Monday, January 31, 2011

Croque-Madames and Puppy Love

The Croque-Madame sandwiches featured in the December/January 2011 issue of Fine Cooking appealed to me for our occasional, at-home Sunday brunch. I almost ordered one when we recently dined at Cafe Chloe, a charming French bistro in downtown San Diego's East Village. When John and I stumble upon a food find, such as this little cafe recommended by Chris, it never fails. We end up bitching over Coronado's restaurants, and wondering why such an enchanting resort town is not blessed with just one sidewalk cafe that offers simple, yet marvelous breakfast dishes. I don't mean to sound like a food snob, but it's slim pickins in a town with so much potential. We're forced to settle for average, or go off island in search of gratifying food.

More often than not, we cook at home. This is a good thing, since we love to cook and manage to do it well on most occasions. So, on this particular Sunday morning, we picked up fresh bread, eggs, and ham, and had time to prepare and savor our crunchy, gooey, croque madames before an afternoon visit with Bob and Sandra, and new puppy, River.

Sandra warned me ahead of time to be prepared for unbearable cuteness.  This adorable boy came all the way from Colorado.

Tearing myself away from irresistible puppy fluff, and getting back to food, I don't recall ever eating one of these French sandwiches before. A croque-monsieur is a grilled ham and cheese sandwich that originated in France as a fast-food snack served in cafés and bars. The name is based on the verb croquer ("to crunch") and the word monsieur ("mister"), colloquially shortened to croque. More "elaborate" versions come coated in a Béchamel sauce or Mornay sauce. A croque-monsieur served with a fried egg or poached egg on top is referred to as a croque-madame. To me, this is backwards; a man is more likely to slap a fried egg on a sandwich. However, in this case, the egg apparently resembles an old fashioned woman's hat.

I quickly checked out a few of my cookbooks for recipes to compare with Fine Cooking's "riff on the classic" (FC uses leftover roasted fresh ham, rather than cured ham). When I haven't made something before, I like to compare a few recipes and them adapt them to my tastes. Barefoot Contessa's Barefoot in Paris: Easy French Food You Can Make at Home, has a recipe for the croque-monsieur, but I definitely wanted the egg on top.   Thomas Keller's Bouchon also has a recipe, but with a more elaborate Mornay sauce than I was willing to prepare that particular morning. Fine Cooking's béchamel sauce was unique with the addition of brandy, Worcestershire sauce and fresh thyme.

No, your eyes aren't playing tricks on's only John playing with his new Lensbaby!

Slightly modified from Fine Cooking
Serves 4

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1-3/4 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons brandy
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 spring fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 slices brioche, or country-style bread
4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
6 ounces Gruyère, or Emmental, grated (1 1/2 cups)
8 ounces ham, sliced, but not too thin
1/2 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated (1/2 cup)
4 large eggs, at room temperature

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour and continue whisking just until it turns beige, about 20 seconds. Whisk in the milk in a slow, steady stream, and continue whisking until smooth, thickened, and slightly bubbling, 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk in the brandy, Worcestershire sauce, thyme sprig, nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Whisk for 30 seconds, turn off the heat, and remove thyme sprig. Set aside, whisking occasionally to prevent a skin from forming.

Position a rack 4 inches from the broiler element and heat the broiler on high.

Spread four of the bread slices on one side with 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard each. Sprinkle some Gruyère over the mustard, followed by 2 slices of ham each, and then the remaining Gruyère. Top with the remaining bread.

Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Cook 2 of the sandwiches until brown and crisp, over medium-low heat, turning once halfway through the cooking, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet. Repeat with another tablespoon of butter and the remaining 2 sandwiches.

Ladle the béchamel sauce over the sandwiches (it will run down the sides), and then sprinkle with the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Broil until bubbling and lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a 10-inch nonstick skillet, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Crack the eggs into the skillet and fry them sunny side up until the whites are set but the yolks are still runny, 3 to 4 minutes.

Use a large, flat spatula to transfer the sandwiches to serving plates. Place a fried egg on each. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve.

Newf Notes:

After loving Fine Cooking's version, especially the béchamel, and in preparation for writing this post, I looked at a few more recipes to see if I would do or suggest anything different.

