Tag Archives: Cooking

Cassoulet!

After my last post on making the duck confit, I kind of left things hanging. Sorry about that, but I was busy finishing a draft of my novel during the last few weeks. Said draft is out into the world, or at least in the hands of six lovely beta readers for now. I told my family last night I feel like I just walked into the mall, took all my clothes off, and asked people to tell me what they think. I have a very thick skin when it comes to my writing, but there’s something very raw and tender about sending my 98,000 word “baby” off to be (intentionally) torn into shreds by critical readers.

Back to Cassoulet…In my last post, I cover making Duck confit. Today I’ll run through what else goes into our cassoulet with a bunch of pictures. (Still trying to figure out alignment issues…sorry if it’s not all pretty on your browser.) For the pork roast recipe, you can find the general directions here.

And, here’s a link to where you can watch a timelapse of putting it all together. I apologize in advance for the vertical format. I had to stick the phone into something to hold it while I did the timelapse, and doing it the right way wasn’t working. The only thing that is missing is the final step–chopped parsley mixed with bread crumbs go over the top of the beans. The cassoulet goes in the oven for an hour, then you push the browned crumbs down into the beans and let it brown again.

Pork roast in marinade plus prepared veggies.

Pork roast in marinade plus prepared veggies.I used Julia Child’s classic pork roast recipe. I let it marinate for a couple of days before cooking it for the cassoulet.

The roast is browned and veggies are added before it bakes in the oven.I deglazed the pan after the roast was done cooking with wine and saved the resulting liquid for the final preparation of the cassoulet.

The roast is browned and veggies are added before it bakes in the oven.I deglazed the pan after the roast was done cooking with wine and saved the resulting liquid for the final preparation of the cassoulet.

We found some French garlic sausage to use, but you can use kielbasa found at the grocery store. Just don't use breakfast sausage. You want something with a savory garlic flavor.

We found some French garlic sausage to use, but you can use kielbasa found at the grocery store. Just don’t use breakfast sausage. You want something with a savory garlic flavor.

The garlic sausage is cut into quarter chunks and browned. I let it drain on paper towels before putting into the cassoulet. I bet pouring the leftover fat from the browning onto the beans would be tasty, too.

The garlic sausage is cut into quarter chunks and browned. I let it drain on paper towels before putting into the cassoulet. I bet pouring the leftover fat from the browning onto the beans would be tasty, too.

The bouquet garni for the beans is pretty important. Parsley, thyme, garlic and bay flavor the beans.

The bouquet garni for the beans is pretty important. Parsley, thyme, garlic and bay flavor the beans.

One inch chunks of salt pork are first boiled then drained before adding to the beans.

One inch chunks of salt pork are first boiled then drained before adding to the beans.

The beans have been through a quick boil/soak. Now they are in their long cook with sliced onions, the salt pork and the bouquet garni. They are cooked until just tender as they will be cooked again in the cassoulet.

The beans have been through a quick boil/soak. Now they are in their long cook with sliced onions, the salt pork and the bouquet garni. They are cooked until just tender as they will be cooked again in the cassoulet.

Here you see everything ready to put together, except the beans. They are on the stove. The duck, pork, sausage, juice from the duck and pork,  salt pork are ready to be layered together.

Here you see everything ready to put together, except the beans. They are on the stove. The duck, pork, sausage, juice from the duck and pork, salt pork are ready to be layered together.

Crusty Cassoulet, ready to serve.

Crusty Cassoulet, ready to serve.

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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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My latest food obsession? Jerusalem: A Cookbook

Mixed Bean Salad, Butternut squash &tahini spread, and Chermoula eggplant with bulgur &yogurt

Mixed Bean Salad, Butternut squash &tahini spread, and Chermoula eggplant with bulgur &yogurt

I know I have a ‘little problem’ when it comes to cookbooks. It’s been a year and a half since I last culled my shelves of three bags of unused books, and I’m already wishing I had more space again. This book was the most recent chosen by a cook-book club I belong to, and I wasn’t sure I was going to buy it. But, when I picked up Jerusalem: A Cookbook and started leafing through the book (with Bill looking over my shoulder) we both knew we had to add it to our collection for its “gastro-porn” value alone.

