Christmas Cassoulet

This was not the planned dinner for Christmas, not at all, that's usually mom's department.  In the past, however, I have made the main course of beef wellington, or roasted duck, but the rest is mom.  She does the pies, the side dishes, has it all laid out at the dining table with her usual elegant touch of individual special settings for each guest and/or family member.  Not quite this year though.  She, Julie, got out of it.  Yup, she went and fell while working in her garden, not the first time, but this time, she broke her hip.  So needless to say, in order to keep the spirit of the season alive and well, I took the reigns and attempted to fill her shoes as best I could.  With only a week's time to plan and not knowing exactly where dinner would actually be, I decided that I would make cassoulet.  An all-encompassing dish that requires only a simple side salad and a nice glass of wine.  And thus it began with an order to D'artagnan for the cassoulet kit.  I needed the clay bowl so I went all in.  

What is cassoulet?  A French casserole essentially, or as described on Wikipedia: Cassoulet (French pronunciation: [ɛ], from Occitan caçolet [kasuˈlet]) is a rich, slow-cooked casserole originating in the south of France, containing meat (typically pork sausages, goose, duck and sometimes mutton), pork skin (couennes) and white beans (haricots blancs).  The dish is named after its traditional cooking vessel, the cassole, a deep, round, earthenware pot with slanting sides.  Sound yummy?  It is!

Inside that box is this wonderful assortment of goodness and well, it's going to take a good solid overnight of bean soaking, a couple hours of prep and then a few hours of stewing in the oven.  My window for Christmas day dinner was now know to be between 2 and 5.  We'd be 5 people with me, Brad, my mom of course, my dad and Brad's mom.  Dinner would be at a local Annapolis rehabilitation therapy center - not quite the perfect setting for a fabulous family holiday dinner, but it's all about making the best of things right?

Soaked beans.

Bouquet garni and cloved onions.

Beans and bouquet together for simmering.

And it smells incredible!

Browning the duck confit and sausage.

Four of six perfectly golden.

Fast forwarding a bit, the cassoulet went together just fine, and while it was in the oven, I put together a little centerpiece for the table, even though ultimately there wasn't enough room for it on the table with the clay bowl - it's rather large because it makes a dish for 12 people, yes 12.  I've got left overs - want some?  Anyway, besides the duck/bean extravaganza, I was packing up organic mixed greens for the salad, plates and bowls for the food, place mats, cloth napkins, silverware, serving ware, the dessert of petit fours from Whole Foods (perfectly small and easy), and of course a few presents.  Transporting this all to the therapy center about an hour late at 3, but it more than enough time to dig in and have what turned out to be a pretty darned special afternoon despite mom's departure from routine.  Maybe next year we'll go somewhere tropical with all limbs intact.

Why yes that IS my champagne.

Why yes, that IS my empty champagne glass.

The dish is a simply layering of the beans with the carrots and garlic left in (onions and bouquet removed), then the meats and then the rest of the beans.

Almost all in...  that duck confit looks so yummy.

Veal demi glace next and the rest of the beans.

Almost done with the cover off for the last 45 minutes.

Table's all set!  Box full of cooked cassoulet this time!

Yes, those are Solo cups - no champagne for dinner, just water, we all had to drive home after dinner except mom who couldn't enjoy any wine anyway.  Oh, there's my centerpiece too!  Magnolia with red tulips, some green sort of flower and the two white calla lilies.  So damned festive.

And voila, the final outcome!  Delicious.

The only casualty of the holidays, other than mom, was the time to get a tree to decorate.  Oh well, I think this was more important and the take aways here are that making first time dishes for Christmas continue with a winning streak, and that this could never have happened on CALIX.  No way, not in a propane powered oven the size of the clay bowl alone.  Oh well, I'll have to learn how to make cassoulet in smaller or individual size bowls if this is going to happen while sailing.  Until next year, and maybe somewhere tropical while under sail...