I'm sorry, the food snob is sneaking out again, but I just don't see how Paula Deen can even call her sandwich a Croque Madame when she replaces the luscious béchamel with slathered mayonnaise. It further blows me away her recipe has 5 stars.  I'm just "gonna" say, Paula, skip the mayo and go with the béchamel or mornay sauce, it ain't rocket science!

I might go with Brioche next time - our bread was a little too thick and crusty. Have it sliced for you if possible. Poached eggs would be nice - more yolk to ooze out over the top. If you want it prettier, add a sprinkling of chopped parsley over the top of that lady's hat. Perhaps a little fruit salad on the side.


Friday, January 28, 2011

French Fridays with Dorie - Chicken B'stilla

This week, the French Fridays with Dorie group made Chicken B'stilla, a legendary dish of Morocco, traditionally made with squab. Dorie's French version features shredded chicken, onions, garlic, a few of the spices found in the Moroccan spice blend, Ras el Hanout, chicken broth, lemon juice, eggs, honey, parsley, cilantro, and toasted almonds. The filling is comprised of these ingredients, baked inside a phyllo, or filo, dough crust. The cooked pie is lightly dusted with cinnamon sugar, sliced into wedges, and served.

This recipe requires thawing the phyllo dough in the refrigerator overnight. The chicken filling can also be made the day before; in fact, several recipes I reviewed recommend refrigerating the filling overnight. I decided to add a few more steps to the preparation by making my own Ras el Hanout spice mix. I also sauteed the onions and garlic, and browned the chicken thighs, prior to adding the broth and braising the chicken for the hour required.

I had all the spices required to make the spice mix, and now I have extra to use for as a quick seasoning on chicken or fish for future dinners.

Cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg

Ras el Hanout Moroccan Spice Blend

2 teaspoons ginger
2 teaspoons coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons cardamom
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
1 1/4 teaspoons nutmeg
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon hot Spanish paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Generous pinch saffron threads

Combine all ingredients, use quantity called for in the recipe, and store the remaining mix in a sealed spice jar for future use.

Onions and garlic

Additional ingredients for the filling - shredded chicken thigh meat, parsley, eggs, braised onions and garlic, and toasted almonds

The phyllo is very easy to work with if, and only if, you allow it to defrost in the refrigerator over night. If you are unfamiliar with phyllo (filo), read this first before you get started.

This dish is not one to prepare after you come home from a long day at the office. There is at least an hour of preparation time, 1 hour for braising the chicken, onions, garlic and spices, and another 40 minutes for baking the pie.

Newf Notes:

I strayed from Dorie's recipe slightly by sautéing the onions and garlic, and browning the chicken thighs. I think that made a more flavorful broth and dish overall. Just because I wanted to, and had all the spices, I made my own spice blend from the recipe above (Dorie's recipe had only cinnamon, ginger, coriander, and saffron). I also used double the amount of spices called for in the recipe. I used only parsley because I didn't have cilantro on hand, and can't stand the stuff. I also added about 4 chopped, dried figs to the filling. I used 6 pieces of phyllo for the top crust, rather than 4. Although Dorie says B'stilla needs no accompaniments, we had a light salad with vinaigrette, orange supremes and toasted almonds. 

Suggested wine pairing, based on What to Drink with What You Eat: The Definitive Guide to Pairing Food with Wine, Beer, Spirits, Coffee, Tea - Even Water - Based on Expert Advice from America's Best Sommeliers, is Sauvignon Blanc, Vin Gris, off-dry Riesling, and Rose. After the meal, Mint Tea. 

I think little phyllo triangles with this filling would be an incredible party hors d'œuvre!

This dish was wonderful, but takes time. I'm a bit exhausted, and still have dishes to do. Oh John, where are you??

And my sous chef wasn't much help either, as he snoozed on the couch, soaking in the late afternoon sun!


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Mona Lisa and Julia Child...Something to Smile About

The January 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Astheroshe of the blog accro. She chose to challenge everyone to make a Biscuit Joconde Imprime to wrap around an Entremets dessert.

