A cassoulet with shortcuts.

Cassoulet is a French classic dish. So important in certain parts of France that there’s even a society in the dishes honour, the Academie Universelle du Cassoulet, which determines whether your cassoulet is truly authentic (they have some fetching costumes to boot).

Cassoulet is a casserole of sorts made from white beans, and various meats, both cured and fresh, depending on the area you find yourself in. It’s peasant food at it’s best, slow cooked and hearty, perfect for a cold winter’s night.

I have made a version of the real thing before, which took the better part of a weekend to prepare and fed a small army of people. It was delicious, but not the most practical dish to make on a school night for your family.

So I’ve messed with it. Reduced the variety of meat products, used canned beans and therefore the cooking time.

And of course, featured L’Authentique’s amazingly authentic Toulouse sausages, without which this would not be a cassoulet at all, just beans.

SHORT CUT CASSOULET STYLE BEANS WITH TOULOUSE SAUSAGES

2017-06-23 10.09.32 v12 tablespoons olive oil
4 rashers streaky bacon
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely diced
2 sticks celery, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
400g tinned crushed tomatoes
Bouquet garni of bayleaf, thyme and parsley tied together with string
500ml chicken stock
2 x 400g tinned cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
Salt/pepper to taste
Bunch parsley, leaves chopped
8 L’Authentique Toulouse sausages
1 cup breadcrumbs or half stale baguette, cut into 5mm slices
2 tablespoons melted butter or duck fat

  1. Heat oven to 200ºC.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large oven proof casserole dish over a medium/high heat. Add bacon and cook until well browned and crisp.
  3. Reduce heat to medium. Add onion, carrot, celery and garlic and cook until onion is soft, but not browned.
  4. Pour over tinned tomatoes and add bouquet garni. Bring to the boil and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and the tomatoes are starting to thicken.
  5. Pour over chicken stock and beans, stir to combine, bring to the boil and cook uncovered for 20 minutes.
  6. Remove bouquet garni, season to taste and stir through chopped parsley.
  7. Remove from heat, submerge sausages in the beans, and either sprinkle over breadcrumbs, or layer sliced baguette to cover the cassoulet. Drizzle with melted butter or duck fat, then bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until top is golden and sauce bubbling.
  8. Remove from oven and serve.
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Healthy babies and questionable reporting. With a chicken and potato curry

I’ve started to get the newspaper delivered every day. On the one hand, I’m getting older and I quite like having the paper to read in the morning. On the other, they offered it to me at a price not very far from paying me to read it, a sign of increasing desperation in print publishing circles.

From having the news presented to me in it’s physical form, I get to see what passes as the “lead story” these days. On Wednesday the headline was “Sleeping on back lifts rate of still birth”.

Essentially, women who sleep on their backs during the final three months of pregnancy are almost four times more likely to have a stillbirth. So far, so compelling.

It turns out that this relates to 15 pregnancies a year. Now, saving the lives of 15 babies is not to be sniffed at, equating to 9% of all late pregnancy still births.

But that’s not the point. The point is that this is the headline story and pregnant women already have enough to worry and feel guilty about.

Had a glass of wine before you knew you were pregnant? You may have caused brain damage to your new born.

Ate a ham sandwich? Worry about salmonella poisoning

Ate pate? Concerns about excess vitamin A poisoning.

Too tight jeans? Constricting the babies growth

Over 35? Your chances of having “issues” during pregnancy are off the chart. You should give up now.

And that’s just the start. For goodness sake, when you’re in your final trimester it’s difficult enough to sleep AT ALL, let alone worrying about whether you’re sleeping on your back or side.

I remember reading somewhere that it was best to sleep on my left side. Then waking up regularly fretting that I was sleeping on the wrong side. Any sleep you can get at this stage is a blessing, when you have a plus-sized watermelon strapped to your stomach. I always figured it was training for when the baby was born, when sleep really is a luxury.

