Spicy chicken and coral lentil soup and dog ASBOs

chickencorallentil

Every time I go to London I’m reminded of just how unruly our dogs are. Dogs in London parks amble around acknowledging each other politely, sometimes stopping for a chat or a bit of a play, then rejoining their owners as soon as they’re called. Our dogs? Not so much; if canine ASBOs were a thing, we would have an impressive collection. Hugo, in his labrador way, does have a certain amount of innate savour faire, but it doesn’t stop him and his 30 kilos from climbing onto unsuspecting visitor’s laps or availing himself of the driving seat of their cars. He also has a tendency to break into neighbour’s kitchens to relieve them of their baguettes.

Last time I visited the vet with Hugo, we were asked to leave by the back door because his arrival by the front door (the Door for Civilised Dogs) had created pandemonium (try to picture cats and small dogs splattered all over the walls). The following week when I visited with Java, I was allowed to leave by the Door for Civilised Dogs, which was a big mistake because she launched herself at a pony-sized Pyrenean sheep dog like a tiny heat-seeking missile. Luckily for her, enormous dogs tend to have impeccable manners and gentle dispositions and he shook her off like a rather annoying fly. With great shame I picked her up, seat-belted her into the back of the car and ignored her all the way home.

The dogs have outdone themselves this week though: Hugo got stuck in the car for nearly four hours and we only realised where he was when we heard the car horn tooting persistently. Java, not to be outdone, got herself stuck in the railings of the staircase. Between her wriggling, our giggling, and not knowing whether to push or pull, getting her out was quite a feat. In hindsight, we should have left her there because on our walk afterwards we met five seriously well-trained and hard-working English Setters with a hunter. (At least they were well-trained until Java intervened – I think she must have revealed a chink in their training armour.) She ran into the midst of the pack, her body quivering with high-spirited enthusiasm, despite her presumably bruised ribs from the staircase debacle, hysterically barking ‘PARTY TIME’ and after that there were six setter reprobates running around like maniacs. I’m off to lie down.

Ingredients (serves 6)

4 chicken thighs, skin removed

1 tablespoon olive oil

Dried rosemary

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon coconut oil

1 onion

1 celery stick, chopped

1 leek, chopped

2 carrots, peeled and sliced

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

1 teaspoon curry powder

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 bay leaves

3 litres chicken stock

250g coral lentils

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Put the chicken thighs into a roasting tin coated in olive oil, dried rosemary and seasoning and roast for about 30 minutes, or until cooked through. Once cooked, cut or rip into pieces, removing from the bone and set aside. Melt the coconut oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion, celery, leek, carrots and garlic and fry until golden. Then add the seasoning and stock and bring to a simmer. Add the coral lentils and simmer for about 20 minutes (don’t cook the lentils too much or they’ll go mushy). Add the chicken pieces, warm through and serve.

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Roast chicken with chanterelles and way TMI

I am about to embark on my final week of a three-week thermal cure in an attempt to relieve my knackered back. Handily, we live just half an hour away from one of the most renown and effective thermal resorts for my sort of problem in France. For two hours a day, I’m smothered in thick, sticky, mineral-rich mud, the texture of which is not dissimilar to melted chocolate, and then immersed in delicate champagne-like bubbles of pine and mineral-infused water. And then the really tough part: the relaxing therapeutic massage. Most of the other patrons, although fit enough to withstand the cure which is actually pretty tiring, have various medical complaints, details of which they are only too happy to divulge and contemplate. Yesterday the man in the massage booth next to mine spent a full 20 minutes waxing lyrical about his extensive collection of, frankly, alarming ailments. I was quickly on more familiar terms with his offal — or what was left of it — than I might ideally have liked. The thing that never ceases to amaze me about the French is the way they consider their maladies to be badges of honour and, as such, refer to them in, if not hushed nonetheless reverential tones. Unfortunately, the massage seemed to have a purging effect on him and the medical technicalities became increasingly gory and colourful. The overall, and in my case faint-making, effect was embellished by the fact that the masseur felt compelled to repeat everything he said REALLY LOUDLY, presumably on the grounds that she shouldn’t be the only one to benefit: ‘So you only have quarter of a kidney left on one side, half a liver and your entrails were scattered all over the operating table…’ I’m so glad I was lying down.

