Essentially Ashland: Cooking French in Ashland

The holiday was fast approaching and I knew that I had to be ready to meld well with Bastille Day, which celebrates the storming of the Bastille prison at the beginning of the French Revolution. I was getting a little nervous about what to serve for dinner for the little party we had arranged and did not want to lose my head over the matter.

I began by designing a menu that would curl the feathers of all peoples French: Coq Au Vin, which roughly translates into "intoxicated Rooster" — if not at the beginning of the meal then most assuredly after you have cleaned your plate. It is a simple dish, at least to the French. I have prepared it dozens of times and with each incarnation it becomes more moist and savory, just the opposite of filing your tax returns.

I was soon fluttering through the market and came to roost at the check-out stand clutching onto and crowing about a basket full of fowl ingredients that would hopefully blend together to form a thick brown stew capable of transporting oneself through a mist of herbs and spices to a favorite bistro in Paris, where I am known and treated with respect, unlike the rest of Paris where north Americans are viewed as ignorant, lacking in social graces and ignored at all costs. I put on some Edith Piaf and hummed merrily as the main course slowly morphed from bland to succulent.

I removed any overt chicken lips and added red wine, brandy and a wrist snap of sherry to get things moving, then added the meat, carrots, minced shallots, a couple of cloves of garlic, flour, parsley, fresh chervil, a pinch of thyme, a bay leaf, salt, pepper more wine, brandy and sherry. Sliced mushrooms are added when the masterpiece is about eight minutes away from being served. I have not listed the ingredients in order, nor have I even hinted at braising, which, if you miss this vital step, you can forget about the sherry and try to find any port in a storm.

I cut the baguette, prepared the salad, lit the candles, laid out the cheese, fussed, fidgeted, flailed and doted over what would easily become the meal of the month. I then unpacked the small raspberry French desert cakes and left a rolling pin sprinkled in flour on the cutting board. Sometimes you have to keep them guessing.

The dinner party went swimmingly. My wife, Annette, was raised speaking French, so, in a wink the table was abuzz with respectable, though sometimes suspect, French as we chased the Coq from the serving dish and onto our plates. Everyone seemed fixated on the baguette guillotine that I had constructed for the party. With luck on our side, only the bread felt the sharp, surgical steel. A little more brandy and wine, this time by the glass, and our language skills rose to the occasion. The desserts were delicious and soon we were watching an old French movie which, fortunately, had English subtitles.

I asked for the final time if anyone would like a little more rooster stew and, hearing nothing in the affirmative, I tossed down two clucks of sauce and smiled as the delicate seasonings slithered about my taste buds, leaving me abundantly sated.

It was then that Annette noticed that I had avoided the meat and, in her own patented manner, wanted to know why.

I sat back and weighed my response, but settled the matter by saying: "I do not mean to whine, but I am too chicken to eat one more bite." was last seen in his side yard searching for truffles with dog, Spooky. If you have advice or inspiration, send it his way before he eats another baguette cooked in his converted Texas smoker.

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