The Joys of Canned Cassoulet

Cassoulet in a Can

Cassoulet in a Can, with Pork Confit and Duck Fat, from Castelnaudary. 4 Euros, 2 big servings.

Mr. English took me to Paris for my birthday, which, definitely, took the edge off of turning twenty-nine.  Next year, at this time, I’ll be thirty.  Pretty reductive concept from the outside I’m sure, but to me, it is nothing short of astonishing.  We did our usual circuit of St. Germain gems: Le Comptoir, Le Bistrot de l’Alycastre, Les Deux Magots.  I had gorgeous Breton razor clams broiled with herb butter and pain au levain for my birthday lunch at Le Comptoir, followed by their gorgeous “Salade Niçoise à ma façon,” which has the most delicious tuna, whole white anchovies, caper berries, potatoes, oil-cured black olives, deliciously limp haricots verts…it’s the best Niçoise in the world.  For dinner, at Bistrot de l’Alycastre, Mr. English and I both had Moroccan spiced rare-seared tuna and vegetables, and then I had calamari charred with cêpes in a light cream sauce.  And then, a little lemon tart with flickering birthday candles from Carlton bakery, as Mr. English sang me a happy birthday serenade in harmony with Maman over Skype.  A clarinetist played downstairs.  It was breathless.

Cassoulet CornerCassoulet Spread

Despite all the walking and shopping and eating on the Ritzier side of normal, I still found myself in the trenches: the basement of the 6th arrondissement Monoprix.  Wild horses couldn’t drag me away.  Mr. English and I went down there to buy a little padlock, to etch our initials in the metal and snap it onto the Pont des Arts, along with all the other couples whose locks dangle from the bridge over the Seine, into which we ardently threw the keys.  But while I was there, despite Mr. English’s tugging on my coat sleeve, I couldn’t help but snatch up a few key pantry items: Maille cornichons, caviar d’aubergines, and after this summer in Toulouse, a can of cassoulet from Castelnaudary.

If you read this blog with any frequency you will have read my over the top emotional diatribes on the cassoulets of Castelnaudary–there are no words.  I can call myself a writer, but in reality, I’m an eater, and at times, with my mouth full, words fail me.  In Paris, we were a long way from Castelnaudary and Toulouse and the Pyrenees from this summer.  So, when I saw the gorgeous hand-drawn label, informing me that I could buy real Castelnaudary cassoulet with either pork, duck, or goose confit, for 4 Euros, rest assured that I had all three cans in the basket before Mr. English pried away the duck and goose from my scraping, scrabbling grasp.

Saturday lunch was the perfect moment.  I opened the can, and heated it gently in a small covered pot over low heat.  I squeezed in half a head of roasted garlic, to emphasize that garlicky Castelnaudary punch that haunted me way past dinnertime all summer, and added in some fresh leaves of thyme.  The haricots blancs were creamy, the sausage and pork confit falling apart and perfect.  When the cassoulet was bubbling, I poured it into a shallow baking dish, and covered it with fresh breadcrumbs (3/4 cup to be exact) and a small handful of chopped parsley, salt and pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil.  I baked it at 400 degrees until the crumbs were crispy golden brown, and then I covered it in foil and lowered the heat to 325 to let it get good and hotter.  I tore up some bread, and tossed a salad (you must always have salad with cassoulet!).  I brought it to the table, straight from the can, with a couple of added embellishments.  It was gorgeous.  I had had cassoulet two weeks earlier at a fancy London French establishment, and it didn’t touch Castelnaudary in a can.  The sausage was porky and garlicky, like Toulouse sausage should be.  The pork confit was lean, and firm, but falling apart with the nudge of a fork.  The beans were creamy, and so flavorful that Mr. English, carnivore that he is, told me he wished they sold cassoulet beans without any of the fixings.  Because wouldn’t that be healthier?

Sigh.  If only he understood about the duck fat.

How is it that French food can still be this good–from a can?  Canned food, to me, is hurricane emergency preparedness–eating baby corn from salty canned water with my fingers in a shuttered, August-hot powerless room.  But this, it was real food.  It was no wonder they named a whole dance the can-can.  Makes perfect and absolute sense.

Cassoulet PlateCassoulet Closeup

This cassoulet was made by La Belle Chaurienne.

Available from Monoprix.

