Chicken, orange and fennel traybake and ringing bells

There are people who set off alarms bells — figuratively and metaphorically —and there are people who don’t. Obviously I fall into the ‘set off loudly’ category. A few years ago, I ended up having to ask our Mayor to intervene with a letter to the area Chief of Police because I was being stopped virtually every single time I left the house. It wasn’t all bad though: I once had a very enlightening conversation, pre-Brexit, with a sandwichless picnic type of police officer who took the time to explain, quite condescendingly I thought, that my GB driving licence was not valid in France because Britain was not in Europe and never had been. There’s not a lot you can say to that.

My perennial aura of culpability follows me everywhere, including security and  customs, both of which I seem incapable of negotiating without a full body search and scan and lengthy interrogation.  I was once detained for some time at the Eurostar terminal in Waterloo while they searched my luggage at length. Bizarrely, this included going through and watching a load of perfectly innocent films on videotape that I had brought with me from France. This was before mobile ‘phones and my mother, imagining that I’d missed my train, gave up and went home without me.

A few days ago, Gatwick airport gave me a chance to flex my wannabe hooligan muscles once again when my baggage and I were stopped no fewer than three times. Poor Léo, who had gone ahead without a single hitch, had to wait for me on The Other Side, and was forced to explain, rather long-sufferingly, that if he was still hanging around it was because he was waiting for his ‘anarchist mother’; they immediately took pity and even offered him a chair.

Ingredients (serves 4)

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 chicken thighs

2 spring onions, peeled and sliced

2 bulbs fennel, roughly chopped

2 chilli peppers, sliced

4 cloves garlic, unpeeled

1 handful sage leaves

1 large orange, peeled and cut into segments

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons fennel seeds

1 teaspoon curry powder (optional)

1 tablespoon honey

Pre-heat oven to 220C. Arrange all the ingredients in a baking tray, drizzling olive  oil over everything and seasoning with salt and pepper, fennel seeds, curry powder and honey. Cook for 40 minutes, squeeze the garlic from its skins and serve. Delicious with rice, fresh pasta or new potatoes.

Chinese-style pork patties and recalcitrant photographic models

After the fiasco that was Bossy’s attempt to film her dogs’ ‘obedience’ (it still makes me chuckle just thinking about it), she has been trying to capture us next to flowers, which naturally fills me with an overwhelming and unfettered joy. Not. I’m concerned that the very hot weather we’ve been having has fried her brain: I mean seriously, do I look like a dog that enjoys the company of pale pink girly flowers? At least it’s quite entertaining when she lies down on the grass on her tummy to get a better angle, especially when she struggles to get up. What’s the point in a good angle if the subject has got bored with the tediousness of sitting still and wandered off? This photo is apparently a testament to my compliance, although it feels more like a punishment to me. At least nobody could mistake me for a dog happy to be caught next to a flower. She tried to photograph Java a number of times, but all she got was a dirty white blur. And Bossy considered the ‘flattened to the floor in a stranglehold’ look to be unflattering because it made her eyes boggle (Java’s, not Bossy’s). I really hope she loses the camera enthusiasm soon; in the meantime she’s the gift that just keeps on giving…

Ingredients (serves 4)

100g tinned whole water chestnuts, drained and finely chopped

500g lean pork mince

5 spring onions, finely chopped

1 clove of garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon grated root ginger

1 red chilli, finely chopped

1 teaspoon Chinese spice

1 tablespoon soya sauce

1 tablespoon cane sugar

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 egg, beaten

3 tsp olive oil or peanut oil

Combine all the ingredients together well in a large bowl and form about 16 patties. Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan and fry for about four minutes on either side until cooked through and slightly caramelised. Delicious served hot or cold with fried rice, noodles or crispy Chinese cabbage salad.

Carrot cumin croquettes and a dog obedience video


Noisy has been teaching me to use acronyms because I’m having problems with my rather cumbersome paws on the small keyboard of my new ‘phone when I text and tweet. I found LMAO particularly appropriate when Bossy recently decided to make a ‘Dog Obedience’ video to put on YouTube. Who is she kidding? I worry about Bossy sometimes – it’s as if she lives in la la land. She took us for a walk and wanted to capture various ‘examples of canine obedience’ (you see what I mean?). Usually I just slope off and do my own thing when we go for a walk so as not to be irritated by incessant jabbering (Bossy’s) and hyperactive insanity (Java’s), but I decided to hang around a bit for this because I thought it might be amusing. I wasn’t disappointed. She had planned on filming Java’s perfect recall (I say this not without irony) just as Java picked up the scent of an UFFO (unidentified feathered flying object), so that was a non starter. When Java finally returned 20 minutes later, she resembled a panting, dribbling, filthy, sodden dishrag and, as such, was not at her most photogenic. This was a shame as her looks are her only asset. Undeterred, Bossy carried on filming while walking through the woods and Java went off to find a long, sturdy stick which she then rammed into the back of Bossy’s knees. The shock was enough to catapult Bossy through the air, camera in hand and still filming. I think she’s going to have to rethink the title of her video. I’m thinking ‘Delinquent Setters’ might be appropriate. LOL.

