The Daring Bakers Make Entremet and Jaconde! (or a Fancy French Cake!)

The January 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Astheroshe of the blog accro. She chose to challenge everyone to make a Biscuit Joconde Imprime to wrap around an Entremets dessert.

Wow. This challenge….just wow...

Ridiculous, complicated, time consuming, utterly amazing.

When I first saw what the challenge for this month was, I almost fell out of my chair. I have never done something like this before, and I was immediately intimidated. I’m notorious for not being able to reproduce things like this. I’m a perfectionist, but when it comes down to it, I’m a simple girl. I just don’t have the talent to do fancy things like this. Normally when I try things like this I get frustrated that it isn’t turning out like I wanted it to, and I am not happy with the visual results. Oh sure, it might taste good, but it just never looks the way I want it to.

So you can see how this kind of freaked me out a bit.

I decided to do a kind of “turtled” entremet. We were allowed to choose any fillings we wanted, in fact, Astheroshe didn’t even give us any to choose from, she just let us go at it! I wanted to make my fillings simple, but still stretch my bounds a bit. I chose to do a dark chocolate mousse, a vanilla crème brulee, a pecan feuillete (basically crunchy stuff, haha), and a chocolate caramel ganache. I was really worried that my jaconde was going to be utterly horrible, but it actually turned out PERFECT! I had never made a homemade mousse before, and I really like how it turned out, although I think next time I won’t use 100% dark chocolate in it, as it sucked all the moisture from my mouth the second I tried it, haha. The pecan feuillete turned out great, too, except I forgot to account for the sponge cake walls when I cut it into shape, and I ended up breaking it. But once it was in the assembled cake, no one was the wiser (except, now, everyone knows…).  The chocolate caramel ganache was great, too, (and, by the way, utterly delicious, I could have eaten it by the spoonful!!) except that I had to re-warm it to room temp in the microwave a bit in order for me to spread it over the cake.

Overall, I was really, actually really, pleased with how this turned out! And oh mama, it was phenomenal! Rich, insanely decadent, and definitely NOT on my weight watchers point scale. Don’t even ask how many points it was. But hey, that’s why they gave you weekly splurge points after all. I used them, and I am NOT ashamed of it!  Everyone who tried this simply raved about it. In fact, my uncle-in-law (the same one who ate all my cassoulet) said that it was better than any food he ate on his cruise (which previously was the best food he has ever eaten). And my brother’s girlfriend, who bless her, is now insisting on making this for her father’s birthday this weekend, even after I told her it took me about 9 hours spread over two days to complete,  and hounded my brother for 4 straight days before I finally printed off the recipe for her.

So, in short, this “fancy French cake” (explaining joconde and entremets was too complicated time and time again) was worth every single minute in preparation, and every single calorie in it.

Turtled Entremet
Joconde Sponge
¾ cup/ 180 ml/ 3oz/ 85g almond flour/meal - *You can also use hazelnut flour, just omit the butter 
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons/ 150 ml/ 2⅔ oz/ 75g confectioners' (icing) sugar
¼ cup/ 60 ml/ 1 oz/ 25g cake flour *See note below
3 large eggs - about 5⅓ oz/ 150g
3 large egg whites - about 3 oz/ 90g
2½ teaspoons/ 12½ ml/ ⅓ oz/ 10g white granulated sugar or superfine (caster) sugar
2 tablespoons/ 30 ml/ 1oz / 30g unsalted butter, melted
1.       In a clean mixing bowl whip the egg whites and white granulated sugar to firm, glossy peeks. Reserve in a separate clean bowl to use later.
2.       Sift almond flour, confectioner’s sugar, cake flour. (This can be done into your dirty egg white bowl)
3.       On medium speed, add the eggs a little at a time. Mix well after each addition. Mix until smooth and light. (If using a stand mixer use blade attachment. If hand held a whisk attachment is fine, or by hand. )
4.       Fold in one third reserved whipped egg whites to almond mixture to lighten the batter. Fold in remaining whipped egg whites. Do not over mix.
5.       Fold in melted butter.
6.       Reserve batter to be used later.
Patterned Joconde-Décor Paste (note: I halved this amount because I didn’t need this much for my pattern) YIELD: Two ½ size sheet pans or a 13” x 18” (33 x 46 cm) jelly roll pan
14 tablespoons/ 210ml/ 7oz/ 200g unsalted butter, softened
1½ cups plus1½ tablespoons/ 385ml/ 7oz/ 200g Confectioners' (icing) sugar
7 large egg whites - about 7 oz / 200g
1¾ cup/ 420ml/ 7¾ oz/ 220g cake flour
Food coloring gel, paste or liquid
COCOA Décor Paste Variation: Reduce cake flour to 6 oz / 170g. Add 2 oz/ 60 g cocoa powder. Sift the flour and cocoa powder together before adding to creamed mixture.
1.       Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy (use stand mixer with blade, hand held mixer, or by hand)
2.       Gradually add egg whites. Beat continuously.
3.       Fold in sifted flour.
4.       Tint batter with coloring to desired color, if not making cocoa variation.

