We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Quiche—Now and Then—and a Winter Solstice Brunch

by Michelle

"What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family." ~ Mother Teresa

Maddie and I party—literally—like it's 1999.
I hosted a Winter Solstice luncheon for friends and colleagues.
   The topic of the morning while my husband and I made our respective coffees—he in a French Press, me with the stove top Bialetti—was to mull over the feminine versus masculine reaction to quiche. Jay reminisced about reading Bruce Feirstein's now famous article for Playboy magazine published in 1982 entitled, "Real Men Don't Eat Quiche." Hubby recalled the article was so hilarious that he had to stop reading in places so that his laughing could subside before continuing on to the end of the piece. The article was so popular that it spawned a book released one year later with a title of the same name and the byline—The Guidebook to all that is Truly Masculine. That's all it took—one satirical article cautioning modern day Homo erectus about the dangers of becoming sissified in our modern age—and just like that... faster than you can say pie crust—a whole generation of males lived in fear of being seen eating (much less choosing to order it off a menu) the delicious custardy and cheesy egg dish that is full of protein and perhaps a few vegetables and herbs.

On a recent Sunday, I prepared individual quiches for brunch.
  Fortunately, I'm a woman, so I don't have to be concerned whether I am, or am not, a real man when I eat quiche. I also, thankfully, don't have to contemplate if I am a real man if I put ice cubes in my whiskey or if I wear pajamas to bed. I can talk about my feelings and enjoy a sappy romantic comedy without the least twinge of guilt. I agree, however, with the notion that it is probably harder to be a "real" man (whatever that actually means) today than in yesteryears. My assertion on the matter of manly men is this: real men shouldn't worry about being real men. Eat the friggin' quiche and be happy that someone—probably a woman—made you a home-cooked meal. Remember to say thank you and compliment the cook. It's that simple.

   On a more practical note, quiche is great for brunch because the pie dough can be prepared the day before. The next morning, all that is left to do is add the filling to the prepared crust and pop it in the oven. Side dishes are made while the quiche is turning puffy and golden while baking. Quiche feels like a celebration dish, even if at its heart, it's a humble pie.

My Winter Solstice Luncheon Menu from 1999 that was posted on the refrigerator.
For the official record, the name of each guest was handwritten on the reverse side.
   If I am to ever own a bistro, I know that I would have individual quiches on the daily menu. Quiche is open to endless variations and tastes best with fillings that are fresh and in season. I also like that quiche can lean more towards breakfast with a side of cottage potatoes or more towards lunch when served with a side salad, such a the tasty Rockin' French Salad with French Vinaigrette. If I'm feeling energetic, I'll serve both potatoes and a salad, 'cause that's the way I like it.
  The following recipe gives you a formula to follow to create your own quiche masterpieces. If you are interested in making individual quiches, I had to search wide and far before finding the small springform pans at Sur La Table. If I had to do it over again, I would buy cheesecake pans with removable bottoms. They look easier to handle (when removing the quiches) and clean.


   For the real men in your lives, my husband suggested that quiche would benefit by a rebranding campaign. "Wimpy" Quiche Lorraine could transform into Lumberjack Pie. Any "real" man would want that heartiness personified when eggs are enriched with bacon, cream and Gruyère. Wait, you better say cheese instead. Gruyère sounds like it could be a girly cheese, ya know?

For one 9-inch deep dish or 10-inch Pie
1 recipe All Butter Pie Crust or Gluten-Free All Butter Pie Crust, or commercially prepared pie crust
1 egg lightly beaten

3 eggs
1-3/4 cups half and half, or cream (do not use low-fat milk)
1/2 tsp sea salt
a few grinds freshly ground black pepper
a pinch of ground nutmeg

Absolutely Delicious All Butter Gluten-Free Gum-Free Pie Crust is easy to work with.
Protein:  Diced cooked ham, diced cooked bacon, crumbled cooked sausage, slivered Genoa salami
Cheeses: shredded white cheddar, crumbled chèvre (goat cheese), Gorgonzola, Gruyère, Monterey Jack
Vegetables: roasted and chopped Hatch chiles, most vegetables should be sautéed or roasted (and cooled) before adding to the quiche, this includes aromatics such as shallots, garlic, leeks and onions
Fresh Herbs: basil pesto (add to the custard mix, if using), minced dill, minced parsley, crumbled thyme, lemon zest

