Saturday, October 31, 2009

October Leftovers

October is a great month for garage sales in Canberra. The Willow ware collection is swelling and it's probably best we just don't talk about the accumulation of French preserving jars. In the kitchen, October was a cookbook month, although all the recipes for bunmania were sourced online. Otherwise:

*google directed me to Gordon Ramsay's caramelised bananas and rum which I made to accompany some hotcakes (can't comment on his hotcakes as I used a different recipe). I did something a bit wrong as my caramel also contained delicious chunks of toffee, definitely worth revisiting when there are too many bananas and another mysterious bottle of rum appears in the pantry.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Red bean buns prior to steaming, I need to work on making them round

I read the book tie-in blog Asian Dumplings written by Andrea Nyugen. When she directed me to her article in the LA Times on steamed buns I thought about making buns, and when one of my food fancying facebook friends posted a link to the article week later, I decided I should probably make buns as soon as possible. I had bunmania!
The yeasted bun dough was very easy to work and the recipe tripled successfully. I used one third unbleached bread flour and two thirds unbleached plain flour to produce a mix that I assumed would have equivalent levels of gluten to the American brand she mentions.

I made curried chicken and red bean steamed buns; using Andrea's instructions for filling and steaming the buns. I altered the curried chicken filling slightly by skipping the coconut milk and cornstarch, instead I added three tablespoons of shredded coconut and a little bit of water to bring everything together. I made the red bean paste recipe as instructed, which made roughly twice a much filling as required to fill one quantity of bun dough. To steam sixteen buns at once, you will need to use two twenty-eight centimetre bamboo steamers. These buns were light, fluffy and delicious; infinitely better than the frozen variety and most of the steamed buns I have tried locally.

Pan fried pork and scallion buns at the back, red bean buns at the front.

I also made the pan-fried pork and scallion mini buns and dipping sauce from the article. These were my favourite buns of the day, the buns were pillowy on top and crispy on the bottom, and the dipping sauce complemented the filling brilliantly.

I think it probably took me about two hours to make all the fillings, the dough and prepare and cook the buns, which isn't bad as I had sixty-four buns roll out and fold. Since the dough can be left in the fridge after the first rise, these buns don't need to be a weekend project. The steamed buns can also be frozen after steaming and reheated from frozen in the steamer later, which will be great when it heats up a bit more and I start avoiding the kitchen.

Cheap and plentiful bamboo stemers available in all sizes at
Oriental Groceries
2/38 Weedon Cl, Belconnen

Monday, October 5, 2009

Le Cassoulet

Thirteen people attended Labour Day cassoulet, the meal was pretty amazing. The cassoulet was rich and delicious with exceptionally creamy beans, it was accompanied by a simple green salad dressed with a vinaigrette based on walnut oil (la salade à l'huile de noix). For afters we had the tart aux pommes with Chantilly cream and an orange and poppy seed cake. We had champagne, a few different red wines and a dessert wine, I am surprised I'm still standing.

The final recipe I used for the cassoulet is as follows, if you want to add steps like making salt pork, duck confit and/or pork sausages you will need to plan at least a week in advance; after soaking the beans overnight this recipe could be prepared in a day or over two days. You will need an enamelled cast iron pot with a 28 cm diameter/ 6.3 L volume at least. I didn't use breadcrumbs and I was satisfied with the crust.

Le Cassoulet
Serves 10-15
Adapted from Goose Fat & Garlic by Jeanne Strang

To prepare the beans:
1 kg of dried white haricot beans
350g of salt belly of pork
Pork rind to cover the base of your cast iron pot, rolled and tied
1 carrot
1 onion stuck with 2 cloves
Bouquet garni (thyme, parsley and bay leaves)
Ham bone (optional)
6 cloves of garlic
Salt to taste

The meat:
2 tbsp duck/goose fat
350 g pork shoulder, 2.5 cm dice
2 medium sized onions
700 g Toulouse or pure pork sausage
250 g tomatoes, peeled, cored and diced
1 L duck stock or water
6 cloves of garlic, chopped
bouquet garni

For the cassoulet:
3 pieces of confit de canard
Duck fat
Breadcrumbs (optional)

To prepare the beans:
Soak the beans overnight in lots of water. Drain, rinse and place in a large pan. Cover with cold water and bring it slowly the boil. Boil for 10 minutes, skim off the foam then add the salt pork, pork rind, whole carrot, onion, boquet garni, ham bone and garlic. Cover and allow the beans to simmer slowly until just tender, adding salt half way through if necessary; the beans should be soft enough after 30 minutes at a simmer, don't let them overcook and turn mushy.

To cook the meat:
Add the duck/goose fat to a heavy bottomed pan, heat and add the diced pork to seal. When the pork has browned add the onions and carrots and let them colour. Prick the sausages and fry them separately until until golden. Drain and cut the sausage into bite-sized pieces then add to the pork, onions and carrots. Add the diced tomatoes, garlic and herbs and cover with stock or water. Allow to simmer gently for about 50 minutes.

To assemble the cassoulet:
Break up the duck confit into bite-sized pieces, discarding the skin and bones.

Preheat the oven to 150°C. When the beans are tender, drain the cooking liquid into a bowl, discard the ham bone, onion, carrot and bouquet garni. Cut the salt pork into bite-sized pieces. Use the pork rind to line the bottom of a large enamelled cast iron pot (at least 28 cm/ 6.3L), fat side down. Cover the rind with half of the beans then layer on the meats. Cover the meat with the remainder of the beans then pour on the sauce from cooking the meat; top up with stock or the bean cooking liquid so that the beans are almost covered.

