Monthly Archives: April 2011

Sweet-Tooth Saturday: Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

The Reeder Mesa Vineyards Wine Club pick-up party is tomorrow and I’m helping out–making dipped strawberries for a whole bunch of people.  Anywhere from 80-100 people usually show up–for great food, great wine, barrel-tastings, and lots of fun while picking up the quarter’s wine selections.  This time it’s the unreleased 2010 Reisling and one of the “petites”–Petite Syrah or Petite Verdot.

Have you seen how luscious the strawberries in the grocery store are right now?  All plump and red and shiny….mmmmmmm!  And then dipped in chocolate?!  Yup, just the thing.

You only need a few things to create this uber-yummy spring treat:

  • chocolate–sweetness level of your choice
  • strawberries–as big as you can find
  • white chocolate to make pretty drizzled accents

That’s it!  First, wash and carefully examine each strawberry.  Set any with bruises aside and make somethin’ yummy from them (shortcake?!) later.  Watch for petals hiding under the little leaves and wash them away.

Dry berries on towels, and then let them air-dry for a bit to be sure they are completely dry before dipping.

Break chocolate into small-ish bits, place in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave in 30-second intervals stirring in between, until smooth.

Hold strawberry by its stem or leaves, dip into the chocolate, shake off excess and place on waxed paper to dry.

When berries are dry, melt white chocolate in the same way.  Use a fork to drizzle pretty accent lines over the berries. 

Let them dry completely and arrange them on a platter(s).  (I have four platters like this one for tomorrow!!!)

Oh look!  One fell off the platter!  Guess I’ll have to eat it….mmmmmm!  Yummy!

These will be perfect with Reeder Mesa’s dessert wine, Purple Haze.  If you live in Western Colorado, stop on up to Reeder Mesa Winery tomorrow (May 1, 2011) between noon and 4pm.  Join the Wine Club and enjoy a yummy light lunch, great wine and one (or more!) of these yummy strawberries!

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Comfort Food–Scalloped Potatoes and Ham

It seems the intersection of garden season, music performances and working at the greenhouse has put the kabosh on my blogging!  Take-out food has been a lifesaver lately, but I have had time to cook a bit.  The weather has been chilly here, and made me crave hot, creamy, cheesy scalloped potatoes and ham.  Mmmmm!

This is basically how my mom makes them, with a few changes–instant potato flakes instead of flour as a thickener, cream instead of milk, and cheese added to bring up the yummy factor.

  • 6 or 7 potatoes, peeled or not, thinly sliced
  • 3 TBSP butter, divided between layers
  • 1 1/2 cup instant potato flakes, divided between layers
  • 1 1/2 cup shredded cheese, divided between layers
  • 1-2 cups pre-cooked ham, cubed, divided between layers
  • salt (just a bit) and pepper
  • 2-3 cups cream or half and half

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Grease a 7×12 inch pan.

Peel potatoes if desired.  I like to leave peels on for the nutritional and flavor value.  Slice thinly.

Make a layer of potatoes using 1/3 of the potatoes (enough to cover the bottom of the pan), then 1 TBSP butter (cut into little bits to divide it over the potatoes evenly-ish) 1/2 cup potato flakes, sprinkled evenly, 1/2 cup cheese, sprinkled evenly, 1/3 of the ham divided over the surface, salt and pepper and about 2/3 cup cream.  (Ham helps salt the potatoes, so you won’t need much more than a pinch per layer.  I like lots of pepper in scalloped potatoes–adjust pepper to your taste.)

 Make 2 more layers.  Place on the middle rack of the oven with a sheet pan on the rack underneath to catch any overflow.  (I have yet to get the cream just right so it doesn’t boil out of the pan!)  Bake 45-55 minutes or until potatoes are fork-tender and entire pan is golden and bubbling.

Yummy!  Uber-creamy as any proper comfort food should be!  Leftover scalloped potatoes will wait in your fridge to welcome and comfort you the next day at lunch or dinner.  A quick turn in the microwave and they’re just as good (or maybe even better!) as the night before! 

