Broccoli and Cheese Crustless Quiche

Call it what you want – a frittata, a crustless quiche, but in the end it’s all the same thing – a fancy schmancy omelet with stuff in it. This particular recipe is especially good. Broccoli and Cheese are one of those combinations that are made for each other (although I used Romesco cauliflower in this one), and it’s a healthy start to any morning. If your New Year’s resolution is to eat healthier, this is a great recipe for meeting those goals. It’s low calorie, low carb, low fat, and packed with protein.

Broccoli Cheese Quiche

Broccoli and Cheese Crustless Quiche
recipe courtesy Vegetarian Times

2 tsp. olive oil
1/2 cup thinly sliced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
5 cups broccoli florets
1 1/4 cups 1% milk
1 cup shredded reduced-fat Swiss cheese
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
4 large egg whites, lightly beaten
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 Tbs. grated fresh Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350F. Spray 9-inch pie pan with cooking spray. Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic, and cook, stirring often, 1 1/2 minutes. Add broccoli, and cook, stirring often, 1 minute. Spread mixture in pie pan.

Combine milk, cheese, mustard, egg whites, eggs, salt, pepper and nutmeg in large bowl. Pour over broccoli mixture; sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake 40 minutes, or until top is golden and knife inserted in center comes out clean. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. Makes 6 servings.

Per serving: Calories: 160, Protein: 14g, Total fat: 9g, Saturated fat: 4g, Carbs: 8g, Cholesterol: 85mg, Sodium: 370mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugars: 3g

Admin: Cleaning Out the Cobwebs

At the end of the year, I’ve realized that I’ve done so much, and rarely posted about any of it. The end result? A “drafts” folder with well over 100 entries in it. I’m going to use January to get all caught up, so you get the information when it’s still fresh and useful.

In the meantime, you may see some posts that are out of season  (summer farmers markets photos, for example), but bear with me – my resolution this year is to make blogging a priority.

Will start posting from the drafts soon.

Learning to Cook Sous Vide at Market District Robinson

Back in October, a few of us local food bloggers were invited to attend the grand opening of Giant Eagle Market District at Kingsdale, and we enjoyed a day full of open access to experts and a grand tour of the place. During the course of that day, I spoke to Donna, who handles online marketing, asking about the differences between our Market District here in Ohio and the original ones in the Pittsburgh area. She explained that there’s a cooking school in their store, but that the square footage difference wasn’t all that much. We bandied about the idea of me coming out to take a class (since Pittsburgh is so close), but I put it at the back of my mind.

Fast forward about two months, and I receive an email from Donna inviting Paul and I to come to Pennsylvania for a cooking class, with accommodations for the evening provided by them. The timing couldn’t be better, with Paul getting ready to go on furlough. So we accepted their invitation and made plans to visit a few other places while in the Pittsburgh area.

After about a three hour drive from Columbus, we arrived in Robinson Township, Pennsylvania, and outlying suburb of Pittsburgh. To be honest, it reminded me of a Columbus suburb, but then again – aren’t all suburbs pretty much the same? Our accommodations were in the very nice, very new Courtyard at Marriott hotel across the street, and we took a couple of minutes to settle in and freshen up before heading up to the store for the cooking lesson. We met Donna and a few other Market District employees and headed up to the second floor for the cooking class, where we met the instructors. Chef Keira (on the left) is in charge of the Cooking School, and for the class we were taking, Chef Lawrence (middle) and Chef Scott (right) were the instructors.

Chefs Keira, Lawrence and Scott

To take the edge off our hunger, we snacked on some nuts and cookies that they had laid out for us.

Pre-Class Snacks

The topic for the evening was Sous Vide Cooking, wherein one vacuum seals their food and then immerses it into a circulator where water temperature is controlled exactly, leading to some pretty stellar results. Although I’ll describe the class in detail and leave the original recipes intact, I’ll also provide suggestions on how to make a similar dish without the Sous Vide equipment.

BLT with Smoked Pork Belly

Smoked BLT
recipe courtesy Giant Eagle Market District

6 slices of Brioche bread, toasted
1 batch of roasted Roma tomatoes
1 head of hydroponic Bibb lettuce
1 lb. pork belly, cut into slices
1/2 c. aioli
1 tbsp. apple wood chips
12 sprigs of rosemary, bottom leaves removed

Season the pork belly with fresh cracked black pepper. In a large skillet, over medium low heat, add the pork belly to the pan and start to render the fat out of the pork. Then start to dump the fat as it accumulates in the pan to help crisp up the bacon. Turn up to medium high heat and cook for 5 minutes a side to brown up the pork belly. Once the pork is cooked, place on paper towels to absorb the excess grease. Transfer all of the pork belly to a mixing bowl and cover with plastic wrap and cut a small hole. Place the apple wood chips into the smoking chamber of the smoking gun and put the hose in the bowl. Light the chips with a lighter and turn on the machine and let the bowl fill up completely with smoke then turn off and cover hole with another sheet of plastic wrap. Let this sit for 10 minutes to absorb the smoky flavor.