If you happen to be using a lot of cooked vegetables, that might expend even more water while being baked, such as zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes, red bell peppers, mushrooms, you can add 1 tablespoon cornstarch to the custard mix to ensure thickening while baking.

buttered French or sourdough bread crumbs (or Gluten-Free, such a Glutino brand)
shredded Parmesan

1. Prepare All Butter Pie Crust or Gluten-Free Gum-Free All-Butter Pie Crust one or two days ahead up to the point the dough is rolled out, placed in the pie pan, edges crimped, and crust docked. Cover and refrigerate until ready to blind bake the crust (at least one day ahead).

2. Preheat oven to 375°F. Remove the cold crust from the refrigerator and immediately line with foil, the shiny side down and fill with your preferred choice of pie weights (I use dried beans that I keep and reuse as needed). Bake for 15 minutes, then remove foil and pie weights and bake for another 5 minutes. Brush the crust with the beaten egg white, and bake another 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the crust from the oven and set it aside to cool. You can placed the pie on a cookie sheet, if you like, for easier transfer between counter and oven.

3. Lightly whisk the eggs and then add the cream, then stir in the sea salt, black pepper and nutmeg.
4. Cover the pie crust with protein and shredded or crumbled cheeses. Sprinkle on vegetables and fresh herbs, if using. Pour the custard into the prepared crust. The custard should be level with the bottom of the crimped edge. Sprinkle the top with 2 tablespoons of Parmesan and 1 to 2 tablespoons of buttered breadcrumbs, if desired.

5. Bake until puffed and golden and the filling is set, about 25 to 35 minutes, depending upon your oven. Once removed from the oven, I let the Quiche cool on a rack for about 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Chocolate Macadamia Nut Praline Tart and Memories of My Life as a Pastry Chef—Gluten-Free Tart Version Included

by Linda

"If baking is any labor at all, it's a labor of love. A love that gets passed down from generation to generation." ~ Regina Brett

Maddie's 18th birthday dessert request—Chocolate Macadamia Nut Praline Tart
   In 1990 I was busy working as the pastry chef for The Los Olivos Grand Hotel, a small and elegant establishment on Grand Avenue in Los Olivos, California. I look back now with mostly fond memories of the job. In spite of the long hours, low pay and working on every weekend and holiday—the job offered much in the way of creativity—which I enjoyed immensely. From the time I was just a girl, I have always loved to bake.

   Luckily, the executive chef of the hotel restaurant allowed me complete freedom to bake and make whatever I desired as long as the customers loved my creations (which happily they did), and consequently she did not interfere with my menu selections. The hotel had a beautiful kitchen which I was told that Julia Child had a hand in designing, and I had my own private work station that included a large Hobart mixer, and small Kitchen Aid mixer, a Robot Coupe food processor, a large wooden table for working bread dough, my own sink with a large stainless work surface attached, double convection ovens, a cold marble surface on top of a low cold case for working pastry dough, chocolate and plating desserts, a microwave and a large free standing refrigerated case with shelves that held all of my components and completed desserts that required refrigeration. I worked on the opposite side of the cooks who worked the line (there was a freestanding wall dividing us), so while I had my own separate area, I still interacted with the rest of the kitchen's chefs and waitstaff. It was there that I best learned the intricate and chaotic dance that is performed each shift, during which the kitchen staff and the waitstaff are conjoined in a frantic back of the house effort in order to smoothly pull off the high-end dining experience going on in the front of the house. I enjoyed the camaraderie borne of stress and having a common goal that was shared among the cooks and the servers, and I am still friends to this very day with a few people that I worked with at that time—you know who you are—much love from me.

