• Savoury

    Beef Stroganoff, hanging baskets and electric scooters

    Beef Stroganoff

    At the end of April, just after my last post, my mother suffered a small stroke, so I immediately jumped on a plane to go to see her in hospital. The trip was impromptu and stressful, and I was definitely giving off ‘madwoman dragged through a hedge’ vibes. Although not enough apparently to stop a lady in gardening gloves from nabbing me on my way to the hospital. She said: ‘you look like a good basket hanger’, which for some reason computed in my exhausted brain to ‘you look like a basket case’.

    She then dragged me, dazed and confused, into her front garden to introduce me to the hanging baskets she wasn’t tall enough to hang herself. Once the job was done, she started looking around for other things to occupy me, to keep me off the streets no doubt, so I explained that I had to dash off to visit my mother in the nearby hospital. She seemed a bit put out and said: ‘oh well, at least she won’t be going anywhere then’.

    I returned to London a couple of weeks later with Léo. During the previous trip I had locked myself out of the house in bare feet, and then fainted at the airport, so I was deemed ‘high risk for general stupidity and danger to self’ by both my husband and son. To my delight, we discovered a fun new way to get around: E-scooters! The first time we tried, Léo sorted out the logistics and off we scooted. A little way down the road, I yelled ahead to Léo that my scooter didn’t seem to be going as fast as his. He drew to the side of the road, signaling for me to stop, and said: ‘You seem to be managing OK, so I’ll take the child speed lock off!’ He takes his duties very seriously.

    Back home on the ranch

    Back at home, things were no better; a couple of barn owls chased the pigeons from their loft, amidst much noisy commotion and feather flying, and we discovered their babies this week. The pigeons are currently homeless.

    Barn owlets

    Just a day after my return, all four horses escaped into the setting sun through a gate that Luc had left open. Luc went after them on his tractor; I marshaled the surrounding neighbours by screeching down the phone. In the end, Luc rounded up the monsters single-handed, and then wondered why I wasn’t more forthcoming in my praise. It seemed irrelevant to him that if he hadn’t left the gate open, they wouldn’t have buggered off in the first place.

    Equine color sorting

    And now for the ‘cerise sur le gateau‘ (the icing on the cake): We, The French, have apparently voted en masse for a 12-year-old school-dodging white supremacist called Jordan. W.T.A.F?

    I first made this recipe when I worked in a ski resort as a student, forty years ago. It’s as delicious now and it was then.

    Recipe for Beef Stroganoff (serves 4)

    • 1 tablespoon olive oil
    • 1 onion, sliced 
    • 2 cloves of garlic
    • 1 tablespoon butter
    • 250g mushrooms, sliced
    • 500g fillet steak, sliced
    • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 teaspoon paprika
    • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
    • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
    • 50ml white wine
    • Splash of cognac/armagnac
    • 150g crème fraîche
    • Handful of parsley, chopped

    Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and add the sliced onion and garlic, cooking on a medium heat until softened. Add the butter, then the sliced mushrooms and continue to cook for another five minutes, then set aside. Place the steak slices in the frying pan and fry for three minutes, until slightly browned, but not overcooked. Return the onions and mushroom to the pan, add the seasoning, mustard, tomato paste, white wine and splash of cognac, stirring well. Lastly, add the crème fraîche and cook for another five minutes. Add the chopped parsley and serve over rice or pasta and green salad.

  • Sweet

    Raspberry tiramisu and a very pheasant ménage à trois

    Raspberry tiramisu

    I had to make the same journey every morning for a couple of weeks recently, and part of my route went through pheasant-rich countryside. Nearly every day I saw the same pheasant couple, and with each passing day, the boy pheasant looked increasingly bemused, broken even. He just stood by watching the female while she scuttled and screeched like a hyperactive basket case running on crack cocaine. After about 10 days of this daily hysteria, the couple disappeared for a few days, and then the male reappeared with what seemed to be a new mate; another male. After the hyperactive addict he obviously wasn’t taking any chances!

    I don’t have much jewellery, but the pieces I do have are in a terrible state of disrepair, for various reasons. I was recently motivated to take everything to the jeweller to be sorted out, because I crushed my wedding ring between two terracotta flower pots. Actually in hindsight, I realise my wedding ring saved me a visit to Accident and Emergency. As the jewellers was closer and the wait less long and tedious, all was well. The jeweller, seeing all my damaged pieces, exclaimed ‘what on earth do you do to them?’. His expression was as bemused as the male pheasant when I detailed the various jewellery-related accidents, involving horses’ hooves, plant pots, walls and car doors.

    I have been meaning to post this recipe for a while, but every time I make these tiramisu, they disappear before I’m able to take a photo!

