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Here we are again, or should I say, here I am?

It’s been over six months since I posted anything here. If I’ve been keeping track (I have), I’m a year behind on posts. My experience can be summed up by that phrase, it goes something like, “Even the best laid plans don’t work out.”

Let’s do a brief recap and start over.

Hi, I’m Aime. If you’re just tuning in, here’s how this whole food blog thing started.

I had a plan, a plan I knew was too ambitious, that slowly but surely came unhinged. One week would pass, then two, then three, a month, two months, and on it went. It’s like I was testing myself, to see how long I could put things off, a kind of self-sabotage if you will. I refused to skip posts and move on; I felt like if I skipped something, the memories would fade, and my writing would suffer or it’d feel forced.

Two months in I started going through a rough patch, which resulted in sharing less and less of my progress/recipes/adventures. I continued cooking (and eating) throughout the year, each month had it’s set cuisine, and every Sunday was religiously food blog day. I gathered exotic ingredients throughout the boroughs of NYC, set up shop in my no A/C, poor ventilation kitchen, and toiled away at roasting chili peppers for Mexican mole, simmering Indian curries, and working on my knife skills chopping lots and lots of veggies.

Between January 2017 and now, a lot has happened. I’ve started going to therapy, travelled to Iceland, considered moving to the west coast, considered quitting my job with nothing lined up, took some much-needed time-off, started a new job, took a ceramics class, and started volunteering at an animal shelter, while simultaneously trying to put myself first beyond anything else, including this blog.

Iceland was magical

When 2017 ended, I took an extended hiatus. I knew I had pushed myself too hard. There were many factors involved, but I was somewhat relieved that I wasn’t tied to this thing anymore (also sad). I’ve had a lot if time to think, set some realistic goals, and re-evaluate what I want in life.

I acknowledge the fact that my health and happiness have not been top priorities

My job keeps me in an office for 8+ hours a day,  plus 1 or more hours in subway cars commuting underground. If my calculations are correct, and I get enough sleep to stay sane, that leaves me about 4 hours  Monday-Friday and all day Saturday-Sunday for whatever the hell I want. After cleaning, running errands, catching up with friends, and decompressing on binges of Netflix and Youtube, it doesn’t seem like much. Personally, I find being in an office exhausting. When I get home, all I want to do is eat, be a couch potato, not talk to anyone, and go to bed.

Which brings me to self-care. When that extra time isn’t spent exercising, eating well, and doing things that bring me joy, it leaves me pretty down.

How do people have side projects? Where do they find the time?

These are questions I ask myself over and over again. Am I lazy? Am I making excuses? Are people passing me by? I need to make time. I’m not working hard enough. I’m working too hard. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Stop comparing yourself to others. There’s not enough time! There are so many things I want to do. I give up. Why even try. I’m weak for not trying. Success doesn’t define my worth. I’m worthless. I can’t do anything.

I’m wrong. I know I’m wrong. Knowing doesn’t prevent these thoughts, it just frustrates me more.

To answer my own question: people have side projects because they care about something, because they want to create, to share, to change, to grow, to feel, to escape. If I can do any of those things, I’ve succeeded. And I have.

So where do we go from here?

I’m working on doing more things that bring me joy, writing blog posts being one of them. No more strict schedules or pressure to fulfill expectations I made up. I’m going to create and write content I’m proud of (it’s why I started this bad boy in the first place). Wherever this leads will be what I make of it.

Thanks for reading,
Happy hopping.

The post Blogging is Hard – Thoughts on Side Projects and Self-Care appeared first on Food Hopping.

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This is quite possibly the richest casserole I’ve ever eaten.

When I think of casserole, I think of 50s housewives in frilly aprons, pulling ‘all-American,’ easy-bake meals out of hot ovens. The stereotype in the US for casseroles (at least while I was growing up) is not at all appetizing. Tuna casserole is the first thing that comes to mind, blech.

Who knew casseroles are originally French? Or at least, the word has a French origin.

Cassoulet (CASS-OO-LAY) is a French bean casserole made with an assortment of meats like duck, sausage, pork, and/or chicken.

“Cassoulet, that best of bean feasts, is everyday fare for a peasant but ambrosia for a gastronome, though its ideal consumer is a 300-pound blocking back who has been splitting firewood nonstop for the last twelve hours on a subzero day in Manitoba.”

