Honey mustard chicken and lots of beefing

honeymustardchicken

I don’t know whether it’s a January thing, but I’m surrounded by whingers. First there’s Léo who says I should take a leaf from his grandmother’s book and buy him clothes that are big enough. According to his theory, I refuse to buy him bigger clothes because I don’t want him to grow up. He might have a point – there’s something very disconcerting about rollicking a 6ft tall 13-year-old. But to be honest I think it’s more to do with the fact that clothes shopping turns me into a perspiring, hyperventilating, irascible wreck. Even more so than usual. You know those parents that complain that their teenagers don’t talk to them? Well that’s not me; mine talks to me in spades and the words are incisive and abundant. I’m preparing myself for further stories of woe about freezing-cold ankles and wrists.

And then there’s Hugo who is displeased with his new food. As you might imagine, he’s not subtle in his revulsion and sneers at his bowl before leading us to the cupboard in search of something more palatable. He is also very put out by the fact that we prefer he lie on his bed than the sofas and, to top it all off, is quite underwhelmed by our new choice of camembert.

On the other hand there’s little Java. I bought her a new collar and, if her look was anything to go by, I don’t think the colour can have been her absolute favourite. But did she go on and on about it? No, she graciously refrained from chewing it to bits and quickly moved on to other things. Oh the joys of the innate Attention Deficit Disorder of young English setters!

This dish is very easy and very delicious, perhaps even more so as I used my husband’s rather expensive, fragrant honey. Anyway, we won’t dwell on that or I’ll be in for another ticking-off. Mind you, it’ll be water off a duck’s back because I’m about to invest in some heavy-duty earplugs.

Ingredients (serves 4)

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 clove of garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon paprika

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 chicken thighs, skins removed

Preheat the oven to 180°C. In a small saucepan over a gentle heat, whisk together the mustard, honey and olive oil. Add the garlic and seasoning, mixing well.

Arrange the chicken thighs in an oven-proof dish and pour the sauce over the top, making sure that the thighs are well covered. Bake for abour 45 minutes or until the sauce begins to caramelise. I serve this with mushroom risotto and a green salad.

The power of turmeric

turmeric

In the southern soil of India
Thrives a thick, beloved plant
Leaves of gold are tipped with rose hues
And its oil enhances chants

Sometimes called curcuma longa
Its roots promise love and health
Fragrant curries, healing powders
Indian saffron, sign of wealth

Warm and gentle is the fragrance
Earthy subtle undertones
Soon evolving to a sweetness
Therapy for weary bones

Brides are spread with its thick mixture
In the land of Bangladesh
Bodies gleaming golden ochre
Deep red henna hands enmeshed

But like every panacea
This spice has its bitter side
When combined with clove or ginger
Jekyll turns to bleeding Hyde

There are many healing flora
Flourishing in distant fields
Turmeric is one such blessing
In its golden orange yields

In the southern soil of India
Thrives a thick, beloved plant
Leaves of gold are tipped with rose hues
And its oil enhances chants. 

by Liilia Talts Morrison

Turmeric, the staple ingredient of curry, has been used in India for thousands of years as both a spice and medicinal herb; it is referred to as ‘holy powder’. It is a root belonging to the same family as ginger and its vivid orange flesh is responsible for colouring curry yellow. It has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine to strengthen liver function and treat wounds and infections.

Curcumin, the main active ingredient in turmeric, has a powerful anti-inflammatory action. In clinical trials its anti-inflammmatory activity has been shown to be comparable to drugs such as hydrocortisone and ibuprofen. Curcumin belongs to a chemical group known as curcuminoids which reduce inflammation by blocking prostaglandin activity.

Turmeric’s powerful antioxidant capacity boosts the immune system. It is full of potent biochemical compounds called polyphenols, as well as vitamins and minerals. It is is up to 10 times more potent than vitamins C and E and also enhances the production of glutathione, the body’s most abundant antioxidant.