Make them vegetarian by leaving out the ham.  Intensify the flavor by using a sharper cheese.

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Sweet-Tooth Saturday: A Special Cake for Spring

What could be more spring-y than a coconut-covered Easter egg cake decorated with real pansies?!

I love spring–flowers blooming, birds singing, puddles dancing–and Easter is a favorite holiday.  When I was little (and not so little) the Easter Bunny always visited our house with baskets of candy and stuffed rabbits.  Mom always made a big ham dinner, topped off with a special cake baked in pans that created a big Easter egg.  She decorated it with different colored frostings that made it look like one of those sugar eggs that had a little scene inside it.  When I moved out, I inherited the egg pans!

This year I was inspired to bake an egg cake and decorate it with some of the pretty pansies from the greenhouse I work for.  Lately the favorite cake flavor around here is vanilla bean-lemon-coconut.  Requested for birthdays, it’s definitely a winning combination.  I decided the fresh and light flavors would be perfect for a Special Cake for Spring!  Take it easy on yourself and take a bit of help from Betty Crocker and Pilsbury:

  • 1 French vanilla cake mix
  • 1 container vanilla frosting
  • 1 jar lemon curd (you’ll use a bit over half of it–save the rest for toasted bagels!)
  • 1 vanilla bean  (It makes all the difference in the flavor of this cake!)
  • 1/2-1 cup finely shredded coconut  (I use unsweetened; it gives the coconut flavor without becoming overly sweet and taking over the other flavors of this cake)
  • the ingredients needed for your cake mix–mine needed 3 eggs, 1/3 cup oil, 1 1/4 cup water
  • crystallized pansies and mint leaves

Preheat oven according to your cake mix.  Prepare pans–grease and lightly flour.  (Use 8 or 9-inch rounds in lieu of egg pans)

Split and scrape the seeds from a vanilla bean.  Discard the pod. (Or place it in a sugar canister to flavor the sugar!)

Place cake ingredients plus vanilla bean seeds into a bowl and mix according to package directions.

Divide batter between pans and bake according to package directions.  I baked the egg-shaped pans 45 minutes.

 Remove from oven and cool in the pans on wire racks.

Use the top of the pan as a guide to trim each pan flat.  Gently shake cakes from pans.  Place one, curved side down, on a platter.  Trim parchment paper to place under the edges.  This will keep the platter clean as you frost and decorate the cake.

Gently spread room-temperature lemon curd in a thick layer on the flat side of the cake.  Top with coconut.

Place second layer on top, flat sides together, and frost.

Sprinkle with coconut.  Press coconut into the side and sloping surfaces using your hand.  Arrange pansies and mint leaves in a pretty pattern.  Voila!  A Special Cake for Spring!

So pretty on its vintage platter.  What a yummy way to welcome Spring!

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Crystallized Pansies (and mint leaves)

What do you see first at most garden centers this time of year?  The happy faces of table upon table of pansies and violas!  I live in a hot, dry desert-y area and pansies don’t do well in my yard.  Does this stop me from buying and planting them?  Nope!  I just can’t resist the hand-painted look of those beautiful faces–some even have whiskers!  They look lovely planted in pots right outside my front door, welcoming the spring. 

Up til this year, that’s been enough.  Buy a couple packs of pansies, plant them, enjoy them until they start to fry in the hot sun and then compost them.  I’ve  known for a while pansy flowers were edible.  Garnishing salads and desserts, they provide a splash of color.  For some reason, this year is the year I decided to do something culinary with pansies.  I decided to crystalize them and use them as a garnish for a cake I want to bake for Easter.  I Googled around and found different techniques.  Most were like this.  Gather a few things.

  • some freshly picked pansies–mine are still on the plants!
  • some mint leaves, if you want
  • sugar
  • an egg white

Tools you’ll need:  a small, clean paintbrush, a pair of tweezers

Make an egg wash by beating an egg white gently with a splash of water.

Wash pansies and mint leaves in a bowl of water.

Dry them gently between two paper towels.

