Ode to a pea

peas
I eat my peas with honey;

I’ve done it all my life.

It makes the peas taste funny,

But it keeps them on the knife.

Anon.

 

Hugo doesn’t like peas one little bit. In fact, he has a very finely-tuned pea radar in case they have the vulgar indecency to end up in his bowl. Once detected, he takes them in his mouth and spits them onto the floor with OCD-style assiduousness and much disdain. More fool Hugo because the unpresuming garden pea is in fact an exceedingly rich source of nutrition: Just one serving contains as much vitamin C as two apples, more thiamine than a pint of milk and at least half of your daily needs of vitamin K.

Green peas are a member of the legume family and, as such, are a rich and excellent source of protein. They are also particularly high in folic acid as well as other essential B-complex vitamins such as pantothenic acid, niacin, thiamin, and pyridoxine. They also contain many minerals – calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, zinc and manganese.

The antioxidants to be found in peas help reduce free radical damage, which in turn slows down the ageing process. Added to this, their anti-inflammatory agents (including Omega 3 in the form of alpha-linolenic acid) keep your body healthy and reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes (type 2). Their low glycemic index makes them a good insulin-stabiliser.

Lastly, they contain a compound called genistein which has significant cancer-fighting properties and an effective anti-coagulant action, aiding in the prevention of heart attacks and strokes.

So now I’ve convinced you that you can’t live without them, how best to consume these little gems? Peas are so versatile that they may be mushed, mashed, puréed, added to soups, pestos, risottos, pasta dishes, salads and muffins. They make a tasty addition to casserole or curry dishes or eaten as an accompanying vegetable seasoned with a few leaves of fresh mint. The less water you use when cooking peas, the less vitamin C is lost; steaming helps to conserve the vitamins. Just don’t bother cooking an extra portion for your dog – it’s highly unlikely he’ll ever appreciate them!

Sea bass in oatmeal with courgette and anchovy purée

seabream

Fishmongers in France are always keen to advise on inventive ways to prepare their produce. My favourite one writes his recipes down for me, correctly assuming that I’m only half listening and will never remember unless he does. This morning he was absent and when I asked his replacement for suggestions on how to cook sea bass, she curtly replied that I could ‘fry it, braise it, BBQ it, steam it, grill it or bake it.’ Her jaded gallic shrug after this exhaustive list seemed to imply that her final unspoken suggestion might be that I should ‘stick it’. Who knew sea bass was so versatile?

However prepared, sea bass is delicious and an abundant source of omega 3 fatty acids, iron, vitamins and minerals.

Ingredients (serves 4)

750g sea bass

1 egg, beaten

150g rolled oats (oat flakes)

20g butter

2 courgettes, peeled and sliced

1 medium-sized potato

10g parmesan cheese, grated

4 anchovies

sea salt, ground black pepper, Espelette pepper

8 black olives, chopped

olive oil

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 sprig of thyme

4 slices of lemon

Coat the fish with the beaten egg and then cover with rolled oats and set aside. Boil the potato and courgettes, drain well and purée. Add the grated cheese, anchovies, seasoning, black olives, olive oil and garlic and mix well over a very gentle heat for a few minutes or until the cheese is melted.

Melt the butter in a large frying pan with a sprig of thyme. Shallow fry the fish for about five minutes on each side and serve with the warm purée and a slice of lemon.

 

Cabbage and blue cheese mini quiches and human straitjackets

choutarte

Unsurprisingly, Hugo’s annual visit to the vet is not something I particularly look forward to. I wouldn’t wish to shame my faithful friend (especially in view of our slightly volatile working relationship), but I suspect the vet might share my feelings. In a nutshell (nut being the operative word), during his last visit, he took out a cat, threw himself at a plasterboard wall leaving a significant hole and broke a table leg. He also refused to lie on the floor, preferring instead to avail himself of the chairs. I can’t even blame his appalling behaviour on white coat hypertension – the vet is always rewarded with huge, slobbery kisses for her courageous attempts to calm and vaccinate him (from Hugo, not me). I think it’s a simple case of overexcitement at the idea of being in an enclosed space with so much potential chase fodder. This time, as it was impossible to hold him on his lead (his brute force would be a match for a prize bull), bad mother and even worse pet owner that I am, I resorted to using Léo as a human straitjacket. It wasn’t ideal (I had to haul them both out from under the reception desk), but at least there was no structural damage to the surgery, which can only be a good thing. I do realise that I’m setting the bar pretty low in terms of canine obedience, but everyone has to start somewhere. In our case that appears to be rock bottom.

hugoleoveto

White cabbage and blue cheese complement each other beautifully. Cabbage has the highest amount of some of the most powerful antioxidants found in cruciferous vegetables, which stimulate detoxifying enzymes. It is rich in vitamin K, which is important for bone metabolism and for preventing neuronal damage in the brain. Cabbage is also an excellent source of fibre, vitamin C and the B vitamins and also provides iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium and potassium.

