Gastown in the 1970s was a happenin’ place–it was weird and funky with an odd mix of vintage stores, great hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and cool little boutiques like Beau Brummel, Fox and Fluevog, House of Orange (where my twelve-year-old self obsessed over beading supplies), and Sarah’s Boutique (where I had my grad dress made).
And then there was my underage sixteen-year-old party-girl self, who was frequently served Harvey Wallbangers by the accommodating servers at The Town Pump and The Medieval Inn.
And Gastown was where I first tasted French food. It was 1973…at Brasserie de L’Horloge–a lovely little French restaurant by the old steam clock. My grade ten French teacher–the formidable Madame Rêche–had arranged for our class to go out for a meal at a French restaurant: we were to order and conduct all of our conversations that evening in French. Some girls weren’t allowed to go, so I have a vague recollection of a group of about fifteen of us, all dressed up and feeling very grown up.
And we all loved Madame Rêche, who spoke to us like we were sophisticated young women, not the idiot children that we rightly were. Her tendency to treat us like adults sadly turned out to be her undoing, but that’s another story.
Now, I was a bit (…okay, a LOT) of a party girl back in the day, so it’s funny that I remember that nerdy evening with my French class as so special, but that was the charm of Madame Rêche: she made it special.
So when my best friend–the sophisticated Esther, who was trilingual and had European parents who went to foreign films every weekend–told me she was ordering coq au vin, I heard “cocoa vin” and assumed it was some kind of delicious chocolate wine. She very helpfully explained to me that I was an idiot and told me to “just order the damn dish”…which I did. And, indeed, Esther was right: coq au vin turned out to be a culinary revelation to me–I was in love with French food from that moment forward.
As such, I was delighted yesterday when James declared that he was going to be making a vegan version of coq au vin on Saturday evening. For the past day or so, he’s been poring over recipes looking for the perfect coq au vin recipe. He eventually settled on this one and made the appropriate veganizing adjustments.
Dr. P’s Vegan Coq au Vin
- 1 pound of chickwheat, shredded into large chunks
- 4 ounces vegan chewy bac’n bits
- 12 button mushrooms, sliced
- 1 portobello mushroom, sliced
- 1 cup carrots, diced
- ½ large yellow onion, diced
- 2 shallots, sliced
- 1 TBS vegetable oil
- 1 TBS Maggi sauce
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 TBS flour
- 2 TBS vegan butter
- 1 cup red wine
- ½ cup Madeira
- 2 TBS dried thyme
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- Heat oil and saute mushrooms, onion, carrots, and shallots with salt and pepper and Maggi sauce in a large dutch oven.
- Stir flour and vegan butter into vegetable mixture until completely incorporated.
- Pour red wine into the pan and bring to a boil while scraping browned bits of food off of the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Stir in bac’n bits and thyme and simmer until wine is about 1/3 reduced–about four minutes.
- Pour in chicken broth and continue simmering.
- Meanwhile, saute chickwheat in a separate pan until lightly browned.
- Combine browned chickwheat and vegetable mixture in dutch oven and place in oven at 350 for thirty minutes.
Serve up with a freshly baked baguette, roasted potatoes, and coleslaw for a super sumptuous dinner! Add champagne and Edith Piaf to make it even more special.
And, in honour of my high school best friend, Esther, the song of the day is Charles Aznavour’s “Ne me quitte pas.” In addition to introducing teenaged me to French food, art, foreign films, and all things sophisticated and cool, she introduced me to the amazing man who was once Edith Piaf’s chauffeur…..Charles Aznavour.