    Recipe for raspberry tiramisu (serves 4)

    • 3 egg yolks
    • Cane sugar, 70g
    • Crème fraiche, 150g
    • Marscapone, 250g
    • Vanilla extract
    • 1/2 teaspoon cardamon
    • 12 sponge fingers
    • Raspberries, 125g
    • Strong black coffee
    • Amaretto, 50ml
    • Very strong coffee, 50ml
    • Dark chocolate, 70g, grated

    Place the egg yolks and sugar in a ‘bain marie’ over simmering water and whisk until the mixture is creamy and doubled in volume. Remove from the heat and whisk for another minute until cooled. In another bowl beat the cream, mascarpone and vanilla until thick and creamy. Gently combine with the egg mixture and set aside. Break the sponge finger with the back of a spoon and arrange in the bottom of the serving glasses, then distribute the raspberries on top of the sponge. Combine the black coffee and amaretto and pour over the raspberries and sponge fingers. Spoon or pour the cream/egg mixture into the glasses and finally top with the grated dark chocolate. Chill for at least four hours before serving.

  • Nutritional information,  Savoury

    Salmon and leek pie and soul-searching for horses

    Salmon and leek pie

    There is no doubt in my mind that horses chat amongst themselves. I’ve noticed a distinct pattern: horses usually arrive here quite well-disciplined, but their behaviour becomes more and more erratic the longer they stay. When Jazz arrived in September, I had rarely encountered a more angelic horse. He came when called, didn’t push and shove, lowered his head to accommodate his head collar or bridle, respected the fences, didn’t nip… Seven months on, he’s obviously been chatting with the others and picking up naughty tips because he now: takes off at full speed when I approach with the head collar, opens the field gate with his teeth, stamps his feet when his breakfast or dinner are served late, plays football with his feed bucket, and takes off to visit the neighbours’ horses without so much as a by your leave.

    Thinking about the horses’ various foibles and the expressions of their ‘états d’âme’, I realised that ‘état d’âme’ is something that is almost impossible to translate correctly into English. The dictionary translation is ‘state of mind’, or perhaps ‘mood’ or ‘vein of feeling’, but it’s not that; it’s much more. It literally means ‘state of the soul’, or internal climate; it’s a unique mixture of emotion and transient thoughts. Who knew horses could be so intense!

    Leeks: a multitude of benefits

    Leeks, like all of the alliums are high in sulphur-based compounds such as allicin, that can help to reduce blood clotting and has prevent viruses. Alliums have also been linked to a decreased risk of certain cancers. Leeks are rich in flavonoids, which have impressive antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They are also a good source of vitamin K, which may reduce the risk of, amongst other things, osteoporosis. Leeks contain lutein and zeaxanthin, two substances that reduce the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.

    Recipe for salmon and leek pie (serves 4-6)

    • 400g puff pastry (here is my recipe)
    • 50g butter
    • 2 shallots, chopped
    • 500g leeks, cleaned and cut into rounds
    • 200ml crème fraîche
    • Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
    • 500g salmon filet, cut into strips
    • Fresh parsley
    • 1 egg yolk

    Preheat the oven to 200°C. Line a 25cm non-stick tart tin with the pastry, setting aside enough pastry to make a top. Melt the butter in a large frying pan and add the shallots and leeks. Cover and leave to cook for about 15 minutes, or until the leeks have softened, then add the crème fraîche and seasoning and set aside. Meanwhile, distribute the salmon on the pastry in the lined tart tin, then add the leek mixture, and garnish with the fresh parsley. Finally cover the tart with the pastry top and brush with egg yolk. Cook for 25 minutes.

  • Nutritional information,  Savoury

    Tagliatelle carbonara, broken toes, and equine revolt

    Tagliatelle carbonara

    A few weeks ago, I broke a toe on a cast iron dog bowl stand. I had been rushing outside in a panic in response to a hunter friend’s urgent gesticulations outside. (It turned out he just had a few bullets left, and wanted our permission to shoot down a hornet’s nest from one of our oak trees.) I hobbled back into the house, grabbed the crutches (they are never far from reach), then skidded across the newly-varnished floor and landed up in a another heap. The second of the day.

    My toe was healing quite nicely, when I somehow got it stuck down a hole and re-broke it. As if that wasn’t silly enough, later on, at a doctor’s appointment to see if he had any good tips on reoffending broken toes, I got one-sided lockjaw from a propolis gum sweet I had taken for my sore throat. While I was trying desperately to free my teeth from the persecutory gummy, my bemused-looking doctor worried I was having a stroke. Anyway, to sum up, his advice was: ‘go home and stop moving’. I think he was referring to the healing of my poor toe, but I’m now wondering if the advice wasn’t a more general ‘go home and stop being such a pain in the arse’…

    We put a coat on Bijou (of drumming-in-the-night fame) the other night, as it was going to be very cold. He was quite compliant while we kitted him out, and didn’t seem to be bothered by the extra layer. This obviously wasn’t the case, however, as the next morning he was ‘sans couverture’, and not altogether displeased with himself. He had left the blanket in a heap at the end of the field and covered it with sand.

