Grant McWilliams

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16 items tagged "Recipe"

  • Boniatillo - Sweet Potatoes for Dessert!

    In the U.S. desserts usually fall under the categories of cake, pie or ice cream. I'm sure there are desserts that don't belong in these categories but they're the exception, not the rule. This dessert is a breath of fresh air and not (that) bad for you either. At least it has something in it besides sugar that your body can use including Vitamin A. It may seem strange to use a vegetable for dessert but we do it all the time when we make Pumpkin Pie (or Sweet Potato pie in the south). And what better than to use a tuber that purees nicely and is already reasonably sweet.

    Boniatillo is a Latin American dessert described as a Cuban tropical sweet potato pudding. The Cuban version uses the white fleshed Boniato sweet potato. This rendition uses the more commonly available Jewel or Beauregard Sweet Potato most often mislabeled as Yam in American grocery stores. It also infuses the sugar syrup with lemon, orange and cinnamon creating a nice fruity sweet sensation along with pleasant Sweet Potato overtones. To add richness butter and egg yolks are beaten into it then whipped egg whites are fluffed and folded with the pudding to give it body. A sprinkle of cinnamon and a little cream and you have a nice tropical dessert pudding.

     Link to the Recipe: Boniatillo

  • Cassoulette

    Ah, Cassoulette....

  • Easy flatbread for 4 cents each

    We just had a discussion on Google+ about eating on a budget. Seems I need to write that book afterall. One of the strategies I've always employed is food subsidies. That just means that a cheap food subsidizes an expensive one. Restaurants do this all the time, that's why you have starches (potatoes, rice, bread) with your meats. The price of a starch is a fraction of the price of herbs, spices, aged cheese, wine and meats. Next on the ladder is most vegetables. It's a rare occasion for vegetables to cost more than $1 per lb. When was the last time you bought meat for $1/lb?

    So with that in mind I'd like to focus on breads. Now if you buy the budget American white bread you may be able to get it for a dollar for a 24 oz loaf. You can make it cheaper but it's really the yeast that costs so you have to commit to buying a block of yeast to make it worth the trouble. Then there's the rising time etc.. Usually these hurdles are too much and people avoid saving money by buying bread and understandably so. However, flatbread can be easy to make and dirt cheap. Pita usually costs about $3 in the store for 10 ounces. That's a starch for the price of a meat. Pita is fairly easy to make too and I have a Wheat Pita recipe that I like a lot here at The Man, The Myth, The Legend.

    However, what I'm about to show you will make even homemade Pita look expensive! I can make 8 pita at home for about $1. If I buy large blocks of yeast and 25 lb of flour I can get them down to about 10 cents each and it takes only 2 hrs from start to finish to make it. Following is how to make flatbread in 30 minutes for 1/3 the cost of Wheat Pita. How is this possible you ask? India! If you had to feed 1 Billion people and they had little to no money I bet you'd find a cheap way to do it and they have. The flatbread I'm referring to is Chapati (or Roti). To make Chapati you'll want to look around for an Indian/Pakistani market and pick up a large bag of Atta (Chapati flour). Atta is a blend of wheat flour and malted barley flour and you should be able to get it for about $1/lb if you buy a 20/lb bag. To make 8 Chapati you'll need one cup of Atta and enough water to get it to come together. Since you're paying about 33 cents per cup of Atta and water is free Chapati ends up being one of the cheapest and easiest flatbreads to make.

    Directions:

    1. Put one cup of Atta in a food processor bowl. Turn it on and add small amounts of water at a time until it comes together in a ball. Unlike how westerners make bread (put in ingredients, then add flour to get it just right) Indians put the flour in the bowl and add water until it's just right. Be careful not to add too much water because adding flour doesn't fix it. If you're kneeding by hand just dip your knuckles in a bowl of water and kneed by punching the dough down. Food processors however do a good job and you'll be done in about 3 minutes.

    2. After the dough comes together put it in a bowl and cover for 30 minutes to let it rest. During this time you can make the rest of your dinner.

