Simple variation of Cassoulet
Cassoulet is a traditional French dish that is typical of the hearty peasant fare of southwestern France. There are many variations but traditionally it would have pork, poultry (such as duck or goose more than likely), sausages and white beans. What makes it so rich and hearty is the cooking of the meats with the beans so they are full of flavor. In Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" it is suggested that while it can be made in one day often a 2-3 day leisurely process will result in the best flavors. As much as I would love to do this I opted first to try a much simpler and quicker variation. What I came up with is loosely based on 2 recipes I found on; one for a "quick cassoulet" and one for a "white bean and tomato gratin".

To start I measured out 2 cups of dried Great Northern white beans. With all dried legumes you want to sort through them for any small pebbles or other organic non-edible stuff then rinse in cold water. Dump rinsed beans into a large stock pot and add 1 whole peeled clove of garlic, a couple of bay leaves, 3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme and about 2 tsp of kosher salt. Add 8 cups of water and bring to a boil. Let boil for about 2 minutes then reduce heat and simmer covered for about 2 hours or until beans are tender but not splitting open. Drain the beans and discard the bay leaves and the thyme stems which are left behind.

Cook 4-5 sweet Italian sausages that have been pricked lightly with a fork all over in a large deep skillet in 1/2 cup of water for 10 minutes covered. Remove lid and cook for another 10 minutes letting the liquid evaporate and the sausages brown lightly. You will get some browned residue in the bottom of the skillet which will be very important for developing flavors so it is best to use a stainless steel pan for this and not non-stick! Remove the sausages to a plate to cool while you continue.
While the sausages are cooking chop 1 med. yellow or white onion and 1 clove of garlic. After you have removed the sausages from the pan drop heat to low and add about 2 tblsp of olive oil and let heat through then add the onion and saute until onion is softened. As you stir the onion scrape the pan and the onions will take on lots of deep brown from the pan drippings. Add the garlic and then season with salt and pepper. Take about 3 sprigs of thyme and starting at the tip run your fingers down to the bottom stripping off the leaves into the pan. Then add a couple of tsp of oregano and basil. Stir to combine then add 2 cans of diced tomatoes with liquid to the pan and stir scraping up all the brown drippings from the bottom of the pan. Allow to come to a simmer and taste for seasoning.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
By now the sausages will be cool enough to handle. Cut into 1" pieces. In a 13x9 baking dish or large casserole add the beans, sausage and tomato mixture and carefully stir to combine. Take 3-4 slices of crusty white French bread and tear off the crusts. These can be saved for other uses. Take the bread and tear into small pieces and saute in about 1 tblsp of olive oil until golden brown. Scatter across the top of the "cassoulet" and then if desired add fresh grated Parmigiano or Romano cheese. Bake for 1 hour uncovered until juices are bubbling on the sides and bread topping is browned. Serve warm or at room temperature with a nice green salad, slices of French bread and some red wine for a hearty French/Italian country style dinner.

Cauliflower & Green Apple Gratin with Swiss Cheese
Cheesy Goodness
This dish just disappeared at mark_a_morgan's birthday dinner. I almost didn't even get a taste of it myself;)

Cauliflower works really well for this as it is somewhat mild in flavor and the texture comes out so well. Because I was serving this with a nice honey mustard glazed ham I was inspired to add the tart Granny Smith apple and use Swiss instead of a more typical Cheddar although that would work as well.

1 medium sized head of cauliflower
2 cups of shredded Swiss cheese
1 Granny Smith apple cubed
2 tblsp of butter
2 tblsp of flour
1 cup of milk

Trim the head of cauliflower and then blanch in boiling water and drain. Dump the cauliflower into a casserole dish along with the apple breaking up any big chunks of cauliflower as needed to fit in the dish. I used an 8" round dish.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan (you can use the same one you blanched the cauliflower in) and add flour to make a light roux. Season with a bit of salt and pepper and after the roux has cooked for a minute or two add the milk and whisk or stir to incorporate the roux. Turn the heat up and continue stirring to make sure the roux is not sticking to the bottom of the pan. Once the sauce comes to a boil or nearly there it will thicken up nicely. Once it has done this turn off the heat and add the grated cheese a handful at a time stirring as it melts in. Once all the cheese is in and melted taste for seasoning then pour over the cauliflower & apple. Bake in a 350 ° oven for about 20 minutes or until the top is slightly golden brown. You can also add some breadcrumbs on the top before baking if you want a nice bit of crunchy top.

