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Review: Cook au Vin

A few months ago, Patty bought two 2-for-1s on Groupon for a cooking school on Elston Ave, Cook au Vin. I’d not heard anything about it, so it was only a curiosity on my several rides past it over the past five years.

We decided to make a double-date out of it with her friend Emily and her husband Marcus. Once we agreed upon the menu choice – French onion soup, coq au vin (chicken and wine), scalloped potatoes, crème brulee – the date was set for this past weekend, Sunday afternoon.

I arrived first on my bike, with a couple bottles I’d just picked up from Wine Discount Center just down the street; very helpful, those folks. In 10 minutes I was set up with a bottle each of Bordeaux and Vouvray, total cost of under $60. I waited in the sunshine a bit for the doors to be unlocked at the appropriated time of 3 pm.

Right on schedule the door clicked open, and Chef Amanda welcomed me inside to the cool air-conditioning. I was impressed at how clean everything was. And that, despite the vast amounts of cooking equipment within, there was still an inviting amount of space, especially around the dining table and prep area; both a dining-experience and user-friendly.

Amanda immediately opened my red bottle after suggesting we chill the white and pair it with the chicken, and I let it breathe while waiting for everyone else to arrive. It was the prefect complement to the bleu and goat cheeses, plus the chorizo and grapes on the appetizer plate offered.

We started with the dessert first, since the crème brulee first needs to bake, then chill. Amanda gave easy to understand instructions and key visual queues; such as suggesting we notice the color the egg yolks become as we whisked in the sugar (pale yellow is the ideal). She never lost her professional air and smile, even while I constantly ADD’d through the entire exercise, missing lots of steps and direction. The smell of the real vanilla beans being hollowed out was almost as intoxicating as a bottle of extract, and soon we had our dessert dishes filled and ready for the oven.

Her little cook’s secrets added a ton of value to the class. One such tip is to place all the dessert bowls in a tray of water for a steam bath while baking. This keeps the crème brulee (or other desserts, such as cheesecake) smooth and free of caking and clumping. She was a great leader who had an entire team of four couples working together.

The French onion soup prep was just as easy. Onions sliced, garlic minced, and into the pot they went with lots of butter. Again, Amanda’s color cues helped out, and it was easy to tell when we needed to add more onion. This particular recipe was modified from the traditional, very filling one with which we are all very familiar. To keep everyone’s hunger stoked for the chicken and potatoes, we next added broth to the onion and garlic, and then set it aside to simmer. Rather than baking each bowl with large amounts of cheese and bread, we next made lightly-cheese-crusted toast points, with sliced French bread, to add to the soup just before eating.

Next we mixed up whole milk and heavy cream, while others sliced large brown baking potatoes and minced fresh garlic. We layered all of it, garlic first, then the potatoes, topped with a level of cream, finally salt and pepper, until the baking dish was filled. It was topped with a couple sprigs of thyme, and away it went to bake.

Since the chicken needed to be marinated a minimum of six hours prior to final prep, the initial roasting was already done, and set to work with a large, cold container filled with the birds, carrots & onion, and red wine. There was still plenty left for us to do.

First, the chicken came out and went into a pan with butter and oil. Another cook’s tip: the flavor of butter, with the higher temperature of oil, without burning. Then Amanda had us add the veggies from the marinade, and get some searing going on. Once we had the browning and heat, we transferred the meat and veggies to a larger dish, and we reduced several ladlefuls of the wine down, finally adding some flour in with a whisk for body. When it was smooth and thick, we poured the mixture over the chicken, carrots, and onion, and then put in the over to finish cooking through.

My stomach rumbled and grumbled more and more through the whole process, but Chef Amanda kept us on track. I only snacked from the left over appetizer plate a couple times, but Patty and I did finish of the Bordeaux fairly quickly. Finally we could sit down and eat what we’d been slaving over. I popped open the chilled bottle of vouveray, my hand becoming wet in its condensation.

I’ll simply let the pictures speak for themselves. Our toast? "Salud, Groupon!"

First course:

These were pretty damn good:



The complete picture:

Using fire is always fun!


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