Preparing the Joconde- How to make the pattern:
1.       Spread a thin even layer of décor paste approximately 1/4 inch (5 millimeter) thick onto silicone baking mat with a spatula, or flat knife. Place mat on an upside down baking sheet. The upside down sheet makes spreading easier with no lip from the pan.
2.       Pattern the décor paste – Here is where you can be creative. Make horizontal /vertical lines (you can use a knife, spatula, cake/pastry comb). Squiggles with your fingers, zig zags, wood grains. Be creative whatever you have at home to make a design can be used. OR use a piping bag. Pipe letters, or polka dots, or a piped design. If you do not have a piping bag. Fill a ziplock bag and snip off corner for a homemade version of one.
3.       Slide the baking sheet with paste into the freezer. Freeze hard. Approx 15 minutes.
4.       Remove from freezer. Quickly pour the Joconde batter over the design. Spread evenly to completely cover the pattern of the Décor paste.
  1. Bake at 475ºF /250ºC until the joconde bounces back when slightly pressed, approx. 15 minutes. You can bake it as is on the upside down pan. Yes, it is a very quick bake, so watch carefully.
  2. Cool. Do not leave too long, or you will have difficulty removing it from mat.
  3. Flip cooled cake on to a powdered sugared parchment paper. Remove silpat. Cake should be right side up, and pattern showing! (The powdered sugar helps the cake from sticking when cutting.)

Preparing the MOLD for entremets:
You can use any type of mold. I used a springform pan with removable bottom.
1.       Start with a large piece of parchment paper laid on a very flat baking sheet. Then a large piece of cling wrap over the parchment paper. Place a spring form pan ring, with the base removed, over the cling wrap and pull the cling wrap tightly up on the outside of the mold. Line the inside of the ring with a curled piece of parchment paper overlapping top edge by ½ inch. CUT the parchment paper to the TOP OF THE MOLD. It will be easier to smooth the top of the cake.
Preparing the Jaconde for Molding:
1.       1. Trim the cake of any dark crispy edges. You should have a nice rectangle shape.
2.       2. Decide how thick you want your “Joconde wrapper”. Traditionally, it is ½ the height of your mold. This is done so more layers of the plated dessert can be shown. However, you can make it the full height.
1.       3. Once your height is measured, then you can cut the cake into equal strips, of height and length. (Use a very sharp paring knife and ruler.) Make sure your strips are cut cleanly and ends are cut perfectly straight. Press the cake strips inside of the mold, decorative side facing out. Once wrapped inside the mold, overlap your ends slightly. You want your Joconde to fit very tightly pressed up to the sides of the mold. Then gently push and press the ends to meet together to make a seamless cake. The cake is very flexible so you can push it into place. You can use more than one piece to “wrap “your mold, if one cut piece is not long enough.
2.       4. The mold is done, and ready to fill.
*Note: If not ready to use. Lay cake kept whole or already cut into strips, on a flat surface, wrap in parchment and several layers of cling wrap and freeze.

