Beef bourguignon and a god complex

boeufbourg

Most dogs have beds; Hugo has a throne. He recently spent considerable time and energy trying to relay to us the fact that it’s wholly inappropriate for a dog of his stature to sleep on the floor. He dug his paws in and refused to sleep on his bed, creating temporary accommodation in other places such as the shower, sofas and on piles of dirty laundry. I could tell that he was getting increasingly irate with us for not understanding his problem and poor Java was very confused by the whole affair. And then I had an epiphany: Hugo doesn’t see himself as a common or garden ‘floor’ animal and thinks his bed should be raised accordingly. To him it is incomprehensible that he should sleep at the same level as Java. Complicated measures were taken (the facial expressions when I explained that my dog needed a bed at least 50cm from the ground were a sight to behold), and he now deigns to sleep in his bed again. I’m hoping that his delusions of grandeur aren’t going to be incremental or he’ll soon need a stepladder and the thought of explaining that to the man in the pet shop brings me out in a cold sweat.

hugothrone

Beef Bourguignon is an iconic French dish. Ideally it should be made with Charolais beef and Burgundy wine, although I make it using Bordeaux as that is local to us. It’s best made a day or two before you’re going to eat it to tenderise the meat and bring out the flavours more fully.

Ingredients (serves 4)

800g beef brisket, cut into large cubes

1 litre of full-bodied red wine

2 sprigs thyme

2 bay leaves

4 garlic cloves, crushed

4 tablespoons olive oil

2 red onions, peeled and sliced

4 shallots, peeled and sliced

100g mushrooms, peeled and sliced

100g pancetta, diced

2 tablespoons flour (I used chickpea flour but plain will do)

500ml chicken or vegetable stock

4 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

Mix the beef, wine, thyme, bay leaves and garlic in a deep dish and leave to marinate in the fridge overnight. Preheat the oven to 150°C, scoop out the meat and set the marinade aside. Heat the olive oil in a large casserole dish and add the onions, shallots, mushrooms and pancetta. Toss the meat in the flour and add to the dish, gently browning. Add the stock and red wine marinade and bring to the boil. Add the carrots and seasoning and cook for about two hours. Delicious served with creamy mashed potatoes.

Buckwheat banana cake (gf) and a gluten free mouse

buckwheatbananacake

We are still being outwitted by a tiny little mouse who has become addicted to my buckwheat crackers. As she seems unfazed by the supposedly dissuasive mint essential oil with which I flood the cupboards, I did a bit of research and came across a sonic mouse deterrent. Rushing out to buy one, I discovered reading the small print while waiting to pay, that the device ‘could perturb domestic animals’. Totally panicked by this news, I explained (at some length) to the man at the checkout that my domestic animals didn’t need any more crazy in their lives, particularly my little English Setter with her fragile constitution, delicate nerves and rather unusual ways. Wondering whether the strange look he gave me was pity or amusement, I arrived home to the realisation that my extended monologue about my dogs’ mental health had been a case of the pot calling the kettle black: I was sporting a back-to-front top. And it wasn’t a subtle, hardly discernible back-to-front either; it was definitely an in-your-face ‘escaped from an asylum’ back-to-front. I made this cake to take my mind off the fact that I’m losing it, and intentionally omitted, OK totally forgot, some of the ingredients. It was however a very fortuitous error, because the result was a perfectly deliciously light, fluffy succulent cake. The bad news is though that the mouse has become a permanent fixture.

Ingredients

2 medium eggs

100g cane sugar

1 large ripe banana, cut and mashed with little lemon juice

100ml unsweetened apple purée

100ml plain yoghurt

2 tablespoons walnut oil

60g ground hazelnuts

170g buckwheat flour

a pinch of salt

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

100g raisins, pre-soaked in rum

Preheat the oven to 180ºC and prepare a medium-sized loaf tin. Whisk the eggs and sugar until light and smooth and slightly fluffy and then add the banana, oil, apple purée and yoghurt and whisk a bit longer. Mix the ground hazelnuts, buckwheat flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon and ginger together and then combine well with the wet mixture. Stir in the soaked raisins and pour the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for 50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Remove from the tin and leave to cool. Delicious served alone or with butter and jam. May be used a mouse bait too.