Hungarian Spiced Stuffed Peppers
Siouxsie Toss

Stuffed Pepper Half Stuffed Pepper Whole
Stuffed Pepper Half
Stuffed Pepper Whole

Oddly enough when I was young I did not like to eat cooked bell pepper but I liked it raw. Same thing with peas, only I still dislike cooked peas;) I have developed an appreciation for the different flavors you can get from bell peppers when they are prepared in various ways. Green bell peppers have remained my least favorite as they seem kind of bitter to me. Until today! The peppers I used in this recipe came from a local organic produce store and they blew me away with their flavor when cooked! A nice fresh green pepper taste on the sweeter side combined with the sweetness of the tomato sauce and then the smokey and earthy filling with ground beef, mushrooms, rice and lots of smoked paprika. I really think paprika is key here; the standard grocery chain store bottle is not that impressive. It wasn't until I read about the different kinds in Sheila Lukin's "All Around the World" cookbook that I really understood paprika. And even then it wasn't until I smelled the different ones at a store that I really REALLY understood why paprika matters. It's not just a fancy garnish for deviled eggs!

Hungarian Spiced Stuffed PeppersCollapse )

pulled pork
blue hexagram
We had a lot of delicious food here for thanksgiving, but this was my favorite thing. It is so easy, versatile and expandable if you wanna get creative, and its always so friggin good!

The night before thanksgiving I decided to set the pork cooking in the crockpot overnight. Great idea. We woke up to a house filled with the scent of amazing food to come, and it totally inspired the rest of the day.

**(Easy) Pulled Pork**Collapse )

Thanksgiving Leftovers
Siouxsie Toss
I have an odd collection of leftovers since I went to a potluck dinner. Roasted butternut squash with Moroccan spices, balsamic braised onions and a large bowl of cranberry-orange relish. So hunting down some recipes I found a couple of ideas. . .

First the relish:
I found this recipe at Epicurious for Pork Chops with Cranberry, Port and Rosemary Sauce. I adapted it thusly:

I had 8 fairly large pork loin chops about 1/2"thick which I seasoned with salt & pepper and fresh rosemary then fried them in the butter as in the recipe. I had to do this in 2 batches. Once all the chops were done I deglazed the pan with a mix of 1/2 cup of dry red wine and 1/2 cup of water. Then I added about 2 cups of my leftover relish and let this come to a boil then I dropped it back to a simmer and let it reduce by about half. I did add the pork chops back to the pan and covered them letting them simmer in the liquid for a bit before finally reducing the sauce over higher heat until it was pretty thick. Oddly I found the relish took on a flavor similar to applesauce by the end. Quite tasty and yummy!

For the leftover squash I found this recipe:
Buttercup Squash Bread
I don't know why in the title it is "Buttercup" but they mean butternut so whatever.

* 1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
* 1/2 cup warm water (110 degrees F to 115 degrees F)
* 2 tablespoons molasses
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
* 1 cup mashed, cooked butternut squash
* 3 cups all-purpose flour


1. In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in water. Add molasses, salt, caraway, squash and 2 cups flour; mix well. Add enough remaining flour to form a soft dough. Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to greased top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour. Punch dough down; turn onto a floured surface and shape into a loaf. Place in a greased 9-in. x 5-in. x 3-in. loaf pan. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes. Bake at 400 degrees F for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pan to cool on a wire rack.

I had just a little over 1 cup of squash when I mashed it up so I threw it all in. I also did not have any caraway seeds and do not care for them all that much so I added 1/4 teaspoon of allspice and the same of fresh grated nutmeg to the batter before adding the flour.

The bread is really good! Dense and chewy with a really nice squash flavor.

Kale with sundried tomatoes and carnitas, TJ style
Howdy folks at the OC. I make food sometimes too. This recipe requires a bunch of stuff that comes from Trader Joe's; I'm sure you can make it with any other version of the same ingredients, but I don't know how that would taste. This is idiotically easy to make and relatively inexpensive; and also the TJ's Carnitas is so tender and fatty that this is the best use of it I've ever found.