The combination of rain and sun that we’ve had recently means that chanterelle mushrooms are especially plentiful at the moment. Their delicate, slightly earthy flavour is a perfect complement to roast chicken and they are a surprisingly rich source of vitamin D, but also vitamin C and potassium.

Ingredients (serves 6)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 chicken, gutted

200g fresh chanterelles

4 shallots, peeled and sliced

4 cloves of garlic, crushed

a handful of fresh thyme

1 bay leaf

4 carrots, peeled and sliced

Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon piment d’espelette or paprika

200ml dry white wine

100ml chicken stock

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Pour the olive oil into a large casserole dish (dutch oven) and add the chicken, chanterelles, shallots, garlic, herbs, carrots and seasoning. Gently brown the chicken on all sides over a medium heat and then add the wine and stock, which should be brought to a simmer. Put the lid on the dish and cook in the oven for just over an hour, or until the ‘sauce’ is beginning to caramelise slightly. You might want to remove the lid for the last ten minutes of cooking. I served with a potato and butternut squash purée and broccoli roasted with orange.

Salt cod brandade and ask a silly question…

I’m so glad Bossy doesn’t have my mobile ‘phone number; it’s the only way I’ve found to avoid being the irritated recipient of one of her inane texts. Earlier this week she was fretting about whether Noisy had caught the right bus home. Admittedly his grasp of logistics and time management are, at best, very shaky. But, despite spending much of his time with his head in the clouds, he is still a 15-year-old with an above-average IQ who can usually remember where he lives. Last school year, he was lucky enough to find a very efficient PA who took up the organisational slack and kept him on track. This year, he and the friend are no longer in the same class, hence Bossy’s fretting.

Anyway, Bossy’s irrational folly got the better of her and she sent a short text to check he was travelling in the right direction. As the bus doesn’t stop, I really didn’t understand the point; either he was going in the right direction, in which case the text was an annoying waste of time, or he wasn’t in which case it was too late anyway. So I can only commend his reply:  ‘No. Peruvian mutant turtles, having made a lucky escape from a Congolese fruit salad, recruited me for the Norwegian-Chinese mafia. I am currently in a underwater aeroplane with subatomic engines, carrying out biochemical experiments on hamster volunteers. Don’t worry: the Montparnasse tower is not in any immediate danger, and I should manage to finish digging the Dax-Rion tunnel with my Christmas tree. I will be in touch again once I’m within 15 lightyears of your town of residence.’

Obviously his reply begs the question: ‘what does she sprinkle on his breakfast cereal?’, but still: Kudos. Maybe she’ll think twice before sending silly texts again, although somehow I doubt it…

Ingredients (serves 4)

200g salt cod

2 bay leaves

1 onion, peeled and sliced

500ml milk

250g potatoes, peeled and boiled

2 cloves garlic

Freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon paprika

4 tablespoons olive oil

Freshly grated parmesan for topping

Soak the salt cod in cold water for 24 hours, changing the water once or twice. Drain and place in a pan with the bay leaves, onion and 500ml of milk. Bring to the boil, lower the heat and simmer for five minutes and then drain, removing any bones and skin and breaking the flesh into coarse shreds. Reserve some of the milk for the purée. Cook the potatoes until soft then drain and purée together with the cod, garlic and seasoning in a food processor, adding the olive oil to create a soft consistency (you may need to add a little of the reserved milk to achieve the desired consistency). Place the purée in an oven-proof dish and sprinkle with parmesan. Put in an oven preheated to 180°C for about 20 minutes until golden brown.

This is sometimes served as a dip with toast. I like it as a standalone dish with a crispy green salad. Hugo likes to lick the bowl, although he pretends otherwise.