When you’re pregnant, you’re judged on everything you do, from how you dress, to what you eat and drink, to what vitamins you’re taking, to when you stop working, to whether you’re playing music to the baby in your womb, to whether your baby is developing at the rate it should be, to whether you’re having a natural birth or a Caesarian section, whether you’re with drugs or without. And then post birth, you get to worry more about whether the choices you made have negatively impacted your child for the rest of their lives.

And now pregnant women get to fret about how they’re sleeping.

I’m not saying that this shouldn’t be reported, or that pregnant women shouldn’t be given every opportunity to give birth to healthy babies. I question whether this story should be blown up into front page news. Whether in a world where every choice made during pregnancy is questioned and judged, whether women need another thing to worry about.

CHICKEN AND POTATO CURRY

I’m not entirely sure what this dish has to do with the above. You are in danger of the curry giving you indigestion if you’re pregnant, but other than that, you should be fine to eat it.

If you’re a mother, or pregnant, or want to farm the whole job off to your significant other, this dish is a good one. It’s all cooked in one pot, so fewer dishes. It also tastes better the next day, so feel free to make it in advance. Or not. It’s still pretty good eaten as soon as it’s cooked.2017-06-08 12.26.12 v1

2 tablespoons oil (not olive)
2 onions, chopped
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
2 tablespoons good quality curry powder
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/4 teaspoon chilli flakes
440g can tomatoes
2 cups chicken stock
8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, halved
10 small (baby) potatoes, scrubbed and halved
Large bunch spinach leaves or silverbeet, destemmed and chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup coriander leaves

  1. Heat oil in a large pan with a lid over a moderate heat
  2. Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring until onions are soft
  3. Add ginger and spices and cook until fragrant (about a minute)
  4. Add tomatoes, chicken stock, chicken and potatoes and bring to the boil
  5. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes or until chicken is cooked thoroughly and potatoes have softened.
  6. Add chopped green leaves and cook for another 5 minutes uncovered.
  7. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  8. Stir through coriander leaves and serve with warmed naan, pappadam or roti, and yoghurt on the side.

Taste of a French summer during an NZ winter: Merguez Sausages with Roast Vegetable Israeli Couscous

Philippe, one of the charcutiers at L’Authentique, says that merguez sausages are traditionally eaten during summer in France. The sausages are lamb with middle eastern flavours and enough heat to keep things interesting.

In keeping with France by way of Morocco, but mindful that we are knee deep in a New Zealand winter, I’ve paired the sausages with Israeli couscous, preserved lemons and coriander, and roasted root vegetables.

Now you can pretend you’re enjoying the warmth of the French sunshine, in front of a roaring southern hemisphere fire.

L’AUTHENTIQUE MERGUEZ SAUSAGES WITH ROAST VEGETABLE ISRAELI COUSCOUS
Serves 42017-06-15 11.17.57 v1

1 onion, sliced into thin wedges
1 large carrot, and;
1 beetroot, and;
1/4 butternut, and;
1 kumara, and;
1 large parsnip, peeled and chopped into 2cm chunks.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup Israeli couscous
8-12 L’Authentique Merguez Sausages
Finely grated zest and juice of a lemon
1 tablespoon preserved lemon, pith removed and finely chopped
Two large handfuls baby spinach leaves
Large bunch coriander, chopped (or substitute parsley)
1/4 cup olive oil, extra
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Heat the oven to 200°C
  2. Toss the vegetables with the olive oil and tip into a baking dish. Bake for 20-30 minutes until vegetables and cooked and caramelised
  3. Meanwhile cook the couscous. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, tip in the couscous, and cook for 7 minutes (or to manufacturer’s instructions). Drain and set aside.
  4. Heat a large frying pan over a medium/high heat. Add a little olive oil and cook the sausages until golden brown and cooked to medium rare.
  5. To make the salad, toss together the roasted vegetables, israeli couscous, preserved lemon, lemon zest, spinach and coriander. Pour over lemon juice and extra olive oil, toss again and season to taste.
  6. Serve the sausages with the couscous salad and garnish with extra coriander if desired.

