As many of you know I’ve been immersed in Mediterranean cooking for the past few weeks with the cook school series at Bel Mondo coming to an end on a high note with the celebration of Bastille Day last Thursday. For the last night I demonstrated Truffled Chicken, a dish that transforms the ordinary into the sublime with the addition of just one ingredient.

This all got me thinking about food and food television. What we eat is supposed to be fun and happy, not scary and the competitive sport that it is being portrayed as on our television screens. Delving into those Mediterranean food roots has reminded me that at the end of the day it really is all about flavour. Take simple good product, treat it well and enjoy the flavours. We all now live in a world of instant decisions and instant results where time is a precious commodity not to be wasted lightly and I guess one of the biggest casualties of this is our food habits. Good flavour is the Holy Grail of cooking and takes time to search for and develop.

So today’s recipe is an old French classic that looks complicated but is in fact easy to do. There are literally hundreds of recipes for Cassoulet, which is in essence a simple bean and sausage casserole that can be dressed up with Confit of Duck, another case of the simple becoming the astonishing. I’ve included both recipes for you so that you can choose how elaborate you want to make it and before anyone mentions it the quantities for the Duck aren’t a typo, the confit of duck will last for weeks in the fridge as long as it stays completely covered by duck fat so if you’re going to the trouble then why not get more than one meal out of it. What could be finer than coming home from work on a dark winters night knowing that you have a beautiful meal ready to go in the fridge?

As I write this we’re preparing for our trip to Europe and I’m starting to imagine the foods and wines that we’ll taste in France, over the coming the weeks I’ll share the travels with you in Indulge as well as on my website ( where you can also find out about upcoming cook schools at Mills Reef Winery and Bel Mondo.

Cassoulet (Classic French Casserole)

This is best made the day before, which makes your dinner party far more relaxing!  It works well as an entrée or can be served as a very special main course with the duck.

Serves 4

1000g lima beans, soaked overnight                  Salt and pepper

900g fresh pork belly                                    ¼ cup / 60g duck fat

1 onion, cut into 4 pieces                                    6 pork sausages

450g pork rind                                             3 onions, thinly sliced

1 bouquet garni                                             1 garlic clove, thinly sliced

4 ducklegs confited (see recipe below)


Drain and rinse beans and place in a large pan.  Add pork belly, onion, 112g pork rind and bouquet garni.  Cover with water, add salt and pepper to taste and bring to boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook for 1 hour until beans are tender.  Allow to cool and discard onion and bouquet garni.  Remove pork belly, cut into 5cm squares and set aside.  Strain beans and rind and set aside, reserving cooking liquid separately.

In a sauté pan, heat all but 1 tablespoon duck fat over medium high heat until it shimmers.  Carefully add sausages and brown on all sides.  Remove and drain on paper towels.  Using same pan, over a medium-high heat, brown sliced onions, garlic and reserved cooked squares of pork rind from the beans.  Remove from heat and transfer to blender.  Add 1 tablespoon remaining duck fat and purée until smooth.

Preheat oven to 180˚C.  Line the bottom of a deep ovenproof dish with the uncooked pork rind.  Arrange all your ingredients in alternating layers, beginning with a layer of beans, then sausages, then more beans, then pork belly, beans, duck confit and finally more beans, adding a dab of the onion and pork rind purée between each layer.  Add enough of the bean cooking liquid to just cover the beans, reserving 1 cup/225ml in the fridge for later use.  Cook the cassoulet in the oven for 1 hour, then reduce heat to 130˚C and cook for another hour.  Remove from oven and allow to cool.  Refrigerate overnight.

Next day: Preheat oven to 180˚C.  Cook cassoulet for 1 hour.  Break crust on top with a spoon and add ¼ cup/56ml of the reserved cooking liquid.  Reduce heat to 130˚C and continue cooking for another 15 minutes or until very hot.  Serve immediately.

Confit of Duck

Serves 10

10 duck legs, marinated

Marinade for Confit:

A few sprigs fresh thyme

2 bay leaves

12 fresh basil leaves

20 black peppercorns

2 cloves garlic, chopped

4 shallots, chopped

3cm fresh root ginger, peeled and grated

20ml Worcestershire sauce

20ml soy sauce

20ml balsamic vinegar

30ml white wine vinegar

30ml The Grove horopito infused Avocado oil

2 tablespoons sea salt

2-3kg goose, duck or pork fat to cover

75ml clear honey


Mix all marinade ingredients together and marinate duck legs for up to 3-4 days.

Melt fat in a deep tray.  Add marinated meat and cook in a pre-heated oven at 170˚C for 2 hours.  Check that legs are cooked, and then allow to cool in the fat.  At this stage, the confit will last weeks in the fridge, if kept covered in fat, ensuring a total air seal forms.  When needed, simply remove from fat and cook under a HIGH grill for about 8-10 minutes, or until the skin goes crispy.