1.       Cut out a circle of the leftover sponge cake, place it on the bottom of the springform pan, decoration out (that way you can see it if you flip your piece over)
2.       Fill with dark chocolate mousse, about 1/3 of the way.
3.       Place your first praline feuillete on top.
4.       Add the crème brulee.
5.       Add the second pecan feuillete.
6.       Top off with the chocolate caramel ganache, trying to get the top as smooth a finish as you can.
7.       Decorate the top with any leftover whipped cream (I used unsweetened since everything was so rich already) and candied pecans.
Dark Chocolate Mousse
Preparation time: 20mn

Note: You will see that a Pate a Bombe is mentioned in this recipe. A Pate a Bombe is a term used for egg yolks beaten with a sugar syrup, then aerated. It is the base used for many mousse and buttercream recipes. It makes mousses and buttercreams more stable, particularly if they are to be frozen, so that they do not melt as quickly or collapse under the weight of heavier items such as the crème brulee insert.

2.5 sheets gelatin or 5g / 1+1/4 tsp powdered gelatin
1.5 oz (3 Tbsp / 40g) granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp (10g) glucose or thick corn syrup
0.5 oz (15g) water
50g egg yolks (about 3 medium)
6.2 oz (175g) dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1.5 cups (350g) heavy cream (35% fat content)

1. Soften the gelatin in cold water. (If using powdered gelatin, follow the directions on the package.)
2. Make a Pate a Bombe: Beat the egg yolks until very light in color (approximately 5 minutes until almost white).
2a. Cook the sugar, glucose syrup and water on medium heat for approximately 3 minutes (if you have a candy thermometer, the mixture should reach 244°F (118°C). If you do not have a candy thermometer, test the sugar temperature by dipping the tip of a knife into the syrup then into a bowl of ice water, if it forms a soft ball in the water then you have reached the correct temperature.
2b. Add the sugar syrup to the beaten yolks carefully by pouring it into the mixture in a thin stream while continuing to beat the yolks. You can do this by hand but it’s easier to do this with an electric mixer.
2c. Continue beating until cool (approximately 5 minutes). The batter should become thick and foamy.
3. In a double boiler (or one small saucepan in a larger one), heat 2 tablespoons (30g) of cream to boiling. Add the chopped chocolate and stir until melted and smooth.
4. Whip the rest of the cream until stiff.
5. Pour the melted chocolate over the softened gelatin, mixing well. Let the gelatin and chocolate cool slightly and then stir in ½ cup (100g) of WHIPPED cream to temper. Add the Pate a Bombe.
6. Add in the rest of the whipped cream (220g) mixing gently with a spatula.

Chocolate Caramel Ganache
9 ounces high-quality milk chocolate (such as Lindt or Perugina)
3 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened), finely chopped
6 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (21/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

1.       Combine milk chocolate and bittersweet chocolate in medium bowl.
2.       Stir sugar, 2 tablespoons water, and cinnamon stick in heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves.
3.       Increase heat and boil without stirring until syrup turns deep amber, occasionally brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush and swirling pan, about 6 minutes (time will vary depending on size of pan).
4.       Add cream and salt (mixture will bubble vigorously).
5.       Bring caramel to boil, whisking until smooth and caramel bits dissolve, about 1 minute. Discard cinnamon stick.
6.       Pour hot caramel over chocolate; stir until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.
7.       Let stand until completely cool, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour.
8.       Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in chocolate mixture in 4 additions. Cover and refrigerate ganache overnight.
9.       Bring the ganache back up to room temperature before you use it during the assembly. I did this by microwaving it in 5 second increments and stirring.

Praline Feuillete
Preparation time: 10 mn

Ingredients for the Praline Feuillete:
3.5 oz (100g) milk chocolate
1 2/3 Tbsp (25g) butter
2 Tbsp (1 oz / 30g) praline
2.1oz (60g) rice krispies, corn flakes or Special K

1. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler.
2. Add the praline and the coarsely crushed lace crepes. Mix quickly to thoroughly coat with the chocolate.
3. Spread between two sheets of wax paper to a size slightly larger than your desired shape. Refrigerate until hard.
4. Cut out in desired shape. Remember to allow room for the sponge cake walls, so cut smaller than the actual mold you are using.

