Cassoulet and Comfort

(Cassoulet and Comfort is my entry for Challenge #3 of Foodbuzz’s Project Food Blog. Thank you to everyone who voted for me in the first two challenges. Voting opens on Monday, October 4th and closes on October 7th.)

I had an elaborate five course dinner menu all set last week and had planned out shopping, prepping and cooking for the week. My husband’s help depended on much of it. Alas, we do not live in a perfect world and a few unforeseen circumstances came up. One included a family emergency that required my husband to cut his business trip short to tend to a family emergency which extended through the weekend. Among other things, my five course extravaganza slowly creeped from being a source of joy to becoming a stressor.

The kids were getting more restless as the week progressed. A week of rain and being indoors only exacerbated their mood. Family and mundane daily matters overwhelmed my thoughts. These circumstances called for comfort and ease. Friday morning, I glanced at a tweet by Michael Ruhlman, “morning, whole house smelling of veal stock, soon beans, draw duck, pork belly dripping from the fat for weekend cassoulet, life is good.” Aha!  Cassoulet! This centuries-old dish seemed more appropriate for my mood and the weather. This change, however, did not go without raising some logistical issues. I needed to go shopping, find a fourth guest, and needed a babysitter. A bridge and two tunnels later, I was at my sister’s place in my adopted neighborhood of Park Slope, Brooklyn.

As soon as I got there, my sister referred me to a couple of local grocers and purveyors that easily made shopping a pleasant excursion. The morning was spent playing with the kids and cooking started in the afternoon before dinner. I must admit, being alone in the tiny kitchen was quite therapeutic and calming.

We started with Oeufs au caviar and a glass of sparkling Vouvray. The beaten eggs were topped with a whipped cream touched with lemon juice, vodka, salt and cayenne. This rich little dish incorporated hot, cold, salty, creamy, and slightly crunchy all in one bite. The chilled sparkling Vouvray was perfect.

Dinner was family-style, appropriate with four toddlers. Cassoulet is a hearty and luxurious casserole with tender beans, sausage, pork, and duck confit.  This rich dish was served with an arugula salad dressed with a simple vinaigrette. The bitterness of the greens and the acidity from the dressing was a perfect complement to the rich dish. Dinner ended on a chocolatey note with a warm soft Valrhona chocolate cake. The molten chocolate in the center of the cake was simply divine with the cold ice cream.

Despite all the craziness and rain all week, it was truly relaxing to be able to cook and share this dinner with family and friends. I am grateful for this. The exotic or elusive can sometimes be the touchstone for comfort and ease when your environment and circumstances suddenly change.

A few things to keep in mind when planning and entertaining:

Keep it simple. No one likes a stressed out host which is why I personally prefer family-style dinners. And this isn’t Top Chef. Back during the pre-kids era, I used to pride myself in making everything from scratch. But you know what? It’s okay if it’s not. If pre-made duck confit is the only thing you can get at 9 p.m. on a Friday night, then by all means go for it. Just make sure to find quality sources for your goods.

Be flexible. Menu change, venue change, and more guests? It’s not the end of the world. This also goes for the recipes. I’m such a stickler for having the right ingredients especially when trying out new recipes. But as the quintessential Brooklyn butcher said, “C’mon, this is an Italian shop. You’re not gonna find German or French sausage here. Be gutsy! Try it!”  Yes, the Italian pork sausage and pancetta did not kill the dish.

Have fun. If you adhere to the other two rules, then you’re guaranteed to have fun. The guests are there to see you, not to judge your duck confit. (Or are they?)

Oeufs au caviar

Adapted from “Simple to Spectacular” by Jean-Georges Vongerichten & Mark Bittman

Notes: You have to work quickly through this recipe. I waited too long between making the whipped cream and cooking the eggs which resulted in the whipped cream breaking down. I had to remake the cream which, fortunately, did not take too long.

Serves 4.

1/2 cup heavy cream
salt and cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste
2 teaspoons vodka
4 eggs
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 to 4 teaspoons caviar

1 – Whip the cream until it holds stiff peaks, then beat in salt and cayenne to taste, along with the lemon juice and vodka. Taste and adjust the seasoning; it should really sing. Whip the cream again until stiff.