—Julia Child

You right, Julia, you right. Cassoulet doesn’t suit a standard dinner (it’s much too decadent), but would do well for special occasions or holidays as a centerpiece or side dish. Here’s what you’ll need:

Ingredients

1lb dried cannellini beans
2 medium yellow onions
2 stalks celery
2 carrots
6 cloves garlic
4 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp olive oil
1lb boneless pork shoulder
1 quart chicken stock
4-6 duck legs
1lb chicken thighs
1lb sausage (I used garlic sausage from a local meat shop)
4.5oz stewed tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste

TIP: If you can’t find duck or it’s too expensive, chicken will do just fine, but you may need to add some extra oil or fat (lard) to make up for it. Sorry not sorry.

Step One: Rinse your cannellini beans, cover with a few inches of water, and let them soak overnight.

Step Two: The next day, dice the onions, celery, and carrots. Peel and smash the garlic cloves with the side of a chef’s knife and divide the chopped vegetables into two parts.

Step Three: Dice the pork into bite-sized pieces. Then tie your thyme and bay leaves together with string to make a bouquet garni.

Step Four: In a dutch oven or large soup pot, heat the olive oil and add half the chopped vegetables. Cook until the onions are translucent and the vegetables are slightly softened.

Step Five: Add the pork to the pot, browning it for a couple minutes. Drain the beans and add them to the pot. Add the bouquet garni, cover with the chicken stock and water, and let everything come to a boil. Once boiling, lower the heat to a simmer and simmer until the beans are softened, but not mushy.

Step Six: While the beans are simmering, salt and pepper the duck legs and chicken thighs. Then, in a cast iron or frying pan, brown the duck legs skin side down to render out the fat. Do this on both sides until nicely browned. Then set them aside, and do the same with the chicken thighs and sausage in the duck fat left in the pan. When browned, set both aside.

Step Seven: When the meats cool down, remove the meat from the bones, and chop into bite-sized pieces. If you’re impatient like me, leave some (or all) of the duck legs whole.

Step Eight: In the same cast iron or frying pan, heat the oil on medium heat and add the other half of the chopped vegetables. Cook for a couple minutes, then add the stewed tomatoes, bringing it to a boil to let some of the liquid evaporate.

Step Nine: Add the chopped meat into the pan with the vegetables and cook for 5-10 minutes to let the flavors combine. (We’re going to continue cooking everything in the oven, so don’t worry if some of the meat is still underdone.) Leave any whole duck legs aside for when we assemble the casserole.

Step Ten: At this point, hopefully the beans are done and there’s some liquid remaining (this will vary, but it’s good to have some liquid still in the pot so nothing dries out). Salt the beans to your liking and preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. In a roasting pan, add a layer of beans, followed by a layer of the tomato meat mixture, followed by the whole duck or chicken pieces (if you have any, skin side up), followed by a layer of the remaining beans.

Step Eleven: Bake it all uncovered for approximately three hours or until a crispy, brown crust has formed on top. (I was again, a bit impatient, so mine could’ve stayed in longer. I’ve seen some cassoulets that are practically black on top.)

Step Twelve: When you can’t wait any longer, pop it out of the oven and let it rest for five minutes. Then, break into that crispy top layer and serve it hot, as is. It will need nothing else (except a glass of wine).

Happy hopping.

Recipe adapted from Saveur, France the Cookbook, and NY Times Cooking.