Vanilla Crème Brulée
Preparation time: 15mn + 1h infusing + 1h baking

1/2 cup (115g) heavy cream (35% fat content)
½ cup (115g) whole milk
4 medium-sized (72g) egg yolks
0.75 oz (2 Tbsp / 25g) granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean

1. Heat the milk, cream, and scraped vanilla bean to just boiling. Remove from the stove and let the vanilla infuse for about 1 hour.
2. Whisk together the sugar and egg yolks (but do not beat until white).
3. Pour the vanilla-infused milk over the sugar/yolk mixture. Mix well.
4. Wipe with a very wet cloth and then cover your baking mold (whatever shape is going to fit on the inside of your Yule log/cake) with parchment paper. Pour the cream into the mold and bake at 210°F (100°C) for about 1 hour or until firm on the edges and slightly wobbly in the center.
5. Let cool and put in the freezer for at least 1 hour to firm up and facilitate the final assembly.

Candied Pecans
2 tbsp Sugar
2 Tbsp Water
¼ cup pecan halves (pick out pretty ones)

1.       Combine all of the ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat.
2.       Simmer 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. You want them to be golden and coated.
3.       Remove the pecans with a slotted spoon and allow to cool on parchment paper.

Honey Mustard Pretzel-Coated Chicken Tenders

A few weeks ago I did something which, in my book, is quite drastic.

I joined Weight Watchers.  

Me, who loves dessert and organic butter and, well, feeling full....

It's not really a New Years Resolution, it's a "I can't get my big old post-baby butt in any of my clothes" resolution.

But, my friends, you needn't worry too much, I've been happily surprised by how it's going so far. I've lost about 5 pounds over the past two weeks, I've gotten to eat a lot more food than I imagined (ie I'm not starving!!), and most of what I'm eating is good. There was one snafu of the baked Mac of cheese and broccoli that only contained one measly cup if cheese for eight freaking servings (shudder) but we won't get into that.

This recipe, on the other hand was Delish! It comes from the book "Hungry Girl 1-2-3" by Lisa Lillien.  Both the hubby and I decided we will be making this again, even after Weight Watchers! 

Honey Mustard Pretzel Coated Chicken Fingers (one serving) 
3 tbsp honey mustard 
2 tbsp fat free liquid egg substitute
5 ounces chicken breast, cut into 4 strips
2 dashes salt
2 dashes pepper
1 ounce hard salted pretzels (about 10), crushed finely
2 tsp sugar. 
Preheat oven to 375. 
Mix honey mustard and egg substitute in a large ziplock. 
Season chicken strips with salt and pepper and then place in bag, toss to coat. Marinate 5 minutes. 
In a bowl mix the crushed pretzels and sugar. 
Thoroughly coat chicken in crumbs, then place on baking sheet. 
Spray tops of chicken with cooking spray. 
Bake 20 min, turning halfway through. 
Calories: 349
Fat: 2.5 g
Sodium: 928 mg
Carbs: 39 g
Fiber: 1 g
Sugars: 13.5 g
Protein: 37 g
Points Plus: 8 points

Beef and Broccoli

I was at the grocery store the other day and happened to see some delicious looking beef and broccoli stir fry in their "chinese" restaurant. Luckily for me, I know better than to try anything for here, because it sucks. Big time.

Luckily for me, I have a freaking awesome smart phone (which I am realizing more and more everyday that I cannot possibly live without. Especially since my computer died, our desk top decided to no longer accept my usb card reader and I am now trying to follow, comment, and maintain blogs with my iPhone) Anyway, I looked up Jayden from the Steamy Kitchen Broccoli and Beef recipe. Right there in the grocery store. Aisle 5, I believe.

This was a great meal, super easy, not many ingredients, delicious. I will definitely be making this again. And again.