2 – For a really dramatic presentation, remove the tops from the eggshells, pour the eggs into the saucepan, and set the bottoms of the shells in egg cups. (Or, you can serve these in a bowl or espresso cup which is what I did)

3 – Combine the eggs, butter, and salt and cayenne to taste in a medium saucepan or skillet, preferably one with sloping sides. Turn the heat to medium-high and begin to beat the egg mixture with a whisk, stirring almost constantly but not too fast; you do not want it to become foamy.

4 – After the butter melts, the mixture will begin to thicken, and then to lump up in small curds; this will take between 3 and 8 minutes, depending on the thickness of your pan and the heat level. If the mixture begins to stick on the bottom, remove the pan from the heat for a moment and continue to whisk, then return to the heat.

5 – When the eggs become creamy, with small curds all over – not unlike loose oatmeal – they are ready; do not overcook (like I did). Add more salt and cayenne if necessary and place in warmed bowls. Use a spoon to place a dollop of cream on the eggs. Top each with a spoonful of caviar and serve right away.

Cassoulet (French pork and white bean casserole with duck confit)

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

Notes: The original recipe called for salt pork and fresh garlic sausage which I will certainly try the next time. The two markets that I went to did not have salt pork! I substituted pancetta and Italian pork sausage (lightly seasoned with salt and pepper).

Serves around 6 hungry people.

6 duck legs, pre-made duck confit (you can certainly make your own duck confit)
Table salt
1 pound cannellini beans (about 2 cups), rinsed and picked over (I substituted great northern beans)
2 medium celery ribs
1 bay leaf
4 sprigs thyme
1 pound fresh pork sausage
¼ pound pancetta (the fattier, the better), diced
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 large onion, chopped fine (about 1 ½ cups)
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice (about 1 cup)
4 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 4 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
½ cup dry white wine
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 quart chicken broth
Ground black pepper
4-5 slices high-quality white sandwich bread, torn into rough pieces
½ cup chopped fresh parsley leaves

1 – Dissolve 2 tablespoons salt in 3 quarts cold water in large bowl or container. Add beans and soak at room temperature, 8 to 24 hours. Drain and rinse well.

2 – Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

3 – Using kitchen twine, tie together celery, bay leaf, and thyme, and set aside. Place sausage in medium saucepan and add cold water to cover by 1-inch; bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to simmer and cook 5 minutes. Transfer sausages to cutting board, allow to cool slightly, then cut into 1-inch pieces.

4 – Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in 8-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add sausage pieces and brown on all sides, 8 to 12 minutes. Transfer to medium bowl. Add pork shoulder and brown on all sies, 8 to 12 minutes. Add onion and carrots; cook, stirring constantly, until onion is translucent, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 30 seconds. Return sausage to Dutch oven; add white wine, using wooden spoon to scrape browned bits from bottom of pan. Cook until slightly reduced, about 30 seconds. Stir in diced tomatoes, celery bundle, and pancetta.

5 – Stir in broth and beans, pressing beans into even layer. If any beans are completely exposed, add up to 1 cup water to submerge (beans may still break surface of liquid). Increase heat to high and bring to simmer. Cover pot. Transfer to oven, and cook until beans are tender, about 1 ½ hours.

6 – Remove skin from duck legs and discard. Remove duck meat from bones, leaving meat in large pieces; discard bones.

7 – Remove stew from oven and increase temperature to 350 degrees. Remove celery bundle from stew and discard. Using large spoon or ladle, skim fat from surface of stew and discard. Adjust seasoning of stew with salt and pepper. Add duck meat and stir gently to combine. Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

8 – Meanwhile, pulse bread and remaining 2 tablespoons oil in food processor until crumbs are no larger than 1/8 inch, eight to ten 1-second pulses. Transfer to medium bowl, add parsley, and toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

9 – Sprinkle ½ cup bread-crumb mixture evenly over casserole; bake uncovered, 15 minutes. Remove lid and bake 15 minutes longer. Sprinkle remaining bread-crumb mixture over top of casserole and bake until topping is golden brown and beans are bubbling around edges of pot, about 30 minutes. Let rest before serving.


