February 21, 2010: Dinner with Friends

March 2, 2010

As this is primarily a cooking blog, I will sometimes step away, from time to time, from the realm of Japanese-fusion and Okonomiyaki when I create a menu on my own. One of my constant pleasures in life is making meals for my friends. As the best of people, they deserve the best that I may create.

Teja and Barb were kind enough to (once again) be host and hostess in their new house. It was a last minute, get-together, so a lot of the people we hoped could come, were not able to attend (next time guys, I will give you more notice…sorry!) Their presence was missed, but the quality of the company from Teja, Barb, Dan, and Susan made for a very nice evening. Menu was:

Cassoulet-Maigre (I also made a vegetarian version for myself)

Braised Red Cabbage with Raisins

Saffron Basmati Rice

Yogurt with Pineapple and Ground Cardamom

Usually, my meals are more extensive than this, to the point that Barb (always wise) makes the point of asking at the first course “Now, EXACTLY how much more is coming?” This time, I had tried a veggie version of the Cassoulet earlier in the week and even that version was so hardy, (to me) I couldn’t finish even a small portion of it. I was making their version with meat, however, the “maigre” part meaning “thin” or “light” and so I was making something between a full-fledged Cassoulet and my veggie version. For those that have never prepared it, Cassoulet is a dish from southwest France, basically a stew of assorted meats (classically duck, sausage, and lamb) with carrots, and white beans (haricots a la Bretonne in French) accented with wine, spices and topped with bread crumbs.

Always generous, my friend Dan supplied most of the meat. He gets his meat from a local farm that doesn’t use any toxins in their meat processing. He supplied some very nice sausage, and some beef (which I couldn’t use, as there was too much meat.) I supplied some turkey pieces and some bacon. All the meats were grilled ahead of time. If you are making this dish, be aware that I was grilling meat for almost two hours before the dish could be assembled and THEN it had to be cooked two hours more!

The things I did different was to substitute the turkey for the duck and omit the lamb altogether. This is the “maigre” part. I also blotted all the grease out of the meats before assembling. I added red wine instead of the classic white the menus called for (when making a new dish I look up several versions of a recipe, pick the best parts of each, and I try to make a version before serving to friends to make sure it will work.) I also added plum tomatoes, which was in one of the recipes. Chopped onions, garlic, pepper, salt, pinches of basil and oregano and my own veggie broth, as well as the beans and carrot pieces, rounded out the dish. All was put into a 16 quart Dutch oven and baked (covered) at 350º for two hours. The last hour I added crushed wheat crumbs mixed with chopped parsley. When done, the bread crumbs turn a nice orange-ish color, having soaked up much of the remaining grease.

Of course, being vegetarian, I couldn’t taste the Cassoulet, but I did the next best thing: I asked my friends to taste my veggie version. At first, they were having none of that! They claimed being too full after such a filling dish like Cassoulet, but brave Susan consented and then the others followed suit. They said the veggie version wasn’t nearly as “hardy” as the “maigre” version, but tasted OK.

I was thinking that a light dessert like the yogurt-pineapple would be perfect after a hardy meal like this, but was, once again, caught up by honest and candid Dan who said “Oooh! Baby food for adults!” Once again, hitting the nail on the head! Can’t get away with anything with these folks! I guess that’s why these guys are my friends…to keep me an honest chef!


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