The images of the food are stunning. Every picture makes me want to rush to the store to stock up on ingredients and start cooking even though it’s not even vegetarian, let alone vegan. There are, however, enough recipes that are, and I knew it would be a good addition to our cooking repertoire. The next day, we plunged into some cooking. The first photo (sorry, used my phone for pic) shows the first meal out of the book.

The Chermoula eggplant with bulgur and yogurt was a hit with everyone. The ten-year-old preferred his bulgur without the eggplant, but otherwise, the rest of us loved the unique combination. It looks a lot like traditional tabbouleh, but it differs from the parsley-mint variation I’ve made in the past. The inclusion of raisins, pitted green olives and toasted almonds complement the bite of the chermoula on the eggplant–both in flavor and temperature. I’ve made this dish as an entrée with a plain salad on the side for a simpler dinner. The bulgur makes a yummy lunch leftover.

The orange glop at the back of the plate is a Butternut Squash and Tahini spread–think hummus but sweet. We didn’t have the date syrup on hand, so I used the suggested substitute of maple syrup. I think that’s where we went wrong with this dish, and the maple made it too sweet. I found it barely palatable, but the rest of the family liked it well enough that it might end up on our table again–next time after a trip to the Med-Market for some date syrup.

Mixed Bean Salad--A feast for the eyes, but not as beautiful on the palate.

Mixed Bean Salad–A feast for the eyes, but not as beautiful on the palate.

The mixed bean salad called for mixed green and yellow wax beans. The store only had green, so imagine half the green beans in the picture as yellow for the full beauty of the dish. I love the way this looked on the plate, the way it smelled, too. There were two problems with this dish. First, the little bits and pieces of the dressing fell off the veggies and down onto the plate. The capers and scallions and other spices just didn’t “stick” to the peppers and beans. The other problem was the dressing. It called for drying whole coriander and cumin seeds with oil and garlic before tossing with the other ingredients. The whole spices ended up feeling apart and separate rather than integrated into the dish. My thoughts would be to simply use freshly roasted ground spices and heat them with the garlic and oil to create a better layer. I’m still loving the visual quality of the dish and am hoping to change it around so that we enjoy eating it, too.

We’ve also made:
Fried Cauliflower with Tahini–very good, but we’d prefer it a little less rich than the recipe makes it. I also used an oven roasted cauliflower since I didn’t feel like cooking with oil that day.

Basmati & wild rice with chickpeas, currants & herbs–this recipe involves cutting up a bunch of onions super-super thin, frying them in oil until they are brown and crunchy and adding them to the other ingredients at the end. This is a delicious dish. I think the fried onions are critical, though, so not one we’ll make all that often. It might be one of my favorite things…ever.

Mejadra–This is considered the best comfort food by the two authors of the book. It requires even more fried onions than the dish above. But, it’s also very easy to make once you’ve got the onions made. I like it a lot, but I happen to be a real lentil and rice fan anyway.

We ended up missing the cook-book club that month, but the report back was that everything was pretty much a success there, too. We love the general flavor profile of the cuisine, and the book is a very welcome addition to my overflowing shelf.

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Like Mother, Like Daughter (or son)

Until about three years ago, I wouldn’t eat a fried or poached egg. It had to be scrambled or hardboiled, and the hardboiled yoke bit had to be mixed with something to make it less chalky. If I was served a fried egg, I would cut the white part carefully free of the gross yellow stuff and eat it. If the yellow leaked onto the white, I wouldn’t eat any of it. I remember clearly freaking one day when my mom was cooking me an egg. She cracked the egg into the fry pan directly and started breaking it up with a spoon. This would create cooked bits of yellow and white, not one uniform color. Even as I read this right now, I am sort of laughing at myself. It’s kind of strange. I wouldn’t eat this strangely not quite scrambled and not fried egg thing that my mom cooked. She got upset and huffy about it, but pulled out a bowl muttering about one more dish to wash.

