Monday, February 4, 2013

The Benefits of Learning to Adapt - Cassoulet

     Adapt.  Or better yet, learn to adapt.  I think this phrase summarizes the one big lesson we have learned since we moved overseas.  Stores not open on Sunday - adapt and shop on Saturday.  No sun for almost sixty days - adapt and take plenty of Vitamin D.  Can't mow the lawn on Sunday nor take the bottles to the local recycling center on Sunday because it will violate the "noise" ordinance - adapt and realize that it is good to be quiet and restful on Sundays.

     While we have all had to adapt in various ways, perhaps our biggest challenge has been in the kitchen.  Gone are the gourmet appliances.  Gone is the spacious island.  Despite the quality of the oven and stove, I have managed to cook some pretty decent meals in the 13 months that we have been here.  Our college sized refrigerator in the kitchen has been augmented with an American sized version in the basement.  It really isn't all that bad.

      However, I was not prepared to lose the use of the oven.  We are now in the fourth month of a nonfunctioning appliance.  This has been a real test of adaptation.  Yes, the landlord knows.  Yes, it was our fault.  Yes, it should have been fixed already.  But it hasn't happened and that is a totally different story.  It is quite possible that Dear Husband planned the entire event because it has given him the opportunity to tell me to get out the crockpot.  Dear Husband is obsessed with slow cooker cooking.  Come to think of it, my father's favorite kitchen appliance apart from the griddle (used to make his stacks of pancakes) was the crockpot.  Maybe, it is a guy thing.  Who knows, but what I do know is that for the last four months, if I mention not being able to make a certain dish, then Dear Husband pipes in with, "Use the crockpot".  Want a roasted chicken?  Put it in the crockpot (and yes, it really does work and it is really good).  Even, our Christmas turkey was cooked in the crockpot!  Not quite the same as the traditional method, but not bad, either.

     That brings me to Cassoulet.  I love Cassoulet.  It is, to me, the quintessential winter-time comfort food.  Originating in the France, around Toulouse, this slow cooking stew-like dish consisting of beans and various meats takes its name from its traditional cooking vessel, a cassole, a deep, round earthenware pot with slanted sides.   I love this dish so much that I actually own a cassole and hauled with us to Germany.  Unfortunately, it doesn't fit so well in my tiny (and non-functional) oven.  But so dedicated to the dish, I was prepared to, well, adapt.  Back in the States, once a winter I would plop down $100  to a mail order food company and two days later, the Cassoulet kit would arrive at my front door.  I would eagerly open the box and lovingly look at all of the wonderful ingredients and the cooking would begin.  Making enough for twelve, we would proceed to eat the leftovers for weeks.  But who cares - it was so good!

     The kit cannot be delivered here but I adapted.  With trips to France, I scoured  grocery stores for the ingredients:  Duck confit, garlic sausage, etc.  When I couldn't find duck and armagnac sausage, I adapted and found another suitable sausage.  No ventreche; use pancetta.  No containers of duck worries.  Each time I made duck breast, I saved the fat.  Demi-glace proved to be the biggest challenge. I could not find this concentrated stock anywhere. So, I... adapted.  All of these morsels were kept in the freezer in hopes that sometime this winter, I would spend a lovely Saturday afternoon in the kitchen.

     Then the oven broke.  Then Dear Husband said that the freezer was getting very crowded.  "Why is that?" he asked one afternoon.  "It's my cassoulet ingredients and I can't make it until the oven gets fixed," came my terse reply.  "Use the crockpot."  "Right, the crockpot," I thought, "here we go again.  Is he crazy?  How could a use a crockpot for my precious cassoulet?"  Then the idea kept forming...what if he was right?  I searched the Internet for a crockpot cassoulet recipe but I only found one.    While you can use any assortment of meats, I wasn't wowed by the recipe but I paid attention to the crockpot cooking time.  In the end, I decided to use my regular recipe - provided by D'Artagnan, the mail order company that has provided me those precious kits for so many years.

      We were teased all day by the luxurious smells coming from the kitchen.  But would it be as good as the oven version?   The outcome?  I think I have to find another use for my cassole.  So learn to never know what the benefits will be.

Crockpot Cassoulet

Cassoulet D'Artagnan - Adapted for the Crockpot

The ingredient list comes from the D'Artagnan recipe.  If you cannot find these, visit and perhaps a scrumptious little kit will arrive at your doorstep.  If you do not want to go the expense, search the Internet for other recipes.  You can use pork shoulder or different varieties of sausages.  I would; however, highly recommend keeping the duck confit in the recipe as it adds depth to the flavor.