Cassoulet Recipe - The Richest French Bean Casserole
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Rinse your cannellini beans, cover with a few inches of water, and let them soak overnight.
  2. The next day, dice the onions, celery, and carrots. Peel and smash the garlic cloves with the side of a chef’s knife and divide the chopped vegetables into two parts.
  3. Dice the pork into bite-sized pieces. Then tie your thyme and bay leaves together with string to make a bouquet garni.
  4. In a dutch oven or large soup pot, heat the olive oil and add half the chopped vegetables. Cook until the onions are translucent and the vegetables are slightly softened.
  5. Add the pork to the pot, browning it for a couple minutes. Drain the beans and add them to the pot. Add the bouquet garni, cover with the chicken stock and water, and let everything come to a boil. Once boiling, lower the heat to a simmer and simmer until the beans are softened, but not mushy.
  6. While the beans are simmering, salt and pepper the duck legs and chicken thighs. Then, in a cast iron or frying pan, brown the duck legs skin side down to render out the fat. Do this on both sides until nicely browned. Then set them aside, and do the same with the chicken thighs and sausage in the duck fat left in the pan. When browned, set both aside.
  7. When the meats cool down, remove the meat from the bones, and chop into bite-sized pieces. If you’re impatient like me, leave some (or all) of the duck legs whole.
  8. In the same cast iron or frying pan, heat the oil on medium heat and add the other half of the chopped vegetables. Cook for a couple minutes, then add the stewed tomatoes, bringing it to a boil to let some of the liquid evaporate.
  9. Add the chopped meat into the pan with the vegetables and cook for 5-10 minutes to let the flavors combine. (We're going to continue cooking everything in the oven, so don't worry if some of the meat is still underdone.) Leave any whole duck legs aside for when we assemble the casserole.
  10. At this point, hopefully the beans are done and there’s some liquid remaining (this will vary, but it’s good to have some liquid still in the pot so nothing dries out). Salt the beans to your liking and preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. In a roasting pan, add a layer of beans, followed by a layer of the tomato meat mixture, followed by the whole duck or chicken pieces (if you have any, skin side up), followed by a layer of the remaining beans.
  11. Bake it all uncovered for approximately three hours or until a crispy, brown crust has formed on top. (I was again, a bit impatient, so mine could’ve stayed in longer. I’ve seen some cassoulets that are practically black on top.)
  12. When you can’t wait any longer, pop it out of the oven and let it rest for five minutes. Then, break into that crispy top layer and serve it hot, as is. It will need nothing else (except a glass of wine).
Recipe Notes

TIP: If you can’t find duck or it’s too expensive, chicken will do just fine, but you may need to add some extra oil or fat (lard) to make up for it. Sorry not sorry.

The post Cassoulet – A Bean Casserole from the South of France appeared first on Food Hopping.

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I’m a big fan of throwing a bunch of meat and vegetables into a pot, then letting them simmer till tender and full of flavor.

In figuring out how to plan my months, I’ve been dancing around the idea of consistently making the national dish of each country I do. I think from here on out that’s where I’m going to start, makes sense, right?

So…not knowing what to cook the third week in April, I looked up the national dish of France:  Pot-au-feu (POT-O-FOO).

Pot-au-feu is a classic French stew made with cheap cuts of beef on the bone, carrots, turnips, leeks, and onions. It’s super simple, but hearty and perfect for that lingering cold weather. Here’s what you’ll need:

Ingredients

1 teaspoon black peppercorns
3 whole cloves
4 sprigs parsley
4 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
3 leeks
2 stalks celery
2 carrots
2 turnips
1 medium yellow onion
6 cloves garlic
3lbs beef shortribs
salt to taste
1lb baby potatoes (optional)
1 cinnamon stick (optional)
cornichons for garnish
fresh parsley for garnish

Special Tools You’ll Need: Cheesecloth, kitchen string

Step One: In a small square of cheesecloth, tie up the peppercorns and cloves. There are few things worse than unsuspectingly biting into a whole clove or peppercorn.

Step Two: Tie your parsley, thyme, and bay leaves together with string to make a bouquet garni. It should be tight enough that nothing falls out, but loose enough that you’re not cutting into the herbs with the string.

Step Three: Chop the leeks, cutting off the ends and the green, leafy bits. We’re only going to use the white/light green part. Slice them in half longwise, flip them over onto the flat side, and slice.

Step Four: Roughly chop the celery, carrots, and turnips. Slice the onion in half, discard the outer layers, leaving the halves whole. Peel the garlic and crush each clove with the side of your knife and some pressure from the palm of your hand.

Step Five: Toss the beef, cheesecloth bundle, bouquet garni, leeks, celery, carrots, turnips, onion, garlic, and potatoes (if you’re using them) in a large soup pot (My biggest pot at the time was a dutch oven, not big enough). Cover with water and let everything come to a boil on medium-high heat. When it boils, lower the heat and let it simmer for about three hours or until the meat is so tender it falls off the bone. Skim off any scum that may float to the surface while simmering.

Optional: If you have a cinnamon stick lying around that you’re not planning on using, toss it in.

Step Seven: When the meat is tender and the vegetables are cooked, remove the solids from the broth, and discard the bouquet garni and cheesecloth. If you’re serving it right away, no need to do this, just skip to step nine.