   As said "pastry chef" for the hotel's restaurant (I have no formal training, but have been baking most of my life), I was responsible for producing almost entirely by myself, every loaf of bread used for making sandwiches and filling the bread baskets for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In addition many varieties of bread, I also baked all of the  hamburger buns, dinner rolls, muffins and cookies that were eaten on a daily basis. I also made all the offerings on the dessert tray which changed daily and seasonally, and all of the special occasion cakes for birthdays and weddings. Everything was created from scratch using the best ingredients. It wasn't long before restaurant patrons were asking to buy loaves of bread to take home with them at ten dollars a pop (a staggering figure to me back then). My Orange Wheat and Nut Bread was one of the varieties that I would sell if we had extra. It amazed me that customers were even happy to take home loaves that had been frozen if there wasn't fresh bread available, and so I did my best to have a stash available in the freezer.

   I had never done production baking before working at the hotel, and I learned a great deal in my three years there about the practicalities involved and time management skills needed in order to serve a busy restaurant that served breakfast, lunch and dinner, provided a buffet on Sundays and also hosted special events like banquets and weddings. The Santa Ynez Valley is home to a number of celebrities who dined at the restaurant and who became ardent fans of my baked goods, so I most definitely did some cooking for the stars. I was told that Steven Seagal would regularly come by in those days to order one of my Brownie à la Mode with Fudge Sauce dessert plates and teasingly gave instructions to the waitstaff to not let Kelly LeBrock, to whom he was married at the time, know about his sweets bingeing since he was supposed to be on a diet for an upcoming film. James Garner would call ahead to make sure that his favorite chocolate chip cookies would be waiting when he arrived fresh from the oven (I wish I would have gotten to take the order personally—he was one of my favorite actors because he reminded us so much of our Papa), and Fess Parker and his wife Marcy asked to meet me on one occasion because they loved my desserts—they ate at the hotel often and later bought the property. It was at this little hotel where guests attending Elizabeth Taylor's wedding to Larry Fortensky stayed in 1991, because it was near Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch where the ceremony took place.

    Over the course of my years baking at the hotel, certain items became standards, and our regular customers were disappointed if they were not on the menu. Among these desserts were my Favorite Cheesecake, the Best All American Apple Pie, Old Fashioned Berry Crisp and the much clamored for Chocolate Pecan Praline Tart. At the hotel I used pecans instead of Macadamia nuts because Macadamias were so expensive, and they can be substituted here if you wish (just about any nut of your choice will work perfectly well).

Maddie invites her cousin, Jordan, to help her blow out her
candles—his birthday was the day before hers.
   I left the hotel to accept a position as chef/manager of a bakery café in Solvang that was just down the street from where I lived, and I worked there until I left cooking professionally behind—but it is with nostalgia that I look back on those years when I was called "The Mistress of Spice and Everything Nice" in the Los Angeles Times after a food critic came to stay for a weekend.

   In just a week I will be flying to Arizona where our family is gathering to celebrate Thanksgiving, my son, Jordan's, thirtysomething birthday and my niece Maddie's (frequently the ever patient and good-natured model in our blog posts) eighteenth birthday, Winter Solstice, Christmas and New Years all in the span of ten days. Maddie isn't really a cake person, just like our dad, and so Michelle and I will be making the Chocolate Macadamia Nut Praline Tart for her party. It will be a trip down memory lane for me—I haven't made the tart for at least twenty years. I am looking forward to introducing it to this generation of our kids while we celebrate birthdays, and the passing of this year and the beginning of a new one. Should they want to make a special dessert in the near future or twenty years from now, for the generations of our family yet unborn, they will be able to find the recipe here, in our family's virtual recipe box.

Chocolate Macadamia Nut Praline Tart

How To Make Chocolate Leaves for Dessert Garnishing

by Linda

Chocolate leaves are simple to make but create a dramatic effect with little effort as 
shown here as decorations on our Chocolate Macadamia Nut Praline Tart.
   Making your own chocolate leaves is a wonderful way to garnish desserts at home. Generally speaking you will have the leaves that you need in your own garden. Generally speaking, any waxy and stiff leaf (that is not poisonous will work)—ivy, citrus and camellia are good choices.

Citrus leaves from Michelle and Jay's backyard in Tucson.
1 Pyrex bowl for heating chocolate
1 small pastry brush
1 sheet parchment paper

Waxy leaves—number will depend on how many leaves you will need for the item that you will be decorating. I used about fifteen for the Chocolate Macadamia Nut Praline Tart in the photo above.

