Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Our January 2011 Challenge comes from Jenni of The Gingered Whisk and Lisa from Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. They have challenged the Daring Cooks to learn how to make a confit and use it within the traditional French dish of Cassoulet. They have chosen a traditional recipe from Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman.

Okay - I was all gung-ho for a good hearty stew.  It's the middle of winter and what would be better?  But I must say that the amount of fat used in the recipe is daunting.  I would like to try making a "traditional" cassoulet without so much fat.  Ei carumba!  This is not a "heart-smart" dish.  I could feel my arteries slamming shut as I was preparing this recipe and I hadn't even taken a bite yet!

I was a bit lazy and didn't feel inclined to search for duck fat in time for making this recipe, so I used olive oil as the fat for the confit.  That seemed to work fine.  I also substituted chicken for the duck.

As for the cassoulet itself, I made a few more substitutions.  As was suggested by our hosts, I chose to not use pork rind and used thick cut bacon instead.  That seemed to work just fine.  And instead of the duck fat, I had bacon fat on hand so used that.  But I must say, it seemed so wrong to be frying up bacon IN bacon fat!  Would you like some deep-fried Crisco on a stick to go along with that jammer fest?  Yikes!

My final verdict?  Yes, it's tasty.  But I simply do not eat this way any longer.  The odds of making this dish again are slim to none.

Cassoulet by Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman (as featured on the Travel Channel’s “No Reservations”)
Serves 4 - 8

Duck Confit

4 whole duck legs (leg and thigh), size does not matter
sea salt, for the overnight (at least 6-8 hours) dry rub (the amount varies depending on the size of your legs, so just know that you need to have enough on hand for a good coating.)
2 cups/480 ml/450 gm/16 oz duck fat
a healthy pinch or grind of black pepper
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
1 garlic clove

Day One

Rub the duck legs fairly generously with sea salt, place in the shallow dish, cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight. At all times, keep your work area clean and your ingredients free of contamination - meaning don't allow any other food, like bread crumbs or scraps, to get into your duck, duck fat or confit, as they will make an otherwise nearly non-perishable preparation suddenly perishable.

Day Two
1.   Preheat the oven to moderately hot 375ºF/190ºC/gas mark 5.
2.   Render (melt) the duck fat in the saucepan until clear.
3.   After seasoning with the black pepper, place the duck legs in the clean, ovenproof casserole.
4.      Nestle the thyme, rosemary and garlic in with the duck legs, and pour the melted duck fat over the legs to just cover
5.   Cover the dish with foil and put in the oven. Cook for about an hour, or until the skin at the "ankle" of each leg pulls away from the "knuckle." The meat should be tender.
6.   Allow to cool and then store as is in the refrigerator, sealed under the fat. When you need the confit, you can either warm the whole dish, in which case removing the legs will be easy, or dig them out of the cold fat and scrape off the excess. I highly recommend the former. A nice touch at this point is to twist out the thighbone from the cold confit. Just place one hand on the drumstick, pinioning the leg to the table, and with the other hand, twist out the thighbone, plucking it from the flesh without mangling the thigh meat. 

Ingredients for Cassoulet

5 cups/1200 ml/1100 g/39 oz dried Tarbais beans or white beans such as Great Northern or Cannelini (if you use canned beans be aware that you will need double this amount!)
2 pounds/900 gm fresh pork belly
1 onion, cut into 4 pieces
1 pound/450 gm pork rind (or thick cut bacon)
1 bouquet garni (tie together two sprigs parsley, 2 sprigs thyme and one bay leaf)
salt and pepper
1/4 cup/60 ml/55 gm duck fat
6 pork sausages
3 onions, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
4 confit duck legs

Day One
Place the beans in the large bowl and cover with cold water so that there are at least 2 or 3 inches (50mm or 75mm) of water above the top of the beans. Soak overnight. That was hard, right?  (Beans will double in size upon soaking, so use a big bowl!)