 

 

Aging gracefully: 10 things I’ve stopped doing pre-50. With Greek pork, capsicum and feta.

My 50th birthday is far closer than I’d like. It’s a mere 18 months away. Although I shouldn’t be dwelling on it, I do sometimes, freak myself out, then try to busy myself with other things to take my mind off my advancing age.

Shite. 50.

It’s quite bloody old really. HALF A GODDAMN CENTURY FOR CRISSAKES!!!!!!!

Anyway. Because I’m now an old person, I’m taking stock. These are ten things I’ve stopped doing.

Number 1: Lying about my age

Well, duh. That’s fairly evident from the title of this post.

I used to lie about my age. Or just omit to tell people how old I was. I really hated turning 40, all my work colleagues at the time were in their 20’s so I just wouldn’t say how old I was. And hope that they would think I was significantly younger than I am.

Now I don’t care what other people think. I am as old as I am. That give me life experience, kids that are heading into their teens, a comfortable lifestyle, a few wrinkles and an occasionally dodgy body.

Besides, I like to think I’m young on the inside. (Feel free to roll your eyes here)

Number 2: Botox

I started using Botox in my late 30’s. I had deep frown lines between my eyebrows, which I wanted to eradicate. My frown muscles were so strong that I didn’t realise I was frowning most of the time, so was continually told to “stop frowning” by well meaning passers by.

Fast forward 10 years, and the Botox had removed my frown. Unfortunately in the meantime, my aging face had developed crows feet around my eyes, marionette lines on either side of my mouth, plus other assorted signs of age. I should say, on the whole, I don’t look too bad for my age, but the amount of Botox I would need to sort out my wrinkles was getting out of hand.

As was the cost. I’ve written often about our move to downsize last year, and my continued Botox use felt like it was doing the opposite. Where I was trying to save money in all other parts of my life, my Botox bill was going up.

So I stopped. Result? Ten years of use means my frown muscles have atrophied. I’ve forgotten how to frown. There are a few extra lines where there weren’t before, but I’m ok with them. Afterall, I’m nearly 50.

Number 3: Going to Beauticians

Now if this isn’t a pit to sink your money into!

I stopped having facials years ago, for a number of reasons. Firstly, I was having Botox. No amount of facials will do the job injectables do. Secondly, facials are pretty much expensive snake oil. You feel great for half an hour or so, with your wallet $100 lighter, then the next day you look precisely the same as you did before having the facial. Thirdly, I have sensitive skin. If the beauty products aren’t right, I break out. Not a risk I fancy taking.

Every so often I get my nails done, but to be honest, it’s cheaper to do it myself. And I do a pretty good job.

And massages? Don’t get me started. This may be a job for a psychologist, but I lie on the bed thinking of the dozens of other things I could be doing instead. I’d rather relax with a good book.

Number 4: Buying expensive cosmetics

I used to own beauty products and makeup items to rival your common-or-garden Kardashian.

Then my skin packed up. I got eczema on my face, which was far from attractive, and which wouldn’t heal. My doctor narrowed the cause down to the perfumed, highly branded beauty products I was using, and recommended moving to perfume-free supermarket brands. No attractive packaging, no fancy names, no Baz Luhrmann shot commercials. This was as basic as moisturiser can get.

I should add that around this time I spoke to a Beauty Editor colleague, who asked not be names, lest her magazine lose the immense amount of lucrative beauty advertising it receives. When I asked what products I should be using on my face, she said a cleanser and a moisturiser. That’s it. Because everything else does the same thing.

I was specifically interested in an eye cream. My moisturiser does the same thing as an eye cream (this from the Beauty Editor). There is no need to spend money on extra products. So now I don’t.

