Cassoulet–Step 1, Duck Confit with the Anova Sous Vide

Crusty Cassoulet, ready to serve.

Crusty Cassoulet, ready to serve.

For many years, my in-laws would celebrate their New Year’s Day wedding anniversary by hosting an open house and serving Cassoulet. January 1, 2015 was their 50th anniversary, and a cassoulet open house seemed the perfect way to honor their golden year.

What is cassoulet? Essentially, it’s baked beans. In France, people will take whatever meats they have left over from their meals, put it in a pot with beans and bake it. However, not being French, and not having leftover meat enough for fifty people, I definitely had to start from scratch. I used the old Julia Child cookbook my mom-in-law had used, watched the Julia Child video on youtube and went from there. The idea of using duck confit came from the cookbook, and I decided that sounded extra rich and yummy.

I had made a ‘quick’ version of duck confit recently in order to get the duck fat for roasting veggies. The store was out of duck fat, so my only choice, really, was to render it myself. The duck meat itself wasn’t my prime target on that one. But, during my research, I had learned duck confit is traditionally made by covering the duck with salt, weighting it down and letting it cure for several days before covering it with lots more duck fat and then cooking it in the fat at a very precise low temperature for hours. Kind of finicky for me, but I was willing to do it.

Then, when I was looking for the directions again, I came across a recipe by Paula Wolfert. (I tried linking it here, but the site doesn’t allow linking–you can google it under Paula Wolfert Duck Confit.) She basically has you put the duck in a pouch and watch the water at 180F for five hours. Basically sous vide without any machine to help. This still requires pretty consistent attention. It just so happens, my husband bought me the”Anova Sous Vide Immersion Circulator – 120V Circulator Cooker” for Christmas. I knew immediately what my first use of the new Sous Vide machine was going to be.

So, here’s how I did the confit for the party. It’s a lot of duck, but packed in its own fat, it should last for months. Either do a huge batch or reduce the quantity of spices and you’ll be fine. I don’t think there’s anything exact about that part. I saw several recipes that added lots of garlic to the mix, so next time, I might do a garlic confit. (I just didn’t want to flavor all my fat with garlic this time out.)

Ingredients:
10 Duck leg quarters
6 TBSP Salt
4 TSPN freshly ground black pepper
two crumbled bay leaves
10 sprigs fresh thyme

I started by cleaning duck quarters and rubbing them with salt, pepper, and crumbled bay leaves. I had fresh thyme still alive in the garden, so I just layered fresh sprigs on each piece. I piled the duck into a sealable container and pressed it down with a piece of plastic and closed it up for three days in the fridge.
Raw salted duck

Duck in bags

After the duck had been salted for several days, I washed off as much of the herbs as I could and dried very thoroughly with paper towels.

I put two quarters into each quart sized vacuum sealable bag and used a vacuum/sealer (FoodSaver V2244 Vacuum Sealing System“>) to suck out all the air and seal the plastic closed.  (While I did this, I had the Anova set up in a huge pot with water warming to 180F.)
Duck in waterThen, I put all the bags in the huge pot with the Anova. I had filled the pot with very hot tap water, set the machine to 180F and left it to come to temperature while sealing the duck. This is the easy part.  I left the bags in the pot for a long time.  Wolfert said 5 hours, but I actually left mine on for a lot longer. More like ten.  My goal was to get to the point where everything looked rendered and the meat was falling off the bone when I poked at it through the plastic.

duck as it cooks

As you can see, the fat renders from the duck as it cooks.  This is probably around four or five hours of cooking when I took this photo.  Honestly, I had a meeting that evening, so I left my husband to pull the duck out while I was gone.  You just have to decide when it is done, but with confit, I think the more tender it gets the better.  Check it at five hours, then every hour after until you are satisfied it is melty enough for you.

cooled confit

This is the duck after the duck has cooled overnight. The yellow is the rendered fat, and the pink-jelly like stuff you can see if you look closely, is the rendered juices. At this point, I opened up the bags and scraped the fat into one bowl, the juices into another,and pulled off the meat from the bones so I could use chunks of the meat in the cassoulet. For regular use, I would just leave the duck in the bag until I needed it. Traditionally, you would take the whole piece, reheat it gently and pan fry the skin to a crisp golden yumminess. Since I was serving fifty people off the ten pieces, I had to remove the bone and put pieces throughout the dish instead.