Set up an area to work with dry pansies and mint, egg wash–with a paint brush, sugar with a spoon and an extra little bowl, a platter or tray lined with parchment or waxed paper, a pair of tweezers.

Hold pansy by the tiny bit of stem you left (or hold mint with tweezers) and carefully paint all surfaces, including under/between petals, with egg wash.  Not too goopy, just wet enough to hold the sugar.

Hold painted pansy over the small bowl and use the spoon to sprinkle sugar over the surfaces.

Isn’t that pretty?!  All glittery and candy-like and still a pansy!  Place the sugared pansy (mint leaf) on the parchment paper.  Let dry overnight–longer if it’s humid.

When they’re dry, they will be “crisp” and ready to use as a dessert garnish! 

This is after nearly 24 hours of drying.  The pansies and leaves are crisp, a bit fragile, and look like candy. 

They’re sitting on a family heirloom platter that was always called the violet platter, and always trotted out for special occasions during spring and summer.  The embroidered cloth in the background of most of the pictures was hand-embroidered by my grandmother.  I love having these beautiful pieces of my family history; the connection to the women in my family.  I’m planning on using these flowers and mint leaves to garnish an egg-shaped Easter cake, using pans my mom gave me years ago.  Tune in to Sweet-Tooth Saturday tomorrow for the glorious and yummy results!

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Veggie Lasagne Pasta

I love vegetables and cook with them a lot, especially as the garden starts producing.  This pasta is a family favorite, adapted from a Rachel Ray recipe.  It’s lasagne, but not–all the flavors of lasagne without the layering and long cooking time.    

The ingredients are what I use to make a regular vegetarian lasagne with tomato sauce, with the exception of the type of pasta:

Use any combination of veggies you like.  Here’s what I have:

For the veggie sauce topping:

  • 2 small yellow squash, cut into half-moon slices
  • 2 small zucchini, cut into half-moon slices
  • 2 bell peppers, cut into a large dice  (These peppers looked better at the store than the green ones this time.  They also add pretty and healthy color!)
  • a quarter of a large red onion, chopped
  • a package of pre-sliced mushrooms  (Already cleaned and sliced is a real time-saver!)  
  • 1 TBSP of olive oil for saute
  • 1 jar of your favorite pasta sauce

For the pasta with cheese sauce:

  • 1 package of pasta, cooked according to package directions.  (I chose rotini because it reminds me of the curly edges of lasagne noodles!)
  • 6 oz package ricotta
  • about 1/4 cup plain yogurt or sour cream
  • 1 cup grated mixed Italian cheeses
  • 3 or 4 green onions, chopped
  • 1/2-1 cup pasta water–collect it from the pot just before draining the pasta.

Cook pasta according to package directions, retain 1 cup of cooking water and drain.

Place a large skillet over medium heat and add oil.  Prepare all the veggies.

(Aren’t these pretty?!  Lots of healthy colors!)

Add all the veggies except mushrooms to the skillet; season with salt and pepper.  Saute until they start getting soft, but are still crisp and vibrant.

Add mushrooms.  Continue sauteing until mushrooms start cooking–you’ll be able to smell them.

Stir in tomato sauce.  Simmer 10 minutes.

This will be smelling super good right about now….

Leave the pasta in the strainer for a sec while you assemble the cheese sauce in the same pot you used to cook the pasta.

Reduce heat to medium low.  Add yogurt, ricotta, grated Italian cheese, chopped green onions and 1/2 cup pasta water.  Stir to combine, season with salt and pepper.  Add more pasta water if needed for desired consistancy.

Stir the pasta into the sauce and heat through.

Spoon pasta into a bowl, top with veggie sauce and more grated cheese.  Close your eyes and take a bite…..tastes just like lasagne!

Oh yeah…it’s lasagne all right, for those times when you don’t have time to layer and bake.  Imagine all the different lasagnes you’ve had……now imagine them made using this method!  This pasta travels well–I’ve put it together in a large covered aluminum pan, making it perfect for potlucks.  Yummy!

