Many of you will be barbecuing outdoors this weekend, but it has been a bit chilly here in southern CA (at least by local standards, with temps in the 60s), so I am going with an indoor winter dish called a cassoulet. Think of a cassoulet as beans and franks on steroids. Traditional recipes call for sausage, pork, some kind of bacon flavoring, and duck or goose. I substitute chicken thighs for the duck or goose, and use a ham hock when cooking the beans.
The dish was conceived back in Middle Ages southern France as a slap-together meal with whatever ingredients were on hand. These days, chefs take pride in their own elaborate recipes, many which require infinite prep and cooking time. The Julia Child recipe (which also calls for lamb) demands that one block out an entire two days.
I love to cook, and I regard it as an essential part of staying well. For starters, the exercise is a major stress-buster. When I get into my zone, all the tension from my day or week literally falls away. My focus is on what is going on in the kitchen, not the crap I have been dealing with all day.
With the cassoulet, I could not afford to let my mind wander. I had my beans (with hamhock, onions and garlic) going in one pot and a meat stew (sausage, pork, pancetta, chicken thighs, carrots, onions, herbs in a white wine broth) going in another. It helped that I had Beethoven blasting away at full volume. Trust me, I felt wonderful.
Cooking to me is also an act of friendship and love. I take care of people who come into my home. They are fed and provided for. The act of feeding and nurturing others makes me feel incredibly good.
Putting in the extra effort is also a vital ingredient to being happy. Food always tastes better when you make it yourself.
Finally, cooking your own meals is far healthier than eating out.
When I am eating in alone, my dishes are far simpler. But today, company is arriving. Early yesterday evening, I began preparing today’s dish. By the end of the evening, I had combined my beans with the meats (including the liquids from both pots). Today, I will bake the dish for about two hours, making sure to occasionally press the top layer of beans (with added breadcrumbs) back into the liquid to build up a thick crust.
Believe it or not, cassoulet is considered a peasant dish. I will be serving it with whole wheat bread and maybe some greens. I know my company will lap it up. I am looking forward to a fabulous day.
Question: What is your attitude to cooking food, whether for you or other people? Is is a chore you try to avoid? Or do you jump at the chance to get into the kitchen? If you like to cook, how does cooking help you in your recovery? If you have reasons for giving cooking a miss, feel free to discuss this.
Extra credit: Describe your favorite dish and share the recipe. Comments below ...