Wine Match

This dish can handle all sorts of wines from Viogner to Pinot Noir but for me the Left Field Syrah from Te Awa Winery in Hawkes Bay is a cracker and reminds me of the wines of Southern France, which is after all the home of the Cassoulet

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In this modern world of high technology we are all led to believe that many things are just too hard for us mere mortals to do, and they should be left to experts in factories. Making cheese is a classic example of this thought process, after all it must be too hard to make at home mustn’t it? Well actually no it isn’t and when you think about it we’ve been making cheese for more than 5000 years.

In fact the first cheeses were probably discovered as a mistake. Imagine the simple goat herder somewhere in North Africa or the Arab regions, the only watertight container that he has to carry with him as he tends his flock for the day is a goats stomach, cleaned and tied at both ends, one day as a treat he takes some of the goats milk instead of water and when he stops for a break he discovers to his horror that the milk has separated and gone all lumpy. He then does what we all would do in the same situation and tentatively tastes a bit, to his surprise he finds it palatable and to his joy he discovers, over time, that this new lumpy stuff also last so much longer that the original milk while retaining all of its goodness.

Over centuries the simple process of making cheese spreads and becomes as varied as the people that make it. Cheese-making is an art. The skills required to make a good cheese can not be taught – they can only be learned by experience. As you progress, your senses will develop. You will be able to note changes in the taste, texture and smell of the milk, curd and ultimately the cheese.

So on to today’s recipe, To make any cheese you need good milk, preferably organic. Using fresh, whole milk from grass-fed cows (from a nearby farm) will produce the best results, but using milk from the shop/supermarket which has not been homogenised (e.g. Ridge Farm Milk) should also produce good results. Low-fat milk also can be used to make cheese, but you’ll get less cheese as a result. Ultra-high-temperature or UHT pasteurisation allows milk to be shipped long distances and stored without refrigeration, but its coagulating ability is damaged in the process and so it can’t be made into cheese.

Next is the salt which enhances flavour, draws out excess moisture and acts as a preservative. Avoid iodized salt, because it can slow down active starter bacteria. Specialty cheese salt is coarser than regular table salt and is non-iodized. And finally it’s best to use filtered water when making cheese, as some water supplies contain compounds that compromise milk’s ability to be made into cheese. Happy cheese making.

Superquick Ricotta

Ricotta is traditionally made by re-cooking the whey from a previous batch of hard cheese, such as Parmesan, but this recipe is a simpler version. Use fresh ricotta in Italian classics like lasagne, or serve with honey and Italian breads.

Makes 600 to 800g

3.8 litres milk
1 tsp citric acid dissolved in 60ml cool water
1 tsp cheese salt (optional)

Put the milk and citric acid solution into a stainless steel pan. Stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, slowly heat the mixture to between 85 and 90°C. As soon as the curds and whey separate (there should be no milky whey, only clear whey), turn off the heat and let sit undisturbed for 10 minutes.

Line a colander with cheesecloth, and ladle the curds into the colander. Mix in the salt with a spoon. Let the cheese drain for 30 to 45 minutes. For firmer cheese, tie the cheesecloth into a bag and hang it from a hook to drain. Serve immediately or refrigerate.

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Had a great afternoon yesterday at the Mount Ocean Sports Club, for all those that were at the cook school here are the recipes, if you weren’t there then we’ll be back for another show before Christmas.

Till then enjoy the recipes.

Fillet of Blue Nose with a Soft Herb Crust

Serves 8

8 Fillets of Blue Nose, skin off

1 glass white wine (optional)

Soft Herb Crust:

175g fresh white breadcrumbs (preferably brioche)

80g Gruyere cheese, grated

50g chopped fresh parsley

5g chopped fresh thyme

125g unsalted butter, softened



Place all the ingredients into a food processor and whiz until thoroughly mixed.  Spread out onto a greaseproof lined tray and open freeze.  Cut into portions and place one on top of each seasoned fillet of blue nose.  Place on baking tray, pour wine onto baking tray (optional) and bake at 180˚C for 10-12 minutes or until topping is slightly golden and fish is firm to the touch and opaque.  Serve with a sauce (any one from the other recipes below would be great.)

Scallops with Saffron Sauce

Serves 6

24 scallops (see below for preparation)

Sunflower oil

Lemon Juice

Salt & black pepper to season

Mixed salad greens

Saffron Sauce:

3 shallots, finely chopped

¼ leek, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon olive oil

300ml white wine (or brandy)

300ml fish stock (or chicken stock)

Pinch saffron

300ml double cream

Lemon juice to taste



To make sauce, sweat shallots, leek and garlic in the olive oil.  Add stock, wine and saffron to the pan and reduce to quarter of original volume.  In a second pan, reduce cream to half the original volume.  Add stock mix to cream and hand whisk.  Add lemon juice and seasoning to taste.  Set to one side. Heat frying pan until almost smoking.  Brush scallops with oil.  Working in one portion batches, place carefully into hot pan.  Turn over almost immediately – they should be golden brown but barely cooked in the middle.  Lift out onto paper towels and squeeze a few drops of lemon juice on top.  To serve, place salad greens in centre of plate.  Lay cooked scallops on top and spoon over saffron sauce.

