Thursday, January 30, 2014

Smoked Sausage Cassoulet in the Slow Cooker

Today is January 30, 2104, two days after the start of a major ice/snow storm that crippled the South.  Thankfully, my area did not get hit near as hard as Birmingham to the north of us or Atlanta.  I'm very grateful for that - made it through with out any issue.  Yes there was ice and snow and the area was completely shut down for about 48 hours, but we did not have to abandon our cars on the interstate or walk 6 miles when it was 9 degrees outside, spend the night in our car, or spend the night at work.  My heart goes out to those that lost loved ones during this storm, we had two deaths on a highway maybe 15 minutes from here due to sudden icy road conditions.   Overall we got maybe 1/2 inch, deeper in some spots, a sheet of ice on anything and everything. 

An upside to being stuck at home is having plenty of time to cook!  Generally when I make a meal in the crock pot, I choose the kind with minimal amount of prep. The whole point is to make it easy.  If there is lots of prep or pre-cooking or browning, I do that days before and even freeze it all so I can dump it in the crock pot and go the day of the meal. Tuesday was the perfect day to pick a warm comforting recipe no matter the amount of prep time!  I love Cooking Light; probably my favorite magazine and source for recipes.  I recently saw on their list of 105 Slow-Cooker Favorites list this recipe for Smoked Sausage Cassoulet.  It has bacon (yum), veggies sauteed in bacon fat (yum x 2), pork, beans, tomatoes, seasoning, and cheese on top.  Sounded perfect!  


  • 2 bacon slices
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 (14.5-ounce) cans diced tomatoes, drained
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 pound lean boneless pork loin roast, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/2 pound reduced-fat smoked sausage, cut into 1/2-inch cubed
  • 8 teaspoons finely shredded fresh Parmesan cheese
  • 8 teaspoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

For the bacon I used some of our Benton's bacon. If you have never had Benton's bacon, boy, you need to try it. It's super smokey and seems to have more bacon-y goodness than any other bacon we've had.  Check it out here - Benton's Smokey Mountain Country Hams.  For the smoked sausage, I used some aidells chicken sausage we had on hand. 

When I started the prep for this recipe around 10:30am, there was already a sheet of ice on our back deck. By the time I finished, the deck was almost completely covered in sleet pellets (below).  By the afternoon, the sleet turned to snow.  Needless to say we didn't do any walking on the deck! Our Italian Greyhound tried to traverse it a couple of times, made it across, but tried to generally avoid it.  

Below: our back yard on Tuesday, late afternoon, just before dark. Snow kept falling but only a little bit more accumulated. 

By 6pm we were enjoying our Smoked Sausage Cassoulet!  I had a couple boxes of Jiffy corn muffin mix, so went to their website and used their Creamy Corn Muffins recipe.  Basically you add a can of creamed corn and some shredded cheddar to the mix.  I usually try and make things like this from scratch vs boxed mixes, but hey, every now and then it's ok, right?  Oh, and try to imagine there is chopped parsley on top of the stew.  Didn't have any, and certainly wasn't going out in a ice storm to get it. 

By Wednesday morning, a little more snow had fallen. Here's the deepest part from our yard and deck. 

By Wednesday evening we were enjoying clear skies and this beautiful sunset.  And that concludes our adventure that was the Winter Storm of 2014, or The Snowpocalypse, or Frigdemageddon, or whatever name goes down in the history books!

Recipe from Cooking light:
Smoked Sausage Cassoulet

  • Yield: 8 servings (serving size: 1 cup cassoulet, 1 teaspoon cheese, and 1 teaspoon parsley)


  • 2 bacon slices
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 (14.5-ounce) cans diced tomatoes, drained
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 pound lean boneless pork loin roast, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/2 pound reduced-fat smoked sausage, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 8 teaspoons finely shredded fresh Parmesan cheese
  • 8 teaspoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley


1. Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan; crumble. Add onion, thyme, rosemary, and garlic to drippings in pan; sauté 3 minutes or until tender. Stir in crumbled bacon, salt, pepper, and tomatoes; bring to a boil. Remove from heat.
2. Place half of beans in a large bowl; mash with a potato masher until chunky. Add remaining half of beans, pork, and sausage; stir well. Place half of bean mixture in a 3 1/2-quart electric slow cooker; top with half of tomato mixture. Repeat layers. Cover and cook on LOW for 5 hours. Ladle into bowls. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and parsley.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Molten Chocolate Cakes for Two