In the meantime, place 2 leaves of Bibb lettuce on the bottom piece of bread, then place tomatoes on top. Spread 2 tbsp. of aioli on the top piece of bread, then place 4 strips of smoked pork belly on top of the tomatoes. Place the 2nd piece of bread on top and secure with 4 sprigs of rosemary. Then cut from quarter to quarter to form small triangles. Before serving light the rosemary on fire to smoke and serve.

If you don’t have a smoking gun: skip those steps and use double-smoked slab bacon instead – cut into slices and proceed as usual.

The smoking gun is a neat little gadget, though – here Chef Scott is demonstrating for us how to use it.

Chef Scott Demonstrating Smoking Gun

But this isn’t the type of class where you can sit back and rest on your laurels while the chefs do all the work. This is hands on, baby! All the ingredients for each recipe were already set out for us.

Mis En Place for Steaks

Chef Scott walked us through vacuum sealing our bags – a secret to getting it right is getting the contents of the bag as flat as possible so it cooks evenly.

Chef Scott Demonstrating Vacuum Sealing

Off they went into the immersion circulator so we could get started working on the next dish.

Immersion Circulators

I was super psyched that we were making risotto – it is one of my favorite dishes to prepare because although it’s time consuming, it’s hard to screw up.

Mis En Place for Risotto

Paul grabbed a knife and went to work chopping shallots.

Paul Chopping Shallots

While Chef Scott demonstrated the proper way to do it at the instructors stove at the center of the room. That’s the only thing about a cooking class that frustrates me a bit – needing to work at the pace of the chef. Because Paul and I do know how to cook, risotto making is old hat for us and we have our own methods. For one night only, you need to set all you know aside and follow directions.

Chef Scott Working on his Risotto

We also made some sous vide filet mignon. Mmmm…

Sous Vide Filet Mignon

Filet Mignon Sous Vide
recipe courtesy Giant Eagle Market District

1 oz. grape seed oil
4 petite filets
4 sprigs of thyme
2 sprigs of rosemary
4 sage leaves
6 cloves of roasted garlic
4 tbsp. truffle butter
Salt & pepper to taste
2 vacuum seal bags

Clamp the immersion circulator to the side of a large hotel pan or cambro and add hot water to the fill line and set the machine to the desired serving temperature. Heat a large heavy bottomed skillet over high heat. Season filets with salt and pepper on all sides and add oil to the pan. Then sear the filets for 1 minute, then flip and sear the other side until you achieve a nice brown crust. Place the meat in the vacuum seal bags and submerge the bag in an ice bath to chill down to 40F. Once the meat has thoroughly chilled, place half of all seasonings in each of the bags. Seal the pouches according to the machine’s recommendations. Then place the pouches in hot water bath and cook until the meat reaches the desired serving temperature. Once cooked, remove pouch from water bath and let rest 10 minutes before serving.

Note for those without an immersion circulator: grill or prepare steak as usual, spoon truffle butter on your steak when it is done to your liking.

However, there is a benefit to cooking it sous vide – even though it looks kind of grey on the outside, check out the inside – evenly and perfectly cooked from edge to edge.

Close Up of Sous Vide Filet Mignon

The risotto was a perfect side for this. This recipe is definitely a keeper, although I think it only needs 1 cup of cream (already whipped) rather than whipping a whole cup of cream and folding it in. Here at home we just mix the mushroom duxelle through.

Risotto with Mushroom Duxelle

Porcini Scented Mushroom Risotto
recipe courtesy Giant Eagle Market District

2 tbsp. grape seed oil
1/3 c. shallots, chopped
1 c. Arborio rice
1/2 c. white wine
4 c. Market District chicken stock
1 c. heavy cream, whipped
1/4 c. Parmesan Reggiano cheese, grated
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 tbsp. dried porcini mushrooms, chopped

Heat oil in a large sauce pan over medium heat, then sweat the shallots until translucent. Toss in the Arborio rice and cook, stirring, until the rice is toasted, about 2 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the white wine and cook until the wine is absorbed. Start to add in the stock about 1/2 cup at a time, allowing each addition to fully absorb before adding more liquid. Once the rice is close, the absorption of the stock will start to slow down. Repeat the process until the rice is tender, about 20 minutes. Add in the cheese and taste, then season accordingly with salt and pepper. Then fold in the whipped cream.

If you have access to a smoking gun: Place plastic wrap over the pot and cut a small hole and insert the tube from the smoking gun. Place the dried mushrooms in the burning chamber and light with a lighter, then turn on the smoking gun. Let the machine run until the pot is filled with smoke, then turn off and place another sheet of plastic wrap on top after removing the house to seal. Let the risotto stand for 5-10 minutes to absorb the mushroom flavor, then serve.

If you don’t have a smoking gun: mix the mushroom duxelle (recipe below) into the finished risotto.

