Sunday, January 24, 2010

Emergency Dinner: Goat Cheese & Pancetta Pizza

When I have my tv show someday, I swear it will be called "The Lazy Cook", because man, I am laaaaaaa-zy when it comes to cooking on the weekends. It's an occupational hazard I suppose.

I had a lovely stewed chicken and dumpling dish all planned out, bird thawing in the fridge (bought too many for a knife skills class a few months back, so I popped those suckers into the freezer, where they seem to glare at me daily), veggies culled from the fridge at The Kitchen Studio this a.m., experimental dumpling recipe sketched out, salad greens actually in the house, and my 5 minute bread ready to shape and bake.

Can you tell that none of that happened??

Before I knew it, I was swept away in cleaning the laundry room, sewing on Boy Scout badges, and giving my daughter a quick sewing lesson. Then it was 6:45.

Did I mention that my son chose this moment to drop on us that he just HAD TO HAVE a spiral notebook for science class tomorrow? Because yeah, there was no other opportunity this weekend to get one *sarcasm dripping*.

If you take a look back at my New Year's culinary resolutions , you will see that not only am I STILL kicking the butt of this list, but that one of my goals is to stop ordering out so much.

I'm thinking of this, all the while the temptation of the easy way out and sushi-deliciousness dangling before me. And I don't cave in. *insert rock star dance here* 'Cause brother, I am such a cave-woman sometimes;).

So I dug through my ridiculously under-supplied fridge and rustled up the following ingredients:

  • A refrigerated pizza crust (don't judge me - I don't know where it came from)
  • goat cheese
  • diced pancetta from Trader Joes
  • half a really big onion

How easy is this:

Preheat your oven to 400-degrees. While the oven is preheating, throw a little bit of butter in a saute pan, slice the onion, and slowly cook it until it starts to get soft. Add diced pancetta to the pan and stir well to render out the fat and make the pancetta a little bit crispy and the onions a little bit soft (Sounds like Donny and Marie, non?). Add a good sprinkle of salt and half a teaspoon or so of dried thyme (don't forget to crush it in the palm of your hand first to really amp up the volume) and stir to combine. Cover it with a lid and let it cook on low for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, back at the bat-cave, spread out the pizza crust on a baking sheet and bake for 6 minutes. Pull that puppy out and spread the goat cheese evenly all over the crust. Take the onion/pancetta mixture and sprinkle it over the goat cheese. Bake for another 10-12 minutes, or until it looks awesome and brownish.

I'd show you a picture, but my family ate it all. Standing up. In the kitchen.

Sorry about that.

But not really.

So try this at home - it's actually a pretty classic combo. If you can, make your own pizza crust, because that will make it even better. Unless of course, it's Sunday night.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

What I'm Cooking: Dartagnan Cassoulet

It's no great secret that I love duck. Or that I stare at them lustily as I stroll through Baker Park, a fork tucked secretly in my pocket. Or that I seek out the fresh ones in the hope of making my own duck confit (rumor has it from my friend Rochelle that they're available at The Common Market for around 20 bucks each, but I haven't made the trip myself yet). So when I found the great Dartagnan's website (visit it here) and saw the Cassoulet Kit, I thought it was worth a shot.
(gotta wear more makeup...)

I ordered online and paid my $90 + shipping and chose for the kit to be delivered on Thursday, where it arrived handily on my front porch, chilled and ready.
I also ordered extra demi-glace and duck fat, just to have on hand.

To make the cassoulet in the kit, you start by soaking the beans overnight. Apparently, these are magic beans used just for cassoulet.

Truthfully, I was a little like "what-ever" and more interested in the duckiness, but proceeded as directed, soaking both containers in cold water overnight. And look what happened:

We started with this...

And ended up with this...

Cool, right?

Then, following the directions included with the kit, I drained the beans of their soaking liquid, threw them into a big 5 qt. cast iron Dutch oven, tossed in a hunk of ventriche (which is like French pancetta, which is like uncured bacon), a carrot, a whole bunch of garlic, two halved and peeled onions, and a bouquet garni, made up of fresh parsley, peppercorns, cloves, and a bay leaf.

Whoops! Forgot the fresh thyme, so I just shoved it on top.

I added 8 cups of water (recipe called for 10, but apparently a 5 qt Dutch oven is not large enough to hold all these beans AND 10 cups of water), then brought the beans to a boil. Once we were boiling, I reduced the heat to a simmer and cooked for an hour. Things started to smell pretty good around the VB manse (*snerk*).

