In praise of The French…

SO, sometimes the French get a bad rap, but I have to say, I am 100% pro-French.

Ok, maybe Paris wasn’t my favourite city in the whole world when I visited in 1999.  It was nice, but my trip to Paris was also my first experience staying in a hostel and travelling with a backpack.  I stayed at a hostel which was unfortunately named, the “Young and Happy Hostel”– trust me it was neither young, nor happy…it was gross, with a clogged shower, and 6 people in a room, and anyway, you get the point.  We stayed there for one night then upgraded ourselves to a hotel-type accommodation, there were three of us in one room and we shared a bathroom with the other people on our floor.  I’ve blocked out the name of the place but needless to say I would not have given it a 5 star review on TripAdvisor.  If you’re interested, the Young and Happy is on Trip Advisor, apparently it’s not the WORST place in Paris.  (I find that hard to believe but read for yourself.)

As I was saying, I am now official 100% Pro-France.  Amongst all of their amazing inventions- the stethoscope, tennis, the polo shirt (Rene Lacoste was WAY ahead of Ralph Lauren), antibiotics, the modern bikini, the French fry (well, maybe not but definitely the crepe which is tasty!), early cinema, ALL the cheese, Champagne and wine, the list goes on and on… but I am particularly pleased that the French invented Le Creuset Cookware.  It’s only a small thing but in the last 4 days since ours arrived, I’ve possibly made 5 dishes with it already.  Talk about a life changing kitchen item.  Wow.

For those of you who don’t know, Le Creuset is a line of cookware… although saying that is like saying that Coco Chanel made dresses.  It’s true, but entirely accurate as they are slightly better than your average pot.  Basically, they are famous for their colourful, enamel, cast iron French or Dutch Ovens—covered casseroles.  You can use them on the stove and in the oven and they make cooking a snap.  They can be used for browning meats, making stews, boiling, roasting, braising, risottos, everything.  And they have a bit of a cult following.  Celebrity chefs LOVE them, those in the Blogosphere discuss what colours are best and whether other brands are as good.  Not having grown up in an Le Creuset household (probably the only kitchen item The Mom didn’t have), I didn’t know how amazing they were firsthand.   I’d read all the reviews and seen them in action on TV, but didn’t know that it would be life changing.

The standard argument (summarised on the Culinary One website) in favour of Le Creuset is:

  • It is durable. It isn’t unusual for someone to be using 40 to 60 year old cookware
  • It heats perfectly and evenly. Food doesn’t burn easily
  • It cleans easily. The enameled coating keeps food from sticking to it
  • It is pretty! There are numerous colors available
  • It is consistently high quality
  • Can be used with gas, electric, induction, or ceramic ranges
  • Flat bottoms sit firmly on the surface of your cook top
  • Porcelain enamel coating won’t absorb odors or flavors
  • Lids seal in moisture and flavour
  • Knobs are heatproof up to 450 degrees F

And all of those are true.  Basically, it’s set and forget cookware.   It’s brilliant- you brown stuff on the stove, whack it in the oven, come back in an hour or two or three and it’s done, and juicy, and stays warm.  And it’s super easy to clean up.  (Part of my new found adulthood is handwashing things that I don’t want to be ruined.)  I haven’t cooked a bad dish in it yet!   Now I’m just looking for more things to cook in it!

Well played France, apparently being the home of pastry, art and fashion wasn’t enough, you had to go and invent the best kitchen item since the sink!

*In the spirit of full disclosure, I am not sponsored by Le Creuset but am TOTALLY open to the idea!

Our First Married Sunday Dinner

This is our first Sunday dinner party in QUITE a while- and our first one as Mr. and Mrs.  And our first one with our new, fancy wedding gifts—which were mostly kitchen supplies for me.  And believe it or not, I’m going to use quite a few of them today.

On the menu today are two dishes from Manu Feidel’s book, French For Everyone.

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For those of you who don’t know Manu, he’s a French Celebrity Chef and one of the two hosts of one of my favourite food related shows, My Kitchen Rules.  My Kitchen Rules, if you haven’t seen it, is sort of a cross between Come Dine With Me Couples and Masterchef, and probably one of the few cooking shows I would potentially put myself on.  A lot of the people on there have all the gear but no idea, and some of the other ones are quite good (better than the people making beans on toast that you see on Come Dine With Me), but not good enough for to flambé duck eggs on Masterchef.

So today, I’m making a white bean, garlic and thyme puree for canapés (using our new food processor), for starter I’m making a lentil salad with speck, and for main we’re having Tomato and Fennel Braised Pork (made in our Le Creuset French Oven) with Goats Curd Mash.  We’re also having insalata caprese and a green salad on the side. September 2014-wedding presents 241

SO… let’s get started!

For starters, I was super organised in the kitchen today and weirdly enough got everything done ahead of time.  I think it was my new pots and pans and cooking utensils to be fair, but it could also have been Manu’s extremely well written and easy to follow recipes.  Both the white bean dip and the Lentil salad were super easy recipes to follow and super delicious.   Both recipes had less than 4 steps in them and both had very straight forward, easy actions.  The Tomato and Fennel Pork was slightly more labour intense, but not really.  I can’t blame Manu for that one, it was in this month’s Delicious Magazine.   And yes, I am on a first name basis with Manu.  For 3 months out of every year, he invades my living room 5 nights a week, I feel like we’re buddies.

