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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Strawberry Chia Jam

You have probably noticed the abundance of beautiful, cheap strawberries at the moment?  I don’t think I’ve ever had so many strawberries in my fridge, but a friend recently left me with a whole lot more and instructions to make her some strawberry jam (she knows what I love to do!).

I’ve never made jam before I must admit, and we don’t have it in the house … too easy to get hooked on the sweetness of commercial jam.  So I took it upon myself to play around with a few versions of jam using chia seeds to thicken and maple syrup to sweeten.  I am loving the result. Here is my Thermomix recipe, but if you don’t have one, just boil it all up in a saucepan using the same times and blend once cooked.

strawberry chia jam logo

Ingredients

3 cups strawberries, leaves removed
2-4 tbsp maple syrup
grated zest of 2 lemons
2 vanilla seed pods, cut into small pieces (use scissors)
3 tbsp chia seeds

Method

Put the strawberries, 2 tbsp of maple syrup, vanilla seed pods and lemon zest into the TM bowl and blitz on speed 6 for 5 seconds.  Cook on Varoma temperature for 25 minutes.

Add the chia seeds and taste to see if you need more maple syrup.  Cook for a further 5 minutes on Varoma temperature.

Pour into sterilised jars and close lid immediately to help create a seal in the lid.  Store in refrigerator.  Enjoy on homemade bread or toast!

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


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Lunchbox Muffins

If you’re anything like me, you’re always looking for creative ways to add nutrition to lunchboxes!  One of my favourites is the savoury muffin – they’re quick and easy and there are endless combinations to suit your kids’ tastes. I have found one trick that seems to work … I always use bacon, salami or chorizo in my savoury muffins to boost flavour – they risk tasting bland without something strong. For a vegetarian option, olives are ideal.  Stick to the basic recipe below and from there, you can add whatever cheese your kids like (cheddar, feta, ricotta, parmesan) and hide lots of vegies (spinach, carrot, zuccini, onion etc).   Would love to hear what combinations you come up with … here’s a few suggestions to get you thinking:

* Spinach and Ricotta

* Chorizo, Cheddar and Spinach

* Bacon and cheese

* Capsicum,  Olive and Salami

* Zuccini, Bacon and Carrot

green lunchbox muffins

Lunchbox Muffins – Base Recipe

Ingredients – makes 16 muffins

150gms of cheese, grated
2 eggs
150gms bacon
350gms French flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 onion, finely diced
large handful baby spinach leaves
1 tbsp fresh herbs of choice
250gms milk
1 tbsp olive oil

Method

Preheat the oven at 180 degrees.

Saute the onion and bacon/salami for 5 minutes until just cooked.  Put all the ingredients into a food processor and process until combined.

Spoon tablespoons into a well-greased muffin pan (N.B I have tried with paper wrappers and without and find without is best.  The kids complained of the wrappers sticking to the muffin which means they don’t bother eating it).  Bake for approx 25 minutes or until golden brown.

These freeze really well.  They’re also great to reheat in the oven for at-home lunches.  You may choose to cut them in half horizontally and spread with cream cheese or marscapone.

With grace and gusto,

kpx


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Olive Tapenade Scrolls

A busy week so far!  Didn’t think I’d have time to blog but I couldn’t resist throwing this one up quickly because I was so pleased with how quick and simple (and yum!) they were.  I’m one of those lucky mums whose kids love olives.  Yes they have expensive tastes but olives are so versatile and can really lift a dish – whether it’s a main meal or a mid-morning snack.

We have sports day this week which means us parents have a great excuse to get together for a picnic and watch the kids run around the oval.  But it also means I need to feed the whole family!  So these scrolls came to mind … I’ve never made them before but they were so easy.  I used this olive tapenade to give it a boost of flavour and it means I don’t have to make boring old sandwiches.  You could use a variety of different olives to change the flavours … many tapenades call for anchovies but I find the flavour a little too strong for kiddies, so almonds are a good substitute to let the olives shine through.

Olive Tapenade

Ingredients

2 cloves of garlic (if you don’t like a strong garlic flavour, drop it back to 1)
1/2 bunch parsley
6-8 sprigs chives
40 gms whole almonds
200gms black kalamata olives, pitted
20-40gms extra virgin olive oil
cracked black pepper to taste

Method

Place the herbs and garlic in a food processor or Thermomix and process until finely chopped (TM31 speed 7 for 3 secs).

Add the almonds and olives and process (speed 7 for 5 sec) until you reach your desired consistency.

Add the EVOO and pepper and process to combine.

olive tapenade scrolls_logo

Olive Tapenade Scrolls

Use the french flour bread recipe to make your dough.

Once you have left the dough to prove for 30-60mins, cut into 16 balls.

Roll out each ball to a sausage shape and then flatten gently with the palm of your hand.

Using a small spatula or icing knife, spread a layer of olive tapenade along one side of the dough.

