Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Sausage + Chickpea Cassoulet

It's a little funny that I started this blog or even a Soup Club to begin with, considering a good 80% of my cooking is more oven friendly than stovetop friendly. And if we're being really specific, it's actually very toaster oven friendly (maybe one day I'll write a post about how I cook almost everything in our toaster oven, and how I'd probably never cook if we didn't own one). Generally speaking, I find stovetop cooking to require copious amounts of labor, and if there's one thing I don't like, guys, it's labor. Jokes aside, I always worked in kitchens where there was typically plenty of oven space, but you had to fight the hard fight to have access to even one burner on the stove. This taught me to utilize and sharpen my oven-cooking skills and to also learn some really great tricks and hacks along the way. Bet you didn't know that you can cook the most perfect and fluffy rice if you don't own a rice cooker by just baking it in your oven, did you? That, too, is a post for another time.

And so all this brings me to The Cassoulet. Simply put, a cassoulet is a stew that starts off on the stove, but spends most of its cooking time in the oven. It's a genius meal if you're having guests over to eat because you don't have to spend the first half of their visit slaving away in the kitchen. It's traditionally a rustic dish, so taking it straight from your oven to table to serve in its pot is highly encouraged. Just add a crusty loaf of bread, and you'll have a feast that is sure to impress and satisfy just about anyone.

Cassoulets are definitely one of those dishes that you can "make your own". I always use sausage in mine because my family never seems to tire of sausage, and it's just about the easiest meat to prepare (see above regarding labor). As for legume and veg, I'll add whatever I happen to have stocked. If you kept the measurements relatively the same, you could easily switch out the ingredients in this recipe and have it turn out just as delightful. 

Sausage + Chickpea Cassoulet

4 sweet italian sausages
3-4 slices of thick-cut bacon, chopped into about 1/2 in. pieces
1 c. sliced trumpet mushrooms
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, sliced
2 large cloves of garlic, sliced
1-1 1/2 c. of chickpeas, cooked and rinsed
3/4 c. of tomato sauce
splash of white wine
chicken stock
handful of chopped parsley
olive oil
salt + pepper

Real quick. I was thinking of writing a post about my absolute favorite soup pot, but I din't have much to say besides the fact that it's my absolute favorite. I will add, however, that for a cassoulet, the right pot makes all the difference in the world. I know All-Clad isn't exactly the most affordable in the cookware world, but there are few things more invaluable in any kitchen than a quality sturdy stockpot that is oven safe. If shelling out 100 bucks for one pot seems unreasonable to you, and I fully understand if it does, lots of companies like Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table make great stockpots under their own label for a fraction of the price. 

Preheat your oven to 325º. Brown your sausages in some olive oil on on all sides and set aside. In the same pot, start to cook your bacon. Before fully browned, add your mushrooms, onion, and bell pepper, and sauté for a couple minutes on medium heat. Add your garlic and sauté for about another minute. Throw in the chickpeas, browned sausages, wine, and tomato sauce, and pour in enough chicken stock to almost cover all of your ingredients. Season the cassoulet and sprinkle your chopped parsley on top. Bring to a simmer, cover your pot, and then stick it in your oven to slow cook for an hour. It will be HOT when you pull it out of the oven, so let it rest for a good 10-15 minuted before serving. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Peanut Butter Polenta topped with Spicy Date Compote + Toasted Coconut

I suffer from chronic nightmares. I understand that's a funny thing to say judging by the mostly funny reactions I get from people when I mention it, but it's very true and very exhausting at times. It's a problem I've had for most of my life, and the only explanation that makes sense to me is that they are triggered by some sort of hormonal imbalance (they were off the charts during my pregnancy). On average, I have one bad night a week. But every once in a while, I'll have three to four horrendous nights in a row, and I end up so sleep deprived that it's nearly impossible to peel myself off of my couch for most of the day. Getting back to a normal sleep cycle usually takes time because when I know I'm in the middle of it, I'm actually scared to fall asleep at night. Yes, it's totally absurd, but it feels like this is my life sometimes. 

I had one of those rough periods late last week, and when you're tired and annoyed because you missed out on a good night's sleep over something so trivial, it's helpful to indulge in a big bowl of comfort first thing in the morning. Nine times out of ten, I prefer a savory breakfast. Don't get me wrong, I love pancakes and waffles (well, mostly pancakes) just as much as the next guy, but a big dose of sugar as soon as I wake up tends to almost always result in a pretty lousy rest of the day for me. When I'm experiencing nightmare hell, however, I'm more than happy to chug maple syrup by the gallon.

I never really make polenta for breakfast, which is a complete shame because it is so incredibly versatile and is obviously a superb blank canvas for both savory AND sweet preparations. Since I was in the mood for something sugary but also cannot live without some form of protein when I wake up, I decided to stir a bit of peanut butter into my creamy polenta just as it was nearly done cooking. I topped it with a homemade compote and some toasted shredded coconut, and what resulted was what one would imagine a big bowl of warm ooey-gooey PB&J to taste like. I made sure not to make the polenta too sweet because I didn't want my breakfast turning out to be a glorified dessert. The sweetness from the compote was just enough and the perfect accompaniment. 

Peanut Butter Polenta topped with Cinnamon Date Compote + Toasted Coconut

Peanut Butter Polenta

1 c. of water
1 c. of whole milk
1/2 c. of yellow cornmeal
2 tbsp. of smooth peanut butter
2. tbsp. of butter
1 tbsp. of brown sugar
pinch of salt

Bring water and milk to a boil. Add cornmeal, turn heat down to low, and stir polenta until it is thick and creamy.* This will take roughly 7-10 minutes. Stir in the peanut butter, butter, sugar and salt. Serve into bowls while still hot, and top with compote and some toasted coconut.

*Be incredibly careful when you cook polenta. It loves to pop and splatter, and I got one of the worst 2nd degree burns of my life while cooking polenta when I first started out in kitchens. Make sure your heat is set to low when you are stirring, and to be extra safe, use a spoon with a long handle and even consider wearing an oven mitt. 

Spicy Date Compote

1 C. of pitted and chopped dates
1/4 c. of lemon juice
splash of white wine
1-2 tbsp. of maple syrup (add this to taste)
1 tsp. of ground cinnamon

Bring lemon juice and wine to a boil. Add dates, maple syrup, and cinnamon. Turn the heat down to a low simmer, and stir roughly every 5 minutes. Let the compote cook until the dates have broken down and you have a thick and jammy consistency. This makes quite a bit of compote, but the extra can be stored in your fridge for weeks and is excellent served with cheese. 

As for the toasted coconut, it's as easy as it gets. Spread some shredded coconut on a baking sheet and bake at 350º until slightly crispy and golden. This only takes a few minutes, so make sure to keep an eye on it. Your house will smell like heaven, guaranteed.