Once again, the ingredients were already set out for us:

Mis en Place for Mushroom Duxelles

Mushroom Duxelle
recipe courtesy Giant Eagle Market District

3 tbsp. unsalted butter, sliced
2 tbsp. shallots, chopped
8 oz. crimini (baby bella) mushrooms, finely chopped
1/4 c. heavy cream
1 tbsp. fresh sage, chopped
1 tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped
1 tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
2 tbsp. Parmesan cheese, grated

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and melt butter. Once the butter has stopped foaming up, add in shallots and saute for 2 minutes. Then toss in the mushrooms and cook until the liquid has cooked out and the mushrooms have browned. Pour in the heavy cream, fresh herbs and the Parmesan cheese and simmer until the mixture has thickened up to a paste-like consistency. Taste the mixture and season accordingly with salt and pepper to taste.

-

The biggest surprise for me is the carrots. I loved them prepared this way. But since I don’t have a sous vide unit at home, I found another way to make them that gives a similar end result. Their recipe first, then my adaptation after that.

Sous Vide Carrots

Tri Color Carrots Sous Vide
recipe courtesy Giant Eagle Market District

1 tbsp. grape seed oil
2 lbs. tri color carrots, cut on the bias
3 sprigs of thyme
1 small shallot, sliced
3 tbsp. good quality unsalted butter
2 vacuum seal bags

Clamp the immersion circulator to a large hotel pan or stock pot and add hot water to the fill line and set the machine to 185F. Cut the carrots on a hard bias to expose as much of the carrot to the water as possible. Toss carrots in a bowl with 1 tbsp. oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Then place carrots in the vacuum bags in a single evenly spaced layer then toss in the thyme, shallots and butter. Seal the pouch according to the machines instructions. Place the carrot pouch in the water bath and cook for 40 minutes or until tender. Remove the carrots from the water bath, season again with salt and pepper and serve. You can saute them lightly to get a little color on them and glaze the carrots with the remaining liquid from the bag.

Adaptation: Cut carrots as described above, and steam them until tender. Toss with a couple tablespoons of butter, salt and pepper, and Lighthouse Salad Herb Blend to taste.

The best part of the cooking class is that you get to eat what you made after. Doesn’t this look delicious? Paul and I had the foolish idea that we would eat dinner after this class…no friggin’ way. I was so full.

Plated Sous Vide Meal

They provided dessert as well, but I didn’t get around to eating it that night and boxed it up for later.

Dessert at Sous Vide Cooking Class

Now, a couple of things going on at the Robinson store that I thought was really neat. For the most part, it’s like the one we have here, but the layout of our store flows better, I think. In their produce section, they’ve got this hydroponic garden set up, growing things like butter lettuce, basil and other herbs, which they later either use in making the prepared foods in the restaurant area or sell to the public.

Hydroponic Growing System

And having lived in Pennsylvania with my husband, I know that beer in grocery stores is a no-no there. So color me surprised when I saw beer for sale in the market. There’s a catch, though. It’s licensed as a restaurant, and that’s why they are able to do it. Because of this, though – the divisions between store and restaurant are more closely enforced than is in our Market District.

Beer? In a Store in Pennsylvania?

We never did get the chance to explore Pittsburgh. We were too stuffed the night before, and when we left, we were trying to beat the snow home (we failed – it caught up to us in Cambridge, OH).

All is not lost, though – close to Pittsburgh is a convenience store/gas station that makes the best darn nachos ever. Piled on with as much good stuff as you want for like $3.50 or so. It took me most of the trip to finish them! Lord, how I wish we had a Sheetz closer to us.

Nachos from Sheetz

A big thank you to Donna Pahel and her marketing team for putting the event together – they’ve got a bunch of people working there who are passionate about what they do and truly seem to enjoy their work. Their enthusiasm is contagious!

For more information and the cooking school schedule, visit the Market District Robinson web site.

FTC Disclosure: In the course of the event, we received the following considerations, which did not affect our final review in the least: 1 night hotel accommodations, free cooking class for two (including meal, wine, and other beverages), swag bag of Giant Eagle products.

Christmas Traditions

Here it is, very early on Christmas morning and I’ve been thinking about our families’ traditions through the years – Christmas has always been a pretty big deal when I was growing up, and fortunately, we’ve continued that trend through our generation and the next. But I thought it would be a nice time to get away from talking about food, and taking a moment to talk about the sense of family and togetherness that is behind the holiday.

As long as I can remember, and even before, Christmas Eve was a bigger deal than Christmas Day, because it was when we’d go and visit family. Even baby me was taken around to see the relatives. I love this picture, because it show the tree that my Oma and Opa put up for Christmas. Yes, that’s the Christmas tree – even as a baby, I towered over it. This is me with the tree on Christmas Eve 1973.

Becke, Christmas Eve 1973

I spent my first couple of years with my maternal grandmother (Edith Mama was what I always called her) because my mom was taking some time away to get her life together so she’d have a suitable home to bring me up in, and my grandmother and my maternal great-grandmother (Oma) were inseparable. Needless to say, that meant I spent a lot of time over there, including the holidays. She died when I was very young of a heart attack (at age 46), but I still think of her often, especially during holidays – I wish I had the opportunity to get to know her better.

Becke with Edith Mama, Christmas 1973

At 6, I still believed in Santa, so needless to say I thought it was the real thing. This is me and Santa during Christmas 1978.

Becke & Santa, Christmas 1978

From my earliest memories, I remember that we had a tradition every Christmas Eve, to visit all of the relatives in the same order every year. The first stop on the trip was to my Grandmom Jones, my paternal grandmother and to my Aunt Doreen, who lived with her.

