Recipe: Easy Chicken Cassoulet

I apologize for taking so long to get this typed up, but things have been a bit chaotic in our apartment-life lately.  Nevertheless, here’s a very easy recipe to throw together if you’re looking for a comfort meal without a lot of excess fuss.  It’s one that you can work on pulling together and then pop into the oven to “tighten up”, so it comes out looking amazing… and isn’t that the best kind of recipe to have in your arsenal?SimpleChickenCassoulet

It starts with half a package of canadian bacon, diced into small even pieces. Saute these in a bit of olive oil until they’re crispy and then add your vegetables (I used a mixture of diced onion, celery, and carrots) to saute until they’re translucent and smell wonderful.

I love using boneless, skinless chicken thighs in this recipe so there are no bones or excess fat from the skin to worry about, but if you prefer to use the other, feel free… it’s your dinner you’re making,  I seasoned each thigh with salt, pepper, and herbs de provence before putting the meat (seasoned side down) into the hot pan to sear.  Once the first side was seared nicely, I flipped the thighs over and seared them on the other side.  I wasn’t as patient as I should have been, so my “searing” didn’t look as golden as it could have, but I wasn’t too concerned this time.

Once the meat was seared on both sides, it was time to add liquid and beans.  For the liquid, I used a cup of one of my favorite white wines (James River Cellars Reserve Chardonnay), but I’ve used a number of different white wines in this recipe from time to time.  Use what you like to drink and the recipe will come out just the way you like it.  I also added a cup of chicken broth and an extra chicken broth bouillon cube to deepen the flavor of the stock.   I also added two cans (with liquid) of white cannellini beans, but have used other beans when that’s what I’ve found in my cupboard.  If you have a preference, roll with that… it’s not a huge deal.

I brought the cassoulet up to a simmer and decided to stir in about a quarter cup of orzo pasta that I had in a baggie in the cupboard – I had no idea where I might use it otherwise, and this was a way to soak up some of the stock, if needed.  This is totally unnecessary, but it used up something I already had, without wasting it, so I was happy.

I popped the cassoulet into a 325 degree oven for about an hour and stirred it occasionally.  At some point, I took a potato masher and smashed some of the beans to thicken the stew, which gave it a lovely homey feel when dished out.  I may have cooked the cassoulet for another hour, but as time went on, I reduced the heat so nothing was going to burn.  The idea is to cook everything through until it’s falling apart and all the flavors combine.  I love cooking this way!

As I got ready to serve our dinner, I sliced a single ciabatta roll, sprayed each slice with cooking spray and sprinkled on some garlic salt to make easy garlic toasts to go with our meal.  5-7 minutes in the oven was all that they needed to get crispy and toasty.

I hope you’ll consider trying this recipe sometime on your own.  It’s so easy to swap out ingredients and make something entirely personalized… you’ll come up with a new “family favorite” in no time!

Recipe: Chicken Chardonel Cassoulet

I truly love having an afternoon when I have time to make a hearty, warming, delicious dinner.  I love to start with a few ingredients and turn them into something that just screams “Fall” to me and my family.  This was just such a meal. I make a lot of cassoulets, but this one turned out really well… so well that I wish I had doubled the recipe so I could have it for another few meals.

Tradition dictates that a “Cassoulet” is a French dish made with meat and beans.  It’s actually named after the slanted-side earthenware bowl (called a Cassolein which it is to be cooked.  I don’t own such a cooking vessel, so I use a large heavy stockpot that will stand up to some good old-fashioned cooking.  I don’t subscribe to the notion that you have to purchase a ton of different individual utensils to make a good meal.  It’s not necessarily about the final presentation… it’s about the care and love that goes into anything you make.  I realize that this can sound pretty hokey, but it’s honestly how I approach cooking in general.

This recipe was fairly simple and came together extremely well.  I used the following ingredients:  olive oil, one package of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, one thin slice of ham steak (thinly diced),  2 cans of cannellini beans (I used one can of pinto beans and one can of cannellini beans, because that’s what I had on hand), well-chopped Mirepoix (a mixture of carrots, celery, and onion…. don’t let the “big word” bother you), 2 bay leaves, salt/pepper, a can of chicken broth, a can of James River Cellars’ Chardonel, 2 Tablespoons of pumpkin puree, and 1/4 cup of non-fat plain Greek yogurt.

