Banana tart and rabbits might fly

bananatart

hugotypewriter1by

I think that Java might have experienced what we psychologists refer to as a psychotic break. Being surrounded by creatures – human and animal – of questionable sanity, I recently felt the need to go on a course, which is how I am in a position to say this. I’m not sure whether I should mention my diagnosis to Bossy or not; she thinks Java’s just an adorable scatterbrain and I don’t really want to be the one to break the bad news. Anyway, Java spends hours every morning and every evening gazing at baby rabbits with her head cocked and one foot in the air. She looks, frankly, more than a little bit foolish, and that’s being charitable. I mean, she’s a hunting dog so you’d think she’d try to catch them instead of staring at them gormlessly. I know that she’s bred to hunt birds, but it’s still very odd. I think that she’s probably waiting for them to spread their wings and fly away, but in view of the fact that they’re rabbits, that’s just not going to happen. I don’t put her straight though because while she’s busy being half-witted, I get some uninterrupted peace.

hugojavaonback

Ingredients (serves 6)

Pastry:

80g coconut oil

150g spelt flour

35g dessicated coconut

Pinch of sea salt

Roughly 6 tablespoons of cold water

Filling:

3 medium-sized bananas, sliced into 1cm pieces

2 eggs, beaten

50g coconut sugar

30g desiccated coconut

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

200ml double cream

1 teaspoon rum

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon nutmeg

To make the pastry, begin by cutting coconut oil into small cubes. Add this to the flour and desiccated coconut with a pinch of salt in a mixing bowl. Blend by hand until the mixture becomes crumbly. Add the cold water, mixing with a spoon. Remove the mixture from the bowl onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until you obtain a ball of pastry (if the mixture isn’t ‘sticky’ enough to form a ball, you may need a drop more water). Wrap in a clean cotton tea towel or some cling film and leave to ‘rest’ in the fridge for about two hours. This relaxes the dough and makes it easier to use.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Roll out the pastry on a clean, lightly floured surface and fill the tart tin. Cook the pastry for 15 minutes. Arrange the bananas evenly over the surface of the pre-cooked tart. Add the eggs, coconut sugar, desiccated coconut, vanilla essence, cream, rum, cinnamon and nutmeg to a bowl and combine to create a homogenous mixture. Pour over the bananas and cook for 30 minutes, or until the filling is no longer wobbly. Delicious served either lukewarm or chilled.

 

Quinoa salad and it’s raining shoes, hallelujah!

quinoachickpeamint

Humidity is rising – barometre‘s getting low
According to all sources, the street’s the place to go
‘Cause tonight for the first time
Just about half-past two
For the first time in history
It’s gonna start raining shoes.

Like most 12-year-olds, Léo is partial to sleeping in the morning, especially during the holidays. Unfortunately for him, the morning is the time when the hens are at their busiest and noisiest and they seem to enjoy being particularly vocal on the terrace right under his bedroom window. This morning I was surprised to find the terrace void of hens, but brimming with a random assortment of shoes. When Léo finally emerged, I asked him if he knew anything about the shower of shoes. Looking scarily thunderous, and with a hen-like flap of his forearms he screeched: ‘CUUAAAAA cua cua cua’. So the shoe-laden terrace is obviously Léo’s take on the concept of shoeing away the hens.

Quinoa is an ancient grain, reputed to have given the Aztecs enormous strength. It is very nutrient-dense, containing more protein than any other grain. It is also extremely rich in vitamins and minerals and has significant anti-inflammatory properties. It makes a marvellous alternative to rice.

Ingredients (serves 4)

250g quinoa, cooked and cooled

100g peas, cooked ‘al dente’ and cooled

200g chickpeas, cooked and cooled

50g cashew nuts, roughly chopped

1 shallot, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

5 fresh mint leaves

Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

3 tablespoons olive oil

Juice of half a lemon

Mix all the ingredients together in a medium-size bowl, adding the mint leaves, seasoning and olive oil and lemon last. Mix well and serve slightly chilled!

