Monday, February 21, 2011

Today was a day full of vinegar….Balsamic that is. In my quest to develop some new recipes for Jeanne Mackay of The Tasteful Olive, I have been scouring the cookbooks and cooking blogs to see what is already out there. No use developing something that has already been developed! After several hours of reading close to 50 recipes, I was starving. There is nothing like a quick little splash of aged balsamic to pep up your dish….and just reading about it made me want to splash it on everything I saw!

In my research, I ran across a web page called Steamy Kitchen. It is written by Jaden Hair, a food columnist, television chef, and recipe developer. Her program is The Steamy Kitchen and is shown on TLC, however, I’ve never seen it. What I did see was a recipe that looks pretty good to me. Jaden calls it Cassoulet-Style Italian Sausages and White Beans

I am sure most of you are familiar with a Cassoulet. I am just as sure that you have never cooked a cassoulet. Your traditional cassoulet takes hours to prepare; calls for ingredients that are not found in your typical kitchen….do you keep duck confit in your refrigerator?
Me neither.
The confit is prepared in a centuries-old process of preservation that consists of salt curing a piece of meat (generally goose, duck, or pork) and then poaching it in its own fat. The Cassoulet is a rich, slow-cooked bean stew or casserole originating in the south of France, containing meat (typically pork, sausages, goose, duck and sometimes mutton), pork skin and white haricot beans. See what I mean? We just don’t make much cassoulet in American kitchens!

Jaden’s recipe was accompanied by a photo of her finished dish….definitely looked good enough to eat!

This recipe is on my list of things to prepare this week. If anyone wants to prepare it and compare notes with me on Saturday, just drop me a line at to let me know what you think of it.

Cassoulet-Style Italian Sausages and White Beans
Serves 8
2½ pounds sweet Italian sausage links (Naturally, I recommend Jasper's brand)
3 pints cherry tomatoes
1 medium-large onion, cut into 1½-inch chunks
4 large garlic cloves, sliced
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (The Tasteful Olive's Herbs de Provence)

1½ tablespoons balsamic vinegar (The Tasteful Olive's Balsamic, of course)
2 teaspoons dried thyme
3 bay leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cans (about 16 ounces each) white beans, undrained

Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 425 degrees.
Mix sausages, tomatoes, onion, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, thyme, bay leaves, and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper in a large heavy roasting pan. Set pan in oven and roast until sausages are brown and tomatoes have reduced to a thick sauce, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven, stir in beans, and continue to cook until casserole has heated through, about 10 minutes longer. Serve.

If there’s time, sprinkle buttered bread crumbs over each plated portion for a nice touch. Heat a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Toss 2 cups fresh bread crumbs (made in the food processor from a good European-style loaf) with 2 tablespoons melted butter and a light sprinkling of salt. Add the crumbs to the skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 15 minutes.
Stored in the refrigerator and warmed on the stove top or in the microwave, this dish means instant dinner later in the week.

For comparison, here is an authentic Cassoulet. Yes, it might be better, but it is also a lot of work! You will notice that the authentic cassoulet does not have balsamic as an ingredient. The addition of balsamic to Jaden's cassoulet gives the dish a deep rich flavor with out all the many hours and ingredients necessary to prepare an authentic dish.

1 lb dried white beans (preferably Great Northern)
8 1/4 cups cold water
2 cups beef broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cups chopped onion (3/4 lb)
3 tablespoons finely chopped garlic (6 large cloves)
1 (3-inch) piece celery, cut into thirds
3 fresh thyme sprigs
1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
3 whole cloves
3 fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs plus 1/2 cup chopped leaves
1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 (14-oz) can stewed tomatoes, puréed or finely chopped with juice
4 confit duck legs (1 3/4 lb total)
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil (if necessary)
1 lb cooked garlic pork sausage or smoked pork kielbasa, cut crosswise into 1/3-inch-thick slices
2 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs (preferably from a baguette)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Special equipment: an 8-inch square of cheesecloth; kitchen string; a 4 1/2- to 5-quart casserole dish (3 to 4 inches deep)

PreparationSoak and cook beans:
Cover beans with cold water by 2 inches in a large bowl and soak 8 to 12 hours. Drain in a colander.
Transfer beans to a 6- to 8-quart pot and bring to a boil with 8 cups cold water, broth, tomato paste, onion, and 2 tablespoons garlic. Put celery, thyme, bay leaf, cloves, parsley sprigs, and peppercorns in cheesecloth and tie into a bundle with string to make a bouquet garni. Add bouquet garni to beans, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until beans are almost tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Stir in tomatoes with juice and simmer until beans are just tender, about 15 minutes more.
Prepare duck and sausage while beans simmer:
Remove all skin and fat from duck legs and cut skin and fat into 1/2-inch pieces. Separate duck meat from bones, leaving it in large pieces, and transfer meat to a bowl. Add bones to bean pot.
Cook duck skin and fat with remaining 1/4 cup cold water in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring, until water is evaporated and fat is rendered, about 5 minutes. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until skin is crisp, 3 to 6 minutes more. Transfer cracklings with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain, leaving fat in skillet. (You should have about 1/4 cup fat; if not, add olive oil.)
Brown sausage in batches in fat in skillet, then transfer to bowl with duck meat, reserving skillet.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Make bread crumb topping:
Add remaining tablespoon garlic to fat in skillet and cook over moderate heat, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in bread crumbs and cook, stirring, until pale golden, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in chopped parsley, 1/2 teaspoon salt,
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Assemble casserole:
Remove bouquet garni and duck bones from beans and discard, then stir in kielbasa, duck meat, remaining teaspoon salt, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
Ladle cassoulet into casserole dish, distributing meat and beans evenly. (Meat and beans should be level with liquid; if they are submerged, ladle excess liquid back into pot and boil until reduced, then pour back into casserole dish.) Spread bread crumb topping evenly over cassoulet and bake, uncovered, in lower third of oven, until bubbling and crust is golden, about 1 hour.

As for other Balsamic ideas, I will keep researching and then move to the kitchen to test.
For now, check out The Tasteful Olive’s webpage and blog for existing recipes, and then check periodically for additions.
I also encourage you to visit Jeanne’s store in person if you are in the Kansas City area. What a treat! It is located at 7945 Santa Fe Drive in historic Overland Park, Kansas. While you are there, go several doors north of Tasteful Olive and visit the helpful ladies at Penzey’s Spices. Trust me when I say the ideas, recipes and help you get from Jeanne and those from the Penzey’s crew will pep up your dinner!

Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy

Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy
oil painting by Kay Tucker

Somerset Autumn on Wea Creek

Somerset Autumn on Wea Creek
Oil Painting by Kay Tucker, Private Collection


oil painting by Kay Tucker

Kansas Storm

Kansas Storm
oil painting by Kay Tucker, Private Collection

Watercolor Collage

Watercolor Collage

Tempo al Tempo....All in Good Time

Tempo al Tempo....All in Good Time
48"x36" sculptural painting by Kay Tucker