NOTE:  As you may know (if you read this blog at all), I cook using “The Force”.  I look at my fridge and pantry when cooking and adjust my ingredients based on what I have available or what might look good to me at any given moment.  This was one of those recipes.  If you’re starting with a recipe (especially one of *my* recipes), feel free to add or subtract ingredients to tailor the meal to your family’s taste preference or pantry contents.ChickenChardonelCassoulet

I started with a heavy, rounded stockpot.  I added some olive oil and sauteed the diced ham until it was fairly crispy and the fat had rendered out of the ham.  Using a slotted spoon, I removed the ham and added the mirepoix to saute and soften for a few minutes before popping in the chicken thighs and allowing them to brown a bit.  The meat is going to cook for an hour or two, so don’t worry about whether it’s browned long enough… you simply want the color on the meat before adding in the rest of the ingredients.  Once the chicken and veggies were sauteed (see top left hand photo), I replaced the ham into this mixture and started layering everything into the pot.

The middle photo on the left shows the cassoulet after I added the can of pinto beans (WITH liquid), can of cannellini beans (WITH liquid), can of white wine (James River Cellars’ Chardonel), can of broth, and seasonings.  I put the lid on the pot and allowed everything to cook together for an hour before starting to adjust seasonings.

The bottom photos show the cassoulet after I added a bit of pumpkin puree.  I realize that this is a strange ingredient to add to a cassoulet, but (as I keep saying) it was in my fridge and I knew that this small amount would thicken the sauce a bit without changing the flavor significantly.  I could have made a roux (butter and flour) and slowly added it to thicken the sauce, but I really felt that would have thickened the cassoulet too much.  It’s really up to you as to how you thicken (or not thicken) your meal… that’s the glory that *is* cooking… make it your own!  My final addition was a huge spoonful (about 1/4 cup) of non-fat plain Greek yogurt.  I could easily have used sour cream, but I try to always have Greek yogurt on hand for just such an occasion.   I absolutely could have left the yogurt out at this point, but adding that light touch really finished the cassoulet and made it special.

That’s a cassoulet, in a nutshell.  Not too hard, right?  This recipe is something that can provide you and your family with a filling, one-pot meal that only needs some crusty bread on the side to complete your dinner.  I hope you’ll try your hand at making this recipe… and making it your own… you may even find a new family favorite!

 

Recipe: Chardonnay Cassoulet

It was snowing yesterday and I wanted to make a stew that would make me feel warm.  Thinking about what always makes me think of roaring fires and home-cooked meals, I decided to make a chicken cassoulet.  For those who think that a cassoulet is something beyond their abilities, I would strongly suggest trying this recipe, then sit back and bask in the compliments.  This is a simple, stove-top casserole that has all the elements of a meal that would normally take all day to cook.  Thankfully, with a few simple substitutions, this dinner can come together fairly easily and be just as tasty (in my opinion).  I’ve adapted a recipe that I originally found through a weight-loss program cookbook, so it’s not quite as trim as it might be, but it IS pretty yummy.

Ingredients:ChardonnayCassoulet

  • 1 package (8 total) boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 package diced prosciutto (my grocery store sells this, pre-packaged, in the deli area)
  • 2 cups baby carrots, sliced
  • 2 cups celery, diced
  • 1 large leek, cleaned and sliced
  • garlic, chopped (I typically use 2-3 cloves)
  • 2 cans cannellini (white kidney) beans  (I use them with their liquid and smash one can for thickness)
  • 2 cups chicken stock/broth
  • 1 cup Chardonnay (I like to use James River Cellars Reserve Chardonnay – use your favorite)
  • 1T dried lemon thyme (I have a jar of this from a friend – use regular thyme if you prefer)
  • 1T dried poultry seasoning (the leafy stuff, not the ground variety)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Using a stock pot sprayed with Pam, brown chicken thighs on both sides  and then transfer to a plate.  Set aside for a bit.
  3. In same large pot, saute prosciutto until lightly crispy.  Add veggies (carrots, celery, leek, and garlic) and saute until vegetables begin to wilt.
  4. Add remaining ingredients and bring everything to a simmer.  The meal will now look like a soup, even with the mashed can of beans.  (*First photo on the top left of the collage)
  5. Add the chicken and collected liquids to the mixture, push the meat deep into the broth, and put the lid on the pot.  (*Middle photo on top of the collage)
  6. Pop the stock pot into the oven and bake until the meat is falling apart and the broth has thickened, about 1 1/2 hours.  Remove the two bay leaves and discard.
  7. Using an immersion blender, blend 3-4 times in very short bursts to thicken the vegetables but not destroy the chicken.  You can also spoon a cup of the vegetables into a blender, pulse until smooth, and return to the dish.  This will also thicken the meal without destroying the meat. (*Right side photo on top of the collage)

