Monday, January 20, 2014

Best Laid Plans....Work Out OK!

So. For Rett's birthday we 3 girlfriends decided to descend on Merry Mount for a "Girls' Spa weekend" complete with dinner, decadent dessert, mud masks, manicures, yoga (taught by a fabulous yoga instructor who agreed to travel to the farm), and a girls' slumber party. The 4 of us, you may remember, have been fast friends since our daughters (now 24 years old) were in third grade!

While I was stirring the batter for Rett's birthday cake the night before (an almond cake, more later), we all got a text from our friend who now lives in Indiana. Her daughter had the flu and she didn't want to leave her. The rest of us quickly decided to soldier on. Still going! Cancel spa stuff! Cancel yoga lady (too expensive). Add in MA's husband (much to Pat's relief -- he was trying to figure out how to escape the ladies' weekend!). And we gathered at Merry Mount for a birthday celebration on a gray Friday evening.

It may have been super-cold outside at the farm.

But inside we had a cozy fire.

Plenty of furry friends.

Great food -- here's my salad that I made to go w/ Mary Anne's delish coq au vin.

Wonderful wine.
Good friends.

Almond cake -- yum!
And a few well-chosen birthday gifts for Rett -- including a favorite beer that heretofore has only been available at the brewing company in Slippery Rock, and a guide to raising chickens!

Next morning, it was a bit too chilly for our traditional greet-the-day-on-the-sunporch tradition. But we enjoyed some strong French roast coffee by the fireplace instead. And Rett's southern breakfast, complete with eggs, bacon, grits, biscuits and tomato gravy. And a sunny ruby-red bought from the semi-truck that sells Florida citrus each winter from a church parking lot.

Cheers and happy birthday to Rett! Here are some recipes from the weekend:

Mary Anne's Coq au Vin (may be doubled)

1 tablespoon olive oil
½ pound bacon, diced
3 pounds of chicken breasts and thighs (with bones, without skin)
3 tablespoons brandy, warmed
1 onion, chopped
1 large clove of garlic, diced
1-2 celery stalks, sliced
1-3 carrots, diced
1 tablespoon flour
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 t 3 ½ cups dry red wine
4 shallots, c hopped
2-3 bay leaves
½ cup parsley
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
20 pearl onions
2 tablespoons butter
1 pound mixed mushrooms (shitake, crimini, portabello, button)

In large soup pot, sauté bacon in the oil; drain and reserve. In the same pot, sauté the chicken until nicely browned, about 10 min. Pour in the brandy and flambé. Remove and reserve.

Saute the onion and vegetables until soft, the onion translucent, about 5 min. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute, then blend in the tomato paste, wine, shallots and herbs. Season with salt and pepper. Bring rapidly to a boil, then lower heat and add the chicken and bacon. Cover and simmer gently for 45 minutes. Turn the chicken, re-cover and simmer for another 35 minutes. If you wish to make this a day ahead (best this way, as it allows the flavors to  meld), stop here and finish the next day.

Heat the butter in a frying pan. Saute the mushrooms until golden, then add to the chicken mixture. Continue cooking until the chicken is tender, about 10 minutes. Remove the chicken bones if you wish. Heat through, garnish with fresh parsley if desired, serve with parsleyed potatoes, green salad and crusty French bread. 

Gluten Free Italian Almond Cake with Raspberry Sauce

3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
8 ounces almond paste
3 eggs
 1 tablespoon Amaretto
 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
 1/4 cup sweet rice flour
 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
 powdered sugar
Raspberry Sauce or fresh raspberries

Combine sugar, butter and almond paste, blending well; beat in eggs, Amaretto, and almond extract. Gently stir in flour and baking powder, mixing just until blended. Pour batter into a greased and floured 8-inch round cake pan. Bake at 350° for 40 to 50 minutes,or until a wooden pick or cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Invert onto a cake plate and sprinkle with powdered sugar. For berry sauce: blend in food processor 1 bag of frozen raspberries, thawed, 3/4 cup sugar, and juice of 1 small lime. 

Baby Lettuce Salad with Feta, Pecans and Pears:

Baby lettuce mixture
Feta cheese
Sliced scallions
Diced celery
Toasted pecans
bacon, cooked and crumbled
Sliced ripe pears
Dried cranberries
Layer ingredients on salad plates. For dressing, mix 1 bottle of Maple Grove Farms of Vermont fat free Honey Dijon salad dressing and juice of one orange together in a jar. Shake and drizzle over salads.