Friday, March 30, 2012


March 25, 2012
Extra Tangy Sourdough Bread
Quick and Easy Cassoulet
Green Salad
2007 Shiloh Road Chardonnay

I first learned about cassoulet from a Cook's Illustrated article a few years ago. This traditional French country dish, also called "French Pork and White Bean Casserole" by Cook's, can take days to make and includes beans, broth, aromatics, and duck confit. The thick, rich consistency of the casserole  comes in part from a bread crumb topping which is cooked until crisp then pushed down into the stew; this process is repeated multiple times during a long, slow cooking process.

I remember just a few things from the cassoulet I made using the Cook's Illustrated recipe. The first is that makes an excellent meal and excellent left overs, I have very fond memories of the dish. The second is that it makes way too much food for two. The basis for the recipe is a pound of dried cannellini beans (white kidney beans). As much as we liked it, we grew tired of eating it before it was all gone.

A few months ago, Chef John of Food Wishes published a recipe for a "quick and easy" cassoulet and I finally got around to trying it.  Instead of a pound of dried beans, the recipe uses canned beans. Chicken thighs and pork sausage provide the meat in place of duck confit. As described in the video recipe, I looked for a spicy garlic pork sausage and chose a Cajun sausage with Guy Fieri's name on it. The package contained four 3-ounce sausages and the recipe called for 8 ounces. After sampling one and finding it to be very spicy I chose to use just half of the package, freezing the other half for another day. Given the spiciness of the sausage I also left out the cayenne pepper which Food Wishes added. The topping included not only bread crumbs (which I bought at the supermarket)  but also grated parmigiano-regiano cheese and butter. This was crisped under the broiler, pushed down into the casserole, and the process was repeated but leaving some of the crisp topping intact the second time. The topping soaked up the liquid remaining, nicely thickening the sauce in the casserole.

To accompany the cassoulet I made sourdough bread using my long-ignored starter. It had a layer of alcohol on top and was an unappealing grey color. Following instructions from King Arthur, I mixed the alcohol back in with the starter, then fed it with 1 c. flour and ½ c. of water, stirred it together, and left it to sit at room temperature for about eight hours. It came back to life nicely, bubbling and doubling in volume. I combined 3 c. flour (a mixture of bread and all purpose flour, because I didn't have enough bread flour) with the starter and left it to rise at room temperature for 3 hours. Because it was chilly in the house I set it next to a tea kettle full of hot water for a while. The dough was then placed in the refrigerator overnight.

The next morning, after about eleven hours of rising, the dough was removed from the refrigerator and the remaining flour was mixed with some salt and sugar and added to the dough. I kneaded it in the mixer for about ten minutes and let it rise for about three hours, using the hot tea kettle trick again.

The next step was to gently divide the dough in half and shape it into two loaves. This I could not do as the dough was too wet and sticky. I added a little flour and kneaded it into the dough so I could handle it, forming loaves which were then left to rise.  After three hours the loaves were ready to bake after slitting the top and spritzing with warm water, presumably to help form a better crust.

The bread was certainly more tangy than the loaves made with the King Arthur recipe that mixes starter with yeast. However, the color seemed a little off, being more tan than golden (though the bottom of the loaves looked better) and the crumb was a little dense, with few large holes. While a perhaps a little dense it had a nice flavor, maybe it should have risen more and the handling that was required to form the loaves probably had an effect.

I don't remember enough of the Cook's Illustrated version of cassoulet to compare the two. However, this recipe produced a very nice casserole which was just the thing for dinner on a rainy winter Sunday. I am sure that it was easier to make. From start to finish it took over an hour to prepare, and less than ninety minutes. The quantity also seems better suited to us, it should make for three, maybe four, meals all told, not enough for us to grow tired of it. The sausage was too spicy for our tastes so next time I will look for something a little milder.

Extra Tangy Sourdough Bread from King Arthur's Flour
Quick and Easy Cassoulet from Food Wishes

The beef stew served us for three more meals, and was delicious. I ate it with an open-faced peanut butter and butter sandwich. This seems odd even to me, but for some reason I think that peanut butter and beef stew go really well together. The recipe says that the stew will keep for 2 days in the refrigerator but this seems very conservative. We kept it there quite a bit longer than that with no problem, so I wonder why the say that. Perhaps liability issues?

Kitchen tip
America's Test Kitchen posted a short article on how to cut down recipes when you're cooking for two. They suggest for many recipes you should make the full amount and freeze some for leftovers, which is my favorite approach, too. I was surprised by their informative discussion about using smaller pans when you cook, though. Check it out!

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