Beef Broccoli
3/4 pound flank or sirloin steak, sliced thinly
3/4 pound broccol florets
2 tablespoons high head cooking oil
2 cloves garlic, very finely minced
1 tsp cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

For the marinade:
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp chinese rice wine or dry sherry
1/2 tsp cornstarch
1/8 tsp ground black pepper

For the sauce:
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tsp chinese rice wine or dry sherry
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 cup chicken broth

In a plastic ziplock bag, mix together the ingredients for the marinade, add the beef and let stand for 10 minutes.
In a small bowl, stir together the sauce ingredients. Set aside.
Cook the broccoli in a small pot of boiling, salted water until tender crisp, about 2 min.
Shock with cold water for a few seconds, then remove and drain on paper towels.
Heat a large frying pan or wok over medium high heat until a bead of water sizzles and then evaporates.
Add the cooking oil and swirl to coat.
Add the beef and immediately spread it out into a single layer, preferably not touching.
Let the beef fry undisturbed for 1 minute.
Flip the beef slices over, add the garlic to the pan and fry for an additional 1 minute, or until no longer pink.
Pour in the sauce, add the broccoli, and bring to a boil.
Pour in the dissolved cornstarch and cook, stirring, until the sauce boils and thickens, about 30 seconds.

The Daring Cooks Make Cassoulet!!

Our January 2011 Challenge comes from Jenni of The Gingered Whisk and Lisa from Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. They have challenged the Daring Cooks to learn how to make a confit and use it within the traditional French dish of Cassoulet. They have chosen a traditional recipe from Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman.

Hey, that's me!!! :) I was so super excited to be chosen to be one of the hosts for the Daring Cooks! I had a ton of fun working with Lisa, choosing recipes and then testing testing testing! I hope you all really enjoyed this challenge, and for those of you who are not in the Daring Cooks, I challenge you to make this at home! Its not so daunting if you break it down into three days worth, and it is SO DAMN GOOD! I made the full 8 quarts of it, fed 7 people, and had no leftovers. I would have had leftovers, but my uncle decided to take the pot and UPEND it on his plate, eating several more servings and totally disintegrating any hopes for leftovers in one fell swoop. Anyway, I think you will love this dish! Its so hearty and filling, and rich and delicious! A classic example of french "peasant" food that I think is fit for a king! 

I'm not joking, this stuff is pure heaven. I've been wanting more ever since my last bite a few weeks ago. Not just wanting it, but dreaming about it. I keep trying to find excuses to make it. This must be my own personal crack. I double dog dare you to make it and fall in love with it yourself. Then you should email me a picture of it and we can drool over it together. Which will then prompt me to want to make my own once more.

I made a few changes from the Bourdain/Rhulman recipe, which some would call sacreligious since this has been toted as "the best cassoulet recipe outside of France". But hey, I was making it, and that is what cooking is all about, to breath a little bit of you into everything you make. Firstly, I used chicken and not duck. Apparently Kansas City is quite bare of duck. Secondly, I used a combination of bacon grease and clarified butter during my confiting. I searched high and low for duck fat, in all kinds of crazy places around the city, only to learn two weeks later that you could buy a jar at Williams-Sonoma. Thirdly, I threw out the pork rind and belly from the recipe (because, ew, pork belly?) and instead used a deliciously marbeled boston butt pork roast and some extra thick cut, hormone free, free-range, smoked, drool-worthy bacon. I couldn't find any traditional "french" sausages here, so I opted for some locally made apple chicken sausages. And lastly, I'm a big "bite sized" person. I prefer chicken stips to chicken breasts. Also, I didn't like the idea of fighting over the chicken legs, the sausages, and that giant roast at the bottom. So I sliced, pulled, and made everything into perfect sized pieces. I think this gave it more of a "stew" appearance, and I liked it.

The members of the Daring Cooks really pulled out all the stops this month, and everyone did a fantastic job! Every single cassoulet look absolutely mouthwatering, and everyone had a slightly different take on how to prepare their's - from different meats, to different herbs used, they are all fantastic, and I you you should check out the Daring Cooks Blog Roll to see (and hopefully try) them all!