Biscuit Joconde Imprime to wrap around an Entremets dessert...Je ne comprends pas!!??

For those of us who are a bit rusty in the language of love and/or have not yet graduated with honors from one of Le Cordon Blue's Patisserie Culinary Programs, let's take a deep breath and break it down before we get started...

Biscuit is the French word for sponge or sandwich cake. Joconde is an almond sponge cake, named after the Mona Lisa (interesting tidbit...see below). Imprime refers to a decorative design. Entremet refers to the "sweet course" which is always served after the "cheese course" in France, and an ornate dessert composed of multiple layers of cake and fillings.

Now, let's combine the terms. A joconde imprime is a decorative design baked into a light sponge cake, or joconde, providing an elegant finish to entremets formed in ring molds. A joconde batter is used because it bakes into a moist, flexible cake. The cake batter may be tinted or marbleized for a further decorative effect. Entremets usually take the form of a multi-layered mousse cake featuring a variety of textures and flavors, intended to delight both the palate and the eye.

The world-famous Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece, also known as La Gioconda (La Jaconde in French), is the portrait of Lisa del Giocondo, the wife of an Italian merchant, Francesco di Bartolomeo del Giocondo. Da Vinci visited France in 1516 or 1517, as the guest of King François I, and then remained there for the rest of his life. The Mona Lisa was still in the artist's possession and was held in very high esteem by the French. The name of this cake, joconde, was given to indicate how highly regarded the cake was among pastry chefs (from Globalgourmet).

The number of steps to make one little cake can be incredible! You must definitely be in the right frame of mind before commencing this project. The outer, more decorative sponge consists of two different sponges baked together: a Joconde-Décor Paste (tinted dark by the addition of cocoa powder) and a joconde sponge. A thin layer of the darker Joconde-Décor Paste is spread out onto a silpat and a pattern is sketched out (I used a pastry comb). The entire baking sheet with the patterned paste is slipped into the freezer briefly, and then the joconde batter is spread over top of the patterned paste. After it is baked, the biscuit joconde-imprime is peeled from the silpat, cut into strips, and used to line the outside of the cake. Additional pieces can be cut and used to create sponge layers between the fillings.

I should have taken more step-by-step photos, but the original recipe and links will provide far better instruction.

The Biscuit Joconde-Imprime

This Joconde requires attentive baking so that it remains flexible to easily conform to the molds. If under-baked, it will stick to the baking mat. It over-baked it will dry out and crack. Once cooled, the sponge may be cut into strips to line any shape ring mold.

Molds lined with the biscuit joconde-imprime, rounds
of biscuit joconde-imprime used for the base

We tried two different patterns. The entremet below features John's design (he came into the kitchen at this point and wanted to play).

In the photo above, you can see all of the components of the cake. The patterned strip of Joconde imprime is wrapped around the outside. Inside, you can see the base of the cake, made from Joconde, followed by a layer of Ricotta Cappuccino, another layer of Joconde, a thick layer of Julia Child's Perfect Chocolate Mousse, and topped with a thin layer of Frangelico-whipped cream. I crumbled a few Amaretti cookies over the top and garnished with some chocolate covered espresso beans.

I was pleased with my first attempt, and consider it a successful "test-run." However, if I tackle this again, I will use more care in perfecting the design in the Joconde-imprime "wrapping" and in building the layers, to achieve visually "cleaner" result.

If you aren't quite up to the challenge, I urge you to try Julia Child's Perfect Chocolate Mousse as a dessert on its own. This luscious, decadent mousse can be found on David Lebovitz' blog, here.

You can find the complete challenge recipe in The Daring Kitchen Recipe Archive, here.

Newf Notes:

1.  I used 6" springform pans, using just the outside ring, for my molds.
2.  I ended up making two batches of the joconde batter, one to create the joconde imprime wrapping, and another to cut circles of joconde to use as the bases and between layers of filling.
3.  I only needed to make half the quantity of the Joconde-Décor Paste and I made the chocolate version with cocoa powder. 
4.  I used strips of food-safe acetate, cut to fit the interior of the springform rings.  I was hoping to build the mousse and whipped cream layers higher than the top of joconde imprime (with the acetate as support), but I didn't have enough mousse.
5.  Next time, smaller entremets. Mine were too big, and easily served two.
6.  See Martha Stewart's recipe for individual Chocolate-Espresso Charlottes, made with Joconde, here.