Welcome 2014!  In looking at my lack of posts in 2013, one may think I fell off the face of the planet.  No worries, I'm back, and in a cooking mode frenzy.  My husband and I got some good news the other day, and to celebrate I wanted to make a rich decadent not-at-all-healthy dessert.  I follow Dessert For Two; she pairs down recipes for, yep, you got it, two people. Perfect! I made her Chocolate Molten Cakes (or Chocolate Lava cakes, you get the idea).  I've made these once before from a traditional recipe making 4-6, and they are just not as good reheated vs fresh from the oven.  So a recipe for two is just what I needed (or be tempted to eat the remainder that night.....)

I have a confession, and that is that I got nervous about UNDER-cooking these not thinking of overcooking them. Here's a link to the recipe, with a picture of what it supposed to look like when you break it open. Notice how I don't have a picture of mine with ooey-goodness pouring out? Yeah, I overcooked it.  BUT, be comforted to know that if you do the same, it still tastes GREAT! It's then just a Chocolate Cake without the Molten.

I'm definitely going to make this again, next time without overcooking it!  I also did not have any instant espresso powder. Was great without, but i'm sure would be that much better with it. So make sure you have some!

2014 here we come!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Classic Ceviche - Recipe by Rick Bayless

Yesterday was the University of Alabama's first football game of the season, along with most other college football teams. We love making or picking up game day eats. Ceviche is probably not near the top of the list for traditional football food, but the cool vibrant flavors pair well with the still hot muggy days of summer.

We chose to go with a fish based ceviche, and searched out recipes by Rick Bayless and Jose Andres. (I've written about our excellent ceviche at Jose Andres' restaurant in DC, Oyamel, would recommend to anyone traveling there).  We chose one by Rick Bayless, a classic ceviche dish served at his Frontera Grill restaurant, and used red snapper. 

The red snapper is essentially "cooked" by the lime juice over 4 hours. The onions are combined with the fish for their many hour soak.  It took about 12-14 limes to get the fish and onions completely submerged. I'm so glad I have the citrus juicer attachment for my stand mixer! It was still a workout for my arms pressing so many lime halves, but I can't imagine doing this without some motorized help. 

Zac diced all the ingredients while I was juicing. We waited to cut the avocado until right before serving. The picture above shows the fish and onions after their 4 hour soak, then drained. The recipe calls for olives but we omitted them (I'm not a fan).  We also used sugar vs orange juice, and included the optional olive oil.  It was delicious! 

Classic Ceviche
by Rick Bayless, from Food and Wine Magazine website


  1. 1 pound fresh, skinless snapper, bass, halibut, or other ocean fish fillets, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  2. 1 1/2 cups fresh lime juice
  3. 1 medium white onion, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
  4. 2 medium-large tomatoes (about 1 pound), chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
  5. Fresh hot green chiles (2 to 3 serranos or 1 to 2 jalapeños), stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
  6. 1/3 cup chopped cilantro, plus a few leaves for garnish
  7. 1/3 cup chopped pitted green olives (manzanillos for a typical Mexican flavor)
  8. 1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (optional)
  9. Salt
  10. 3 tablespoons fresh orange juice or 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  11. 1 large or 2 small ripe avocados, peeled, pitted and diced
  12. Tostadas, tortilla chips or saltine crackers, for serving
  1. In a 1 1/2-quart glass or stainless steel bowl, combine the fish, lime juice and onion. Use enough juice to cover the fish and allow it to float freely; too little juice means unevenly "cooked" fish. Cover and refrigerate for about 4 hours, until a cube of fish no longer looks raw when broken open. Drain in a colander.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the tomatoes, green chiles, cilantro, olives and optional olive oil. Stir in the fish and season with salt, usually about 1/2 teaspoon. Add the orange juice or sugar. Cover and refrigerate if not serving immediately. Just before serving, gently stir in the diced avocado.
MAKE AHEAD Working ahead: The fish may be marinated a day in advance; after about 4 hours, when the fish is "cooked," drain it so that it won't become too tangy. For the freshest flavor, add the flavorings to the fish no more than a couple of hours before serving. 