 

Peach pancakes and feeding frenzy

peachpancake

We have a neighbour’s dog to stay at the moment and also a new young horse, bought on the admittedly shaky premise that one can never have too many horses. As it’s very hot, I got up extra early this morning to feed/medicate/placate the animals and felt really rather virtuous. More fool me. I fed the foal, not forgetting his ‘growing horse’ supplement, extra virgin olive oil and generous application of sunblock to his nose, and gave the hens their corn. I then fed the dogs, each of which has a different food and quantity. Feeling quite proud at having fed 12 animals in under five minutes, I returned to the kitchen to prepare my own ‘feed’. Glancing out of the window, I saw the 31-year-old retiree, having appeared from nowhere, polishing off the foal’s feed; the foal was happily sharing the hens’ whole corn kernels, sun-blocked nose to the ground; Hugo was making impressive headway through the guest’s bowl; Java was inhaling Hugo’s ration, which left our poor guest who is far too polite to kick up a fuss, with a small bowl of puppy food. The moral of the anecdote is this: if you’re under the impression that you’ve been unusually quick and efficient, think again…

Ingredients (makes about 8 pancakes)

3 eggs, beaten

250ml almond milk (or normal milk)

100g ground almonds

150g spelt flour (or normal flour)

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Pinch of sea salt

3 peaches, peeled and cut into rough cubes

1 teaspoon garam masala

Coconut oil for frying (you could use butter)

Mix the eggs with the milk. Sift the ground almonds, flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt together in a bowl and gradually add to the egg/milk mixture. Combine well and add the peaches and garam masala. Refrigerate for at least an hour. Heat a teaspoon of coconut oil in a frying pan and drop a large spoonful of pancake batter into the pan. Cook until golden brown, flip and repeat.

 

Crab gratin and if it looks like a dog and barks like a dog…

crabgratin2

 

…but eats like a human, then it’s probably Hugo.

HugojournoandJava

I’m in splendid shape, but every year Bossy insists on taking me to visit the vet. She knows that I’m a force to be reckoned with when it comes to socialising with other animals, but she seems adamant on putting herself through the trauma. Upon arrival, I willingly led her – perhaps even dragged her if I’m entirely honest – to the door, which I only had to headbutt once to open. I then efficiently ushered her (again, if we’re being pedantic, ‘hauled her’ might be more accurate) to the reception desk, where I planted my front paws on the desk in a business-like manner. By this time, for some reason, Bossy was very red in the face. The vet is a nice lady and I gave her a big lick on the face to show that I felt no ill will towards her, even though she spent rather a long time prodding my private parts. When we were ready to leave, she told me that I had been a good boy (yeah, whatever) and gave me a dog biscuit. I mean, really? A dog biscuit? Who does she think I am? Camembert? Yes. Foie Gras? Yes. Dog biscuit? Err, not so much. Does she not know that I’m a foodie? Anyway, I spat it out onto the floor because I think it must have been a joke. Bossy by this time was even redder in the face and really quite flustered and tried to explain that I was off my food. What a liar! I’m not off normal food, just dog biscuits…

Ingredients (serves 4)

250g new potatoes, peeled, sliced and cooked

2 leeks, sliced and cooked

250g crabmeat (I used tinned)

150g sweetcorn

1 large spring onion, finely sliced

150ml pouring cream

Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper

1 teaspoon chilli powder (optional)

100g hard cheese, grated (I used Comté)

Fresh parsley to garnish

Preheat the grill. Place the potatoes, leeks, crabmeat, sweetcorn and onion together in an oven-proof dish and then add the cream and seasoning. Mix well and sprinkle the grated cheese on top. Cook under the grill until the cheese is bubbling and golden (about eight minutes). Garnish with the fresh parsley before serving.

Ratatouille and pride and prejudice

ratatouille

To start with, pride: Léo won his singles tennis match and his team were runners up in the tournament finals on Sunday, winning a silver cup for their valiant efforts. Had there been a cup for mothers who, against all odds, almost manage to keep their mouths shut, it would certainly have gone to me. The only thing to pass my lips was a discreet ‘make him run – he’s heavy’ (oh the shame!). It appears that I’m not the only one to suffer from Tournament Tourettes though; one boy’s mother was escorted off the court by an official for her loud and unsolicited ‘advice’ and ‘support’. Can you imagine? The cheek of the woman…

On to prejudice: Java keeps presenting me with her own prizes – body parts of a dead rabbit. So far today, I’ve been offered two legs (separately) and the head. She’s obviously just a dog doing doggie things, but instead of congratulating her on her hunting prowess, I am overcome by human bigotry and flee, screaming instructions (sensing a theme here?) at Luc to get rid of anything in the vicinity that is furry and dead. I might have to seek Hugo’s advice on how best to broach this with Java.

The word ratatouille comes from ‘touiller’, which means to stir or mix and the recipe originates from Nice in the South of France. There are many different versions, and I prefer mine to be light on tomato, heavy on red onion and garlic and cooked al dente.

Ingredients (serves 4)

100ml olive oil

1 red onion, chopped

2 spring onions, sliced

4 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped

1 red pepper, sliced

1 fennel, sliced

1 large courgette, peeled and cut into cubes

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ teaspoon Espelette pepper or paprika

Parsley or basil leaves to garnish

Heat the olive oil over a medium heat in a large cast iron pan. Add the onions and garlic and heat until softened. Add the tomato, pepper, fennel, courgette and seasoning, cover and leave to simmer over a medium heat, stirring occasionally for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables are softened, but not overcooked. Add the garnish before serving.