Everyone smiled after tasting my little joconde cakes, especially Carmen, who said in a e-mail to me the following day...

"THANKS ... for ruining my diet! I thought you were sending over a "piece" of cake - It was WONDERFUL ... I can't wait to see you blog this ... this thing that's too good to be called "cake." Damn. It's too good to be called "sex" ! I'd call it the iCake because it's sturdy and compact yet light and portable and once you've had one you can't live without it!"

This was yet another Daring Bakers' challenge that introduced me to new techniques and ideas, reminding me I have so much more to learn when it comes to French pastry arts...but I am smiling, so it's a good thing!


Monday, January 24, 2011

Clams and Chorizo in a Copper Cataplana

Although cooking has been a passion of mine for several years, food blogging is a relatively new hobby. I find it hard to believe what we've acquired in the past year and a half in order to support this latest devotion! I'm talking major purchases of furniture, cameras and lenses, photography equipment and lighting, serveware, glassware, cookware, and cookbooks. We often spend our Saturdays "junking" for interesting and unique plates, platters, utensils, and anything else that might enhance future blog posts. I used to buy shoes and clothes, now I buy onesies and twosies of plates and different colored napkins.

The good news is I've become much easier to buy for when it comes to birthdays and Christmas - just find me something blogalicious.

Mom did just that this past Christmas, with a stunning, hammered copper Cataplana. Cataplana is a Portuguese seafood dish, popular on the country's Algarve coast, but it is also the name of the special cookware used to prepare the dish, which is traditionally made of copper and shaped like two clam shells hinged at one end and able to be sealed using a clamp on either side of the assembly. Much like the word Tagine, Cataplana is the name for both the recipe and utensil in which you cook it.

I have enjoyed many recipes from David Leite's The New Portuguese Table: Exciting Flavors from Europe's Western Coast, and knew I could count on his Clams in a Cataplana to break in my new treasure.

Clams in a Cataplana
From David Leite's The New Portuguese Table: Exciting Flavors from Europe's Western Coast, with slight adaptations (Recipe also published on Leite's Culinaria, here


2 tablespoons olive oil
6 ounces dry-cured Spanish chorizo, cut into 1/4-inch coins
One 1/4-inch-thick slice prosciutto, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 medium yellow onion, cut lengthwise in half and sliced into thin half-moons
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1 mild green chile, such as Anaheim, cut into thin strips
1 Turkish bay leaf
4 garlic cloves, minced
One 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, drained and chopped
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
3 pounds small clams, such as cockles, manila, butter or littlenecks, scrubbed and rinsed
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves


1. Heat the oil in a large cataplana until it shimmers. Add the Spanish chorizo and prosciutto and cook, stirring occasionally, until a bit brown around the edges, 6 to 8 minutes.

2. Lower the heat to medium and add the onions, bell pepper, chile and bay leaf. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion and peppers are soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Stir in the tomatoes and any accumulated juice, the wine, and paprika. Add the cockles to the cataplana and turn the heat to high. Close and lock the cataplana and cook 10 to 12 minutes, shaking occasionally, until the cockles open.

3. David advises, "carry the cataplana triumphantly to the table, making sure everyone’s watching, then release the lid and bask in the applause."

4. Discard the bay leaf and toss out any cockles that refused to pop open. Season with a few grinds of pepper, shower with parsley, and ladle into wide shallow bowls. Serve with crusty bread to soak up all the juice.


I also served Orange Salad with Pine Nuts and a slice of Basque Potato Tortilla, to be revealed in a few weeks on a French Fridays with Dorie post. The clams and juices would also be fabulous served over linguine.

I love my new present - it's very blogalicious!


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tranquil Thursdays - Little Bit of This, Little Bit of That

Winter Warmer at Coronado Beach

Great Blue Heron displaying for the girls

Kids frolicking at The Shores 

Sunday lunch on the patio at Il Fornaio with one of my favorite salads
Insalata di Pollo dal Girarrosto

Red-Tailed Hawk on the watch

Dooley celebrated his 12th Birthday this week
He even enjoyed a sip of his favorite beer!