Leek and potato soup with mushrooms and repeat offenders

leekpotatomushsoup

After a busy week for tumbles — my husband fell backwards off his horse and frontwards off his bike — we had planned to go the beach for lunch on Sunday. Léo however had other plans; he performed a forward somersault off his bike and landed on his already twice-fractured arm.

Emergency departments are never a pretty sight, but even less so on Sunday mornings when they’re full of bloody rugby players (I don’t have anything against rugby players, but they always seem to have blood spouting from somewhere), and the dregs of Saturday night. As they fast track young children, I told Léo to make himself look little, which, as he’s over 6ft now, made me sound a bit insane.

The receptionist greeted us like old friends and commented more than once on the fact that our family’s records took up a substantial amount of room on her database. As this was potentially his fourth broken arm (he once very efficiently broke them both at the same time), she wondered if he might have any deficiencies. I said that yes, I was convinced he had a number of deficiencies: fear and common sense to name but two. She looked at me strangely and said that she had be thinking more along the lines of calcium or vitamin D. In the end, it turned out that his arm wasn’t broken, just badly dented, which didn’t really sound much better to me, but I suppose it made for a change. For some reason, on our way out I felt compelled to shout over to the receptionist like a madwoman that his arm wasn’t properly broken this time. I felt the need to justify as she’d made me feel like a repeat offender. I suppose she might have a point…

Leeks are an extremely rich source of  vitamin K which is surprisingly important for bone health. Mind you, so is avoiding falling off your horse or bike. Vitamin K has repeatedly been shown to help avoid bone fractures. Leeks also contain substantial quantities of vitamins A and C, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus and are a rich source of allicin, a sulphur-containing compound with anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties.

Ingredients (serves 6)

45g butter

6 small leeks, rinsed and diced

2 large potatoes, peeling and diced

1 garlic clove, crushed

2 shallots, peeled and chopped

1 thyme sprig

2 bay leaves

500ml chicken stock  (or vegetable if you prefer)

1 teaspoon paprika

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons crème fraîche

85g mushrooms, sliced

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the leeks, potatoes, garlic, shallots and thyme and cook for about five minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Add the stock and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft. Remove the thyme and bay leaves. Blend the soup until smooth and add the crème fraîche. Fry the mushroom in a little butter until golden brown, seasoning with salt and pepper. Add a spoonful of mushrooms to each bowl of soup and serve.

Chicken and sweet pepper tagine and cowboys on bicycles

tajine

HugojournoandJava

Somebody is going to have to give me a crash course in human logic, or lack thereof, because there are things I’m currently struggling to understand. First of all, I thought that the main function of a butcher was to provide you with an endless supply of slobberingly succulent meat. Not so apparently. The Tall One believes our butcher to be of unparalleled counsel when it comes to his own joints, cartilage and bones and takes his advice over the doctor’s when it comes to treating his dodgy knee. So, since the butcher told him that cycling was the way forward, he has had his bicycle surgically attached (have you noticed that I’ve mastered the metaphor?).

The Tall One and Bossy sometimes take Texas, the very old horse, and Bijou, the very young, insufferably silly horse to a field where proximity to a river and shady oak trees means the grass stays lush year-round. Taking them there is one thing, bringing them back quite another. Bijou has a tendency to pinch the head collars from their ‘safe place’ and hide them. So, bearing in mind that humans are meant to be of superior intelligence, this is what I don’t understand: Why don’t they just find another place to store the head collars? Bijou gets the better of them every time which means that, as he’s quite good at hiding things, they invariably come back ‘au natural’  (the horses, not the intellectually-challenged humans). The sight of Bossy and Tall trying to round them up on their bicycles makes it all worthwhile though.

