Thursday, November 27, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Cassoulet update

So, a couple busy pre-Thanksgiving days of work and some dubious time-management skills later, I already find myself somewhat behind.

Late last night I did manage to soak the beans for the cassoulet. I'm always amazed at how soaking the little buggers makes them so much bigger. They don't look a lot bigger but I promise this bowl was only half full last night.

Late last night I did manage to bake my apple pie. I had put the dough
for the crust together in the morning so it was ready to roll out. Eight apples and some chopped crystallized ginger are in there too. Not necessarily a traditional desert for cassoulet but what the hell. I like a good pie.

My duck fat arrived yesterday on schedule. It was kind of cool (no pun intended) packed in a whole insulated box with a bunch of freezer packs (bonus. I get a half dozen freezer packs for my trouble).

This morning was the confit. I'd never given much thought to the word 'confit' so I looked it up. Turns out that confit was originally a method for preserving food. Makes sense I guess. The trick to the whole preservation thing... turns out that bacteria don't grow in fat. So if you don't have refigeration and want to keep something from going bad, cook it entirely in some kind of fat so it's totally covered, let it cool and put it in a cool corner somewhere. Then you can have your confit meat at your leisure. Maybe this will all come in handy someday.

At any rate, here's the duck in the oven:

And here it is all done...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Let the cassoulet adventure begin....

God I love food.

I guess strictly speaking I love to cook more than I love food. For me there's something wonderful about all the little pieces that need to be managed just-so and brought together at the last minute for service.

Several years ago my niece was visiting for the weekend and I was baking cookies. Katey wanted to help and while I'm pretty picky, I have fond memories of "helping" my mother back cookies when I was a kid. I let Katey do the mixing. As we added each ingredient, I asked Katey to taste them. Then once the cookie dough was finished, I let her taste that as well. I wanted her to learn that just because a single ingredient may not taste good, sometimes adding it to some other things can make it heavenly.

Speaking of putting lots of ingredients together, I'm planning to make cassoulet for the family on Wednesday. It's quite an operation. The longest lead time: confit duck legs. Now I know you're saying to yourself... who in their right mind would confit duck legs at home? Me. I've done it once before (in that case I was making spring rolls with duck confit inside). It's not hard, just time consuming. For the cassoulet I've been reading that I should really cook the legs in duck fat. No biggy, right? Wrong. Where in world does one source 6-8 cups of duck fat? Turns out you can (like nearly everything) order it online. Mine arrives tomorrow. So, tonight the duck gets salted. Tomorrow, confit. Wednesday, cassoulet.

As if the cassoulet won't keep me busy enough, I'm also baking an apple pie.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Don't worry, be happy

I know they say that of all the five senses, smell is most closely linked to memory. I can be thinking about God knows what and a certain smell will bring me to a very different place in my head.

One of my favorites is honeysuckle. When I was growing up in Georgia there was quite a bit of honeysuckle growing around my house (and fields of blackberry bushes but I'll save that for another post). Where I live now it's not as common but I still smell it from time to time and whenever or wherever I am I'm immediately transported back to Douglasville, GA and I get to be 10 years old again.

This is all something of a prelude to mentioning the mind altering capabilities of tarragon. No matter how fowl the mood take a strong whiff of some fresh tarragon and everything will be OK. Suddenly life is good. It's an amazing herb smelling faintly of anise.

Last night's dinner was pork stew with fennel, leeks and prunes. If this sounds strange I suggest you come over to my house and I'll fix you a bowl. It's amazing and it was finished off with a healthy dash of minced fresh tarragon.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Good and good for you...

I always think it's funny how the most delicious things and up being not so good for you. It's almost certain proof that if God exists, she has a good sense of humor. Now it isn't as if there aren't tasty foods on the entire healthy spectrum; I like bacon and I like Cliff bars. I like sweetbreads and I like broccoli. It does seem though that the less healthy foods are the ones that are easiest to eat to excess. Candy corn is a great example of this. I don't really care for sweets but there's something about candy corn that gets me. Once I start I'll literally eat myself sick.

Squash (not like grape)

At my regular Tuesday night knitting group, the topic of butternut squash came up. It's a tricky little gourd being quite hard to cut and peel. At any rate, I mentioned that I have a good recipe for butternut squash risotto and so here it is. The recipe (like many I use) is from the fine folks at Cooks Illustrated...

Butternut Squash Risotto

Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a first course.

Infusing the chicken broth with the squash's seeds and fibers helps to reinforce the earthy squash flavor. We found that a 2-pound squash consistently yields a cup or so more than the 3 1/2 cups in step 1; this can be added to the skillet along with the squash scrapings in step 2. To make this dish vegetarian, vegetable broth can be used instead of chicken broth, but the resulting risotto will have more pronounced sweetness.


2 tablespoons olive oil
1 butternut squash (medium, about 2 pounds), peeled, seeded (fibers and seeds reserved), and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 3 1/2 cups)
3/4 teaspoon table salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 small onions , chopped very fine (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 medium cloves garlic , minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
2 cups Arborio rice
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1 1/2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese (about 3/4 cup)
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage leaves
1/4 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg


1. Heat oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking. Add about 3 1/2 cups squash in even layer and cook without stirring until golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes; stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until squash is tender and browned, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer squash to bowl and set aside.

2. Return skillet to medium heat; add reserved squash fibers and seeds and any leftover diced squash. Cook, stirring frequently to break up fibers, until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Transfer to large saucepan and add chicken broth and water; cover saucepan and bring mixture to simmer over high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low to maintain bare simmer.

3. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in now-empty skillet over medium heat; when foaming subsides, add onions, garlic, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add rice to skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until grains are translucent around edges, about 3 minutes. Add wine and cook, stirring frequently, until fully absorbed, 4 to 5 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, strain hot broth through fine-mesh strainer into medium bowl, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Return strained broth to saucepan and discard solids in strainer; cover saucepan and set over low heat to keep broth hot.

5. When wine is fully absorbed, add 3 cups hot broth and half of reserved squash to rice. Simmer, stirring every 3 to 4 minutes, until liquid is absorbed and bottom of pan is almost dry, about 12 minutes.

6. Stir in about 1/2 cup hot broth and cook, stirring constantly, until absorbed, about 3 minutes; repeat with additional broth 2 or 3 more times, until rice is al dente. Off heat, stir in remaining 1 tablespoon butter, Parmesan, sage, and nutmeg; gently fold in remaining cooked squash. If desired, add up to 1/4 cup additional hot broth to loosen texture of risotto. Serve immediately.


Dicing Squash

1. After removing skin with peeler, cut squash in half.

2. Cut bulb in half through base and remove seeds with spoon.

3. Cut each piece into 1/2-inch half-moons, then into into 1/2-inch dice.

4. Stand neck on end and slice into 1/2-inch planks. Cut planks into 1/2-inch strips, then into 1/2-inch dice.