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Music Fest Pitas

Years ago, I was part of a group fundraising by selling beer at a music festival.  Next to our booth was a food vendor, selling yummy, earthy, healthy vegetarian pita sandwiches.  We swapped beer for pitas, fell in love with them, and I’ve been making these pitas ever since.

Today was the start of the Colorado West Music Festival, an annual event that features school bands, choirs, and orchestras from all over the Western Slope.  Mr16 will be performing with three concert bands and two jazz bands over the next few days.  Making  Music Fest Pitas for dinner today seemed fitting, even though they contain refried beans–Mr16 doesn’t do beans.  🙂

Pick, choose, and substitute ingredients to match your taste.

 I like to get in as many colors in as possible!

  • Whole wheat pita pockets
  • green onions
  • tomato
  • yellow pepper
  • cucumber
  • broccoli sprouts
  • refried beans
  • grated cheese
  • avocado (not pictured, but so yummy)

Prepare the veggies, heat the refried beans and pitas.

Spread beans inside a pita, layer in cheese, avocado, yellow pepper, cucumber, tomato, green onions and sprouts.  Grasp firmly in two hands, take a bite.  Mmmmmm…yummy!

Healthy yumminess.  In anticipation of these pitas, I dug out my sprouting lids (yup, proof of the hippie in me!) and grew my own broccoli sprouts.  Broccoli sprouts are uber-healthy, super yummy and hard to find in a grocery store.  I also made refries from my mom’s recipe–I’ll post that soon.  Any sprouts will do of course, and hummus would be a yummy substitute for the refries.  Add veggies you like, subtract any you don’t.  Serve them assembly-line style and let each family member customize their own pita.    

On a random note, I got my new copy of Everyday Food today!  I’m looking forward to finding some more new recipes to share with my family and YOU!

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Filed under dinner, Food memories, lunch, recipe, salad, Vegetarian

Basic Quiche (YOU make it yummy!)

My good friend Carol messaged me the other day, suggesting this blog needed a quiche recipe.  Quiche tends to be a spring menu item for me, and now that it’s spring…..well, quiche is definitely somethin’ yummy! 

A quiche is basically an egg and cream custard baked in a pastry crust.  The custard can welcome an almost endless array of meats, veggies and cheeses.  Learn the basic recipe, check what’s in the garden, fridge or freezer, and you’ve got dinner!  Or lunch!  Or breakfast!

Asparagus is coming up in the fields around here and I was able to harvest enough today to inspire a ham and asparagus quiche!

Before we get started, have a look at how pretty these eggs are!  I have a new local, fresh farm egg connection.  The eggs are variable in size, shape and color, with bright orange-yellow yolks.  The difference in flavor between the pale-yolked grocery store eggs and these eggs is like the difference between an Egg McMuffin and Eggs Benedict.  Definitely worth finding your own fresh egg connection!  Also check out the beautiful pottery tray the asparagus are resting in–made by a former student–now a friend, Marie.  I love pottery, especially when I know the potter!   

For one 8-9 inch quiche:

  • 3 large eggs 
  • 1 1/4 cup heavy cream  (Really worth it for the yummy factor!)
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg  (I grate mine fresh using the little grater in the photo.)
  • 1/2-1 cup grated gruyere  (Gruyere gives you a classic quiche flavor, but any cheese is yummy, especially a cheese that pairs well with other flavors you add.)
  • 1 pre-made pie crust–I like the store-brand rolled up kind.  Making your own crust would be uber-yummy, but pre-made makes a quiche do-able after work on a week night!
  • 1 cup add-ins if desired–I used 1/2 cup diced pre-cooked ham and 1/2 cup chopped, steamed asparagus.  (Always steam or parboil any veggies used in a quiche before adding them, and pre-cook any meat.) 

Leave a wrapped, rolled pre-made pie crust out on the counter for 1/2 hour prior to starting your quiche.  Preheat oven to 375 F. 

Gently unroll pie crust over the top of a 8-9 inch pie or quiche pan.  (The pan in the picture is an actual quiche pan–a gift from when quiche was popular in the eighties!)  Center the crust, roll the edges down and crimp them along the edge for a pretty quiche.

Place half of the gruyere in the bottom–on top of the crust.