Ingredients (serves 6-8)

Pastry:

100g spelt flour

80g buckwheat flour

60g butter

30g virgin coconut oil

Roughly 6 tablespoons of cold water

Filling:

250g washed and shredded white cabbage

1 chicken or vegetable stock cube

2 shallots, sliced

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1 egg

150 ml double cream

100mg blue cheese (I used Roquefort), crumbled

To make the pastry, begin by cutting the butter and coconut oil into small cubes. Add to the flours in a mixing bowl and add a pinch of sea salt. Blend by hand until the mixture becomes crumbly. Add the cold water, mixing rapidly 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 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 or tins. As this pastry contains buckwheat flour, which contains no gluten, it will be quite fragile. You’ll find that you have to treat it delicately and possibly fill in the cracks with remaining bits of pastry by pressing gently. I use individual tart tins. Precook the pastry for 12 minutes.

For the filling, cook the shredded cabbage for about 15 minutes in boiling water, to which you have added the stock cube. Once cooked, drain well and set aside. Break the egg into a small bowl and add the cream and seasoning (salt, pepper, paprika). Beat well to form a homogenous mixture. Assemble the tarts by filling about ¾ full with cabbage, covering with crumbled blue cheese and then pouring the egg/cream mixture over the top. Cook at 180°C for 18 minutes.

Writing Process Blog Tour

I would like to thank Suzanne, creator of the luscious blog,  A pug in the kitchen,  for asking me to contribute to this tour.  Suzanne blogs, amongst other things, recipes passed on from her Italian mother; traditional Italian cooking at its most mouth-watering. Passionate about baking in particular, she is also a developer for Food 52. She writes from her kitchen in Brooklyn, accompanied by her two gorgeous pugs, Izzy and Nando. One of my favourite recipes is her triple chocolate cake which is just pure decadence to be enjoyed with moderation as it could become dangerously addictive!

Other commitments mean that I’m delegating the rest of this post to my ‘pug’, Hugo.

hugotypewriter1by

As you can see, Bossy has relegated this post to me. From what I can see, she’s not too busy with ‘other commitments’ at all – she’s just too busy being bossy (did you like the alliteration? I’m still learning about poetry.) Anyway, I’m always happy to get my paws on the computer, so I’m not going to complain to my union this time. I like Mrs Pug’s blog very much because she cooks real food with proper dog-friendly ingredients. Bossy has a tendancy to use strange ingredients that get stuck in your teeth. (Chia seeds for example. What are they and why do we need to be bothered by them?). I’m rather jealous of Izzy and Nando because Mrs Pug cooks for them every day and I just get the family’s leftovers *tragic doggie sigh*. They live in a very big city – New Yorkie I think. I suppose when they chase deer and rabbits they have to be careful of all the cars. Here are the questions that Bossy had to answer. I think that my answers (in italics) are closer to the truth than hers.

1) What are you working on?

(Hopefully she’s working on being less bossy and organised enough to cook for me every day.)

Bossy: I work on far too many projects at any given time for them to come to fruition. I suppose this means that I should probably work on being more focused.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

(Well for a start she is lucky enough to live with an erudite and exceedingly good-natured dog who does most of her work for her.)

Bossy: Although I am absolutely passionate about healthy eating, I hope that I manage to impart my knowledge and ideas without being too evangelical. I believe that it’s up to each individual to take responsibility for their own well-being. I am a also a great believer in ‘all things in moderation’, which is why I’m not vegetarian.

3) Why do I write what I do?

(Because despite what she says, her bossiness gets the better of her and she thinks that everyone should cook as she does.)

Bossy: See above (mine, not Hugo’s. ;-) )

4) How does your writing process work?

(I can’t wait to see this! *sarcastic doggie snigger*. I have never seen such a chaotic ‘writing process’. I’m far more methodical.)

Bossy: I think that in my case, the word ‘process’ is probably rather inappropriate! How I write is probably better described as a profusion of chaotic thoughts that somehow end up either on paper or on a computer at some point, more or less coherently. I am a big believer in ‘a sound mind in a sound body’ and my best ideas come to me when I’m on the move, particularly walking. I always walk with a little notebook and pen and scribble ideas down between strident reprimands to leave the poor deer and bunny rabbits alone.

Bossy asked me to invite a blogger to participate in this tour and I have chosen the delightful blog 10 legs in the kitchen. At first I couldn’t work out who the ten legs belonged to until I realised that it was two human legs and eight doggie legs. I don’t even like to think how many legs there are in our kitchen sometimes, particularly when the chickens invade. Stacey and sometimes her dogs, Ginger and Buddy, write amusingly about their love for both food and life in general and I’m a big fan.

When life gives you lemons…

lemons

…hoard them!

Possibly the most versatile ingredient in the kitchen, the virtues of the lemon extend beyond culinary use. The Ancient Egyptians believed that eating lemons and drinking lemon juice was an effective protection against a whole range of poisons. I use lemons on a daily basis and always have at least half a dozen to hand. I’m a bit of a lemon fiend.

Unsurprisingly, neither Hugo nor the hens are fans and make a big show of their distaste with comical grimaces and much foot-stamping. I have actually seen Hugo growl menacingly at a stray lemon slice in his bowl.