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Categories: Finds, Paris, Voyages
 

French in a Flash: Camargue Red Rice Salad

RECIPE: Camargue Red Rice Salad
Camargue Red Rice Salad

Camargue Red Rice Salad

A few summers ago, I spent a day in the Camargue, a part of France that had, for some reason, completely eluded my knowledge of the country.  Cowboys.  French cowboys, that ride around on snowy white horseback, in a flat grasslands, herding.  I had always thought that we Americans had the monopoly on cowboys, but as it turns out, that is not the case.  Beautiful crystalline salts are dried out in the sun.  And restaurants serve stews made of the bulls herded down the grasslands.

That is where Camargue Red Rice comes from.  I am a rice fanatic: a simple food that I am content to eat simply, with just a pinch of that Camargue salt.  I recently discovered Camarge Red Rice at the supermarket: it looks like grains of long-grain black rice merged with brown basmati rice, and turned a deep russet red.  It has a chewy texture, and a delicious mild but present flavor.  I cook it as the French do, like pasta, in a huge pot of salted boiling water until it is al dente, and then I drain it in a colander.

Finally, for this salad, I toss it with everything green: a lemony green parsley and olive oil sauce, little jewels of zucchini and haricots verts, slivers of green olives and walnuts, shards of scallions and fresh raw spinach.  It is so full of flavor and health and texture that you can’t help but love it.  Serve it room temperature next to some roast chicken or charred whole fish, and you’re in business.

You can find Camargue Red Rice online, but if you can’t use it for whatever reason, try a wild rice blend, or some forbidden black rice with this recipe.

Excerpted from my weekly column French in a Flash on Serious Eats.

Camargue Red Rice Salad
serves 4 to 6

Camargue Red Rice SaladINGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups Camargue Red Rice
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 medium zucchini, small dice
  • 1 cup chopped haricots verts
  • 1 1/2 cups flat leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 scallions, finely sliced
  • 40 French green olives, such as lucques or picholine, pitted and chopped
  • 2 cups spinach, chiffonade
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts

PROCEDURE

Boil the rice just as you would pasta, in a large pot of boiling salted water, for 30 minutes, or until it is tender, but still has a firm texture.  Add the zucchini and  haricots verts, and cook an additional 5 minutes.  Drain the rice and vegetables together.

While the rice and vegetables are draining, roughly chop the parsley, and add it to the food processor with the olive oil and salt.  Run the machine for 5 minutes, until you have a very green parsley oil.  Add the lemon juice and some pepper, and then add all the sauce to the rice, along with the scallions, and toss well.

Leave the rice salad to cool completely to room temperature.  Just before serving, toss in the olives, spinach, and walnuts.  Serve at room temperature alongside poultry or fish, or as one of many vegetarian salads.

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Categories: 60 Minutes, Cheap, Eat, French in a Flash, Recipes, Salad, Series, Sides, Soup & Salad, Starches, Vegetarian
 

Thanksgiving Redux: Autumn Apple Sangria

RECIPE: Autumn Apple Sangria
Apple Sangria

Autumn Apple Sangria

Aside from my champagne toast, I don’t like to have straight wine with my Thanksgiving dinner.  I like just a touch of sweetness to cut through all the savory turkey.  And stuffing.  And potatoes.  And sprouts.  And beans.  Something bright and bubbly to break through the parade.  I always serve cidre buché, or corked cider.  It’s a term that applies to dry apple cider from Normandy or Brittany, cheap even though it comes in bottles that are strangely reminiscent of champagne.  Dry, but still apply.  This cocktail is even more fun.  I soak slices of green apples and grapes in white wine and Calvados, a Norman apple brandy.  Simple syrup and seltzer add sparkle and sweetness.  Something to toast with, and to.

Autumn Apple Sangria
serves as many as you want.

Apple SangriaHow to Make My White Apple Sangria

Boil 1 cup of sugar with 1 cup of water for 3 minutes.  Set aside to cool.  In a large pitcher, pour a cold bottle of white wine and Calvados to taste.  Add in slices of Granny Smith apples and halved green grapes until it's quite full of fruit.  Allow to sit in the fridge, covered, for a few hours.  Add a bottle of seltzer and the cooled simple syrup to taste.  Stir, and serve cold.

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Cocktails, Drinks, Easy, Eat, Recipes, Vegetarian
 

Thanksgiving Redux: Maple Cracker Jacks

RECIPE: Maple Popcorn and Peanuts
Maple Cracker Jacks

Maple Cracker Jacks

I love Cracker Jacks.  And they somewhat inspired this popcorn.  I bubble up maple syrup until it forms a caramel, and then toss it with air-popped popcorn and toasted salted peanuts.  I let it set and get sweet and crunchy, then I scoop it into cellophane bags and give it to my guests to take home with them–if they can wait that long.

