Cassoulet

Cassoulet

A cassoulet is essentially a rich white bean stew simmered in a crockware pot or dutch oven.  Many people feel that cassoulet “must” involve duck; but this is simply not true. There are endless regional and familial variations of cassoulet, with whatever game happens to be available.

For this variation, Cornish hens were on sale, so I purchased one package of two hens to serve four people. As well, our local market has a very nice chicken-garlic sausage and thick-sliced artisanal applewood smoked bacon. I used these meats as the “foundation” for this cassoulet . In the past, I have used duck breast or pheasant instead of the cornish hens, if that’s what I had.

Usually I make cassoulet in my heavy Lodge cast iron Dutch Oven, but since I want to go out for the afternoon, I will use my larger electric crockpot and a saute pan.  The advantage to this is that it allows me to drain off the excess fat from the bacon, sausage and hens — making it a much healthier version than the one Nana made.

I’ll serve the cassoulet in rimmed soup plates with Farmer’s Bread,  a crisp baby greens salad and a really full-bodied red wine.

The nice thing about using the crockpot is I was able to prep the bread as I was making the cassoulet; cleaning up as we went,  and then prepping the green salad in advance as well.  So,  when we were ready to step out the door to class across town in rush hour traffic, bread was baked and cooling, covered with clean tea towels, salad was ready and covered with saran wrap in fridge, cassoulet was contently simmering in the crockpot, table was set with fresh linens and the kitchen cleaned, counters scrubbed and floors washed…. meaning coming home to comfort food after fighting traffic back cross town was something to look forward to, not dread.

Decork the wine, slice the bread into generous chunks, ladle out the cassoulet and dinner’s served!

We’ll be gone for about 4 hours, so before we leave, I’ll stir the cassoulet and add more fresh cold water if needed to keep beans covered, making sure crockpot is now turned to “low”.

The recipe can be adjusted up or down, and roughly the proportions per person are:

1 bag of dried great northern beans = 8 servings, I used ½ bag for four people
½ cornish hen or duck breast/leg per person (2 cornish hens for 4)
1 slice thick-cut bacon (4 slices)
1 sausage (4 sausages)
1 carrot (4 medium carrots)
1 rib celery (4 ribs of celery)
½ onion (1 large onion)
1 large sprig fresh french thyme (4)
1 sprig fresh flat leaf Italian parsley (4)
1 large clove fresh garlic, peeled (4)
½ can diced tomatoes (I chose fire-roasted with garlic) (2 – 14 oz cans for 4)
1 tbsp tomato paste (4 tbsp)
1/8 cup red wine (½ cup total)
1 tsp chopped garlic (1 generous tbsp)
1 tsp dried thyme
dried bay leaves (2)
fresh sage
fresh rosemary
powdered garlic
paprika
cayenne pepper  (omit if you don’t want it spicy)
oregano
Coleman’s powdered mustard
sea salt
ground fresh pepper
butter
olive oil

1 – 2 days before:

Rinse dried beans and cover in a large bowl with cold water. Cover and let rest overnight.
(I often will soak mine for two days, pouring off old water the next morning and adding fresh. Keep in a cool place while soaking, fridge is preferable if possible).  When ready to use, drain in a colander and rinse well.

**Note:  the cassoulet takes at least 8 – 10 hrs in the crockpot.  Ideally, I like to make the day before we want to eat it; overnight, the beans absorb more of the flavorful liquid and the sauce thickens up nicely.  It really is better the second day.

Soaked and drained northern white beans

To start, Day Of:

Strip leaves from fresh rosemary
Slice fresh sage, rosemary, thyme, and parsley into a pestle.
Grind fresh herbs with mortar to make a paste.
Stir in 1 tbsp softened butter, 1 tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper.|
Mix together to make a smooth paste. Set aside, allowing flavors to marry.

In a spice shaker, mix together 1 tsp pepper, 1 tsp sea salt, 1 tsp dried garlic, 1 tbsp oregano, 1 tbsp paprika, 1 tbsp dried thyme, pinch of cayenne pepper. Shake/blend well. (This can be done beforehand)

Wash four ribs of celery; thinly slice.
Peel and slice into chunks the four carrots.
Peel onion, and coarsely dice.
Roughly chop parsley and peeled cloves of  fresh garlic.

Use 1 carrot, celery rib, garlic clove and fresh herb sprig per person as well as 1 tsp chopped garlic and dried thyme

Rinse hens well. With a sharp knife or a pair of kitchen shears, slice each bird along the meridian so you have 4 equal portions with one wing and one leg each.

