Riding Out the Storm with a French Classic—Cassoulet

Cassoulet Rapide 1By Wednesday last week everyone in our small New England town was talking about the big storm! The first I heard of it was at my ophthalmologist’s office where the nurses were all abuzz about the weekend weather forecast. I didn’t pay much attention since predictions here are so often incorrect, but as the day went on, and one television weather reporter after another promised that the upcoming event was going to be historic, I got nervous. Like most of Amherst it seems, I trekked to the market to stock up on food.

On the way there, I decided that I’d try a new recipe—a short version of cassoulet, that classic casserole of beans, sausages, meats, and poultry celebrated in southwestern France. Typically, cassoulet takes several days to make. The beans are prepared at one session, the duck, meats, and sausages at others. I had a recipe, however, for a quick version that my friend, Jacques Ableman, had shared with me when I was in Amsterdam recently. Continue reading

A Simple Yet Chic Chocolate Cake for Valentine

Valentine Dark Chocolate Cake 1My friends all know that I have been a bona fide chocoholic for decades. Bars of rich 70 % dark chocolate are tucked away in my kitchen cupboard, ready to satisfy my chocolate cravings at any hour of the day. You’d also find bowls piled high with Chocolate Kisses in our living room, on our sun porch and in both guest bedrooms at our house. When asked by cooking students to list what I might like for my last meal, I say the only requirement is that it end with chocolate! So when Valentine’s Day arrives each year, I celebrate with a special homemade chocolate indulgence.

This month I pulled out a recipe for a luscious dark chocolate flourless cake that I baked several years ago during a winter visit to Paris, and then adapted for my newspaper column when back home. I had spotted this particular cake in a French cookbook, and noticed that it was prepared with a slightly different twist. What caught my attention was that the sugar was first caramelized, then diced butter and chopped chocolate were stirred into the hot liquid until they melted. Finally, egg yolks and beaten whites were incorporated before the batter was poured into a pan.