Friday, January 14, 2011

French Fridays with Dorie - Gnocchi à la parisienne

Well, here I am, participating in my second week of French Fridays with Dorie, after I told myself I wasn't going to make this week's dish, gnocchi à la parisienne. I admit it, I have absolutely no willpower when it comes to creamy, cheesy, baked comfort food...especially after seeing my man's eyes light up at the prospect of trying a new style of gnocchi. We've made traditional potato gnocchi, Gnocchi Verdi al Gorgonzola and Gnocchi Gnudi, but never gnocchi made from choux pastry. Frankly, before embarking on this gnocchi à la parisienne, I envisioned a plate of cream puffs, drenched in béchamel sauce...not too appealing. Silly me.

Unlike profiteroles, the process of dropping the quenelle-shaped gnocchi into simmering water before baking creates dense, not hollow, but pillowy-soft gnocchi. We now have another form of gnocchi in our gnocchi-loving household!

A few, simple ingredients - eggs, milk, flour, butter, Emmenthal cheese
...and my additions of toasted walnuts and sage 
The dough comes together easily, first in a saucepan stovetop (water, butter, salt and flour), and then in the bowl of an electric mixer for incorporation of the eggs. You can use the dough right away, but I followed Tante Leo's method of covering the dough with a kitchen towel and letting it rest for a few hours. Who is Tante Leo, you ask? I have no idea, but he taught Paule Caillat, Dorie Greenspan's longtime friend, how to prepare this family recipe.

Standing in for the potato dumplings is pâte à choux,
or cream puff dough

While the dough rested, I made the béchamel sauce.  Something went wrong here, despite making successful béchamel sauce in the past. I doubled checked my measurements of butter, flour, and milk, which were correct according to the recipe, but the sauce came out almost as thick as the gnocchi dough. Miserably failing in pushing it through a fine mesh sieve in order to disburse the lumps, I ended up scraping it back into the saucepan and whisking in another cup of milk to achieve the right consistency and quantity for the recipe (based on subsequent review of comments in the FFWD Forum, I wasn't the only one who experienced thick and lumpy béchamel).

Dorie says, "Gnocchi a la Parisienne is a dish that doesn't wait. As soon as it comes out of the oven, it should go directly to the table."  Easier said than done when you're a food blogger taking photos of everything along the way. I had the dish out of the oven, and on the table, for photographing...and then John wanted an Alton Brown-ish "oven shot" (calm down, I didn't bake the pie dish of gnocchi on the pizza peel).

I loved how the gnocchi around the edge really puffed up.  I did turn the broiler on for a minute to brown the cheese a bit more.

We had some walnuts and fresh sage on hand, so I toasted the walnuts and fried some crispy sage leaves for a crunchy and flavorful garnish.

Again, we don't post the actual recipes from Dorie's Around My French Table, but if you want to join the fun, I highly recommend adding this cookbook to your collection.

French Fridays with Dorie is scheduled to prepare something extremely decadent next week. As of this moment, I'm telling myself I shouldn't...

...but it's sooooo tempting!

Cassoulet, s’il vous plaît

With all the French food I've been making and eating in the New Year, from Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours, and now with our first Daring Cooks' Challenge of the year, I better brush up on my French! How do you say, "please slather a few more duck fat pounds on my thighs?"

Our January 2011 Challenge comes from Jenni of The Gingered Whisk and Lisa from Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. They have challenged the Daring Cooks to learn how to make a confit and use it within the traditional French dish of Cassoulet. They have chosen a traditional recipe from Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman.

Anthony Bourdain is an American author and chef, whose interests include traveling around the world as an "advocate for communicating the value and tastiness of traditional or "peasant" foods, including specifically all of the varietal bits and unused animal parts not usually eaten by affluent 21st-century Westerners." (Note: Our challenge recipe includes lining the pan with a layer of pork rind ...thanks, but no thanks). Michael Ruhlman is an author, food writer and blogger, and has also made several appearances in shows hosted by Bourdain.