Step Eight: Salt the broth to your liking. My pot wasn’t big enough so I had to do my potatoes separately. Some extra time to simmer just the broth will allow it to reduce, making it even more flavorful.

Step Nine: Serve pot-au-feu hot, topped with chopped parsley and cornichons (delicious tiny pickles). Store the solids and the broth separately.

If you have leftovers and keep the broth in the fridge, make sure you remove any fat that solidifies at the top.

Happy hopping.

Recipe inspired by bon appetit, sbs, the spruce, and Food & Wine.

Pot-au-Feu Recipe - French Beef Stew
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time3 hours
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. In a small square of cheesecloth, tie up the peppercorns and cloves. There are few things worse than unsuspectingly biting into a whole clove or peppercorn.
  2. Tie your parsley, thyme, and bay leaves together with string to make a bouquet garni. It should be tight enough that nothing falls out, but loose enough that you’re not cutting into the herbs with the string.
  3. Chop the leeks, cutting off the ends and the green, leafy bits. We’re only going to use the white/light green part. Slice them in half longwise, flip them over onto the flat side, and slice.
  4. Roughly chop the celery, carrots, and turnips. Slice the onion in half, discard the outer layers, leaving the halves whole. Peel the garlic and crush each clove with the side of your knife and some pressure from the palm of your hand.
  5. Toss the beef, cheesecloth bundle, bouquet garni, leeks, celery, carrots, turnips, onion, garlic, and potatoes (if you’re using them) in a large soup pot (My biggest pot at the time was a dutch oven, not big enough). Cover with water and let everything come to a boil on medium-high heat. When it boils, lower the heat and let it simmer for about three hours or until the meat is so tender it falls off the bone. Skim off any scum that may float to the surface while simmering.
  6. Optional: If you have a cinnamon stick lying around that you’re not planning on using, toss it in.
  7. When the meat is tender and the vegetables are cooked, remove the solids from the broth, and discard the bouquet garni and cheesecloth. If you’re serving it right away, no need to do this, just skip to step nine.
  8. Salt the broth to your liking. My pot wasn’t big enough so I had to do my potatoes separately. Some extra time to simmer just the broth will allow it to reduce, making it even more flavorful.
  9. Serve pot-au-feu hot, topped with chopped parsley and cornichons (delicious tiny pickles). Store the solids and the broth separately. If you have leftovers and keep the broth in the fridge, make sure you remove any fat that solidifies at the top.
Recipe Notes

Special Tools You’ll Need: Cheesecloth, kitchen string

Recipe inspired by bon appetit, sbs, the spruce, and Food & Wine.

The post Pot-au-Feu Recipe – French Beef Stew appeared first on Food Hopping.

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When you do a Google search of “Dishes unique to France,” what comes up?
Or what do you think of first?

Beef bourguignon? Crème brûlée? Escargot? Ratatouille? It’s definitely not coq au vin (COCO-VEN).

What’s coq au vin?

Coq au vin or ‘cock in wine’ is a traditional French stew made with chicken, a whole bottle of red wine (oui oui), pearl onions, celery, carrots, and mushrooms. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a recipe with chicken that calls for red wine. Red wine is always used for dark meats like beef or pork, while white wine is used with fish or chicken. So, I was intrigued. Wouldn’t the wine dye my chicken red? Is that bad?

I decided to find out.

And…it came out great! Coq au vin is a rich stew to say the least of chicken and vegetables that are first marinated overnight, then slowly simmered to tender, ever-so-slightly sweet perfection. Here’s what you’ll need:

Ingredients

20 pearl onions (or 1 large white onion)
2 stalks celery
2 carrots
4 sprigs parsley
4 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
1 whole chicken
1 750ml bottle of red wine (I used Bordeaux, you can also use a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Pinot Noir)
8oz thick-cut bacon
1lb mushrooms
1Tbsp all-purpose flour
salt to taste
fresh parsley for garnish

Step One: Peel the pearl onions. I sliced off the ends and removed the outer layers. Watch some Youtube while you peel. Try not to cry.

Step Two: Chop the celery and carrots. I don’t peel my carrots, seems like a waste of perfectly good food, a good wash is fine. Is that weird?

Step Three: Tie the parsley, thyme, and bay leaves together with string to make a bouquet garni.