Maple Popcorn and Peanuts
serves a crowd

Maple Cracker JacksHow to Make My Maple Popcorn and Peanuts

Boil 1 cup of maple syrup to 235 degrees F.  Toss in about 9 cups of freshly popped plain popcorn and 1/2 to 3/4 cup of salted, roasted cocktail peanuts.  Toss well and carefully with a silicone spatula.  Spread the mixture on parchment-coated baking sheets sprayed with nonstick spray.  Allow to cool completely.

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Cheap, Desserts, Eat, Recipes, Vegetarian
 

Thanksgiving Redux: Bitter Greens Salad with Dried Cranberries, Goat Cheese, and Spicy Maple Vinaigrette

RECIPE: Bitter Greens Salad with Dried Cranberries, Goat Cheese, and Spicy Maple Vinaigrette
Bitter Greens Salad with Cranberries and Goat Cheese

Bitter Greens Salad with Cranberries and Goat Cheese

My friend Jessie’s mom inspired this salad.  She’s forever coming up with gorgeous combinations of seeds and proteins and fruits and nuts to put in her salads.  She even adds wasabi peas–totally genius in a salad.  This one is particularly festive, as I toss baby spinach, arugula, and radicchio with dried cranberries, walnuts, and crumbed goat cheese.  A quick maple-Dijon dressing adds sweetness, spice, everything nice.

Bitter Greens Salad with Dried Cranberries, Goat Cheese, and Spicy Maple Vinaigrette
serves a crowd

Bitter Greens Salad with Cranberries and Goat CheeseHow to Make My Bitter Greens Salad with Cranberries and Goat Cheese

Mix one part white wine vinegar with two parts olive oil.  Add Dijon mustard, maple syrup, salt, and pepper to taste, and whisk together.  In a large bowl, toss together baby spinach, baby arugula, chopped radicchio, walnuts, dried cranberries, and crumbled fresh goat cheese.  Lightly dress the salad, and serve right away.  Corn bread croutons wouldn't be a bad idea!

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Easy, Eat, Recipes, Salad, Soup & Salad, Vegetarian
 

Thanksgiving Redux: Smoked Turkey, Munster, and Lemon Baguettes

RECIPE: Smoked Turkey, Munster, and Lemon Sandwiches
Yura Turkey Sandwiches

Smoked Turkey, Munster, and Lemon Sandwiches

These are inspired by my favorite sandwich at Yura on Madison.  Chewy skinny tiny baguettes (or you can cut up big ones) layered with thinly sliced smoked turkey breast, Munster cheese, romaine lettuce, vine tomatoes, and lemony mayo.  Tie them with twine, and serve them with Terra sweet potato chips.  Simple, but gorgeous and hip.

Smoked Turkey, Munster, and Lemon Sandwiches
serves a crowd

Smoked Turkey, Munster, and Lemon SandwichesHow to Make My Smoked Turkey, Munster, and Lemon Sandwiches

Buy as many fusettes or baguettes or ficelles as you want for the amount of people you're having.  Slit them open horizontally.  Mix together mayonnaise and lemon juice and lemon zest to taste.  Season the mayo with salt and pepper.  Lightly mayo both sides of bread.  Layer on sliced smoked turkey from the deli counter, sliced Munster cheese, halved leaves of romaine lettuce, and just a couple thin slices of vine-ripe tomato.  Use as much or as little of any ingredient as you like.  Serve with sweet potato chips for a Thanksgiving redux.

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Bread & Butter, Cheap, Easy, Eat, Recipes, Sandwiches
 

‘Twas the Night Before: Thanksgiving Redux

RECIPE: Spicy Thanksgiving Turkey Meatballs
Yura Turkey Sandwiches

Smoked Turkey, Munster, and Lemon Sandwiches

Tonight was a strange Thanksgiving Eve.  Instead of doing my giant shop, vacillating between Brussels sprouts and green beans and then deciding to get both because, come on, it’s Thanksgiving—I was at the London Whole Foods, buying boxes of already-cooked sage and onion stuffing, Brussels sprouts with chestnuts, haricots verts with shallots, butter mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, two pumpkin pies, and of course, roast turkey.  In living memory, I have never not cooked Thanksgiving.

