You ever notice how when you decide to make a change in your life, wherever you look, you see that very thing all around you? Maybe it serves as a reminder to stay the course and follow through with your plan to make a change for the better. Maybe it serves as temptation to which you succumb.
Either way, it’s been my experience that when I decide to make a change, I’m inundated with information or situations about that very thing.
A month ago, I made the decision to kick up my clean eating regime by doing a 21 Day Fix. Then I was promptly invited out to several lunches, a cocktail reception and two baby showers. Food! Food! Food!
I am moving ahead with my third (and hopefully, final) surgery, on my leg this coming Monday. I know that I’ll have a period of recuperation, so I decided that I’d rather do some preventative maintenance when it comes to staying active than just let it all go out the window. I had been training for The Alum Run 5k and sticking with my Zumba and weight lifting, but I wasn’t seeing the results that I wanted. My friend who coached me through my clean eating challenges posted a few photos of people she had coached on this 21 Day Fix. These were regular looking people. No one did an Ugly Betty to Gisele type of transformation. There were some serious success stories of course, but the take away for me was that the program was do-able. And I kept thinking, “If I don’t do it, three weeks from now, I’ll be thinking, I coulda been finished.”
There was a lot of prep work involved:
I did it, and when people say three weeks makes a habit, it’s true. I’m done with my three weeks, but I’m still portioning out and using my containers. Sure, I went a little rogue on the nut allotment here and there, but it was nuts, not Cheez-Curls or Oreos. Truthfully, I’ve changed the way I shop, much to the chagrin of the children. M came home from school and started rooting in the pantry for a snack.
“Where are the Doritos?” she said, frantically pushing aside bags of raw cashews, almonds, and pecans.
“Probably at the store where I left them,” I replied with a shrug.
Ever been given side-eye by a nine year old? It looks a lot like this:
I committed to this 21 Day Fix in part because I was thumbing though my post-op protocols. Sure, there was the usual rest, elevate, ice and so forth. I was looking for the green light about exercise. Day 1, blah, blah blah. Day 10, blah, blah, blah. Then it jumped to week 3 — walking without crutches while still wearing the boot is permitted. Um. . .I need a little more than that. I read on. Week 6 — Walking without the boot, using an elliptical without the boot is permitted. Um. . .that’s not going to work for me. 3 months — light jogging is permitted. Yeah, that definitely isn’t going to work for me. What in the world? You all know that I’m pretty active. I’m going from high intensity two-a-days to light jogging? After three months?
Anyway, after the 21 days, while I didn’t have the marble hard abs to which I aspired, I was a few pounds and a few inches lighter. Not too bad. I definitely didn’t want to undo my hard work, but Easter was coming up and I wanted to make something special.
Back in February, The Hubs and I finagled a dinner down in Williamsburg. His choice of appetizer prompted me to go digging for this recipe when we got home. I’m all for a break from tacos, and spaghetti, chicken piccatta, and hot dogs. The usual list of staples that I end up plating for the family needed a shake-up. In my folder of ripped out recipes, I searched for one that I’ve been sitting on from 2012 and have never made: a recipe for cassoulet.
Cassoluet, is a hearty stew-like casserole mainly comprised of slow simmered beans, meat, spices and sausages. In a number of French themed fiction I’ve read, cassoulet is often mentioned. Curious to know more about the origins of the dish, a quick search informed me that it comes from southern France’s Languedoc region.
I’ve had cassoulet twice. Actually, on both occasions, it wasn’t even my plate. Both times I’ve tried it, the dish was delicious. In between those samplings, I found a recipe in Richmond Magazine, tore it out, but never used it. Time rolled by, as it is prone to do. In those crests and troughs, I have seen cassoluet on menus, but I didn’t order it. While I’m happy to sample someone else’s cassoluet, whenever I have a chance to eat a French restaurant, I’m going for my tried and true when it comes to appetizers: escargot. Mmmmm, garlic, butter, snails.
