now blogging at www.katesplates.com.au


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Dinner and a Show

I accidentally just made a great salad.  It was an accident because it includes lentils which I usually avoid.  The bottom line is that I’m about to serve duck for dinner with a side of lentil salad … I’m sure I’ll come up with a more creative name for it by the time I’ve finished writing this post but that’s what we shall call it for now.  So what’s the show you ask? A series of SMS messages coming at me every minute or so from my husband who is currently sitting at the Limoux piscine (piscine = pool: I use the French translation because it’s his favourite french word).  He very gallantly volunteered to help with swimming lessons for the kids school in May.  His help was gratefully received … and then they sent a note home.

“Please report to the Limoux municipal pool on a cold Monday night in February so that we can check if you actually can swim.  We will be the judge of your swimming capabilities.  Please don’t wear boardies – we want to see what you really look like under those winter coats.  Wear DTs (as us Aussie’s know them) or tighty whities.  And what we’re not telling you is that we will first make you sit through a lecture on what we will actually be teaching the kids – because it’s very important that you know all this three months out from the actual lessons.  On a Monday night.  In the cold.  Thirty minutes from home.  Oh and by the way, the lecture will be all in French so you won’t understand a word.  But it is polite to sit through it all with an impressed look on your face, and nod occasionally to show your interest.  Thankyou so much for your help – we really appreciate it.  We couldn’t do swimming lessons without the valuable help from parents like you.”

So, as you can tell, I may be inflating this story just a little, but the officialdom around ten swimming lessons in a country school for no more than 27 students is slightly amusing.  One thing is for sure, I will not be nervous about my children participating … I think their safety needs will be well-covered.

Allow me to double back to the type of swimwear that parents were asked to wear … just in case you missed it.  If a good-looking Aussie guy walks into the pool trying to wear boardies, he will be forbidden to swim.  This is what we had heard, so I decided to double check with our go-to man here in our little village, Monsieur le Mairie.  He answered me in French and said “yes that is correct, you need to wear tight swimming costumes, although a lengthier short is allowed, so long as it is tight.  And he must also wear a rubber duckie around his waste.”  He said this to me with a straight face so it took me a second to appreciate that he too found the requirements a little stringent.  Nevertheless, it meant hubby had to take a trip to town to invest in some tight togs so he didn’t offend.  Let it be known that I did not assist him on this particular shopping trip.

All photographic evidence that I tried to collect of his black and fluro pink (yep, that’s what he bought) swimming shorts has been destroyed.  Hubby has a background in security so there’s no way he was going to let those photos slip through his grasp.  I’m not sure why he felt he needed fluro pink shorts, but all I got by way of explanation was “they looked red in the store … they were definitely red when I bought them” from a very grave looking face indeed.

So imagine the show I enjoyed when he proceeded to keep me updated on the whole hilarious night via SMS while it was actually happening.  His french is improving so he picked up a phrase here and there.  They covered a policy that was created in 1937 and is still effective today.  Really?? They drew stick figures so all the parents could understand what the swimmers would be taught.  And they explained that any “helper” on their mobile phone WHILST in the pool would not be covered by insurance should anything happen to a child on their watch.  Gee I’m glad that was covered – now it’s clear.

So back to dinner … duck is very popular here in France.  And they’re huge!  I don’t really want to know why they’re so huge; all I know is that they taste amazing and it is by far my favourite meat dish here.  I’ve been practicing cooking duck breast quite a bit since we arrived so now I think I have it just right.  Here’s my recipe for duck breast and lentil salad.  If I just change it to French, I have my exotic title: Magret du Canard aux Lentilles.  Perfect!

magret du canard

Magret du Canard Aux Lentilles

Ingredients – serves 4-5

2 large duck breasts (or 4 small)
1-2 tbsp orange blossom honey
1 cup green lentils
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 cup slivered almonds
50gms fresh rocket
1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into 2cm cubes
2 tbsp coconut oil
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp red or white wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Method

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees, fan forced.  Put a large saucepan on to boil with the lentils and 2 cups of water.  As soon as the water boils, turn down the temperature to facilitate a gentle simmer for a further 20 minutes.  Add the cumin to flavour the water.