I drained the beans into a colander (which seemed a little weird, mostly because bean cookin' liquid is pretty good stuff), then started layering everything in, including

  • half of the beans (carrot, bouquet, and onions removed)

  • 6 confited duck legs, cut apart at the joint (made 12 pieces)

  • 8 ounces browned duck-Armagnac sausage

  • 1 pound sliced garlic sausage (recipe said to cut into 12, but I went with 16 because, uh, I'm a rebel, yo)

  • the ventriche, finely chopped

  • the remaining beans

Now this is where things go slightly awry.

I took the container of the thawed demi-glace and mixed it with 3 1/2 cups water. Then I poured it over the cassoulet. BUT, I suddenly realized (about 30 seconds too late) that I was also to melt in 1 T. tomato paste. I (awkwardly) tried to pour out some of the demi I had just poured in so that I could mix in the tomato paste, but truthfully, it didn't work that well. So I kinda wiped the tomato paste on the top.


Though you don't know this, at the same time I had the cassoulet rockin' and rollin', I was also pulling together the Sweet & Salty cake from the Baked Cookbook, which took about 3 hours on its own, so I was a little distracted.

Why does that matter?

Because then, I half read the rest of the recipe.

Half read, because instead of pouring 1/4 cup of the melted duck fat (the true essence of duckiness) over the dish, I poured the entire container. Which was one cup. Which was also 4 times more than I should have.


At that point, the dish was ready to go into the oven and there was no way I was draining and pouring and trying to fix my mistake.

In fact, I'm a general believer in life that if 1 is good, 1,000 would be even better. Sorta a "more is more" kinda gal. Which could explain all the stretchy pants I'm wearing now. But I digress...

I put the cassoulet, covered, into a 325-degree oven and let it cook for 2 hours. Then I cranked up the heat to 400-degrees and pulled off the lid to let it brown on top for another 20 minutes.

This is the end result.

That doesn't suck, right???

The only thing you can't get here is the smellivision. Because it smelled gooooooood.

It was rainy and yucky and cold, and a perfect meal (with some very tasty wine too I might add). The sausage was ducky and garlicky and gamey (but in a good way) and the confit, as I expected, fell off the bone and melded beautifully with the beans. I served it with gorgeous fresh bread made from the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day cookbook (I'm a convert!), and a lovely salad with a tart vinaigrette to balance the richness of the cassoulet.

It was delicious, and rustic, and homey, and what I hope it would be like sitting at my imaginary kitchen table in some unknown farm town somewhere in France (I'm also a smokin' size 6 and look 10 years younger, but that's a different blog).

If I was to make it again, I wouldn't make the entire thing at once - it's just too much food. There's no reason why this couldn't be halved easily. It would fit into a 5 qt. Dutch oven (bonus) and you could enjoy it twice, though the leftovers the next day were, dare I say, even better.

By the way, even though the cake started to do the lean-a-lean (I'm no pastry chef), it kicked tush.

And yes, that is salt sprinkled on the top (Maldon, for those in the know). And it was perfect.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Guess What I got in the Mail...

(Munchie the Puggle knows a good thing when it lands on the doorstep)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Dartagnan, I Love You (or) Cassoulet: Part 1

I've been taking my New Year's Resolutions very seriously (come on, it's still January!). So seriously in fact, that I have been kicking the butt of my list thus far.

In 2010 I have already:
  • Prepared numerous loaves of bread in several varieties

  • made my own pasta

  • made my own mozzarella (!)

  • cooked a LOT of dinners (including last night's amazingly fabulous country stewed chicken with mashed potatoes and fresh-baked bread)

Bear in mind, it's only January 11, and I have months and months to get the rest done (she said, smugly).

BUT - I have also experienced a little failure along the way.

Apparently, I really like to eat out. Indiscriminately. And if someone just happens to bring Chick-Fil-A to me, there's a good chance I'm all in, up to my waffle-fried little elbows.

The biggest stumbling block thus far though, has been the duck problem. Fresh ducks just aren't that plentiful around these parts. When I lived on W. 81st St. in NYC, I would hike down Broadway to Citarella - the most divine palace to fish and poultry in my neck of the woods, scoop up a duck or two, and confit and saute it in ways to make my belly sing and arteries clog. *sigh*

Frozen ducks can be found here and there, but I want a serious duck. Fresh duck, A duck laden with fat (so that I can render it) and gorgeous, plump breasts ready to be scored and paired with with whatever suits me at that moment. Juicy, shapely thighs and legs, ready to weep their goodness into my dish. *double sigh*

I've been spending some time in PA the past few weeks and thought that a trip to Wegman's in Mechanicsburg would certainly solve the duck problem. Let's be real here: Wegman's is the Holy Grail of grocery stores, right?