Valentine’s Day found the Hubs and I having dinner at the Blue Talon. I ordered the escargot, (obvi), while The Hubs ordered the cassoulet. It came in it’s earthenware crock. It was warm, inviting, and as he dipped his spoon ribbons of steam, spice, and comfort swirled around us and our little table. Generously, the Hubs offered me a taste. It would have been poor form to refuse. While my escargot was really good, that cassoulet was even better. Clearly, because I pulled out that ripped out recipe and started reading the ingredient list and preparation instructions. The list of ingredients extensive causing my plan to whip up a cassoulet that very week-end started to dissipate like the ribbons of steam from the crock itself. See, not only did I want to make this dish, I want to make it really, really well.
I had this vision of using my stoneware, sipping a full bodied red as I chopped and stirred. I wanted to make sure I got only the best ingredients, which was going to require some careful planning (and probably a tour of RVA) as I made my way from shop to shop to get things like duck confit, a nice pork butt or shoulder, ham hocks and the like.
Aside from the fact that I don’t like cheese — says the woman who eats snails — I really think I must have been French in a previous life. I love wine and chocolate and escargot and a number of French inspired dishes. Cassoulet, especially today when I look at the temperature and see that it is a rainy 51 degrees, is something I wouldn’t mind dipping my spoon into for lunch or for dinner. It’s s evocative of thick woolen sweaters and exposed beams and fireplaces and wrapping your hands around a steaming cup of tea. Sipping your wine and reading magazines and having your feet tucked up under you with a cozy blanket spread in your lap. Basically living out some of my favorite tumblr images and watching the cold world outside your window. There’s nothing wrong with that, right?
A few weeks earlier, while having lunch with a friend, the conversation turned to food and food prep. She told me about the hamburgers she makes using prime cuts of meat from a butcher. She went on to talk about some chocolate chip cookies she’s added to her repertoire, using only premium flour and butter. No ordinary chocolate chips will do, either. A visit to the chocolatier for chocolate shaved off of the block was to be added to her mix. I’m not even close to doing her description justice, but never have flour, sugar, butter and chocolate sounded so appetizing in their separate states as they did right then.
All of the things my friend had done in order to ensure that the cookies she was going to make were going to be high quality were necessary. When I reviewed the ingredient list for the cassoluet, I knew that a trip to my local supermarket wasn’t going to suffice. My cassoulet had to follow similar steps. So, the Monday before Easter, V and I went to Belmont Butchery.
The recipe stated that the meal could be achieved in about 3-4 hours, not including prep time. I flipped open my copy of Joy of Cooking; their recipe for cassoulet said it was a “multi-day” recipe, especially if you planned to make one of the primary ingredients, the confit, yourself. Now, while I am ambitious, I do know my limitations. I saved the duck confit for the experts, letting Belmont Butchery hook me up with that. I got hamhocks, pancetta, pork butt, and Italian sausage. Williams Sonoma helped out with the duck fat. I went to the Fresh Market in search of dried beans (none to be had), fresh spices and veggies. I chopped and diced all week so that come Sunday morning, I could just add ingredients as needed. I saved the crusty bread for a Saturday purchase and swapped out the salad for fresh green beans. All the components to make this a complete meal, purchased, prepped and ready to go by Saturday afternoon.
To say putting this dish together was a labor of love would be an understatement. In this multi-step recipe, several portions required the ingredients to simmer for 90 minutes before adding additional foodstuffs. We had an Easter egg hunt to go to at 1:30. I wanted dinner to be ready by the time we got home. Guess who was rising and shining at 5am ? Had to get my workout in before I started cooking at 6. I started to worry that I had purchased the meat too early in the week because as things started to cook, the house started to smell. . .funky. Now, I was simmering hamhocks. . .and pancetta. . .and pork butt. . .I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that it smelled a little porky. I panicked, though, thinking that dish was going to come out terribly. So, I did what any other domestic goddess would do.
I made a back-up meatloaf.
By 9am, everything that needed 90 minutes to simmer had simmered. It was time to combine the multiple pots on the stove into a Dutch oven and jam it into the oven for three hours. While the cassoulet did it’s thing, I twisted M’s hair, folded laundry, caught up on Outlander (don’t judge me), got everyone dressed for the Easter Egg hunt and got myself cleaned up as well. Then I took a nap.