8 ounces of semisweet chocolates—melted (the microwave is easiest)

Lay out your leaves  on a cookie covered with parchment paper.

Once the chocolate is melted, brush the BACK of leaves and allow to chill or dry. Make sure the coating of chocolate is thick enough to peel easily off.

Once chilled (you most likely will need to chill the chocolate-covered leaves in the refrigerator for about an hour), gently peel the free leaf free from the chocolate. Chill leaves until ready to use.

Try to handle the finished chocolate leaves as little as possible since the heat
of your hand will cause them to start melting.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Salvation Sisters' Best Desserts 2010—2014 and Why We Blog

The Memory Keepers by Linda
Photos by Michelle and Linda

"Ohana means family, and family means that no one gets left behind or forgotten." 
                                                ~ from the movie Lilo and Stitch

From left to right and top to bottom—click on the title to link to the recipe: 
Cowtown Chocolate Cake with Ganache Icing, Banana Cream Pie, Steamed Persimmon Pudding, The World's Best Coffee Cake, Maraschino Party Cake, Rose-Scented Raspberry Tea Cake, Ooiest Gooiest Chocolatiest Fudgiest Brownies, Linda's Favorite Cheesecake, Fruit-Filled Italian Rum Cake
      It's hard to believe that we sisters have been blogging for nearly five years now. Originally we had the goal of publishing one post per week, and we have certainly fallen short of that ambition—but that's what goals are for, right? No one's life or livelihood was at stake here, we simply wanted to compile a collection of our best-loved family dishes and tell the story of our lives and family. We felt that others could relate, because let's face it, everyone is slogging through the same sh*t in their own everyday lives. Additionally, our intention was for our blog to be the family resource for the generations to come when they wanted to know about the food and the history of our family, and we hoped that others would relate to our stories and recipes and be inspired to cook and bake.

From left to right and top to bottom—click on the title to link to the recipe:
Chocolate-Prune Cake with Chocolate Ganache and Salted Caramel SauceOvernight Cinnamon RollsPlum Tart, Root Beer Marble Ice CreamAmaretto Mousse with Raspberry SaucePumpkin-Apple Spice Cake with Dulce de Leche GlazeApple Crostata"The Total Woman" Creamy Rice PuddingGF Angel Food Cake
   Eating is one of the most fundamental things we do as humans other than breathing. We are compelled to nourish ourselves and others whether we want to or not. One must feed oneself—it is a fact that I often wonder about. Personally, I believe in a supreme power or energy, and I wonder why we are designed physically in such a way that we must feed ourselves or die. It seems so very extreme to me.
   When Michelle suggested creating a blog in early 2010 (I really didn't know much about the blogoshere at that time), I was taken aback. It was just a few months after a devastating family tragedy, and I could not conceive of what would happen in the ensuing years. In fact at that time, I could hardly fathom getting out of bed in the morning and living through the following week, much less imagining myself five years down the road. And yet here we are—about to begin our sixth year of blogging.
Banana Cream Pie, Homemade Vanilla Bean Marshmallows, Linda's Chocolate Chip Cookies
Fun making Linda's The Best All American Apple Pie updated with
Michelle's Absolutely Delicious All-Butter Pie Crust which is gluten-free and gum-free.
   This blog started as an experiment at the urging of Michelle—and Juliette and I went along for the ride. I was numb, just trying to figure out one day to the next after the death of my son, Joshua, who died in Afghanistan in January of 2009. A few months later, Michelle and her daughter Maddie came to California to live with me on a mission of mercy. I look back now almost six years later, and know without a doubt that their combined presence pushed me back into the land of the living. Grief is like that—it can take you down for the count. Luckily, the love of my family pulled me through that very dark time with much sacrifice on their part—but that's what true love is all about.
From left to right and top to bottom—click on the title to link to the recipe: 
Homemade Vanilla Bean Marshmallows, Nana's Homemade Fudge, Kahlua Spiked Tofu Chocolate Mousse, Our Family's Sugar Cookies, Triple Chocolate Meringue Cookies, Delectable Lemon Cake, Vanilla and Chocolate Pudding, Pecan Tassies, Chocolate Silk French Pie
   So please enjoy this compendium of our desserts up to now. While I personally am trying my darndest to leave refined sugar behind, I also recognize that desserts are the traditional way we as a culture celebrate special occasions and mark holidays. I had no idea in 2010 that I would choose to go gluten-free and Paleo two years later, but I have discovered that I feel much better following those diets. My journey along the way is recorded for posterity. I also try and recognize that there is room for almost everything in moderation, and I refuse to be the family killjoy. For example, the recipe for our family's Maraschino Party Cake has been baked by our family for at least the past seventy years. In the spirit of these changing times, for our recipes beginning in 2012, there is a gluten-free version for everything. This year I plan to start experimenting with Paleo desserts, so you will be seeing more contributions from me using no refined sugar.
   Whatever your personal dietary choices are, we wish you time spent with your loved ones in the kitchen cooking, and then sharing your creations together to celebrate the mundane as well as special occasions, because we know this for a fact—the memories carry over from one generation to another. Sharing your love with good food lives on.