As the oven is heating up, put the slivered almonds in to brown for 5 minutes and cube the sweet potato.  Once the almonds are brown and fragrant, roast the sweet potato cubes for about 30 minutes with coconut oil, salt and pepper.

Prepare the duck breast by drying it in a paper towel.  Rub salt into the fat and turn a large frying pan on high heat. Cook the duck breast fat side down to render the fat for about 5 minutes.  It should be a lovely golden colour. Remove from the pan and place on an oven tray, fat side up.  Drizzle the honey over the fat and place in the oven to finish for about 15 minutes.  Turn the oven down to 180 degrees as you put the duck in.  Keep the duck fat left in the pan for tomorrow night’s roast potatoes!

Meanwhile, add salt to the lentil water just as it’s finishing, and drain.  Add to a bowl with the rocket and almonds. Add the sweet potato once it’s cooked and caramelised.  Dress the warm lentil salad with olive oil and vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.  Toss and serve.

The duck breast should be a dark pink to pale brown colour.  Slice diagonally and plate on top of the lentils.  Bon appetit!

With grace and gusto, kpx


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Tarte à la moutarde

I had a moment today when someone said next week is September!  I knew this, of course, but it triggered a sub-conscience thought I’d buried that September was to be the start of “the busy lead up” to our France trip.  Put it this way, on my to-do list this week, is “create a 100 day countdown calendar for kids”.  We’ve talked about France for so long that the poor little dears have it constantly in their minds as a “someday” trip but sooner rather than later, they will start to figure out that mummy’s crazy dream is in fact coming true.

The short version update is this: visa application appointment in Sydney is 28 days away; at this stage, we’re getting on that plane not knowing when we will return; I have changed the font three times on the cover of our visa application display folder (which contains 72 pieces of paper and counting) in an attempt to appear serious but enthusiastic; I am negotiating with myself on a daily basis about which pieces of furniture to keep and store, and which to give away or sell.  When friends come to visit or stay, they almost always walk out with something we can live without because stuff = space = storage costs.

So a couple of days ago, I welcomed the opportunity to be brought back to “the main thing”.  I’ve been dreaming about what it will be like when we actually get there and settle into a slower-paced life, about the rich produce France boasts and the village markets that permeate all your senses.  A French friend who was staying with us, and has just left (we miss you Maria!) cooked us a typically French tomato and mustard tart.  It is decadent in it’s simplicity: the rich tomatoes and dijon mustard combination packs a punch in flavour. She was (rightly) chuffed with her dish and while she didn’t understand my Aussie wise-crack (think The Castle) “This is going straight to the blog!”, she is happy for me to share her recipe.  It’s actually best served at room temperature or even cold.  I shamefully admit to inhaling three pieces in a row the next day!

tarte a la moutarde_logo

Tarte à la moutarde

Ingredients

Frozen or fresh puff pastry – enough to fit your desired tart tin
(She used a very large dish which required 4 sheets … an average 20-25cm dish would require about 2 sheets.  If you like a thick crust, you may wish to double up on the pastry.)

1/2 cup good quality dijon mustard
3-4 large vine-ripened tomatoes, thinly sliced
salt and pepper to taste
handful of fresh thyme
3/4 cup grated gruyere or cheddar cheese
olive oil to drizzle

Method

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.

Grease your tart pan and fit the thawed pastry to the pan, cutting off excess and using to “patch” any holes.

Smear the mustard generously along the bottom of the pastry and up the sides.

Sprinkle the grated cheese along the base.

Layer your tomato slices so that they are slightly overlapping.  Start on the outside of the pan and work your way into the middle.

Season to taste with salt and pepper, sprinkle the fresh thyme and drizzle the olive oil over the top before baking for 35 minutes or until the pastry crust is golden brown.

Allow to cool to room temperature before serving.

With grace and gusto,

kpx