NOTES Serving Options Place the ceviche in a large bowl and let people spoon it onto individual plates to eat with chips or saltines; spoon the ceviche into small bowls and serve tostadas, chips or saltines alongside; or pile the ceviche onto chips or tostadas and pass around for guests to consume on these edible little plates. Garnish the ceviche with cilantro leaves before serving.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Momofuku Fried Chicken

I am still full from our late lunch today. We made Fried Chicken from David Chang's and Peter Meehan's cookbook Momofuku.

We brined, steamed, fried, and dressed our way to perfectly cooked and crispy chicken.  We have leftover Octo Vinaigrette that we are planning to find a use for, can't let it go to waste! This method of frying chicken without a batter was completely new to us. We are from the South, and didn't realize you could fry chicken any other way! And honestly, not sure we will batter it up again.....Thanks to David Chang we may have found our new favorite fried chicken.

Draining the chicken after brining for 3.5 hrs

Getting ready to steam

Top layer of steamer

Steaming away for 40 minutes

Cooling our steamed chicken

After refrigerating overnight, then letting sit out at room temp for about  30  mins, we were ready to fry

Perfectly crispy fried chicken, about 6-8 minutes in the fryer

Dressing with the Octo Vinaigrette

Ready to eat!
Now go out and get Momofuku and make some fried chicken! We were able to find all the ingredients needed at our local Publix, except the bird's eye chili.  We substituted two seeded habenero chilis.  The chicken packed a punch, but definitely not too much for us.  Lips were a little tingly when I was done, but not too hot at all.  Hopefully Chef Chang would be proud!

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Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Optimist - Atlanta, GA

We are unwinding from a fun couple of days in Atlanta. My husband had to go for work and we decided to make a mini-vacation out of it.  We made reservations to The Optimist probably a month or so in advance through Open Table, after reading good reviews online.  At the time we did not know that the likes of Conan O'Brian and Will Ferrell both ate here recently, and we now know why! The Optimist was also named Esquire's Best New Restaurant of 2012 and recently one of the best new restaurants in the world by Conde' Nast.  Pretty cool! Our experience at the seafood restaurant and oyster bar was about as perfect as a dining experience can get. We were seated immediately, requested a booth, and ended up in more private and roomy location than some of the other more standard tables.  We splurged and ordered an appetizer each as well as a dozen oysters (1/2 doz. east coast and 1/2 doz. west coast).

Frothy She-crab soup with shrimp toast with a Dozen oysters
Charred Spanish octopus, spiced greek yogurt, dill pickled carrots and cucumbers
 The starters were amazing!  The shrimp toast that came with the she-crab soup was even better when dipped in the soup.  The topping on the toast was very flavorful, and reminded me of chorizo. And the octopus! Melted in our mouths, charred to perfection. Both of these I would want to eat again right now.


Georges Bank scallops, short rib bacon, green onion, brown butter chicken jus
duckfat poach swordfish, grilled Georgia peach, basil, garlic chili relish
Assorted mushrooms with shallot confit

corn milk hush puppies, "beignet style", cane sugar butter
 We both would order all of these dishes again.  I absolutely love scallops and have a hard time not ordering them when I see them on a menu.  The chicken jus and short rib bacon added a lot of depth to the dish, and the scallops were cooked perfectly. My husband enjoyed the duck fat poached swordfish, the poaching resulting in a very moist fish. We have promised to try and replicate the mushroom dish at home with those little assorted gourmet mushroom packs at the grocery store. They were SO good.  And the hush puppies hit the spot, especially with the butter! The cane sugar gave the butter a hint of caramel flavor.

No dessert for us at The Optimist, although the menu was quite tempting. Overall we had a perfect evening at The Optimist!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Visit my newly redesigned blog - Pancakes & Paella

Welcome to the newly redesigned blog, Pancakes & Paella!

