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 fat...no 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 adapt...you never know what the benefits will be.
Cassoulet D'Artagnan - Adapted for the Crockpot
The ingredient list comes from the D'Artagnan recipe. If you cannot find these, visit www.dartagnan.com 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.
I halved the ingredients as my crockpot is pretty small. Still, we got about 6-8 servings. We had the leftovers last night and it was just as good as it was the previous week. Do not freeze the leftovers.
1 pound Coco Tarbais or Great Northern beans, rinsed and picked over
12 oz ventreche in one piece (I used pancetta)
10 cloves garlic, peeled
2 medium onions, skinned and cut in half
1 carrot, coarsely chopped
1 bouquet garni made of 5 parsley sprigs, 3 celery leaves, 1 thyme sprig, 1 bay leaf, 5 cloves and 10 peppercorns, wrapped in cheesecloth and tied
10 cups water
6 duck confit legs, cut in half at the joint
6.5 oz duck and veal demi-glass dissolved in 3 1/2 cups water
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 packages duck and armagnac sausage, lightly browned, then cut in thirds
1 lb fresh garlic sausage, cut into 12 slices
1/4 cup duck fat
1. Cover beans with water and soak overnight. Drain and put in a large heavy casserole, preferably enameled cast-iron, with ventreche, garlic, carrot and bouquet garni. Cover with the 10 cups of water and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat, stirring often, until beans are barely tender, about 1 hours.
2. Drain beans, discard onions and bouquet garni. Cut ventreche into 1/2 inch squares.
3. Season beans with salt and pepper.
4. Place half of the bean mixture in the crockpot. Add duck legs, browned duck sausages, chopped ventreche and garlic sausage slices, then cover with remaining beans.
5. Mix tomato paste into dissolved demi-glace. Por over the bean mixture.
6. Drizzle duck fat over top.
7. Cover and cook on low for 7 hours.
Serve with a hearty red wine.