Cassoulet in 10 Easy Steps

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When Anthony Bourdain cooks with Michael Ruhlman on the Cleveland episode of “No Reservations,” he layers meat and beans together in a giant drum, tops the whole thing off with breadcrumbs and produces a dish most of us aren’t used to seeing on Food TV (and I say that as someone who now works for Food TV): a classic French cassoulet that’d put Julia Child to shame.

Cassoulet is a dish that just makes sense. Why does it make sense? You take fatty, flavorful meat, put it in a big pot with moisture-hungry beans and bake the whole thing until the beans are infused with all that fat and flavor and the meat is cooked. It’s not meant to be a fancy dish–this is the kind of food French people make at home–and it’s infinitely variable, as evidenced by the infinite cassoulet recipes you will find in my infinite cookbook collection, recipes that vary the type of meat, the type of bean, even the amount of time it takes to make the dish (Bourdain’s recipe, in his “Les Halles Cookbook,” calls for three days). I didn’t have three days to spare on Friday night when I set out to make my very first cassoulet. So I turned to an under-praised, underused book in my collection: Daniel Boulud’s “Daniel’s Dish: Entertaining at Home with a Four-Star Chef”.

It’s a great recipe for its simplicity (it’s called “Casual Cassoulet”) and yet the recipe has a serious flaw: it’s meant to be cooked in a 15-Qt Dutch Oven. I completely missed that part when I shopped for my ingredients, so I prepped enough food for a pot 3X bigger than the one I had. Therefore, the recipe that follows is my adaptation of Daniel’s recipe for Dutch Ovens of a more realistic size. Daniel’s recipe calls for lamb shoulder, but I left that out too: sausage + duck + bacon = plenty of meat for one dish, thank you very much.

Since winter’s almost over, this is the perfect dish to make on one of our last cold winter’s nights. I promise it’s easy and I promise the pay-off is big. And so, without further ado, Cassoulet in 10 Easy Steps.

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Braised Duck Legs For Idiots

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The dish you see above is a dish from a four-star chef and yet it’s among the easiest you will ever prepare. It comes from Jean-George’s “Cooking at Home with a Four-Star Chef” which was co-written by Mark Bittman. As many of you know, Mr. Bittman is The Minimalist and it might seem strange, at first, that a man who prides himself on simplicity would co-author a book with a chef renowned for his complexity, innovation and flair. But this recipe proves that two opposing forces, working together, can generate electricity: it’s astonishingly good and amazingly easy. Click ahead and behold the splendor of Jean-George’s Braised Duck and Vegetables with Asian Spices.

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Flank Steak Story

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Of all the food and drink pairings, the greatest, I think, is the pairing of red meat and red wine. Sure, you have your champagne and oysters, your blue cheese and port. But give me a caramelized cut of ribeye and pair it with a spicy Syrah and I’m in heaven–a very red heaven.

On Saturday, then, I wanted to bring this combination home after spending the afternoon cleaning with Craig. I ventured out to Union Market which is Park Slope’s more high-end mart. I go there when I buy meat and fish; everything else, I do ok at Key Foods. I was all set to buy ribeye but then I remembered: ribeye is expensive. $25/pound expensive and each ribeye was one pound.

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How To Roast A Chicken

Of all the dishes in my repertoire, this is the one that gets the biggest wows, the one that Craig requests the most often, the one that never fails to impress: it’s the roast chicken from the Chez Panisse cookbook with a few touches of my own (namely: potatoes and garlic). This video will show you how easy it is and then, after the jump, I’ll post a recipe and a few more tips.

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The Winning Casserole: Cheese Love

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As I hoped, your prodding inspired the Casserole Contest winners, Zack and Graham (pictured above with Emily) to share their recipe. Zack implores: “I can’t over-emphasize the importance of the Bobolink cheddar in this recipe. It is generally only available directly from the farmer/cheesemaker and I know that it is expensive when compared to industrial cheeses, but I have tried making this without the Bobolink and it doesn’t come close in flavor, aroma or texture. Bobolink sells their cheeses at the Union Square Greenmarket on Fridays (check cowsoutside.com for other market locations).”

Just to restate my enthusiasm for this casserole, I tasted almost 20 casseroles that night and this one was not only far and away the best, it made a casserole convert out of me. I plan to try this recipe immediately. Click ahead to unlock the mystery of “Cheese Love”….

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Moroccan Lamb Meatballs

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Here’s an easy dinner from Patricia Wells’s “Provence Cookbook.” In a food processor, combine 1 pound ground lamb, 1 small onion (peeled and finely minced), 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 2 teaspoons ground cumin, 2 teaspoons sweet paprika, 1/4 cup mint leaves finely chopped. Season with salt and pepper and roll the mixture into 24 meatballs “the size of a walnut.” Then heat 2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil in a skillet until hot and cook the meatballs until they are browned on all sides and cooked in the center. Serve with tzatziki, which you can buy (as I did) or make yourself. That’s it! You’ll feel like you’re in Morocco with Patricia Wells; especially if you make this while in Morocco with Patricia Wells.

Truffle Butter Chicken

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I had a dream. No, not that kind of dream. This was a dream about chicken and truffle butter. For the past year, every time I bought a chicken from Key Foods I’d see D’Artagnan truffle butter sitting higher up on the shelf. The price didn’t intimidate me–it was only $7–but its use did: what could I do with it? How does one use truffle butter? And then the other day it came to me: I could rub it all over a chicken (a D’Artagnan chicken, as a matter of fact), put some under the skin, and roast it. And that’s exactly what I did.

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Rib-Eye For One

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Please remove your heart strings so I can tug them a bit: I am lonely! I miss Craig! He’s been gone all summer shooting his movie in Washington State. Well, he was in pre-production for the last few months; he just started shooting two weeks ago. The second day of shooting, he almost gave me a heart attack: he called me hysterical to say that, “The worst thing in the world that could’ve happened happened.” The equipment truck had caught fire in the night and it looked like all their film and equipment was destroyed. He hung up and I didn’t speak to him for another 24 hours and in that time I imagined the worst: that the movie was over. But when I spoke to him the next day he said it was a false alarm: a battery had overheated and exploded and covered everything with soot, but nothing was really destroyed. All was ok. And onward they go with the movie: he’s having a blast. And I wish I could be there but I have my book stuff to tend to. And he’ll be back in three weeks anyway. But in the meantime, I’m Mopey McMopeypants. I need some cheering up. Can’t someone kill a cow for me and give me its flesh to cook? They can? Yippee!

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