Number 5: Lying in the Sun

See all the points above. If I want to avoid my skin looking like a dried up piece of leather, then spending hours sunbaking just isn’t going to cut it. I can see the difference in others of my age who have spent hours in the sun – the years are not being kind. For many of them the damage was done when they were in their teens, but I figure it’s never too late to break a bad habit.

To be honest, I’ve never really been much of a sunbather, but now hats, sunblock and general sun avoidance is essential.

Plus, you know, cancer.

Number 6: Going to the gym

I should point out this doesn’t mean I’m no longer exercising. I just can’t tolerate gyms any longer.

I’m not sure what it is exactly. Too many people obsessed with how much they can lift? Too much lycra? Too much vanity?

Jokes aside, possibly a combination of this, alongside feeling the pressure to be fitter, thinner, stronger, better, which I really just can’t be bothered with any longer. There’s enough pressure already to be all of those things without adding a temple to worship the gods of fitness to the mix.

All of which creates barriers for me to even go to the gym. Forget that I’m paying vast sums of money to be there. I just don’t enjoy the experience, so I avoid it. Which is not great for me getting enough exercise into my day.

So I’ve decided to focus on exercise I enjoy. Exercise I don’t have to drive to (another barrier). I walk. Almost every day. It’s good for my head and my body. I enjoy walking alongside our beautiful harbour, which makes my heart sing. I make the most of the time by listening to podcasts, or making calls to friends. And I walk, so I can tick the exercise box.

Number 7: Working in an office

I love this one especially. It’s not so much about the office per se, but what the office represented.

A career I’d fallen out of love with, clients who were obsessively critical, office politics that I was never savvy enough to understand.

A marriage under duress, children I didn’t see enough, a home I was too busy to enjoy.

A body that was falling apart, skin riddled with eczema, hair falling out, a near-miss breakdown.

It’s not surprising that my love/hate relationship with my work had become a hate/hate.

So now I work from home. I’m free to pursue my dreams, to write as the mood takes me, to cook, to nuture my family, to nuture my marriage, to nuture myself. I’m happy and at peace, for the first time properly in my adult life. It’s only taken me half a century.

I know that not everyone can do this, because it is a luxury to be able to afford to work without income for a period of time. To step off a corporate ladder is to take an immense financial risk, and we have made some sacrifice to get here. But the sacrifices for us were insignificant and superficial in the end. Which makes us immensely fortunate and privileged.

Number 8: Wearing heels

I used to wear heels every day. Sky scrapingly high heels, heels you could get vertigo from wearing. My party trick was to take off my heels to show people how short (5’3″, 159cm) I am. Tada!

Then the injuries started.

Aside from falling off said heels a couple of times after one or two too many (another reason for 10 weeks alcohol free), which resulted in grazed hands and a bruised ego, I was experiencing more serious, long term damage to the tendons in my ankles. I would wake during the night and walk like a woman of 80, with pain through my feet.

My physio recommended that I stop wearing heels. Which I resisted for quite a while, until the same injury happened again. So I gave up, and haven’t worn anything above a 5cm heel since.

I don’t miss it. I can still spend money on shoes with the best of them. The plus side was a whole world of flat shoes opened up where I had never seen them before. Sneakers, brogues, loafers, slippers, mules, sandals. I don’t feel like I’m missing out at all. And I never fall off my shoes now.

Number 9: Wearing my hair long

This went with the heels thing. I had a look. Long hair, a fringe over my eyes, vertiginously high heels, and short skirts.

When the heels went, the hair and the skirts suddenly didn’t work. The length of my hair was dragging my face down, making me look older. The short skirts looked wrong with flat shoes. I felt like I was trying too hard to look young.

So I totally changed my look. My hair now sits just above my shoulders, the fringe has grown out, the short skirts have been replaced with trousers in winter, maxi dresses in summer, and always, always, flat shoes. I’m so much more comfortable with how I look now.

Number 10: Indiscriminate friendships

This one is important.