Turmeric is also excellent for cardiovascular health by helping to prevent unwanted blood clots by its anti-platelet, blood thinning activity. It can be helpful in the prevention and treatment of many different health conditions from cancer to Alzheimer’s disease.

Turmeric has a distinctly earthy, slightly bitter, almost mustardy taste. It is best to consume it with black pepper  because alone it is poorly absorbed into the bloodstream; combining it with pepper enhances absorption by 2000%. Curcumin is fat soluble, so it always best to combine it with a meal containing fat.

Sole with lemon garlic sauce and a mouse in the house part II

soleandsauce2

hugotypewriter1by

I’ve often noticed that my version and Bossy’s version of anecdotes are quite different. I felt that Bossy’s account of the mouse in the house story (she was touchingly proud of her childish rhyme) was a bit scornful with regard to my skills as a guard dog. This is unfair because I’m an excellent, very intimidating guard dog and to suggest otherwise is just wrong. Any animal on the premises is here with my permission. Bossy’s suspicion that Java and I invited the mouse into the house isn’t too far off the mark as it happens. We didn’t actually invite him in, we came across him in the kitchen, surreptitiously hanging out near the fridge. It was then that I decided he could be very useful. For a while, my keen sense of smell has been telling me that there are goodies lurking under the fridge – cheese rinds mostly – which doesn’t say much for Bossy’s housekeeping skills *snigger*. I have tried in vain to reach them with my paws, and even resorted to asking Java and her spindly little paws for help. Although they may seem like annoying, pointless little animals, mice do have their uses. For example they can almost completely flatten their bodies, which is very handy when you need them to slide under white goods. For the time being, the kitchen is a cheese rind-free zone, but I’m keeping a close watch to summon my illicit worker back if need be. Never let it be said that I’m not resourceful!

 

javahugomouse

Ingredients (serves 4)

4 lemon sole filets (about 150g each)

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons flour (I used rye flour)

20g butter

200ml milk

½ lemon, juiced

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

Handful of flat parsley leaves, chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the grill and place the fish on the grill pan lightly coated in olive oil. Place the flour, butter, lemon juice, garlic and milk in a small saucepan and heat gently, whisking constantly. Cook until the texture becomes smooth and uniform and then add the chopped parsley leaves and seasoning. Continue to heat for a couple more minutes, stirring well. Cook the fish under the grill for about five minutes on each side. Serve with the sauce on the side.

Apple and blueberry buckwheat cake and a mouse in the house

appleandpearcake

The New Year brought an uninvited house guest: A mouse. At least I think he was uninvited. Maybe one of the dogs coaxed him in to annoy me. Not that I really have anything against him, in fact he’s quite sweet. But I admit I was rather taken aback this morning when I found him trying to chew his way through the top of my multivitamins. I tried to persuade him to leave, but he tilted his head to one side and looked at me quizzically as if to say ‘and your problem with me necking your vitamins is?’. I appealed to the dogs for some backup, but Hugo just sighed loudly and gave me a slightly contemptuous look that definitely said ‘wha’ever’. And Java, bless her, did her funny cross-eyed thing because the mouse is so small that I suspect she could hardly see it. In the meantime, the little rascal is making impressive headway through my vitamins and I’m afraid he’s going to end up the size of a small cat. Still, at least if he does Java will finally see him and perhaps spring into action…

There is quite a lot in the news at the moment about the ‘Sirt Food Diet’. I don’t usually pay much attention to the multitude of faddy diet books that appears on a regular basis, but this one makes some sense, even to me. I particularly like that its main objective is healthy eating and that weight loss is just a by-product of that. And I know that it is effective because I’ve been eating these foods for a number of years (before it even had a name!). The Sirt Food diet is so-called because it involves consuming foods containing compounds known as sirtuin activators, which cause body fat to be burned and muscle mass to develop (what’s not to like?). Eating these foods increases metabolism and strengthens the immune system. Sirtuin activators include buckwheat, apples, onions, almonds, walnuts, citrus fruits, chocolate, red wine, turmeric and blueberries, which frankly makes this cake a Sirt Food dieter’s dream!