Day Two

1.   Drain and rinse the beans and place in the large pot.
2.   Add the pork belly, the quartered onion, 1/4 pound/115 gm of the pork rind, and the bouquet garni.
3.   Cover with water, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and continue to simmer until the beans are tender, about 30 minutes more.
4.   Let cool for 20 minutes, then discard the onion and the bouquet garni.
5.   Remove the pork belly, cut it into 2-inch/5-cm squares, and set aside. (If you plan to wait another day before finishing the dish, wait to cut the pork belly until then.)
6.   Strain the beans and the rind and set aside, reserving the cooking liquid separately.
7.   In the sauté pan, heat all but 1 tablespoon/15 ml/15 gm of the duck fat over medium-high heat until it shimmers and becomes transparent.
8.   Carefully add the sausages and brown on all sides.
9.   Remove sausages and set aside, draining on paper towels.
10. In the same pan, over medium-high heat, brown the sliced onions, the garlic and the reserved squares of pork rind from the beans (not the unused pork rind; you'll need that later).
11. Once browned, remove from the heat and transfer to the blender. Add 1 tablespoon//15 ml/15 gm of the remaining duck fat and purée until smooth. Set aside.
12. Preheat the oven to moderate 350ºF/180ºC/gas mark 4.
13. Place the uncooked pork rind in the bottom of a deep ovenproof non-reactive dish. You're looking to line the inside, almost like a pie crust. Arrange all your ingredients in alternating layers, beginning with a layer of beans, then sausages, then more beans, then pork belly, beans, duck confit and finally more beans, adding a dab of the onion and pork rind purée between each layer.

14. Add enough of the bean cooking liquid to just cover the beans, reserving 1 cup/240 ml in the refrigerator for later use. 

15. Cook the cassoulet in the oven for 1 hour, then reduce the heat to very slow 250ºF/130ºC/gas mark ½ and cook for another hour.
16. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Refrigerate overnight.

Day Three
  1. Preheat the oven to moderate 350ºF/180ºC/gas mark 4 again.
  2. Cook the cassoulet for an hour.
  3. Break the crust on the top with the spoon and add 1/4 cup/60 ml of the reserved cooking liquid.
  4. Reduce the heat to very slow 250ºF/130ºC/gas mark ½ and continue cooking another 15 minutes, or until screamingly hot through and through. Then serve.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


The 2010 December Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make Stollen. She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book.........and Martha Stewart’s demonstration.
I was really pleased when I found out we would be baking Stollen for this month's challenge.  I had already decided to bake some up for the boys' to give to their teachers this year, so this challenge was very fortuitous! While I've baked Stollen before, I had never made the wreath, so I baked four regular Stollens as gifts and one wreath style for us to keep and eat at breakfast on Christmas morning.  
The recipe that was presented to us with the Daring Bakers did not contain marzipan, so I had to alter it a tad and rolled out some thin pipes of marzipan and set those onto the flat rectangle of dough prior to rolling.  I don't know about you, but Stollen just isn't Stollen without the marzipan!  

As it was Christmas morning, I had forgotten to take a photo prior to us diving into our breakfasts, so my apologies for not getting a photo of the wreath in its entirety.  But I can assure you, it looked lovely and it tasted even better than it looked!  Along with our fruit salad (hey - there has to be a little nod to a healthy breakfast even on Christmas day) bacon and mimosas, it was the centerpiece to a lovely meal with which to start our day.

Stollen Wreath

Makes one large wreath or two traditional shaped Stollen loaves. Serves 10-12 people


¼ cup (60ml) lukewarm water (110º F / 43º C)
2 packages (4 1/2 teaspoons) (22 ml) (14 grams) (1/2 oz) active dry yeast
1 cup (240 ml) milk
10 tablespoons (150 ml) (140 grams) unsalted butter (can use salted butter)
5½ cups (1320 ml) (27 ozs) (770 grams) all-purpose (plain) flour (Measure flour first - then sift- plus extra for dusting)
½ cup (120 ml) (115 gms) sugar
¾ teaspoon (3 ¾ ml) (4 ½ grams) salt (if using salted butter there is no need to alter this salt measurement)
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (6 grams) cinnamon
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
Grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
2 teaspoons (10 ml) (very good) vanilla extract
1 teaspoon (5 ml) lemon extract or orange extract
¾ cup (180 ml) (4 ¾ ozs) (135 grams) mixed peel (link below to make your own)
1 cup (240 ml) (6 ozs) (170 gms) firmly packed raisins
3 tablespoons (45ml) rum
12 red glacé cherries (roughly chopped) for the color and the taste. (optional)
1 cup (240 ml) (3 ½ ozs) (100 grams) flaked almonds
Melted unsalted butter for coating the wreath
Confectioners’ (icing) (powdered) sugar for dusting wreath
Note: If you don’t want to use alcohol, double the lemon or orange extract or you could use the juice from the zested orange.