Grandmom Jones always had milk and cookies, coffee or tea for the adults, and a kind word for everyone. And she was an equal opportunity Grandmom to everyone – even though my sister Maurya was not her granddaughter by blood, she treated her just like she was. What a wonderful woman. She died a few years ago, and I regret not visiting her more often.

Grandmom Jones

My Aunt Doreen always had a child-like excitement about Christmas, and her excitement was contagious. I think she enjoyed the holiday most of all.

Aunt Doreen

This is a picture of me, my Grandmom Jones and my sister Maurya in like 1983 or so.

Grandmom Jones, Maurya and Me

After going to my Grandmom Jones’ house, it was off to visit Nana and Puh, my great-grandparents on my mom’s paternal side. They lived in a trailer in South Jersey part of the year, but also lived in Massachusetts (or was it New Hampshire?) as well, so they had these really cool Bostonian accents. Here is my sister Maurya at 2 or 3 years old with Puh.

Maurya and Puh, Christmas Eve 1982

Nana, as a Christmas gift every year, would knit or crochet some of the ugliest hats, scarfs, etc. ever. But since it was your Nana, and since you know that she put love and care into it, would thank her profusely while thinking in the back of your mind that you’d never been seen in public with it on unless you were going to visit Nana. I’m sure all of us have gotten that kind of Nana gift. ;-) Here’s Nana with Maurya.

Nana & Maurya, January 1982

I believe that they passed away sometime in the late 80′s or early 90′s in their eighties, and again, they are sadly missed. My mom could pinpoint the dates for sure, since she’s really into genealogy, a hobby that Puh got her started in by gifting her with a family tree that he had started and that she later on seriously expanded.

My mom has many of the same Christmas memories that I have, because they spanned generations. Here she is with Opa at Christmas when she was a young child.

Mom with Opa

And here I am with Opa, on Christmas Eve, almost 30 years later. Notice that my right eye is almost swollen shut. Nana and Puh had 2 Siamese that I had a severe allergy to, so all pictures of me at Christmas at Oma’s and Opa’s have that same oh-so-flattering look.

Opa and Becke, Christmas Eve 1982

Unfortunately, I couldn’t locate a picture of Oma and me during Christmas, because she was usually the one behind the camera taking pictures of me and Opa. And they took TONS of pictures. I don’t think a week of my childhood went by where there wasn’t a picture taken. This is Oma and me (as a baby), but it’s a great representation of how to age gracefully. To me, my Oma was the most beautiful person in the world. Quite literally, she *was* my world growing up – the person who kept me centered, who was always supportive, and who always wanted the best for me. She died in 1995, and I still miss her like crazy. Each milestone of my life, I get a bit sad that she couldn’t be there. In many ways, I live my life now as a tribute to her – I always try to do the right thing that would make her proud.

Me and Oma

But the Christmas Eve festivities at Oma’s and Opa’s rocked. They would transform my playroom in the attic into a magical Christmas wonderland, with decorations, homemade cookies and other goodies, and presents out the wazoo. Oh, how I always looked forward to that day. Even Maurya got in on it, when she was old enough to understand what was going on. Here she is at all of 2 years getting a present from Opa.

Maurya Christmas Eve 1982

Afterward, we’d head back home and go to sleep, so we could get up at the crack of dawn in the morning to open presents. By then, I didn’t believe in Santa, but I wasn’t going to spoil the magic for my little sister. Here is a pic of me, my sister Maurya and my mom in front of the Christmas tree.

Maurya, Mom, and Becke - Christmas 1982

Mom, like most Mom’s, always locked herself into the bedroom to wrap presents so we wouldn’t walk in on her.

Mom, Christmas 1982

In morning, we’d tear our presents open like little bandits. This particular year, I got a Sony Walkman. I spent the next few months with it as a permanent attachment.

Becke Christmas 1982

My sister, I think, was more interested in tearing the paper to pieces than what was inside. Although, if it was something Smurf related, she’d let out a squee.

Maurya, Christmas 1982

We’ve kept a few of the traditions (opening a gift on Christmas eve, doing Christmas baking, etc) but we’ve ended up making many new ones of our own too. Here’s our tree this year – our old tree’s lights went belly up last year so we replaced it with a white one, which is kind of retro. Every year we get a commemorative personalized ornament for our tree listing the names of us and our pets. Since we don’t have kids of our own, we end up spoiling our nephew and nieces. I honestly get more pleasure out of giving than receiving. I’ve been blessed in so many ways, and love to pay it forward for the handful of people I care deeply for.

Our Xmas Tree 2010

Tomorrow, we’re going to my sister’s for Christmas dinner. I’ve decided to hand it off to her after doing it the last decade or so. And tomorrow we’ll create new memories, and new traditions. And afterwards, I can take you vicariously through how our family celebrates the holidays.

What traditions does your family have?

Easiest and Tastiest Pot Roast Ever!