Step Four: Cut up the chicken. If you’ve never done this before, it’ll probably feel a bit awkward. Basically, you’re aiming to separate the legs, wings, and thighs from the body at the joints. You can use your hands to feel for them, or bend the limbs in the opposite direction to find where they are. Google it if you have trouble, the more you do it the easier it’ll get!

Separate the wings, legs, thighs, and breasts. Put the remaining skeleton (carcass?) in a freezer bag or container and keep it in the freezer for making chicken broth or soup later.

Step Five: Uncork the wine, and toss the chicken, chopped vegetables, bouquet garni, peppercorns, and wine in a large bowl. Mix to make sure the chicken and bouquet is submerged and coated. Cover and marinate overnight up to two days, turning every twelve hours or so to make sure it gets into every piece.

Step Six: Who knew purple chicken could be so appealing. Strain the marinade, reserving it (you’ll need it later) and let the chicken rest for 5-10 minutes to dry out. You can also pat the pieces dry with a paper towel.

Step Seven: While you’re letting the chicken rest, dice the bacon and fry it in a dutch oven until crisp and brown. Remove the bacon from the pan (leaving the grease) and set aside.

Step Eight: Brown the chicken in the bacon grease, working in batches to not crowd the pan. This seemed so wrong and so right. Once the chicken is brown, set it aside.

Step Nine: Add the pearl onions, carrots, and celery from the marinade into the same pot you browned the chicken in. Let them cook for five minutes, then add the mushrooms, and cook a few more minutes. Dust the veggies with the flour, stirring to combine. This will make the gravy nice and thick.

Step Ten: Add the liquid from the marinade, the bouquet garni, and the chicken into the pot and let it come to a boil. When it boils, lower the heat and let it simmer about 1 hour. Skim off any scum that may rise to the surface as it simmers.

Step Eleven: Serve with rice and a glass of your favorite red wine.

Recipe inspired by Julia Child, bon appetit, Raymond Blanc, epicurious, and Gimme Some Oven.

Happy hopping.

Coq Au Vin Recipe - Chicken Cooked in Red Wine
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Peel your pearl onions. I sliced off the ends and removed the outer layers. Watch some Youtube while you peel. Try not to cry.
  2. Chop your celery and carrots. I don’t peel my carrots, seems like a waste of perfectly good food, a good wash is fine. Is that weird?
  3. Tie your parsley, thyme, and bay leaves together with string to make a bouquet garni.
  4. Cut up your chicken. If you’ve never done this before, it’ll probably feel a bit awkward. Basically, you’re aiming to separate the legs, wings, and thighs from the body at the joints. You can use your hands to feel for them, or bend the limbs in the opposite direction to find where they are. Google it if you have trouble, the more you do it the easier it’ll get! Separate the wings, legs, thighs, and breasts. Put the remaining skeleton (carcass?) in a freezer bag or container and keep it in the freezer for making chicken broth or soup later.
  5. Uncork your wine, and toss the chicken, chopped vegetables, bouquet garni, peppercorns, and wine in a large bowl. Mix to make sure the chicken is submerged and coated. Cover and marinate overnight up to two days, turning every twelve hours or so to make sure it gets into every piece.
  6. Who knew purple chicken could be so appealing. Strain the marinade, reserving it (you’ll need it later) and let the chicken rest for 5-10 minutes to dry out. You can also pat the pieces dry with a paper towel.
  7. While you’re letting the chicken rest, dice your bacon and fry it in a dutch oven until crisp and brown. Remove the bacon from the pan (leaving the grease) and set aside.
  8. Brown the chicken in the bacon grease, working in batches to not crowd the pan. This seemed so wrong and so right. Once the chicken is brown, set it aside.
  9. Add the pearl onions, carrots, and celery from the marinade into the same pot you browned the chicken in. Let them cook for five minutes, then add the mushrooms, and cook a few more minutes. Dust the veggies with the flour, stirring to combine. This will make the gravy nice and thick.
  10. Add the liquid from the marinade, the bouquet garni, and the chicken into the pot and let it come to a boil. When it boils, lower the heat and let it simmer about 1 hour.
  11. Serve with rice and a glass of your favorite red wine.
Recipe Notes

The post Coq Au Vin Recipe – Chicken Cooked in Red Wine appeared first on Food Hopping.

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