March 12, 2007

At last, the Deuling Cassoulet story!

Act One: I'd been reading this book, called "You Can't See Paris From Here" which is the writer's account of taking his family to the south of France. He watches how this small village has been revitalized by it's sole attraction: a restaurant (called La Récréation, which is French for "recess" as it's in a schoolhouse.)  It was a very warm and moving story, about the struggles and the successes of a classical French restaurant, and the local businesses that supplied and supported it. The descriptions of the cooking and ingredients and the people made me wish I was there. But there's no international travel for this girl for a while, so I would have to suffice with books and my imagination. Duck, both as confit and foie gras, was consumed with fresh local vegetables and washed down with the local Cahors wine. Yum yum and YUM!

Act Two: In anticipation of making dinner for myself and my husband, I took out some ground meat from the freezer. I was pretty sure that it was ground beef, but didn't pay much attention. When I went to go make dinner, it was ground pork... and I didn't think he'd go for a hamburger made of ground pork. So I made little meatballs, and sautéed them in a pan, thinking I'd get inspiration. Ground pork is basically unseasoned sausage, right? so I seasoned it like sausage, and the smell made me think of Cassoulet. But I have no duck! I saved some duck fat from a previously enjoyed duck, (for cooking potatoes!) so I used it to sauté the onions and carrots. I had the right beans, though I'd have to compromise by using canned. I had some frozen turkey, from legs that I had stewed for hours in a big rondeau, sealed in vacuum-bags. The dark meat might be sufficiently gamey to pass for the rich flavor of duck. So far, so good. No salt pork for lardons, but I did have bacon! A blob of tomato paste and a few flavor adjustments, and I was satisfied. I toasted up some small cubes of bread in some more duck fat, salted them, and crossed my fingers.

When I served it for dinner, dressed with the croutons, I explained to Kelly that it was 'fake cassoulet'. He really liked it. I couldn't help but ponder whether it was close enough to the flavors of a proper cassoulet, or if it just tasted good, but Kelly said he liked it enough that he could eat it once a week. I then explained about the quantities of duck fat & bacon, and he said with a laugh, "OK, twice a week!"

Act Three: Kelly got an amex gift card from work, for being the stellar employee that he is,  and instead of buying himself some gadget or amusement, he decided we should go out to dinner. There is one restaurant near my home that I just adore. Bistro Provence. It's lovely, comfortable, the food is outstanding, yet still very reasonably priced. I called for a reservation and surprisingly, got a table at 7:30.

As we were offered menus and the wine list, Kelly proposed champagne. (WOOT!) and as I perused the menu, the thing that my eyes landed on was the cassoulet. WOOT!! See, I love duck, I love confit of duck, and I love cassoulet. ...but did I want to eat it two nights in a row? Hell yes! As I said in a previous post I really don't like to eat the same thing in the same WEEK, much less on consecutive nights.

I was too excited at the opportunity to compare the poseur concoction I made the previous night to the genuine article. So I ordered the cassoulet.

YES, his flavors were deeper and more complex. Yes the oily duck was pleasantly satisfying, and yes, the sausages were sublime. But the one I made in about 35 minutes with stuff in my pantry wasn't far off! I was thrilled! Isn't that silly? I had to restrain myself from licking the crock clean.

We polished off the champagne and shared a slice of an intensely flavored but surprisingly light mocha cake for dessert.

Act Four: The next day for lunch, I ate cassoulet yet again: leftovers of the faked stuff, which was still delicious after a rest in the fridge and a slow reheating in the microwave. Even after eating the real thing, I felt my little impostor really held it's own.

I'm done with cassoulet for a while, (hee hee) but it was fun to have that experience.

Last thing I ate or drank: French bread, drizzled with olive oil, spread with labne, sprinkled with mint & chili, topped with thinly sliced yellow tomato.

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