    3. Heat a flat comal or griddle pan to medium tempurature.

    4. Roll the doughbull into a long rope then cut it into eight pieces. One at a time roll each piece into a ball then flaten and roll out into a very thin circle about 6-8 inches in diameter.

    5. Lay on the griddle for about 30 seconds then flip. It will puff up if your pan is up to temperature. If it doesn't puff up wait a few minutes before cooking the next one.

    6. Brush a little clarified butter on them when done. This is optional but it gives them a nice flavor.  See my recipe on how to make clarified butter (Deshi Ghee).

     

  • Fesenjan - a Persian favorite

    Recipe originally posted on recessionchef.com

    I love rich food and I've come to love the mix of a rich sauce with meat over rice. You get this a lot with Thai curries, Indian Curries, Persian Korescht, and Afghan Quormas. This seems to be a very good format and economical too. Spices cost a lot but you don't need many and rice is cheap. Add meat of some sort and you have a great meal for a decent price. Living in the Pacific Northwest means that we have very limited selection of Persian restaurants and even when you do find one it's probably overpriced and low on quality. When I'm in Orange County I always eat at the Caspian Restaurant in Irvine not only for the environment but for the Fesanjoon. 

     

    Fesenjoon (slang for Khoresht-e Fesenjan) is a "stew" made up of a sauce from walnuts and pomegranate syrup/juice. It's wonderfully tart and deep. You add chicken and serve over Basmati rice. Not everyone likes it but it's one of my favorite things to eat.

     

     I've eaten Fesenjoon at many restaurants and tried making it on many occasions. I've been somewhat successful but my Fesenjoon doesn't taste like the Caspians which is wonderfully smooth without being too sweet. Last week I ran across kshar.net, a site run by man determined to bring Persian culture to the masses. What brought me to his site was a three part series on Fesenjoon. His cooking style is a bit loose so you have to pay close attention to what he's doing to get similar results. He also doesn't argue about what SHOULD be, it's your food make it how you like it. He seems to be intent on letting a few ingredients talk as apposed to having many ingredients fighting for attention - I agree with this philosophy. 

  • Garlic and Rosemary Roasted Chicken with Yukon Golds

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    Chicken is probably the most boring tasting animal on the planet, that's why when we don't know what something tastes like we say it tastes like chicken (meaning it has no strong flavor). However, chicken doesn't have to be boring at all and with a little work we can pick a good chicken, keep the flavor by cooking it right and even add to it using some specially selected herbs and vegetables. 

    This recipe's purpose is to molest the chicken as little as possible and add subtle other flavors. The chicken also contributes by giving up a certain amount of it's juices and the runoff from the garlic and rosemary paste which drizzles down into the potatoes and shallots making for a very nice accompaniment.

    This time around I waited about 20 minutes into the roasting and added sliced Sweet Potatoes which was very nice. Also instead of using just Yukon Golds I found a bag of mixed tiny potatoes at the store comprising of Yukon Golds, Purple and Red Bliss. The best tasting out of these three in this recipe is the Yukon Golds so this mix doesn't add to the quality of the meal however it does make it pretty. Yukon Golds just have the right amount of waxy texture and the right amount of starch to soak up the chicken's juices and yet hold themselves together. 

    Try out the recipe and let me know what you think.

    Recipe: Garlic and Rosemary Roasted Chicken with Yukon Golds

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  • Honey Barbecue Chicken Pasta

    We have some meals around our house that we cook often but there's no recipes attached to them. This is in part because it's all by taste and also because I haven't gotten serious enough to focus on making them recipes. One of those meals is Barbecue Chicken Pasta. This might seem out of left field until you realize that most people have no problem eating Barbecue Chicken Pizza. For the pasta rendition we substitute noodles for the pizza dough and add in some nice caramelized veggies. We're not exactly forging new trails here with grilled chicken, boiled noodles and sauce. However, what makes this meal a bit more complex and the reason I don't have a proper recipe for it is the sauce. There's a million jarred BBQ sauces on the store shelves but the problem is that none of them fit this dish. Most are too smokey, too hot, have too much vinegar bite or are too sweet. Since I just knocked out the four dominant flavors of BBQ sauce you may wonder what my vision is. I want a sauce with no smokiness, no heat, a touch of sweetness to complement the caramelized onions and peppers, a touch of zippiness and a whole lot of tomato flavor. What I want is a BBQ flavored tomato based sauce that's bright and lively but not overpowering. You'd think that with 30 million jarred bbq sauces that someone would have that combination but so far I've not found it.