Just this morning, I offered my son a cooked egg for breakfast. I shouldn’t have said anything, but I asked him if he wanted it fried or scrambled. This was a complete waste of time because I already knew what his answer was going to be. Unlike me, he’ll eat a fried egg, but if given a choice…he’ll always choose scrambled. All I could think of when I was cracking the eggs into the bowl was, “one more dish to wash.”

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Cooking from the Garden

Roasted beet risotto!

Yesterday, the hubby and teen went off to geekgirlcon , leaving me at home with the younger child who wanted nothing to do with dinner planning. I was lazy enough that all I really wanted to do was stay home and finish the last couple of episodes of “Hell’s Kitchen.” I really don’t know why I got into it as much as I did. Morbid curiosity? It certainly was not Gordon Ramsay’s less than charming treatment of the contestants. As a pretty decent home cook, I find the mechanics and cooking challenges interesting–the drama less so. There were times where I was thinking I know more about some aspects of cooking than a lot of the contestants and mildly daydreaming about being a contestant. I have no desire to run a kitchen other than my own, and the made for TV reality drama would likely send me cowering under my bed with a pillow over my head crying from the stress of it all. My brief hubris about my own superior skills in a kitchen would quickly be squelched by the reality that I would have no idea what to do when faced with a hundred hungry customers.

After watching Paul (my favorite from the start) win the competition, I was faced with the “what’s going to be for dinner” personal cooking challenge of the day. I did not want to go to the store, so I started rummaging through the pantry and eying the garden. My ennui about dinner wasn’t lifted by what I saw out there–lots of kale, beet greens (and beets), some peppers, and a few other things I can’t identify from the kitchen window. Pulling a cookbook off the shelf, I thumbed through it until I saw a recipe that included beets, of which there are plenty. We had onion, beets, garlic, and parsley–all from the garden. The rice, wine, and broth are things I keep on hand. I tossed the beets in the oven, curled up with my son on the bed with the iPad and watched Thor with him while they roasted.

The active work in the dish is about half an hour once you have everything assembled. Roasting the beets ahead of time is probably the thing you have to remember when prepping the dish. It turned out to be very bright and attractive as well as rather tasty. The non-vegan dairy eaters in the family added generous gratings of parmigiano cheese. I added a bit of my favorite balsamic vinegar for that little bit of tang, and it was deemed something worthy of repeating. Even the nine-year-old boy had two helpings.

Roasted beets, cut into cubes.

Roasted Beet Risotto
from Vegan Italiano by Donna Klein

3-4 Medium beets, washed
4-5 cups vegetable broths
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 teas salt
freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp chopped parsley

Heat oven to 375 Deg F.
Wrap beets in foil and place on baking sheet. Roast 45-50 minutes or until tender. Remove from oven, unwrap and set aside to cool. Peel off skin and cut into cubes. Set aside.

Bring broth to simmer in pot. In a large non-stick skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened but not browned (2-3 minutes). Add the rice and garlic and cook, stirring, 2 minutes.

Add the wine and cook, stirring constantly, until absorbed. Add 1/2 cup broth and continue stirring and cooking until absorbed. Continue adding broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until each addition is absorbed into the rice. At about 15 minutes after you’ve started adding liquid, add the beets to the rice mixture with more broth. Continue adding broth and stirring until the liquid is all absorbed and the rice is tender but firm to the bite. (You may or may not need to use all the broth.) Stir in parsley and serve. (413 Cal for 4 servings, 17 g protein, 1 g fat, 65 g carbs, 5 g fiber)

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The Best Ever Summer Salad

The smell of garlic, herbs and summery freshness fill the room.