From left to right and top to bottom—click on the title to link to the recipe:
Fresh Peach Ice Cream with Amaretto Affogato, Wilkins Family Lemon Ice Cream and
Really Excellent Vanilla and Chocolate Ice Cream

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Gascogne-Style Cassoulet—Lessons from the Black Sheep Bistro

Guest Post by Mark—Photos by Linda

"Nothing is too much trouble if it turns out the way it should."
                                           ~ Julia Child, My Life in France

I prefer that each portion of my cassoulet is served with a crisped duck leg on top
as I was taught by my mentor, chef Rick Boufford at the Black Sheep Bistro.
   So as a young and eager student of wine and food in the late eighties, early nineties, I found myself with the opportunity to work for a new, up-and-coming restaurant set in Old Town Tustin, California. The owners, Rick and Diana Boufford (as young as they were), were seasoned vets in the Orange County restaurant scene. Their new restaurant  focused on the cuisines of the Mediterranean with emphasis on France, Spain and Italy. As Chef Rick would often say, "Our menu is like traveling from Barcelona through St. Tropez, and down to Livorno." And there I was, 1989, ready to learn from this passionate and talented restaurant couple.

   I had heard lots of positive buzz about the Black Sheep Bistro while I was still a young bartender at the iconic Bouzy Rouge in Newport Beach, California. So when the immanent and very sad decline of the "Bouzy" was a foregone conclusion, I began looking for new employment. But I didn't want to go just any place for a paycheck, because I wanted to learn about wine. Rick was a trained sommelier, and known for his incredible wine list at his restaurant. Little did I know, that this desire of mine to work at a restaurant with a great wine list would lead to such great accompanying food. This connection of food and wine was made clearer to me while working with Rick and Diana than any other time in my life.

Look and ask for products from Community Grains—Whole Foods Market often has a nice selection. They are doing agriculture the old fashioned way and their products are singular.
They have a wonderful website…check it out!
   Without debate, I would say that my ten years at the 'Black Sheep' were the best years of my food career. Perhaps it was my nascent eyes, or naiveté, but my learning and experience with fine dining, food and wine were everything to me and each day was a satisfying step to being more knowledgeable and confident in my life's passion. It was divine providence that Rick and Diana would cross my life's journey at the perfect time for my life long adventure with food. Not surprisingly, this relationship with Rick and Diana grew from my desire to learn, and their wise guidance was given freely to a young and enthusiastic employee. But there is much more than my life-long passion for food that I give my deepest appreciation to Rick and Diana for—it is the camaraderie, and soulful connectedness that food creates and provides that they taught me. We shared the simple and the divine, and at no time did I feel that our presence at the the table was unequal. It was with my two early mentors that I saw clearly that food and shared meals can express our deepest connections.

Michelle got her wish—she asked me to make Cassoulet for the Sistercation in the fall of 2012.
   One evening after a very busy mid-week shift, Rick, Diana, and myself sat down to what was the most simple yet inspired way to end a busy shift. We shared a wheel of L'Ami du Chambertin and a bottle of 1989 Armand Rousseau Mazi-Chambertin. The rich and earthy pungency of this raw-milk, washed rind cheese was perfectly countered by the bright, velvety fruit of the wine. As we sat and talked, laughing and griping about the evening, I recall a deeper awareness that something much more was being shared than a great cheese and delicious wine. Rick and Diana did this not just for me, but for anyone willing to open their eyes, their minds, and their hearts to the eternal pleasures of communing with food and drink. Our staff parties were bacchanalian celebrations of friendship and love. Love that was adorned by food, and food that was nourishing to our hearts.