Add a TBSP of flour to any add-ins and lightly combine.  (This will help your add-ins stay evenly dispersed in the quiche, rather than sinking to the bottom.)  Add them to the quiche.

Whisk cream, eggs, pepper and nutmeg together until eggs are completely broken up and well blended.  Pour into quiche shell, over any add-ins.


Top with remaining cheese.  Bake 45 minutes–until quiche is golden brown and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Let rest for 5 minutes, cut into 6 or 8 wedges and serve!

A package of pre-made pie crusts usually has two rolls.  I decided to make a second quiche so we’d have leftovers for breakfast tomorrow.  It only took me 10 minutes to cut up and steam a cup of broccoli and assemble a second quiche.  I added it to the oven with the first quiche, re-setting the timer for an additional 10 minutes when the first quiche was finished.

Both were yummy, no one could pick a favorite–even though one was vegetarian!  These are a couple of our favorite flavors for quiche, but there are so many other possibilities as spring moves to summer and the garden has more options–“everything in the garden” quiche is a summer favorite around here.  BFF Becky makes a killer quiche with cooked chorizo, green chili and cheese.  I’ve stolen the recipe and made it myself–yummy!  What flavor will YOUR quiche be?

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Garlic Lemon Chicken Breasts

Y’know, I just love Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa.  She has a way of making even the simplest recipe seem elegant and well, yummy.  She emphasizes treating yourself to the best and freshest ingredients, using them in recipes that never seem uber-difficult.  So when I saw this recipe on her show, I just had to run out for fresh lemons and garlic.  I knew I could make chicken breasts turn out as beautiful and moist and yummy as the ones she made.  And I did!  And you can too!

Ina’s recipe was for four, I was making dinner for just DH and I, so my amounts are to serve two.

  • 1/8 cup olive oil
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 1/2 TBSP)
  • 1/6 cup dry white wine (I used my 1/3 cup and “eyeballed” about half.)
  • 1 1/2 tsp grated lemon zest (1 lemon)
  • 1 TBSP fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves, minced
  • kosher salt and pepper
  • 2 boneless, skin-on chicken breasts (6-8 oz each)
  • 1/2 lemon

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Prepare and measure all sauce ingredients (garlic, lemon zest, oregano, thyme, lemon juice, wine).

Warm olive oil in a medium sauce pan, over medium-low heat.  Add garlic and cook for one minute.  Don’t allow the garlic to turn brown.

Off the heat, add wine, lemon juice, lemon zest, oregano, thyme and 1 tsp kosher salt.

Pour sauce into the bottom of an 8×8 inch baking dish.  Brush chicken breasts with olive oil, sprinkle liberally with kosher salt and pepper and set them skin side up in baking dish on top of sauce.  Cut lemon half into wedges and tuck around the chicken.

Bake 30-40 minutes, until skin is lightly browned and juices run clear.  Remove from oven and tent tightly with foil.  Let rest 10 minutes.

(Just look at that golden yumminess!)  Serve with pan juices and lemon wedges and savor the yummy, but not over-powering, garlicky, lemony, juicy chicken you’ve just baked!

Mmmm-mmmm-mmmm-mmmm-yummy!  Isn’t that pretty and elegant?!  I made parmesan baked potato wedges and parmesan roasted asparagus to finish off the meal, but pasta would be a perfect pairing as well!  (Recipes to follow in future blog posts!)  This chicken would be yummy to treat yourself, or to make for someone you want to impress.  Perfect for Sunday dinner or any night of the week, really.  Yummy!

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Sweet-Tooth Saturday: Swirled Chocolate Bark

(A day late, but worth the wait!)  I bought a new cookbook last week, Foodista Best of Food Blogs Cookbook.  There are lots of recipes I’d like to try in it, but while visiting friends and drinking wine at one of our favorite wineries, Reeder Mesa Vineyards, one recipe in particular came to mind.

