Cooking Classes


Catalan Stew with the warm flavours of chocolate and cinnamon

A few years ago I spent Christmas in Paris. It was two weeks of bistros, fine dining and petits dejeuners. And Paris is where I saw the movie Julie and Julia! It was a rainy afternoon and cold so rather than walk and see more sights I chose the coziness of a movie theatre.

But I digress. I remember one meal in particular at a small quiet yet classy restaurant on Ile St. Louis which was within walking distance of my hotel. I ordered a simple beef stew however, it was anything but simple. The flavours were complex, well balanced, beef perfectly tender with hints of chocolate and orange. I didn't take notes but I thought it was perhaps a daube, a Provencal beef stew, yet I have not found a daub recipe with chocolate. This Catalan stew comes close to what I remember.

Catalan Stew

8 oz. pancetta or other unsmoked cured pork
1/3 c. quality cooking oil such as olive, camelina or organic canola
4 lb. stewing beef, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/3 c. red wine vinegar
2  medium sized yellow onions, finely chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 c. beef stock
1 c. dry red wine
2 tbsp. tomato paste
2 - 4 inch cinnamon sticks
4 sprigs fresh thyme or dried
3 strips orange peel
3 tbsp. dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
fresh Italian parsley, garnish

Turn oven to 350 F.

In an ovenproof pot add a tablespoon of the cooking oil and chopped pancetta. Saute until lightly browned. Remove to a bowl.

In three batches brown the beef in the same pan and adding more cooking oil as necessary. Remove to the same bowl as pancetta.

Deglaze pot with red wine vinegar. Add to beef mixture.

Add another tablespoon or two of cooking oil. On medium low heat saute onions and garlic until tender but not browned. Add meat back to pot. Add the rest of the ingredients except Italian parsley.

With the lid on the pot cook in the oven for about 2 hours or until beef is tender. Cool. Refrigerate overnight. Next day remove any congealed fat before warming to serve. Serve in heated bowls garnished with chopped Italian parsley. Or as I did, top a dollop of mashed potatoes with the stew and garnish with roasted baby carrots. Serves 8.


Preserved Lemons

When I left my home in a city of over a million people and moved to a town with only 16,000 souls I had to give up a lot when it came to ingredients and grocery choices. For this reason and because it is enjoyable I now make some of the things I can't buy in a local food store. Preserved lemons is one of those items.

Preserved lemons are commonly used in Moroccan cooking. I love Moroccan foods with their aromatic cinnamon, cardamom, saffron and rosewater. I often use Meyer lemons, a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. They are sweeter and less acidic.

These preserved lemons will keep in the refrigerator for several months and I almost always have some on hand.

Preserved Lemons

1 jar with a tightly fitting lid
lemons to fill the jar
lemons to make juice to fill the jar
kosher salt

Slice the lemons into quarters without cutting completely through so they still hold in one piece.

Rub the cut edges with coarse salt and stuff into the jar until the jar is filled. Alternate with more coarse salt. End with more salt. Fill the jar with fresh squeezed lemon juice. Seal.

Leave the jar on the countertop for one or two days so the juice is more quickly released from the lemon. Then refrigerate for 2 - 4 weeks before using.


Cassoulet that won't take 3 days to make ...

A fast cassoulet is an oximoron of the greatest degree. There is really no such thing but this is a close facsimile. However, if you are like me, and crave confit of duck leg in it, then it will take a couple of days.

Cassoulet is essentially a French stew and can be made with the meats, beans and lentils on hand. Pork, duck and lamb give it the best flavour but substituting beef for one of these is entirely acceptable.

Unlike a typical stew where everything is thrown into the pot and cooked at the same time a good cassoulet will have the ingredients cooked separately and then mixed together for the final baking.

I am cooking for myself and as a result my recipes often only feed one or two persons. Four at most. I only like to eat leftovers once and I have a decided dislike for most frozen food.

