Cassoulet with White Beans, Sausage & Turkey

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I don’t know how I managed to make it through 20-some years of life without trying cassoulet, but I have a feeling I’ll eat enough this fall and winter to make up for it. I made the one pictured here about two weeks ago, and I’ve been dying to have it again ever since. I actually have another one in the oven as I write this post.

Don’t let the fancy French name scare you off. When it comes down to it, cassoulet is nothing more than a white bean and tomato stew. A fragrant sauce flavored with fresh herbs cooks quickly on the stove before being mixed with the rest of the ingredients and baking in the oven. It’s pure stick-to-your-ribs comfort food full of rich and delicious flavors typical of the French countryside.

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This dish takes a little longer to make than most of my recipes, requiring about 20 minutes of active time and an hour or so in the oven, but with a little planning it can definitely be made on a weeknight. Go ahead and make a big batch — it tastes even better the next day.

Traditional cassoulet uses duck or goose confit, but since that can be difficult to find (not to mention expensive!) I’ve taken the liberty of using turkey instead. I like the flavor that using some poultry gives the cassoulet, but you can leave it out and use only sausage just as easily.

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Zucchini and Summer Squash Gratin with Herbs de Provence

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Yesterday – August 8 – was “National Sneak Some Zucchini onto Your Neighbors Porch Day.” It sounds like a joke, but think about it. If you have a garden (or know someone who has a garden) chances are you’ve been up to your ears in zucchini and summer squash for a few weeks already. You might be sick of them. And looking for an excuse to sneak some on an innocent neighbor under cover of night. But this gratin might just rekindle your love of the ubiquitous summertime vegetable.

As delicious as my tea-smoked salmon with lavender and honey glaze was (Have you seen it yet? Entered to win some tea?), this gratin held its own. Served together, dinner was an event. I half expected fireworks to go off as I finished my plate. The squash bakes in their own juices until they are soft and delicate. The tomatoes begin to dry from the heat of the oven, leaving them sweet and intensely flavored. The sharp Parmesan and crisp breadcrumbs lend classic comfort. And then, there’s the unexpected. Instead of using italian seasonings, you take a little detour through the south of France thanks to fresh thyme and herbs de Provence (a mixture of savory, fennel, basil, thyme, and lavender).

Sure you may be reluctant to turn your oven on in the height of August. Wait for a rainy day if you must. But I wouldn’t wait. Really, it’s already so hot that having the oven on doesn’t seen to make it any worse. And even if it does, it’s totally worth it.

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Salmon with Carmelized Lemon Glaze over Lentils

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As gorgeous as that last salad was, I figured it was about time to get a new post up. The problem is that between the Easter holiday, a quick trip to Boston, and the incredible weather that we’ve been having these past few days the last things I’ve wanted to do were cook or sit in front of the computer. But I couldn’t wait any longer to share this salmon and lentil dish, so I’m forcing myself to sit down and write.

I found some lentils when I was cleaning out my cabinets and thought that I should use them up. Lentils are a strange thing – I always forget how much I like them and that they are just as much a warm-weather food as a great base for a rich, hearty winter soup. But with a few lighter ingredients like salmon and leeks to perk them up, lentils can be a great addition to a springtime meal. For this dish, I cooked them together with leeks and turnips. The leeks gave them a bright flavor, and the turnip added a peppery touch that I enjoyed a lot.

The caramelized lemon glaze was the lucky byproduct of a mistake. I wanted to add some acid to the dish to prevent is from tasting heavy or muddy, so I set out to make a lemon gastrique but I got distracted and let it cook down too much. I was really disappointed to see the thick, gloppy caramel that resulted but I gave it a taste and it was actually really good! It was sweet, but the lemon and vinegar kept it from being too sweet. I took a change and spooned a little over my salmon, not sure what to expect — it was great! The sweetness actually worked really well with the salmon (if the thought of a sweet sauce on salmon seems weird to you, it’s not that different from salmon teriyaki. Much less scary now, right?)

Braised Chicken with Grapes

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Chicken and grapes – it sounds like something that you would feed your five year old for dinner. But trust me when I say that this meal is greater than the sum of its parts. The chicken is browned and then braised in wine until it’s fall-off-the-bone tender. The pan juices are made into a delicious sauce enriched with a touch of cream and plenty of fresh thyme. And then there are the grapes – when heated, they transform into tiny morsels of juicy perfection that are the perfect balance of sweet and bitter.

I first had the idea of cooking with grapes over the summer. I must have seen it somewhere because shortly after I first started thinking about it, food + wine magazine featured a recipe with roasted grapes. That was closely followed by an issue of fine cooking that has a whole section on cooking with grapes! As great as the idea seemed, I was always distracted by the fresh, seasonal produce that was available. Grapes seemed silly! Until now. In the dead of winter in upstate New York, produce – especially fruit – is scarce, but grapes seem to be a constant. So I gave it a try, and my only complaint is that I shouldn’t have waited so long! [....]

Daring Bakers: Macarons

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The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s TheLast Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

Macarons. A word that will simultaneously put joy and fear into the heart of any home baker. I was excited to hear that this month’s Daring Baker’s challenge – I’ve made them before, but lost the pictures before I had a chance to post them. I’ve been looking for another excuse to make them. I chose to make chocolate cookie with a salted caramel filling.

In the US, people often confuse French Macarons with macaroons – a cookie made primarily of coconut. Although macaroons are also delicious, they don’t even begin to compare to the beauty that is a macaron. Macarons are a sandwich cookie made of almond flour that is combines with sugar and egg white. The texture is a combination of crispy and chewy, with a crispy outer shells that gives way to a soft meringue center. The cookies are sandwich together, often with ganache, caramel, or fruit preserves.[....]

Bistro Classics: Steak au Poivre

steak au poivre
Steak au poivre is a dish that everyone should have in their repertoire – it’s REALLY easy to make, uses ingredients that you most likely have on hand, and pairs well with a variety of side dishes. Despite its simplicity (once you make it once or twice, you won’t need a recipe anymore) it will allow you to perfect two important cooking skills: how to sear meat and how to make a pan sauce.[....]