Monday, September 28, 2009


I was recently in the United States, while there I thought I'd try some foods I hadn't tried before; but being stuck in the midwest with limited access to transport my options were limited. I did get some pluots, a fruit that I haven't seen in Canberra markets yet. The pluot is a complicated hybrid Prunus bred from plums and apricots, Slate recently ran an accessible piece explaining the genetics of the fruit.

I grabbed a few plouts of varying ripeness for a taste test. The variety I tried was very similar to a ripe plum in taste and texture, the redish flesh was pleasantly juicy, maybe with a hint of under-ripe apricot sourness that wasn't unwelcome. Based on this test, I think I prefer plums to pluots and won't be paying a premium of pluots when they do start appearing in fruit shops here; if I had my own orchard though I'd consider growing one. Ed is far more excited about the pluot than I was.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Le journal intime de cassoulet I

Somewhere in the Pyrenees

Friday September 25

I finally decided to make a cassoulet this year since the warm spring weather seems to have changed its mind and it's cold again. Labour Day offers an opportunity for lengthy food prep and a long lazy lunch. Cassoulet is a bean stew with assorted meats that originates from the south west of France probably from the city Castelnaudary. It is renowned for taking days to prepare and its extreme richness.

I gather from the number and variety of recipes that I have read, that a fairly authentic cassoulet isn't really an onerous a task for the type of cook who can find the time to cook legumes from scratch. Besides soaking the beans overnight and cooking them for up to 6 hours, the number of days of prep required largely depends on the amount of charcuterie you're willing to do. Some recent cassoulet experiences from food bloggers are a good indication of the varying levels of complexity in the preparation of cassoulet

I re-read the cassoulet chapter in my copy of Goose Fat & Garlic by Jeanne Strang (currently available at Clouston and Hall for cheap). Strang describes her recipe as a compromise good for the "Anglo-Saxon kitchen"; like the "original" Castelnaudary version her recipe is principally pork, but adds a Toulousain twist with duck confit. The Strang recipe clearly divides the cooking process into three steps that seem easy to follow - cooking the haricot beans, browning all the meat, and assembling the beans and meats to bake.

From the Strang recipe I noted the first thing I would need to make was salt pork, which is used for cooking the beans. The book doesn't have a recipe for salt pork, so I spent some time searching the Belconnen Fresh Food Markets for pink salt assuming I would need it to preserve the pork. I didn't find any.

Saturday September 26

I googled salt pork and found that there's a recipe in Jennifer McLagan's book Fat which was featured on The Splendid Table podcast; you don't need pink salt to make salt pork as it happens. I retrieved my copy of the book and bookmarked the recipe for Sunday.

I solicited some wine advice from my Francophile mother in law; who kindly provided me with some regional suggestions, Madiran or Tursan. Should Cox Kelly, Jim or Dan Murphy fail me (and I believe that they probably will fail) I looked for some alternatives. I nabbed a copy of Cooking under the Influence by Ben Canaider and Greg Dencan Powell at the Lifeline Bookfair on Friday, they recommend a shiraz grenache blend, a syrah blend from the Rhône or a Barossa shiraz, so I should be able to find something complementary, possibly Canberran.

She also suggested a green salad with a mustard dressing to accompany the cassoulet and oeufs a la neige or madelines or macaroons with coffee. I'm not sure sure there will be space for anything but the cassoulet, but she might be on to something.

Sunday September 27

I bought the pork belly, about 1.3 kilograms. Salting it was simple and I was pleased to use up some more of the quatre épices I bought on a whim at Aldi. I made ther sure as instructed from salt, brown sugar, juniper berries, black peppercorns, bay leaves and quatre épices then rubbed it into all surfaces of the pork belly. It then went in to the fridge where it will sit unmolested until Tuesday. I plan to use the leftovers in baked beans or petit salé aux lentilles.

I did more more reading on cassoulet, leafing through another bookfair purchase, Elisabeth Luard's European Peasant Cookery, I was impressed by her cassoulet recipe which came from a neighbour she had while living somewhere in Languedoc. It is essentially a very similar recipe to the one I started with but adds lamb and lots of bacon rind, it excludes duck confit and the breadcrumb crust (I am undecided on the breadcrumb issue, but leaning towards not having it). I also found the recipe for Toulouse style cassoulet from Paula Wolfert's The Cooking of Southwest France online, no lamb, insane amounts of duck confit and a meagre quantity of crumbs. Both the Luard and Wolfert recipes offer important notes on technique not mentioned in the Strang recipe, so they will be useful when it's time to cook.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


We had a very low key Oktoberfest dinner on Saturday; the menu was

Soft pretzels
Pork sausages, cabbage braised with apples, and mustard
Rice pudding with applesauce

The pretzels were my favourite part of the meal, food bloggers seemed to agree that Alton Brown's recipe was the best. It's a simple bread recipe very similar to a pizza dough with the addition of butter. Folding the pretzels is the most time consuming part; I found it easiest to use both hands to squeeze out the dough, one hand following the other until I had a fairly even length of dough about 50 cm long, then folded them following this tutorial. I made 12 hand sized pretzels from this quantity of dough. I only had 1/6 cup of bicarb left, this seemed to be enough for the water bath

They took about 17 minutes to bake in my recalcitrant but correct temperature conventional oven; at this point the bottoms were quite brown, but the tops were not quite as photogenically golden as I would have liked; if there is enough bread flour left I may have to experiment some more.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

August Leftovers

I cooked a lot of stir-fries and recipes from cooks books in August; the internet recipes I tried were

*Turkish carrot, tomato and lentil soup; unadulterated this soup is kind of grainy from the lentils, it definitely needs some sort of dairy added to improve the mouth feel.
*Nigel Salter's braised lamb shanks with leeks and haricot beans was enjoyed by the Archivist while I was out of town. Not too heavy for an early spring meal while leeks are cheap.