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! »

Book Review: “The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux”

The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux

Author: Samantha Vérant

Publisher: Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House (New York)

Publication Date: September 8, 2020

Genre: Fiction; 352 pages

Synopsis

As a child, Sophie Valroux spent summers visiting her grandmother in southwestern France. Sophie credits “Grand-mère Odette” for instilling a love of food and cooking in her.

Today, 26-year-old Sophie is a chef living in New York City. She dreams of being part of the 1% of female chefs running a 3-star Michelin restaurant. At the restaurant where she is a chef de partie, Sophie is sabotaged by another chef, causing her to lose her job.

She is in the process of figuring out her next steps when she learns that her grandmother has suffered a stroke. Sophie travels back to France to care for her and finds out that the home where she spent her childhood summers is now a château with two restaurants and a vineyard.  

My Thoughts

As a Francophile who also loves good food, I couldn’t wait to read this book. Usually, in this type of novel (or, at least, the ones I’m drawn to), the main character moves to France, specifically Paris. In this novel, the main character is actually French-born; Sophie and her mother, Céleste, moved to New York when Sophie was a baby.

In addition, this story is set in the Toulouse area in southwestern France, bringing a welcome change. Lively descriptions of the Place du Capitole and surrounding areas reminded me of my own visit to La Ville Rose, or the Pink City.

I also liked how Sophie is not obsessed with romance. She’s not coy or playing hard to get either. She merely has a pragmatic and take-it-slow attitude toward relationships.

However, Sophie is indecisive and she gets in her own way at times. Her pride doesn’t let her easily accept gifts that she didn’t work for (namely, the gift of running the château’s restaurants while her grandmother recovers).

Nevertheless, the one area that Sophie does not waver in is food. For example, she knows exactly what she wants when developing menus, which I noticed almost always includes a velouté (a velvety savory sauce) and daurade (sea bream fish)!

Apart from Grand-mère Odette, the other characters in the novel were well-developed. I got the sense that they’re more like family than staff working at the château. Rémi and Jane provide tension throughout the narrative, as they weren’t thrilled about Sophie’s arrival. Fortunately, Sophie has supportive friends in Walter, his boyfriend, Robert, and Phillipa, who happens to be Jane’s sister.

The loose ends are tied up rather quickly, but happily-ever-after isn’t what you’d expect it to be. It’s Sophie’s own indecisiveness that keeps her happy enough.

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about good food, family secrets, and supportive friendships. (Content warning: mentions of sexual harassment, depression, and suicide).

Not to miss: At the end of the book, Sophie shares a few recipes, including one for crème brûlée, which I’m inspired to make one of these days!

About the author

Samantha (Sam) Vérant is a travel addict, a self-professed oenophile, and a determined, if occasionally unconventional, at home French chef. She lives in southwestern France, where she’s married to a French rocket scientist she met in 1989 (but ignored for twenty years), a stepmom to two incredible kids, and the adoptive mother to a ridiculously adorable French cat. When she’s not trekking from Provence to the Pyrénées or embracing her inner Julia Child, Sam is making her best effort to relearn those dreaded conjugations.

You can find her on Twitter and Instagram. Visit her website or Amazon (this is not an affiliate link) to order the book.

Thank you to Berkley/Penguin Random House for inviting me to read The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux by Samantha Vérant. I received a digital advance review copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday Postcard: Toulouse, France

Bonjour! This week’s carte postale is one I picked up during my visit to Toulouse in southwest France 🇫🇷:

This is a view of the Garonne River and La ville rose (the Pink City).

Shown here are two bridges: Pont Saint-Pierre (foreground) and Pont Neuf.

On the bottom right are Les Abattoirs (modern art museum) and the dome of Hôpital de La Grave.

On the top left is the Old Town, where the famous Capitole building is located.

Until the next Wednesday Postcard, à bientôt!

If you liked this postcard, you may be interested in reading my post: Toulouse: Walking Through the Old Town

The Posts You Liked the Most in 2018

Here are the top 10 posts that you, cherished readers of my blog, engaged with the most this year:

Most Viewed

Most Liked

I encourage you to read them again (or check out my other posts, like Farmers’ Market; Toulouse: Walking Through the Old Town; or French Perfume and more!)

Thanks for reading. Enjoy the holidays and have a happy new year!

If you like this post, share it, and don’t forget to subscribe to my blog. To contact me, send me an email.

What types of posts would you like me to focus on in 2019? Be sure to let me know in the comments below.