Cassoulet by Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman (as featured on the Travel Channel’s “No Reservations”)
Serves 4 - 8 (depending on how big your servings are! :))
Notes:If you can’t find duck, you may substitute with any other waterfowl/poultry. Same goes for any of the pork, you can substitute with lamb, beef, and venison, or whatever you wish.
If you can’t find duck fat, you may substitute any other fat that you want, i.e. bacon grease, lard, butter, olive oil, etc.
Pork belly may be substituted with a Boston butt pork roast, pork shoulder, pancetta or whatever you think will work and/or simply prefer due to dietary, religious, or any other personal reasons.
Pork rind may be substituted with slab bacon or you can purchase salt pork and cut off the rind.
Lisa’s Notes: I didn't find the pork rind lining absolutely necessary (Sorry, Anthony). In fact, it was basically flavorless, and unless you can find a whole piece that fits your pot perfectly, or even two complete pieces to fit, you'll end up with smaller pieces you may have cut to fit, like I did, floating throughout your cassoulet upon serving..
Both Jenni and I used chicken in lieu of duck, Jenni used clarified butter for her fat in the confit, and I used duck fat.
2 cups of fat doesn't fully cover the poultry legs. Use 4 cups, if you like, like most 4 leg confit recipes call for - just double the herbs.
Jenni’s Notes: Also, if you don’t have an earthenware pot large enough, you can piece this out into several smaller containers. I used 3 containers – an enamel covered cast iron, a glass Pyrex, and a ceramic casserole dish. All three were fine, but I think the ceramic and cast iron did the best jobs.
I used canned beans instead of soaking dried beans overnight, and I ended up using twice as much as the recipe called for. This is because the recipe calls for a certain weight of dried beans, and upon soaking they double in size. Canned beans have already been soaked, so please keep this in mind, or you’ll end up sending someone to the grocery store halfway through assembly!
This recipe freezes well, so if you need to make several small batches, go for it!

Ingredients for Duck Confit
4 whole duck legs (leg and thigh), size does not matter
sea salt, for the overnight (at least 6-8 hours) dry rub (the amount varies depending on the size of your legs, so just know that you need to have enough on hand for a good coating.)
2 cups/480 ml/450 gm/16 oz duck fat
a healthy pinch or grind of black pepper
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
1 garlic clove
Day One
1.Rub the duck legs fairly generously with sea salt, place in the shallow dish, cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight. At all times, keep your work area clean and your ingredients free of contamination - meaning don't allow any other food, like bread crumbs or scraps, to get into your duck, duck fat or confit, as they will make an otherwise nearly non-perishable preparation suddenly perishable.
Day Two
1.Preheat the oven to moderately hot 375ºF/190ºC/gas mark 5.
2.Render (melt) the duck fat in the saucepan until clear.
3.After seasoning with the black pepper, place the duck legs in the clean, ovenproof casserole.
4.Nestle the thyme, rosemary and garlic in with the duck legs, and pour the melted duck fat over the legs to just cover. 
5. Cover the dish with foil and put in the oven. Cook for about an hour, or until the skin at the "ankle" of each leg pulls away from the "knuckle." The meat should be tender.
6. Allow to cool and then store as is in the refrigerator, sealed under the fat. When you need the confit, you can either warm the whole dish, in which case removing the legs will be easy, or dig them out of the cold fat and scrape off the excess. I highly recommend the former. A nice touch at this point is to twist out the thighbone from the cold confit. Just place one hand on the drumstick, pinioning the leg to the table, and with the other hand, twist out the thighbone, plucking it from the flesh without mangling the thigh meat. Think of someone you hate when you do it.

Ingredients for Cassoulet
5 cups/1200 ml/1100 g/39 oz dried Tarbais beans or white beans such as Great Northern or Cannelini (if you use canned beans be aware that you will need double this amount!)
2 pounds/900 gm fresh pork belly
1 onion, cut into 4 pieces
1 pound/450 gm pork rind
1 bouquet garni (tie together two sprigs parsley, 2 sprigs thyme and one bay leaf)
salt and pepper
1/4 cup/60 ml/55 gm duck fat
6 pork sausages
3 onions, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
4 confit duck legs
Day One

1.Place the beans in the large bowl and cover with cold water so that there are at least 2 or 3 inches (50mm or 75mm) of water above the top of the beans. Soak overnight. That was hard, right?  (Beans will double in size upon soaking, so use a big bowl!) Hint: This step can be done the same day as day two of the confit. Or you can use canned beans and skip this step entirely. 
Day Two
1. Drain and rinse the beans and place in the large pot.
2. Add the pork belly, the quartered onion, 1/4 pound/115 gm of the pork rind, and the bouquet garni.
3. Cover with water, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and continue to simmer until the beans are tender, about 30 minutes more.

