Friday, February 22, 2013

Hobbit Detour

Is not like I haven't been cooking.

I took a minor detour this past week. My son celebrated his 11th birthday and only having one (indulged) child, we spent the entire week partying. His official party was Hobbit themed and we went all out! The house was transformed into Bilbo's house, The Prancing Pony, and kinda Middle-Earthy. He invited four of his best buds for a sleepover, but we had Moms, Dads, and siblings come for a proper pre-sleep Hobbit Feast.
That is my lil Bilbo on the right

Hobbits eat. And eat (seven meals a day! Go Hobbits.). Which made planning the party quite challenging.  I relied on some very knowledgeable friends and my super-sweet brother in law for the "rules" on what and how to serve. Here was the lineup:

First Breakfast- Egg, Bacon & Cheese Quiche
Second Breakfast - Apple Caramel Pie
Elevensies- Creamy Stuffed Mushrooms
Luncheon- Cold Potato Leek Soup & Tomato, Cucumber & Feta Salad
Afternoon Tea- Assorted cookies and Sweet Tea
Dinner- Mini Sausages Wrapped in Pastry and Tater Tots
Supper-Coney Stew (which was Sheppard's Pie in disguise)

In addition we added Lembas bread (an Elven creation prominent in the LOTR series wrapped in leaves. I used a soda bread recipe of Jacque Pepin's), chili bean dip & chips, and  Ms. Dupree's Pimento Cheese that I highlighted in my first ever post!

My boy's mile high birthday cake was constructed out of two recipes from Mastering the Art of Southern cooking: Damon Lee Fowler's Updated 1-2-3-4 Cake, and Cream Cheese Frosting. I created a Hobbit door and "No Admittance Except Under Party Business" sign out of fondant and food coloring to top the cake. The cake was so luscious! The crumb was tender but firm enough to easily frost. The flavoring was that of a light vanilla pound cake. The frosting is a perfect combination of buttercream and cream cheese frostings-not too sweet and not too heavy but with a lovely shine and body. The technique for the cake involves patience (long creaming time, etc) but is otherwise a simple task. The recipe will yield 3 -9" inch cakes, perfect for a big, old fashioned birthday cake.

Just made it with the candles thisclose

Acting the fool, as usual.

This is the third time I have used the Updated 1-2-3-4 recipe and I love it. I have made another birthday cake (with the caramel frosting from Mastering...oh. my, goodness. That will have it's own post.) I also made cupcakes for the birthday fella this week. We kept with the LOTR/Hobbit thang and did "Precious" cupcakes for his class. The rings were again, fondant. I used an edible gold dust to give it some glitter. The kids were all too excited to eat the jewelry.

The party was an absolute blast and the food was a hit. The Lembas was terrific and I am including it's recipe below. I remember seeing Jacque Pepin make this bread years ago on PBS. It's a cinch to make and yields a crunchy crust with a fluffy center. The key is to bake it with a lid (an inverted stainless bowl is suggested) but I improvised by baking the loaf in my Le Creuset chicken fryer with lid. The lid adds some lightness to the soda bread, which can often be quite dense and dry. Just out of the oven, it cannot be beat with a slather  of butter. My son loved it with some jam the next day, toasted well.

Sadly, I don't have great photos of the cake and event in general. I was too busy cooking, serving, and acting a silly Mom-fool. With 25 guests, we were swamped! The cake was out of this world, thanks to Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking.

I promise to get back on my game this week and make some special dishes from MTAOSC. I have Country Captain on the brain and Ms. Dupree's version is hands-down the best I've ever tried.

Jacque Pepin's Quick Soda Bread

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon canola oil (I am on an organic palm oil kick, which I used very successfully)
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Reserve 1 teaspoon of the flour, and combine the remaining flour with the salt and baking powder in a large bowl. Add the milk and mix gently but quickly with a wooden spatula or spoon until the dough comes together.
Oil a nonstick cookie sheet with the canola oil (or line a regular cookie sheet with parchment and brush with the oil), and place the dough on the sheet. Using a piece of plastic wrap, press and mold the dough to create a round loaf about 7 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick. Sprinkle the reserved teaspoon of flour on top of the loaf. Using a serrated knife, make 2 intersecting 1/4-inch-deep cuts across the top of the loaf to create a cross.
Place a stainless steel bowl upside down over the bread and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the bowl and bake for another 30 minutes, or until golden brown.

You sexy thang
** I oiled my Le Creuset deep covered saute pan and baked right in it. LOVE this thing! It was a gift from my sister and and best BIL. 
Using a wide spatula, remove the bread to a rack. Let cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing.

My wonderful friends who truly inspired our day. They are HARDCORE!!!

Here is their AMAZING vacation video. They did this ALL!!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Cassoulet Part Deux

Our Dixie Cassoulet was So. Dang. Good.

My husband just confirmed this by reminiscing about Friday's meal with a glazed look of a smitten man. He told me that he's so excited because we get to have leftover cassoulet for dinner all week. If you have ever had cassoulet then you know that the only thing better than cassoulet is leftover cassoulet.

