1. A myrrh-scented candle from Diptyque in Paris quivers on the sideboard—a tribute to Twelfth Night at the home of a friend in Martinez on the Carquinez Strait, a long way from la belle France.
2. A California perfume of berries, oak and alcohol rises while the kitchen crowds with new arrivals seeking glasses of wine—not the newborn babe. A merry gathering of old friends, almost all have sung, played or worked together all year. I arrive on shirttails to fete the renewal of old friendships and crown the king with a nasty little cake I made (even good cooks screw up from time to time) New Year’s resolution #1- must learn to read the recipes! Instead of a fève, it contained a ‘Panisse for Peace’ button that I received in 2003 when visiting the Bay area the last time.
3. A new bouquet escapes the oven door: warmth, comfort, my French Kitchen. DW has made Cassoulet; the tomato-colored Le Creuset steams all the beany, meaty, sausagey slow-baked goodness into the now packed kitchen. Full plates and full bellies celebrate an epiphanic evening.
Oh, Cassoulet! Winter’s gift to cold kitchens and full larders. A mystery to those frightened by a long list of instructions. A challenge to cooks to complicate it beyond its peasant raisin’.
My Cassoulet-making advice?
- Read six recipes and then distill them to your kitchen essence.
- Buy the best beans you can find and cook them in a homemade pot liquor flavored with pork belly and a ham hock or trotter.
- Would you really cook something 8 full hours in this day and age? Two hours in the oven once the beans are cooked to the tender stage in pork broth is enough.
- Don’t stir! Once you’ve layered the beans and meat in the pot, let it cook in tranquility. The beans should be creamy, not smashed, the meat left on the bone (duck legs) and sausages left whole to fish out. The crust can be 'broken' by pushing down into the beans.
- Serve with lots of red wine followed by a sharp green salad and a dose of armagnac.
New Year’s resolution #2: in this coming Year of the Pig stock the French Kitchen Larder fat with those dishes my friends like the most: tender pork roasts, summer tomato soup, duck rillettes, rose petal jam, figgy barbeque sauce, and jars and jars of homemade Cassoulet studded with duck confit and saucisse de Toulouse. There is no one recipe to print here; rather the invitation to slowly and carefully cook good ingredients until that magic moment when a golden crust announces: done!