    Following is the very rough recipe. I'm not happy enough with it to put it in the recipebook on this site. Later when I get the sauce dialed in I will but for now it's just a blog post. Forgive me for being just a bit vague on things.

  • Livening up Macaroni Salad

    My mother has been bugging me about putting up my Macaroni Salad recipe so she can make it and you know what they say, if your mother tells you to do something you should listen - and share.

    This is the first recipe in a series that's a result of my tackling each item of the standard American BBQ feast one at a time. I'm fairly happy with it so now I can move on to other things like BBQ beans or Potato salad. Considering the weather I probably won't finish them until next summer.

    I'm not straying too far from the standard base of macaroni, mayonnaise, vinegar and some form of sweetener. In my rendition I swap sweetened condensed milk for some of the mayonnaise and the sweetener. I also add sweet peppers (bell or otherwise), red onion, carrot and celery.

    As with a lot of cooking it's not so much the ingredients you choose but the balance they create and I really like this salad. I make it each Sunday and eat it for my lunch. Those of you who know me know that I don't put up recipes unless I'm satisfied and I rarely am so take this one serious. That does not mean however, that I won't still be playing with flavor balances in the future.

    Without further ado here is the recipe - Macaroni Salad

     

  • Moussaka recipe is up

    After a great deal of time I've put the Moussaka recipe up. The negative to posting photos of really nice meals is that it's inevitable that someone will want the recipe. An interesting story though - I lost my Moussaka recipe. So the one I just posted is a work in progress that's a result of taking some other online Moussaka recipes and twisting them to match my memory. I'm sure I'll have to modify it as time goes on to get it tasting the way I originally had it. However, for now this one is pretty good. 

    In the future I'll be playing with pealing the Eggplant, breading and baking it. Primarily because the part of the Moussaka my kids like the least is the Eggplant skin. I'll also be playing with the spices, potatoes and wine. I've given hints about the Bechamel and I'll be playing with that more to decide exactly how I want it. I've folded in beaten egg whites and added grated cheese to it for added bulk and have liked the results. 

    Continue to my Moussaka Recipe.

  • Munchkin Pumpkin Pots de Creme

    I have a few more Cinderella pumpkins in the garage and needed to use up some of the puree so this is the result. I made these a few years ago and they were a big hit so here we are again. The basic recipe is really easy if you have pumpkin puree around. If not you can take the meat of a pumpkin cut into cubes and brought to a boil in 3/4 cup of milk then simmered until the pumpkin meat is tender. Once that's done (or you bake your pumpkins like I do) just follow the recipe. The Custard recipe comes from The Good Food Channel in the UK so I oppologize ahead of time if you're not used to metric measurements. Any decent set of measuring cups have both metrics and American Standard measurements on it. Sugar is measured in weight (as it should be) so you'll need a scale or you can go online to find a converter.

    • 375g pumpkin puree
    • 125ml double cream
    • 3 large eggs
    • 60g caster sugar
    • 35g soft dark brown sugar
    • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 50g unsalted butter, melted and cooled

    Puree the pumpkin and 125ml of milk in the blender. In a medium bowl whisk the eggs and cream together then add the pumpkin puree/milk mixture, the caster sugar and brown sugar and all the spices. Definitely use fresh grated nutmeg in this recipe, you can thank me later. Add the melted butter and pass the mixture through a fine sieve.