   Rick was always sending food out to the staff to try.  And when Rick was distracted, Diana always made sure to ask Rick to give us tastes so that we knew how to describe and explain our eclectic menu. I always enjoyed the collaborations I had with Diana over how to sell that night's specials. She has a quiet strength and confidence about her which I so envied. "When Diana speaks, people listen," was a common saying in the restaurant. We didn't always need to collaborate though. Some of Rick's dishes just spoke for themselves. The depth and soulfulness of some foods are unquestionable. This happened to me over my first taste of duck confit. Rick called me into the kitchen, while he was making a 'restaurant size' batch of confit, and invited me to taste the leg and thigh portion he had on a plate sitting on his cutting board. Wow! It was rich and fatty, but the skin was crisp. The marriage of meatiness and natural sweetness of the spoon tender meat was sublime (I don't use the word 'sublime' often—but this was SUBLIME!).

Rick took this teachable moment to explain how he learned to make confit and cassoulet. He had a very good friend, Jean, who grew up with Ariane Daguin, founder and owner of D'Artagnan Inc., a gourmet provider of traditional Gascogne foods. Ariane is the daughter of André Daguin, the legendary chef credited for putting Gascony on the culinary map. And it was Ariane, who cooked with Rick to show him how she learned to make cassoulet from her father. At the time I remember being caught up in feeling that I was being exposed to something very special. I loved that Rick cooked not by training alone, but by the passed on traditions of his teachers—and I wanted to learn from him.

Here I am turning the crust into the cassoulet for the third time, or was that the fourth?
Oh well,  Rick says that some cassoulet purists insist on seven turns!
   Cassoulet is the emblematic dish of Gascony, the storied region of the scoundrel Musketeer, D'Artagnan. It is this same arrogance and passion that were characteristic of D'Artagnan, that defines the realm of cassoulet. Cassoulet is a dish of controversy and debate. Aside from regional differences and family traditions, cassoulet is a peasant dish made noble, thus having innumerable variations. The style which I love is most closely aligned with a true "Gascogne" style highlighting the glories of confit of duck—meaning no lamb or smoked meats. At the essence of this dish is the marriage between duck and white beans. It is both simple and complex. Adherent to a place and style, yet also very individualistic. And as I kept prodding and learning about this most classic of culinary dishes, I always felt encouraged to try, and try again. Cassoulet, as Rick and Diana modeled for me is not about right or wrong as much as it is about a passion to connect with a place, its history, and the delectable pursuit thereof. I will always be grateful for my time at the Black Sheep, because just like cassoulet we are on a quest to try new things, respect the past, and create something that is solely our own to be shared with those we love.

Sisters' note: Mark lives in Petaluma, California with our sister, Linda. He is not only an amazing cook, but he is a very knowledgeable wine professional. He earned his WSET certification last year. He is a very patient supporter of our blog as he often asked to model for Linda's photos—much to his chagrin. When he has Linda along in the car he is also asked to stop the car every five minutes so she can shoot a photo. He is chief chef when Michelle and Juliette come to town, and he is Linda's partner in recipe testing on a daily basis in their various culinary pursuits. We sisters would like to thank him for his enthusiasm toward and forbearance of our family effort. Check out his first guest post for Salvation Sisters by clicking here.
Gascogne-Style Cassoulet—Inspired by the Black Sheep Bistro 

   With too many stories to tell in one post, I am here to share one of my proudest lessons and skills that I take away from my time at the Black Sheep Bistro—Cassoulet. Those who know it, swoon for it.  Those who don't, but love authentic, traditional cuisine are irresistibly compelled to know more. And sadly there are those who hear what it is, and say, "oh, that sounds so rich and fatty." Well, yes it is! And I am one who swoons for this dish. Here is a video inspire you. It is made by the expert chefs from France, one of whom is the aforementioned Ariane Daguin who was Rick Boufford's mentor for cassoulet. To watch the video click here. Recipe serves 4 more. There should be one duck leg per serving.