So to conclude, if you’ve got dodgy knees, the butcher’s your man. And if you want to outwit your animals Bossy and Tall are most certainly not…

bikeshorses

I have to say that Bossy outdid herself with this dish, although I might only be saying that because I feel a bit mean inferring that she and her husband are ‘intellectually-challenged’. I’m not usually a big fan of spices, but this was subtly fragrant and the tagine dish was a pleasure to lick clean.

Ingredients (serves 4)

3 tablespoons of olive oil

2 medium onions, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, crushed

8 chicken thighs

Juice of half a lemon

4 medium-sized carrots, peeled and cut

1 red pepper, washed and cut into strips

1 green pepper, washed and cut into strips

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated

1 cinnamon stick

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon coriander

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bay leaf

Two tablespoons of honey

200g dried prunes

150ml chicken stock

Fresh coriander to serve

Gently brown the onions, garlic and chicken in the olive oil in a medium-sized casserole dish (or a tagine if you have one). Once golden brown (after about five minutes), add the lemon juice, carrots, peppers, seasoning and spices and continue to brown for a further five minutes. Add the honey, prunes and chicken stock and bring to a gentle boil. Simmer for about half an hour with the lid on and then remove the lid to allow the sauce to caramelise slightly. Sprinkle with freshly chopped coriander. Delicious served with couscous.

 

Apple cider vinegar: an impressive multitasker

applecidervinegar

The word vinegar translates to vin aigre, which means ‘sour wine’ in French. One of the earliest noted uses of apple cider vinegar was by Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine. He used it extensively, sometimes mixed with honey, as a remedy for a multitude of ailments.

It has been purported to cure just about every condition under the sun at some time or another. While some claims of its plethora of healing powers may be exaggerated, it is, in my opinion, most beneficial for digestive health. I take a couple of teaspoons in a glass of water every morning and haven’t suffered from indigestion for a long time.

fruitbis

Rich in enzymes, apple cider vinegar aids digestion when there is a lack of stomach acid; a lack of hydrochloric acid is the most common reason for indigestion and reflux problems. It also acts as a natural prebiotic by encouraging the growth of good bacteria in the intestine. In addition, the acetic acid has also been shown to help with mineral absorption, which means you get the most out of the food you eat. The consumption of apple cider vinegar on a regular basis helps the gut flora function more efficiently.

The vinegar contains a perfect balance of 19 minerals including potassium, phosphorus, chlorine, sodium, magnesium, calcium, sulfur, iron, fluorine, silicon and zinc. Drinking a couple of teaspoons diluted in water is an excellent way to replace electrolytes lost after exercise or during hot weather. Its potassium and magnesium content can also help relieve leg cramps. It is rich in enzymes which boost chemical reactions in the body, and malic acid which protects from viruses, bacteria and fungus.

The acetic acid content of apple cider vinegar slows the digestion of starch, tempering the insulin response and maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. Numerous studies show that vinegar can increase insulin sensitivity and significantly lower blood sugar responses after eating. It also contains pectin which helps to regulate blood pressure and ash which contributes to the maintenance of an alkaline state in the body.

And one of apple cider vinegar’s more random abilities is its effectiveness in stopping hiccups in their tracks. It works by cancelling out the message sent to the brain to hiccup by overstimulating the nerves responsible for the spasms. It is also effective to reduce the itchiness, redness and inflammation of insect bites.

The best form of apple cider vinegar to buy is the ‘mother’ form – the pure, murky, unpasteurised form. And obviously it should be organic: choosing apple cider vinegar made with organic apples is the best way to maximize the nutrient content and minimize your exposure to pesticides.

marketman

Hazelnut mocha cake (gf) and hiring a PA

chochazelnut

HugojournoandJava

Noisy is a resourceful boy: Within a day of returning to school last week, he had found himself a very efficient personal assistant. A much-needed personal assistant I might add because, although he’s a clever boy, he doesn’t do well with practical matters and is rather absent-minded. Quite often he asks me what day it is and whether or not he’s had lunch yet. His new assistant ‘phones him in the morning to tell him which classroom he should go to and at what time, and in return Noisy advises on homework matters.