4. Let cool for 20 minutes, then discard the onion and the bouquet garni.
5. Remove the pork belly, cut it into 2-inch/5-cm squares, and set aside. (If you plan to wait another day before finishing the dish, wait to cut the pork belly until then.)
6. Strain the beans and the rind and set aside, reserving the cooking liquid separately.
7. In the sauté pan, heat all but 1 tablespoon/15 ml/15 gm of the duck fat over medium-high heat until it shimmers and becomes transparent.
8. Carefully add the sausages and brown on all sides.
9. Remove sausages and set aside, draining on paper towels.
10. In the same pan, over medium-high heat, brown the sliced onions, the garlic and the reserved squares of pork rind from the beans (not the unused pork rind; you'll need that later).
11. Once browned, remove from the heat and transfer to the blender. Add 1 tablespoon//15 ml/15 gm of the remaining duck fat and purée until smooth. Set aside. (this stuff, by the way, is pure heaven. I could eat this on toast. Oh, skip the toast, just use a spoon. Maybe even bath in it....)
12. Preheat the oven to moderate 350ºF/180ºC/gas mark 4.
13.Place the uncooked pork rind in the bottom of a deep ovenproof non-reactive dish. You're looking to line the inside, almost like a pie crust. Arrange all your ingredients in alternating layers, beginning with a layer of beans, then sausages, then more beans, then pork belly, beans, duck confit and finally more beans, adding a dab of the onion and pork rind purée between each layer.

14. Add enough of the bean cooking liquid to just cover the beans, reserving 1 cup/240 ml in the refrigerator for later use.
15. Cook the cassoulet in the oven for 1 hour, then reduce the heat to very slow 250ºF/130ºC/gas mark ½ and cook for another hour.
16. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Refrigerate overnight.
Day Three
1. Preheat the oven to moderate 350ºF/180ºC/gas mark 4 again.
2. Cook the cassoulet for an hour.
3. Break the crust on the top with the spoon and add 1/4 cup/60 ml of the reserved cooking liquid. (Don't get fancy. Just pile, dab, stack and pile. It doesn't have to be pretty.)
4. Reduce the heat to very slow 250ºF/130ºC/gas mark ½ and continue cooking another 15 minutes, or until screamingly hot through and through. Then serve.

Baby Food: 4-6 Months

Several months ago, I did one of my Daring Cook’s Challenges on Freezing, and I made homemade baby food. Several people expressed a lot of interest in this, so I thought I would share a little more. This first installment will be about beginning baby food, or Stage One. These foods are appropriate for starting your little sunshine off on food, from 4-6 months. Please consult your pediatrician before incorporating “solids” into your babies diet, and please please please make sure you follow the 4-day wait rule (give your baby ONE new food for 4 straight days to insure that there are no allergic reactions).

You might be thinking "Why spend the time and money doing this? Jarred is sooo much more convenient!" Well, think on this: I went to the a store in town that sells all organic foods. I bought two organic sweet potatoes for $1.29 a pound and a bundle of carrots for $2.25. I baked the sweet potatoes for 45 minutes and boiled the carrots for 20. I then pureed them (5 minutes each), strained them (5 minutes each), and put them in ice cube trays to freeze. I got two trays of baby food of each, totalling to 24 carrot cubes and 24 sweet potato cubes. That's a one ounce serving of carrots for roughly $0.09 and $0.06 for sweet potatoes.  Babies R Us is currently selling Gerber Stage One baby foods for $1.29 for 5 ounces. That is $0.25 an ounce. And when you talk about going through several ounces a day, that can really add up!! Not only that, but the baby food currently sitting in my freezer is completely free of all chemicals, I know under exactly what conditions the food was made (no recalls for bug parts in my food!), and it tastes so much better! Not convinced? Do a taste test yourself. 
Have you ever been to one of those baby showers where you have to guess what kind of baby food is in the jar? I am horrible at that game, which is why all my baggies are CLEARLY labeled! :) No surprises here! We have (clockwise from top) Green Beans, Sweet Potato, Acorn Squash, and Carrots!


Green Beans: You can use either fresh green beans, or frozen. If using fresh, snap off the ends and wash. Place into a steamer basket with just enough water to slightly show through the basket. Steam until tender. Puree smooth (sometimes using a blender works better, and you will never get as smooth a consistency as jarred baby food, but do the best you can). Strain to get rid of any lumps or skins that did not puree.

