Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day!! Time for Cassoulet!!

Happy Mother's Day everyone! Hope it's a special day for all.

Mother's Day came a little early for me. Hubby and the little sweet pea gave mommy a beautiful Emeril Lagasse cast enamel Cassoulet pot! I should mention I'm now an enameled-cast-iron dutch oven fanatic. Those are the giant, glossy, brightly colored pots you see a lot of the Food Network hosts using. They use those for a reason (well, many good reasons): they heat up fast and hold onto the heat extremely well, they're great conductors, so you can cook on a lower temperature (green plus!), they're naturally nonstick, they sear, they stew, they can go in the oven, and best of all, as heavy as they are, they are a breeze to wash up, thanks to that slick enamel coating!

I've been using a 6-quart Mario Batali "Italian Kitchen Everyday Essentials Pot", as the name says, almost every day! There weren't too many dinners I didn't prepare in that pot. I even seared steaks in it. Alas, nothing is perfect, and there were many times when I wish I had a smaller version of that pot. Then along came Emeril :)

This cassoulet pot is just what I wanted. Unlike the heavier, larger Mario Batali pot, this particular Emeril one is 4.5 quarts. I do like that both brands have self-basting spikes/nubs under the lids. They're not exactly pointy... just little protrusions that let condensation drip back down onto the food. Those spikes, and a metal handle on the lid, were two must-haves for me, during my cast enamel research. I don't care what the manufacturer says; I DO NOT like cooking with plastic. Believe what you will, but in my kitchen, I don't even microwave in plastic. I certainly then do not want to put a lid with a plastic handle in the oven to slow roast for several hours. And if I'm going to pay $100+ for a pot, it had better not have any plastic parts. These two pots fit the bill.

Back to the comparison, I do also see much higher quality and better workmanship in the Emeril pot, compared to Mario's. The Emeril pot is at least twice as thick as the Mario pot, and made very smooth. The Mario pot has many little dimples on the outside surfaces, which gives it a more rustic, hand-made kind of look. However, it would appear that much more effort went into glazing the Emeril pot, as it seems to have a very dense enamel coating. My Mario pot stained with burn marks with the very first dish I made, and an accidental bump in the sink while washing has chipped off the paint on one of the handles. The Emeril pot, on the other hand, has maintained its creamy white gleam on the inside, with regular daily use. Did I mention also that the handles on the Emeril pot are much more ergonomic, larger, and easier to hold onto. The main sell for me on the Emeril pot is that this model, the Cassoulet, has a rounded bottom, instead of flat walls. Perfect for stews (hence the name of the classic French dish). What better first recipe to then, than cassoulet?

Wouldn't you know it... I was out of duck confit :P (Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever had duck confit.) But I had a mountain of dried beans in my pantry, and I really wanted a bean stew. Time to improvise! By now, you know that I really like, and they came through again with this great Vegetarian Cassoulet. This is a slow-cooker recipe, which I made on the stove top. Following the advice of a few reviewers, I made a few tweaks, like adding more vegetables, including some chopped kale, and also substituting chicken broth, in place of the vegetable broth. That's the great thing about cassoulet... it's very easy to substitute the ingredients with whatever you have on hand.
1 pound dried navy beans, soaked overnight, rinsed and drained
1 small onion, diced
4 red skinned potatoes, cubed
1 cup carrots, diced
1 cup cauliflower, chopped
1/4 cup white wine
4 young kale leaves, chopped
5 cups chicken broth
4 sprigs fresh parsley
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
salt & pepper to taste

In a dutch oven, sautee onion and carrots in olive oil. When onion begins to caramelize, deglaze the pot with white wine. Add the chicken broth. Tie the fresh herbs together with kitchen twine and add to the pot, along with the bay leaf. Cover the pot and simmer on low for three hours, stirring more frequently in the last hour of cooking, as stew will thicken. Remove the herbs and discard. Add the cauliflower and potatoes, and cook again for another 20 minutes, stirring intermittently. Add the chopped kale, cover, and allow to cook for five more minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle individual dishes with olive oil before serving.
Happy Mother's Day :)