As you all know, I’ve had some health problems over the last few months, so when I’ve hunted for recipes, it’s mostly been for old classics, that survive the test of time because they’re just that good. I’ll be honest – I didn’t have high expectations when I first saw it – but after having the combination of tender pot roast, root veggies, cream of mushroom soup and onion soup mix, I was blown away. It all converts over time to an awesome roast with a nice creamy gravy. This recipe goes in the keeper pile and is added to the regular rotation. After having New England Pot Roast like this, I’ll never cook it any other way.

Recipe note: It calls for a top round roast, which we used the first time we made it. The second time, we used a chuck roast, but the final result was far too fatty to recommend. Stick with the top round or another similarly lean cut of beef.

Pot Roast

Buzzards Bay Lipton Onion Soup Pot Roast
recipe courtesy Beef Cooking

4 to 5 lb. top round roast
Cut up potatoes, carrots and onions (enough for 8 people)
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1 1/2 cans water
1 pkg. Lipton onion soup

Put pot roast in center of large baking dish. Add cut up vegetables. Add 2 cans of cream of mushroom soup, 1 1/2 cans of water and 1 package of onion soup. Cover and cook for 2 hours (or until tender) at 325 degrees.

It’s French…It’s Full of Meat…It’s Cassoulet!

Original Post Date: 10/10/2010

For a long time, Becke’s had a favorite wintertime meal from North Market Poultry and Game. That meal was, and is, their cassoulet.

Cassoulet is French comfort food — a hearty, meat-heavy bean stew cooked for hours in a cast-iron pot either in an oven or on a stovetop until the beans are very soft and the meats are fall-apart tender. The initial clear appearance of the broth, by the time the cassoulet is done, has become a murky, thick, starchy gravy redolent of the flavors of all the meats as well as the added vegetables and aromatics (you’ll find a bouquet garni used to season any good cassoulet — this one included).

The problem I’ve always had with cassoulet is that it’s such a chore to make, and usually pretty expensive. Ours was no exception. I started with a half-kilo of flageolet beans (available for $3.49 a pound at the North Market’s Greener Grocer), a bit over a pound of bone-in lamb shoulder chops ($5.49 a pound at Blues Creek Meats) from which I removed the bones with a fillet knife, four (six would work just as well) Long Island duck legs ($5.99 a pound at North Market Poultry & Game), two quarts of NMPG’s fantastically flavorful duck stock (again from NMPG @ $5 per quart), about 3/4 pound of a really really flavorful white-rinded French-style pork salami sausage from Curds & Whey ($24 a pound; ask Mike what he suggested I use in my cassoulet and he’ll sell you the right one), and finally, about 2/3 pound of Thurn’s double-smoked slab bacon ($5 a pound at Thurn’s Meats on Greenlawn Avenue; open 8am-6pm Thu-Fri and 7am-1pm Sat, closed Sun-Wed).

To finish the recipe, we bought one batard (a crusty, large French loaf with a dense crumb) from Eleni Christina Bakery on Russell Avenue in the Short North. I suggest you call ahead, so they’ll hold aside one or two batards for you at $3 per loaf.

If you think this dish is a bit pricey to prepare, understand that the one local vendor from whom we buy prepared cassoulet, North Market Poultry & Game, charges $8 per pint for it, and it’s worth every penny. It truly is a time-consuming pain in the butt to make, but is worth the effort.

The finished cassoulet was quite pretty. Here it is, in all its aromatic and meaty glory:

Paul's Cassoulet

The recipe I borrowed and adapted was the Duck Cassoulet Recipe by Only Slightly Pretentious Food:

500g lingot beans (I used flageolet beans)
300g lamb shoulder or boneless lamb, cut into 4cm cubes (I used lamb shoulder chops, trimmed of bone and cut into approximately 2.5cm cubes)
200g smoked bacon slab (I used 300g of double-smoked bacon slab)
6 pcs raw duck legs (no need to chop in half if using local ducks, which are smaller) (I used four larger legs)
3 pcs sausages (I used a single 340g piece of French-style pork salami with a white washed rind)
100g duck fat
200g roughly chopped white onions
50g chopped garlic
100g or 4 peeled and chopped tomatoes (I used peeled canned San Marzano tomatoes)
4 Tbsp tomato paste (I used 2 Tbsp Amore double-concentrated tomato paste)
1 bouquet garni (i.e. a handful of herbs like thyme, bay leaf, rosemary, parsley stalks, celery leaves, tied together with twine)
2 carrots
1 whole onion
2 cloves (stick the cloves into the peeled onion)
4 whole cloves garlic
Salt to taste
1.5 litres water (I used 1.5 liters of NMPG’s fantastic duck stock in place of the water)
1 sheet of greaseproof parchment paper
(Optional) 1 cup breadcrumbs (I omitted this)
One French batard loaf, cut into 3/4″ to 1″ thick slices

* Lingot Beans are dry white beans, a little like kidney beans. They are available in Singapore from Culina. Only butchers like Hubers/Meat the Butcher/Swiss Butchery will sell smoked bacon in a slab and not pre-sliced. Feel free to use substitutes.

PROCESS:

(1) The trick is that because the stew cooks itself, it’s important to use the best and freshest ingredients you can get, as all the flavours get leached out and into your stew. It’s really what sets apart a quality and home-made dish from a commercial one.

