December 18, 2009

I cannot believe it’s been 9 days since I checked in here. But when I chronicle these days, I hope you’ll understand. The best news of all? I’m all ready for the holiday, finished with the chores and now, lazily gazing at the trimmed tree and planning fun cooking projects in between reading all the books that I’ve piled up.
In the last three weeks, we’ve had three sets of houseguests and parties for 7, 50, 18 and 8. I’ve baked 1,123 Christmas cookies in between all that party cooking. Mailed out 20 cookie boxes, dropped off another 15 cookie bags. Finished shopping for Dennis, the dog and the cat. Wrapped all that and filled stockings.
Thankfully, many years ago, I “Tom Sawyer’ed” my tree trimming party into a (fair) exchange of work for food. Friends arrive ready to string lights, hang ornaments and fashion ribbon bows. This year, I made cassoulet, and if you’ve been following along here, you’ll recognize the confit and duck breasts that contributed to that meal.
I must must must give a shout out to Rancho Gordo beans. The Christmas Lima and Flageolet beans were spectacular. I also sourced Tarbais, at an absurd price, but my desire for authenticity overwhelmed me.
The charcuterie class I took last fall was very helpful as I sorted out all the versions of cassoulet. I remembered one thing in particular – Chef Moore said that different types of beans made for the most interesting cassoulets. And it really did make a huge difference. The textural ranges of the beans, in between the bite sized pieces of duck confit and duck breast, all studded with diced carrots, celery and leeks, made this a true symphony of a dish.
Lucky me, my women friends (plied with Jack Rose cocktails, grilled oysters, and cassoulet, arugula salad with a fig vinaigrette) decorated tree, mantle, dining room and kitchen. The house was sparkling with mercury glass, candles, (LED!) lights and crystal.
We sat to toast one another, the year to come, enjoy our friendships – and two desserts – Meyer lemon meringue pie and raspberry tart with creme anglais.
Did I mention – the dishwasher, two of the three showers, and (yesterday) the washing machine each stopped working, requiring repairmen and plumbers and so on – all in the past three weeks. I think it’s a sign to slow down for a few days.

I’m going to enjoy this period of rest. And it’s starting tomorrow, with a predicted 12″ of snow.

Tree Trimming Cassoulet
Serves 18
I used a Staub 7 qt. cast iron oval oven to make and serve this dish.

3# mixed dried beans (flageolet, Tarbais, Christmas lima were my choices, but any white beans work)
1 fresh ham hock
Large bunch thyme
3 bay leaves
Large bunch parsley
2 onions, quartered
Whole peppercorns
1 T Salt

Soak the beans overnight in copious amounts of water.

The next day, drain and rinse the beans, place them in a large (7 qt or larger) stock pot with the ham hock and cover with water. In a large piece of cheesecloth, tie up the celery tops (leaves), three carrots, chopped coarse, onion quarters, six stalks of thyme, 10 stalks of parsley, 2 bay leaves and 10 peppercorns. Submerge the cheesecloth bag. Bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer, covered for about 45 minutes.

Add 1 Tbls. salt and continue cooking for another 15 minutes, testing to be certain they are cooked through, but not mushy. Dispose of cheesecloth bag. Pluck the lovely meat from the ham hock and put it in with the beans. Set aside or refrigerate for up to one day.

1.5# fresh (not smoked) bacon, diced
4 celery stalks, 1/8″ dice
8 carrots, 1/8″ dice
6 leeks, white and light green parts only, cut in half vertically, then thinly sliced into half-moons
4 fat cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 c thyme leaves
Six duck confit leg quarters
Six duck breasts, fresh, skin & fat crosshatched & scored
6 c chicken or duck stock
3 c dry bread crumbs
1 c chopped parsley

In the pan in which you intend to cook and serve, crisp up the confit pieces in their fat. As they crisp, remove from the pan and set aside. When all the confit has been crisped, add the duck breasts, fat side down. Cook 6 minutes on medium high, then turn and cook for 4 minutes on the reverse side. Remove from the fat and slice into six pieces each. Add to the confit pieces and hold.

Into the cast iron pot, add the bacon, cooking slowly until cooked through and just starting to crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon. Pour off and reserve all but 1/2 c of the fat, which should be left in the pot. Saute the leeks until soft, then add carrots and celery. Now add the garlic and cook quickly, so it doesn’t burn. Generously salt and pepper all the vegetables.

If additional fat is needed to coat all the vegetables well, add it back to the pot. Gently toss and coat everything, then add the beans and combine. Add fat as needed to make it moist. Finally, add in the meats and combine well. Taste for salt and pepper and correct.

Pour in the stock until everything is nice and moist and the stock is just showing at the top.

Stir together the bread crumbs and parsley. Add 1 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper. Spread the breadcrumbs across the entire surface of the cassoulet.

Bake for at least an hour at 350. After that, it can be held for two hours at 225, but additional stock may be needed to moisten everything, and can be added at the edge, trying not to disturb that beautiful crispy topping.

Do serve a salad with this. Don’t try to serve anything else. Cassoulet. You’ll never forget it and neither will your guests.

One Response to “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas”

  1. Jennifer Hess

    What a great idea for entertaining. Mike makes a cassoulet every year, but we've only ever used flageolets – I love the idea of using a variety of beans!


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