Confit ("con-fee") is a generic term for various kinds of food that have been immersed in a substance for both flavor and preservation. Confit of duck (confit de canard) is usually prepared from the legs of the bird. The meat is salted and seasoned with herbs, and slowly cooked submerged in its own rendered fat. The meat is preserved by allowing it to cool, and then storing it in the fat. Meat confits are a specialty of the southwest of France and are used in dishes such as cassoulet, which is a rich, slow-cooked bean stew or casserole typically containing pork sausages, pork, goose, duck, pork skin, and white beans.

Cassoulet is named for the cassole, a distinctive, round earthenware pot with deep, slanting sides in which cassoulet is traditionally cooked. Cassoulet is said to date back to the 14th century siege of Castelnaudary during the Hundred Years' War, when citizens created a communal dish so hearty their revivified soldiers sent the invaders packing.

Cookbook author, Paula Wolfert, describes cassoulet as "one of those dishes over which there is endless drama. Like bouillabaisse in Marseilles, paella in Spain, and chili in Texas, it is a dish for which there are innumerable recipes and about which discussions quickly turn fierce."

After hearing of this challenge, I was excited to order my first shipment of heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo, in Napa Valley.

Rancho Gordo says their flageolet beans make an excellent substitute
for the traditional, yet elusive, Tarbais bean when making cassoulet

When my beans arrived, I then set out to find the remaining ingredients. After completing my shopping, I was tempted to name this post One Hundred Dollar Cassoulet, but it wasn't quite that bad. Heirloom beans, two cups of duck fat, four duck thighs, two pounds of pork belly, six garlic sausages - these are not inexpensive ingredients, nor are they readily available unless you have well-stocked gourmet markets in your neighborhood. I was able to find everything at Bristol Farms and Iowa Farms Meats. I could have found the beans locally, but I've heard so much about Rancho Gordo and had the pleasure of tasting some of their beans last summer.

This recipe needs to be prepared over at least two days. I do recommend saving it for a special occasion or dinner party.

The first step is preparing the duck confit. This is accomplished by liberally sprinkling salt over four duck legs, and evenly scattering with some garlic, thyme, bay leaves, and a little pepper. The duck is then covered and refrigerated for 1-2 days.

D'Artagnan Duck Fat

On day 2 or 3, depending on how long you refrigerated the duck, you are then ready to complete the confit by poaching the duck in the cherished duck fat, at a low oven temperature. The confit must be cooked slowly, at a very slow simmer, until the duck is tender and can be easily pulled from the bone, about 2-3 hours.

Duck legs covered with melted duck fat, with some thyme, rosemary, and garlic

After a few hours in the oven

At this point, the duck can then be refrigerated, in the cooled and hardened fat, until you are ready to complete the cassoulet.

You will need to soak the dried beans in fresh water overnight. The beans are then cooked with the slab of pork belly, onion, parsley, thyme, and a bay leaf.

The pork belly is removed from the beans after cooking and cut into smaller pieces. Based on the advice of fellow Daring Cook, Robert, an awesome chef in Alaska, I crisped up the pork belly pieces after I browned my garlic sausage. Otherwise, you will have pieces of very fatty pork belly throughout the cassoulet.

Bristol Farms carries fresh garlic sausage.
You can also use another type of pork sausage.

Pork Belly and Garlic Sausages

After browning the sausages and pork belly in a little duck fat, I sauteed two onions, added some tomato paste, deglazed the pan with white wine, and blended the onions in the blender

Blended onion puree

The finished Cassoulet...a large Dutch Oven is necessary to hold all of the meats and beans

"Cassoulet, that best of bean feasts, is everyday fare for a peasant but ambrosia for a gastronome, though its ideal consumer is a 300-pound blocking back who has been splitting firewood nonstop for the last twelve hours on a subzero day in Manitoba.
-Julia Child, Julia Child and More Company Cassoulet for a Crowd


Adapted from Cassoulet by Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman (as featured on the Travel Channel’s “No Reservations”)
Serves 4-8

Ingredients for Duck Confit

4 whole duck legs (leg and thigh)
Coarse sea salt or Kosher salt
2 cups duck fat
1 cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
8 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
6 garlic cloves
4 bay leaves

Day One

1. Rub the duck legs fairly generously with sea salt, place in the shallow dish. Distribute four sprigs of thyme, 4 crushed garlic cloves, and 4 bay leaves around the duck legs. Cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight.