Fry up 1 slice of thick-cut bacon per person. Make sure bacon is extra-crisp, including fat.
Using a bacon press will help make sure that the bacon fat is crisped.
Remove, set aside and pat dry on paper towel.

2 Cornish hens, split, 4 chicken garlic sausages, 4 slices thick cut bacon, 2 cans fire roasted tomatoes

While bacon is frying, lift skin from breasts of cornish hens. Smear/coat liberally the breast meat of each hen between the meat and the skin with the butter/olive oil/fresh herb mixture.

Stuffing hens with butter-herb mixture under skin adds flavor and moisture

Drain excess fat from saute pan, then place “stuffed” hens breast side down. Sprinkle cut side (the side that is facing you) liberally with your seasoning blend. Cover with a bacon press and fry until skin is nice and crispy. Remove and arrange in the bottom of a large crockpot.

Layer seasoned Cornish hens in bottom of crockpot, skin side up.

Drain any fat from the cornish hens; ladle excess butter/herb mixture into pan. Fry sausages on all sides until crispy in the butter/herb blend. Remove sausages and wipe pan clean.

Layer sausage cut into quarters and sliced bacon with fresh herbs on top of Cornish hens

Now turn heat down to medium-low and saute vegetables with parsley and garlic in the thin layer of fat remaining in pan. When vegetables are becoming tender-crisp, season liberally with sea salt to taste and stir.

Start layering hens in bottom of crockpot, skin side up. Season liberally with the salt/garlic/thyme/paprika mixture. Chop sausages into 4 equal portions each and slice bacon into ribbons. Sprinkle over hens in crockpot. Pour 2 cans of diced tomatoes with juice into crockpot, add slightly cooked vegetables with parsley and garlic. Top with sprigs of fresh thyme and 2 dried bay leaves.  I pre-cook the vegetables slightly in the saute pan, because otherwise, sometimes the beans and meat are cooked but the carrots and celery are still “crunchy”.    I don’t have the same problem when I make cassoulet in the Dutch oven, only in the crockpot.

Meanwhile, in one of the empty tomato tins, mix together 4 tbsp tomato paste, ½ cup of red wine, 1 tbsp chopped garlic, and a pinch of Coleman’s mustard until well incorporated and smooth. Pour over vegetables and meats layered in crockpot.

Layer sauteed vegetables and tomatoes with parsley and garlic on top of meats

Add rinsed and soaked beans to top of the layers. Because I can always use beans in something, I pre-soaked the entire bag (approx 12 oz) for two days ahead of time.  I estimate approx 1 to 1 ½ dry measure cups of soaked beans per person.  Cover with cold filtered water until beans are covered, so they don’t dry out as they’re cooking.  You may need to top up a few more times as beans cook and absorb the liquid.

Add tomato paste and wine mixture; top up with cold filtered water until beans are covered. Cover and cook on high until broth begins to bubble, then turn to low.

Cover with lid and set on high until water begins to bubble, approx 1 hr.
Turn down to low, and allow to simmer on low for 4 – 5 hrs.

Enjoy with crusty Farmer’s Bread, green salad and a robust French red wine.

Finished Cassoulet with Cornish Hens and Sausage

Variation:
My youngest doesn’t care for the sausage, so I made a smaller batch (2 person size) for her in another smaller crockpot, cooking at the same time, but instead of Cornish hens, I used two chicken backs and 4 slices of deli black forest ham sliced into ribbons instead of the sausage, and more bacon., and excluded the cayenne pepper in the seasoning.  Everything else was the same.

Posted in Casseroles, Meats/Main Dishes | Tagged | 1 Comment

Have a Family Pizza Night !

Best-Ever Pizza

Growing up in Toronto, I lived next door to a very large, very lively, multi-generational Italian family. Every fall, a truckload (literally) of San Marzano tomatoes would be delivered, and they would make their own pasta sauce and can the sauce and tomatoes for use throughout the year. This was no “Ragu”, it was the real thing. They also had a brick oven/BBQ in their backyard, which is where I came to love super thin crust pizza cooked in a very hot oven – so hot that the crust would bubble up immediately upon contact. Beyond yummy!

Saturdays are usually pizza night in our house, and nothing tastes better than a homemade pie. It’s important to have a super-hot oven (550 – 600 F) which requires you to break down and order a commercial grade baking stone. This is the one that I ordered online, after going through one-too-many clay ones that you can purchase at Target, etc.

http://www.bakingstone.com/

I leave mine in my oven all the time – and it’s key if you want that super-crunchy crust on homemade bread (which requires misting – and will crack the regular type stones – but not the Fibrament).

