover and boil slowly for 8 minutes. Pour out the cooking liquid and reserve. 

4. Pour the cream and cornstarch mixture into the mushrooms. Simmer for 2 minutes. Correct seasoning and set aside. 

5. When the chicken is done, move it to a carving board and let it rest at room temperature while completing the sauce. 

6. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the roasting pan (or juices from that rotisserie chicken) In a small skillet, add the roasting pan fat and shallots and cook slowly for one minute. Add the port and the mushroom juice and boil down rapidly, scraping up coagulated roasting juices until the liquid has reduced to about 1/4 cup. 

7. Add this 1/4 cup mixture to the mushrooms and cream and simmer for 2-3 minutes, allowing the liquid to thicken slightly. Correct seasoning and add lemon juice to taste. 

8. Smear the inside of a casserole or chafing dish with butter (I used a large, deep stainless skillet) Rapidly carve the chicken into serving pieces. (Or cut up that rotisserie chicken, pull off the skin and make sure there's no bones in it). Sprinkle lightly with salt and arrange in the casserole or chafing dish. 

9. Set over moderate heat until you hear the chicken begin to sizzle. Then, pour the cognac over it. Avert your face and ignite the cognac with a lighted match (or step back and watch your husband/boyfriend have fun lighting the chicken on fire). Shake the casserole slowly until the flames have subsided. Then, pour the mushroom and cream mixture over the chicken, tilting the casserole and basting the chicken. Cover and steep for 5 minutes without allowing the sauce to boil. Serve. 

My frozen peas got a little wrinkly, but here's dinner! Since I used a small rotisserie chicken, the pieces of chicken were quite a bit smaller than the recipe probably calls for but it was delish! :)

 It may sound like a lot of preparation but this dish was really easy and quick to make. With an extra helping hand in the kitchen, we whipped this up in about 20 minutes! Julia suggests serving this dish with a simple side vegetable such as potatoes sauteed in butter, asparagus spears or peas. She's absolutely correct,. This dish is so rich and divine, you really don't want anything to interfere with the experience of the complex flavors. I highly recommend a simple white french bread to help sop up the sauce from your plate. Like many recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, this one is really wonderful because it uses very affordable, average ingredients (chicken, butter, cream, etc) and ends up being something truly incredible. It's satisfying, juicy, comforting and a perfect dinner for a snuggly night at home with your family when it's cold outside. I don't think I will ever bake a boring, dry chicken breast as long as I live.