Nearly 10 years ago, I walked into the Oak Park & River Forest Day Nursery to discover dozens of young children politely gathered around homey dining room tables enjoying a hot home cooked meal. The curious and enchanting scene enticed me to learn more.
Homespun meals have been a part of the historic organization since a group of socially conscious women opened the facility in 1912. The program is remarkably still housed in the welcoming Tudor revival home designed by Charles E. White that was built specifically for the Day Nursery in 1925.
A century after opening its doors, the Day Nursery churns out 26,966 meals annually in their industrial kitchen. Every dish is prepared onsite and served family style as a means to fuel the young minds of tomorrow and teach the importance of manners, conversation and patience. The children enrolled in the preschool and childcare program do not just eat; the children at the Day Nursery dine.
Given the Day Nursery’s longstanding commitment to family-style meals, it stands to reason that volunteers and supporters of the organization used home-cooking as a means to woo their generous donors and raise funds to support the mission of the nonprofit childcare center.
For 20 years, the Day Nursery Board of Directors hosted annual progressive dinners featuring a vast array of dishes to nourish their guests. Over the years their menus paid homage to everything from diner fare of the 1950s to Aegean cuisine. With dozens of menus and hundreds of recipes to choose from, the Day Nursery centennial committee, made up of past board members and current supporters, decided it was only fitting to compile a commemorative cookbook featuring one hundred recipes from past progressive dinners. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the centennial committee.)
The centennial campaign kicked off in October of 2012, and the closing event for the celebration and the release of the cookbook will take place this month.
Honoring the Day Nursery’s centennial through food seemed logical, but some of the recipes had disappeared over the years and needed to be recreated for inclusion in the cookbook, Dining with the Day Nursery: One Hundred Recipes Celebrating One Hundred Years of Service. Thankfully, the committee found a happy helper in the Day Nursery’s lead cook, Beatrice Maldonado.
“It is an honor to have been asked to work on a project that is sentimental to everyone who works and volunteers here,” said Maldonado, who was asked to recreate a recipe for Coq au Vin served in 2002.
Maldonado took special care to create a version of a French classic that simplifies the recipe for home cooks and reduces the cooking time to make the dish suitable for hectic Monday through Friday meals.
“I am impressed by everything taking place here,” said Maldonado, as she began plating up dozens of lunches in the Oak Park & River Forest Day Nursery’s industrial kitchen. “It makes me happy to be a part of an organization with such a rich history.”
“I’ve always said the Day Nursery is a place to begin and this take on Coq au Vin is Beatrice’s first recipe for our organization,” says Day Nursery Executive Director Catherine Hart proudly, “ Just as I love witnessing the children start out here, I’ve loved watching Beatrice’s beginnings in this special place, too.”
To learn more about purchasing a cookbook or other ways to donate your time, talent or treasure to the Day Nursery, contact Executive Director Catherine A. Hart, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (708) 383-8211.
Beatrice’s Coq au Vin
No record of the actual Coq au Vin recipe served at the Oak Park & River Forest Day Nursery’s 2002 “Riverwalk” benefit could be found, but the Day Nursery’s lead cook, Beatrice Maldonado, re-created the wholesome dish for the organization’s upcoming commemorative cookbook.
4 slices of bacon, coarsely chopped
4 skin on, bone-in chicken thighs
8 ounces crimini mushrooms, halved
8 small shallots, peeled and halved (or 1/2 cup diced white onion)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups good rich wine, like Syrah
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
2 sprigs each thyme and rosemary
3 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley
2 tablespoons of butter
Additional chopped Italian parsley
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Season the chicken with salt and pepper.
2. Cook the bacon in a large nonstick skillet over medium high-heat until fat releases and the bacon cooked through. Remove bacon from the skillet with a slotted spoon and set aside.
3. Reduce the heat to medium and place thighs skin side down in the bacon fat. Sear the chicken until well browned and crispy (about 8-10 minutes).
4. After the chicken is brown, transfer it to an oven safe baking dish. Cover with foil and place in the preheated oven.
5. Add mushrooms to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Sauté the mushrooms for four minutes or until brown. Remove from the pan and place on the plate with the bacon.
6. Add the shallots to the pan with the drippings and saute for five minutes. Add the garlic and cook for about ten seconds before adding the flour to the pan. Stir to form a roux and cook for 2-3 minutes.
7. Gradually whisk in the wine and the chicken broth. Add the bacon, mushrooms and herbs to the sauce and bring to a boil. Boil the sauce for 10 minutes. Adjust seasonings if needed and add the butter to finish the sauce.
8. Pour the sauce over the chicken and mushrooms. Cover and allow to bake for an additional 10 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.
9. Arrange chicken on a platter and portion out as much sauce as desired over the chicken. Garnish with parsley if desired.