    Cut off the tops of 8 munchkin pumpkins and scoop the seeds and strings out. Fill the pumpkins to about 1/4 inch below the surface and place in a large roaster. Fill the roaster with water to about halfway up the sides of the pumpkins. Place in a 170c degree oven (325 Fahrenheit) for about 35 minutes or until the custard has set. The surface should feel firm when pushed and liquid should not ooze out from under the top. I put 35 minutes as a general measurement but I think it takes longer than that, I haven't measured. Just start looking at them when they've been in for 35 minutes and cook them until done. When done grate some more fresh nutmeg on the top and let them cool.

  • Pizza dough, Persian Jeweled Rice, Boniatillo and Gulab Jamon recipes

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    I've imported four more recipes from my old site to my new one - Pizza dough, Persian Jeweled Rice, Boniatillo and Gulab Jamon. Quite a mix for sure but they're the ones that have been requested the most so they come first.

    The Pizza Dough recipe has served me well and for Italian style thin pizzas cooked on a stone it's been the best recipe I've come across. The dough is easy to work with and cooks up nice. 

    Persian Jeweled rice is probably the most elegant and regal way that I've ever had rice. The ingredients list is a bit harder to come by since I've specified some brands but the results are very nice. 

    Boniatillo is a Latin American sweet potato dessert that's fairly simple and surprisingly good. You use the orange sweet potatoes (often misnamed Yams in the store) along with some citrus flavors to make a nice dessert with the perfect balance of sweet and savory.

    Gulab Jamon is an Indian (dot not feather) dessert often found in Indian restaurants. 

     

    In uploading these recipes I've found that my photography skills have improved remarkably. In fact I feel a bit ashamed at uploading these photos but as soon as I make each again I'll take new ones. 

    Recipes:

    Pizza Dough     Persian Jeweled Rice     Boniatillo    Gulab Jamon

     

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  • Pumpkin and Mascarpone Lasagna

    It's been a while since I put up any recipes but I recently hosted the end of the quarter potluck for my classes and so in doing that spent most of a day cooking. On occasion I have a vegetarian student and I pull out the old favorite - Pumpkin and Mascarpone Lasagna. It also just so happened that I had just enough pumpkin left from my second to last pumpkin of the season. The recipe calls for 2 lbs which is quite a lot and I had exactly that.

    The nice thing about this recipe is that it's nice, light and a bit exciting. The reaction you have after eating this is the same as the reaction from Butternut Squash Ravioli - you wonder why people limit themselves to boring meat/cheese and red sauce noodles. The flavors are bright and exciting, meat or cheese lasagna is boring and drab. Maybe it's not for everyone but so far every person I've fed it to really liked it and in addition it's good for most vegetarians (has dairy and eggs) and like many non-meat foods, it's cheap. In fact as I made it the cost is roughly $1 per slice of lasagna and half that cost comes from cheese. Shop around and you may be able to make it for less. 

    The Recipe: Pumpkin and Mascarpone Lasagna

    Note for anyone not willing to eat eggs they can just leave them out of the Bechamel. It will be less fluffy but still very nice.

  • Pumpkins are food... eat them. Really!

    It's that time of year again.... The leaves are falling, the grapes are a bit surprised at our 60 degree daytime temps and pumpkins are available from the farms. It's Pumpkin Bread time -  a 20 year tradition at The Man, The Myth, The Legend. It all started two decades ago when we got coupons to spend at the local farmers market. Not knowing what to spend them on I bought a pumpkin and made bread from a recipe out of the 1971 edition of The Joy of Cooking (not to be confused with the 1969 edition of The Joy of Sex, something you only do once for sure). The bread was not bad and we got to use the pumpkin. In the last 20 years I've cooked pumpkin every way possible, changed recipes, tossed out ingredients, added others and about 10 years ago figured I was done. Since then I've played a bit with baking dishes, clay tiles etc. but the ingredients and methods have been locked in and now is just a tradition that we look forward to. Following is a few tips.