I have decided to take a leaf out of Noisy’s book and recruit a PA for myself. I believe that in some circles, you don’t even exist if you don’t have a PA. I’m having difficulty finding someone though. So far I’ve had applications from Java (ha ha, in your dreams Java), a couple of hens and a somewhat persistent hedgehog. Still, I’m quite determined because things can’t go on like this – I have too many slap-happy charges. Last week Bossy went flying over the handlebars of her mountain bike because Java chased a deer onto the track in front of her, and Java pinched a pair of Bossy’s shoes and vomited into them. I have taken to hiding in the shower for some respite. Please let me know if you can suggest any suitable applicants.

hugoshower

Hazelnuts are a good source of oleic and linoleic acids and are also rich in dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals and beneficial phytochemicals.

Ingredients (10 servings)

150g dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa)

115g coconut oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

5 tablespoons black coffee

4 eggs, separated

100g cane sugar

100ml plain yoghurt

70g ground hazelnuts

40g buckwheat flour

75g hazelnuts, roughly chopped

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Preheat the oven to 180ºC and prepare a medium-sized loaf tin. Melt the chocolate and coconut oil until smooth and add the vanilla extract and coffee. Whisk the egg yolks, sugar and yogurt until light and smooth and then combine with the melted chocolate/coconut oil/coffee. Mix the ground hazelnuts, buckwheat flour, chopped hazelnuts, salt and bicarbonate of soda together and combine with the egg yolk and chocolate mixture. Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks and gently but thoroughly fold into the mocha mixture. Pour into the loaf tin and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the tin and leave to cool. Delicious served alone or with Greek yoghurt or ice cream.

Fresh figs with ginger mascarpone and honey and Bijou on the drums

figsandyoghurt

We’ve been sleeping with the all windows wide open to make the most of the slightly cooler night air, which means that I was woken at 3am a few days ago by a very noisy, metallic and somewhat unorthodox rendition of When The Saints Go Marching In. After a quick recce, which involved almost knocking myself out on a wooden beam, I came to the conclusion that I hadn’t actually fallen asleep in a sleazy jazz club, and the appalling racket was coming from the direction of the stables. Never underestimate my powers of deduction. Torch in hand, I soon discovered Bijou (our youngest horse) in full swing by the water trough, which I suppose must be the equine equivalent of a bar. He had got hold of two metal buckets, three tins, a broom and a hoof pick and was delighting in putting each item to maximum sonic use with the help of his hooves and surrounding walls, whilst strutting his funky stuff. The other horses were looking on slightly bemused and I don’t think I’m mistaken in saying that one of the more adoring hens (Bijou is very handsome) was tapping her foot in time to the surprisingly rhythmic din. Hugo and Java slept right through the performance – I don’t think they can be jazz connoisseurs.

bijoudrum2

My musical nights mean I’m not always in a state to contemplate elaborate recipes, but I think some of the nicest dishes are a happy marriage of flung-together ingredients. This is a good example.

Figs are a particularly rich source of minerals such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron and copper. They are also high in fibre and vitamins A, E and K. Figs also contain prebiotics, which help support the pre-existing good bacteria in the gut, improving digestion and general health.

Ingredients (serves 4)

12 fresh figs, cleaned and cut in half

8 large tablespoons of mascarpone

2 teaspoons ginger, freshly grated

4 tablespoon runny honey

20 walnuts, roughly broken

2 teaspoons cinnamon

Arrange the figs in individual desert bowls. Combine the mascarpone and freshly grated ginger and add two large tablespoons per bowl. Drizzle a tablespoon of honey over the figs and mascarpone, add the walnuts and finally sprinkle with cinnamon. Serve immediately!

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