Toulouse: Walking Through the Old Town

After spending a few wonderful days in Paris, I hopped on a flight to the city of Toulouse to visit my friends! Located in southwestern France (about 423 mi/680 km away from Paris), Toulouse is the capital of the region called Occitanie and the department of Haute-Garonne.

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The flight was so quick, I barely had time to finish my snack!

Toulouse is about the size of San Francisco, but not as densely-populated. As of 2017, there are over one million people living in Toulouse, also known as La Ville Rose (The Pink City). It got its nickname from the many buildings and structures that were built with pinkish terra-cotta colored brick.

Toulouse is an historical city. In medieval times, the city suffered floods, fires, famine, and the plague, followed by religious battles and wars. Fortunately, many of its structures survived.

One such structure is the Basilica of Saint-Sernin. Built in the 12th century, it’s the largest Romanesque building in Europe. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998.

Place du Capitole

In the heart of the Old Town is the Place du Capitole, where there are shops, restaurants, and places to sit and people-watch! The main attraction of the square, of course, is Le Capitole, which houses the city hall of Toulouse and the Opera House. François told me the Salle des Illustres was a must-see. It’s the room in the Capitole where important civil ceremonies take place, like marriages and citizenship.

The Capitole was decorated with the French flag ahead of the Victoire holiday (May 8)

Just as Pont Neuf is the name of the oldest bridge in Paris, the Pont Neuf (meaning “new bridge”) over the Garonne River in Toulouse is also its oldest bridge.

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Place de la Daurade

Walking east across Pont Neuf will lead you to this lovely park:

That’s the Saint Pierre Bridge and the dome of Le Hôpital de la Grave in the background.

Place Rouaix

Saint-Etienne de Toulouse Cathedral

We had pints at François and Rachael’s favorite pubs in town, The Melting Pot and Hopscotch. That’s a giant truffle from La Compagnie du Chocolat:

Speaking of pubs, Au Père Louis opened in 1889, making it the oldest pub in Toulouse:

I didn’t get a chance to visit a Jennyfer store in Paris, so I was delighted to discover one in Toulouse. I picked up a few gifts for the Girls:

For me, I got this cute canvas tote bag from a boutique called Pompon Sur La Garonne. It caught my eye since it had my new favorite word on it: chocolatine, the Toulousain word for pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant):

The shop owner was friendly. She told me the bag was available in different color combinations. I prefer the canvas beige of tote bags and I thought the red lettering was the perfect pop of color.

Although it’s known as the Pink City, Toulouse is also known for its violets. I remember being lured into a little specialty gift shop, Le Paradis Gourmet, where I saw a pretty display of assorted violet candies, scented candles, and soaps.

souvenir postcard: drink wine and live happy

Spotted these charming views while strolling through the Old Town:

The métro system is relatively new as operations began in 1993. The Capitole métro station features the eight-point Occitanie cross. The escalator at Arènes métro station was steep!

While the visit with my friends was too short, I will have a long memory of the pleasant time I spent in Toulouse!

an unforgettable pink Toulousain sunset

My related posts

The links in this non-sponsored post are for information only.

Points of Interest

  • Basilica of Saint-Sernin, Toulouse (website)
  • Place de la Daurade
  • Place du Capitole
  • Pont Neuf
  • Saint-Etienne de Toulouse Cathedral

Food & Drink

  • La Compagnie du Chocolat (website) 17 Rue des Puits Clos
  • The Hopscotch Pub & Brewery (website) 3 Rue Baour Lormian
  • The Melting Pot Pub (Facebook page) 26 Boulevard de Strasbourg

Shopping

  • Jennyfer (website) 36 Rue St Rome
  • Le Paradis Gourmet (website) 15 Rue des Puits Clos
  • Pompon Sur La Garonne (Facebook page) 17 Rue des Puits Clos

Travel

  • Toulouse-Blagnac Airport (TLS) (website)
  • Toulouse métro transport system (website)

Building a Toy Airplane and Dreams

After my visit to Airbus in Toulouse, I went to the gift shop and bought a model airplane building-block kit of the Airbus A380! It’s a fun souvenir that family and friends can put together. To assemble 70 blocks and build the cute replica, it took the Girls and me only 45 minutes, which included unboxing and taking pictures along the way!

Part 1

Part 1: Completed

Part 2

Part 2: Completed

The most challenging part was peeling off the stickers from the paper sheet and making sure they didn’t tear. But applying the stickers to the model airplane was a breeze!

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Let’s name the pilot!

