BBQ ribs and life in a haze

I was on the loose in town today sans glasses. I realised they weren’t on my nose as we were leaving, but Léo was driving so I didn’t think it would be too much of a problem. Also we were running late, and the whole ‘when and where did I last see them etc.’ thing would have been too boring and time-consuming. It would obviously be easier to wear them all the time, but as I’m short-sighted, shallow, vain and in denial, it’s never going to happen. Anyway, Léo is a 16-year-old know-all learner driver boy racer, so out-of-focus is definitely the way to go. Far less white-knuckle stress.

While Léo was having his French horn lesson, I went shopping. All things considered, I didn’t do too badly. I bought baby peppers instead of tomatoes, but you know, who cares?  And I had to ask the owner of the shop to tap in my credit card code but again, no big deal. I waved like a maniac across the shop at someone who didn’t know me from Adam, but she was very nice about it and we chatted for a bit. In hindsight I realise she maybe just felt sorry for me, but is hindsight always a good guide? Going in to the post office I misjudged the doorstep, which resulted in an expedient and slightly melodramatic head first entrance. I then ‘Madamed’ a Monsieur, although he didn’t seem too put out – he was obviously quite woke; it’s so last century to fixate on gender.

I went back to the car to wait for my chauffeur (I got into the right car after just one small blunder), and passed the time contemplating my seemingly smooth, almost Photoshopped, wrinkle-free forehead (I’m making myself sound like a simpleton/lunatic now). I concluded that forgetting your glasses is cheaper and more effective than botox, probably less painful too, although that might be open to debate, as my doorstubbed toe will attest. It can be quite comforting to not see things too clearly all the time – I’m not sure that an obsession for detail is necessarily healthy. Think big picture. All in all, blurred worked pretty well for me today.

These ribs are a bit time-consuming, but so worth it. I had given up making ribs because they didn’t seem to be available to buy. We have now found a great butcher who has them all the time. They’re really not particularly healthy, but in a way they are because they’re so delicious they make you happy. And anyway, moderation is the key.

Ingredients (serves 4)

For 4 racks of pork ribs (approx. 400g each)

For the marinade:

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon paprika

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 orange, juiced

1 tablespoon brown sugar

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

Combine the ingredients to form a runny paste in a food processor.

For the BBQ sauce:

1 onion, peeled

2 cloves of garlic, peeled

1 chilli, seeds removed

1 teaspoon fresh thyme

1 tablespoon fresh coriander

1 teaspoon chilli powder

50g brown sugar

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

50ml tomato ketchup

Dash of Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon mustard

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine the ingredients to form a paste in a food processor.

Rub the marinade over the rib racks and leave in the fridge overnight. Preheat the oven to 125°C, place the ribs on a baking try and cook for 1½ hours. Remove from the oven and wrap the ribs in tin foil and cover with the sauce. Return to the oven for another hour. Open the tin foil wrapping and increase the oven temperature to 200°C for a further half hour.

 

 

 

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Watercress soup and disarray at dawn

I have to get up far too early at the moment; it’s still dark  which makes it the middle of the night in my book. Java has become a bit of an early bird and launches herself at me like a little, blonde heat-seeking missile as soon as I come downstairs. I have to let her out quickly because she has work to do.  She has taken to ‘rearranging’ the scruffy pile of shoes that hangs out on the doorstep, depositing them thoughtfully and poetically on the grass in front of the house. This morning she outdid herself: She took each shoe and dunked it in the river before laying it out to dry on the grass. Getting ready to leave in a rush is fun when it involves having to retrieve a pair (preferably, although I have on occasion resorted to wearing odd shoes) in my size, which is  neither too soaking wet nor chewed to pieces. You might think I’d be inspired to tidy the shoes away, but no. I can’t tell her off because it causes her to develop a very bad limp and disappear for hours.

When Luc gets up I have to ‘talk him down’ with regard to whatever weird dreams he’s fallen victim to during the night. It’s asparagus season, and for some reason eating asparagus in the evening has much the same psychedelic effect on him as a large plate of shrooms. This morning he was quite distraught at how France had suffered despicable referee bias during a France/Spain football match. He was obviously thinking in terms of retribution, because he asked me lots of detailed questions about disposing of bodies in concrete, which is just the ticket when you’re eating your porridge. This is obviously my specialist subject so I was happy to provide him with particulars. A few nights ago, there was a coup d’état in Argentina, which he was called upon to fly over and sort out, taking me along as his interpreter. I’m still worrying about how that would have turned out.  Thank goodness for small mercies: Hugo and Léo are far less complicated in the morning because neither of them communicates until after midday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watercress contains enormous quantities of vitamin K, but also vitamin C and vitamin A.  It contains the minerals manganese, iron and calcium and flavonoids such as beta carotene, zeaxanthin, and lutein.  It is a good source of B-complex vitamins.