    1. Don't use Jack-o-lantern pumpkins for anything. No really, don't. They're not food, they're tasteless mass.
    2. Buy Cinderella Pumpkins no larger than 12 inches in diameter
    3. Buy your pumpkins from a farm. Most farms have them from late September to Halloween. Not all farms have Cinderellas so you might ask first.
    4. Don't get pumpkins from the store unless they're Sugar Pie pumpkins (my second choice)
    5. Do not boil, steam or bake open side up. You actually want to keep the flavor, not disperse with it.
    6. Don't believe Christopher Kimble and the America's Test Kitchen staff when they say fresh pumpkin isn't worth the effort. The next time I see him I'll bring both canned and fresh to see if I can change his mind.

    I've cooked many different types of pumpkins many different ways. If you use Jack-o-lanterns from the store you might as well just pick up a can of pumpkin puree because you won't be able to tell the difference. Cinderellas have consistently won my choice as the best pumpkins for the following reasons.

    • Best flavor. Sugar Pie is also good
    • Large enough to be worth the trouble. Sugar Pie don't have a lot of meat so take a great deal more work
    • They last forever. I don't know why but they do. I've had Cinderellas which were picked in October still be cookable in December. This extends my Pumpkin Bread season.
    • They're a flat pumpkin (think Cinderellas Carriage) so you can cook both halves in a standard oven at the same time otherwise it would take 6 hrs which is quite a lot.
    • Good texture. If cooked like I outline below the meat nearly has the consistency of applesauce (no strings).

    There is ONE way to cook pumpkin and retain as much of the flavor as possible.  With the longest stiff knife you own cut the pumpkin around the equator (beltline). If you do it right your blade will return back to where you started in the exact latitude. Sometimes I'm off by an eighth of an inch. In this case cut the surface on both pumpkins so it's as flat as possible. Place them face down on a counter to see if there's any air gaps. Scrape out the strings and seeds until the walls of the pumpkin are smooth and lighter orange colored. The strings and goo attached to it have a deeper orange color. Don't dig too much into the meat, it's precious. The texture of the meat changes depending on the season, how much rain, how early you picked the pumpkin and so on. If it's spongy and dry be especially careful of removing meat. If it's firm the go ahead and scrape the walls smooth. The best meat is around the beltline of the pumpkin so try to keep as much as possible while still leaving a smooth surface.. Once they're flat place them cut side down on a half sheet pan and in an oven at 350 degrees. It will take somewhere near 3 hours to cook. You will get to know when they're done by looking at them. The outside of the pumpkin should be charred a bit but it should still be holding it's shape. The reason for this is if you got a good seal the steam inside the pumpkin holds it up. This is very important because if you didn't get a good seal the steam will escape and the meat of the pumpkin will rest on the pan and burn. Cut it right and it will turn out.  If the pumpkin hasn't caved in and you're not sure if it's done leave it in the oven longer. When you think it's done stick a pie server under one edge and lift. A large amount of liquid will come rushing out. Suck this off using a Turkey baster so it doesn't spill when removing the pumpkin from the oven. Remove and let cook.

    Once the pumpkins are cool place another half sheet pan on the skin side of the pumpkin sandwiching it between the two half sheet pans. Turn them both over quickly and remove the pan that the pumpkin was cooked on. This will leave the cooked pumpkin facing cut side up which eases the removal of the meat. I've been using a cheese slicer for 20 years to scrape out my pumpkins and sadly this is it's last pumpkin. I've already started looking online to find another. It's the perfect tool because of the round shape of it. You could probably use a large spoon but your goal is to scrape, not scoop because you'll never get the walls smooth and you'll lose too much meat. Perhaps a very shallow spoon would work with a nice defined edge.

    As I've said the best pumpkin is around the beltline and I'm a bit picky about the meat near the stem as it's flavor isn't as nice. If your pumpkin is cooked properly you will take the meat around the beltine clear out to the skin. Near the stem go by color. If it's looking a bit dark leave it. It won't hurt you but it's more bitter.