Yeah, not so much when it comes to duck.

Apparently, ducks are frozen. And skinny. And that's that.

Perhaps I could get some duck fat? Dartagnan sells it in small containers for around 5-6 bucks, and especially with the foodie revolution and all, at least that wouldn't be hard to get.

And it wouldn't. If it was still December.

Duck fat? A holiday item.


So I went directly to the source of all things offal and liver and sausage and duck fatty. And guess what I found?

Say hello to my little friend:

This could be construed as cheating, or as I like to say to my kids, "using my resources", regardless, the $83.99 cassoulet kit is on its way, and holy duck fat Batman, does it look goooood. It includes:

6 preserved duck legs (Duck Confit)
1 package of Duck & Armagnac Sausage (4 links, 8.5 oz)
1 Garlic Sausage (1 lb.)
1 Ventrèche (12 oz.) (fancy French bacon, like pancetta)
2 pounds of Haricot Tarbais Beans
1 container of Duck and Veal Demi-Glace
1 container of Duck Fat

I added a few extra containers of duck fat and demi-glace to my cart (what's a cuppa water when you're drowning?) and expect delivery this Thursday.

With luck, pictures next week.

And to all my duck hunting friends out there (Chan, I'm talkin' to you), bring me your duck and I will cook it in ways that will make even the duck happy. And share the goods right back with you. Cross my heart. :)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

New Year's Culinary Resolutions: 2010

I'm not usually the type to make too many resolutions for the new year. I'm more of the "think about it, deem it too challenging and just give up on January 3rd" type.

This year, it's going to be different.
For real.

See, here's the thing: I don't do a whole heck of a lot of cooking at home any more.

As a busy working mother-of-2, wife-of-1, small business owner, I often feel overwhelmed. Even if food is my job.

But wait Chris (I can hear you saying), don't you have tons of awesome leftovers at The Kitchen Studio that you can whip up something fabulous with?

Theoretically? Sure.

Realistically? Not so much.

I often send home the leftovers bits and scraps with the staff, as a way to thank them for their hard work and to show my appreciation. Meanwhile, I end up empty-handed.

Not only that, but I tend to work mostly nights and weekends, during dinner time and while the family is at home, y'know, starving. And I don't always do a great job planning because my days tend to wander off into the ether working on this or that and before you know it, there's a class to teach or birthday party to rock or dishes to wash.

Sometimes I'm so swept away by the everyday mundane tasks that I forget that I went to a fancy French cooking school and learned all sorts of mad skills.

So this year, I vow to get back to my lusty, food-loving roots. To dine out less and to dine out better. To make things that I know how to make but am too lazy to really put in the effort for and to work with ingredients familiar and not, and really make them sing.

As for the specifics, I will:

  • Make my own pasta more often (really, it only takes a few minutes)
  • Eat out just once a week, unless it's something totally awesome, and this includes lunch, unless someone else is treating :)
  • Confit duck again, because it's the Best. Thing. Ever. and I haven't made it in at least a decade.
  • Always have some form of stinky cheese in the fridge
  • Bake bread more often (thanks to Zoe and her Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, I'm well on my way with this one!)
  • Make my own cheese, especially mozzarella (check! - did that yesterday, so I'm ahead of the game) and ricotta
  • Prepare country pate again, because it is so darn good
  • Make a divine and silky chicken liver pate
  • Have dinner for my family (almost) every night, even if I can't be there
  • Entertain with a real grown-up dinner at least quarterly and include folks outside of my usual social circle who have a food-lustiness problem as well and perhaps are not afraid of offal.
  • To make a wonderful, true cassoulet, because I had one of the best in the country teach me how, ahem, 15 years ago, and I haven't done it since
  • Somehow, just somehow, find a way to purchase the new home sous-vide cooker ($449!) for The Kitchen Studio
  • Get that book contract for Gotta Break Some Eggs and persuade the youth of America to cook their butts off, even if they make mistakes along the way.
  • And, oh yeah, post weekly, with a new recipe or technique, and fab pics to go with.

How 'bout you? Any culinary resolutions you want to share?