1 pound dried white beans, such as Tarbais or Flageolet, rinsed and picked over to remove any grit (Great Northern white beans can substitute in a pinch)
1/4 cup fat from confit, or rendered duck fat
2 medium onions,  1 1/2 chopped, 1/2 studded with cloves(see below)
3 small carrots, peeled diced
1/2 pound blanched salt pork
1 whole head of garlic peeled
2 plum tomatoes, diced
2 quarts unsalted chicken stock, store bought or homemade
Herb bouquet: 4 sprigs parsley, 2 sprigs thyme, 1 imported bay leaf, and 3 small celery ribs tied together with string
6 confit of duck legs, 4 legs and thighs left attached and 2 with meat shredded from the bone
1 pound Toulouse sausages, fresh garlic-flavored pork sausages, or Confit of Toulouse Sausages (I last used a garlic sausage prepared by the Fatted Calf in Napa)
4 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
salt and freshly ground pepper

Rendered duck fat is sold at Whole Foods Market. Duck Confit is available 
for purchase online from specialty retailers like D'Artagnan.
1. Soak the beans overnight in enough water to cover by at least 2 inches.
2. In a large dutch oven or Le Crueset-style enamel cast iron pot combine soaked beans, salt pork, herb bouquet, 1 chopped carrot, 2 garlic cloves, lightly smashed and the studded 1/2 onion. Cover all with cold water, coving by about one inch and bring to a boil. Once at a boil, reduce heat to med-low, cover and simmer for 1.5 hours. Times vary depending on the freshness of the beans, but beans should still be intact but slightly tender.
3. Drain the beans. Remove the salt pork and studded onion. Set aside.
4. In a sturdy skillet, brown the sausages until just cooked through. Cut into thirds or large pieces. Set aside until assembly.
5. Return the dutch oven to the stove and heat at medium-high. Melt 2 tablespoons of duck fat in the bottom. When fat is melted and hot, add the remaining carrots, onions,tomatoes, garlic (whole or chopped, I've done both ways with favorable results—most prefer the garlic chopped instead of biting into a whole clove), dried thyme and a pinch of salt and pepper. Sauté all until onions turn translucent.
6. Preheat oven to 350 F.
7. Now it is time to assemble the cassoulet: add the beans with herb bouquet to the sautéed ingredients, sausage pieces, shredded confit of duck, remaining duck fat and the chicken stock. Gently stir all ingredients to distribute all evenly. At this point add the demi-glace which is optional bu Place in the oven to cook uncovered. (Cassoulet MUST form a crust as it cooks to develop the most flavor. Some recipes call for breadcrumbs to aid in this, but Gascogne-style uses no breadcrumbs.) 
8. After one hour of cooking, gently 'break' the new crust on top into to cassoulet by stirring it in to reveal a new, moist layer on the dish.  Continue this step 3-4 times during the cooking. This may be repeated every 1/2 hour after the first hour of cooking. Total cooking time should be 3 hours for this step.
9. To finish the cassoulet, and to heighten our ducky experience, Rick taught me how to heat the confit leg to spoon-tenderness yet at the same time, achieving a beautifully, crispy skin. Cast iron or a heavy, steel skillet work best for this step. Place duck leg in a hot pan, skin side up and add a small amount of water to the pan to cover the bottom of the pan. Cover the skillet and heat the duck leg (More than one duck leg can be done at time, but be sure not to crowd the pan. I never do more than two at a time.) until water has steamed away and the pan is mostly dry. Carefully turn the leg over, skin side down and sear the duck until skin turns crisp.

To serve: portion a generous amount of the cassoulet beans in a shallow bowl and place the crisped confit of duck leg on top (see first photo in the post). Enjoy with a hearty red wine, though traditionally one would drink a wine from Cahors or Madiran.

I made my own duck confit  for this special dish. Chef Rick Boufford has instructional videos available to purchase or rent that will show you how it's done.
The final step to finishing my dish—there really is nothing better than crispy duck skin!

Michelle giving Linda the stink eye. Whatever it was that Linda
said—at least Juliette and I thought it was funny.
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