Getting Creative with Cassoulet in California

my cassoulet – January 9, 2021

The first time I had cassoulet, the hearty meat and bean stew from southwest France, was in 2018 when I visited my friends in Toulouse.

The cassoulet we had was made by the experts, La Maison Escudier, whose secret recipe has stayed the same since they opened in 1920. (By the way, if you live in Europe, they can ship jars of cassoulet to you, with or without the cassole, the clay pot that cassoulet is traditionally cooked in.)

There is much debate about the origins of the beloved “peasant” stew. Most people agree that it started in Castelnaudary in the Occitanie region of France. Other popular versions come from Carcassonne and Toulouse. There is also a slight difference in each city’s style of cassoulet.

While the traditional cassoulet is made with duck, other versions use lamb or goose. Some recipes call for breadcrumbs, smoked sausage, or tomatoes, which traditionalists would probably frown upon!

I’m in California and, unfortunately, I can’t get traditional cassoulet shipped to me. Not a problem! I love to eat, so I see it as an opportunity to get creative.

With all due respect to cassoulet purists out there, I decided to use creative license in making cassoulet.

For example, instead of duck, I used chicken. To save time, I used canned white beans. (Normally, the recipe calls for dry beans to be soaked overnight.) I didn’t use tomatoes, nor did I top it with breadcrumbs and bake it. In place of traditional pork Toulouse sausage, I used smoked chicken sausage made with roasted garlic and gruyère cheese.

Here’s my interpretation of cassoulet:

Ingredients (Serves 4)

  • 1 cup of baby carrots
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 T butter
  • 1 can (15 oz) of low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cans (15 oz each) of white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 4 skinless and boneless chicken thighs
  • 5 strips of hickory smoked bacon, sliced
  • 4 smoked chicken sausages with roasted garlic and gruyère cheese, sliced
  • 1 T of Herbes de Provence
  • parsley, for optional garnish

Instructions

In a Dutch/French oven or similar large pot, melt the butter and sauté the garlic, until brown:

Brown the chicken on both sides, then remove, slice into cubes, and set aside. Don’t worry, the chicken will finish cooking in the final step:

Brown the sausage on both sides, then remove and set aside:

Brown the bacon bits, then remove and set aside:

Add the chicken broth to the pot and bring to a boil. Add carrots, onions, celery, beans, and return the browned meats to the pot:

Add the Herbes de Provence. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally:

Et voilà ! Serve with a warm, crusty baguette and your favorite beer or wine!

Overall, I liked how my cassoulet turned out. The fragrant dish brought back pleasant memories of my visit with friends in Toulouse, not to mention the beautiful pink Toulousain sunset…

May 2018

Let me know if you try this recipe. Enjoy your meal. Bon appétit. Or, as they say in Occitan, « Bon apétis! »

Easy-peasy Pain d’épi

Pain d’épi is a baguette made to look like a stalk of wheat. Since this French bread looks super fancy, naturally I thought it must be difficult to make.

But I learned that you can make this beautiful loaf quickly and easily using canned dough – who knew?

You will need

  • baking sheet
  • parchment paper
  • glass pie plate
  • 1 cup of warm water
  • scissors
  • a sprinkle of flour
  • 1 can of dough, like the one pictured below:

Pillsbury French Bread can of dough

Instructions

  • Heat the oven to 350°F
  • Put a glass pie plate filled with warm water on the bottom rack of the oven (the steam will help create a nice crust)
  • Place the dough from the can on the baking sheet lined with parchment paper
  • Sprinkle a little flour on the dough and lightly flatten

Cutting technique

At about a 30° angle, cut the dough to make a “leaf” then move it to one side:

Make another cut, then move it to the opposite side:

Repeat, alternating sides until the whole loaf looks like this:

Bake at 350°F for 24 minutes.

Voilà! Easy-peasy Pain d’épi!