A problem for those who rarely cook with duck or do not live in a large city is the lack of extra duck fat to make the confit. If you are starting with a whole duck it isn't such a problem. The fat from the rest of the duck can be rendered out to use it here. I have a blog post that describes how to render duck fat by clicking on this link How to Render Duck Fat.

Another mild tasting oil can be used in the place of duck fat to make the confit. Canola oil is one option or a mild olive oil.

If making duck confit isn't appealing, then simply sear a duck breast, dice and add to the dish instead.

And if you are not using duck at all, then please use bacon and the rendered fat. Pork belly is delicious. This dish needs some flavourful fat.

And your next question may be, "What do I serve with cassoulet?" Traditionally, nothing is served 'with' cassoulet. You may begin the meal with a crisp salad and of course, a light dessert to finish.

Sarah's Cassoulet
Serves 4.

1 duck breast or confit leg
2 lamb sausages
1/2 lb. beef chuck roast, cubed
1/2 c. navy beans
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 c. French green lentils
1/2 c. yellow onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 c. dry vermouth
1 tbsp. tomato paste
1 c. beef, chicken or duck stock
1/2 c. panko bread crumbs
2 tbsp. flatleaf parsley, finely chopped

To Make the Duck Confit

 kosher salt
1 cloves garlic, smashed
1 shallot, peeled and sliced
1 sprigs thyme
Coarsely ground black pepper
1 duck legs with thighs
About 1 cups duck fat

Sprinkle salt in the bottom of a dish or plastic container large enough to hold the duck pieces in a single layer. Evenly scatter half the garlic, shallots, and thyme in the container. Arrange the duck, skin-side up, over the salt mixture, then sprinkle with the remaining salt, garlic, shallots, and thyme and a little pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 1-2 days.

Preheat the oven to 225 F. Melt the duck fat in a small saucepan. Brush the salt and seasonings off the duck. Arrange the duck pieces in a single snug layer in a high-sided baking dish or ovenproof saucepan. Pour the melted fat over the duck. The duck pieces should be covered by fat. Place the confit in the oven. Cook the confit slowly at a very slow simmer — just an occasional bubble — until the duck is tender and can be easily pulled from the bone, 2-3 hours. Remove the confit from the oven. Cool and store the duck in the fat. The confit will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks.

Note: The duck fat can be strained and reused.
To Make the Beans

Soak the beans overnight in cold water (soaking is optional, but makes the texture creamier and the cooking time shorter). Drain, rinse again, and put in a large saucepan or 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven. Add enough water to cover the beans by 1 inch (more, if you didn’t soak them). Add the onion, thyme, rosemary, savory (if using), bay leaf, chile, and salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, adjusting the heat as needed to achieve a gentle bubbling. Cover partially and simmer until the beans are tender but still hold their shape. Depending on the variety and freshness of your beans, this could take from 30 minutes to 2 hours, so check frequently, adding more water if the beans get dry. Remove from the heat and let cool in the liquid.

To Put it Together

Begin by adding the cooked navy beans to a baking dish large enough to hold everything else. In this case, I used a baking dish that was about one quart volume.

In a pan over medium high heat place the confit duck leg skin side down. Sear until the skin is crisp and any fat is rendered out. Turn it over and brown the other side, too. Remove to a cutting board. Don't clean the pan. Remove the bones and roughly chop the meat and skin. Add to the baking dish.
Next add the cubed beef. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper before cooking. Don't crowd the pan. Saute until browned and add to the baking dish. Don't clean the pan. And then brown the lamb sausage in the same way. Add to baking dish.

 Saute onions in the same pan. Add to the baking dish. Don't clean the pan.

Deglaze the pan with the dry vermouth. Add tomato paste and the rest of the cooking water from the beans. Add this to the baking dish.

 Stir in French green lentils. Add water to almost cover.

Toss the breadcrumbs with parsley and spread over the top of the food. Put the lid on the baking dish and bake for about 45 minutes. Remove the lid and let the breadcrumbs become crusty, about 15 minutes.
Stir the crusty breadcrumb mixture into the cassoulet and add water if it is dry. Put it back in the oven and bake until the beef and lentils are tender and once again crusty on top.