Ingredients (serves 6)

4 potatoes, peeled and chopped

2 turnips, peeled and chopped

2 onions, peeled and sliced

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon olive oil,

Freshly ground black pepper, sea salt,

1 teaspoon paprika

4 bunches of watercress, well rinsed and chopped

600ml organic stock

Crème fraîche

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, adding the potato, turnip, onion and garlic.  Fry until translucent. Add the seasoning, watercress and the stock and simmer for about five minutes. Blend until smooth and serve with crème fraîche.

Oatcakes and small lazy animals

Bossy is currently embracing her inner sloth (her excuse is that she has the flu). I would like to say it makes for a peaceful house, but I’d be lying. She screamed at the Tallish One (you may remember I can’t call him The Tall One anymore because The Noisy One has overtaken him by 10cm) this morning to ‘call the  doctor and order him to get rid of this f**king bullshit virus’. So that was reasonable; silent, or even gracious, she is not. Apparently she has very low blood pressure (not that you notice, mind you), which gets worse when she’s ill, which amusingly enough means that when she tries to stand up she collapses. This has the advantage of shutting her up momentarily, although it doesn’t make her any less stroppy. I wouldn’t like for her to actually hurt herself collapsing (she has quite a lot of form with collapsing and broken bones), but needs must.

It is a well-known fact that when you’re ill, you need a sturdy dog to sit on your feet to keep you warm (and give you pins and needles and cramp). As I’m sure you’re all aware, I take my duties very seriously and carry out this role to the fullest, however time-consuming and unpleasant it may be. The trouble is, Java thinks it might be her duty too (when it suits her and when she’s not off doing things of little consequence). This means that we both end up sitting on Bossy who gets thoroughly overheated and panicky and red in the face and I have to throw Java off and we all end up in a growling, feverish heap on the floor. I’m absolutely wrung out; I hope we’re back to business as usual soon because this flu malarky is getting on my nerves.

Oats contain beta glucans which are very beneficial for the immune system (ha!)

Ingredients (makes about 12 oatcakes)

225g rolled oats

60g chickpea flour (or any other flour)

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

60ml olive oil

Large pinch of salt

80ml hot water

Preheat the oven to 190°C. Combine the oats, flour, bicarbonate of soda, olive oil and salt well and then gradually add the hot water until you have a thick doughy mixture. Roll out the mixture and use a cookie cutter (or upturned glass) to make the cakes. Place the cakes on a greased baking tray and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Leave to cool.

The perfect omelette

I managed to live for over half a century without knowing how to cook an omelette properly. Or at least in a way that avoided husband and son sharing eye rolls and ostentatious dry heaves.

Speaking of exasperation, there are a few culinary fads that really boil my noodle: egg white omelettes (just eat the whole egg or go for the polystyrene option) and spiralised ‘spaghetti’ vegetables (eat spaghetti or eat vegetables, both if you really want to push the boat out, but don’t eat ‘pretend’ food unless you’re a toddler; exactly how idiotic do you think your taste buds are?)

Back to The Omelette. There used to be a restaurant, l’Hôtel de la Tête d’Or, on the Mont St Michel in Normandy, which was famous for its omelette. The owner of the hotel, Madame Poulard, attracted tourists from all over, and although there was much speculation about her secret recipe, she always stayed circumspect. I suspect that her secret had more to do with hardware and impeccable timing than the actual ingredients, although apparently we will never know. 

In any case, the simplest dishes are often the most delicious, but also the most difficult to get right. During my years of blissful ignorance, I used to beat the eggs a bit, add a touch of seasoning and then fry until most of the runniness was gone. They used to taste OK, although they sometimes looked as if I’d finished them off in the tumble dryer.

In my naivety I didn’t realise that in fact you have to go all sado-masochistic on the poor eggs, furiously beating and whipping them into complete submission.  You then have to pitch them, molecules awhirl, from across the room into a blazing furnace of a pan for mere seconds, until the outside is seared and the inside still runny. The experience is athletic, stressful, and affirmative.

As the saying goes, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, sweating profusely, hyperventilating, F-bombing anyone and anything in your way and setting off the smoke alarm…

Ingredients (serves 1)

knob of butter

2 fresh free-range eggs

Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a flat-bottomed frying pan over a high heat. Beat the seasoned eggs very fast until they become frothy. Throw the still-frothy mixture into the pan immediately and sear. Fold the omelette in half while the top is still runny. Serve! And breathe…

 

Smoked mackerel pâté and broken


We have broken our cleaning lady. Or to be more exact, the dogs have broken her. She’s never been their biggest fan; she believes that a dog’s place is outside and silent at all times. Personality and opinions, particularly dogmatic ones, should not be tolerated. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that this just isn’t how we roll with Hugo and Java. Or at least, it isn’t how Hugo and Java roll with us.