Roll one end to the other to create your scroll and place on a baking tray lined with baking paper.

Continue with the remaining 15, and spray the tops with water before cooking at 220 degrees for about 30 minutes or until golden brown.

These will freeze really well and are a great afternoon tea.  For a nut-free version for lunchboxes, omit the almonds or substitute for anchovies.

With grace and gusto,

kpx


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My Obsession with French Flour

This post is unlike my usual snappy story with a recipe chaser … best to grab a cuppa and a comfy chair before you start reading. This is a post I have been promising for some time and one I am very passionate about … my research will forever continue on this topic. But for now, here’s what I’ve learnt about French flour …

french bread

I’ve had seven wonderful filles au pair work for us since my twin daughters were born nearly five years ago.  All French, and very deliberately so.  At the time they were an absolute necessity and most certainly saved me from checking myself into a sleep clinic! On reflection, almost a year since we’ve had any live-in help, those girls were not just a convenient way for me to keep up my French and have the kids immersed in it, but that time with them living in our home and eating our meals really shaped my curiosity about French food and culture.

Nearly all of them, very politely, turned up their nose to our Australian bread – and rightly so.  I now know that some of the flour produced in Australia, by comparison, is absolute rubbish.

I’ve always been someone who loves her bread and pastries … but I had to really limit it because I suffered bloating as a result. Sound familiar?  There’s no denying us Australians are amidst a “gluten-intolerant” epidemic.  So why is this so common in my generation? Twenty years ago it was barely heard of.

About eighteen months ago on my quest for answers to my twin daughters’ constant tummy troubles, I came across a naturopath whose wife is gluten intolerant.  He shared with me that when they traveled through France, she found she could eat bread without any nasty side effects.  He now sells French flour through his clinic and since that day it’s all you’ll find in my pantry.

My passion for this product has led me to have many conversations (in French and English!) with anyone who knows anything about French flour.  I’ve tracked down bakers in Brisbane and as far as Perth who use the flour, and I’ve scoured pages of the internet in search of more information about the quality of French flour.  I really feel like it’s important to be educated about the food we eat and hopefully once you’ve finished reading this article, you’ll not only be keen to try your own homemade bread using French flour, but you’ll be much more aware of Australian wheat and flour practices.

There are three main points to cover in understanding the differences … how the wheat is grown, how it’s processed and how the bread is made.

There are several factors that come into play when you start asking about how wheat varieties are grown in this country – our weather conditions are drastically different to France and the nutrients in the soil are far richer in France due to common practice of complementary planting.  This means that crops are rotated so as not to deplete the soil of the same nutrients every time a crop is harvested.  I visited a regional area of the South of France earlier this year and noted that my backyard was a rye field but that six months before that I would have looked out my bedroom window to a crop of sunflowers.

In my opinion, the most significant difference is how Australians “over-process” wheat.  In our supermarkets, we find our basic plain flour and self-raising flour as almost our only options.  Self-raising is only so because of the additives and it doesn’t even exist in France.  I’m still learning about this, but for some reason, Australian mills take out some really crucial enzymes that exist in a certain part of the wheat head that enables our bodies to digest the gluten more effectively.  The French leave these all in the product and as a result, they produce breads that are naturally lower in gluten as a percentage but that still provide all the enzymes nature intended us to have to aid in digestion.  Makes sense right? I suspect it must cost far less to mill the way us Aussies do.

There are over six types of flour that are used daily in French boulangeries.  Traditional baguettes use T55 or T65.  T45 or T80 will be used for pastries, cakes or brioche (you may also be familiar with the Italian type 00 flour which is similar). T130 is a rye, T150 is similar to what we know as whole wheat and T110 is a flour that offers colouring half way between white and brown.  These numbers refer to the ash content per 10mg of flour.  The gluten content as a percentage is lower (9-11%)  in the softer wheats (T45) and higher (11-13%) in the harder wheats (particularly wheat harvested in Spring) like T65.

For me, all these confusing numbers come down to one thing: I buy T55 flour from Basic Ingredients to make my family’s bread four times a week.  It takes me two minutes to prepare, I leave it for an hour to prove and I cook it for 40 minutes. I do two loaves at a time and freeze what we’re not eating straight away.  And the bottom line is that we have noticed drastic changes in our tummy health throughout the family.  It tastes better, costs no more than spelt flour, my house smells amazing and the kids notice the difference when they eat commercial bread elsewhere.

My next test was to ask a friend who is highly gluten-intolerant to try the bread.  I really had to twist her arm.  She had avoided gluten for years and was not excited about the possibility of gut ache again.  I am very excited to tell you that she too now buys the flour to bake her own bread and she can once again enjoy a wheat product without the angst of side effects.