Ingredients (serves 8)

For the topping:

3 apples, peeled and cut into slices

75g  blueberries

25g salted butter

2 tablespoons maple syrup

For the cake:

75g butter, cut into cubes

75g organic virgin coconut oil, cut into cubes

100g cane sugar

2 large free-range eggs, beaten

75g buckwheat flour

75g ground almonds

½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Caramelise the apples in a little water, adding the butter and maple syrup once softened. Add the blueberries last . Set aside. Place the sugar, butter and coconut oil into a mixing bowl and cream until pale and fluffy. Gradually add the beaten eggs, adding a bit of flour if the mixture begins to curdle. Continue to beat the mixture until fluffy. Fold in the remaining flour, ground almonds, baking powder and cinnamon.

Transfer the apple and blueberry mixture into the bottom of a greased bundt cake mould (I use a silicon one), levelling well with the back of a spoon. Then pour the cake mixture over the top. Bake for about 40 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool. Delicious served with Greek yoghurt.

Mussels ‘marinières’ and a Christmas present from Java

moules2

HugojournoandJava

Java and I were out on a little jaunt this weekend when Java found a dead wood pigeon. To be honest, I’m surprised she even saw it because I don’t think that her eyesight is quite what it might be; she often mistakes objects and also does this funny cross-eyed thing. Being a perfect gentledog, I offered to carry it home for her, but she was quite stubborn in her desire to hang on to it, even though she had to stop every few metres because it was almost as big as her. When we finally got back home, which took a while because Java has neither my staying power nor my common sense when it comes to carrying things, Bossy took one look and shrieked. What is with Bossy and her shrill screams when we give her presents? And no, there won’t be a recipe for wood pigeon to follow because Bossy and her delicate constitution insisted that we give it to the neighbour, saying she wanted nothing to do with plucking pigeons. As for Java, she was spitting out feathers all evening in a most unladylike way. I think next time she’ll let me take care of the transport.

javabird

I don’t like mussels much, except obviously my own masculine dog ones. Java seems quite keen to chew the shells though – maybe she’s teething.

Mussels are surprisingly good for you. Not only are they a high quality complete protein, they are also a rich source of vitamin B12, manganese, iron, iodine and vitamin C.

Ingredients (serves 4)

2 kg fresh mussels

30g butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 shallots, finely chopped

2 cloves of  garlic, crushed

4 sprigs fresh thyme

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

150ml dry white wine (Muscadet is excellent)

Wash the mussels in cold running water making sure to remove any grit or sand. Discard any that float or any that are already open. Heat the butter and oil in a large saucepan over a low heat. Add the shallots and garlic and cook for a few minutes until softened. Add the mussels and coat well with the melted butter, oil and shallots. Add the herbs and seasoning and then the wine. Bring to a simmer and cook for about five minutes until the mussels have opened. Eat immediately, preferably with French fries cooked in duck fat.

Lamb shanks braised in red wine and uncharitable planetary alignments

lambshanks

In true French style, I blame my mortifying behaviour yesterday on a very unfavourable planetary alignment. Within the space of just a few hours, I repeatedly proved to be a source of acute embarrassment to my long-suffering son, Léo. We went to a computer shop where I  ‘asked inappropriate questions’ that made it look as if ‘I didn’t know what I was talking about’. Nothing new there then. In a rush to drop him off at tennis training (the condescension was wearing thin), I apparently did a ‘very illegal U-turn in front of a policeman without my seatbelt on’. The policeman was very indulgent and graciously laughed it off. The son didn’t; I got chapter and verse until the tennis club, where I was happy to launch into conversation with the team coach, only to establish that ‘I don’t possess the competence necessary to read the dates correctly on a tournament schedule’ (in my defense, it was extremely ambiguous). Wanting to save the best for last, I got up to leave, congratulating myself on having found a shortcut out of the new indoor courts. Only it turned out that my shortcut was more of a short circuit, because it set off the (immoderately noisy) alarm system in front of 40 odd people (obviously meaning about 40 people, not 40 strange people because that would be the pot calling the kettle black). The alarm that is directly linked to the police station. I wonder if the policeman was as understanding as he had been about the U-turn. I’m afraid I didn’t hang around to find out…