I started this blog almost 3 years ago after taking a vacation of a lifetime with my husband to Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Napa Valley in 2010.  We made it a point to eat new and exciting food, gourmet and simple.  The blog was my husband's idea, a way to chronicle our dining experiences on the trip.  At that time I wasn't quite sure what else I would do with the blog, but soon we both started chronicling dishes we were making at home as well as nights out to local restaurants.  Since its inception, the name of the blog has been "Adventures in Food", because, well, we really were having adventures eating new dishes, trying new ingredients, learning new cooking methods, mostly successful and tasty but sometimes disastrous. The mission for the blog remains the same - chronicle the culinary adventures of the McCrary family, both good and bad.   I came up with the new title based on the range of dishes we like to eat, from the epitome of comfort food for me, simple pancakes, to new and exciting dishes like paella (with saffron, something we'd never cooked with before).  So thank you for stopping by, and I hope by reading my blog you are inspired to have your own culinary adventure!

Paella - April 2009

Turkey Sausage and Spinach Ragu over Parmesan Polenta

I recently discovered a food blog call Eat.Drink.Smile.  The blog post for that particular day was regarding the sad state of hunger in America, and the new documentary film "A Place at the Table: A Call to Action" that was just released.  The recipe on that day's post was focused on a simple, healthy, and inexpensive dish for a typical family of four - turkey sausage and spinach ragu on parmesan polenta.  Sounded tempting, and last night we made the dish.  It is delicious!  We like to make this type of dish, but would typically put the ragu on top of pasta (which would also be good). But the variation of using polenta as the base was a good change, and something we will repeat from now on! I put ALOT of cheese in the polenta, probably 1-1/2 cups vs the 1 cup in the recipe.  Can't have too much cheese (except it does make it a little less healthy).  We served it with sliced French bread drizzled with EVOO, salt, and pepper, and put under the broiler for a couple of minutes until brown.

As promised, this was a very easy dish to make, I had everything on hand already except the polenta (I do have grits, could have used those instead).  I started the polenta first becuase I bought Red Mills regular yellow corn polenta, and not the instant kind. Cooking time for the regular variety was 30 minutes, which worked out perfectly with the rest of the dish.  While the polenta was cooking, we chopped, cooked the sausage, sauteed the onions (and I added a shallot I had on hand), and simmered the ragu.

Recipe, copied from Eat.Drink.Smile website:

turkey sausage and spinach ragù on parmesan polenta


3 (4-ounce) links sweet turkey Italian sausage, casings removed
1 cup finely chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups marinara sauce
2 1/3 cups water, divided
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup instant polenta
1 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp salt
4 cups coarsely chopped fresh spinach


Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add sausage; sauté for 8-10 minutes, until no longer pink, stirring to crumble. Remove sausage from pan; drain all but about 1 tablespoon of liquid. Return to medium-high heat. Add onion, and sauté 4 minutes. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute. Stir in sausage, marinara, and 1/3 cup water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 20 minutes. With about 3 minutes remaining, add chopped spinach to the ragu. Stir to combine.
Bring remaining 2 cups water and milk to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat; reduce heat to low. Gradually add polenta, and cook for 3 minutes or until thick, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; stir in cheese, salt and pepper. Serve with sausage mixture.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Poached Salmon with Saffron Rice - Recipes by Thomas Keller

Sunday afternoons are our favorite time to cook, especially new recipes using ingredients or new cooking methods we may not have used before.  Last weekend was no exception.  We enjoy looking through our cookbooks by Thomas Keller, and we zeroed in on his Poached Salmon dish and Saffron Rice.  They are both in his cookbook Ad Hoc at Home.

The poaching liquid for the salmon is Court Bouillon, a relatively easy quick vegetable stock with wine. The court bouillon consisted of carrots, leeks, fennel, onion, and a sachet with herbs, peppercorns, and garlic. 

After the court bouillon is made, strain and lower the heat to approx 200 F.  Now it is time to poach! Put the salmon in a large heavy pot or pan so there is enough room to cover with the liquid.  Chef Keller has many suggestions in his book on poaching for serving the fish hot or cold.  We chose hot.

While we were making the salmon we also cooked Chef Keller's Saffron Rice.  The recipe calls for a short grain rice that I could not find at my local supermarket, so I had to settle for risotto style short grain rice.  

Overall poaching turned out to be a very easy cooking method, kept the fish very moist, and infused the fish with flavor!  

We served the fish over the rice, with some of the court bouillon vegetables and fresh peas on the side.  Delicious!