Although acid in taste, lemon juice has an extremely alkalising effect on the body. Rich in vitamin C, it also contains calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, beta-carotenes, vitamin B5 and soluble fibre such as pectin. It has an abundance of flavonoids which, working synergistically with vitamins, have a powerful antioxidant effect. The main flavonoids to be found in lemons are hesperdin, rutin and quercetin. These are extremely beneficial to the blood vessels and have an anti-allergy action. Lemon juice will even decalcify your cookware and work as an insect-repellant!

Lemons have a powerful antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory effect and also increase bile secretion. They help to drain and detoxify the liver and kidneys and cleanse the whole body. I think you’ll quickly come to appreciate the value in drinking the juice of a freshly-squeezed lemon first thing in the morning.

Squeezing lemon into your food lowers the overall glycemic index of the meal. It is a significant digestive aid – citric acid stimulates the secretion of gastric enzymes. In cases of over-indulgence and even food-poisoning its alkalising, antibacterial powers are of great help.

From acne and allergies to intestinal worms and verrucas, the not-so-humble lemon has a multitude of medicinal uses, but it is in the kitchen that the lemon really comes into its own. It may be used in the preparation of sweet or savoury, cooked or raw and hot or cold dishes. Use it in salad dressings as a delicious and healthy alternative to vinegar and in marinades for meat or fish. Gremolata, an Italian creation, is simply a mixture of equal parts lemon zest, parsley and garlic. It is a tangy, versatile topping that can be added to just about any savoury dish to enhance its flavour. Try selling that to your dog.

fruit

Coffee walnut muffins and unusual best friends

coffeemuffins

hugotypewriter1by

My best friend is a hen. Our friendship is based on mutual compassion – we are both victims of misunderstanding. The other day I was given some chicken bones to eat and, because I’m a generous sort of dog, I invited BHF to share them. I made it plain to the other hens that she was the only one invited; they tend towards vulgar, thuggish behaviour and gate-crashing. Luckily, I can be very intimidating *grrrr* , so they quickly got the message. I’m not sure that BHF knew she was cannibalising, but I didn’t explain because I know she has enough problems and a rather sensitive nature. Sometimes, when Bossy isn’t looking, I invite her into the house to eat from my food bowl. I’m working on a plan to sneak her in to watch television with me. My favourite programme is Scooby Doo and I think she’d like it too (did you like the internal rhyme? I’m learning about poetry at the moment). I think you’d agree that it would be worth it just to see Bossy in full meltdown mode *wicked doggy cackle*.

hugohen

Walnuts are a rich source of omega 3 fatty acid (just 25g a day covers most of your needs). They are also very rich in vitamin E and other antioxidants, as well as providing a healthy supply of B-complex vitamins. Added to this, they contain numerous minerals: manganese, copper, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and selenium.

Ingredients (makes 12)

175g spelt flour

100g rye flour

Pinch of sea salt

I heaped tablespoon instant coffee

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 teaspoon ginger, powder or freshly grated

3 eggs

250ml coconut milk

4 tablespoons honey

60g chopped walnuts

150g organic virgin coconut oil, melted

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Prepare and grease two muffin tins with butter or coconut oil. Sift the flours, salt, coffee powder, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and ginger into a large mixing bowl and set aside. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and then add the coconut milk, honey, walnuts and melted coconut oil, stirring constantly. Combine the two mixtures well. Fill the muffin tins and bake for about 18 minutes.

Delicious served hot or cold as a dessert with Greek yoghurt or ice-cream, or alone with a cup of coffee.

The perfect chip and a proxy papa

chips

As the idea of me in charge of a vat of boiling duck fat is too harrowing to contemplate, my husband makes the chips in our house. I’m happy to report that my competence does however run to eating them. My husband is away for a few days this week and, last night, Hugo pussyfooted (sorry Hugo – I know that’s not very flattering) upstairs to Léo’s room to dispense a big slobbery goodnight kiss. He has never done this before and probably won’t do it again as, having woken Léo up, he got very short shrift (there was a burst of shouting and Hugo reappeared downstairs looking decidedly dejected, his tail between his legs). I realised that he obviously considers himself to be a stand-in papa, so now I’m wondering if he could bring the wood in for the hot-water boiler, take out the dustbins and then make me a big bowl of chips… stirring

Chips, or French fries, cooked in duck fat are a speciality of Southwestern France.  Duck fat is high in monounsaturated fats, which make up 50 percent of its total fat content, with saturated fat making up just 14 percent (much less than butter). Most of that fat is linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid that helps maintain healthy cells, muscles and nervous system. It also boosts calcium absorption and aids in kidney function. From a nutritional point of view, duck fat is comparable to olive oil.

Ingredients (serves 6)

2 kg floury potatoes

2 litres duck or goose fat

Sea salt

Peel the potatoes and cut into medium-sized chips (roughly 6cm long, 4mm thick). Rince and dry in a clean tea towel. Place the fat in a deep frying or chip pan and heat to 150°C. Plunge half of the potatoes into the hot fat for four minutes, remove, drain and set aside. Repeat with the second half. Then recook the first batch for a further four minutes until golden brown. Remove, drain well, season and serve. Repeat with the second half.

duckfat