I love the idea, and reading her post made me think of one of the most famous of 20th Century salons. Presided over by Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas at their home in Paris with its remarkable collection of modern art, the apartment became a gathering place for many intellectuals, musicians, artists and writers of the day.
Until I was given her cookbook for a birthday present by my mother a few years ago, I had no idea that Alice Toklas was also a fabulous cook. She compiled the book, with its mingling of recipes and reminiscences, while recovering from an attack of pernicious jaundice. It was written, she says, as an escape from the narrow diet and monotony of illness. Yikes, that was brave! I’d imagine it would make one feel even more ill. Not Alice.
Many of the recipes are too rich and unctuous for our modern day sensibilities. For example, this is a menu for lunch party at a house whose chatelaine was a well-known hostess and whose food was justly famous:
Salmon Sauce Hollandaise
Hare à la Royale
Hearts of Artichokes à la Isman Bavaldy
Pheasants roasted with Truffles
Lobster à la Française
Singapore Ice Cream
Berries and Fruit
What deliciousity! But can you imagine even trying to get up from the table after a meal like that?
I found a few rather more simple dishes in this extraordinary cookbook and have adapted them slightly in an attempt to make them a little less calorific.
This one is called ‘Katie’s Capon’ and it’s perfect for a weekend meal with friends and family. I use chicken rather than a capon, and serve it with baby potatoes dusted with finely chopped parsley and a simple green salad of mixed leaves and, if you have them, nasturtium petals to add colour and a bit of zing.
1 medium-sized (about 3½ pounds) chicken, preferably free-range
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup ruby port
½ cup orange juice
3 tablespoons heavy cream
Zest of 1 orange, grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
When you bring the chicken home from the market, unwrap it and sprinkle it generously with salt. Cover and refrigerate it until ready to cook. Bring the bird to room temperature before cooking and don’t rub off the salt.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. In a large ovenproof pot warm the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Brown the chicken breast side down, for 3 to 5 minutes then turn it over and brown the other side for 3 to 5 minutes.
Place the pot in the oven and roast the chicken for 45 minutes. Pour the port over the chicken and baste it. Roast for 10 minutes more, than add the orange juice and baste again. Roast for about 5 minutes more.
Skim as much fat off the top of the juices in the pan as you can and discard. Place the pan over medium heat and add the cream, stirring up the crispy bits on the bottom. Add about half the orange zest and allow the sauce to reduce as you stir constantly for a few minutes.
Carve the chicken and transfer it to a warmed serving dish. Pour some of the sauce over the chicken and sprinkle with the remaining orange zest. If you have any sauce left over, transfer it into a small jug and serve it at the table.
Do pop over to Shan’s blog where she hosts the What’s Cooking Wednesday for more delicious recipes from bloggers at every point on the compass!