1 bunch organic curly kale (if you use flat kale, you need slightly less water)
4 Tablespoons julienne-sliced sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil (from Trader Joe's)
4 oz carnitas (slow-roasted pork) (from Trader Joe's), pulled into 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups water

Thoroughly wash the kale and strip the leaf off the central stems. Discard stems.

In a large skillet or cookpot, place the tomatoes and carnitas and bring to a high heat until all the olive oil on the tomatoes is melted. Stir tomatoes and pork around the bottom of the pan until it's well coated with oil and very hot. Toss in the kale leaves and stir, then add all the water. The water should just barely cover the kale; too much water isn't a problem, but if there's not enough water, add some. Cover skillet/cookpot tightly, reduce heat to medium-high (but no lower!)

Cook the hell out of the kale for 30 minutes. If the water level starts going down too much too quickly, add some more HOT water. Stir occasionally. Eventually almost all the water will cook away, being absorbed into the kale and also being released as steam. You will probably want to have your stove-hood fan on. Kale is finished when it's tender and just a little chewy; 30 mins. is the magic number. Turn off heat, remove lid and stir, cooling the kale, and then put the lid back on to finish the steaming process.

Dish out kale and only then cut the leaves into smaller pieces. The pork and tomatoes will fall apart at the touch of a fork; chop them into the kale leaves, and pour any pot liquor over the mixture. Salt or add Tabasco sauce to taste, if desired. Serve immediately. Goes well with cornbread, boiled potatoes, toast, sweet potatoes, and/or more roast pork with fresh sliced tart green apples.

Autumn Dinner
Siouxsie Toss
I invited friends over for dinner last night and made a very autumnal dinner using some fantastic country style pork ribs I got on sale at Fred Meyer's last week.

I should have taken more pics of the ready to eat food but alas I did not think of it until much later when I was wolfing down my plateful and realized how good it all was. I got one shot off before my camera batteries died.

Autumn Dinner Autumn Dinner
Orange BBQ Country Style Ribs, Brown Sugar & Orange baked Acorn squash and Red Pepper & Mushroom Barley Risotto

For the ribs I actually followed a recipe I found over at . It is a good crock-pot recipe and I just doubled it for my use.

Recipe hereCollapse )

Baked Acorn Squash
Really really simple here:
I cut the flowering end of the squash off to make a flat stable base and cut in half. Scooped out the seeds and membrane then placed in a baking dish cut side up. In each half I put about 2 tblsp of butter and 1 tblsp of brown sugar. Then I took the remaining orange juice concentrate from the rib recipe, added hot water to fill the container (so I would guess about 1 cup of liquid total) and poured it over and around the squash in the dish. Bake at 325 for about 45 minutes. When you take it out cut the squash into wedges and place in serving dish. Using a spoon or whisk stir the orange juice still in the pan and scrape up any caramelized bits. The pan while still hot will not be too messy and the burnt bits will dissolve in the hot liquid and then just spoon the sauce over the wedges in the serving bowl.

Barley & Mushroom Risotto with Red Bell Pepper

This one is a bit more complicated so I will continue the recipe hereCollapse )

Tuna Casserole Redux
checkered diner

Tuna Casserole Redux Tuna Casserole Redux

Tuna Casserole Redux

2 cans of tuna drained
2 cans of Cream of Mushroom soup condensed
About 2 cups of water
1 lb of macaroni uncooked
1 can of green beans drained
About 1 cup of chopped cooked ham
1 tblsp (about a palmful) curry powder
1 tblsp of dry mustard
1 tsp of paprika
salt & pepper to taste
1 cup of shredded Cheddar
1 cup of shredded Mozzarella
About a cup of bread crumbs
2 tblsp of melted butter

Cook macaroni in salted boiling water until al dente. Drain then return to pot.
Dump tuna, green beans,ham, soup and water into pot and mix until combined well. Add cheeses and fold into mixture allowing the residual heat from the pasta to start to melt them. Season with curry, mustard, paprika and salt & pepper and mix in well then taste to adjust seasonings.
Preheat oven to 375 and grease a 9x13 baking dish. Dump mixture into the baking dish and spread evenly. Cover top with bread crumbs then pour the melted butter over the top. Bake for about half an hour to 45 minutes or until mixture is bubbly and crumbs are golden brown on top.
Let set for about 15 minutes then serve.