    I've experimented with all the liquid that comes out of the pumpkin. It HAS flavor but reducing it with the meat doesn't make enough difference in my opinion to be worth the effort. I'm still looking for a use for it though. I wonder if it could help flavor squash soups etc...

    Store the pumpkin in a plastic container with a lid that seals in the refrigerator. I've tried canning and freezing the cooked meat and I lose too much flavor both ways so I've decided that pumpkin bread is seasonal and why not? You have to have something to look forward to in the fall.

    Well, that's it. In the next few days I'll be making bread so there will be an article on that.

     

     

  • Recession Chef: Desi Ghee for cheap

    Desi Ghee

    Ghee is for the most part clarified butter.  In French cooking the butter is clarified until the milk solids drop to the bottom and the foam rises to the top. The foam is skimmed and the butter poared off. With Indian cooking the butter is clarified long enough for the water to evaporate. What you're left with is pure butter with no milk solids or moisture. Because Desi Ghee has no milk solids or water it can be stored at room temperature without fear of spoilage.

    The reason you'd want to go through the process of clarifying it yourself is that Desi Ghee can be very expensive in the store. A mayonnaise jar of Ghee can run you 15 dollars.  You can make that amount yourself for about $5 or less depending on what kind of deal you get on butter.


    See the Desi Ghee recipe for more details.

  • Recession Chef: Zesty Macaroni Salad

    Several years ago I decided it was time to get serious about smoking meat so <joke> I lit one end of a chicken</joke>.... nevermind. What I really meant to say was that I'd gotten serious about BBQ and in time started working on the absolute best version of traditional American BBQ fare according to me. It has a nice tang in it, isn't boring with the peppers, carrots and celery and is actually quite smooth and sweet too. It's a nice blend I think.

    I'm a perfectionist so I can take quite a while to get it all worked out and as soon as I do I'll upload the recipes. This recipe is for the most part done. Anyone can do Macaroni Salad right? Yes if you want plain old Mayonnaise and noodles for dinner. What I've created here I really like and make it often for my lunches even if I don't BBQ. The ingredients list is longer than traditional Macaroni Salad and a few my be surprising but you should just trust me on this one and make it. I usually use the 2lb bags of mini sweet peppers but when I can't get them I'll use regular sized red, orange or yellow bell peppers.  I've specified just ONE red bell pepper to keep the cost down but if  I'm making a double batch I like to put one red and one yellow or orange bell pepper in it. I've tried green but to me the flavor is too bitter for what I am trying to accomplish. 

    Also on the recipe I've made a note about the sweetened condensed milk. I've tried several while creating the recipe and something falls flat when I use *whatever* brand. However, I've always had good luck with Nestle La Lechera sweetened condensed milk that I pick up from the local Mexican grocery for about $1.60. If you buy it from your local white man's grocery you'll pay at least double. Since you have to pick up a few veggies anyway it may warrant seeking out the Mexican Tienda. 

    If you're going to use nasty iodized table salt then cut the amount in half. I don't like my food tasting like bitter soap so I use fresh  ground sea salt in my recipes and you should too. Also one last note. I've mentioned in the recipe that it gets better if the flavors meld. This is very true and you'll notice the noodles soak up some of the soupiness and the flavors are more balanced the next day. If I were having a BBQ I'd make this the day before. If this isn't possible don't stress it because the worst rendition of this you could make will be better than anything you can buy from the store.

    Recipe: Zesty Macaroni Salad

  • Sweet potato pumpkin soup with parmesan croutons

    Google+ has been a very productive use of my time in a lot of ways. I have more intellectual conversations in one day than I've had on Facebook since the beginning. I fear that this will come to an end once everyone is using it but for now it's golden. If you'd like to follow me do so at gplus.to/grant.mcwilliams.

    Lately on Google+ I've been trying to boost the number of foodie posts and in turn ended up making a recipe that Elaina Samardzija posted. You can follow her on her Flavour blog where she talks a great deal about food and wine. You can find her Google+ info there and I recommend her for your foodie circles.