France Gourmet imports the flour into Australia, and there are French-trained artisan bakers in Australia who won’t use anything else.  Rob Howard of Harvest Boulangerie in Perth, is one such boulanger.  He was on the Australian Baking Team with Brett Noy in 2010 (Italy) and 2011 (China) and came third both times in the Coup du Monde.  Pretty impressive considering the tough European competition.

He explained to me that most bakers will use 1-2% yeast and often a bread improver to oxidise the dough.  This is a chemical additive to speed up the process and sell bread faster.  He prefers to engage in long, slow fermentation stages using no chemicals at all – just salt.  This is what he was taught in Paris.  Fermentation is a natural process that breaks down the starches and even the gluten to a point, and this can take up to twenty-four hours. The results speaks for itself: Rob sells between sixty and eighty baguettes a day in his Scarborough bakery.

He also highlights that the flour industry in Australia is not regulated the way it used to be.  Wholemeal flours for example used to require a minimum of 90% whole wheat but these days, no one checks!  It’s pretty easy to see why there are myriad reasons why our tummies are suffering at the hand of inferior flour produced in Australia.

In Brisbane, Sebastien Pisasale of Crust and Co Artisan Baking, uses a mixture of Australian and French wheat for consistency.  And what he says is so true – unless the customer demands a superior product, it’s just not commercially viable for bakers to import all their flours.  So once again folks, it’s up to us to take responsibility for our own health, get educated and seek better options.

I’m going to go and live in the country that produces healthier, tastier breads, but if that option is a little drastic for you, I really encourage you to try making the bread yourself using French flour.  I have no commercial ties to Basic Ingredients (wish I did!) but so far it’s the only retailer I have found who supplies it in small enough quantities for household use (I buy 5kg bags at a time).

Give it a try, your tummy – and taste buds – will thank you!

homemade bread and soup_logo

Homemade French Bread

This quantity will make 2 baguettes or 1 loaf of bread.  I use the Thermomix to knead the bread, but you could use a bread maker, KitchenAid or get some exercise and use those arms!

Ingredients

500gms Imported French Flour
300gms warm filtered water
1 packet dry yeast
1-2 tsp sea salt
20gms extra virgin olive oil

Method

Mix your warm water with the yeast, salt and olive oil.  Add the flour and combine on speed 6 for 8 seconds.  Knead on interval speed for two minutes.

Rest on a bread mat in a warm spot for at least 30 minutes.  I have left dough for up to 24 hours to encourage further fermentation. Just depends how much time you have before the kids demand toast for breaky.

Shape the dough into baguettes or a free form loaf (or you can even place in a large loaf tin) and bake on a large baking tray lined with baking paper.  Mark the top of your bread with a sharp knife as per the picture below.  Spray the top with water for a golden crust. You may wish to repeat this half way through the cooking time.

Place in a cold oven and cook at 220 degrees for 30 minutes.  Check the crust is hard and golden.  Depending on the size of your loaf, it may need an extra 5 or 10 minutes.  If you’ve baked it in a tin, I recommend removing it from the tin and baking for a final 5 minutes out of it’s tin.

Now if you’ve made two like I do, allow one to cool completely, slice and freeze in a plastic bag.  The other loaf must be tested whilst still warm with lashings of butter!

With grace and gusto,

kpx


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Nut-free dark chocolate and banana muffins

Here’s another winner with the kids … I tested them in the lunchbox today and by the look of my daughter’s chocolate-smeared grin when I picked her up from kindy this afternoon, these get the kid tick of approval!

I find it so helpful to bake up a double mixture of these and stock the freezer – it makes that morning rush so much easier and you look like a pro if anyone “drops in” for morning tea.  Use really good quality dark chocolate (at least 70%) to maximise nutrition and you could even hide some chia seeds or maca powder in these without affecting the taste.

banana choc muffins_logo

Dark Chocolate and Banana Muffins

Ingredients

4 medium over-ripe bananas (the riper they are the sweeter they are)
3 large free-range eggs
1/3 cup (60gms for Thermomixers) macadamia oil
1/4 cup (50gms) coconut sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups (340gms) flour (I used Imported T65 french flour)
2 tsp gluten free baking powder
1/2 cup desiccated coconut
1 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch good quality sea salt
100gms dark chocolate, finely chopped (or grated on speed 8 for 4 seconds in the TM)

Method – makes 12-15

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees fan forced.  Line your muffin trays with paper cases.

If you’re using a Thermomix, mix your bananas, eggs, oil and vanilla on speed 5 for 5 seconds to combine.

Non-thermomix users – mash your banana and stir in all other wet ingredients to combine.

Add remaining dry ingredients, reserving a third of the grated chocolate, and combine at speed 3, reverse for 10 seconds. Use your arm muscles and a spoon if you don’t have a TM.

Spoon the mixture into the paper cases, half filling them and finish by sprinkling the dark chocolate over the top.  Bake for 30 minutes and cool on a wire rack.  Eat fresh or freeze for lunchboxes.

With grace and gusto

kpx