Squash: The squash varieties that are best for 4-6 months old are winter squash, namely butternut, acorn, and hubbard. You can either bake them as you would pumpkin, or steam them until soft. Puree and strain!

Sweet Potatoes: Wash and poke holes in your potatoes. Cover them with foil and bake until soft (400 degrees, 30 minutes or so). Puree and strain.


Apples: The varieties of apples that work best for baby food include Gala, Braeburn, Rome or Macintosh’s. You want something that can withstand the cooking, but not be too tart, either.  Peel, core and chunk apples. Place apples into a pan with just enough water to slightly cover the apples. Boil or steam until tender. Mash with a potato masher or place into a food processor. Strain through a sieve to make sure you get rid of any chunks.

Avocados: Select a dark green avocado with bumpy skin that is firm but yields a little when pushed. These do not need to be cooked! Peel, remove pit, and smash. These do NOT freeze well.

Bananas: Take a nice ripe banana, peel, mash with fork, and serve. Couldn’t be easier! Why would you honestly waste your time with a jar? These do NOT freeze well.

Peaches: You can steam or bake peaches. To steam, peel, pit, and chunk. Steam until soft, puree and strain.  

Pears: Pears are a great choice if you need to “loosen” things up a bit, if you know what I mean, hehe. Peel and cut pears into chunks. Steam gently until tender. Place in a blender/food processor until smooth and then strain out any remaining chunks. You may also bake them until soft.

Plums: Peel and pit the plums. Cut into chunks. Steam until tender. Puree smooth and strain. Sometimes plums can be a little tart, so check the taste. If it’s a little tart, just mix it with something sweeter, like apples.

Pumpkin: Pumpkin isn’t usually on the “first food” list your pediatrician gives you, but is actually a great first food! Cut sugar or pie pumpkin in half, scoop out seeds. Place an inch of water in a baking pan. Place the pumpkin halves face down in the pan. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 40 minutes, or until the shell/skin puckers and the halves feel soft. Scoop the “meat” out. Puree until smooth. You could steam these on the stovetop by cutting them into chunks, and steaming them until tender (like boiling potatoes).

Once you have mastered these bad boys individually, you can mix things up a bit! Literally! Here are some good combinations:

Cream of Something: Mix puree with baby cereal. I like to do veggies with brown rice cereal or barley cereal, fruit with oatmeal, but you can do whatever makes your little one happy!
Squashy Sweet Potato: Acorn or butternut squash and sweet potatoes
Squashy Apple Sweet Potato: Apples, butternut or acorn squash and sweet potatoes
Banana-Cado: Avocado and banana
Apple-Pear Sauce: Blend apples and pears
Pumpkin Bananas: blend pumpkin puree with mashed bananas
Pumpkin Banana Applesauce: Pumpkin puree mixed with applesauce and mashed bananas 
Green Beans and Fruit: Mix green beans with apples and/or pears
Banana Applesauce Mush: Combine applesauce with a mashed banana 

All baby foods can be thinned out using breastmilk, formula, or water just before serving. If you are going to make large batches of baby food to freeze, wait to thin them out until you are ready to serve it because freezing can change the consistency of the baby food.

A note on freezing baby food: The best method for freezing baby food is to use an ice cube tray. They are perfect 1 ounce portions, and they are easy to use and re-use. Any old ice cube tray will do, but I like these: Fresh Baby So Easy Baby Food Trays ,mainly, I think, because they have lids. I’m a sucker for them. I have just two, and once something has been frozen for a few days and are nice and rock solid, I pop them out and place them in a labeled freezer ziplock bag. You can use a regular ice cube tray, too, though, so don’t feel like you need to go buy anything fancy. Just use the ice cube trays you already have and wrap them in saran wrap to keep other things out. Use frozen baby food within three months.

All information was found at, which I highly recommend to ANYONE who is even thinking about making baby food. There is a wealth of up to date information, recipes per age group and food, and all kinds of other goodies. The lady who runs this site is awesome... I could get lost of hours and hours there. 
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