I’ve been trying to think of a clever way to begin this post and all I can come up with is the truth. Yesterday I hosted book club and there was a lot of good food. So there.
But really, all joking aside, it was another spectacular meeting, our 76th to be exact. Who knew we’d last this long? The book: A Moveable Feast by none other than Ernest Hemingway (who has a connection to the “mitten state” I might add). The cast of characters: all 10 members in attendance, including Evelyn who drives in from Cleveland when she can and a pre-book club call from Deryn on the East Coast. In my world, that’s perfect attendance.
The menu: cozy and comforting holiday and/or French favorites fit the bill for this Paris set book. We began with Wendy’s appetizing nibblies, sugared nuts and creamy white bean dip with pita triangles, which are always crowd-pleasers. Realizing that our French-themed book club wasn’t going to have any French cheese, I quickly threw together a holiday appropriate goat cheese appetizer with cranberries and maple syrup, which did double duty when we crumbled the remainder on our green salad. Likewise, Maeve successfully and deliciously rounded out the appetizers with her to-die-for blue cheese palmiers (a recipe I’m definitely going to have to wrangle out of her for a later post). And last but not least, all of these pre-dinner yummies were accompanied by oh-so-French kir royals, thanks to Norma, who has the distinct honor of introducing me to this delicious apéritif in 1997 when we studied in Paris and our friendship was just beginning.
Next up was the main course, made by moi, la hôtesse, (that’s the rules!) and not wanting a repeat performance of book clubs past, I was looking for something kind of easy, French of course, without too much cream or Dijon mustard (I know my friends and their particular tastes) and it had to feed a crowd without being too terribly expensive (while delicious, steak-frites was out of the question). What I finally settled on was perfect, Ina’s Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic. You see, if you know Ina like I do, you’ll agree that she doesn’t dissappoint, especially when it comes to feeding tasty and comforting food to a group. Having tested the recipe previously with S (lucky him), I realized that the sauce to chicken ratio would need to be increased for a gang of nine. I did that by following her recipe but, instead of just wine and cognac, I also added a cup of chicken broth. In the end it actually lent the sauce a richer flavor, so I’m going to include some everytime I make this dish. To round out the meal, Beth made the Cauliflower Gratin from the same cookbook and with Barb’s salad, a side of couscous and some baguette, I’d say most of us won’t be hungry for a week.
And I apologize for the lack of a picture but I just couldn’t interrupt the flow for proper food photography, (not that I ever do it properly but…) so here’s one of the appetizers and another of the post-book club table mayhem.
serves 8-10, slightly adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot in Paris (recipe can be halved for smaller groups, but go with same amount of sauce ingredients, maybe cutting the chicken broth back to 1/2 cup. Also, I made it with 1 head of garlic the first time and it was just as good)
1 chicken cut into pieces + 6 chicken bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
3 heads of garlic
1 1/2 cups white wine
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup flour
3 Tablespoons Cognac (one shot from the liquor store is cheap and plenty for this recipe)
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 Tablespoons heavy cream* (optional, Norma had hers without and deemed it delicious)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon butter
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
First, separate the garlic cloves and immerse in boiling water for 60-90 seconds. Remove to a bowl and let cool until you can handle them. Remove the peels with your hands. You should find that for the most part they come right off. Set aside and prepare the chicken.
Next, cut off any excessive bits of fat or skin from the chicken. Pat dry with a towel. Season liberally with salt and pepper and brown for 3-5 minutes per side (in several batches) over a medium to medium-high flame in a dutch oven with the olive oil and butter. After each batch, remove to a plate. This may take you about 4 batches. Next turn the flame down to medium and add the garlic. Sauté for 5-10 minutes, turning the cloves often, until they turn a light shade of brown. Be sure to watch that they don’t burn and become bitter.
Once the garlic is brown, add the wine, 2 tablespoons of the cognac and the chicken broth, scraping the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil and add back the chicken. Turn heat down to simmer, put on the lid, add the thyme leaves and cook gently until all the chicken is done, 30-40 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot, place on a platter or a wide pasta bowl and cover with foil to keep warm. Remove about a 1/2 cup of the broth and, in a separate bowl, whisk with the flour. Once no longer lumpy, add the flour and broth back to the broth. Bring to a gentle boil and reduce the heat. Simmer for about 3 minutes, add the last tablespoon of Cognac and the cream. Allow to simmer for another 3 minutes or so, then pour sauce over the chicken and serve.
Et voilà. You won’t believe how good this is, and with practice, quite easy as well. I was told I outdid myself this time, but all praise should go to Ina of course. Her latest, How Easy is That?, is definitely on my Christmas list this year (are you reading, Dad? wink, wink)
Last but not least, Christine had dessert duty this time and brought homemade macadamia nut chocolate cookies which she served on mint chocolate chip ice cream (how did you know this is my favorite, Christine?!).
All in all, I think Ernest would have been proud of our celebration of his life in Paris, not to mention that it was a 9 bottle (ahem), 3 cork candle, 5 hour meeting! Just wait until our 10 year anniversary next spring. I shudder to think.
And speaking of those 9 bottles, we adopted a new rule last year for spouses/partners of members: they are absolutely 100% forbidden from commenting on the number of empty bottles after a book club. Like I said, “ahem”.