If using breadcrumbs sprinkle them over the cassoulet, then place in the over cooking for an hour. After the first hour top up pot with more bean cooking liquid, more breadcrumbs (if using), and dot the surface with duck/goose fat, then return to the over for another two hours, or until the crust has become and appetising golden colour.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Le journal intime de cassoulet III

Left shows ingredients for the beans, on the right the ingredients for preparing the meat.

Sunday October 4

I drained the soaked beans, dumped them in to my pot and covered them in water. While I brought the beans to a boil prepared the salt pork and the other ingredients used to flavour the beans. The salt pork turned out nicely, since it had a relatively short curing time it as not terribly salty. I took all the rind from the whole piece of belly I cured to cook with the beans as you're supposed to use rind to line the base of  the pot when cooking the assembled dish,  I probably needed even more rind that I had. The beans took about one and a half hours to get to the undercooked stage (still a bit grainy and hard in the middle) needed for baking the completed dish on Monday.

Once the beans were ready I cooked the meats; the Strang recipe instructs you to brown the sausages, then simmer the meats in stock for 50 minutes and then assemble the cassoulet in layers with the cooking liquid from the meats, topped up with the cooking liquid from the beans if required. One of the sausage casings had spilt so we had it with brunch, it's a very tasty sausage with large chunks of pork, appropriately seasoned with black pepper. After all the cooking was done the house smelled amazing.

Confit de canard from La Belle Chaurienne

To assemble the cassoulet I had to prepare the confit to add to the beans and meats. Despite the best intentions, I have never gotten around to making my own duck confit. Mostly because I never have a surplus of duck fat, any duck fat I do collect is rapidly recycled into roast or fried potatoes; but it's also because I have had a 1.25 kg tin of duck confit sitting in the can cupboard. The confit was sent to me by the Archivist's mum a few Christmases ago, it will provide duck legs for the cassoulet, a few more legs to eat with salad, and I can reserve the fat to make more confit. I extracted three duck legs from the creamy fat and broke them up to add to the cassoulet, cutting my fingers several times. Instructions for making confit from scratch can be found here; now that I have about 2 cups of fat I will be making some soon.

I guessed that I probably would be able to fit the cassoulet in my pot after all; but it's very full and very heavy. If I had a bigger oven I would have done it in two pots to increase the amount of delicious bean crust. I lined my pot with the rind, added a layer of beans, then meat, beans, duck, meats, and beans on top and poured in all the liquid from cooking the meats. Tomorrow it just needs to bake for at least three hours to finish cooking the beans and develop the crust.

Labour Day cassoulet is looking like it's going to be a success. Friends are bringing wine, I will make a very simple green salad and get some baguettes, and for dessert we will have tarte aux pommes.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Le journal intime de cassoulet II

Tuesday September 29

The salt pork required attention on Tuesday, I was a bit apprehensive about discovering rancid meat, but the pork smelled strongly of bay from the cure which seemed to have worked as it should. I tipped off about 100 millilitres of the liquid that had been drawn out of the pork, the belly was fairly rigid, I applied more cure and this time I placed it skin side down in the container then returned it to the fridge. Two more days to wait.

Since I was working from home I decided to test an new recipe for baked beans starting  from 700 g of dried haricot beans that I had leftover from something else. I think I have identified the first problem in my cassoulet plan, that is that there is no way one kilogram of cooked haricot beans and about another one and a half kilograms of meat are going to fit into my 28 centimeter round Chassseur French oven. The recipe fails to mention size of the cassole/casserole needed to prepare the completed dish. Damn.

Thursday October 1

A quick examination of the salt pork showed that while mostly firm it was a but squishy in places. I applied some fresh cure and will check it again on Saturday.

Friday October 2

I got the Accountant to pick up some pork sausages from the Lyneham Meat Centre on the way to my house, apparently their sausages are fairly awesome and it was especially fortuitous that they had Toulouse-style sausages. I picked up the rest of the ingredients today too, a just finished ham bone from Deli Cravings at the Belconnen Fresh Food Market and some lean pork.

Saturday October 3

Three tasks today, soak the beans, wash and wrap the salt pork and defrost the duck stock.

The salt pork was uniformly rigid after an additional two days in the cure; it hadn't lost much more liquid but it seemed more compact. I washed off all the cure, dried it well, wrapped it in a clean cotton tea towel and returned it to the fridge.

The fact I made duck stock in June and need the freezer space so I can use my ice cream maker was a significant motivating factor for Labour Day cassoulet. To make the stock I used the carcass of a roasted duck, wing-tips and a skinless neck (I rendered the fat from the neck skin earlier), covered the duck parts with water and simmered for at least in hour; I prefer to make neutral stocks so I rarely add aromatics - they can be usually added later anyway. From this I got about one and a half liters of stock.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

September Leftovers

Two weeks in the US means I had two cooking free weeks during September. I did manage to cook these internet recipes over the rest of the month:

*This recipe from the New York Times served as starting point for a brunch. I sautéed my beet greens in unsalted butter in which I had let a shallot soften, in a second pan I browned some diced bacon, then mixed the two and served it on rye toast with eggs over easy.

*Soft pretzels, delicious, I blogged about them earlier.

*I made these apple and cinnamon hotcakes for another brunch, I used a tasty but not especially juicy mix of pink lady and sundowner apples, the apples could have used a bit more sugar and water to make more of a syrup. I left the batter to rest and the cast iron pan to warm up for 15 minutes while I went and got ice cream, which meant perfect non-stick hotcakes.

*Rice pudding for Oktoberfest, I think 150 grams of rice to 1 Litre milk is the magic ratio for rice pudding.