    The other day she posted a modification of Jamie Oliver's Butternut Squash soup recipe using pumpkin and sweet potatoes flavored with rosemary, red onion, carrots, sage and garlic. All good in my book. Since I had everything but the sweet potatoes I ran down to my local Indian market and picked up a few garnets (garnet yams are not yams, they're sweet potatoes, don't get me started).

    The smell from the kitchen was very nice and the soup was easy to make.  I'd post the recipe here but it makes more sense to just send you to her blog at Flavour. Besides you might find other things interesting to read.

    The gist of the soup is a melody of sweet potatoes, pumpkin, red onions, carrots, celery, garlic, rosemary and stock plus a touch of heat from cayenne. Topped with a sliced baguette sporting olive oil drizzles and shaved Parmesan toasted under the broiler.

    I've tasted Butternut squash soup before that I've really liked and have attempted all the famous versions of it and it's been OK but not great. This one is better than OK but still not "hit it out of the park good". The heat is nice, the overall flavor is nice and it sort of grows on you. I think I'll be spending some time on it in the future to see if I get it creamy smooth and more depth.

    The croûtons though I liked a lot and if you just cut them up and eat them with the soup it's a nice mixture of flavors. However, a change that I'll make the next time I do this is to fry them in olive oil in my non-stick pan like I do for my Fried baguette and truffle chèvre hors d'oeuvres. I think that will be an improvement.

    Overall very nice and perfect timing for winter

  • Vegetarians avert your eyes - it's Cassoulet time!

    Last fall I was in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France which is known for it's duck dishes and another odd standout - Cassoulet. It's a standout because so much of French food is elegant and fine that you'd be hard pressed to identify Cassoulet as French. The truth is Cassoulet is peasant food and is great for those cold winter months.

    About two weeks ago when it was cold and wet out I got the itch to have Cassoulet. It's taken a week to get the ingredients (at any cost) and even then I didn't get them all so I had to substitute a few things. To those unfamiliar with Cassoulet it is, according to wikipedia "a rich, slow-cooked bean stew or casserole originating in the south of France, containing meat (typically pork sausages, pork, goose, duck and sometimes mutton), pork skin (couennes) and white haricot beans". I had most everything but the pork skins so I decided to go ahead with the show. As you may have noticed this is definitely a meat eaters dish with only beans being the exception to that rule. Actually in preparing it you use vegetables but funny enough you strain them out and throw them away before finishing the last cooking step. Yes, you strain the vegetables and throw them away.

    The ingredients list reads something like this:

    • 2 pounds ham hocks, semi-salted with 1 cup coarse salt (see Note 1)
    • 2 pounds medium-size dried white haricot or Great Northern white beans (about 4 cups), soaked in water to cover overnight
    • 2 pounds confit de canard
    • ½ pound salt pork
    • ¼ pound pancetta (replaces traditional petit salé)
    • 1 pound fresh pork skin
    • ½ cup duck fat from the confit
    • 1 ½ pounds saucisse de Toulouse
    • 1 ¾ pounds pork shoulder
    • 1 ½ pounds mutton or lamb shoulder
    • 2 medium-size onions, peeled, and each studded with 2 cloves
    • 1 large carrot, sliced into rounds
    • 1 pound ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
    • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
    • 10 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
    • Bouquet garni, tied in cheesecloth (10 sprigs fresh parsley, 10 sprigs fresh thyme, 2 bay leaves)
    • 2 quarts bottled imported Evian
    • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
    • 2 cups fresh bread crumbs made from a French baguette

    It does actually have 19 ingredients! One of those ingredients takes 4-6 weeks to make (confit de canard), one is impossible to get (saucisse de Toulouse) and another I had to substitute with pancetta. The hardest one to get was the confit de canard which currently sells for it's price in gold. In lieu of buying it I decided to make confit de canard except - only I did the 1 day recipe instead of the 4-6 week recipe ie. I didn't let it set in the fridge for 6 weeks before using. Even cutting short the recipe by 6 weeks it still ended up being a three day process - one day soaking and rinsing beans and salting ham hocks, one day cutting, browning and cooking meat and one day of making the final product.