I love the addition of a hearty sourdough bread with this meal (as shown in the bottom photo of the collage).   While this meal takes some time to make, it’s really the baking that takes the most time.  Skill-wise, it’s not much more difficult than making soup, so it’s definitely worth a trip to the store for a few special ingredients to make this for dinner.

I mean, really… how many times do you get to use a special french word to describe something so homey and comforting?  I could have easily called this dinner a “Chardonnay Casserole”, but it sounds so much more unique and mysterious when I get to use the word cassoulet.  Heck, even my computer wanted to change that word to casserole.

Silly computer…

I hope you’ll try making this dinner… and feel free to tell me all about your own trials and tribulations… sharing is what makes cooking so much darn fun to me!

Recipe: Chicken Cassoulet

Here’s an easy recipe for Cassoulet that I’ve adapted from Weight Watchers… and included wine.  This was our dinner last night and it got rave reviews from my favorite taste testers (my family).  Since I use The Force when I cook (do I sound like a broken record, warning everyone about this?), the amounts are approximate and will vary depending on the foods you prefer and what you have on hand. 

Start by preheating your oven to 350 degrees.  You’ll start this recipe on the stove top and then allow it to cook for about 30 minutes or so in the oven, so go ahead and get this ready.  If you’re doing the first part early in the day and planning to cook it in the oven just before eating, the only thing I would change would be to add an extra 15 minutes to the baking time before you serve it.  Mine baked a little too long, so it’s pretty dry, but that’s the way my guys like it.

In a Dutch oven (or large skillet with a lid), brown 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs.  The original recipe calls for bone-in thighs, but my family prefers to not deal with bones whenever possible.  I do this in two stages and remove them to a plate as they brown.

Add diced Canadian bacon and saute until browned and crispy.   Add sliced baby carrots (I used about 2 cups), sliced celery stalks (I had some celery sticks that needed to be used, so I went a little overboard on this one, but I don’t believe it hurt the dish at all), and a diced onion (the recipe actually calls for leeks, but I forgot to get this at the store and I always have onion on hand), and cook until the veggies are soft and a little toasty, stirring frequently to distribute the small amount of fat left from the bacon.  Add 2 cans of cannellini (white kidney) beans (drained slightly), a half bottle of James River Cellars Pinot Gris  (I had this on hand… next time I’ll use James River Cellars Reserve Chardonnay), a packet of chicken broth seasoning, water (I used a coffee cup’s worth), 3 bay leaves, and some lemon thyme (from my friend’s garden).  I then allowed all the flavors to combine and brought the dish to a slow simmer.  Return the chicken thighs (and collected juices) to the pan and nestle the meat among the vegetables.

Baking your dish: Here’s where you can take a break, if needed.  I actually put the lid on the Dutch oven and let it rest on the stove top for about an hour at this point.  M wasn’t due home for a bit and I knew dinner wasn’t going to need to be ready for a few hours.  If you’re making this immediately, pop the Dutch oven (with lid on) into your hot oven and allow to cook for an hour.  Since you’re not using bone-in chicken, you can decrease the baking time a little.  Do realize that if you’re making this using bone-in chicken, you should bake it for 1 hour and 30 minutes.  If you’ve taken a break and are bringing it back from “cool”, I would bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, but this part isn’t exact.  Check your dinner and decide for yourself when the meal is cooked… the meat will be falling apart and the sauce will be thickened to your liking.

Remove the pan from the oven and discard the bay leaves.  If you so desire, take a coffee cup’s worth of sauce (without meat) and process it in a blender until smooth, then return to the dish and stir.  I totally skipped this part because my guys were “starving”, but this is a nice touch.  You can also use a stick blender and just pulse it a few times near the bottom of the pan, staying away from any of the chicken.

Remember to always use a wine that you would drink… there are tons out there that don’t cost a small fortune and are worthy of cooking.  I always have James River Cellars wines on hand, so I tend to lean toward using those.    This is one of my favorite cold-weather dishes and I hope it will become one of yours as well.

Cheers!