Ingredients (serves 4)

120g potatoes, peeled

60g carrots, peeled

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 clove garlic, crushed

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 egg, beaten

chickpea flour (or plain flour) for coating

Olive oil for frying

Boil the potatoes and carrots together until cooked. Drain well, add the olive oil, crushed garlic, cumin seeds and salt and pepper and mash well. Stir in the egg and then make round ‘patties’ coated in flour. Fry on each side until crisp and golden brown. Makes a delicious accompaniment to any main course, or may be served with a poached egg and green salad.

Crab chickpea pancakes (gf) and giant flying toddlers

‘My son is a numpty’. That’s what I wrote on the ‘reason for absence’ ticket when Léo missed school on Monday morning to have both wrists strapped up. I prefer to avoid Emergency if at all possible now, and take broken bones to visit our GP; his eyebrows are less judgmental and upwardly mobile than the hospital receptionist’s, and he knows deep down that we’re not intrinsically stupid and that I’m not an irresponsible mother. We’re just all a bit challenged when it comes to remaining upright.

Léo has been recuperating from a very nasty bout of flu/chest infection and, when I dropped him off in town this weekend with friends, it was not without apprehension. I’m now wondering how he took my parting words, ‘be careful and don’t do anything silly’ to mean ‘make sure to propel yourself through the air stuntman-style using your bike as a springboard’. It’s really quite puzzling. His father and I are hardly in a position to criticise though: We have more broken bones between us than we could count on the fingers of our four hands. Just yesterday, Luc, who was painting on the roof, asked me to open one of the upstairs windows in case he lost his balance so that he could ‘throw himself in’. On reflection, perhaps all three of us should take the precaution of being strapped up. In straitjackets.

These savoury pancakes make a great starter or a delicious light supper served with green salad.

Ingredients (serves 4)

1 egg, beaten

150g chickpea flour

200ml water

2 shallots, chopped

1 small courgette, peeled and grated

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

½ teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon chilli powder (optional)

200g white crabmeat

Nigella seeds

Olive oil for frying

Mix the egg and flour together, gradually adding water until the consistency is smooth and similar to heavy cream. Add the shallots, courgette and seasoning, mixing well. Finally stir in the crabmeat. Heat some olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat and spoon in enough batter to make a pancake of roughly 5cm diameter. Sprinkle with nigella seeds and fry until golden brown, roughly 2-3 minutes on each side.

Tandoori chicken breasts and a twisted ankle

The equine osteopath paid a visit to put Bijou’s ankle back into place the other day. He had dislocated it while gallivanting furiously around the field with Java; just how incompetent can a horse be? It’s a shame the osteopath couldn’t put his brain back into place too. At one point he and Java were so over-excited that he was bucking, pirouetting and galloping simultaneously. And I certainly don’t say this as a nod to his prowess.

In other news, Java has been passing the time chewing on hens’ heads. I’m not sure whether her intent is malicious or not, although I do know that I wouldn’t feel comfortable about having my head chewed on by Java. I will have to explain to her that, in civilised circles, you wait until the chicken is cooked before chewing on it. I do feel a little responsible though – I’m afraid she may have spotted me doing something similar when I was a dishy young whippersnapper (as opposed to the handsome and distinguished older man that I have become) and one of the hens and I were an item. Those were the days…

Hopefully this recipe will show Java why it’s worth waiting for the chicken to be cooked before eating it, although I’m not holding my breath.

Ingredients (serves 4)

4 chicken breasts, cut into strips

150g plain yoghurt

1 tablespoon olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon

2 shallots, peeled and chopped

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground corinder

1 teaspoon chilli powder

1 teaspoon garam masala

Mix the ingredients together and marinate the chicken breasts for at least an hour, or overnight if possible. Preheat the oven to 220°C. Place the chicken on a lightly oiled baking tray and cook for about 15 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces. Delicious served with basmati rice or chickpea pancakes.

