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Food/Wine Savvy Poker Party - Need Ideas and Recipes for French Menu

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We participate in a rotating dinner/poker party and it's my turn to host again but not till end of March so I have lots of time!! It is not a sit down but we break from the game for the main course. It's a food and wine savvy but not snobby group of about 10 people. The hostess picks a food theme and provides the main course, and other items too. Guests bring food as requested by the hostess. This time I wanted to pick a main course that was a one pot meal and work around that. Cassoulet, which I've never made before, came to mind and thus a French theme seemed like a good idea. So to make this happen:

ISO Recipes for a really good meat and bean version that does not include duck confit but would like it to include more than just sausage; lamb, other pork, poultry, whatever works. Ideally, I'd like one I can make the day before or the evening before. I'll make a salad and pick up french bread to go with. I checked around online but not sure I've found a winner.

If anyone has ideas for a different French main dish that is a one pot or casserole item, please tell. I'm open to other thoughts.

ISO starters/snacks. I will serve French cheeses, pates and olives that will be purchased but I still need ideas and recipes for tasty hors deuvres - can be hot and/or cold.

Dessert - I'll probably just have someone bring tarts and pastries.

Thanks all.

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  1. My first thought was gougeres, pate, baguette, and champagne with cassis (for Kir Royale). Great way to start the party. And you can make the gougeres in advance, freeze and then bake at 425 for 5 minutes right before the party. Here's a paraphrased recipe for the gougeres:

    -Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
    -Heat over medium heat 1 cup of milk, 1 stick of unsalted butter, 1 tsp kosher salt, 1/8 tsp black pepper, and a shake of cayenne pepper until just before the milk begins to boil. When your psychic powers tell you the milk is just about to boil, dump in 1 cup of flour and beat it with a wooden spoon until everything comes together. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring all the time.
    -Dump the flour ball into your food processor. Pulse in all at once 4 extra-large eggs (I used 5 large, which was fine), 1/2 cup grated Gruyere, and 1/4 cup grated Parmesan; pulse until incorporated into a smooth, thick dough.
    -Pipe or spoon dots onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. The dots of dough should be 1.25 inches wide and .75 inch tall. Brush the tops of the gougeres with a wash of 1 egg beaten with 1 tsp water. Sprinkle a little extra grated Gruyere on top. Bake for 15 minutes, until golden brown.

    1. There was a thread on cassoulet not too long ago. I took those suggestions and worked from a few other recipes. I ended up with a variation that turned out very well. I made notes of my process along the way and have posted them here for general consumption. I used a combination of 2 kinds of beans, but one or the other would be fine. Also, I bought 2 prepared duck confit legs, and added them, but the duck honestly didn't add much at all to the overall dish, which everyone loved. I will omit the confit the next time I make this. It is a time consuming recipe, and would be fantastic made in advance.

      Step 1: Beans
      2 cups dried cannelini beans
      2 cups dried cranberry beans
      1 onion coarsely chopped
      3 very thick slices bacon, coarsely chopped
      3 sprigs fresh thyme
      6 large cloves garlic, smashed to remove skins and left whole

      Pick over beans, rinse and drain. In an enameled dutch oven big enough to hold the entire cassoulet, sauté onion with bacon until almost translucent. Add thyme and garlic, saute slightly then remove onion, bacon, thyme mixture and add it to the drained beans in another pot. Reserve bacon drippings in dutch oven. Cover bean mixture with 2-3" of water, bring to a boil. Cover and turn off heat. Let stand for 1 hour. After one hour, simmer beans for one more hour until just tender all the way through. Drain and discard cooking liquid. Remove and discard bacon, onion, garlic and thyme sprigs. Measure 3/4 c cooked bean mixture and puree with immersion blender.

      Step 2: Lamb
      2 lbs lamb shank stew meat (with bones), seasoned with salt and pepper.
      1T bacon fat (approximately, whatever is left in dutch oven after step 1)
      1T duck fat (removed from prepared duck confit legs)
      2 slices bacon, diced
      1 onion, finely chopped
      1/2 to 1 large carrot, diced
      3 large garlic cloves, finely minced.
      1T tomato paste
      1 bay leaf
      3 fresh thyme sprigs
      1 1/2 cups dry white wine
      3 1/2 cups chicken stock

      In large dutch oven, heat bacon fat and duck fat over low heat until rendered and liquid. Increase heat and brown lamb in batches, being careful not to crowd pieces. Remove browned lamb and any solids. Spoon off excess fat, leaving only a little bit (1T or less). Add onion, carrot and 2 slices bacon trimmed of fat. Sautee until softened, 3 or 4 min. Add 1T of tomato paste, thyme and bay leaf. Deglaze with white wine, scraping all browned bits off the bottom. Add chicken stock, season with freshly ground black pepper. Add browned lamb back to pan and bring to boil. Cover and bake at 300 for one and a half hours.

