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: Chicken Noodle Soup… with wine

I don’t know of any other food that has such an amazing ability to evoke memories of  “home” to me than Chicken Noodle Soup.   I adore the combination of the broth, vegetables, and chicken that can conjure up visions of snowy stay-at-home days or lazy fall lay-around days.  It’s getting to be about that time of the year when my crock pot and my soup pot both get a workout… when dinners are made the night before and the house seems steeped in the fragrant mirepoix of celery, carrots, and onion.

Today was one of those days when I just needed to make Chicken Noodle Soup.  M is home sick and wants to eat soup… so, of course, I wanted to make it from scratch.  He will agree when I say that he makes a lousy patient.  He doesn’t like to be sick and hates not having enough energy to do much of anything, so my thought is to make something that tastes good and has wonderful healing properties (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicken_soup) to make M feel better as soon as possible.

As with most of my recipes, this is definitely a “Use The Force” recipe.  I start with my big soup pot.  This thing can easily hold an entire cooked chicken (picked up cold from the local grocery store) and enough water to cover it… so that’s where I start.  I cook the chicken in the water until the chicken is almost ready to fall apart.  Remove the chicken to a strainer and allow to cool before picking all the meat off the bones.  You now have a very light stock to start your soup.

I finely dice carrots and celery and add to the soup.  Today, I used a few hands full of baby carrots and the inside pieces of a stalk of celery as my mirepoix… M’s not a big fan of onion, so I didn’t include it today.  I then diced some of the chicken breast into fairly small pieces.  I saved most of the chicken for other uses but a total of one breast, sliced and diced, was enough for this entire pot of soup.  I allowed the vegetables to cook for awhile and then adjusted the seasonings… adding salt/pepper, a little parsley and lemon thyme, and then included four packets of G. Washington Golden Bouillon (my favorite from childhood).  Since M wanted “noodle soup”, I broke up about an inch-width of linguine into four pieces to simulate the name brand’s noodles… now it just needed to cook the noodles.

Once everything was incorporated and the noodles had plumped up, I added about a half cup of Reserve Chardonnay from James River Cellars Winery.  I could have used any white wine, but I really like the way Chardonnay cooks and it adds a really lovely back note to the broth.   This made my chicken noodle soup taste amazing.

I hope you’ll try your hand at making your own version of Chicken Noodle Soup, especially if someone you love isn’t feeling up to par.  It might be just what the Doctor ordered!