Soak the raisins
In a small bowl, soak the raisins in the rum (or in the orange juice from the zested orange) and set aside. See Note under raisins.

To make the dough
  1. Pour ¼ cup (60 ml) warm water into a small bowl, sprinkle with yeast and let stand 5 minutes. Stir to dissolve yeast completely.
  2. In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup (240 ml) milk and 10 tablespoons (150 ml) butter over medium - low heat until butter is melted. Let stand until lukewarm, about 5 minutes.
  3. Lightly beat eggs in a small bowl and add lemon and vanilla extracts.
  4. In a large mixing bowl (4 qt) (4 liters) (or in the bowl of an electric mixer with paddle attachment), stir together the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, orange and lemon zests.
  5. Then stir in (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment) the yeast/water mixture, eggs and the lukewarm milk/butter mixture. This should take about 2 minutes. It should be a soft, but not sticky ball. When the dough comes together, cover the bowl with either plastic or a tea cloth and let rest for 10 minutes.
  6. Add in the mixed peel, soaked fruit and almonds and mix with your hands or on low speed to incorporate. Here is where you can add the cherries if you would like. Be delicate with the cherries or all your dough will turn red!
  7. Sprinkle flour on the counter, transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading (or mixing with the dough hook) to distribute the fruit evenly, adding additional flour if needed. The dough should be soft and satiny, tacky but not sticky. Knead for approximately 8 minutes (6 minutes by machine). The full six minutes of kneading is needed to distribute the dried fruit and other ingredients and to make the dough have a reasonable bread-dough consistency. You can tell when the dough is kneaded enough – a few raisins will start to fall off the dough onto the counter because at the beginning of the kneading process the dough is very sticky and the raisins will be held into the dough but when the dough is done it is tacky which isn't enough to bind the outside raisins onto the dough ball.
  8. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling around to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
    Put it in the fridge overnight. The dough becomes very firm in the fridge (since the butter goes firm) but it does rise slowly… the raw dough can be kept in the refrigerator up to a week and then baked on the day you want.

Shaping the Dough and Baking the Wreath
  1. Let the dough rest for 2 hours after taking out of the fridge in order to warm slightly.
  2. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
  3. Preheat oven to moderate 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4 with the oven rack on the middle shelf.
  4. Punch dough down, roll into a rectangle about 16 x 24 inches (40 x 61 cms) and ¼ inch (6 mm) thick. 
  5. Starting with a long side, roll up tightly, forming a long, thin cylinder. 
  6. Transfer the cylinder roll to the sheet pan. Join the ends together, trying to overlap the layers to make the seam stronger and pinch with your fingers to make it stick, forming a large circle. You can form it around a bowl to keep the shape.
  7. Using kitchen scissors, make cuts along outside of circle, in 2-inch (5 cm) intervals, cutting 2/3 of the way through the dough. 
  8. Twist each segment outward, forming a wreath shape. Mist the dough with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap. 
  9. Proof for approximately 2 hours at room temperature, or until about 1½ times its original size.
  10. Bake the stollen for 20 minutes, then rotate the pan 180 degrees for even baking and continue to bake for 20 to 30 minutes. The bread will bake to a dark mahogany color, should register 190°F/88°C in the center of the loaf, and should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.
  11. Transfer to a cooling rack and brush the top with melted butter while still hot.
  12. Immediately tap a layer of powdered sugar over the top through a sieve or sifter.
  13. Wait for 1 minute, then tap another layer over the first.
    The bread should be coated generously with the powdered sugar.
  14. Let cool at least an hour before serving. Coat the stollen in butter and icing sugar three times, since this many coatings helps keeps the stollen fresh - especially if you intend on sending it in the mail as Christmas presents!
  15. When completely cool, store in a plastic bag. Or leave it out uncovered overnight to dry out slightly, German style.
  16. The stollen tastes even better in a couple of days and it toasts superbly.


The more rum and the more coatings of butter and sugar you use the longer it will store.

The following is for the recipe as written and uses the 45 mls of rum and two coatings of butter and icing sugar
  1. Stollen freezes beautifully about 4 months
  2. The baked stollen stores well for 2 weeks covered in foil and plastic wrap on the counter at room temperature and
  3. One month in the refrigerator well covered with foil and plastic wrap. 

