We live in a very progressive school district.
When there are delays due to inclement weather, parents receive both an email and an automated phone message from the school district. It's all very high tech and efficient.
So as not to clog the system, the phone calls go out in alphabetical order, beginning around 7:00 pm the night before (when the weather can be predicted that far out).
Since our name is located somewhat far back in the alphabet, our automated phone message came at 4:30 am. Just after the plows finished their 8th. sweep of our street - which they began at 3:30 am.
The phone is on my side of the bed.
Since I was up I thought I may as well put together a cassoulet.
If you've only heard about, but never eaten, cassoulet you may be expecting everything french like butter and cream and wonderful herbs and bread and cheese all rolled into an exotic fare fit for a king. In reality, cassoulet is a french country dish. It was traditionally prepared using leftover meats and vegetables and would be cooked over the course of 2 or 3 days. Cassoulet is good country comfort food.
There are as many versions of cassoulet as there are frenchmen in France. Here is my humble version, an American who adores french food.
Cassoulet starring sausage, lamb and duck* (serves a crowd or 4 very hungry people with leftovers - and the leftovers are fantastic)
1 pound andouille sausage
4 lamb shanks
1/2 pound bacon, diced and divided into half
2 duck leg confit (or 3 chicken thighs*)
32 ounces beef broth
5 tablespoons tomato paste
1 pound large white beans (lima or great northern white)
1 large onion, diced
4 stalks celery, diced
6 medium carrots, peeled and cut in thirds on the diagonal
sprig of fresh thyme
sprig of fresh rosemary
2 medium bay leaves
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cups fresh bread crumbs
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
Large crock pot or large dutch oven.
If you are using a crock pot, set to low. If you are using a dutch oven, follow all the instructions and you will then cook everything on a very low flame.
Soak the beans overnight OR place in bottom of heavy pan, cover with hot water and boil for 2 minutes. Let cool in cooking water for 1 hour.
When the bacon is crisp remove with a slotted spoon and place in the crock pot. Add to the pot with the bacon fat, the onions, carrots and celery (the mire-poix) and cook gently until onions and celery are softened. Place in crock pot with the bacon.
Pour the beef broth into the crock pot.
Add the tomato paste and stir around to combine.
Make an herb garni using cheese cloth and the thyme, rosemary and bay leaves. Tie and add to the crock pot.
Slice the andouille sausage and add to crock pot. This is what your cassoulet looks like so far:
Place the remaining bacon into the dutch oven and cook until crisp. Remove the crisp bacon with a slotted spoon and place in crock pot.
Sprinkle pan searing (or wondra) flour over lamb shanks. Add the shanks to the dutch oven with the hot bacon fat and brown all over, about 10 minutes.
Deglaze the dutch oven with a cup of red wine.
Scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add to the crock pot. Place a lid on the crock pot and walk away. Cook on low for 6 hours. You can do all this the night before. Just cook it the next day, on low, all day long.
One and a half hours before dinner, preheat oven to 400 F.
Taste and season with salt and pepper. Spoon Cassoulet into an oven proof casserole, arranging the beans and vegetables on the bottom. Add sliced duck confit*. Add any cooking juices to cover the beans and vegetables. Top with lamb shanks. Sprinkle with 2 cups dry white bread crumbs mixed with 1/2 cup chopped parsley. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and bake, uncovered for one hour.
Serve with crusty french bread and a young red wine. Prepare to be wowed.
A Cook's Notes: *if you are not using Duck Leg Confit, use 3 chicken thighs. Brown them in bacon fat or olive oil and add to crock pot. After 5 hours, remove chicken thighs, remove skin and bone and shred, adding chicken back to the crock pot with beans and vegetables.
This recipe seems long and complicated, but it really isn't. Just follow the steps, adding the ingredients to the crock pot or second dutch oven. Then just walk away and let the slow cooker do the work.
If you are using a dutch oven, place on back burner of stove over very low flame and let cook for 5 hours; stirring occasionally.