The finished replica measures about 10 inches (25cm) in length and almost 3 inches (7cm) in height. It’s sturdy enough to play make believe, but too fragile to throw in the toy box. Most likely, we’ll display it on the bookshelf. I hope the model of the world’s largest airplane will inspire travel, conceive dreams, and spark the imagination.

Speaking of which, we’re now playing a game called Name the Pilot. What can we call her? 👩🏻‍✈️

 

Let’s Visit Airbus

[Updated July 2018]

I was thrilled to hear the latest news from Airbus, the European aerospace and aviation corporation: their BelugaXL took its first flight on July 19, 2018.

The BelugaXL is the successor to the BelugaST aircraft. There are five BelugaST aircraft currently in operation. They transport oversized aircraft parts, like fuselage and wings, to final assembly sites.

I remember seeing BelugaST #3 with my dear friend, François during an Airbus tour at the final assembly site in southwest France, near the Toulouse-Blagnac airport.

Our wonderful tour guide, Vanessa, told us the aircraft was named after the Beluga whale, the marine mammal it strongly resembles due to its large, bulbous head. The cargo is loaded through a hinged-door at the nose of the aircraft.

Outside the Aeroscopia Aeronautical Museum

The legendary, high-speed, luxury Concorde was retired in 2003

The A400M can do air-to-air refueling

Airbus A380

It took 15,801 Lego blocks and 300 hours in 6 months to build this A380

When I was booking my return flight from Paris, I have to admit I was mainly looking at the schedules. It was only later on that I noticed that my flight would be on an Airbus A380 – a wide-body, double-deck, four-engine aircraft – currently the largest commercial airplane in the world!

The plane was so huge that they needed two jetways to board passengers. It was the smoothest, quietest, and most comfortable flight that I’ve ever been on. I’m spoiled now; the next time I take a long-haul flight, I would definitely choose to fly on an A380, if possible. Fortunately, there’s an app for that: iFlyA380 lets you look up flights that specifically use an Airbus A380.

Many years ago, I visited the Museum of Flight in the Seattle, Washington area and I recall seeing a variety of aircraft, like the impressive Air Force One. I also remember the excitement of sitting in the cockpit of a fighter jet, if only for a few seconds! But I must say, my recent experiences of flying on an A380, taking an Airbus tour, and seeing a BelugaST have significantly piqued my interest in aviation.

Félicitations, Airbus, on the new BelugaXL!

Do you have a favorite aircraft?Have you flown on an Airbus A380? Tell me in the comments below!

Farmers’ Market Near Toulouse

One of my favorite things to do with my family is visiting market halls and open-air farmers’ markets. I love the idea that many food vendors prepare their artisan cuisine on site using fresh ingredients produced by local farmers. I appreciate the abundance and the variety. Plus, I love the possibility of discovering something new.

I’ll never forget the time I went with François, Rachael, and their boys to the Sunday Farmers’ Market in Tournefeuille (about 12 km/7.46 miles from Toulouse in southwest France). In addition to food grown locally, the market featured produce from other countries in Europe, as well as Asia, and Africa. Talk about a treat for the senses!

I marveled at all kinds of marinated olives from Morocco…

There were organic Medjool dates from Israel, fennel from Italy, and dried apricots from Tunisia. I also saw deep purple eggplants, bright green avocados, and Napa cabbage from Spain.

I heard the tapping noise of a steel skimmer spoon as the chef scooped a generous portion of his aromatic paella from a 3-foot wide pan into a paper container for a customer…

I was mesmerized by the machine making radiatori pasta. François got some fresh mushroom ravioli, which he made with a rich and creamy Parmesan sauce for dinner that evening.

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I remember seeing jars of what looked like foie gras (fatty liver of duck or goose) and feeling a bit guilty. I know I shouldn’t have felt bad since the delicacy is not banned in France like it is in California. On the other hand, seeing the French-style salami had me hankering for a saucisson-beurre-cornichon (sausage, butter, and mini pickle) sandwich!

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One of the things I enjoy most at farmers’ markets is the aroma of fresh baked bread. When I noticed the man selling fresh baked baguettes and pastries had one chocolate croissant left, I had to have it!

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For breakfast, I usually have yogurt, a banana, and dark roast coffee with a splash of half-and-half. When I want to treat myself, I have a butter croissant. And when I really want to be indulgent, I have a chocolate croissant. I learned that, in France, these goodies are called different names depending on the region.

pain au chocolat in Paris

So when I ordered the chocolate croissant, I was delighted to ask for it by name the Toulousain way: Je voudrais une chocolatine, s’il vous plaît!