When I worked in advertising, I had so many “friends”. Friends to go out to lunch with, friends to drink to much with, friends to complain about the industry with, friends to gossip with.

Then I left, and many of my so called friends disappeared. I was hurt initially, until I realised that they were friendships with many conditions attached. Some were friendships based on the money I could spend with the companies they worked for. When I stopped having a media budget, I stopped being of value. Some were friendships based on being in the trenches together. When my tour of duty was over, we suddenly had no common ground.

But many of my friends remained. They’re the ones where the friendships are deeper than the superficiality of common employment. They’re the friends where we’re there through thick and thin with each other. The people I can talk to for hours about anything and everything.

In a way its been cleansing to clear out the indiscriminate friends. Like going through your wardrobe and getting rid of the clutter, to see the beautiful pieces you’d forgotten you had.

GREEK PORK, CAPSICUM AND FETA
Serves 42017-06-02 10.45.43 v2

This is a simple mid-week style dinner, that comes together in less than an hour. The flavours deepen with time, so you could make it the day before.

2 tablespoons olive oil
600g pork leg or scotch fillet
2 onions finely sliced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried mint
3 red capsicums, deseeded, finely sliced
2 x 400g cans crushed tomatoes
6 silverbeet leaves, stalks removed, chopped
100g olives
Handful parsley chopped, plus extra to garnish
100g feta
Fresh crusty bread to serve

  1. Heat oven grill to highest heat (250⁰C)
  2. Heat oil in a large fry pan over medium/high heat. Cook pork in batches until golden brown. Remove from pan and set aside.
  3. Reheat pan over medium heat. Add onions, capsicum and garlic and cook, stirring for 5 minutes or until onion is translucent and soft.
  4. Sprinkle over dried herbs and cook for another minute.
  5. Pour over tinned tomatoes and return pork to the pan. Stir to combine, bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes or until sauce has thickened slightly (it should still be quite runny)
  6. Stir through chopped silverbeet, olives and chopped parsley and cook for another 5 minutes, then season to taste with salt and pepper
  7. Crumble feta over the top of the pork and tomato sauce. Place the fry pan under the grill until feta is starting to brown (about 5 minutes)
  8. Remove from heat and serve, sprinkled with extra chopped parsley and with crusty bread on the side to mop up the juices

A match made in heaven: Pizza and Sausage

I’d never really considered using sausage on pizza, but this is so good! The pork and fennel flavour with mushrooms, basil and cheese works a treat. And as always, my friends from L’Authentique make the best sausages in town. They’re just meat and spices, so no danger of eating anything you really shouldn’t.

I’ve given you the recipes to make the pizza from scratch, but if you can’t be bothered or time is tight, feel free to use store bought pizza bases and sauce. It’s ok. I won’t judge you.

L’AUTHENTIQUE PORK & FENNEL SAUSAGE PIZZA

Pizza Base
This recipe is from Al Brown’s fabulous book Stoked. It’s quite a wet dough, but I’ve found that if you use strong (high-grade) flour and give it time to develop, you can handle it without too much trouble. This makes a thick crust pizza base.

500ml warm water
2 tsp dried yeast
2 tsp sugar
4 1/2 cups strong (high grade) flour
2 tsp salt

  1. Put the warm water in a bowl and add yeast and sugar. Stir then leave for 5 minutes or until the yeast begins to bubble
  2. Using the dough hook attachment on a stand cake mixer, mix together the water/yeast mixture with the flour and salt on low speed for 8-10 minutes until smooth.
  3. Transfer to an oiled bowl, cover with cling film and sit in a warm place to prove. Knock back a couple of times with oiled hands
  4. Break off pieces of dough to size required. Place on oiled tray and stretch until relatively thin (this takes a bit of effort)


Pizza Sauce
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 red onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes (optional)
2 x 400g tins crushed tomatoes
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
Salt/pepper

  1. Heat olive oil over a low heat. Add red onion, garlic, oregano and chilli flakes (if using) and cook until onion is soft.
  2. Add tins of tomatoes, bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer until reduced and thick
  3. Add red wine vinegar and cook until acidity has simmered off.
  4. Season to taste.