Banana and coconut cheesecake and Mr President makes a sound choice



I read in the paper that President Macron and his wife had adopted a black labrador. His name is Nemo, he’s two years old and almost as handsome as me. Obviously I suspect he has neither my gravitas nor superior intellect, but he looks like a reasonable chap nonetheless. I sent an email to Emmanuel (we’re on first name terms; he calls me Hugo) saying that I would be happy to offer my services if he felt Nemo needed coaching in the sort of behaviour expected of the First Dog. I haven’t heard back yet – I expect he’s quite busy with other matters, although he usually replies to my emails as a matter of priority. Obviously Emmanuel offered me the job of Top Dog, but I had to turn it down due to my loyalty and sense of duty to Bossy. I think he was particularly keen on me for the position because, aside from the obvious reasons, I’m bilingual and well-versed in the international scene. The problem is I know that pandemonium would break out if I were to leave here. I tried to explain to Java why the President had chosen a black labrador and not an English Setter. This entailed a lengthy explanation as there are so many reasons I didn’t know where to start: severe insubordination, acute inconsequentiality, fear of loud noises, general neurosis and goofiness, loud snoring, inherent psychological instability… She was all huffy and put out for about three minutes until something far more interesting came along to distract her: a falling leaf. I rest my case.

Bossy made this cheesecake. Whatever.

Ingredients (serves 8)

150g raisins, pre-soaked in rum

250g ricotta

250g marscapone

3 eggs, beaten

1 ripe banana, mashed

Zest of one lemon

2 tablespoons’ crème fraîche

3 tablespoons’ desiccated coconut

3 tablespoons’ cane sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Mix all of the ingredients together and pour into a greased, medium-sized baking tin. Cook for 50 minutes and chill and sprinkle with coconut before serving.

Roasted sardines with orange and white wine and round and round the roundabout

This summer we visited every single roundabout in France. At least that’s what it felt like; I had never realised just how many roundabouts had sprung up over France until our trip at the beginning of August. I also hadn’t realised just how chatty — and boundlessly repetitive — our satnav lady had become. Bizarrely, she speaks with a very thick Belgian accent which Luc never tires of imitating. This is extremely unhelpful when you’re trying to work out which way to go. The unfortunate combination of Luc’s caricatures and left-right dyslexia, and my innate inability to obey instructions without lengthly debate, meant that Mrs Satnav spent most of the trip saying ‘faites mi-tour dès que possible’ (do an U-turn as soon as possible). At one point we even found ourselves on the motorway headed back in the direction we had come from.

Still on the subject of turning, several people have fallen off their horses on our land recently, which means that we recuperate either riderless horses or horseless riders. We had two riderless horses this week alone, and yesterday we were visited by a handsome Iberian horse called ‘Diablo’ (Devil), who apparently likes to live up to his name. We managed to track down his rider who was still spitting sand, muttering obscenities and wearing the filthiest pair of white jodhpurs I’ve ever seen. He explained, with a perfectly straight, if rather grubby, face that his problem was that he ‘topples over’ every time his horse changes direction. You couldn’t make it up could you? He seemed to be at his wits’ end so I desperately tried to make a few helpful suggestions, but in all honesty, the best I could come up with was that he take up pétanque or watercolours instead…

Sardines are an ideal source of omega 3 as they contain less mercury than larger fish. They also contain generous amounts of B vitamins, calcium, selenium and phosphorus. Sardines provide both EPA and DHA fatty acids which are useful in reducing inflammation. This improves hearth health, brain function, mood disorders like depression and anxiety, ADHD, various types of cancer, arthritis, etc.

Ingredients (serves 4)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 red onion, peeled and sliced

1 orange, peeled, divided into segments and cut into thumb-sized pieces

4 medium potatoes, peeled, cut and pre-cooked

1 garlic clove, crushed

6 fresh sardines (gutted and heads removed)

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon paprika

Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper

1 glass white wine

Basil leaves to garnish

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease a large roasting dish with olive oil and add the  onion, orange, potatoes and garlic. Coat everything with the olive oil. Place the sardines on top of the vegetables and sprinkle the seasoning over the top. Pour the glass of dry white wine over the top and roast for 15 minutes. Garnish with a few basil leaves and serve.

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.