(And sorry about the formatting on this post. I made the mistake of switching to ‘visual’ mode in WP, and couldn’t figure out how to make it look even.)

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Ah, WP statistics, you make me wonder sometimes…

Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 10.09.49 AMThe screenshot to the left shows what google searches have led people to my blog. I didn’t include the numbers to the side, but I found this one kind of interesting and kind of creepy. The top search item was for my daughter. She’s off at college and doing her own blog and her own NaNoWriMo project, and I am guessing that people are looking her up to check out her work. I like that idea, and refuse to entertain the notion that there’s anything sinister going on.

The fact that people are looking for recipes for quince liquor/booze is interesting. I’ve blogged repeatedly about quince. In past years I have posted pictures featuring quince jelly, membrillo, quince caramels, and, yes, quince liquor. Last year I used Everclear to soak up the flavor of quince, mixed it with quince syrup and let the flavors meld. Since I don’t drink, I’ve limited myself to tasting it to make sure it’s not utterly foul. It’s not. So, I’ve bottled it and given it away as gifts. This year, I limited myself to four batches of (REALLY GOOD) quince jelly, a huge batch of membrillo, and a half gallon of quince infused Everclear soon to be liquor. The rest of the quince were sold to my favorite Basque restaurant (The Harvest Vine) and to a few friends who wanted them. The fact that anyone knows what quince are is somewhat unusual, that people are looking up recipes is heartening. I once pitched a quince specific cookbook to a prominent New York agent. She loved the idea but agreed the audience would be too small for it to be a profitable endeavor. My mission is to spread the word about the fabulous fruit.

Every October I get a lot of hits for the Plague Doctor costume mask–sometimes upward of 20. I love the image of a flashmob doing something fun with all those masks out there. The last two searches had me cracking up. The skilcraft blog post I wrote a while ago remains one of the top links to my blog–several hundred over the course of a year. I am guessing people are looking to buy the pens, but maybe they were searching for the same information I was when they entered “Skilcraft” into their search engine.

The search for my pen name is a first. I haven’t seen it before. Usually people ask me directly if they can read my erotica and where to find it. I have one friend who asked for a hint because he thought it was a fun puzzle to figure it out. I gave him the name of a couple of editors who have included my work in their books, and I hope he’s enjoying all the reading it would take to figure it out. One editor I work with has a dozen or more anthologies, the other even more. At this point, I don’t have anything out that is published solely under my pen name–just short stories in compilations. I’m not embarrassed by the content, but I am…circumspect about sharing the info. Something about my young adult nephews/nieces reading my smut sort of squiggs me out. If you want my pen name, and I think you can handle the content and recognize my characters are not me (or my husband!!) then, I’ll likely give it to you. I just don’t hand it out willy-nilly. And, frankly, it bothers me WAY more to find searches under my pen name looking for “real identity of…….”

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Killing Some Darlings

My working binder.

My work in process binder.

I just opened Scrivener for the first time since I compiled the “full draft” for the writing competition I entered in May. A lot of writers find it is helpful to set a work aside for a while before a revision. This time away helps the writer gain some objective distance from the work. This distance helps us, or me at least, to detach from the minutia of the work. When I’ve just written something, I have a really clear idea of what it is I think I am writing. My knowledge and imagination fill in the gaps my actual words are leaving out.

I set today as my official “return to work on the novel day” back when I closed Scrivener and sent the document off to the contest. I knew I’d want some time to just let things settle, plus, I knew I’d be getting valuable feedback from the contest in August. Why work hard on making revisions knowing I’d be doing it all over? Besides, it was summer. We were taking one kid off to college and schlepping the other to camps and activities. I’ve never been good at writing with other people around, so I just formally decided to not even try.

In August, I got a personal review of my submission by the judge, Robert Dugoni. If you like a good page turner, I suggest you give him a read. The contest committee also gave me some very interesting things to consider. Then, I attended the Writer’s Police Academy in North Carolina last week. I KNEW that was going to give me a bunch of needed information on police procedure that I had been missing–and it did!

So, now, here I am back at home, ready to begin the next major overhaul of this novel. I’m hoping to be done with it by the end of October so I can spend NaNoWriMo roughing out the second book in the series.

In case you’re wondering about the title of this blog post…”Killing your darlings” is the phrase we use when you have to get rid of sentences, paragraphs, or whole chapters of writing (or characters, sub-plots etc.) when they no longer fill any purpose in the story. I find this much easier to do with some time between writing them and cutting them.

