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Coq Au Richard
"The best way to execute French cooking is to get good and loaded and whack the heck out of a chicken."
Taking Julia's advice to heart Dick Grayson was preparing the main course for his first dinner party ever. He was in his apartment in Bludhaven expecting Bruce, Alfred, Barbara, Donna, Roy (which was probably a mistake) and Wally. The reason, or excuse, was his passing the police exam and—finally—his appointment as an officer of the line with a local precinct.
This was a celebration, a rite of passage and a point of pride.
Seven people; figure half a chicken each and, to be extra safe, he bought oven stuffers. Okay, they averaged six pounds each, times seven equals three and a half so he needed four birds. There they were, sitting on the counter. Four times six pounds equaled twenty-four pounds of bird, which sounded like a lot but better to be safe than have his guests go home hungry.
How hard could this be? Chicken, any idiot could cook a chicken, it was a no-brainer.
Twenty-four pounds at twenty minutes for each pound at three-fifty degrees meant they needed to be in the oven for...wait.
Six pounds per bird meant two and a half hours per chicken times four birds meant...ten hours cooking time.
That seemed a lot but okay. But people were coming in less than four hours so, okay, if he turned up the temperature to, say, four hundred and put them in now, that should work, right? Well, maybe four-fifty to be safe. That seemed high—he'd split the difference. Four-twenty-five it would be.
He set the oven to preheat then studied the birds for a minute. Obviously he had to take them out of the plastic wrappings. Getting a paring knife he removed the first chicken from it's package. Gross water and chicken blood slopped on the counter and managed to splash his tee shirt and soak his jeans. Damn. So he should do this part in the sink. Okay, this was a learning experience, right?
Next he had to remove the bag of guts tucked inside the body cavity, feeling smug he knew about that. But there must be some reason why the Purdue people went to the trouble of sorting the heart and liver and whatever else was inside, wasn't there?
Unable to come up with an answer, he tossed the guts in the garbage and moved on to the next bird. Ten minutes later all four was sitting in a jumble in the sink, looking cold, wet and pale. And large; the total mass, the volume the poultry was more than he expected but didn't things shrink when you cooked them? They must. Sure.
Cleaver, the cleaver was somewhere. Somewhere. Somewhere...over the rainbow, the tune, unbidden, ran through his head.
Screw it. Taking his katona from the wall he samuried the birds in half, neatly splitting them down the backbone.
He had the roasting pan on the counter and began placing halved carcasses, skin side up. Only two pieces fit in the roasting pan, three if he scrunched them together. That was almost okay, he had another roasting pan but that still left an entire bird, cleaved into two pieces panless. Damn, what to do? Microwave them? He could hear Alfred shaking his head in despair at the thought.
His eyes fell on the solution. Under the over door was another he'd never paid any attention to before. He pull it opened, finding an empty drawer. Perfect! He had a double oven—who knew?
Making a third roasting pan out of a pizza pan and aluminum foil he began to season the birds. Salt, pepper. Um...paprika was good and colorful, too. Oregano? Always a plus. Parsley, that was supposed to be good for you. Butter seemed like a good idea, he'd seen Alfred put it on a chicken once to moisten and brown the skin or something like that. Anything else?
People cooked things in wine. Of course! Opening a bottle of Chardonnay he poured a quarter of the bottle in each pan, figuring that should be enough then, checking the clock he put all three pans in to cook. The remaining quarter he chugged straight from the bottle.
Four-twenty-five for four hours should do the trick.
Good. Now vegetables and stuff. He should get some, maybe rolls, too. Everybody liked rolls.
But he didn't have any and he knew he didn't have the ingredients—or probably not since he'd been concentrating on the birds when he went shopping yesterday. The chickens were just starting to cook so he had at least three and a half hours before he had to deal with them, he had plenty of time to hit the stores for the things he'd forgotten. Veggies and rolls. And more butter. Something to drink for both the drinkers and the non drinkers. Wine and soda, maybe coke. Everyone liked coke except for the ones who only drank diet. Okay, that's okay, he'd get both. And salad, everyone liked to start dinner with a salad.
Dessert. He needed dessert, too. Damn, he'd forgotten a whole bunch of stuff.
Right, had to get moving. And he should clean the apartment, too. Or maybe he could just keep the lights low and use candles—candles were romantic. He added candles to the list then headed out.
First stop was the liquor store where he managed champagne, soda (both regular and diet) and some ready to drink margaritas in a plastic bottle. He wasn't sure who would drink what so he got enough that everyone could quench on everything without running out of anything. Four cases of bottles were squeezed into his car trunk.
Next he hit the local Whole Foods, sorry that he'd missed the farmer's market Bludhaven held every Saturday down at the docks. But then he always was a little leery about what farms would deliver to the Haven and what on God's green earth they'd done to the produce. Parking at the supermarket, he took a cart and headed for the liquor aisle—selling alcohol in supermarkets was legal in the state of New York—and found a bottle of Bordeaux with a screw top. Opening it, he quenched his thirst as he made his way up and down the aisles.
