making lemonade

It’s a little cold for lemonade, so this afternoon I made cassoulet.

And when I say this afternoon, I mean for the last three and a half weeks, I’ve researched recipes. I plotted approaches. I consulted a chef.

I decided to try cassoulet as prepared by Mark Bittman because while Julia Child can do no food wrong, I preferred a version with duck confit.

The duck. I ordered one from Union Market. I wanted a whole duck but frankly I didn’t want to dismember it myself. Red Apron agreed to deconstruct it for me and give me the entire bird (“except feathers and guts,” the butcher clarified) because I needed the carcass for stock.

I special ordered authentic French beans but ended up buying Goya brand Great Northerns when the fancy bag arrived light on the amount I expected to get for $14.99. I also ordered ventrèche (French pancetta, not as smoky as our usual stateside bacon offering) and garlicky sausage. Hey, I didn’t want lack of the right ingredients to mess with my dish.

On Friday, I marinated the duck legs in garlic, shallots and thyme. On Saturday I roasted the carcass (and all parts not leg or breast) and made a delicious stock that filled my house with a lovely scent. It turns out I should have flipped those tasks but hey, a multi-day recipe takes time to master.

Duck confit. Sausage. Lamb shoulder. Beans. Mind you, this is a dish normally prepared with what the French have in their refrigerators. (Someday maybe I will have extra duck confit laying around.) I took some liberties with Bittman’s recipe. For example, I deglazed the lamb and onions with port before adding the confit.

Cassoulet preparation was supposed to be a cooking date, but sometimes things don’t play out as you envision. Holidays come along, toying with emotions and nostalgia. People get back together with exes. I have no hard feelings. But I knew I’d be angry, at him and myself, if I didn’t follow through with our/my cassoulet plans. And with a fantastic array of aromas filling my house, I’m glad that instead of feeling tragic, I’m left empowered by my kitchen prowess. Not that there haven’t been tears, but I acknowledge my disappointment with grace.

And Pinot Noir.

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duck duck ribs

MinnyIt was on the 43 by 43 list, and we got it in under the gun.

Tonight, on Birthday Eve, Nancy and I cooked duck.

Two, to be exact. (Minny, before she was sauced, is pictured here.)

I know there were many who wanted to be at the duck table, and don’t worry, you will be invited in the future. But it was only appropriate that for the first time I prepare duck, I do it with my most constant and trusty cooking partner.

For some reason, we thought two ducks were necessary. Perhaps it was that our table hosted three adults and seven children. Perhaps it was fear that not enough meat would come off just one carcass. Nancy’s boyfriend even brought ribs for the kids, in case they didn’t want duck. Let’s just say, he’s got a lot of leftover pork and Christmas Eve dinner will feature a duck ragu.

We had to remain true to Julia Child and therefore make her Canard a l’Orange. That recipe calls for a duck in the oven, so for the second duck, we sought a recipe that could be rendered on the stove top. From Jacques Pepin, we found skillet roasted duck with parsnips and shallots.

Our eyes were bigger than our stomachs. But it was the best Birthday Eve dinner ever.

No good meal is complete without phenomenal wine pairings. We started with the Iron Horse Golden Gate Cuvee. And because kitchen prep was taking longer than we anticipated, we then went to the Iron Horse Wedding Cuvee. But for dinner, Nancy brought two bottles of Chateauneuf du Pape, the perfect duck companion. The wine did not disappoint.

I’m so full I can barely move. But I’m already running through ways to improve upon what we did tonight. For starters, focusing on just one duck. And preparing that duck medium rare. (Tonight, both ducks, though flavorful, were unfortunately more on the medium to medium well side.) I’d love to try duck confit. Duck cracklings are my new favorite crispy snack.

Let’s just say, this was not the last time duck will appear at my table. I just might not make so much of it next time.