      Step 3: Other Meats
      4 cooked andouille sausages, cut in half lengthwise and then chopped into 1/2" pieces (I didn't end up adding this)
      2 duck confit legs (skin and fat removed and deboned) - use fat under skin in Step 2; shred meat into bite sized pieces
      1/2 lb fresh polska kielbasa (I cut it into 3 or 4 pieces and baked at 300 while the lamb stew was braising in the oven, for approx. 30 min?)

      Step 4: Assembly
      When beans are tender, drain and remove bacon, onion, thyme and garlic. Add reserved pureed beans. Remove lamb stew and kielbasa from oven. Debone and shred lamb into bite sized pieces. discard bones and fat. Slice kielbasa and andouille into bite sized pieces. Add deboned lamb, shredded duck and sliced sausages to stew. Add beans to this mixture and stir gently, adjust seasoning, adding salt and pepper as necessary. (I added 2t kosher salt)

      Increase oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bake cassoulet, covered for one and a half hours. Check for seasoning and adjust as necessary. Increase temperature to 400 degrees. Top with 3/4 c to 1 c panko (or buttered fresh bread crumbs) and bake for 30 min, or until top is browned.

      Serve with warm baguette.

      2 Replies
      1. re: MAH

        Thanks Mah, sounds delicious and although time consuming I imagine the end result is worth it. Quick questions:

        In step 1 you say to remove the bacon, onions, thyme etc. from the bean mixture and then in step 4 assembly you refer back again to the beans and instruct the same removal. Can I assume that for Step 4, the beans are already drained and those bits are removed you would just combine the pureed beans with the cooked whole beans and then add the meats?

        2. Isn't that difficult- pulling bits of chopped bacon, onions and all out of cooked beans?

        3. Final question (for the moment), if you prepare the night before would you do everything except the final baking stage of 30 minutes at 400 degrees topped with the bread crumbs which could be done right before
        OR
        would you suggest holding the last two segments of baking (for 90 minutes at 325 and then the last 30 at 400) for right before serving?

        1. re: laylag

          laylag-
          1. You're right. I inadvertently repeated the instruction in Step 4 to remove the aromatics from the boiled beans.
          2.I didn't find it all that difficult. I left everything in big pieces so it was easy to fish out whole thyme sprigs, big cloves of garlic, big hunks of onion. I suppose if some of the bacon pieces were left in it wouldn't be the end of the world. But they've already lost all flavor to the bean cooking water and they aren't very pretty looking at all. I would try to fish them out.
          3. I would probably only save the last step of baking for the next day, but it probably doesn't make any difference at all.

          Good luck. It's a fun project and the results were well worth it. Actually, after posting this yesterday, I was in the mood for cassoulet and ordered it at a restaurant last night. I was so disappointed. My version was SOOO much better, and clearly less laden with fat.

          My version makes at least 8-10 servings, and freezes very well.

      2. to the op: why no duck confit in the cassoulet? that's not cassoulet then.

        1 Reply
        1. re: hotoynoodle

          It actually is still cassoulet with or without the confit as my research has uncovered there are a zillion different variations. I love duck but buying confit at approx $4 leg and needing about 8 legs for the amount of people I'm having with everything else makes the dish, really supposed to be a peasant dish, a very expensive proposition.

          1. Ya don't need no duck confit for the poor man's cassoulet. If you have duck, use the carcass, gizzard, neck, heart, and wings. If not, use your imagination--sausages and ugly bits of anything. Other ingredients: Navy or great Northern beans, salt, bay leaf, herbes de Provence, water, cut up leek, onion, carrots, chili sauce, garlic, parsley, and diced tomatoes. Obviously, you just cook in the proper order, pick meat from the carcass if used, and watch out for texture and thickness as desired.