Pizza Dough

2 tsp bulk or 1 envelope active dry yeast
2 cups warm water (100 – 110 F)
1 tsp granulated white sugar
6 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp sea salt
Oil or shortening

Note: I make my dough ahead of time, whenever it’s convenient, and store in an oiled plastic tub with a lid and vent. (I like the large Sterilite one with the red seal and pop-up vent).
I will oil the bottom, sides and lid so the dough doesn’t stick, and cover with plastic wrap before putting lid on so dough doesn’t dry out, and then pop in the fridge until ready to make the pizzas.

I love my Kitchen Aid mixer for making the dough; little people love to help with this, so it’s best to pre-measure 4 cups of flour with the salt, blend together and have ready so you can just add slowly while mixing. The remaining  ~ 2 cups of unsalted flour is for dusting the kneading board and adding as you knead. Don’t overmix in the mixer; the dough is ready when it starts to pull away from the paddles, and will still be “sticky”.

Proof the yeast by stirring in the 1 tsp sugar into 1 cup of warm water. You can use a candy thermometer, but I gauge by testing on the back of my wrist. Sprinkle the yeast over the sugar-water and set aside in a warm, draft free place.

(The inside of the not-in-service microwave is where I usually stash the yeast as it’s proofing).

When yeast has foamed up, stir into sugar-water mixture, mixing thoroughly and then add to large mixing bowl.
Gradually start to add flour – salt mixture, incorporating as you go. Transfer to a floured board; knead, adding more flour until the dough can’t incorporate any more. Transfer to oiled container and store in fridge. (It tastes best if allowed to rest 24 – 48 hours, rather than using right away).

Basic sauce

2 cups coarsely chopped peeled san marzano tomatoes, or, alternatively,
1 large can san marzano tomatoes (I prefer Cento brand).
¼ cup good quality olive oil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp finely minced fresh garlic (or roasted garlic — really good!)
1/2 tsp sea salt (adjust to taste; we’re on a low-sodium diet in this house)
freshly ground pepper to taste

Add all ingredients to a medium sized mixing bowl; use immersion blender to crush tomatoes and mix ingredients. Our family likes the tomatoes to not be too finely crushed. Cover and store in fridge, allow flavors to marry.

Making Pizza

Preheat oven to 500 + F.
Divide dough into quarters – one quarter makes one large pizza.
Stretch and roll out dough to about ¼ thickness.
Crimp edges; spread with approx ½ cup sauce.  The olive oil will come to the top of sauce; stir thoroughly before spreading on the pizza.
Add shredded cheese and whatever toppings you like.
I then like to sprinkle finely chopped fresh basil and a light dusting of oregano or grind a light dusting of the Italian herbs blend on top of all before putting in the oven.

(I also like to let the pizza “rest” for a few minutes before popping in the oven. You can pre-make as many pies as you will need in an “assembly-line” fashion, and let them rest before baking, as the pies will bake pretty quickly if the oven is super-hot and your baking stone is pre-heated properly.)
I sprinkle my baking stone with coarse corn meal, and bake the pizza right on the stone and not in a dish. A wooden pizza peel is handy for transferring the pizza to and from the oven, but not essential.  Bake for about 8 – 10 mins, or until edges of crust are crisp.
Transfer to a large clean cutting board and allow to cool slightly before cutting into wedges.

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Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

Makes 12 – 1 cup very hearty servings

Ingredients

1 cup uncooked wild rice, washed and rinsed
1 10 oz can condensed cream of chicken soup
4 cups homemade chicken broth (or 1 carton low sodium chicken broth)
1 cup mushrooms, finely diced (about 4 large, 5 – 6 medium sized)
2 large peeled and coarsely shredded carrots
2 large ribs of thinly sliced celery
1 large finely diced white or vidalia onion
¼ cup finely diced fresh flat leaf Italian parsley
1 tsp dried thyme, crushed
½ tsp dried poultry seasoning
½ tsp chopped garlic
2 large sprigs fresh thyme
1 large dried bay leaf
½ cup dry sherry or white wine
1 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 cooked rotisserie chicken, meat shredded from bones without skin.

Night before

Wash and rinse 1 cup wild rice
Cook wild rice in a saucepan, covering rice with cold water.
Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer.
Cook for approx 45 mins.
Drain, set aside for use tomorrow.
(Should make about 4 cups of cooked wild rice).

Day of

Saute onions, mushrooms, carrots, celery and in olive oil on stovetop until translucent.
Add herbs and bay leaf. I allow to simmer with vegetables for a bit before adding the broth.
Add chicken broth.
Simmer on medium-low until vegetables are tender so all flavors marry (about 15 mins)

Reduce heat to low.
Add 1 can of condensed chicken soup.
Add 1 can of milk (I use fat-free, but many people prefer whole milk)
Whisk together until smooth.
Add shredded chicken, (skin removed).
Add cooked wild rice.