First stop, vegetables. Okay, corn, everybody liked corn, right? And potatoes; what's not to like? Peas. Oh crap, they were still in the pods and the corn was still wrapped in leaves on the cobs. Well, screw that, frozen weren't bad and he thought he knew how to cook the things and if he didn't there would be directions on the bag, right? Cauliflower? Nah, nasty. Brussel Spouts? Gag reflex.
Peas and corn and a ten pound bag of Idaho's finest. Yeah, this was good. Now salad. He surveyed the heads of iceberg lettuce, the romaine and the rest. Another screw it, he headed over to the refrigerated wall and picked out five bags of precut, ready to eat greens. He decided to mix and match so ended up with a bag of baby spinach (lots of iron), Italian mix, Summer greens and Classic American. Okay, good, now he needed, he needed...cheese! And bacon and croutons. And dressing, lots of dressing and the stuff in the glass jars that you had to keep in the fridge was the best. Maybe Bleu cheese and French, that would work. And he found precooked bacon ready to use. Easy-peasy...and he had peas! He goggled just a bit before he stopped himself and took another slug of wine.
But wait, he forgot the rolls. So he checked the bakery department, it was late, closing up and the cases looked pretty empty. "Excuse me, do you have any dinner rolls left?"
"Sorry, sir, sold out."
"Could you make some more?"
"Some more rolls, really, I'll pay for them."
"...How many do you need?" Maybe if it was a large enough order since rolls were easy and didn't take long...
"I dunno, enough for like maybe seven or eight people. I'm having a dinner party." This last was said with winsome pride.
Wasn't happening. "If you check the refrigerated dough section you'll find some very good items you can bake yourself; they're really quite good."
"Goodnight, sir." The woman turned firmly away.
Dammit. With no choice he headed for the refrigerated dough section, ignoring the packaged rolls in the bread section, not trusting them to be fresh. Taking a tube of buttermilk biscuits, he read the instructions which seemed simple enough. Basically it was a case of open the tube, place the uncooked biscuits on a cookie sheet the put them in the oven for ten minutes or so...a cookie sheet. Resignedly he found the aisle with baking needs and found a cookie sheet for twelve dollars then rethought and took a second sheet to go with his six tubes of uncooked rolls. Twelve rolls per tube and everyone liked rolls so what could he do? He didn't know how many people would eat what and Alfred would be appalled if he ran out of food, an unforgivable breach in his world.
Oh yeah, dessert. Back to the bakery department, now closed but there were things in the open cases and on the shelves. He dithered there longer than he realized, Chocolate or lemon? Vanilla or strawberry? Cake or pie? Ala mode or not? Whipped cream or clotted? Fruit or flan? A kiddie cake with Batman on the top? Well, maybe not. Chocolate cake? Perfect. An apple pie? Sure, classic, all-American. What wasn't to like? Okay, that was sort of easy.
He checked his watch. He'd been out for almost two hours—how the hell did that happen? Heading to the checkout he threw a package of paper napkins in the cart, the good kind, the kind which said right on the package that they were 'dinner napkins' and were all folded for you and everything.
Yeah, gotta get back and baste the birds. You were supposed to do that, right? It made them brown or something. He had to do that.
The checkout was fairly simple, the clerk flirted with him and he ignored her invitation to have her help setting the table. Finally he took his fifteen plastic bags out to the car and loaded the trunk...and the back seat.
Taking four trips up and down the three flights of stairs to get all of his purchases to his place, loaded down by the bags and boxes of drinkables as he finally walked into the apartment he was immediately struck by the smokey haze which greeted him as he opened the door. Hmm. It was coming from the oven, which didn't make any sense since the chickens had at least another two hours or so to go. Maybe something was wrong with the oven itself, it could happen. Either way, damn.
Coughing as he made his way to the oven he pulled the door opened to be greeted by another, newer, denser cloud of black smoke. Not good. The chickens looked like they might be done early which completely screwed up his timing and shot his schedule to hell.
What to do? Open the windows first and immediately then get back to the oven.
Oh yeah, the chicken in the lower oven. Opening that one he saw...raw chicken staring up at him. What the hell...? Was the damn thing broken? Had he somehow screwed up turning it on? Wait, the lower oven maybe wasn't an oven? It was a storage drawer? Seriously? Did he know that? Did anyone know that? Shouldn't that be printed somewhere like inside the drawer? Idiots.
Well, crap. Who knew these things and how did they learn them?
He closed the drawer. Screw it, he had three complete birds and all the side stuff; it would be okay and he'd deal with this tomorrow.
Turning the upper and only oven down to two hundred degrees, just warm enough to make sure the remaining main course was still warm but would probably stop cooking (right?) he decided that with enough gravy everything would be fine and so turned to the veggies and stuff.
Stuff. Stuffing. Shit, he had to remember the stuffing. What did you make stuffing out of and wasn't it supposed to be stuffed inside or under or somehow be cooked in the same area the birds were cooked? Whatever. Bread, he needed bread and sometimes Alfred used sausage and something else...clams? Maybe.
No bread that wasn't moldy, he looked. Going through his cabinets he found half a box of old croutons he'd bought for some date and croutons were bread, right? But if he used them for the stuffing he wouldn't have any for the salad.
