Spritzer Vallier is the manager of a large commercial jug winery in Northern California. The new owner, Spritzer’s great-aunt Del, wants to make a quality champagne as well as the cheap wine that is the bedrock of their business. Being a down-to-earth, no-nonsense guy, Spritzer resists Del’s fantastic idea. However, she insists and hires Michel, a French champagne master, to direct the setup of the new venture for four years until Spritzer can take over the running of the winery by himself.
Spritzer and Michel must work closely together and right from the beginning it is clear there will be fireworks. Michel tends towards arrogance and control. Spritzer resents Michel’s authority and demands, and is a bit of a stubborn hot-head.
Keeping the two in check is Del—steady, caring, and wise, she directs the two toward the accomplishment of her dream.
Storms, accidents, and money problems plague the progress of the new winery, but eventually Michel and Spritzer work their way towards a successful conclusion to their efforts. But fate seems to have another destination for them as well, as they begin to fall in love with each other.
I’m so glad Michele join us here on the blog today. He’s here to share an amazing recipe that sounds delicious. Feel free to print out the page or bookmark it to try your hand at Michele’s recipe. I know I will be making it soon. Read and enjoy!
I am Michele Bast stepping out of the pages of the novel Spritzer and I certainly love to grow, cook, and eat the wonderful foods of my home country, France. And what I’d like to do is share one of my favorite recipes with you. It is for a Cassoulet. As you might imagine there are many different versions of this dish in my country—almost as many different recipes as there are different families. However, this is from my family. Now, traditionally, this is cooked in an oven, but because I am so busy at the vineyard every day I have adapted this recipe for a slow cooker. And it works just as well and gives a beautiful result.
So I am going to prepare this for you and you may follow along and make notes if you wish.
Then let us start with the beans. I take 1 pound of dried white beans. They can be cannellini beans or even the common navy bean that you have in the U.S. These need to be covered in water and allowed to soak overnight. Then in the morning drain them and add them to the bottom of a large slow cooker.
Now we’re going to add 2 medium carrots. I get mine from my garden but not everyone has their own garden. I like to keep the peels, but can peel them if you like. Wash them well and thickly slice them. And we also add 6 garlic cloves peeled and chopped. Then plop in one bay leaf.
Then it’s time to take out your skillet as we need to develop some flavors. Let’s start with 4 oz. of bacon, cut into ½ inch strips. Cook the bacon until it is golden. Now add 1 large onion, finely chopped, and cook, stirring often until the onion is tender. Then stir in 2 T of tomato paste and 1 cup of beef broth out of the total of 4 cups we’ll use for the whole recipe. Now bring this mixture to a simmer.
Now we go back to the slow cooker. Here’s where we’re going to add 2 lbs. of boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed and cut into 2 inch pieces. And after that, 1 lb. of kielbasa or other garlicy sausage cut into bite sized pieces. Now if you want to do this the authentic way you are going to add 2 legs of duck cofit (preserved duck) but you can also add 4 bone-in chicken thighs instead.
Then we go back to the skillet and add all those cooked ingredients into the slow cooker on top of all the rest. And add the rest of the 3 cups of beef stock and salt and pepper to taste.
And that’s it. Now cover the slow cooker and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours until the beans and meats are tender.
And while waiting for this luscious meal why not go to the beach, or work in your garden, or read a book, or make love with your lover. In other words, put in a full and rewarding day.
But before we are ready to serve this wonderful meal we have another couple of steps. You are going to need 1 cup of Panko or plain dried bread crumbs. Toast the Panko or bread crumbs in a pan until lightly browned.
Before serving the Cassoulet skim off any fat from the top and remove the bay leaf. Then stir in enough of the toasted crumbs to thicken the cooking juices.
Serve the Cassoulet in large bowls and sprinkle with some freshly chopped parsley or chives and add some nicely toasted bread croutons as well.
And, of course, serve with an excellent French red wine. I would not recommend, however, Spritzer’s family swill, but you could also go with a decent California red. But that’s entirely up to you. And don’t forget some crusty French bread broken by hand for dipping in the delicious juices.
Enjoy and Bon Appétit.
Spritzer Vallier stood in contemplation, gazing at the strange sight before him—a couple of dozen or more folks, dressed mostly in black, standing at the crest of a hill overlooking a Sonoma vineyard. It stretched out below them as far as one could see in every direction; rows and rows of cultivated grape vines, marching neatly in their straight lines. The early morning mists slowly evaporated in the warmth of the climbing morning sun.
Spritzer ran a hand through his dark, curly, unkempt hair, distracted from the immediacy of the memorial service for his recently departed great-uncle Tom, as his mind wandered to the urgent need to be harvesting the glowing, ripe grapes spread out before him. There is a moment when the grapes’ sugars are at their peak, and any delay might harm a season’s harvest. Spritzer had checked the sugar levels in the grapes just yesterday afternoon and decided that they should start the harvest today. But Aunt Del, Tom’s sister, had already arranged for the memorial service to be held this very morning.
He shook himself free from those thoughts, and turned his attention back to the droning priest. Spritzer was standing between his great-aunt Del—short for Deloris—and his childhood buddy, and occasional girlfriend, Kan. He turned to his aunt and squeezed her arm, as the priest extolled her brother’s many virtues.
“Are you holding up all right?” Spritzer asked gently.
Del looked over and smiled. “It’s still hard to believe he’s gone.”
Kan—blonde, lean, and tomboyish—leaned into Spritzer and whispered, “Nice service, don’t you think?”
Spritzer turned to her and said, “Yeah, yeah. But look at all those fuckin’ grapes. The old man would kick off just when I need to start the harvest, right?”
Just then, a biplane approached from behind the gathering, flew low over the heads of the crowd, and began to spray the vineyard.
Kan looked puzzled. “Isn’t this an odd time to be spraying insecticide, for Christ’s sake?”
“That’s not insecticide, that’s Uncle Tom,” Spritzer answered, with a flash of his quirky grin. Kan looked at him questioningly. “Some people want their ashes at sea. Uncle Tom…” He gestured toward the vineyard.
“Yuck. It’s going all over the grapes. What’s that going to do to the wine?”
Spritzer thought about that for a moment, then answered. “Probably make the horrid supermarket plonk we produce a hell of a lot better than it was when he was alive.”
Kan laughed and turned back to the service.
Jon McDonald lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He has seven published novels, a memoir, and three children’s books. His short stories have appeared in a number of prestigious publications. He considers himself a genre-bending author—he loves to take an established literary genre, play with it, and turn it on its head. He has lived abroad and traveled extensively.
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