(2) In a sturdy pot (prefably a cast iron pot) large enough to hold all the ingredients, place the beans and bacon slab and fill with enough water to cover the beans. Bring to a boil for 15 minutes. Remove the bacon and strain the beans under running water to wash away the starch. Set both aside. ***I skipped this step, choosing instead to soak the flageolet beans overnight in clear cold water, then draining and rinsing them***

(3) Dry the pot and use it to sear the duck legs with a bit of the duck fat. Sear the lamb pieces and set all the meat aside. When you sear, you are aiming only to brown the meat surface, not to cook the meat through and through. If you cooked it through, there’s no point in stewing, is there!

(4) Using the remaining fat, cook the chopped onions and garlic till they soften. Add the tomato paste and continue to fry for 2 minutes. In all this searing and frying, remember that you are not to burn anything, only to lightly brown them – heat control is important.

(5) Add in the fresh tomatoes, salt, remaining duck fat, the beans, duck legs, bacon and lamb Add in 1.5 litres of water and turn the flame down to a simmer. ***I cut the pork salami into fifths and added it at this step. Also, substitute the duck stock for water here.***

(6) Add the peeled onion studded with the cloves, the 2 carrots, 4 cloves of peeled garlic and the bouquet garni.

(7) Cut the parchment paper into a circle to fit the circumference of the pot, cut a hole out of the center of your circular baking paper, then float the baking paper circle on the top of your stew. The idea here is you don’t want to cover the pot, because that doesn’t allow for evaporation. You don’t want to leave it open either, because then too much evaporation will occur. So you create a chimney, from the baking paper and lay it over the surface of the stew, to allow for moderate evaporation and to soak up some of the oil. ***The hole I cut in the center of the parchment paper was approximately 3 inches in diameter.***

(8) Place the entire pot in a pre-heated over at 170C for 1 hour 55 min. Make sure your pot has no plastic handles to it!

(9) After 1 hour, poke holes in your sausages (to break the sausage skin), place them into the pot and keep cooking the stew for another 40 minutes. ***IGNORE THIS STEP, AS YOUR SALAMI WILL ALREADY BE IN THE CASSOULET AND THERE WILL BE NO NEED TO ADD ANYTHING ELSE TO THE CASSOULET UNTIL THE VERY END.***

(10) At the end, test that your beans have softened to the consistency of baked beans. You should have a stew with the meat blending well into the gravy, not a clear soup, which you started off with.

(11) Remove the chimney and the bouquet garni (you can leave the herbs in if you choose but I would remove the twine). An additional, optional step is to add 1 cup of breadcrumbs into the mixture and cook it in the oven for another 10 minutes. ***DO NOT USE BREADCRUMBS. INSTEAD, FOLLOW STEP 11A, BELOW.***

(11A) Take the slices of the batard, and butter only one side of each slice. Press the unbuttered side of each slice into the top of the cassoulet, leaving the buttered side facing upward. Cover as much of the surface of the cassoulet with the slices, leaving the absolute minimum of exposed beans/meat/liquid. Return the pot to the oven for another 15-20 minutes or until the buttered side of the batard slices are crispy and browned to your liking.

(12) If you are making this dish early (good for you), let it cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until ready to re-heat and eat. One benefit of refrigeration is that the fat will congeal on the top of the stew and you can cut all of it away before serving.

Sausage, Fennel and Bell Pepper Gnocchi

Original Blog Post: 8/30/2009

Last weekend at the North Market, Jaime of Wayward Seed Farms convinced my wife to buy a small fennel bulb.

I’m NOT a fan of licorice. I’m not particularly fond of fennel seed, and the stink of a fennel bulb pretty much turns my stomach.

So, naturally, Becke came up with a recipe for me to make for dinner one night this week which used copious quantities of thinly sliced fennel bulb (the better to drown the dish in an overabundance of fennel stank, no doubt) along with a decent quantity (1 cup each) of onion and sweet red pepper.

The result? A dish that, surprisingly, tasted not at all as I’d expected. The fennel no longer tasted of anise — instead, it reminded me of nothing so much as slightly sweet cabbage. Since I’d had the presence of mind to avoid sauteing the vegetables into a sodden mess, the fennel/pepper/onion mixture was decently firm while not being crunchy. The final step of the recipe, when I melted the asiago cheese and coated the gnocchi and other ingredients with it, added a lovely glaze and salty cheesiness to the gnocchi, which had been prepared without the use of salt or oil per the recipe and were therefore quite bland.

My opinion? This one’s a keeper. The only change I’d like to make to it is to replace the Trader Joe’s Sundried Tomato and Basil sausages (we doubled the sausage quantity from six to twelve ounces, BTW) to something more to my liking, like a roasted garlic sausage. That’s purely a matter of personal taste, of course.

Isn’t it lovely? It tastes as good as it looks.