Moules à la Marinière

Serves 4

3-4 chopped shallots

1 chopped onion

300ml dry white wine

1.8kg mussels, scrubbed and debearded

150ml double cream


Chopped parsley to garnish

1 cove crushed garlic


Boil garlic, shallot and onion in a large saucepan with the wine for 8 minutes.  Add mussels and steam for 3-5 minutes, shaking saucepan occasionally.  Discard any that don’t open and spoon into a deep bowl.  Carefully pour the liquid into a different pan, leaving the sandy residue behind.  Bring this liquid to the boil and add cream.  Reduce a little and pour over the mussels.  Season and garnish with chopped parsley.  Serve immediately.

Rösti Fish Cakes with Champagne & Chive Sauce

Serves 8

450g mixed prepared crabmeat or fish

300g firm waxy potatoes

1 tablespoon capers, chopped (optional)

2 tablespoons lime juice

2 teaspoon grated lime zest

4 spring onions, finely chopped

3 pinches cayenne pepper or ‘La Chinata’ Smoked Paprika

2 heaped tablespoons chopped parsley or coriander

Salt & pepper to season

1 egg, beaten


Put the unpeeled potatoes in salted boiling water for exactly 10 minutes.  Mix remaining ingredients in a bowl.  When potatoes are cooked, drain.  When cool enough to handle, peel off the skins and grate.   Carefully combine both mixtures and portion.  Place portions on a tray and chill for at least 2 hours to become firm.Meanwhile, prepare Champagne and Chive Sauce using as for Saffron Sauce (below), using champagne instead of wine and 3 tablespoons chopped chives at the end instead of saffron.  Heat a frying pan until almost smoking and cook fish cakes for 3 minutes each side.  Serve with sauce.

The fish types can change, but the recipes will stay substantially the same.

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Having lived in the west coast Scotland for many years, I came to the conclusion that the best lamb needed to come from the hills and mountains, eat sweet grass and suffer lots of rain. The same is true here, especially if we throw in good breeding and being well fattened.

The lamb that I like best is known as “Hogget”, the late season lamb that is half way to mutton, it tastes fantastic with a strong meaty flavour. To be honest I’m nonplussed by the enthusiasm for new season or spring lamb. Firstly, I abhor the ridiculous early spring prices and frankly find the flavour often non-existent in exchange for tenderness.

Since tenderness isn’t an issue here, as the long cooking time will do the work for you, what you need to do is choose the right shanks. Ask your butcher for hind shanks as they have the most meat on them, unlike those skinny things we too often see on the shelves. The problem is that those beautiful meaty hind shanks have usually gone to the export market leaving the skinny fore shanks like the last drumsticks in the fridge for us in New Zealand. I know that export is very important for our economy and this probably explains why the rest of the world thinks that our lamb is the best, but it would be nice if we could at least have a bit of the good stuff, I don’t often agree with the French, but in this case their attitude of ‘eat the best and flog the rest’ is just fine with me.

This dish is all about the short days of winter when the kitchen is filled with the warm aromas of slow cooking, and the table is set for a cosy family meal. It’s about meat of such melting texture that it can virtually be eaten with a spoon and a sauce so rich  and delicious that it cries out for the second helping of roast potatoes to be squashed into so as not to waste a drop….don’t try and tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about!

Classic Lamb Shanks

The balsamic in this dish adds both acid and sweetness which cuts through the fattiness of lamb shanks and makes a wonderful rich sauce.

Serves 6

6 small lamb shanks

Flour for dusting


2 tablespoons olive oil

2 red onions, peeled and finely sliced

a handful of chopped rosemary leaves

4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

175ml balsamic vinegar

300ml red wine

  1. Dust the lamb shanks with seasoned flour.
  2. In a heavy bottomed saucepan with a lid, heat the oil and brown the shanks on all sides then remove.
  3. Lower the heat, add the onions to the pan and cook for about 10–15 minutes until golden.
  4. Add the rosemary and garlic and cook for another couple of minutes.
  5. Raise the heat and add the balsamic and the wine and reduce for a couple of minutes.
  6. Return the shanks to the pan. Cover and cook in a pre-heated oven at 200°C for 2–21/2 hours.
  7. Check the shanks from time to time, basting with the juices or adding more wine if they look too dry. Serve whole, with the juices.

Try the Oyster Bay Merlot with the lamb Shanks. It’s a velvety soft and yet fruity little wine that pairs perfectly with Lamb. This is Oyster Bay’s first foray into the Hawkes Bay and they’ve produced an awesome wine that’s great value.

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