Reeder Mesa makes a port-style wine called Purple Haze.  One of the owners, our good friend Kris, has a special way of enjoying The Haze.  She calls it “Party in your Mouth”:  eat a cocoa-roasted almond, a Hershey’s Kiss and a dried cherry, wash it down with a sip of Purple Haze.  Mmmmmmm!  Party in your Mouth and this recipe came together in my head yesterday.  The recipe itself is super-adaptable to a variety of chips, nuts and dried fruits and citrus zests.  I took Kris’ idea and used those flavors in this bark.  (Thanks, Kris!)  The bark only takes about 20 minutes to assemble, but two hours to solidify. 

All you need are two different flavors/colors of chips and two to three texture flavors:

  • 8 ounces chocolate chips
  • 6 ounces white chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped cocoa-roasted almonds
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped dried cherries

Line a 9×10 cookie sheet or pan with parchment paper.

Place chips in microwave-safe bowls and melt, one bowl at a time.  Microwave in 30-second intervals, stirring in between until smooth.

Spread chocolate on parchment paper, creating a rectangle.

Drop white chocolate by spoonfuls on top of the chocolate.

Swirl using a wooden skewer or knife until you like the degree of swirliness.

Top with cherries and almonds, gently press them into the surface of the chocolate.

Let cool and solidify at room temperature for at least 2 hours.  Break into 1×3 inch pieces and savor….with Purple Haze!

It’s a party in your mouth!  Yummy!  This has got to be the absolute easiest-peasiest fancy-schmancy little desserty thing you’ll ever make!  How about serving a piece of bark stuck into the top of a scoop of ice cream?!  How about using pieces of the bark for the chocolate layer of a smore?!  Is your brain swirling with the flavor combos possible?  Butterscotch chips…peanut butter chips…dark chocolate…milk chocolate….and toppings?  Toffee chips…salted peanuts…little caramel bits…pretzel pieces…tiny M&Ms….mini marshmallows…graham cracker pieces….candy cane pieces…   The original recipe had orange zest stirred into the melted chocolate and added as a topping as well, with dried cranberries and pistachios.  What combo will YOU make?! 

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Quick Cassoulet

So maybe that’s an oxymoron.  A traditional cassoulet is a one-pot meal of various meats and beans that cooks all day.  In The French Chef Cookbook, Julia Child says this about cassoulet: “you can prepare it in one day, but two or even three days of leisurely on-and-off cooking make it easier.”  I was watching Rachel Ray a week or so ago and she made cassoulet in 30 minutes.  Now that’s something I can deal with.  Three days, Julia?  Not happening at my house.

The big-time carnivores in the house LOVED this.  DH declared, “Wow!  You can make this again!”  DH even had leftover cassoulet over eggs the other morning, proclaiming that combination a winner as well.  I based my cassoulet on Rachel’s recipe.  If you cook for carnivores, be sure these items are on your next grocery list:

  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage
  • 1-1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 3 links pre-cooked chorizo, cut on the diagonal into bite-sized pieces (any spicy sausage will do)
  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • 1 tsp ground thyme
  • coarse salt and pepper
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed  (use a garlic press)
  • 1 medium carrot, cut in 1/4 inch coins  (I guesstimated the equivalent in baby carrots.)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 rib celery, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 15 oz can diced tomatoes in puree
  • 2 cans white beans

Add olive oil to a large pot over medium heat.  Brown Italian sausage and set aside.

Add chicken, salt, pepper and thyme to the pot and brown on all sides.

 Add veggies, garlic and bay leaf.  Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Deglaze (loosen any yummy browned bits on the bottom of the pan) with wine.

Add sausage and chorizo to the pan, stir to combine.

Add tomatoes and beans.  Continue cooking until heated through.

That’s it!  If you have time to let the cassoulet stew a bit longer, the flavors will blend and deepen, making this a great meal for those with busy schedules and family members eating at different times.  We dished it up into bowls and served it with fresh bread rolls (in a nod to “real” cassoulet, which often has a bread topping of sorts). 

Once again, spring has some stormy weather and cooler temperatures in store for the end of the week here in Western Colorado.  Quick Cassoulet is the perfect dinner for a cool, rainy night.  Yum-yum-yummy!

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