Serve with butter or jam or enjoy as-is: nice and warm! Bon appétit! 🥖

I Made an Apple Cranberry Flaugnarde with Crème Fraîche

One summer, I went to a pick-your-own-fruit farm with my family. We had brought home a bag full of cherries so I decided to make a dessert out of them.

I made a Cherry Clafoutis, the simple yet elegant dessert that’s originally from the Limousin region (now part of Nouvelle Aquitaine) in central France. It was easy to make and I liked how it turned out.

Now that it’s fall, I wanted to make the dessert with Granny Smith apples and fresh cranberries.

But then I learned that technically it wouldn’t be a clafoutis (also spelled clafouti) simply because there wouldn’t be cherries in it.

What’s a flaugnarde?

When using fruit other than cherries, this flan-cake is called a flaugnarde (sounds like “flon-yard”)!

This is how I made an Apple Cranberry Flaugnarde with Crème Fraîche!

You will need:

  • 9-inch glass pie pan
  • 2 mixing bowls
  • 1 teaspoon of butter
  • 1/2 of an apple, sliced
  • 1 cup of fresh cranberries, whole or sliced in half
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/3 cup of granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup of flour
  • 2/3 cup of crème fraîche
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • powdered sugar to sprinkle on top (optional)

Preparation:

  • Heat the oven to 350°F
  • Butter the pie pan and sprinkle granulated sugar on the butter
  • Add the sliced fruit to pan, then set it aside
  • In one bowl, mix the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt)
  • In another bowl, mix the wet ingredients (eggs, crème fraîche, milk, vanilla extract)
  • Whisk the dry ingredients, while slowly adding in the wet ingredients. Mix well. The consistency should be like pancake batter
  • Pour the mixture over the fruit in the pie pan
  • Bake it for 40-45 minutes

As it bakes, it poofs up! But it will slowly deflate as it cools.

it looks like pizza

Before serving, sprinkle some powdered sugar on top:

Like quiche, this dessert can be served warm or cold. It’ll add a simple yet elegant French touch to any holiday feast! Bon appétit!

Tell me in the comments below: what’s your favorite dessert to make?

Quiche Vosgienne

I recently learned that when you add cheese to a quiche it’s called Quiche Vosgienne! The name refers to the Vosges area in eastern France, near Germany. I love learning something new every day!

While I’m not a big fan of eggs, I decided to take the learning a step further by trying my hand at making the savory dish. Here is my interpretation of the simple and delicious meat and cheese French tart using a gluten-free crust.

I’ve taken the traditional recipe for Quiche Lorraine (crust, eggs, cream, bacon, salt & pepper) and added a blend of Swiss and Gruyère cheeses.

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Ingredients

  • 1 frozen 9-inch gluten-free pie crust
  • 4 ounces of cubed pork belly (The French call it lardons, the Italians call it pancetta, and I call it yummy bacon!)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup of shredded cheese, a blend of Swiss & Gruyère
  • 1 cup of half & half
  • salt & pepper

By using pre-made crust, pre-cubed bacon, and pre-shredded cheese, I saved lots of time.

Instructions

First, I thawed the gluten-free pie crust for 10 minutes. After poking the crust with a fork, I baked it for 15 minutes at 350°F.

While the pie crust was in the oven, I mixed the following ingredients in a large bowl:

  • 3 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
  • 1 cup of half & half
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper

In a small, ungreased frying pan, I browned the pancetta, which I then drained on a paper towel.

Next, I filled the blind-baked crust with a 1/2 cup of the shredded cheese blend:

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I added the pancetta:

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Then, I poured in the egg, cream, and salt & pepper mixture:

Finally, I topped it off with the other half of the shredded cheese:

I baked it for 45 minutes at 375°F and then let it cool down for about an hour.

Et voilà!

Here it is: a Pancetta & Swiss/Gruyère French tart in a gluten-free crust, my interpretation of Quiche Vosgienne!

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Enjoy it hot or cold!

Do you like quiche? What flavor combinations do you like? Tell me in the comments below.