Bill first found this recipe in Christopher Kimball’s Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook. I take no credit for the yumminess to be found other than that I actually do all the shopping and chopping. One of the things that I love about this salad is it’s “naturally vegan.” What I mean is, it is in a traditional cookbook and needs absolutely no modification. It’s very approachable by people who are wary of things with the big “V” attached to it. I tend to shy away from “fake meats” and can totally relate to being rather suspicious of what is in something if it doesn’t have what I am used to.

After three weeks away with limited fresh vegetables to be found, I jumped at the chance to make this for a potluck we are going to this evening. It’s hard to beat the smell of freshly snipped oregano from the garden with garlic, lemon, and fresh veggies.

The basic ingredients are four cups beans (any variety of legume will do), two tablespoons onion, three chopped scallions (or some chives), chopped parsley and two ribs celery. These get mixed with two tablespoons lemon juice. I’ll note that I don’t follow the exact proportions all that closely. It’s just a salad, so almost any combo of good stuff is going to taste great.

Kimball lists a large number of “optional ingredients.” This is, in my mind a “what do you have in the fridge/garden” sort of decision. Today, we have cucumber, corn, cherry tomatoes, and green beans (cut and cooked until just tender.) I think almost any veggie will work here except I’d caution against mushrooms. I tried that once and they got slimy on the second day. And trust me, this salad is all about the second day. I hope there are leftovers tonight!

The dressing starts with three tablespoons red vinegar, whisked with a 1/4 teaspoon salt and fresh black pepper. Whisk it up and add in two tablespoons (fresh, not dried) tarragon, two tablespoons (fresh, not dried) oregano chopped together with two cloves garlic. Add that to the vinegar with a tablespoon dijon mustard and whisk in 1/2 cup to 3/4 olive oil until it’s thick and creamy. Toss the salad with the dressing and put it in the fridge for a couple of hours. Stir it around every hour or so to bring the dressing back up to the top. Just before serving, taste to see if you want more lemon, salt and pepper. Beans very with how well they take up the flavor, so this last step can make a difference.

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Another Yummy Cookie

It would be completely wrong of me to take any credit for this delicious cookie, other than the fact that I chose a good recipe. I posted about this cookie on Facebook, and a few people asked for the recipe, so I figured I’d toss it into a blog post. I know, I post a lot of things about food. It’s a passion of mine. Cooking and eating are two of my greatest pleasures in life. Even though I’ve switched to a primarily plant-based diet, I’m not at 100% simply because it would reduce my ability to be flexible when I am with others who don’t eat with such restrictions.

The recipe that follows is basically straight out of Veganomicon, except that what I’m putting here is the quantity I used to make a larger batch. I tripled the recipe to make enough for two different potluck gatherings. They are wheat free, and if you buy GF oatmeal and grind it yourself, you are going to have a bona-fide GF Vegan cookie on your hands.

22oz bob’s red mill oat flour (one whole bag)
1 1/2 tsp soda
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 c brown sugar
1 1/2 c sugar
1 c canola oil
3 tbsp ground flax seed
3/4 cup soy milk (almond or rice would work, too)
1 tbsp vanilla
3 c chocolate chips or so…

Pre -heat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Sift dry ingredients together.
Emulsify flax, soy, sugars oils and vanilla until thick. Add to dry ingredients. Fold in the chocolate chips and drop by spoonfuls onto cookie sheets. The recipe called for ungreased sheets, but I always use parchment paper anyway. Bake 10-12 minutes. They will look a little shiny and crackly when done.

The end result is a delicate, oaty, nutty, cookie that is simple yet very tasty. My husband is still a bit wary of baked vegan items. He’s been pretty good about “regularly vegan” things–that is stuff that I make that doesn’t have stuff that ‘pretends to be meat’ in it. When he tried these cookies, he declared them more than edible and ate his fair share.

They were very good the first two days. By the third day, they were beginning to show signs of being chewy-hard rather than delicately crispy. If you don’t plan on sharing them, you might consider doing a third the recipe I’m including–which would reflect the original.

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