Have you ever seen a dog spin like a top? No, nor had I. Over the past 20 years or so I have become well accustomed to the Labrador brand of madness; eternally immature, beyond boisterous and absolutely fanatical chewers. But nothing had prepared me for the particular brand of madness that belongs to the young English Setter. I once read that although intelligent, English Setters are not easy to train as they’re easily distracted and exceedingly wilful. Well there’s an understatement if ever I heard one. In addition, they are very sensitive and do not take well to criticism or to be being told off (who does?). I’ve witnessed some lunacy over the years, but Java took the biscuit yesterday. She got her foot caught in her collar, which resulted in her spinning round and round very rapidly on three legs. Just watching her made me feel dizzy, but I managed to slow her down enough to free her foot and she collapsed to the floor with her eyes askew and glazed over as if she’d just necked a couple of generous measures of absinthe.
Sleeping it off
These muffins combine the toasty nuttiness of buckwheat flour, the warm earthiness of cumin seeds and the saltiness of melted cheese. Just what you need when you’ve been abusing the absinthe.
Ingredients (makes 8-10 muffins)
150ml olive oil
150g buckwheat flour
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cumin grains
150g courgettes, peeled and grated
2 shallots, peeled and chopped
150g comté cheese, cut into very small cubes
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Break the eggs into a mixing bowl, add the olive oil and then beat well. Mix the dry ingredients together (flour, polenta, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and seasoning) and combine with the egg/oil mixture. Stir in the remaining ingredients and then transfer to a muffin tin, filling each mould almost to the top. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Best served warm.
I feel acutely embarrassed on Java’s behalf telling you this story, but needs must. A few weeks ago, a kind friend gave us some stuffed toys. Obviously I don’t play with toys because I’m fully-developed and mature, not an emotional car crash like some. So I gallantly left them all to ‘some’. She seemed to quite enjoy them at first, but soon became terrified after trying to ‘kill’ one of them with her dainty little girl teeth. Its insides spewed out all over her bed, traumatising her so much that she wouldn’t go near the bed after that, even once Bossy had tidied up. Of course this meant that she ended up on my bed and I had to decamp to the couch because she snores like a steam train. In an attempt to regain my bed, I tried to explain that she hadn’t really killed the toys because they weren’t alive in the first place and their ‘innards’ were only stuffing, but her dippiness has hidden depths and she wasn’t to be consoled. One thing I’ve noticed is that dogs with very long names – Java’s full name is Java de la Croix de Ganelon – are often the most irretrievably dippy. I’m just plain old Hugo, which speaks volumes don’t you think?
Ingredients (serves 4)
1 tablespoon olive oil or ghee
1 onion, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
6 mushrooms, sliced
400g rice (I used basmati)
50ml white wine
Se salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon saffron
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon paprika
2 tomatoes, blanched, peeled and chopped
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock
200g frozen peas
100g bacon, cooked and sliced
400g leftover chicken
50g parmesan, grated
Heat the oil or ghee in a large frying pan and brown the onions, shallot, mushrooms and garlic until soft. Add the rice and stir well until it is all coated with oil, then add the wine and simmer until reduced. Add the seasoning and tomatoes and then about a quarter of the stock and leave to simmer, stirring until the stock has been absorbed. Add the peas and continue adding stock and stirring until the rice is almost cooked. Add the bacon and chicken, stirring well. Once the bacon and chicken are completely heated through and the rice is cooked, remove from the heat and add the grated parmesan, stirring until melted.
Originating in India and now grown in South-East Asia, Brazil and Africa, black pepper – or piper nigrum – is also known as the King of Spices and has a long history of medicinal use. More recently, numerous studies have proven and revealed its numerous therapeutic benefits.
As the world’s most traded spice, one of black pepper’s main, and perhaps most interesting, properties is that it potentiates the assimilation of nutrients; vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients are better absorbed when taken with black pepper. It is the compound piperine, an alkaloid compound present in black pepper that helps to improve absorption by increasing bioavailability. It is so effective that it might double the nutrients taken in from food. This property also helps drugs work more efficiently.
