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Monday, January 07, 2008

'Cause It's Gonna Be Hot In My Big Silver Pot

Was off-line all weekend due to my upstairs neighbors frying their DSL modem. Fortunately, I was well-supplied with reading material and cooking projects to help stave off the more pronounced effects of any latent withdrawal symptoms (although I did manage a brief visit to the local public library branch to check email on Sunday).

My assignment for Saturday was to provide a hot meal for my new-parent-friends Ida and Yellow Dog. After mulling over several possibilities, I finally elected to go with a cassoulet, a traditional French peasant dish; essentially a "chili" (slow-cooked beans and meat), but an inimitably Gallic version in execution and presentation.

I used a variation of the recipe from the Julia Child's, "The French Chef Cookbook", but deliberately set about making a half-sized portion, since it was pretty clear the first time I made this several years ago that I'd need a casserole dish roughly the dimensions of a football stadium to hold the contents of the full batch.

Now, the great thing about cassoulet, aside from being one of the most indisputably delicious meals I've ever eaten (even the canned version I bought in Paris many years ago was amazing), is that it allows for a versatile assemblage of ingredients, mainly predicated on what types and cuts of meat are used. The traditional recipe calls for lamb or mutton as the main ingredient, but any combination of meats will do (although apparently almost all cassoulets use an abundance of pork products). I elected to go with duck (fairly common), along with turkey (dark meat), bacon, ham, and kielbasa (again, some sort of pork-and-garlic sausage is considered de rigour). Basically, you cook most of the meat in one pot, letting all the flavors blend together, while the beans, along with a few vegetables, an herb packet, and the bacon and ham cook in a separate pot. Once all the meat has been cooked down, skinned, deboned, and drained of excess fat, and the beans are just slightly undercooked, you spread alternating layers of beans and meat in a casserole dish, add sufficient liquid to just cover (first using all the meat juices, then however much bean juice is required to round that off), throw some bread crumbs on top, dribble some melted butter over that, and cook it for an hour and a-half until it's all bubbly and forms a nice brown crust.

Doesn't sound too tough, eh? Well, the real secret is to do the prep cooking one or two days ahead in order to allow maximum absorption of all the flavors, then do the final baking stage right before serving. And of course, as with similarly prepared dishes, it just seems to get better with age. So, I did Phase I Friday evening, before heading off to the theatre's late night cabaret, and finished things up Saturday afternoon.

And here's how it turned out:

Keep in mind, that's a four-quart baking dish filled to the brim - comprising half of a normal recipe.

After that, it was simply a matter of scooping a generous portion of the finished product into a plastic container and tossing it into a paper bag, along with some salad fixings, and a couple of creme brulees I'd made earlier in the day (and don't let the frou-frouness of creme brulee fool you for a second - anyone who can boil water, beat egg yolks, and safely utilize a blow-torch can make it), then schlepped everything over to Chez Ida-Dog.

When I got there, Ida met me down at the front door, explaining on the trip up four flights of stairs that this was only her second or third trek down from the apartment since arriving home, because um, er - apparently it takes a while for things to "get back to normal" after child-birth, and um, ahh - walking up-and-down stairs hinders that process.

Inside their cozy apartment, now filled to the gunnels with all manner of yet-to-be-used baby accoutrements, baby Nora was sleeping peacefully in the arms of her Auntie Erin - so cute!

I didn't stick around long, just enough to get a good first-hand look at the new kid - lot of hair on that new kid! - impart a couple of instructions regarding the assemblage of the salad, and then headed home to finally get a taste of some yummy beans-n'-meat concoction.

And as promised - it was even better yesterday!

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Posted byCOMTE on 2:08 PM

0 Scurvy Dogs Have Gathered 'Round The Scuttle Butt

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