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Wanna help your writing friends or favorite authors? Review their books.

canstockphoto19884609As an emerging writer, I am beginning to look at this business a lot more seriously. Sure, getting published in erotic anthologies has been a lot of fun, but I don’t make much money for short stories. And, figuring it an hourly rate is downright depressing. I am a slow writer. Even for short works, it takes me about an hour per five hundred words for a draft. Then, there’s editing. And, I can’t just sit down and write for eight hours straight. If I could do THAT, I would be way more productive. On average, my brain is tapped after three hours of ‘creating words from nothing’ in a morning. Figuring all that in, I average about five bucks an hour on the erotic market.

I don’t even want to think about an hourly for the novel I’m working on. It probably wouldn’t be fair, either, since I have used this novel to really learn how to finish a novel. For those who aren’t keeping track, I’ve actually written five novels. Or started them, anyway. I have one I ‘finished’ but never went much beyond a pretty poor second draft–120K words that need cutting down to 90k, a complete POV re-write, and boredom have left it on the shelf for several years now. I have three others that I have what can only be described as ‘shitty first drafts.’ And there’s the mystery I’m finishing now. Really finishing.

What does this have to do with you reviewing books? Everything. Basically, a book with more reviews gets seen and purchased by more people. (And yes, this is all about me training you to write reviews so that you are ready to review my book when it’s time.) It’s all to do with the way various (online) book sellers choose to show you “if you liked this, you might like this” and other such magical and incomprehensible things called algorithms. I don’t understand how these things work, but I do know they make a difference.

It doesn’t have to be an arduous task. All you have to do is rate a book by clicking on one to five stars, then give one sentence about what you liked or didn’t like about the book. It’s okay to be honest if you didn’t like a book, but review it based on the content of the book and your experience as a reader of the book. Don’t ding the book because the shipper was too slow or they mangled the cover. If you’re an adult reading YA, don’t give a YA book a low rating because it ‘comes across like it was written for teenagers.’

You don’t have to write a book report, either. No need to give a synopsis. Just a sentence about what kept you reading or even what made you close the book and forget about it will do just fine. Your reviews DO make a difference. Your writing friends will love you.


(c) Can Stock Photo

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Reviews…you can’t control the reader’s experience

canstockphoto13988074

I was doing some catch-up work for the erotic pen name I’ve been using. I have an Amazon Author page that needs updating, a Goodreads Author page that needs updating, a blog that I need to write…well, you get the picture.  While I’m still keeping mostly mum about that pen name, I came across two reviews that actually called out my stories.

One was positive saying that my first ever male-male story was a favorite in the collection. Yay!  I get a little nervous about writing men having sex because I have to rely much more on my imagination than I do when writing from the female perspective. Having someone say they loved my story is more than just fun, it’s confirmation that writing skill and imagination are as or more important than experience. I’ve always hated the “write what you know” idea people put out there. Yes, if you don’t know it, you go out and learn it. But, barring any bizarre alien intervention I am unlikely to ever experience the male body from the inside out. In terms of the mystery novel I’m working on, I’m kind of glad I don’t actually have to experience what I put my characters through. I am not kind to those poor people.

The second review was slightly confusing. The reviewer cited my story as a specific example of what was wrong with the whole collection. It was a collection of stories in the BDSM erotic genre, and the whole point was to get people into sexual scenarios where people submit and pain reigns. (Re-read the above paragraph…research is my religion.) The reviewer dinged my story for the plain fact that my two characters don’t have actual sexual intercourse, even though the female totally gets off on her experience of submitting. Add in that this was an erotica anthology, and not an erotic romance anthology, it was a surprising review. It’s like buying a barbecue cookbook and complaining about the fact there are so many recipes involving meat, or that all the meat is cooked, you know, on a barbecue.

What I’m trying to get at here is that no matter what you think you’re writing, or who you’re writing for, someone is guaranteed to read it differently than how you wrote it.


(c) Can Stock Photo

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Home Sweet Home

Emma in September as she headed off into the world.

Emma in September as she headed off into the world.

Emma as we got back to Seattle this week.

Emma as we got back to Seattle this week.