I do see that it must be frustrating for her, especially when all the dogs within a two kilometre radius rock up for a ‘social’ when she’s trying to hose down the floors. They seem to sense the optimal impact moment to put in an appearance. And, in fairness, I do always say that cleaning our house is a bit like mucking out a stable. Anyway, this morning the hounds outdid themselves. The mild weather meant that the windows were open and Java, terrified witless by the vacuum cleaner, kept jumping out of the window, spent just enough time outside to dirty her feet and returned into the house through the front door. Ad infinitum. Hugo, who had been invited (you don’t give Hugo orders; you make suggestions) to stay outside in a bid to reduce the carbon paw print, availed himself of the open window in the other direction to come back into the house (filthy paws and all) in order to launch a vicious assault on his long-standing nemesis, the hoover.

Happily, I wasn’t there this morning to witness this outrageous exhibition of doggie hooliganism. I did come back in time to be greeted by two manic, crack cocaine-smoking dogs and Luc administering medicinal Armagnac to treat the cleaning lady’s shattered nerves.

Ingredients (serves 6)

400g smoked mackerel, skin removed

1 ripe avocado

2 shallots, peeled

1 clove of garlic, peeled

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 tablespoons horseradish

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon paprika

Place all the ingredients in a food processor and combine until smooth. Chill for at least two hours and serve with either crispy French bread or raw vegetables (carrots, celery, fennel…)

Commendations and sabbaticals


Bossy’s chronic disorganisation means she’s in her usual pre-Christmas frenzy, so I doubt you’ll be hearing from her any time soon (you lucky, lucky people). As improbable as it sounds, she and her blog have been chosen to feature in Brandballot’s top 150 food blogs for 2018. I suspect it’s thanks to my help, although I’m obviously too gracious to point that out to her. Anyway, in case you’re interested, you can find her blog, and other far superior food blogs here

I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy christmas because, as usual, I shall be moving out for the festive period, hopefully before the vulgar tree monstrosity appears. They insist on installing it right next to my bed, flashing lights and all, just to annoy me. The flashing lights play havoc with my already shredded nerves, and the tinsel and glitter make me sneeze; I’m allergic to tasteless bling. All in all the general ambiance becomes unbearable: Gaudy decorations make Java even more hyper than usual (I’ve recently decided she’s really just a barking cat), and Bossy just needs to glimpse a glass of champagne from across the room to become even louder and more tiresome than usual.

Despite my mini sabbatical, I’m not averse to presents. I know that Bossy thinks it’s a bit extravagant, but I’ve asked for a new iPaw; it’s more than justified, what with my ever-increasing workload – which obviously includes piles of fan mail –  to deal with.

Chicken soup and unruly hair

My hair is a free-for-all, to be chewed on, judged and discussed without compunction or reserve. I’m asked on a regular basis if it’s natural (because you think I would I chose it?), if it’s wet, if it’s dry, if it’s just been to the hairdresser and if it hasn’t. In some parts of the world, people come and stroke it like a strange woolly pet. A rather uncharming old lady who lives nearby actually uses the word ‘mop’ when referring to it, which she does every time I see her. And Luc said the other day ‘it just really suits you – it’s chaotic’. This was meant as a compliment (wtf?). The assistant in a posh haircare shop not long ago suggested, without a hint of irony, that I could ‘always try using a comb’ when I asked for advice on how to tame it. And to add insult to injury, Hugo chews on it in much the same way that he chews on Java’s ears.

A number of studies have been conducted on the usefulness of chicken soup (aka Jewish penicillin) in warding off and treating cold and flu viruses. It appears that the soup inhibits the movement of neutrophils, the most common type of white blood cell that defends against infection. The theory is, that by inhibiting the migration of these infection-fighting cells in the body, chicken soup essentially helps reduce upper respiratory cold symptoms by reducing inflammation.

The researchers couldn’t identify the exact ingredient or ingredients in the soup that made it effective against colds but say it may be the combination of vegetables and chicken that work together.

Make what you will of the research, but at the very least, chicken soup with vegetables contains lots of healthy nutrients, is easy to digest, increases hydration and tastes delicious.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 onions, peeled and chopped

2 shallots, peeled and chopped

3 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 leeks, washed and cut into rounds

1 fennel bulb, washed and cut

1/2 butternut squash, peeled and cut into cubes

4 carrots, peeled and cut

200g cabbage, shredded

1 red pepper or chilli pepper, cut into strips

2 sprigs of thyme

1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated

2 teaspoons turmeric

1.5 litres chicken stock

2 tablespoons Pernod (optional)

300g pre-roasted chicken, skin removed and shredded

100g frozen peas

2 serving of pre-cooked brown rice

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Gently brown the onions, shallots, garlic and leeks in the olive oil in a large saucepan or casserole dish. Once browed, add the fennel, butternut squash, carrots, cabbage and chilli pepper and continue to cook for a few minutes. Add the thyme, ginger, turmeric, chicken stock and Pernod and bring to a simmer. Once the vegetables are almost cooked, add the chicken and frozen peas and continue to cook for another ten minutes. Add the brown rice towards the end of cooking, season with the salt and pepper and serve piping hot.