Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Make Bittman: Cassoulet

I have a soft spot for the stew-y, rustic foods of Italy and France (sorry Spain--but paella? ew). There's something very comforting about these foods, though, believe me, it has nothing to do with childhood memories (we ate mostly Mexican food at my house...don't ask). I was excited to see, then, a recipe from Mark Bittman for cassoulet--a rustic dish with beans and meat and veggies--that didn't require the purchase of 800 kinds of meat. This is a economic crisis, people, and I am lazy and had already gone to the butcher once that weekend. In any event, here is my report on how my attempt at making it went.

First up, here's the original recipe.

Ignore the part about helping kids. I didn't do any of that.

I used just a pound of sweet Italian sausage since I don't have duck confit sitting around, leeks not onions, garlic, carrots, celery (though now I have a ton left over...grr), zucchinis not cabbage, a can of crushed tomatoes (I can never find chopped for some reason), parsley, thyme, bay leaves, canned cannelloni beans (I am not yet converted to this "cook your own beans" thing), some wine and stock, red pepper flakes and ground red pepper (I didn't have cayenne for some reason--shocking).

Here are all my ingredients in a pile:

Ok step one was to brown the meat, which I started to do, realized that they would probably stick to the pot if there wasn't some fat in it, added olive oil, and then smoke went everywhere. Of course. Good thing my roommates and I took all the smoke detectors down for just this reason. Always practice fire safety! Anyway, the sausages were nice and brown and the air was nice and smoky so I took them out and laid them aside. Then I added butter to the pan, just for fun.

Ok so I chopped everything up, exhibiting some wicked Jacques Pepin knife skills which you can't tell from this, but I swear it took all of a minute to do.

Then I threw everything in the pan and added more olive oil, salt and pepper, and stirred it for a while, added the parsley, thyme and tomatoes...and eventually the bay leaves once I remembered them. Whoops. I added the beans and sausages and set it to boiling. You can tell I'm kind of making a mess.

So, I guess I was supposed to add broth or wine or something at some wasn't entirely clear...I just kinda added some wine and stock when things started to look a little thick. Not too much wine though since I wanted some for me. Then, I took out the sausages and the bay leaves, which took a while because one of the bay leaves was hiding from me even though it was the size of my head. I chopped the sausage into bite-size pieces and proceeded to try and give this thing some heat. Well, after all of the ground red pepper I had left AND a good douse of red pepper flakes went in and it STILL wasn't spicy, I just gave up and realized I should have just bought some freakin' cayenne. Whatever. So here it is! I even made it pretty for it's close-up and used my real camera:

Incredibly, this somehow only took me an hour to make. I have no idea how since I usually add another 45 minutes to whatever cooking time is given (40 mins here) for wandering around and getting distracted by various things.

Verdict: Success with a few caveats that are entirely my fault. 1) Do make the effort to get a variety of meats. Don't feel too embarrassed to buy one pork chop from the cute butcher guy. 2) Buy cayenne. 3) Sausages don't really need olive oil poured on them to brown up. I'm just crazy.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Cooking Magazines

While I know there are more pressing things to worry about in the current economic shitshow, one of the ones that keeps me up at night is the possible (probable?) demise of cooking magazines. I mean, I love the internet as much--if not more--than anyone, but there's something about a cooking magazine that makes its presence, as a complete thing you can purchase, have delivered, hold in your hand and cart around with you, special. While I have New York Times piling up in my entryway--nothing in there that isn't just as well on the web (except the crossword)--I eagerly await the arrival of my cooking magazines. In proof: earlier this month I was, probably inordinately, angry with myself because I thought I had drunkenly discovered and subsequently lost my newest issue of Bon Appetit. Turns out that was just a bad dream, and it arrived safe and sound a week later. Phew!

I mean, sure, you can get all the recipes you want on and other, less trustworthy sites (I don't care how Mary from Montana makes chicken,, and, sure, you can even print them out for that real world effect, but there's nothing like a couple of pages of Gourmet stuck together with tomato sauce to let you know that, if you can manage to pry the pages apart, there's a good recipe waiting for you on one of those pages. And, of course, who can ignore the joys of editorial food photography spreads: pies on chairs in the middle of a field or a pork loin inexplicably balanced on a porch railing. Sure the pictures might be online, but somehow, it's just not the same.

When I'm home, I love going through my mother's collection of these magazines from the eighties--if only for the abundance of ads for cigarettes (shocking!) and booze, and all the big hair. But I also like to see what she dogeared: Did she really intend to make that ridiculous cheese ball? Or was she just marking it to show to dad later for a laugh? More philosophically, they provide a more immediate and detailed account of what foods we ate and how--the minutiae of which is something that cookbooks cannot capture in the same way.

So please, oh captains of industry, though I know print media is allegedly going the way of the telegraph, dodo bird and marrying someone from your town, please keep cooking magazines alive--if only for future generations' amusement in our current cultural obsession with all things edible--and so they can laugh and ask themselves if we ever really made a tongue steak for valentines day.