We’ve spent the last year plus thinking about Emma and her gap year. (Anyone who knows us is probably tired of hearing about Emma this, and Emma that–but it’s been our LIFE for a while now.) First, we were planning, planning, planning. Then, once she was gone, it was all…watching and waiting. Watching her and her friends Facebook feeds. Waiting for emails,FaceTime, letters and packages. Our limited contact with her gave us the barest of information. After three weeks of no contact, even a single line of an email gave me a sense of calm. “She’s alive. That’s all that really matters.” Going from daily minutia of her life to only knowing she’s alive was a huge change. Now that she’s back home, we’re finding our way into a new way of being, something in between knowing every minute-by-minute detail and just knowing she’s still breathing.

Integrating an adult “child” back into the house is new for us, and it is taking some adjusting for both of us. I’m finding that the change and growth she’s gone through in the last year has truly elevated her from teenager into the adult realm. While she will always be my baby girl, she’s grown into a responsible young woman used to certain freedoms and responsibilities. I’m doing my best to step back and try to see her for who she is now.

As the pictures show she doesn’t look much different than when she left. Her return photo was taken after she’d finished the program including several weeks in D.C. and access to fresh clothes and her beloved leather jacket. She looks like she’s standing a bit taller and more secure in the world to me.

I didn’t feel particularly stressed while she was gone. Logically, I expected her to be safe, but it wasn’t until we got back yesterday that I realized I had been experiencing a definite underlying stress. I don’t know whether it was a generalized stress that will return in August when she heads off to college or a more direct “she’s in far away places doing exotic and semi-dangerous things” kind of stress. That question will be answered in September after she’s been gone on a different adventure for a while. Mama-stress?

For now, I am happy to have her home and engaging in a new kind of adult parent-child relationship. It’s the way it should be.

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Gap Years are for Parents, Too

canstockphoto16603922I can go on and on about what we hoped for Emma while she was on her gap year, but I hadn’t really thought much about what it would be like for me. Her mom. She hasn’t called me “Mommy” in years. While I’ve never thought of myself as a clingy, helicopter parent, I’m realizing how much I was involved in her daily business and how much I did for her. My primary focus is as a stay-at-home mom. Yes, I’m a writer, but that comes second to my family and my ‘job’ as mom, wife, chef, chauffeur, tutor, laundress, book-keeper, scheduler, and valet.

What hit me yesterday was the daily emotional stuff and ‘doings’ of life. While at home, she would look to me for a lot of support in solving problems. I helped her figure out how to get from home to a friend’s house, organized driving lessons, bought most of her food– the kinds of things you do when your kid is still living at home.

With her across the world, we have had limited access to each other. She goes for a week or two without much communication at all–an email here and there. Our last FaceTime together was at Christmas. So, we haven’t “talked” in several weeks now. Most of her emails begin with “I don’t have much time, but I have SO much to tell you…” It can be frustrating at times.

When I get a lengthy email, I savor every word and re-read it several times to make sure I’m not missing anything. A week ago, she informed us she and her TBB traveling companion met “some guy” on the side of a road to buy train tickets in some sort of black-market -like exchange so they could go up to Rishikesh on their independent student travel weekend. A twelve hour train ride. Just the two of them, away from the group. In India. Once there, they had to manage their own hotel and entertainment for the weekend and get back to Jaipur. I barely managed to do that kind of thing in England when I was a couple of years older than she was.

Yesterday’s email came as a response to one I sent her about her brother’s first day skiing. I got a rather lengthy reply, and sandwiched in the middle, after a paragraph about how she’s working out at a gym and her concerns about American-style Big AG was this:

Anyway. The last few days have been insane. Last week I had a bunch of expensive jewelry I had bought (including a gift for you) stolen, as well as all my makeup and my hairbrush and perfume. All the stuff was in two little pouches in my bag…

She goes on to briefly theorize about who and how the things were stolen and jumps into a paragraph about visiting the City Palace and their weapons exhibit.

It was as I re-read the email for the third or fourth time that I realized whatever emotional upset and whatever drama was happening with her, she was relying on others to listen and support her. For her to relay a theft so casually to me means she had dealt with it when it happened and with help from other people. Her program leaders and fellow TBB students are her current go-to peeps. Not me! I’m not wounded by this as much as I am relieved. It’s a parent’s dream to see their child find their way in the world, to find friends and partners they can trust being a big part of that. Sure, I still want her to come to me for talks and advice, but I love knowing she can build a support system into her life with other people. It’s lovely to think “you don’t need me, you’ll be okay out there.”

(c) Can Stock Photo

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