This is a simple but delightfully warming recipe for autumn/winter. It is adapted from  the ‘French Brasserie Cookbook’ by Daniel Galmiche, which is full of fairly straightforward, typically French homestyle recipes.

Ingredients (serves 4-6)

4 lamb shanks

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, chopped

2 shallots, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 fennel bulb, chopped

2 carrots, peeled and sliced

4 tablespoons tomato purée

750ml full-bodied red wine

500ml vegetable stock

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 sprigs of fresh thyme

Preheat the oven to 150°C. Heat the olive oil in a large casserole dish and once the oil is hot, add the lamb shanks to seal them, turning frequently. Add the onion, shallots, garlic, fennel and carrots and cook for a further five to ten minutes, stirring frequently. Add the tomato purée and the wine and cook until the liquid has reduced by about half. Add the stock , seasoning and thyme and bring to a boil. Cook in the oven for at least two hours, removing to stir from time to time so that the meat doesn’t dry out. Once cooked, the lamb should be deliciously tender and falling off the bone and the sauce should have reduced. Delicious served with creamed potatoes to soak up the sauce.

Buckwheat galettes every which way

galette2

The crêperie concept has been around since the fifteenth century in France, when stalls serving savoury galettes and later sweet crêpes first appeared around marketplaces. There was a choice of filling such as eggs, bacon and cheese for the savoury galettes and afterwards sweet crêpes were offered flavoured with cinnamon and orange water.

When I first arrived in France at the end of the ’80s every town had a least one, and usually several, Breton-style crêperies. They were always fun, bustling and offered an accessible, deliciously light but satisfying meal out for everyone; a galette washed down with bowl of cider was the French answer to fast food. Today, although creperies still exist, there are far fewer than before, many having been replaced by the ubiquitous, stomach-churning, fast food chains selling unidentified deep-fried ground organs between slabs of polystyrene. Despite their culinary heritage, many of the French have become addicted to the ‘fix’ provided by these eateries.

Galettes are made with buckwheat flour, a very healthy gluten-free alternative to wheat flour. Despite its name, buckwheat is not a type of wheat at all, but a plant closely related to rhubarb and is rich in amino acids, B vitamins and minerals, including iron.

There are many different variations on the recipe, sometimes according to which region of France you are in, but after trial and error this is the one I prefer. Galettes are so versatile they can be adapted for breakfast, lunch of dinner. You can fill them with ham, different types of cheese, bacon, sausage, egg, scallops, smoked salmon, mushrooms or make them raclette-style with potato, ham and cheese. The list is endless. We sometimes have them with a different filling after a bowl of soup as an evening meal several days in a row with no complaints from humans or hounds. And that’s saying something.

Ingredients (makes 12 galettes)

250g buckwheat flour

½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

a pinch of salt

2 eggs

500ml cold water

Butter for cooking

Put the eggs and dry ingredients into a mixing bowl and whisk well. Add the water gradually, whisking continuously until you obtain a homogenous mixture. Melt a small amount of butter in a frying pan (preferably a ‘crepe’ pan) and then ladle some batter onto the hot surface, tilting the pan to distribute evenly. Cook for until golden brown and turn. If you are adding a filling such as ham and cheese, now is the time to add it onto one side of the galette. Cook until the cheese is melted and then fold the galette in two. Serve immediately.