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!

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.