Easy crab pâté and independence for bairns

crabpate2

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

chocolatebeetcake

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.

robin

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

lambtagine3

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.

tweety

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

salmon1

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.

salmon2

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.

Summer fruitcake and a ladies’ dog

summerfruitcake

hugotypewriter2by

When Bossy wrote about my last visit to the vet, it wasn’t very complimentary, so, in the interests of accuracy, I’m doing this one. I behaved beautifully in the car, even though I have never understood why they insist on putting me in the boot. I didn’t even bark or throw myself against the car windows when I saw other animals. When we arrived, I amused myself by playing on the scales. If you stand on them with two legs instead of four you lose weight and if you get on and off enough times you send the electronics doolally and they stop working altogether *very naughty chortle*. Then a bitch arrived and things went downhill. I think it was love at first sight for her because, after just one look at me, she started straining on her lead so much that her owner became quite red in the face and started saying words that I’d never heard before. Although she wasn’t really my sort, I reciprocated by howling like a wolf – a very very loud wolf – to be polite. She obviously saw this as a come-on because she became quite hysterical – so much so that she scared me a bit and I had to hide behind Bossy and Noisy’s chairs. The vet lady came out of her office and told us both off, although it was quite obviously the bitch’s fault and not mine. She was sent off to wait in her car in the end. I think I might have to stop going to see the vet because it’s very tricky and really rather tiring being so irresistible to lady dogs, especially in public places.

dogsvet

Ingredients (serves 8)

400g soft fruit, stoned and cut into cubes (I used apricots, plums and blackberries)

2 tablespoons of honey

100g ground almonds

80g spelt flour

50g buckwheat flour

6 cardamon pods, crushed keeping the seeds

1 teaspoon garam masala

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

80g soft brown sugar

3 eggs

100ml olive oil

150ml plain yoghurt

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Add the fruit and honey to a saucepan and gently heat until softened. Mix the ground almonds, flours, spices, bicarbonate of soda and spices in a bowl and set aside. Whisk the sugar and eggs together until well combined and then add the olive oil and yoghurt. Add the flour mixture to the wet mixture and then stir in the fruit. Pour the mixture into a buttered medium-sized cake tin and bake for 40 minutes or until a fork comes out clean.

Apple, cinnamon and honey clafouti and mud therapy for dogs

clafoutis

Our bipolar weather this summer – grey chilliness one day, stifling heat and tropical rainfall the next – has cajoled Hugo’s inner breakdancer into putting in an appearance. He has taken to throwing himself into tepid puddles (the deeper and muddier the better) with an incongruous and not altogether elegant stomach-first, legs-last sort of manoeuvre, presumably looking for relief from the heat and mosquitos. At least I hope that’s what he’s looking for, because if not he’s even odder than I thought. He then stands up and starts all over again, a beatific smile plastered firmly on his face. The sequence is repeated until the puddle is entirely rid of its water. Mud creates a very effective barrier against both flies and the heat, so Hugo’s logic is irreproachable, but then we knew that already. The downside is, however, that I have a very dirty house…

hugopuddle

Originally from the Limousin region, clafouti, or clafoutis in French, is now a popular dessert throughout France. The name comes from the word ‘clafotis’, which means to ‘fill up’ in Occitan. Traditionally it is made with cherries, but it works well with any fruit or berry.

There are many benefits to adding cinnamon to a dish: it controls blood-sugar levels, helping those with insulin resistance and and pre-diabetic conditions and also aiding weight loss. Added to this, it has significant antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, making it an excellent choice for sufferers of arthritis and IBS.

Ingredients (serves 6) :

6 apples, peeled and chopped into small cubes

40g salted butter

2 teaspoons cinnamon

3 tablespoons honey

100g spelt flour

4 eggs, beaten

50g cane sugar

300ml full fat milk

100ml cream

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Melt the butter in a deep frying pan and fry the apples for about five minutes on a low heat. Add the cinnamon and the honey and heat for another couple of minutes, stirring gently. Butter a gratin dish and add the apple mixture. Put the flour, eggs and sugar in a bowl and mix, adding the milk and cream to the mixture a little at a time, beating well. Pour the mixture over the apples in the dish and bake for 35 to 40 minutes until golden brown.

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!