Orange, mint and almonds and unifying sunsets

orangesandmint

Hugo and Java are not natural allies. I’ve always dreamed of having dogs that cuddle up together in the same basket, but alas, it is not to be. The room that their baskets and the space necessary between them take up in order to prevent friction and growling is surprisingly large. Java would love to be Hugo’s best friend, but the feeling is not reciprocated. Not one bit. If she so much as deigns to lie on the same rug as him, she receives her marching orders accompanied by a dark, ominous look. I suspect matters aren’t helped by the fact that Hugo is rather envious of her speed; he used to easily outrun deer and rabbits in the forest, but age has slowed him down. Java can outrun anyone and anything, including her own sense, which is admittedly thin on the ground.

So imagine our surprise when we looked outside the other evening to see the two dogs lying side by side, bathed in the soft evening light. They were under a budding oak tree watching the magnificent sunset and it was as perfect a picture of tranquility, contemplation and friendship as I have ever seen. As soon as Hugo noticed us though, he got up, visibly horrified at having been caught. He made a show of vigorously shaking himself free of any residual girly sentimentality. Despite Hugo’s unchivalrous behaviour, and as fleeting as the moment had been, it made Java and me very happy…

Ingredients (serves 4)

4 large dessert oranges, peeled and sliced

2 teaspoons orange flower water (optional)

2 teaspoon honey

½ teaspoon freshly-grated ginger

½ teaspoon cinnamon

Handful of sliced almonds

8 fresh mint leaves

Arrange the orange slices in a shallow bowl. Add a little water, the orange flower water, honey, ginger and cinnamon to a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over a low heat, stirring to dissolve the honey. Remove from the heat. Drizzle the syrup over the oranges, garnish with the almonds and mint and serve with a dollop of crème fraîche.

Black cumin seed: the cure for everything except death

The prophet Mohammed stated in his Hadith that black cumin cures every illness except death. The use of  black cumin seed, also known as nigella seed (nigella sativa), originated in Ancient Egypt where it was reputedly used by Queen Nefertiti and Cleopatra and traces of the oil were found in Tutankhamen’s tomb. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine and the phrase ‘vis medicatrix natural‘ (the healing power of nature) used it to help with digestive and metabolic disorders.

Clinical studies prove time and time again black seed oil’s therapeutic uses, due mainly to its Thymoquinone content. This study, one among many, addresses the multitude of potential medical uses of the oil. It has been studied as an aid to fighting cancer, asthma and also as a tool to fighting drug-resistant bacteria like MRSA. In fact, there are so many studies backing up its efficacy, that it ranks amongst the top evidence-based herbal medicines. Black cumin seed oil has analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial, antiviral, anti-parasitic and anti-fungal actions.

It helps digestion: the oil and seeds are carminative, which means they aid digestion and can help to decrease bloating, gas and stomach cramps. If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), black cumin oil may be very beneficial as it’s been shown to have antispasmodic effects on the smooth muscle of the intestine. Black Cumin seed also appears to have anti-ulcer properties against Heliobacter pylori.

It alleviates allergies: The oil has a significant anti-histamic action. The benefits experienced were likely to be due to the effects of the black cumin oil on immune response, as well as its antihistamine effects. It also appears to have bronchodilatory properties, making it suitable for use with asthma and bronchitis.

It has been widely used to treat diseases of the nervous system such as memory impairment, epilepsy, neurotoxicity and pain. Black cumin oil also has mood stabilising, anti-anxiety and anti-depressant actions; its effectiveness in these areas is probably due to the fact that it increases GABA.

It helps detoxify and heal the liver when the liver is stressed due to medication side effects, alcohol consumption, overeating or disease. Scientists confirmed in a recent study that black seed oil benefits liver function and helps prevent damage.

Black seed oil is one of the few substances that has been found to help prevent both both type 1 and type 2 diabetes: Doctors from the Indian Council of Medical Research found that it ’causes gradual partial regeneration of pancreatic beta-cells, increases the lowered serum insulin concentrations and decreases the elevated serum glucose.’ According to the study, it improves glucose tolerance as efficiently as metformin without the significant adverse effects.

Black seed oil is effective for the immune system, either to enhance or balance. Particularly beneficial for autoimmune disease, it acts by balancing the immune system; it increases immune function without encouraging an immune reaction against healthy tissue in the body.

It may be taken in seed form (I often add seeds to bread and savoury pancakes, see above), or in oil form (I take one teaspoon of this one mixed in water twice a day). It may also be applied to the skin in case of skin conditions such as eczema and boils to soothe inflammation, itching and heal scars.

 

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