Celeriac gratin and Hugo the sage

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hugotypewriter2by

I’m thinking about leaving home. Bossy would obviously try to stop me  because I’m quite a catch as dogs go. It’s not that I don’t like it here; the food’s not bad most of the time, the scenery is pretty enough, I’m more or less allowed to do whatever I like (except kill hens, which is very frustrating for me – to the point that I may even be psychologically damaged). I’m just getting a bit fed up of all the baby animals that keep popping up. There have been rabbits, kittens, hedgehogs, birds, foals and now a damned puppy of all things! I suppose I must have been a puppy once, but I’m sure that I would have been an extremely well-behaved one. It stands to reason. Secretly I have to admit that Java’s really rather sweet, but her shenanigans are beyond me. For example, why would you plunge into a ditch that you know you have absolutely no hope of getting out of on your own? It’s just silly of her to try to copy me because I have a magnificently muscular male physique and she is, frankly, just a silly slip of a girl. Maybe I’m going to have to stay after all because someone’s going to have to show her the ropes and I can just imagine the chaos if I leave it to Bossy. One thing is certain: Java’s not going to be helping me to write my column anytime soon because she doesn’t even know how to read and write yet!

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Thank you Hugo! I very much hope you decide to stay.

Just as I make use of a large variety of grains, I also try to vary the root vegetables we eat as much as possible. We eat potatoes, for example, quite rarely as there are so many other things to chose from – sweet potatoes, swedes, turnips, parsnips and one of my favourites: celeriac.

Celeriac is very rich in antioxidants and a good source of vitamin K. It also provides essential minerals such as phosphorus, iron, calcium, copper and manganese, as well as B-complex vitamins.

This recipe is adapted from Jamie Oliver.

Ingredients (serves 4)

1 large celeriac, peeled and cut into 1cm slices

2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1cm slices

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 chilli pepper, finely sliced

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon paprika

400ml cream

200ml vegetable stock

4 anchovy filets

75g hard cheese (I used Comté), grated

Preheat the oven to 190°C. Place the celeriac, potatoes, garlic and chilli pepper in a large ovenproof dish and season. Add the cream, stock, anchovies and most of the cheese. Mix everything well and then sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Bake in the preheated oven for 50 minutes until golden brown and bubbling on top.

Spicy courgette loaf cake and green mane extensions

courgettecake

Top of the class at the School for Extremely Naughty Horses (or bottom really, depending on which way you look at it), Castaño has a multitude of convictions  to his name. He was recently detained overnight at The School for extreme insubordination and unusually boisterous and rebellious behaviour. But don’t let’s go there; let’s visit instead our poor trampled-upon vegetable garden. Did he really think we weren’t going to notice the broken gate, hoof prints, missing vegetables and randomly-deposited manure? Just how stupid does he think we are? To add insult to injury, I found the cheeky monster hanging out in the field afterwards as if butter wouldn’t melt, bearing a striking resemblance to a large, hairy bridesmaid. It’s just as well I had picked the courgettes for this cake beforehand or it would have been a no-show!

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Ingredients (serves 8)

2 large eggs

125ml olive oil

85g soft brown sugar

350g courgettes, grated

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

140g sultanas, pre-soaked in rum

300g spelt flour

2 teaspoons garam masala (or other mixed spice if you prefer)

½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

½ teaspoon baking powder

85g walnuts, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 180°C.  Grease and prepare a medium-sized loaf tin. Whisk the eggs, olive oil and sugar well in a large mixing bowl and then add the courgettes, vanilla and sultanas. Sift the remaining ingredients together and then incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet mixture. Pour into the tin and bake for about 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

New potato oven raclette and a dog at the end of his tether

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My patience has reached its limits, especially when it comes to pests with wings. I thought we’d seen the back of the tweeting squatter after I had explained (with my teeth showing) that she had delighted us long enough with her presence. I think that my natural assertiveness must be very intimidating because she flew off that very evening. I thought that was that; alas I was mistaken. She comes back at least once or twice every single day for a bellyful of couscous and special dove grains and a snooze. How can she possibly be so hungry and so tired? It’s not as if she has a proper job like me. What annoys me most is how pleased they always are to see her. She fascinates them so much (why?) that they sometimes forget to give me my camembert after lunch, which makes me feel unloved. And as if all this isn’t irritating and hurtful enough, a large bird with a long neck has also turned up. It’s called a heron apparently and thank goodness it doesn’t come into the house because it’s very big indeed. All in all, I’ve had it up to the back of my impressive canines with anything that flaps or chirps. This raclette dish isn’t my favourite, although they seemed to love it for some reason. The upside, however, is that it contains cheese, which is not at all good for birds, so that can only be a good thing.