Stir thoroughly, cover and heat on low.
To serve, garnish with finely chopped chives and sliced toasted almonds.

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Planning Ahead — For Lisa K !! :)

“Planning Ahead”

My Grandmother, the Farm Wife, tragically widowed as a young mother to 7, and hence manager of two “hired hands”, would plan her menus two weeks to a month ahead, as did my Mom, and that was a habit I got into as well growing up. It allows you to maximize your resources and stretch your proteins to feed a lot of hungry people. It really came in handy when J joined the military, and I had to figure out how to feed three growing children, a pregnant me, a very hungry Marine, as well as any stray barracks rats he brought home, all on a 2nd Lt’s salary of $22,000/year. (And, yes, even back then it was considered “below the poverty line”)

So: as an example: this week the Commissary had Tyson’s whole cut-up chickens on sale for 59 c/lb, I bought two packages @ approx $4.50/each. Our local grocery store had bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts for 99 c/lb, I bought two packages of four large breasts each and whole rotisserie chickens were on sale for $4.99 and I had a $1.00 discount coupon, for $3.99 final price.

That’s a lot of chicken – how to plan to make best use of it?

The rotisserie chicken, I carved out the two large breast portions and thinly sliced to top a baby greens mixed salad with pecans and a raspberry balsamic vinegarette for lunch. I then shredded the remaining breast meat (there was quite a bit), back and thigh meat for the wild rice soup the following day. The remaining carcass, which still had a lot of meat left on it, I chopped up with my meat cleaver and threw into my large lobster pot to make a soup stock.

I then took as much skin as I could off the cut-up chicken packages. discarded the skin, and threw the meat into the stockpot., except for the breasts (4). The breasts from the packages of cut-up chicken I filleted, along with the packages of chicken breasts. In total, I had 12 large breasts. 6 – ,I set aside to use this week, and the remaining 6, I whipped up a white wine marinade for and froze for the foundation of a meal down the road. The remains of the the two cut up chickens and 8 breast bones went into the stockpot.

(We have 5 @ home right now, so I plan meals for 6, which allows my husband to have leftovers to take to work)

After the meat on the cut-up chickens has cooked to the point of falling off the bone, I will dice/shred and use for either chili, chicken pot pie, chicken tetrazinni, etc (you get the idea). There will be more than enough for several meals, so I’ll portion out in quart size freezer bags and freeze for future use.

I wanted to make best use of all the chicken carcasses/bones for a really rich stock, as well as get myself organized for quick-and-easy meals later in the week/month when we’re busy-busy-busy. The stock I will also clarify and freeze in 2 cup portions for later use as needed.

That’s how Grandma R rolled!

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Hello world!

Why this blog?

I started this blog as an online cookbook for my kinder.  Since I cook-by-the-seat-of-my-pants (ie:  I “eyeball” things, rather than measure), and have enough problem with “paper clutter”, I thought this would be a good way for me to document our family favorites that my kids are always asking me how to make.

The blog is named in memory of my Grandmother, a bundle of energy, and a woman who could pull together a meal, literally, out of almost anything.  I think the folk tale, “Stone soup”, was with my Grandmother in mind.

Everything my Grandmother made, she made from scratch — pies, breads, cookies, as well as canning and freezing the bounty from her garden.  It was very rare for Grandma to have anything “store-bought” in the house.  I learned to cook by apprenticing at her side — not through any type of formality, but through peeling, shucking, chopping, eyeballing, tasting and adjusting — which included adding/deleting whatever happened to be needing “finishing up” in the pantry or fridge.

On my other side, my Nana, although born in Canada, was of a French (not Quebecois) Alsace family, and she loved to cook.  Feeding you was how she showed you she loved you. I think, too, having a groaning table with always “too much” of everything was how she coped with the deprivations of the Depression.  Nana loved braised stews, and never met a vegetable that didn’t cry out for a cream sauce.  A butter-laced roux was Nana’s stalwart companion.

Growing up in a very diverse, working class neighborhood in the east end of Toronto, I was acclimated to a variety of tasty things from the kitchens of school chums — whether that was from the British Isles, Greek, Italian, German, Austrian, Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, Korean, Jamaican … you get the idea.  I learned quickly that cooking for grandchildren is the language of love, no matter what distant clime your Granny may have hailed from.

So this blog is meant to replace all those tiny scraps of condiment-stained paper I have floating around, and as a loving tribute to culinary blessed Grannies and Nanas everywhere.

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