  • http://foodalogue.com Joan Nova

    Looks like cassoulet was a big hit. Good luck in the challenge.

    • Amy

      Thanks Joan! Tasted even better the next day! Best of luck to you too!

  • Ronni Silver

    Thanks again for having us over for dinner. It was so so so yummy! the pics look amazing but it tasted even better. You should definitely win this competition!

    • Amy

      Thanks Ronni! It was awesome having you and Glen over for dinner!

  • http://www.youfedababychili.com Ben

    I love cassoulet. This is exactly the type of thing I like eat as leftovers, several days later, over rice. Kudos for getting things together.

    My tough guy French friend ate one of these things at Les Halles with a tartiflette on the side and plate of french fries with mayonnaise. Now THAT’s luxury.

    • Amy

      My sis had leftovers with kimchi…perfect.

      Tartiflette (had to Google it!) AND french fries with mayo?? I think that calls for some Lipitor for dessert!

  • http://lemonsandanchovies.wordpress.com/ Jean

    So glad that things worked out for your dinner party–I had some potential mishaps on my end, too, but it ended up being a fun evening. I think you did a great job turning things around so everyone was happy in the end. :-)

    • Amy

      I couldn’t have done it without my level-headed sister! In the end, guests are just happy to eat and have fun!

  • http://www.lawyerloveslunch.com Lawyer Loves Lunch

    Way to rock out, even in the face of the unexpected! And how awesome is that picture of the little foodie? Some of the best dinners I’ve been invited to have been served family style so I’m a huge fan. You’ve got my vote (of course) :)

    • Amy

      Thanks! The pic of the little guy looks good doesn’t it? Too bad he opted for just rice and nori for dinner! One day, one day….

  • jkwon

    The Oeufs au caviar was a very nice start to the meal. The presentation, portion, and taste was perfect. “It surprised me.”…giggle, giggle, with hand over mouth. (That was my impersonation of the japanese female judge on old-school Iron Chef.) It was a nice intro to the next course that was much heartier. The salad vinaigrette contrasted with the arugula very nicely…it was a nice complement to the duck, beans, and pork. I could have eaten the entire pot full, but fortunately my stomach is not as large as a Le Creuset 5.5 quart pot. Even after filling myself with Cassoulet, I had enough room for the chocolate cake and ice cream. Tres décadent!

    • Amy

      Thanks Judge Julie!

      This dinner would not have been possible without you, Larry, and, of course, Ronni and Glen! :-)

  • http://croquecamille.wordpress.com Camille

    Yum! I adore cassoulet. I made one last fall completely from scratch – duck confit and all! (Well, not the sausage, I guess.) We ate it for a week! Anyway, this looks like a delicious dinner, you’re getting one of my votes.

    • Amy

      Thanks so much! I really wanted to do everything from scratch, but maybe next time! But as I mentioned, it turned out deliciously and my dinner guests loved it!

  • kim2480

    Bomb diggety Luxury Dinner Party! Whoop whoop.

    • Amy

      Thanks!

  • http://www.riceandwheat.com riceandwheat

    Yay! Now this is my kind of party – casual and laidback so you got to enjoy it too and not have to worry about plating courses (and um, serving caviar doesn’t hurt either. :) Hurray for keeping it simple!

    • Amy

      Believe me, my caviar did not break the bank! Who knew there was decent affordable caviar out there?

  • http://www.passion4food.ca jen cheung

    VOTEDDDDDDD! Good luck! Wish you all the best!

    jen @ http://www.passion4food.ca

    • Amy

      Thanks Jen!

  • http://debbidoesdinnerhealthy.blogspot.com/ Debbi Does Dinner Healthy

    Excellent menu! It all looks wonderful, you got my vote!

    • Amy

      Thank you! I’m glad you liked the simple yet luxurious menu!

  • http://willowbirdbaking.wordpress.com/2010/10/03/elevated-americana-a-celebration-of-39-years/ Julie @ Willow Bird Baking

    That cassoulet looks amazing and comforting, and it sounded like you needed just that! I’m so sorry for all the stress, but glad your dinner party turned out to be a great experience after all!

    • Amy

      It was great to just sit down and eat with friends and family. It certainly made the effort worthwhile. Thanks for reading!