Ingredients (serves 4)

225g new potatoes, cooked

1 tablespoon olive oil

100g raclette cheese, grated (although any hard cheese will work)

1 medium-sized onion, finely sliced

4 slices Bayonne ham, roughly cut into strips (or Parma ham)

Sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper

1 teaspoon paprika

4 or 5 leaves of fresh basil to garnish

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Prepare a medium-sized oven-proof dish by greasing with olive oil. Slice the potatoes into pieces roughly 3mm thick and create a layer on the bottom of the dish, sprinkle with cheese, add a few strips of ham and onion and continue layering until everything is used up. Make sure to save a bit of cheese to sprinkle on top along with the seasoning. Cook for 40 minutes, garnish with the basil leaves and serve with crisp green salad. And don’t listen to Hugo – it’s divine!

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Easy crab pâté and independence for bairns

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Somewhat symbolically, on the day of the Scottish independence referendum, without so much as a by your leave, little turtle dove reclaimed her freedom. With an elegant and meticulously coordinated flap of her tiny, delicate wings, her bid for independence was successfully completed in under 20 seconds. Poor Alex Salmond’s rowdy, slightly blundering flapping has failed to achieve as much in years! She seemed to know exactly where she was going too:  She headed straight for a mid-section branch of the tree where the local turtle dove community hangs out in the evening. I have a suspicion that she’d be planning this mission for a while as she’d been paying close attention to the comings and goings in the tree for the past few evenings. I like to think she was greeted with open wings – there was certainly a crescendo of chirping upon her arrival. In any case, she didn’t come back for the couscous that I had left out in a bowl on the terrace last night just in case. Turtle Dove: 1, Alex Salmond: 0.

Ingredients (serves 6)

400g white crabmeat (I used tinned, in which case make sure it is well drained)

2 tablespoons of Greek Yoghurt

20g butter, melted

1 clove garlic, peeled

2 tablespoons of horseradish

Juice of 1 lemon

1 fresh chilli pepper

1 teaspoons of paprika

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Chill for at least two hours and serve with either bread or raw vegetables (carrots, celery, fennel…) and a slice of lemon.

Chocolate beetroot cake and fast food for young birds

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We appear to have earned ourselves a bit of a reputation as the go-to hangout for young birds. Word of mouth, or tweet of beak as the case may be, is a very powerful thing. We had another winged visitor this morning, who we discovered perched next to the little turtle dove in the kitchen. They looked as if they were sitting in a restaurant waiting for lunch to be served. Had there been miniature knives and forks to hand, I think they’d have been banging them on the table impatiently. Not wanting to disappoint, I whipped up some quinoa; I’ve been slightly concerned that little TD might not be getting a broad enough range of nutrients on her rather obsessive mono-diet of couscous. Having been quite categorical about not cooking separate dishes for month-old birds, my stance has evidently flown out of the window. I’m absolutely intransigent when it comes to baby animals! I’m now racking my brains as to what I can prepare for them for dinner as, having checked on the Turtle Dove Forum, apparently chocolate cake is a no-no.

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Beetroot’s nutritional benefits come from its potent combination of vitamins, minerals, amino acids (notably glutamine), fibre and unique anti-oxidants. Beets are high in vitamin C, B-complex vitamins, fibre and essential minerals such as potassium (essential for healthy nerve and muscle function) and manganese (which is good for your bones, liver, kidneys, and pancreas). Studies have shown the beneficial effect of beetroot juice on blood pressure and suggest that nitrate-rich foods such as beetroot may help in heart attack survival. The powerful phytonutrients that give beets their deep crimson colour may even protect from cancer.

Ingredients

100g spelt flour

75g rye flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

75g unsweetened cocoa powder

80g cane sugar

100g dark chocolate (min. 70% cocoa solids), melted

3 eggs, beaten

250g beetroot, cooked and grated

200ml olive oil

100ml plain yoghurt

Grease a medium-sized cake tin and set aside. Preheat the oven to 150°C. Sift the flours, raising agents and cocoa powder together in a bowl and set aside. Add the sugar, melted chocolate, beaten eggs, grated beetroot, olive oil and yoghurt to a bowl and mix well. Incorporate the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients little by little, mixing well. Bake for 40 minutes or until a fork inserted into the middle comes out clean. Delicious served with vanilla ice cream or Greek yoghurt.

