01 March 2011

A Very French Sunday

Continuing on the French theme....
We just made a big purchase (with help from my mom) of a brand new iMac recently since my little rebuilt computer finally bit the dust. Our good friend, Tobias, just happens to be a computer nerd genius, and came over to transfer all my files and do a bunch of other good stuff to it. Yep, I'm obviously a technical genius as well. Anyway, his wife happens to be my best-friend-fellow-foodie Eve-Maridy, so we had to turn it into a food event, not just dinner with friends.

Having remembered her disappointment that Tasty'n'Sons did not do a traditional cassoulet when we went a few weeks ago (although I'm sure it's amazing), I decided to try it out myself. I went with the Cook's Illustrated version, of course, because they had a shorter version and they are just usually reliable. They do provide a longer version that involves making your own duck confit, however, due to time and budgetary restraints, I figured this would be authentic enough.

I have another complaint Test Kitchen...you know how your Family Cookbook has those lovely prep time and total time additions in the beginning? Those would be nice on every recipe. Due to last week's coq au vin mis-read, I made sure to read this recipe multiple times before making it so I wouldn't miss an important step. Didn't seem to matter. I didn't see all the steps at the end and how much time they took. If I would've followed the recipe as written, we would've been eating at 9pm. How very French of us! But my husband is usually in bed at that hour, so I had to make some adjustments. Luckily I brined the beans overnight and they were done early. I had to remove more liquid than I wanted (it killed me throwing out that delicious broth) and I broiled the breadcrumbs so they got nice and crisp in a shorter amount of time. All in all, it turned out fabulously...good enough that Mr. Sweettooth Tobias took a second serving!

The process takes several hours, including simmering, baking with the lid, baking without the lid, baking with the breadcurmbs with the lid on, then baking with breadcrumbs with the lid off, then letting it set...

Served with a piece of pain d'epi from Pearl Bakery (thanks Emy!)
As I mentioned above, Tobias has a bit of a sweet tooth, so I had to make something fabulous for dessert. I fortunately enough made dessert before I left for my long run, so it was ready on time. Going with my French theme (and the menu off of cooksillustrated.com...ha ha), I went with a dark chocolate mousse. With all the warnings of underwhipping and overwhipping, I got a little nervous. I'm a terribly folder, too. But, I narrowly avoided all the whipping issues and they came out a huge success!

Dark chocolate mousse with homemade whipped cream and shavings of 70% cacao chocolate.
Yeah, I'd say that's about the right consistency.
How it's supposed to be done...

Published November 1, 2009. From Cook's Illustrated.

Note: if you can find the French garlic sausage, I highly recommend it. It is so flavorful and really brings this dish to the next level. If you're in the Portland area, you can get both the sausage (housemade) and salt pork (frozen) at Pastaworks on Hawthorne.

Serves 8 to 10

Table salt
1 pound dried cannellini beans (about 2 cups), rinsed and picked over
2 medium celery ribs
1 bay leaf
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 1/2 pounds fresh French garlic sausage (see note)
4 ounces salt pork , rinsed of excess salt
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 pounds pork shoulder , cut into 1-inch chunks
1 large onion , chopped fine (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 medium carrots , peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 1 cup)
4 medium cloves garlic , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 4 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
Ground black pepper
4 large slices high-quality white sandwich bread , torn into rough pieces
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves

1. Dissolve 2 tablespoons salt in 3 quarts cold water in large bowl or container. Add beans and soak at room temperature, 8 to 24 hours. Drain and rinse well.

2. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Using kitchen twine, tie together celery, bay leaf, and thyme. Place sausage and salt pork in medium saucepan and add cold water to cover by 1 inch; bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to simmer and cook 5 minutes. Transfer sausages to cutting board, allow to cool slightly, then cut into 1-inch pieces. Remove salt pork from water; set aside.

3. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until beginning to smoke. Add sausage pieces and brown on all sides, 8 to 12 minutes total. Transfer to medium bowl. Add pork shoulder and brown on all sides, 8 to 12 minutes total. Add onion and carrots; cook, stirring constantly, until onion is translucent, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 30 seconds. Return sausage to Dutch oven; add white wine, using wooden spoon to scrape browned bits from bottom of pan. Cook until slightly reduced, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes, celery bundle, and reserved salt pork.

4. Stir in broth and beans, pressing beans into even layer. If any beans are completely exposed, add up to 1 cup water to submerge (beans may still break surface of liquid). Increase heat to high and bring to simmer. Cover pot, transfer to oven, and cook until beans are tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Remove celery bundle and salt pork and discard. (Alternatively, dice salt pork and return to casserole.) Using large spoon, skim fat from surface and discard. Season with salt and pepper. Increase oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake, uncovered, 20 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, pulse bread and remaining 2 tablespoons oil in food processor until crumbs are no larger than 1/8 inch, 8 to ten 1-second pulses. Transfer to medium bowl, add parsley, and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper.

6. Sprinkle 1/2 cup bread-crumb mixture evenly over casserole; bake, covered, 15 minutes. Remove lid and bake 15 minutes longer. Sprinkle remaining bread-crumb mixture over top of casserole and bake until topping is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Let rest 15 minutes before serving.

Dark Chocolate Mousse
Published January 1, 2006.

Makes 3 1/2 cups (6 to 8 servings)
Note: Use very good chocolate

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate , chopped fine
2 tablespoons cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-processed)
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
5 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon brandy
2 large eggs, separated
1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon table salt
1 cup heavy cream , plus 2 additional tablespoons (chilled)

1. Melt chocolate, cocoa powder, espresso powder, water, and brandy in medium heatproof bowl set over saucepan filled with 1 inch of barely simmering water, stirring frequently until smooth. Remove from heat.

2. Whisk egg yolks, 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar, and salt in medium bowl until mixture lightens in color and thickens slightly, about 30 seconds. Pour melted chocolate into egg mixture and whisk until combined. Let cool until just warmer than room temperature, 3 to 5 minutes.

3. In clean bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat egg whites at medium-low speed until frothy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar, increase mixer speed to medium-high, and beat until soft peaks form when whisk is lifted, about 1 minute. Detach whisk and bowl from mixer and whisk last few strokes by hand, making sure to scrape any unbeaten whites from bottom of bowl. Using whisk, stir about one-quarter of beaten egg whites into chocolate mixture to lighten it; gently fold in remaining egg whites with rubber spatula until a few white streaks remain.

4. In now-empty bowl, whip heavy cream at medium speed until it begins to thicken, about 30 seconds. Increase speed to high and whip until soft peaks form when whisk is lifted, about 15 seconds more. Using rubber spatula, fold whipped cream into mousse until no white streaks remain. Spoon into 6 to 8 individual serving dishes or goblets. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set and firm, at least 2 hours. (The mousse may be covered and refrigerated for up to 24 hours.)