  • http://www.junblog.com Jun Belen

    So proud of you Amy for pulling it off. The dinner looks amazing… that plate of cassoulet looks so delicious, so comforting. And that’s what luxury is about! Well done, my friend!

    • Amy

      Thanks Jun!

  • http://www.barbaricgulp.com Kelly

    I think that’s a perfect menu. Good work!

    Kelly
    Sounding My Barbaric Gulp!
    http://www.barbaricgulp.com

  • christine

    the food looks delicious and beautiful, and so does the family. ;) I wish andy and I could have been there….. but I really enjoyed reading this entry. especially the good advice on just going with it, and that serving decadent, luxurious food doesn’t need to be a big [stress-filled] affair.

    • Amy

      Thanks! There’s always next time for dinner!

  • http://www.thelittlefoodie.com Mariko

    Yum. I have never made cassoulet because it looks like so much work but that last picture of it in the pan is making me rethink that.
    I know. Wasn’t this challenge so stressful? :) We’re through, now, and on to the next!

    • Amy

      LOL! Yes, especially with everything else I had going on! I like your optimism! Keepin’ my fingers and toes crossed to make it to the next round.

  • http://www.cookthatbook.com Stay-At-Home-Chef

    Great post! Your words and photos oozed with the whole concept of comfort food…well done. Hope to join you in round four :)

    • Amy

      Thank you! Keepin’ my fingers crossed for round 4!

  • Chihana

    My Gawd! Amy I am so proud of you and this spread is TOOO DIVINE. Why couldn’t you start this in Baltimore when we were in the same ‘hood. I hope one day you can cook for us ;-) Good luck!! oxoxo Chi

    • Amy

      Hey, if you visit your old home state of NJ, I’ll definitely cook for youse guys! :-)

  • http://showfoodchef.com/ Cathy/ShowFoodChef

    Simple to Spectacular is one of my fav books. Loved your post, and the food looks…well..Spectacular. Great job!

    • Amy

      Thank you!

  • http://foododelmundo.com/ Food o’ del Mundo

    Great menu, great post, great contender! You’ve got my vote!
    ~ Mary

    • Amy

      Thanks Mary!

  • Janna

    voted for you! Susan would *love* that egg and caviar dish. Did you post the chocolate cake recipe? I would love that!

    • Amy

      Thanks! I did not post the cake recipe, but will email it to you. It is sooooo ridiculously easy to make. And so is the “egg on egg” dish!

  • http://www.koreanamericanmommy.blogspot.com/ Lisa~Korean American Mommy

    Great job even through the bumps! Good luck mama!

    • Amy

      Thanks! Best of luck to you too!

  • http://www.duchessinbrooklyn.blogspot.com Duchess

    Best of luck, nothing like cassoulet to warm the soul huh?

    • Amy

      Definitely!

  • http://fotocuisine.com Peter

    Cassoulet is always one of those things I’ve wanted to make, but never got around to. It looks great, and I love the eggs/eggs appetizer, too!

    You got our vote!

    (Our entry is here: http://www.foodbuzz.com/project_food_blog/challenges/3/view/1249 )

    • Amy

      Thanks! I’ve been wanting to make this dish for the longest time. This was the perfect opportunity to do so!

  • http://fotocuisine.com Peter

    Except, we’re actually here:

    http://www.foodbuzz.com/project_food_blog/challenges/3/view/1143

    (heh cut and pasted the wrong entry! Oops!)

    • Amy

      Got it and voted for both sites! :-)

  • http://www.thedailyspud.com Daily Spud

    Y’know what, you’re right, this is not top chef and real life is part and parcel of food blogging. Your dinner demonstrates that amply! Best of luck in this round.

  • cecilia kim

    Amy
    cassoulet and your French dishes must have been dictated
    by Ratatouille inside your cap.
    Three chers for Aimee!!!
    Good lock
    Luc et cecilia

    • Amy

      Thanks mom and dad!

    • jkwon

      lol…

  • http://thenovicechefblog.com Jessica

    Looks great! Love your photos! Hope we both make it to the next round! :-) You have my vote!

    • Amy

      Thanks! Fingers crossed for the next round!