    I had so many ingredients that I had to use two dutch ovens in order to cook it properly.  Duck fat was especially difficult to hunt down (pun intended) but I ended up finding it in Chinatown (er, I mean the International District) at Uwajamaya Market. Armed with duck fat, lamb shoulder, ham hocks, duck legs and breasts, pork shoulder, pancetta, salt pork and one or two vegetables I set out to make Cassoulet. The recipe calls for cutting up all the meats and browning them in the Dutch oven, once that's done you add the vegetables and bouquet garni and bring it to a boil. Then add all the meats back in and simmer for about 90 minutes. Doesn't seem too bad quite yet until you realize you spent several hours cutting all the meats, dismembering a duck, browning sausages and cutting vegetables. At this point you're invested about 4 hrs. After 90 minutes of simmering I let both Dutch ovens cool (it took hours thanks to the heavy cast iron they're made of) and put them in the fridge. Four hours working on a recipe and I don't get to eat it yet.

    That was yesterday. Today I figured I just had to put it back in the oven to warm through and I remembered something had to be done with bread crumbs. Thankfully I checked the recipe at about 2 pm because the second stage has to cook four more hours.This section is more fun because I took my new clay pot that I bought from TJ-Maxx specially for this purpose and laid down salt pork in the bottom, added a layer of beans then a layer of all the various meats - duck, lamb shoulder, pork shoulder and so on then covered it with another layer of beans. I poured the broth reserved from the vegetables until it covered the beans then layered the bread crumbs over it. A sprinkling of the bread crumbs with duck fat completed the process and it went in an oven at 275 degrees F for four more hours. Every half an hour the crust needed to be cracked and turned so it became thoroughly soaked in juices. When done we let it cool for a bit before digging in.

    You're probably expecting an OMG!! This is soooo good! right? If so you're lost - you should have taken a left back there at the off ramp to MySpace. Cassoulet is a very subtle dish and I can remember my impressions of it in France (both Toulouse Cassoulet and Carcassonne Cassoulet) - the beans are boring. This is my first impression here too as well as both Jade and Piper's impressions. Jade said "it just tastes like meat and beans". Maybe that's because it IS meat an beans. As you take your second bite you notice some depth then you take your third and so on. This is a dish that you have to eat when it's cold and rainy (or cold and snowy) and it grows on you. The juice is very flavorful and the meat tastes wonderful as does the breadcrumb crust. The beans stay boring but I guess they're an important traditional element.

    Is it worth it? No, of course not but then making a lot of French food isn't worth the time but I still do it because there's something else to it, something that's intangible. I don't know what it is but to have good food it takes good effort. If we look at the amount of time involved in preparing food in relation to the amount of time it takes to eat it to determine if it's worth it then we probably shouldn't be discussing food should we? Food is art. Food is experience. Food is a family spending time together talking without the distractions of technology. Food draws people together and provides a common point of reference. I think I'll be making this again and I'll definitely be making confit de canard even if it takes 6 weeks.

     

    June 10th 2012,

    I thought I'd update this item since I now make Cassoulet several times a year. It's interesting to read my first hand opinions above. Cassoulet started out as a "checklist item" where you do it once just to say you did. Then I decided to make it again and did a better job, then I went to a French restaurant and realized mine has flavor as good as theirs my beans stunk. I returned to the beans and continued working with dried beans and eventually nailed them. They're now as smooth as butter and very flavorable. I've also doubled the amount of duck, cut back on the pork shoulder and realized that pig skin is a necessary ingredient. I've also learned the hard way that this is a 3 day dish, not a 2 day dish. One day making the confit, one day cooking the cassoulet ingredients and one day cooking the combined cassoulet. After trying to squeeze it into 2 days I realized that I lost a lot of flavor. Such is life. Now that I've cooked this about 8 times I've darn near nailed it. IMHO my cassoulet tastes better than the stuff in the restaurants. This fall when I make it again I'll put up a proper recipe.

     

     

     

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