    Bijou kitted out for the cold
    Houdini the next morning

    This is not a truly authentic carbonara recipe; true carbonara has no cream (or mushrooms etc.). I think the golden rule is to be careful not to overheat and scramble the eggs when you add them to the pasta.

    Parsley: a natural antihistamine

    I’m allergic to tree pollen, so always try to include lots of parsley at this time of year. Parsley is a natural antihistamine, as it prevents histamine from being released from mast cells in your body. It’s a rich source of anti-inflammatory nutrients, such as apigenin and carotenoids, and also increases antioxidant levels in the blood.

    Recipe for tagliatelle carbonara (serves 4)

    • 400g tagliatelle
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 200g streaky bacon or pancetta, cut into strips
    • 4 mushrooms, sliced
    • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
    • 3 egg yolks
    • 8 tablespoons crème fraîche
    • Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
    • Handful of chopped parsley
    • 60g Parmesan cheese, grated

    Put the tagliatelle to cook in salted boiling water. Add the olive oil to a frying pain, then add the strips of bacon, mushrooms and garlic. Cook until the bacon is crispy. Place the egg yolks in a bowl, then add the crème fraîche, seasoning and parsley. Once the pasta is cooked, drain, saving a little of the water for the sauce. Add the pasta to the bacon and mushroom mixture the frying, then the egg/cream mixture, turning the heat right down. Top with the grated Parmesan and serve.

  • Nutritional information,  Sweet

    Lemon posset and happy new year 2024!

    Lemon posset

    First of all, I would like to wish everyone a very happy, healthy and peaceful 2024! 🥳🥂

    Léo and I went to London for Christmas. We were escorted in by storm Pia, and back home again by storm Gerrit. Welcoming Pia left us circling over the airport waiting for a gust-free moment to land, and the turbulence caused my nose to start flamboyantly gushing with blood. By the time we finally arrived at the gate, I was lavishly splattered, with tissues plugging my nostrils (I’m really selling myself here, aren’t I?). The car hire desk had long-since closed for the evening, and we had to traipse around the airport at 3am looking for a hotel room. I wondered afterwards if the first three hotels had been genuinely full, or whether they had just been just intimidated by my scary, red and white halloween face.

    Night and day delivery modes

    I am amused by the contrasting approaches to Amazon deliveries in London and rural France. London couriers have perfected a mark and fling approach; some have such an impressive aim, they don’t even have to leave their vehicles. In stark contrast, here we receive a text message saying: ‘Your courier will be with you in five minutes. Please be sure to lock up ALL of your animals and turn on a light if it’s dark’.

    A dog with zero recall, often several horses on the loose, and an untold number of deer hanging out with the other horses on the peripheries, means this can be quite a challenge. (I haven’t dared to ask any of our neighbours if they receive the same message, because I fear we’re particularly targeted!) Unable to meet the criteria for delivery, we quite often end up driving to the main road to pick up our package.

    The London Eye at night, from Northumberland Avenue
    Delivery deterrents
    Four muddy horses
    Jazz in the sunset

    I made these lemon possets for New Year’s Day, as a foil for the rather rich starter of scallops and tagliatelle in Pernod, followed by Beef Wellington and Broccoli.

    Lemons, and in particular, lemon peel have numerous health benefits. It is packed full of bioactive compounds, such as D-limonene, which helps to reduce the oxidative stress associated with tissue damage and accelerated aging. It also has anti-inflammatory, blood sugar modulating, and anti-stress and anti-anxiety properties. D-limonene may also protect against stomach ulcers by neutralising stomach acid and increasing gastric mucus production to promote gut healing.

    Recipe for lemon posset (serves 4)

    • 600ml double cream
    • 175g golden caster sugar
    • 3 lemons, juiced and zested (approx 75ml juice)
    • 20 almonds, chopped

    Pour the cream into a medium saucepan, stir in the sugar and two-thirds of the lemon zest. Bring to the boil, turn down to a gentle simmer and whisk for a couple of minutes until the sugar has melted. Divide the mixture between four individual serving dishes. Leave to cool at room temperature, then chill in the fridge for at least six hours, or preferably overnight. Scatter over the remaining lemon zest and some chopped almonds, and serve!

  • Savoury

    Pheasant with pancetta and prunes and a landscape gangsta

    Pheasant with pancetta and prunes

    A hunter friend presented us with a brace of pheasants and we invited him to eat them with us. He seized the opportunity to lecture Luc, at length and rather bossily I thought, on the fact that he’d cleared away too much of the undergrowth amongst the pine trees, causing the animals to flee. If they have fled, they haven’t gone very far; I found a couple of deer in the tack room last night, helping themselves to the horses’ grain.