The emperor’s cakes (gateaux de l’empereur) and a loud-mouthed mother

gateauempereur

It’s tennis tournament time again and, despite my best efforts, my perennial Tournament Tourettes has kicked in with a vengeance. As yet, I have been unable to locate a suitably effective gag for myself but, if I find one, I will be sure to buy a couple because there have been a few occasions when also gagging the opponent’s parents would have been advantageous. I admit that it’s not really fair play to yell ‘leave it – it’s going out’ or ‘yesssss!’ as Léo’s poor opponent hits the ball into the net, but one glimpse of fluorescent yellow balls and apparently I become one of Those MothersDespite, or perhaps thanks to, my ‘help’, Léo is through to the finals which are to be played on Sunday when, to the delight of all and sundry, I predict my Tennis Tournament Tourettes will reach a resounding crescendo. Due to a pitiful lack of gag shops around here, I can only keep my fingers crossed for a debilitating case of laryngitis…

These French delicacies (Gateaux de l’Empereur) are a cross between a biscuit and a cake. Apparently they were originally made for a banquet given in honour of Charles IV. There are many different variations.

Ingredients

4 eggs

250g cane sugar

250g powdered almonds (or powdered hazelnuts)

250g raisins

250g spelt flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Prepare a baking tray by covering with greaseproof paper. Beat the eggs and sugar together until pale. Combine the almonds, raisins, flour and baking powder in a separate bowl and gradually add to the egg/sugar mixture to obtain an thick paste. Spread over the greaseproof paper on the baking tray and bake for 25 minutes. Cut into squares while still warm. Keeps in an airtight tin for several weeks.

Chocolate

chocolate

Chocolate

Velvet fruit, exquisite square
I hold up to sniff
between finger and thumb –

how you numb me
with your rich attentions!
If I don’t eat you quickly,

you’ll melt in my palm.
Pleasure seeker, if i let you
you’d liquefy everywhere.

Knotted smoke, dark punch
of earth and night and leaf,
for a taste of you

any woman would gladly
crumble to ruin.
Enough chatter: I am ready

to fall in love!

Rita Dove 2004

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the botanical name for cocoa, the raw ingredient used to make chocolate – Theobroma Cacao – means ‘Food of the Gods’.

In addition to being extremely delicious, cocoa boasts over 1,500 active phytochemicals, making it one of the most nutrient-rich foods in the world. Eating a small amount of dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids) every day is a luxurious and palatable way to improve your overall health. By weight, Cacao has more antioxidants than red wine, blueberries, acai, pomegranates, and goji berries combined.

Cocoa is a very rich source of minerals. It is the number one source of magnesium, of which roughly 80% of the population have a chronic deficiency. Magnesium helps burn fat to produce energy, aids in fighting depression, promotes a healthy cardiovascular system, prevents muscle spasms, keeps bones and teeth healthy and acts as a natural tranquilliser. Cocoa also contains iron and manganese, both vital for the production of haemoglobin and proper oxygenation of the blood. It contains chromium too, a trace mineral important for detoxification and the correct regulation of blood sugar. Cocoa is also a rich source of zinc, which is important for the proper functioning of the immune system, the liver, pancreas and skin.

Chocolate is good for the heart and circulation. The polyphenols protect the heart by inhibiting blood platelets from clumping together, which can lead to a hardening of the arteries. A recent study also found that dark chocolate can help restore flexibility to the arteries. And researchers in Finland discovered that chocolate consumption lowers the risk of suffering a stroke by 17%.

A small square of good-quality chocolate melted on the tongue 20 minutes before a meal triggers the hormones in the brain that say ‘I’m full’, potentially aiding weight loss. Finishing a meal with the same trigger could conceivably reduce the desire to eat between meals. In addition to this, cocoa has been shown to reduce insulin sensitivity, which in turn may prevent the onset of diabetes.

Chocolate is beneficial for the brain. Flavanols reduce memory loss in older people, by stimulating blood flow in the hippocampus, the area of the brain associated with learning and memory. Cocoa also contains two compounds that have a significant effect on brain chemistry: The first is anandamide, which evokes euphoria and clear, creative thinking; the second is phenylethylamine, a neurotransmitter linked to mood elevation and improved focus.

So buy the best quality chocolate with the highest cocoa content you can find and enjoy with moderation. You can also use pure, raw cocoa powder with no added sugar to make deliciously nutritious cakes, mousses and other sweet treats.