Easy veggie dinner from the grill!
checkered diner
Grilled Vegetable Salad "ala Grecque"

Chop 2 green bell peppers, 2 medium zucchini and 1 sweet onion (Walla Walla if you can get it!) for kebabs. Toss them in about 2-3 tblsp of olive oil & 2-3 tblsp of lemon juice in a large salad bowl. Season with salt and pepper then thread onto skewers. Reserve the liquid in the salad bowl for later!
Grill the kebabs until you get good char marks and veggies are tender. Remove from skewers into the salad bowl with the reserved liquid. Doing this while the veggies are still warm will help them to soak up all that lemony goodness! Chop up some Romaine lettuce and 2 medium ripe tomatoes and add to the bowl. Toss all together coating with the liquid, adding more oil & lemon juice as needed. Sprinkle with crumbled feta and serve. I love the flavor of the grilled veggies in contrast with the crisp lettuce and the lemon and feta!

Random bits from the bbq party
checkered diner
Saturday (last night) I had friends over for bbq and good times with a very large spread of food and fun throughout the night. The weather was looking iffy so I focused more on having snacks aplenty around and therefore only having to spend time prepping some beef kabobs and veggies for the grill later on.

Unfortunately my camera batteries died on me very early on so only one pic to share and that is the stuffed mushrooms I made. This pic is right before I popped them in the oven:

Stuffed Mushrooms Stuffed Mushrooms
BBQ 7/21/07

Stuffed Mushrooms

2 lbs of medium to large Crimini or baby Portobello shrooms
About a cup of cream cheese
1 box of frozen spinach thawed and drained
About 1/2 cup of pine nuts
Parmesan cheese

Wipe clean the mushrooms and remove the stems. Using a melon baller or small spoon clean out more of the leftover stem and gills to make as large a hole as you can without breaking them.
Chop the stems finely and toss into a large mixing bowl. Add the pinenuts and spinach and the cream cheese and season with a bit of salt and pepper then work the cream cheese into the mixture as evenly as possible. I used a potato masher to get it softened up at first then just used my hands.

Melt about 2 tblsp of butter in a small bowl and then line a baking sheet with foil. Dip each mushroom into the butter and shake off excess and place it on the sheet. Then using a small spoon or the melon baller spoon the filling into each mushroom using your fingers to push it down into the mushroom gently. Then sprinkle Parmesan cheese over the tops. (Note: you will most likely have leftover filling. This would be a good dip on it's own popped into the oven until bubbly and served with some good crusty bread or crackers)

Bake at 375 for about 20 minutes until filling is bubbling and the Parmesan starts to brown. Let them sit and cool for a few minutes before plating up.

I also made Tzatziki for the first time and it was really easy and very good!


1 tblsp of lemon juice
1/2 cup of olive oil
1 clove of garlic minced
1 tsp of salt
2 cups of plain yogurt (Greek if you can get it!)
1 cucumber halved, seeded and grated

Combine all the ingredients and whisk to incorporate the olive oil thoroughly. Chill for at least an hour.

The rest of the spread on the table included pita wedges, roasted red pepper hummus (ah storebought I know, but there are some really good ones out there), feta cheese, chips and sour cream & onion dip (thanks to lessingham93 for a fave standard!

The lovely seraphim51 contributed a huge bowl of baked potato salad which was awesome! Think of what you would have on a loaded baked potato; cheddar cheese, bacon, etc and that is what it tasted like!

The beef kebabs were Greek/Mediterranean inspired as well.

Beef Kebabs

Take 2 lbs of beef sirloin cut into 1-2 inch chunks. Place in a dish large enough to accomodate all the pieces and deep enough to toss them in the marinade.
Cover the meat with about 3 tblsp of olive oil, drizzle liberally with Worcestershire sauce and then season with salt, pepper, a tsp of ground coriander, about 2 tsp of cumin, 1 tsp of paprika, 2 tsp of oregano and a sprinkling of red pepper flake. Toss to combine the spices and coat all of the pieces. Then let sit for about an hour to marinate.
For veggie kebabs to accompany these I used red & green bell peppers and Walla Walla sweet onions. And yes, I did them separately! Alton Brown is correct, while it may look "pretty" to have your meat and veggies together on one skewer, they cook at different rates so it is much easier to do them separately.

Thread onto skewers and grill over medium heat until desired doneness is acheived.


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