Friday, December 17, 2010

oeufs en meurette (poached eggs in red wine sauce)

Jenn and Jill have challenged The Daring Cooks to learn to perfect the technique of poaching an egg. They chose Eggs Benedict recipe from Alton Brown, Oeufs en Meurette from Cooking with Wine by Anne Willan, and Homemade Sundried Tomato & Pine Nut Seitan Sausages (poached) courtesy of Trudy of Veggie num num.

Let me say straightaway:  This is delicious!!!!  I have poached eggs many times before, so chose this recipe as I'd never made Meurette sauce. I must say, this is one delicious sauce.  I'm not ashamed to admit that licked my plate.  This does take some time to make, and the eggs are going to look really funky as you take them out of the wine and stock combination, but wow... this is so worth it!  After viewing the eggs, my 10-year-old was adamant that he was not going to try this dish.  But he did.  And his response?  "Oh.  This really IS quite good."  

If you have about an hour to spare, and you're looking for a new poached egg experience that is DEEEE-licious, try this.  It's not difficult, only a little time consuming.  Oh, and don't let the purple eggs freak you out.


8 eggs (size is your choice)
1 bottle red wine (750ml/25 fl. oz.)
2 cups (400ml/16 fl. oz.) chicken stock*‡
1 onion, sliced
1 carrot, sliced
1 celery stalk, sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
Bouquet garni (thyme, parsley, bay leaf)
½ tsp. (2 ½ ml/3g) black peppercorns
2 Tbl. (30 ml/30g) butter
¼ lb. (115g) mushrooms, sliced
¼ lb (115g) bacon, diced‡
16 pearl onions, peeled (200g/7oz.)
Vegetable oil for frying
8 slices of baguette, ¼” (6mm) thick
2 Tbl. (30 ml/30g) butter, room temp.
2 Tbl. (30 ml/20g) flour *
salt and pepper

*for gluten free make sure to use gluten free stock and gluten free flour
‡ for vegetarian use vegetable stock, and omit bacon.

Other notes on ingredients:
  • You can use salted or unsalted butter, you will just have to adjust your "salt & pepper to taste" accordingly.
  • As this is a Burgundian dish, a full-bodied red wine like a pinot noir is a great wine to use for this dish. Anne Willan recommends a fruity red wine. She also notes that you can make ouefs au mersault. Mersault is the famed white wine region of Bourgogne, and is generally made using chardonnay grapes, so it would be ok to choose a white wine if you want. No matter what wine you choose, make sure it is not too dry nor too sweet.  I had a bottle of chianti on hand, so used that and it turned out lovely.
  • As this is a To make a bouquet garni, just take the herbs (a few sprigs of each) and tie them together into a little bundle. Since the sauce will reduce for a while, it’s ok if you don’t have the fresh herbs – there will be time for flavor to come out of dried ones (for ex. fresh bay leaf may be hard to find). Alternatively, if you don’t have a way to tie them, you could just add the whole sprigs/bay leaves to the sauce and then just make sure to remove them when the sauce is done reducing.

1. Heat wine and stock together in a large pan and poach eggs a couple at a time for 3-4 min. Yolks should be firming but still a little soft. Set them aside.

2. Add the veggies, herbs, and peppercorns to the poaching liquid and let the sauce simmer until reduced to half volume. This will become the meurette sauce.

3. In a separate large skillet, melt 1 tbs. (15ml/15g) of the butter on medium-high heat and sauté the mushrooms until soft and then set aside. Add in another 1 tbs. (15ml/15g) butter and the bacon, frying until browned, then set aside on a paper towel. Turn down the heat to medium, add in the pearl onions and sauté until softened and browned. Then drain off the fat and add the bacon and mushrooms back to the pan and set aside off the heat for the moment.

4. In a medium skillet, heat a few tbs. of oil and then fry the baguette slices until browned on each side. Add more oil as needed. Set the fried bread (croûtes) on a paper towel and then place on a baking sheet in an oven that is set to 200F/95C/gas mark 1/4 or whatever your lowest setting is to keep them warm.

5. Blend 2 Tbl. (30ml/30g) butter and flour together to form a paste of sorts that will be used as the thickener for the sauce. Whisk this into the reduction sauce until the sauce starts to thicken.
Strain the sauce over the skillet of mushrooms, bacon and onions, and return the skillet to heat, bringing to a boil. Season with salt & pepper to taste, then set aside again.

6. Reheat the eggs by placing them in hot water for a quick minute. To serve, plate a poached egg on top of a croûte, and then ladle some of the mushrooms/bacon/onions and sauce on top.