My camera has bitten the dust so the pics are via my phone. The thing is, cassoulet has a face only a mother could love anyway, so it's really just fine. I didn't get a pic of the completed, crusted cassoulet either. Boo, so I borrowed one from Food52. I very was busy serving and my good friend Lynn decided to bring an organic cucumber vodka for our before dinner cocktail, so by dinner time I was a very relaxed.

My sweet husband built me my dream dining table!
We started the meal with a simple chicory salad with a vibrant dijon vinaigrette and a bit of shaved Kerrygold cheddar. It was nice and tangy and got the juices flowing for the cassoulet. I was able to use my beloved earthenware cassoulet server (that I scored at Habitat for Humanity ReStore for $3-new!) and serve on our new farm table that my husband built for me for Christmas. The vibe was so right and it felt as though we were transported to a French country home. Food can do that for me, take me places.

Beautiful chicory for the salad
The cassoulet was wonderful. We broke through the garlicy breadcrumbs and through to steamy beans that was studded with the most delectable chunks of garlic sausage, confit, pork ribs.  I served a small ramekin of the confit "butter" on the side to drizzle a top, or dip some fresh bread. I absolutely adored the black eyed peas as a white bean substitute! The dish was still so creamy but the black eyed peas had a nice, teeny tiny bite to them that I really loved.

Our dessert was slated to be Chocolate Pecan Pie but after a polling of my friends and considering my Dad's diabetes, I chose a lower sugar dessert. Ms. Dupree's Caramel Cream Pecan Crust Pie (pgs. 527 & 514) was INSANE. A short crust of pecans, flour, butter, and a bit of sugar are pulsed into a dough, pressed into a pie pan with a removable bottom and baked. The filling is like a panna cotta-gelatin is bloomed in warm cream, a caramel is made and mixed into cream and poured into the shell and cooled. The crust recipe alone is worth running to buy Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking right now! I did have to bake a little longer than suggested, but my oven is bi polar. I cut back a bit on the sugar in the crust (for my Dad) and made a quick caramel sauce to drizzle over top for my other guests and myself. This one will have a post all it's own, it is THAT GOOD.

It was a night of stories and laughter and great food shared with people I love.

I certainly used Dixie Cassoulet from Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking as my template, but went a bit off with some extra additions. Here is the final recipe. Daunting as it may seem, each element is a meal in itself and holds beautifully until you are ready to assemble. I did make my ribs well in advance (four days ahead).

Ode to Dixie Cassoulet
Serves 10-15
Freezes perfectly. Feel free to divide the recipe into oven-ready vessels and freeze right in them! You can save the breadcrumb step for when you pull one from the freezer.

1 recipe simple beans (Simple Beans)
1 recipe confit chicken thighs from (Confit on the Cheap (Cassoulet Pt. 1) skin and bones removed, meat pulled into bite sized chunks
2 cups homemade stock, nice and strong (I made turkey stock from my leftover Toikey!)
2 cups white wine
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 lbs garlic sausage (I have successfully used expensive French style garlic sausage, Bangers from Whole Foods-awesome, and Boar's Head bratwurst in a pinch. All excellent!)
2 lbs. country style pork ribs*** I recommend preparing the ribs well in advance to save on time!
2 Tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
5 cups panko breadcrumbs
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup drippings/preserving fat from the confit

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Put the stock, wine and tomato paste in a large pot over medium high heat and dissolve the paste well. Let simmer 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Set aside.

Prick the sausages, put in a saute pan with touch of oil and brown well. Remove from pan, slice into bite sized chunks. Set aside.

***Season pork ribs well with salt & pepper. Sear in a hot pan with a bit of oil until golden on all sides. Place the ribs in a roasting pan with 3 cups of chicken or beef stock, cover with foil and roast until tender, about 1.5-2 hours.  Let cool, remove from bones & cut into bite sized pieces.

This can be a great meal in itself! Double the amount of ribs (and liquid to braise). Set half aside for your cassoulet and douse the rest with your favorite bbq sauce (hoisin is excellent here as well!) and put back into a HOT oven (500 degrees) and let the ribs glaze well. You'll have dinner tonight and be ready to go for your cassoulet at you leisure.***
Browning the ribs

In a sauté pan add confit drippings/fat and garlic, sauté until softened. Remove from heat and stir in the panko. Add salt, pepper & fresh parsley. Set aside.

Third layer before the breadcrumbiness
Organize your assembly line: Beans, shredded confit, sliced sausages, stock mixture, and breadcrumbs. Grease a large vessel (6-8 qts) with a bit of the confit fat. Begin the layering process: beans, sliced sausage, confit, pork, a cup of the stock mixture. I did three layers and topped with half of the flavored bread crumbs. Place into the oven and bake uncovered until the crumbs really begin to crust and brown (about 30-45 minutes). Take a spoon and gently press the crumbs into the cassoulet. Cover with the remaining crumbs, dribble with a bit of the drippings and bake until golden (takes about 45 minutes). Whew! That is it. Oh my word, this is good.

Note: You can do the breadcrumb step as many times as you like. If your cassoulet is a bit too soupy for you, add another layer of crumbs and push away!

This mostly closely resembles our finished dish. Break on through.

Thanks for taking the cassoulet ride with me. Tonight is "the big game" (oh, I hate that name) and we are having chili. Simple. One pot. Yum! It doesn't always have to be a lengthy process. Sometimes it's just plain ole good eatin'.