Sausage Gnocchi

Gnocchi With Chicken Sausage, Bell Pepper, and Fennel
(Reprinted from RecipeZaar with several minor changes)
Recipe #299121
From Cooking Light, April 2008.
by dicentra
25 min | 10 min prep

SERVES 4

16 ounces gnocchi
2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
12 ounces fully cooked chicken sausage, sliced (Trader Joe’s Sundried Tomato & Basil works well)
1 cup thinly sliced fennel
1 cup thinly sliced red bell pepper
1 cup thinly sliced onion
1/2 cup freshly grated asiago cheese
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Cook the gnocchi according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain the gnocchi in a colander over a bowl, reserving 1/4 cup cooking liquid. Keep gnocchi warm.
Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add sausage to pan; sauté 3 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring frequently. Remove sausage from skillet using a slotted spoon.
Heat remaining 1 teaspoon oil in pan. Add fennel, bell pepper, and onion to pan; cook 13 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally.
Add sausage, gnocchi, cheese, black pepper, and reserved cooking liquid to pan; cook 1 minute or until cheese melts, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; stir in parsley.

Veal Marsala

Original Post Date: 8/28/2009

I’ve got a confession to make.

I’m a sucker for good sauces.  There’s nothing better in my world than a simple yet comforting bechamel.  From that mother sauce, I can prepare a number of other sauces (bearnaise and hollandaise coming immediately to mind, of course).  I’m also a huge fan of wine-based sauces — one of my favorites is a merlot reduction that I’ve made in the past paired with a duxelle-filled pork tenderloin.

It’s a good thing, then, that I’m quite adept at making sauces.  Just ask Becke.  She’ll admit that she doesn’t have the patience, most of the time, to make good sauces.  This is why she usually leaves any recipe which requires the care and feeding of a sauce up to me.

On the subject of wine sauces, one of my favorites is marsala sauce.  While searching through the freezer a couple of days ago, I discovered several pounds of vacuum-packed veal scaloppine fillets.  Immediately realizing the possibilities, I thawed them in the fridge overnight.  I knew exactly what I *had* to make — since the fillets were already cut 1/4 inch thick, the decision was a no-brainer.

I was going to make Veal Marsala tonight.  And so I did; it’s an atrociously decadent dish, if I do say so myself.  I tripled the sauce, thus requiring nine tablespoons of hand-chopped fresh garlic, nine tablespoons of butter, two cups of Marsala wine, and a full twelve ounces of heavy cream.  Yeee-OW.

Note that I used only twenty ounces of cremini (baby portabella) mushrooms rather than the recommended thirty-six ounces when tripling the sauce.  Believe me, twenty ounces of sliced creminis are PLENTY.

This is the finished dish. My cardiologist would NOT be amused.

Veal Marsala

Veal Scaloppine with Mushroom Marsala Sauce
Time: 30 minutes.

Yield
Serves 4

Ingredients
1/3 cup flour
About 1 tsp. salt, divided
About 1 tsp. black pepper, divided
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 pound veal cutlets, pounded to about 1/4 in. thick
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
12 ounces mushrooms, sliced
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
2/3 cup sweet marsala wine
1/2 cup reduced-sodium beef broth
1/2 cup whipping cream

Preparation
1. In a bowl, combine flour, 1 tsp. each salt and pepper, and the oregano. Lightly dust veal with flour mixture and set on a plate.

2. Heat olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Working in 2 batches, brown veal in oil, turning once, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a platter.

3. In the same pan, melt butter, then add mushrooms and garlic; sauté 5 minutes. Add marsala and broth. Cook over high heat until slightly reduced, 5 minutes. Add cream and salt and pepper to taste. Return to a boil. Pour sauce over veal. Serve with sautéed spinach and mashed potatoes.

The Jelly Jam

Original Post Date: 8/26/09

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a jam (and jelly) makin’ fool. This summer, I made some 20-25 jars of mulberry jelly using mulberries harvested from our backyard as well as from a property adjacent to my mother-in-law’s house a few miles from ours. Last week, shortly after the North Market Jam & Jelly Contest (the next day, in fact), I received a bounty of concord grapes from my mother-in-law’s boyfriend, Joe. Joe is a plumber, more or less, who does a lot of work for a landlady with a number of properties in German Village (among other clients). These grapes came from one of her properties.

Having tasted both the mulberry jelly and the concord grape jelly, I’ve got to say that the trick to consistent, ahem, consistency of one’s jelly is to use liquid, not powdered, pectin. Unfortunately, not realizing this fact when I made the mulberry jelly, I employed powdered pectin in all three batches in varying amounts (but never exceeding the recommended quantity).

Now, to the IMPORTANT questions — how does each taste, and how does each one feel in the mouth”? The grape jelly, while a bit gooey at room temperature, has a nigh-upon-perfect mouthfeel once it’s been chilled slightly (as all good jellies do). Its flavor is surprisingly delicate. The mulberry jelly, while it has a deep, satisfying berry flavor (and a stain-inducing appearance to match) took on too stiff a texture even at room temperature. Once chilled, its texture is best described as “pasty”. Oh well… at least it TASTES fantastic.