The piperine content of black pepper also makes it an excellent digestive stimulant. It informs the taste buds that the stomach should get ready to produce more hydrochloric acid, essential for the digestion of proteins and other foods in the stomach. It is reputed for its carminative properties and is frequently used to treat gastric problems such as nausea, diarrhoea and even intestinal parasites.
Black pepper might also help you lose weight. According to a study published in 2006, black pepper acts as a thermogenic, meaning that it increases the metabolic rate. Another study found that piperine suppresses genes needed for new fat cell growth, and, as a result, it fights the development of new fat cells.
Black pepper’s antioxidant and immuno-stimulating properties make it a effective barrier against bacteria. Its expectorant properties mean that it is recommended for sore throats, cold, chronic bronchitis and laryngitis. Several studies even suggest that piperine, especially when combined with turmeric, has the ability to kill cancer cells.
Finally, a study published in 2012 reported that piperine increases serotonin levels in the brain, which means that it could be effective against depression. Regular consumption of black pepper also increases cognitive function and enhances brain activity in general.
I don’t really understand girls. I thought I did, but I don’t. Océane (the only mare of the four horses), took an instant, irrational dislike to Bijou (the four-year-old with a ditch problem) when he first arrived. In fact, she was so aggressive and unpleasant that he ended up covered with tooth and hoof marks and they had to be separated. Yesterday, having spent the whole previous night loudly whinnying for her long-lost love, she barged her way through the electric fence (which made The Tall One very cross) and hasn’t left his side since. At one point, Bijou, in an attempt to free himself from her neediness, jumped out of the field. This sent her positively hysterical and she bucked and called after him until he’d been rounded up and returned to her side. Still, at least with all her silliness I added a new word to my already fairly extensive vocabulary: Fickle.
Which brings me to Java. Having once been absolutely terrified of horses (or the ‘gigantic dogs’ as she calls them, bless her) she now chases Bijou around the field until she manages to grab his tail between her teeth. Then she doesn’t let go until he’s galloping faster than she can run, which, although it pains me to say it, is pretty fast. It exhausts me just watching them. So what is it with the girls and Bijou? He must have hidden powers of seduction, although I fail to see how he can be more charming than me…
I assume that this carrot cake must be for the horses; they’re the only ones silly enough to eat a cake made with carrots and apples. I’m not a fan obviously, but according to everyone else it is very tasty.
Ingredients (serves 16)
250ml olive oil
175g cane sugar
250g carrots, grated
100g apple, grated
100g ground almonds
150g spelt flour (or wheat flour)
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 level teaspoon garam masala (or allspice)
1 level teaspoon ground ginger
75g raisins pre-soaked in rum
100g walnuts, chopped
Grease and prepare a medium-size cake tin and preheat the oven to 180°C. Place the oil and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat well. Add the eggs and continue to beat until the mixture becomes pale in colour. Add the grated apple and carrots to the mix and then fold in the almonds, flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, seasoning and spices. Lastly stir in the raisins and walnuts and transfer to the cake tin. Bake for 50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Immediately following The Ditch Fiasco, Hugo was very solicitous and insisted on staying by my side at all times. This was very sweet, but a bit of a logistical nightmare when it came to showers etc. After a little while though, the novelty of me not moving anywhere very fast wore off and he began to search for new horizons. Deciding that Luc’s porcini hunts were a poor substitute for long hikes, Hugo took matters into his own paws by organising vigorous ‘sorties’ every morning to our neighbours’ house a kilometre away. This was a sly plan for two reasons: Their cats hadn’t yet eaten their food (which he gallantly saw to) and his coming home either entailed a horse being saddled up to accompany him, or his absolute favourite – a car trip. I’ve managed to curtail the visits for the moment with the promise of short walks and Java’s electric collar. Why is it I seem to specialise in errant, insubordinate animals?
We have had more porcini than ever this year. I think that the combination of a hot Indian Summer and just the right amount of rain have made for ideal growing conditions. Porcini soup sounds very decadent, but less so when you’re finding several kilos a day.