Day Two

1. Preheat the oven to moderately hot 375ºF

2. Render (melt) the duck fat in the saucepan until clear.

3. Rinse the duck legs and pat dry. Season with black pepper, and place the duck legs in the clean, ovenproof casserole.

4. Nestle the remaining thyme sprigs, rosemary and remaining 2 gloves of garlic in with the duck legs, and pour the melted duck fat over the legs to just cover.

5. Cover the dish with foil and put in the oven. Cook for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the skin at the "ankle" of each leg pulls away from the "knuckle." The meat should be tender.

6. If you are not cooking the cassoulet on Day Two, you can allow the duck and duck fat to cool and then store as is in the refrigerator, sealed under the fat. When you need the confit, warm the whole dish, melting the fat, and remove the duck, allowing the excess fat to drip off.

Ingredients for Cassoulet

2 pounds dried Tarbais beans, or white beans such as Flageolet, Great Northern or Cannelini
2 1/4 pounds fresh pork belly
1 onion, cut into 4 pieces
1 bouquet garni (tie together two sprigs parsley, 2 sprigs thyme and one bay leaf)
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 Garlic Sausages (or other pork sausages)
2 onions, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup white wine
1 14 oz. can low-sodium chicken broth
1 28 oz. can whole, peeled, Italian tomatoes, drained
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
4 confit duck legs
2 cups Panko bread crumbs sauteed in 2 tablespoons olive oil until golden brown (optional)

Day One

1. Place the beans in the large bowl and cover with cold water so that there are at least 2 or 3 inches. Soak overnight.

Day Two

1. Drain and rinse the beans and place in the large pot.

2. Add the pork belly, the quartered onion, and the bouquet garni.

3. Cover with water, about 2 inches above the beans, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for about one hour, until the beans are tender. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Let cool for 20 minutes, then discard the onion and the bouquet garni.

5. Remove the pork belly, cut it into 2-inch/5-cm squares, and set aside.

6. Strain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid separately. To the beans, add the chicken broth and tomatoes, breaking up the tomatoes with your hands. Mix well, bring to a simmer, and turn off heat.

7. In a sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers.

8. Add the sausages and brown on all sides. Remove sausages and set aside, draining on paper towels.

9. In the same pan, over medium heat, saute the pork belly until some of the fat is rendered off and it starts to crisp up a bit. Remove pork belly and set aside, draining on paper towels.

10. In the same pan, over medium-high heat, brown the sliced onions and garlic, for about 7-10 minutes. Add the tomato paste and saute another minute. Add the white wine and continue to saute until most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat and transfer to the blender. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and purée until smooth. Set aside.

11. Preheat the oven to moderate 350ºF.

12. Arrange all your ingredients in alternating layers, beginning with a layer of beans, then sausages, then more beans, then pork belly, beans, duck confit and finally more beans, adding a dab of the onion purée between each layer.

13. Add 1 cup of the bean cooking liquid.

14. Cook the cassoulet, uncovered, in the oven for one hour. Carefully remove from the oven distribute the panko bread crumbs evenly over the top of the cassoulet.

15. Reduce the oven temperature to 300ºF and continue cooking for another two hours. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.

NEWF NOTES: I did make some variations from the recipe provided for this Challenge. Primarily, I omitted lining the bottom of the pan with pork rind or bacon (I felt there was enough pork with the sausages and pork belly). My addition of white wine, tomato paste, chicken broth, Italian tomatoes, and use of Panko bread crumbs, was based on Thomas Keller's Cassoulet recipe. Finally, browning the pork belly to render off the additional fat and crisp it up a bit was based on a suggestion in the Daring Cooks' forum, and is highly recommended.  Leftovers freeze well.

You can find the full recipe in The Daring Kitchen Recipe Archive, here. Phenomenal challenge, Jenni and Lisa! Excusez-moi, but I must now get back to my diet (and my French lessons). Merci beaucoup!