Anyway, Manu’s bean dip was quite easy to make.  Manu clearly knows his audience and writes his cookbooks accordingly.  Manu writes for people like me.  People who would love to be the person who buys and soaks dried beans overnight but in reality will always be the person with a tin of cannellini beans in the cupboard.

For starters, does anyone actually soak beans overnight?  Are people that organised?  And if they are that organised, how??  Not just how are they possibly that organised (I can barely organise myself to buy all the ingredients, let alone start preparing  them the night before)  but how do they actually soak beans?  Where? And in what?  I can’t even begin to delve into the existential aspects of soaking beans so I just open the tin of beans and follow the recipe.   It’s pretty easy and after simmering the beans in garlic, thyme, onion and carrot for an hour and a half, I got to use my new food processor to puree the beans with olive oil. And that was pretty much it.

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The lentil salad was equally easy and even more delicious.   Of course anything that involves bacon or speck is always good.   I mean really, name one time bacon has not made something tastier.  I won’t take it as far as King Curtis (and if you don’t know who he is, watch his video here)  but I am a big fan of bacon, and have been known to dance around the house singing about bacon- similar to this.

The star of the show however, was the Tomato and Fennel Braised Pork with Goat’s Curd Mash.  The mash was to die for,  the texture was really good, and the goats curd gave it a really nice texture/flavour.  Of course, I’m sure that no matter what I will NEVER be able to duplicate it.   But it was yum!  And the Pork was SUPER easy to make thanks to the French Oven.  After using it twice, I now get it.  The Le Creuset is AMAZING.  It makes cooking super simple and everything is cooked beautifully!  The pork was so tender and so evenly cooked and it was so easy.  Literally, I browned the pork then cooked off  garlic, onion, fennel, and fennel seeds.  After that had browned, I added red wine, canned tomatoes, and vincotto.  I put the pork back into the pot and put it all into the oven for 2 hours.  And that was it.  Dinner was done.  It wasn’t quite like the photo but it tasted great!

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And in case you’re wondering, yes, we used the fancy plates and yes, I even hand washed them to clean them.  It was well worth it!

A Typical Saturday- He Biked, I Learned to Cook Mexican!

Happy February!

Today was a fantastic way to start the month.  The Runner did a VO2 Max/Lactate Threshold test and is busy analysing his results.  He is exceptionally pleased with them and now is just trying to work out how to use them to improve his training.  Husky Long Course is a mere three weeks away and this year he’s either going to get an awesome time or possibly die trying.  He’s had three bad races there in the past three years he’s done the race– a torn Achilles the first year, a crash and a lost watch the second year, and bad cramping last year.  This year we’re hoping the curse has somehow been lifted!

While he was out testing, I was at a Mexican Cooking Class at The Essential Ingredient in Rozelle.  It was a Christmas present from The Runner and it was fantastic!  

First of all, I love that shop, it’s basically a cook’s paradise in Sydney.  They have lots of ingredients and cooking equipment and Le Creuset pots, and Kitchen Aid mixers and all sorts of other kitchen related things.  From obscure ingredients to obscure equipment, if you need it to cook with, they probably have it.

Secondly, the chef, Travis Harvey, who led the class was absolutely fantastic.  He’s just gotten back from filming an SBS series on Mexican Cooking with Peter Kuruvita and his passion and knowledge of Mexican cooking was fantastic!  He was really helpful and gave just the right amount of help but also let us play and cook ourselves.  The food was TO DIE FOR.  Literally, some of the best Mexican food I’ve had in a very long time.  I’m not a fish person, but the fish tacos we made were the best ones I have ever had in my entire life.  We made Baja Beer Battered Fish Tacos and the recipe is here on the SBS website along with 10 of his other Mexican recipes which are related to the show which are on the web as well.  

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Actually, everything we made in our class was tasty.  We made Ceviche with the Snapper that we learned to fillet in class– actually I watched other people learn, I have a thing with dead, whole fish.  (It’s their creepy, dead eyes and the thought of their scaly skin…I shudder just thinking about it).   We served it with tortilla chips and they were beautiful and tasty.

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Also, we made mini spit roast pork tacos with pineapple which were yum!  We learned how to make corn and flour tortillas and various salsas as well.Image

 

I was responsible for making two types of Chicken Tamales- one with salsa verde in banana leaves and the other with salsa roja in corn husks.  And they were fabulous!!!

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Best of all, everything we made were things that I could easily make again.  In fact, I bought a tortilla press, black beans and masa harina and tomorrow I’m going to make vegan tacos from scratch!  I think it should be pretty easy but of course, no cheese or sour cream to go with them but hopefully with guacamole, pico de gallo, and maybe even salsa verde we won’t even care!!

If you’re in Sydney, I highly recommend taking one of his classes-  I would do one again just to eat the delicious food!  You can book for yourself here.