This is the raw material from which the mulberry jelly is made:
Mulberries

This is what the finished mulberry jelly looks like. Apparently the pectin tightens up over time, sigh…
Mulberry Jelly

Mulberry Jelly
recipe adapted from National Center for Home Food Preservation

3 1/2 c. mulberry juice (start w/ nearly a gallon of mulberries)
1 box powdered pectin (NOTE: Using one pouch of liquid pectin should result in better texture/mouthfeel. YMMV.)
5 c. sugar

Sort and wash berries. Yield of juice depends on ripeness of berries and how long they’re cooked, so you’ll need a minimum of 3 quarts and more likely a gallon of mulberries. Figure on a cup of mulberry juice yielded per quart, give or take a couple of ounces. Crush berries thoroughly; heat slowly until juice starts to flow. Cover; simmer 20-30 minutes or until it seems that all of the juice has been liberated from the fruit. Be careful – mulberry juice stains just about everything it touches, especially your fingers and clothes. Allow to cool until cool enough to handle with rubber gloves.

Working in small batches, ladle juicy pulp into a jelly bag and squeeze out juice. Measure juice, mix with pectin in saucepan (if you end up with more juice than 3 1/2 cups, scale other ingredients appropriately). Mulberries don’t have much natural pectin, so the amount used with give you a slightly runny but still gelled jelly (see picture above).

Bring quickly to a hard boil, stirring constantly. Add sugar all at once. Bring to a full rolling boil (a boil that cannot be stirred down); boil hard 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; skim off foam with a metal spoon.

Pour at once into clean, hot jars, leaving only 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened clean paper towel; adjust two-piece metal canning lids. Process in a boiling water canner (hot pack in half-pints or pints), 10 min for altitudes under 6,000 ft. above sea level.

This is the concord grape jelly in its jar. Pretty, isn’t it?
Concord Grape Jelly

This is the same jelly on a spoon. Believe me, it tastes every bit as good as it looks.
Concord Grape Jelly on a Spoon

Concord Grape Jelly
Modified from the recipe found at the link above.

Serves/Makes: 6 eight-ounce jars

Ingredients:

3 1/2 pounds Concord grapes
1/2 cup Water
4-1/2 cups Sugar
2 T unsalted butter
1 package (3 oz size) liquid pectin

Directions:
Sort and wash grapes; remove stems, and place in a Dutch oven. Crush grapes; add water. Bring mixture to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes.

Press mixture through a jellybag or cheesecloth, extracting 4 cups juice. Cover and let sit overnight in a cool place. Strain juice through a double thickness of damp cheesecloth.

Combine juice and sugar in a large Dutch oven, and stir well. Place over high heat; cook, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a rapid boil. Add butter and pectin, and bring to a full rolling boil; boil 1 minute, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat, and skim off foam with a metal spoon. Quickly pour hot mixture into hot sterilized jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace; wipe jar rims. Cover at once with metal lids, and screw on bands.

Process in boiling-water bath 5 minutes. Carefully remove jars from water to cool.

Chicken Makhani

Original Post Date: 8/23/09

Let’s get one thing straight — I loooooooooove Indian food.  I can’t get enough of it.  And for the longest time, my favorite source of the aforementioned comestible was a tiny hole-in-the-wall at Kenny Center on (appropriately enough) Kenny Road in Upper Arlington named Sher-E-Punjab, which is apparently Hindi for “The Punjabi Lion”.  They had a daily lunch buffet that I and several co-workers would frequent regularly.  They also had a dinnertime buffet four nights a week, Monday through Thursday, with Tuesday’s being a strictly vegetarian affair.  Of all their offerings, my consistent favorite was their version of Chicken Makhani, a somewhat Americanized tomato butter curry chicken.  It may not have been terribly authentic, but it was quite good.  Please note that almost everything they had was tasty, but the Chicken Makhani was, to me, the stand-out item on their menu.

Sadly, Sher-E-Punjab closed its doors several months ago.  This caused me great consternation and inspired me to find an acceptable recipe with which to make my own Chicken Makhani.  I found one, and I dare say, it’s at least as good as Sher-E-Punjab’s, if not better.  (Editor’s Note:  Sher-E-Punjab has since reopened in its original location; the Korean restaurant which opened in its place went out of business in under six months.  Sher-E-Punjab is once again open for business and is again offering a lunchtime buffet seven days a week, yay!)

I prepared the Chicken Makhani for dinner on Sunday night, serving it over basmati rice with some roti paratha picked up at the local Indian grocery.  The finished curry is nothing to look at, but it certainly was every bit as satisfying as that which we’ve enjoyed in better Indian restaurants:

Chicken Makhani

Chicken Makhani
recipe courtesy Recipezaar

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
1/4 white onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup tomato puree
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, to taste
1 pinch salt
1 pinch black pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite size pieces
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup water

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Saute shallot and onion until soft and translucent. Stir in butter, lemon juice, ginger garlic paste, 1 teaspoon garam masala, chili powder, cumin and bay leaf. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

Add tomato puree and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in half-and-half and yogurt. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne. Remove from heat and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Cook chicken until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat and season with 1 teaspoon garam masala and cayenne. Stir in about 1/3 of the sauce and simmer until liquid has reduced and chicken is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Pour the rest of the sauce into the chicken. Mix together cornstarch and water, then stir into the sauce. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, or until thickened.