  • http://togetherinfood.wordpress.com Stephanie M @ TogetherInFood

    Wow, I love caviar, eggs and cassoulet…this sounds like it was a perfect meal. I love your tips on how to host a successful dinner party, too. When I started hosting bigger groups I’d get stressed or plan it to the second, and I too realized that you have to have fun and be flexible; involving your guests in the prep or cooking, or pouring wine, or answering the door, helps and makes them feel good too!

    • Amy

      Thanks! Yes! It’s also about relinquishing some control and that always releases some stress. :-)

  • Fruti

    This looks absolutely divine and such a great way to welcome some fall weather! I hope you guys are all OK. I love the way your blogs combine amazing recipes, practical tips for dreamy food, and reminders about how family & friends really make our meals most special.

    • Amy

      Thanks Fruti! Unfortunately Dave missed out on this one. I hope we can all have dinner again soon! We even have enough room for a kids’ table!

  • http://www.weekofmenus.com Joanne Choi

    Having family and other people in your universe means that crazy emergencies happen like this often, doesn’t it? But your meal looks still luxurious and special! I voted for you!

    • Amy

      Thanks Joanne! I know, but chaos always makes life interesting! I voted for you too!
      (BTW…just reconnected with MJ on FB! Such a small world!)

  • http://whitneysamusebouche.blogspot.com/ Whit@AmuseBouche

    wow it looks phenomenal! I would have loved to have been there! congrats on a great dinner!

    http://whitneysamusebouche.blogspot.com/

    Whit

    • Amy

      Thanks Whit!

  • http://weekendfoodprojects.com Ed

    Great job and you have my vote. Good luck!

    • Amy

      Thanks Ed!

  • http://shinycooking.com Amy (Shiny Cooking)

    Warm and hearty meal, and grace under pressure! Love the photo of you (I think?) with wine. Got my vote!

    • Amy

      Thanks Amy! BTW…the photo is of my wonderful sis!

  • http://www.foodbuzz.com/project_food_blog/challenges/3/view/1161 Jacob’s Kitchen

    Great post! that cassoulet looks delicious! And it is the perfect dinner party food. And the rest of the menu looks amazing too. Nice job. I voted for you!

    Good luck! Fingers crossed for us both to advance to the next round. =)

    • Amy

      Thanks! Yes, fingers AND toes crossed for the next round!

  • http://crystalscozykitchen.blogspot.com/ Crystal’s Cozy Kitchen

    Isn’t it crazy how things happen right before an event that you’ve been planning… not the week before when everything went perfectly and didn’t need to? My son woke up two nights before the dinner (my prep day) and kept me up for 4 hours. Needless to say I wasn’t very productive on my prep day (of course it wasn’t a family emergency either!)
    Good luck.

    • Amy

      Oh yeah, sleep deprivation is no fun. Fingers crossed for the next round!

  • Ousmane

    Congratulations! This is so yummy I know I would not regret it when I stop by. Good luck and keep up the good work.

    Greetings to the family.

    Ousmane

    • Amy

      Thanks Ousmane. You definitely have to stop by when you’re in NJ!

  • http://savorysweetliving.blogspot.com Savory Sweet Living

    I love cassoulet, one of my favorites and if you have it on the menu, I’d be happy to be over for dinner. Great post, love the pictures and you got my vote. Good luck!

    • Amy

      Thanks much!

  • Jean

    Hi Amy,
    Wow, it sounds AMAZING!!!
    Now, I am really regretting that I missed it :)
    I am just teasing you :> (inside joke)
    What an impressive spread. Great pulling it all together despite the chaos. You are the woman!! Got my vote.
    See you tomorrow.
    Jean

    • Amy

      Thanks! You are allowed to give me a hard time! :-) We will definitely have you over soon!! :-)

  • http://danasfoodforthought.wordpress.com/ Dana

    Everything looks great, but that chocolate cake looks AMAZING!! Great job adapting to your surroundings. Good luck!

    • Amy

      Thanks! I’ve had a couple of comments on the cake…I guess I’ll have to post the recipe soon!

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  • J Kwon

    Dear Kimchimom,
    I made this Cassoulet for a fab dinner party, and it was amazing!
    Thanks for the great idea…

    JKwon