Stuff the stuffing. Anyone tacky enough to ask was rude and screw 'em. Problem solved.
The frozen peas were easy; he just had to dump them into a saucepan and heat them up when he was ready for them. And mixing them together wold be festive. Next—potatoes. You were supposed to peel the things but he'd heard that most of the vitamins were in the skin so screw that; most of the people coming were heath conscious and so would appreciate his consideration for their well-being. He piled them in the roasting pans on top of the chickens.
Next; set the table.
Okay, he'd planned ahead for this and had a new set of dishes he'd picked up just a few days ago, all white, plain and no design on the various pieces. Clean, classic, chic. He'd put them...he'd put them...somewhere...
Right, he'd put them in the bath tub because he'd been carrying them inside and really had to pee so put them down in the bath tub so he could relieve himself and then forgotten and left them there and there they were waiting for him.
Taking the heavy boxes into the kitchen he began to unpack, laying the dinner plates, salad plates and the rest arranged on the dining room table. Good.
He removed everything from the table, placed the cloth and replaced the china which he now noticed were covered with flecks of packing material. Double crap. Taking one of his new paper dinner napkins, he wiped them clean (cleaner...)then glanced at the clock. Crap—everyone was due in like fifteen minutes and he still had a ton of things to do. Hey, that was okay; people always ask what they can do to help, right? Problem solved. Everyone could help doing stuff.
The doorbell rang, the front door opened before he could get there.
"Dick, you home?"
Barbara. Early. Thank god.
She walked in, flowers in hand and threw her coat out onto the living room couch. "What can I do?" (Bingo!)
"You could finish setting the table for me, that would be a big help." He turned back to the stove, wondering why the back left burner wasn't working. Had he ever used the back left burner? Maybe he hadn't used it because it didn't work...
"What else do you need done?" The table was set, the flowers sitting in the middle, making a cheerful centerpiece; god, Barbara was the most efficient person on the planet.
"Um, what do you know about gravy?"
"My specialty." She started getting out a sauce pan, flour and who knew what else. "Dick...? Uh, Sweetie, did you know that you have a raw chicken in this drawer?"
"The one under your oven, right here."
"That isn't a lower oven?" She didn't answer. "So, let's take the other ones out of the upper oven to rest (meat was supposed to rest, right? It sounded good.) and put the other one in to cook. It will be ready if anyone wants seconds."
Problem solved and it even sounded reasonable if he ignored the look on her face. The charred birds came out, sitting somewhat forlornly on the counter. No one commented. "Uh, you could put the vegetables on to cook." She looked at him dump the six pounds of frozen peas and corn up to the brim of the medium sized sauce pan she'd gotten out.
"But maybe...nothing. Never mind." She turned back to the gravy, trying to coax some moisture and drippings from the burned mass around the charcoal chicken and raw potatoes
Chicken out and resting, new (sort of) bird cooking along with the veggies and—crap—rolls thrown cheek to jowl onto a baking sheet and wedged into the top rack to cook.
Time to relax. Opening a chilled bottle of Chardonnay he poured two glasses, took Barbara's hand and led her, a bit unwillingly, into the living room, sitting her on the couch. "You've done enough, you're a guest and I love you."
Her smile was all the answer he needed and in seconds they were in an embrace, Barbara seemingly stifling laughter and killing the romance buzz.
"I love that you're determined to cook dinner for everyone."
"And snarking at my efforts."
"But...I'm proud of you."
Hiding snark behind faint praise he hid the prickle of hurt feelings and plunged on. "Suggestions?"
She nodded, shifting into take-charge mode. "Sit back, watch the game (she flicked on the flat screen) and don't worry."
She walked purposefully into the kitchen, closing the door behind her as Dick sat back to wallow in rare hurt feelings with a side of self-pity. He was trying, dammit. She did what she had to, returned to watch Dick watch the game.
He was now semi-slumped on the couch, the results of almost two bottles of wine having their way with him. "Everything under control?"
"Everything's fine. When are the others getting here?"
He glanced somewhat blurily at the clock. "Maybe twenty minutes, will everything be ready by then?"
"I'll be right back, just want to do a couple of last minute things." He started to get up to help without much success. "You've done enough, you just sit while I tidy up a little."
"I can help."
"Too many cooks. Stay here."
Half an hour later everyone was seated at the table, the chicken was served. The cornbread and rolls were being passed in the wicker basket covered with a napkin. The side dishes were steaming, wafting amazing smells through the room and the wine was poured.
Exclaiming over the meal, eating everything on the table and left in the kitchen, stories were told and laughed over, jokes were exchanged, good company and good spirits prevailed.
The food was, well, the food was eaten. Most of it. A large percentage, in fact.
The evening was a brilliant success despite the host nodding off before the slightly squashed chocolate cake and still semi-frozen apple pie were served.
Dick slept for the next twelve hours, his guests quietly letting themselves out.
Barbara carried the cardboard red and white buckets, still wearing a thin coat of chicken grease, empty boxes dressed in crumbs and finished wine bottles in the various trash and recycling cans as she left.
The evening was a success.
And no one ever asked Dick to cook again.