 

Topping (per pizza):2017-04-05 14.25.23 v1
1/2 ball fresh mozzarella
¼ cup grated parmesan
1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
4 mushrooms, finely sliced
2 L’Authentique Pork & Fennel Sausages, casings removed
Handful fresh basil leaves

  1. Heat oven to 220C.
  2. Shape the pizza base to fit a 30cm diameter pizza tin, and brush the top of the base with olive oil.
  3. Spread pizza sauce over the base until evenly covered (use about ¼ of the above recipe).
  4. Arrange slices of mozzarella over pizza, sprinkle over parmesan and rosemary.
  5. Top with mushrooms, then break up sausage and dot all over the pizza.
  6. Bake for 20 minutes or until base is golden.
  7. Remove from oven and scatter over fresh basil leaves. Serve immediately

Harvest Chicken, L’Authentique Style

The first time I made a real Harvest Chicken, it was a Ray McVinnie recipe featured in Cuisine magazine I don’t even know how many years ago. The combination of flavours in my version remains the same – tomatoes, lemons, rosemary and chicken.

Although this time I’ve used L’Authentique Chicken and Bacon sausages. The flavours still work as they should, but the sausages make the process a little faster. I’ve also added potatoes to make this a one dish meal, that can go straight from oven to table.

L’AUTHENTIQUE HARVEST CHICKEN2017-05-09 18.52.35 v1
Serves 4-6

4 potatoes, cut into 2cm chunks
½ cup olives
1 red onion, sliced
2 lemons, cut into wedges
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves stripped from stem
4 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 cup chicken stock
1 punnet cherry tomatoes
12 L’Authentique chicken and bacon sausages
Salt and pepper to taste
Bunch of parsley, leaves finely chopped

  1. Heat oven to 200C
  2. In a large roasting dish, toss potatoes, olives, onion, lemons and rosemary with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Pour over chicken stock and roast in the oven for 25 minutes.
  3. Add cherry tomatoes and roast for another 10 minutes
  4. Lay sausages on top and roast for a final 7 minutes. If you want extra colour on your sausages, turn the oven to grill for the last 2-3 minutes.
  5. Remove from oven and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle over parsley and serve.

All the green stuff

I came home from Japan with matcha tea.

If you haven’t ever tried it, you should. It’s delicious, in a grassy, savoury kind of way. It’s

6c2d70a3d1b57ac2c6403c8ba37a480d.jpg
Credit: frasideilibri.com

green tea, ground into a fine fluorescent green powder, and is the highest quality powdered green tea available. The Japanese drink it whisked into boiling water. It’s quite the ceremony (as Japan and tea often is), with bowls and whisks and small, beautiful cups.

Being Westerners, we’ve then bastardised this idea in our own special way by adding milk and turning matcha into a latte. This seems very Starbucks-like (they do a version but it’s horrifically sweet and to be avoided in my opinion), but is actually brilliant. So good, you can buy them almost anywhere in Japan.

Matcha is high in antioxidants, especially catechin, which is recognised for cancer fighting properties. Read more about the health benefits here.

Anyway, being summer, it is hot in the afternoon. A warm matcha latte will not be as beneficial as I would like. I also find myself a little peckish mid-arvo, so I created a smoothie using matcha instead. It’s good.

If you want to give it a protein boost, add a scoop of protein powder. If it’s not as cold as you’d like, add a handful of ice cubes. If it’s not sweet enough, add maple syrup or honey to taste.

2017-01-31 16.32.25 HDR v1.jpg


GREEN MATCHA SMOOTHIE

1 tsp matcha powder
1/2 banana
handful spinach leaves
1/2 cup natural unsweetened yoghurt
1 cup coconut milk

Blend all ingredients together.