Ingredients (serves 4)
300g fresh porcini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 shallots, peeled and sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 medium size potato, peeled and cubed
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
10ml white wine
Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
750ml chicken or vegetable stock
50ml single cream
Place the mushrooms, butter, shallots and garlic in a large saucepan, heat gently and leave to ‘sweat’ for about five minutes. Add the potato and parsley and cook for another couple of minutes. Add the white wine and seasoning and then the stock. Bring to a gentle simmer and leave to cook for a further 20 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the cream and blend.
Garlic is one of the most broad-reaching therapeutic plants in existence. Louis Pasteur observed garlic’s antibacterial activity in 1858 and it has been used as a food and medicine for thousands of years. Greek military leaders fed it to their troops to strengthen them for combat and the Russians used it to treat soldiers’ wounds during World War II after they ran out of antibiotics.
Indeed garlic has a myriad of medicinal uses. Its antioxidant activity and high sulphur content offer powerful protection against blood clot formation. The sulphur-based essential oils, which cause the pungent odour, are extremely effective at destroying both viruses and bacteria as they move through the body, in particular in the respiratory and digestive tracts. It is also second to none for expelling worms.
The high sulphur content of garlic is also very useful for joint health. Sulphur makes up about 75% of all connective tissues and a good dietary source offers support to these tissues, making sure that they stay strong and supple.
Garlic is also now often used for its advantageous effect on the cardiovascular system. Hundreds of studies show that garlic offers protection against the formation of plaques within artery walls. In addition to this, garlic seems to lower blood pressure, probably by it vasodilatory action which causes blood vessels to relax thus lowering overall pressure.
There is even evidence to suggest that regular garlic consumption may protect against colon cancer by protecting the cells from damage (antimutagenic effect). It has a positive effect on digestion in general and swelling and irritation may be rectified with regular consumption.
Although adding garlic to your dishes will always be enormously beneficial (and delicious) whichever way you decide to use it, the absolute best way to consume it is raw. What’s more, the oils are made even more powerful when garlic is crushed or very finely chopped as this starts the enzymatic process that releases the active compounds. Use garlic raw in salad dressings, over roasted vegetables or added to your dishes at the last minute. Bon appétit!
Hello everyone! Due to Broken Bossy’s temporary incapacitation I have taken on many extra responsibilities, including cooking and writing today’s blog. Obviously I’m quite exhausted, but BB is progressing very well, although she had a bit of a cold which caused her to utter eye-wateringly naughty words every time she sneezed. Still, on the bright side, at least she lost her voice for a bit which, believe me, had not been adversely affected by the accident. I don’t consult with Java on many subjects as I don’t ever believe she can contribute to my overflowing fountain of wisdom and knowledge, but I did ask her recently what she thought about the ditch incident. We are both completely flummoxed as to all the fuss and bother involved. How could you possibly hurt yourself so badly falling into one in the first place, and how could it take so long and involve so many people to get out? Java and I are in and out of ditches all day without so much as a blink of an eye, but Bossy? Not so; one little ditch visit and it’s pandemonium followed by wheelchair, crutches and an onslaught of barked commands for the next six weeks. I really don’t know why humans think they’re superior – they’re so fragile! I’m just glad to be a tough, ditch-smart dog.
I’m not an expert at cooking for humans so we’re eating lots of things from the freezer, which seems to be packed full of bags of tomato sauce. If you already have a good tomato sauce, this recipe is very easy and I thought that the vodka content might help with BB’s pain a bit!
Ingredients (serves 4)
250g spaghetti (I used spelt spaghetti)
Pinch of sea salt
300g fresh tomato sauce
Grated Parmesan and freshly-ground black pepper for serving
Cook the pasta in salted water according to the instructions. Add the tomato sauce and vodka to a medium saucepan and heat for a few minutes, stirring well, until the mixture begins to reduce. Add the cream, stir to combine and then reduce heat and leave to simmer very gently for a few minutes. Combine the drained pasta and sauce and toss to mix well. Sprinkle on the Parmesan, grind on the pepper and serve.
This recipe has been submitted to the ‘Pasta Please Challenge’, hosted by Supper in the Suburbs and Tinned Tomatoes.