Lamb, fresh fig and almond tagine and fledgling couscous enthusiasts

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We have a young turtle dove in temporary residence at the moment. At least I think it’s temporary. Léo found her nestling in a hole at the bottom of an oak tree and brought her into the house, claiming that she’d fallen from the nest and didn’t know how to fly. He then went on to explain that the hens are  ‘blood-thirsty and vicious she-devils’ and Hugo is an ‘irresponsible nutter’ and that she couldn’t possibly be left to fend for herself. In the face of this irrefutable logic, how could I refuse? At first Léo had to feed her himself, but after about a week she learned to peck and developed an absolute passion for couscous seasoned with Ras el Hanout. A neighbour told us that there are lots of Moroccan turtle doves that have settled in the area, which would explain her exotic tastes. This recipe is the result of my searches for ‘things to serve with couscous’ because, gorgeous as she is, I draw the line at cooking separate dishes for a month-old bird. Léo is coaching her in her valiant efforts to fly, and she now executes perfect sorties from her box to the water jug and back (photo below). And she’s apparently a lot more fun than toy helicopters because you ‘don’t have to recharge her batteries’. The jury’s still out though as to which is harder work; you don’t have to clear up helicopter mess innumerable times a day… I’m not altogether convinced that her plan is to put her flying skills to the ultimate test and up and leave, as I suspect she’ll have a bit of a hard time finding Ras el Hanout-flavoured couscous in the forest around here.

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Ingredients (serves 4)

85g almonds

1kg lamb, cut into 3cm cubes

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium onions, finely sliced

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

3 carrots, peeled and cut into thumb-size pieces

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

1 cinnamon stick

1 tablespoon cumin seeds

2 teaspoons ground paprika

I teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon saffron threads

2 tablespoons honey

6 fresh figs, cut in half

Fresh coriander, chopped, to serve

Toast the almonds for about 15 minutes in a small frying pan. Chop and set aside. In a medium-sized tagine or covered casserole dish (dutch oven), combine the lamb, olive oil, onions, garlic, carrots and spices, tossing well to combine. Add two cups of water, cover and gently simmer for an hour. Add the honey and figs and simmer for a further 30 minutes, checking from time-to-time that there is still some liquid (add more water if necessary). The tagine is ready once the lamb is tender and most of the liquid has evaporated. Sprinkle with almonds and coriander and serve with couscous or rice (couscous is you have an epicurean turtle dove at the table).

Salmon with red onion, figs and honey and persecution by toothbrush

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I have become victim to relentless persecution by small electronic devices. I was awoken at 4am yesterday morning by the fire alarm helpfully informing me: ‘ba-tt-er-y lowwww, ba-tt-er-y lowwww, please replace the ba-tt-er-y’ (and repeat). After three years’ blissfully silent cooperation, could the battery not have waited another couple of hours? Try finding batteries while you’re half asleep and can’t turn on the lights for fear of waking everyone up and also being attacked by unusually pugnacious mosquitos. This morning, Léo’s electric toothbrush sprung into vigorous and totally unsolicited action at 5am. It vibrated itself off the edge of the sink only to jaunt across the tiled floor towards the bedroom; pure evil (at such an antisocial hour) and hyperactive to boot. I lay in bed fuming, planning ever-spriralling retribution (leaving it to rot in a large glass of substandard cola, tearing out its bristles one-by-one, throwing it against the wall…) while it gained ground. I ended up having to go outside to dispose of it in a dustbin in the grange because it just wouldn’t pipe down. How mad is that? Resorting to moonlit dustbin visits because a toothbrush has got the better of you. And as if alarm and toothbrush angst aren’t enough, my ipad spent the day randomly blurting music from the ’70s. I think I’m going to have to apply myself to that problem though because I’m not throwing my ipad in the bin.

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Ingredients (serves 4)

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 salmon filets (about 180g each)

1 small red onion, finely sliced

I chilli pepper, sliced (optional)

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 fresh figs, sliced

1 tablespoon honey

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Drizzle the olive oil into a shallow baking dish, coating the salmon on both sides and place the filets skin side down in the dish. Add the sliced red onion, chilli pepper and Worcestershire sauce and season to taste. Finally place the sliced figs over the filets and spoon the honey over the top. Cook for 12 minutes, or until the salmon is cooked in the middle. Delicious served with perhaps green beans or a salad, but definitely with all small electronic devices in the ‘off’ position.