Praise the Braise!

Impressive food doesn’t need to be expensive, it just needs to be thoughtful.


Warm and comforting: long live the classic braise. When I first tried coq au vin, I was blown away at the simplicity of this classic French stew. Simple ingredients and dark meat on the bone lend themselves to a supper that is nourishing in the best way — and affordable.

Bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs are king in this version. The sauce that’s created while the chicken cooks is incredible. I opt to skip the flour for a lighter, brothy sauce finished with a pat of butter and chives. And I also skip the bacon because I don’t want any overpowering flavors to dominate the dish. I use a light Oregon pinot noir, and, in under two hours, I’ve got one incredible supper.

Spoon the chicken — crispy and chewy skin nearly falling off the bone — over parmesan polenta and serve alongside greens with a classic citrus vinaigrette, and you’re enjoying winter’s finest. Who knew that chicken thighs and cornmeal could sing so vibrantly? This meal makes me feel cared for when I eat it, and makes me care for the people I’m serving it to, as well.

Finish everything off with a winter panna cotta with citrus caramel, and we have the epitome of New American cuisine: French and Italian inspiration with a fresh American bend.

Feel free to use what cuts of chicken you have on hand. Only have white wine in the cupboard? Use it with abandon. Have bits of blue cheese and odds and ends of Gruyere? Use them in the polenta. Impressive food doesn’t need to be expensive, it just needs to be thoughtful.

Simply Dressed Greens

Serves: 4 | Total time: 10 minutes


  • 2 heads butter or Boston lettuce,
    about 5–6 cups
  • 1 cup arugula
  • 1/2 cup tender, fresh herbs (basil, tarragon, flat leaf parsley, etc.)


Classic Citrus Vinaigrette     

  • 2 tablespoons finely diced onions
  • 1 lemon, juice and zest
  • 1 tablespoon white or champagne vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 cup light-tasting oil



Wash and tear the lettuces into large pieces and place in a large serving bowl. Cover with arugula and herbs.

To prepare the dressing, cover the diced onion with lemon juice and vinegar and let sit 3–4 minutes before whisking in the rest of the ingredients. Pour the desired amount of dressing over the greens, and gently mix before serving.

Coq Au Vin

Serves: 4 | Total time: 90 minutes | Active time: 20 minutes


  • 6–8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 sprigs lemon thyme
  • 1 fresh bay leaf, dry is fine
  • 4 carrots, peeled and sliced on the bias
  • 1 cup frozen pearl onions
  • 2 cups cremini or baby bella brown mushrooms, halved
  • 4–6 cloves fresh garlic, smashed
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 2 cups light red wine, like a pinot noir
  • salt and pepper to taste



Preheat oven to 350°F.

Season both sides of the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. In a heavy-bottom, cast-iron skillet (preferably enamel covered, but any pan suitable to go from stove-top browning to oven braising is okay), brown thighs over medium to medium-high heat in olive oil, skin side down, until golden and crisp, about 4–5 minutes.

Remove chicken from the skillet and set aside. In the same skillet, with chicken drippings, sauté vegetables and herbs 2–3 minutes, and then add garlic. Nestle chicken thighs, skin side up, among the veggies and add wine. Add one cup of water and season the entire thing again with salt and pepper. Cover tightly and bake 60–90 minutes or until the chicken is fall-apart tender and the sauce has reduced. Serve atop parmesan polenta with a side of simply dressed greens.

Creamy Parmesan Polenta (above)

Serves: 4-6 | Total time: 40 minutes


  • 1 cup stone-ground cornmeal polenta (instant works, as well)
  • 4–5 cups chicken stock
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream



In a large, heavy-bottom stock pot, combine cornmeal and chicken stock. Simmer over medium heat 45–60 minutes until the cornmeal becomes tender and the liquid is fully absorbed, but still loose. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and add butter, cheese, and cream to finish.

Panna Cotta with Citrus Caramel

Serves: 4-6 | Active time: 30 minutes | Inactive time: 2-24 hours 

Panna Cotta

  • 1 1/2 envelopes (1/4 ounce packets) powdered gelatin
  • 4 tablespoons cold water
  • 5 cups heavy cream
  • 3/4 cups white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt


Citrus Caramel

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 whole orange, zested and segmented


Panna Cotta Preparation

Mix cold water and gelatin, stir, and allow to sit while preparing the panna cotta. In a large, heavy-bottom pot, heat cream and sugar over medium heat until the cream begins to steam – do not boil. Remove from heat and add vanilla and salt. Add gelatin and stir to completely dissolve. Pour into 1-cup vessels and cool for 4 hours before serving.

Citrus Caramel Preparation

In a heavy-bottom, medium-sized sauce pan, heat sugar, without stirring, over medium heat. The sugar will begin to melt and bubble. Once it reaches a deep amber color, but is not burned, remove from heat and add butter, cream, salt, and vanilla. The caramel will seize and spatter, and this is fine. You may stir to incorporate everything at this point and add the orange zest and segments. Stir to mix.

Just before serving, spoon caramel over the top of the fully chilled panna cotta.

Danielle Kartes, founder and creative director of Rustic Joyful Food, is an author and food stylist, appearing regularly on the Hallmark Home and Family Show and The Rachael Ray Show. She lives near Seattle with her husband Michael and their two adorable boys.

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