The Great Christmas Road Trip begins

December 17, 2011

Cassoulet, sans duck. You got to read to the bottom to get to that.

I’m sitting in a hotel room in Horsham, PA, just outside Philadelphia, on the first leg of the Christmas Vacation 2011.

Of course, Philly means food. Later today I’m exploring the Italian market, and trying to figure how I’ll get some 10 pounds or so of charcuterie home. Before that, we’re having lunch at the Austrian Village, where hopefully they’ll have the homemade bratwurst, and assuredly they’ll have the red cabbage and potato salad. (Oh, that bratwurst! It’s the bratwurst to die for! And as I’ve learned it comes from a German deli nearby, I may well add some of it to my charcuterie bag to take home.) If there’s time, there’s a stop by the Reading Terminal market. And then there’s dinner downtown at Villa di Roma, home of the meatballs extraordinaire that I extolled on last year’s trip, here.

I haven’t thought yet about Sunday. Monday will be a jaunt over to Burlington, NJ, to have pizzaHa with a history buff buddy, and we’re headed home Tuesday.

This past week being a moderately frantic week, I did not cook much. Monday night I took the kids out to dinner at a chain steakhouse, which was ok. Tuesday, I made my radio story-telling debut at the Starving Artist Cafe in North Little Rock, on Tales From The South, which is a pretty cool deal. Don’t know when I’ll be immortalized on the website; they seem to run about two months behind. Anyway, I had a quite nice trout filet, breaded and lightly broiled, with steamed veggies, mashed potatos and Creole cream sauce. I didn’t see the cream in the cream sauce, and the potatos were, if taste does not deceive me, from a box. The trout and veggies, though, were quite excellent.

Wednesday, I made linguine and meatballs with my version of Marcella Hazen’s tomato butter sauce, which is quickly becoming my go-to red sauce for all kinds of dishes.

It starts out like Marcella’s sauce — two 15-oz cans of tomatos, a half-stick of butter, and a quartered onion, all simmering happily on the stove. I use grocery store brand tomatos, rather than San Marzanos, and shoot me, but I can’t tell much diff between them and the SMs. At least not two-bucks-a-can difference. I add a couple cloves of crushed garlic, a healthy sprinkle of freeze-dried basil (tastes damn near like fresh), and some dried oregano. I let that simmer for an hour, while I made meatballs and baked them; then I took my stick blender to the sauce (onions, garlic cloves and all) and pureed it up, dumped the meatballs in it, and let it simmer while I cooked the pasta. Some grated pecorino romano on top, and there ya go. Takes a little while, but you’ve got time to sit down and put your feet up and have a glass of wine while it’s in the process, and if you didn’t have to make the meatballs, you could have dinner in an hour, of which no more than 15 minutes was kitchen time.

I use this sauce in lasagna, on calzone, and I expect it will be excellent on a pizza. It’s not gonna replace the old-fashioned spaghetti gravy with lots of red wine and olive oil and the onions and garlic sauteed with the meat before the wine and the tomatos get added, but it’s a nice, nice sauce.

Oh. The not-cassoulet. It wasn’t bad. It damn sure wasn’t worth all the work for what tasted for all the world like a good pot of white beans and ham. Would the duck have made so much of a difference? Maybe it would. I doubt I’m going to try it again to see. After the first of the year, I’ll confit those other duck legs and do something else with them. And if I do try cassoulet again, it’ll be with just one pound of white beans, because two pounds of white beans, per the Paula Wolfert recipe, makes enough cassoulet for what would be about 12 hungry people. Really hungry people.

I do have to say a word about the roasted veggies, though; they’re turnips and carrots, and a parsnip would not have gone amiss but I didn’t have one, it was rainy, and I wasn’t fixing to get out and go to the store. I peeled and diced them, tossed them in olive oil with a little salt, and roasted them; the sauce was a cup and a half of red wine, a half-dozen sprigs of fresh thyme, and 1/3 cup turbinado sugar, boiled until it was syrupy and then tossed with the roasted veg. Yum! The other veg is Suspiciously Delicious Cabbage, cabbage sauteed with onion, garlic and a healthy dose of grated ginger until it’s tender, and finished with three-quarters of a cup of heavy cream in which it’s simmered for 10 minutes. Dear Sweet Baby Jesus, but it’s good. Both were good matches for the not-cassoulet, and I can only imagine would have been good matches for the real cassoulet.

Oh, well. You wins a few, you loses a few, and some gets rained out. I’m going to eat well today, and not worry about yesterdays that have fallen short. You and y’mama ‘n ’em have a pleasant pre-Christmas weekend, and I’ll report in on my Philadelphia adventures tomorrow, maybe.


One Response to “The Great Christmas Road Trip begins”

  1. Sharon Says:

    Well Cassoulet is peasant food and it sound like your recipe is authenticin preparing enough to feed the hungry masses.

    Will you radio tale be on the website?

    You and your charcuterie bag are welcome to come by and see me while you when you Christmas journey reaches Memphis.

    Be safe and eat well.

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