Bitter Greens Salad with Cranberries and Goat Cheese

Bitter Greens Salad with Dried Cranberries and Goat Cheese

I have my traditions.  I always make cream of cauliflower soup, and pomegranate mushrooms.  We always open a bottle of expensive champagne, and go around toasting all the things we each are thankful for.  I put on my apron, and pad around the kitchen barefoot, listening to Ella Fitzgerald.  I sit down one night in the days before, and eat an entire pumpkin pie by myself instead of dinner.  Thanksgiving, always days after my birthday, is my favorite holiday.  Frankly, it’s the only one we ever celebrated growing up.  When I was very young, I hated turkey, and I begged Maman to make me hotdogs when she had the whole family around our expanding antique table that we would stretch out in the big foyer of our little New York apartment.  I would eat them on the floor in the next room, in front of the fire with our little King Charles Spaniel Michou, nestled somewhere between his fur and the carpet.  But I loved the holiday so much, that year by year I forced myself to eat the turkey, until lo and behold, I love it.  Mind over matter, I always say.

Maple Cracker Jacks

Maple Cracker Jacks

So it feels weird that I’m not going to be with my family tomorrow.  Or my friends, who all descent upon Florida as the cold creeps up the back of the North.  Mr. English and I are going to come home to our ready-cooked feast after work, and eat at our little pine Ikea table, a far cry from Maman’s antique inlayed with leaf after leaf for guest after friend after relative after guest.  There won’t be pomegranate mushrooms, or cauliflower soup.  But for me, it’s still like the night before Christmas must be for everyone else.  As I put my little boxes away of stuffing and sprouts, stacked neatly in my under the counter fridge, I shivered in the anticipation of getting to open them.  And tonight, as we sat watching TV, Mr. English and I shared not one, but two anticipatory slivers of pumpkin pie.  Because like any great holiday, the Eve is as worth it’s salt as the day itself.

Gwyneth's Pumpkin Ice Cream Pie

Gwyneth's Pumpkin Ice Cream Pie

Last Thanksgiving, I hosted a “night-after” party.  I invited all my friends and their boyfriends (and Mémé, always the life of the party) over for Thanksgiving redux.  I made turkey meatballs, stewed with bell peppers in arrabiata sauce, served in mini French baguettes.  A salad of greens and cranberries and goat cheese.  Maple-coated popcorn.  Sandwiches of smoked turkey, Munster cheese, lettuce, and lemon mayo inspired by Yura on Madison in New York.  Sweet potato chips.  Cranberry Jell-O shots.  Apple and Grape White Sangria with Calvados.  And finally, Gwyneth Paltrow’s pumpkin ice cream pie.  It made real Thanksgiving look out of season.  Engagements were announced.  Bottles of alcohol ran dry.  The meatballs were the hit of the season.  We sat around the couches in Maman’s living room, Chinet plates scattered around an enormous marble coffee table, laughing.  Eating.  Smiling.

I was thankful for them.  That is my toast every year.  Thankful for my friends and my family.  When I count my blessings, I know which ones to count first.

Apple Sangria

Apple Sangria

Which is why I just put my bottle of Champagne in the fridge.  It may sound hokey, but as I walk out tomorrow in a strange country, full of people who don’t realize it’s the best day of the year, far from everyone but one in my life, I will be thankful that I have so many to think of, and thankful to think they are thinking of me.

As they say in jolly old England,

Cheers.

Thanksgiving Friends

At last year's Thanksgiving Post-Eve Party

Last year, I took some candid photos and casual recipe notes to share with you a year later.  More recipes to come throughout the day…

Spicy Thanksgiving Turkey Meatballs
serves a little crowd

Spicy Turkey MeatballsHow to Make My Spicy Turkey Meatballs

Follow your favorite meatball recipe.  This is mine.  Substitute ground turkey (not the super lean kind, just regular ground turkey) for the meat, and forget about the spaghetti and mozzarella and any extras like that.  Form the meatballs into small, Swedish-meatball-sized balls.  Drizzle the meatballs with olive oil, and bake at 425 degrees just until golden brown on the outside (they don't need to be all the way cooked through, or they'll dry out).

In a large stock pot, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat.  Roughly slice 2 yellow onions into half moons, and sauté them until they're soft.  Drain a large jar of roasted red bell peppers, and sliced them.  Add the peppers and 1 large jar of Arrabiata sauce (recommended: Mario Batali; if you like it really sauce, add 1 1/2 jars) to the pot.  Add the meatballs to the pot, and simmer, lid on, for 15 to 20 minutes.  Serve with toasted split baguette rolls.  Spicy, hearty, fluffy, and delicious!

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Categories: 60 Minutes, Eat, Main Courses, Poultry, Recipes