Potato Latkes

Today is the last day of Hanukkah and as feasts unfold in homes across the continent one dish is sure to be served. But it isn't the potato that is significant, it is the oil. When the Jerusalem Temple was recaptured and reconsecrated there was only enough oil to last for a day. Miraculously the oil burned and provided light for eight nights.  That was enough time to make more oil.

Potato latkes are best served right out of the pan and onto the plate. Potatoes are traditional but latkes are also made with sweet potatoes. Serve with applesauce and sour cream. Small latkes are perfect for serving with creme fraiche and caviar.

Potato Latkes

2 pounds large russet (baking) potatoes (about 4)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 large onion (1 pound)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 250 F with rack in upper third.

Peel potatoes and coarsely grate into a bowl using large teardrop-shaped holes of a box grater or in a food processor fitted with medium shredding disk. Add lemon juice and toss to coat.

Coarsely grate onion into same bowl. Transfer to a kitchen towel (not terry cloth), then gather up corners to form a sack and twist tightly to wring out as much liquid as possible.

Wipe bowl clean, then return potatoes and onion to bowl and stir in flour, eggs, and 1 1/4 teaspoons salt until just combined.

Heat oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet or cast iron pan over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Fill a 1/4-cup measure halfway with latke mixture and carefully spoon it into skillet, then flatten to 3 inches in diameter with a slotted spatula.

Form 5 more latkes in skillet and fry until undersides are deep golden, 1 1/2 to 3 minutes. If latkes brown too quickly, reduce heat to medium. Turn over and fry until deep golden on the other side, 1 1/2 to 3 minutes more. Transfer to paper towels to drain briefly, then transfer to a metal rack set in a baking pan and keep warm in oven. Make more latkes.

Latkes can be kept warm in oven up to 1 hour.


 Well, hello! It has been several months since I have posted on my blog. Life was very busy. All summer long I am vending at the local farmers' market.

Every week I make 70 loaves of  bread, almost 200 scones, 60 hand pies and other sundry and varied items. I dabbled in organic salad dressings. They were moderately successful. I had a few regular customers but mostly it was a hard sell to get them out of the cooler. My hummus, on the other hand, was a hit. It is the creamiest. I have a secret recipe to achieve this creamy texture. And it sold very well.

Then I moved right into Christmas markets. I travelled to larger cities with my gourmet marshmallows and my wild picked berry jams. Both are quite special. It was so nice to get out of town. I had an opportunity to meet new customers, fellow vendors and dine out at new and wonderful restaurants. I'll be doing that again next season.

Christmas baking is completed, almost. I only have a batch of cinnamon buns to bake in the morning. And now I am footloose and fancy free. Well, almost. I am now involved with a trio, including me, making fine dining meals as a pop-up restaurant. We have only delivered one event so far but another two are in the offing.

No rest for the wicked, they say.

Tonight I roasted a little Cornish Game Hen for myself. I dug through my pantry and came up with a wild rice, morel and shallot stuffing. Tossed in celeriac, potato and baby carrots. Finally taking time to make myself some good food.

Stay tuned. I'll be sharing more recipes and ideas this winter.


Played with my food tonight and this is what I made ...

Today was opening day for our farmers' market season. There were a few changes and I have new helpers so it was with a touch of anxiety that I awoke this morning to do it all over again.

I wish I had taken a few pictures. The market was flooded with happy people anxious to buy our offerings. I love market day. After a week of kitchen work it is time to meet your buyers face to face and enjoy a bit of camaraderie.

Tonight I played with food that arrived in my foraged food box from northern Saskatchewan. What a grand meal.

The burn morels were prime. Large, dry and not wormy. They made a flavourful risotto. Dandelion greens are heavy in the dietary fibre so no need to make a lot. Their bitter flavour complimented the risotto. And I have about 6 dozen quail eggs. It was fun to poach a couple. But seriously, they only take a minute. Quail eggs taste like chicken eggs but they proportionately have a large yolk.

Satisfying simple dinner.