Of course we all know that no nap was had by me that day. We had our fun with our friends and came home to a wonderful meal prepared by moi.
Well, the Hubs and I found it wonderful. The girls, not so much. Did I know that this would happen?
Did I ignore my better judgement and make this dish anyway?
The Hubs and I had two servings. Each of the girls had a spoonful of which, between the three of them, maybe two bites were taken. C ate the sausage, M at the bread and V ate the butter.
*le sigh* You try to cultivate refined palates, but whatever. . .
We have at least three Tupperware dishes of cassoulet left over, so if you’re wanting to try it, call me. I’ll hook you up.
Truthfully, I would make this dish again. I’d half the recipe for starters, but I’d make it again. It was challenging, time consuming, but ultimately delicious. I felt accomplished for having successfully executed such a recipe. I felt satisfied that even though I ate two servings, I didn’t completely go off the rails from my 21 Days of portion control. And while the meatloaf didn’t wasn’t necessary in the end, I froze that bad boy for the family to have when I’m recovering next week. Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together?
Please send me some love and good wishes for Monday. I’ll check in with you guys when I’m able. Happy Friday, y’all!
Originally printed in Richmond Magazine, “Hearty Links” by Tina Eshelman, November 2012. Recipe provided by Diane Fraser of Cucina in Church Hill (314 N. 25th St., 243-8753) provided this recipe.
Sausage is an essential component of cassoulet, a slow-simmered mix of beans, herbs and meats. This classic dish from southern France’s Languedoc region is perfect for gatherings of family and friends on a chilly afternoon “with a fire in the background, and a glass of wine in hand,” says Diane Fraser, owner of Cucina Fine Foods Market and Catering.
(Serves 6 to 8.)
1 pound of dry great Northern beans
10 tablespoons of duck fat or olive oil
16 cloves of garlic, smashed
2 onions, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 large ham hocks
1 pound of pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch cubes
1⁄2 pound of pancetta, cubed
2 teaspoons of ground sage
4 sprigs of oregano (or 2 teaspooons ground)
4 sprigs of thyme (or 2 teaspooons ground)
3 bay leaves
1 cup of whole peeled canned tomatoes
1 cup of white wine
2 cups of chicken broth
4 confit duck legs (optional)
1 pound of pork sausages
2 cups of bread crumbs
Soak beans in a 4-quart bowl in 7 1⁄2 cups of water overnight. Heat 2 tablespoons of duck fat or oil in a 6-quart pot over medium-high heat. Add half the garlic, onions and carrots and cook until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add the ham hocks, along with beans and their water, and boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the beans are tender, about 1 1⁄2 hours. Transfer ham hocks to a plate and cool. Pull off the meat and discard skin, bone and gristle. Chop the meat and add it to the beans. Set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons of duck fat or oil in a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the pork and brown for 8 minutes. Add the pancetta; cook for 5 minutes. Add the remaining garlic, onions and carrots; cook until lightly browned. Tie together oregano, thyme and bay leaves with twine; add to the pan with tomatoes and cook until the liquid thickens, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the wine and simmer about 20 minutes. Add broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook, uncovered, about 1 hour. Discard the herbs and set the Dutch oven aside.
Meanwhile, sear the duck legs in 2 tablespoons of duck fat or oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat for 8 minutes; transfer to a plate. Brown the sausages in the fat for about 8 minutes. Cut the sausages into 1⁄2-inch slices. Pull the duck meat off the bones and discard fat and bones. Stir the duck and sausages into the pork stew.
Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Mix the beans and pork stew in a 4-quart earthenware casserole. Cover with bread crumbs and drizzle with remaining duck fat or oil. Bake, uncovered, for 3 hours. Then raise the oven temperature to 500 degrees and cook the cassoulet until the crust is golden, about 5 minutes.
Fraser notes that boneless duck meat and confit are available at many area grocers, and chopped ham may be substituted for the ham hocks. Canned beans and ground herbs can also be substituted.