    Round and round and round again

    France has the dubious honour of having the most roundabouts in the world. (And also the most famous roundabout in the world: The Arc de Triomphe in Paris.) With a total of 42,986 roundabouts (and counting), France also ranks first when it comes to number of roundabouts per capita. My apologies for sounding as though I swallowed a copy of ‘Boring Stats for Nerds’.

    Roundabouts were ‘imported’ from the UK in the ’70s, because intersections were becoming too dangerous; French drivers simply didn’t stop. Although they have improved things, danger-wise, it’s not unheard at all of to see tyre marks going right through the middle. Driving around the outskirts of Bordeaux this weekend, I was suddenly struck by just how many there were; we went around a total of 16, in under six kilometres. Unfortunately my inner ear stayed in roundabout mode and I spent the afternoon veering to the right, like a haggis on flat ground.

    A Landscape Gangsta and inappropriate comedy

    In other news, Java has adopted full-on Landscape Gangster mode (like the insatiable roundabout builders). We have more holes in the garden than I’ve ever seen, which isn’t ideal when you’re as prone to spraining your ankle as me. I think the sodden ground has just proved too irresistible for her. I spotted Luc having an apparently amusing and in-depth chat with a post box the other day. On further inspection, I discovered he was actually talking to a security guard who was sitting beside the post box. But for a moment, from where I was standing it looked for all the world like he was in the midst of a psychotic break.

    We just got back from the funeral of a friend from our town. For some reason Luc used his recently-installed Waze navigation app, to get us to the church. That is, our church in our actual town; it’s still not clear why the app was needed… Anyway, in the middle of the service, during a hush (of course), it suddenly blurted out: ‘FAITES DEMI-TOUR DES QUE POSSIBLE’ (do a u-turn as soon as possible). And this, on repeat until we were able to get it under control. Getting it under control was no mean feat as I was suffering from that shame-making, dignity-stripping, sweaty, uncontrollable silent laughter that ill-timed comedy moments cause. A poignant message for a sad afternoon nonetheless, I thought.

    Recipe for pheasant with pancetta and prunes (serves 4)

    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 2 onions, finely sliced
    • 4 garlic cloves, finely sliced
    • 4 sprigs of thyme
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 300g thickly sliced pancetta, cut into strips
    • 2 pheasants, gutted
    • Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
    • 400ml white wine
    • 200g prunes
    • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

    Preheat the oven to 180°C. Place a casserole dish ( large enough to take both pheasants) over a medium heat and add the olive oil. Add the onions, garlic, and thyme and bay leaves and cook for about five minutes until the onions are soft and slightly golden. Add the bacon and fry for a further five minutes until golden. Add the pheasants, season and then cook for a couple of minutes, turning often, until well browned on all sides. Add the white wine and then the prunes, and bring to a gentle simmer. Cover and cook in the oven for about an hour. I think this is best served with a potato and butternut squash purée and green peas.

  • Savoury,  Spicy

    Tagliatelle with prawns and Pernod, the emperor’s new clothes, and Turkish disgust

    Tagliatelle with prawns and Pernod

    Following on from my previous post about Jazz, our thoroughbred Arabian horse and his water-sensitive coat, I’m pleased to report that he now fully-equipped with suitable waterproof attire, and his neuroses are calmed. He is so pleased with his new coat that he showcases it, with a little pirouette, for anyone that hasn’t already admired it. With the Jazz problem sorted, attention-starved Bijou decided to perfect turning on the taps and lights in the grange with his nose at 3am. As we hear the noisy water pump inside the house, and the lights make Java bark, he has become the cause of many an interrupted night. It’s not too surprising though; he has form as a night time pest.

    The emperor and his new clothes

    Léo was speaking to a Turkish Erasmus student last week, who said that she had seen more male genitalia since arriving in France three weeks ago than in 21 years of life in Istanbul. Léo, rather taken aback, and not wishing to delve too deeply, would have left it at that, but the poor girl, bewildered — and slightly traumatized — went on to say: ‘What on earth is it with you Frenchmen and whipping it out and peeing in the street?’ She said that in Turkey, men wouldn’t think of indulging, as it’s illegal. As Léo replied, it’s illegal in France too, but it doesn’t seem to stop anyone. Just so you know, the fine for ‘pipi-sauvage’ in France is, on average 68€, but in Bordeaux, where this conversation was taking place, it’s 450€! The Bordelaise certainly like to live life on the edge.

    Recipe for tagliatelle with prawns and Pernod (serves 4)

    • 4 tablespoons olive oil
    • 2 shallots, peeled and chopped
    • 1 fennel, trimmed, rinsed and coarsely grated
    • 2 large garlic clove, peeled and crushed
    • 1 small red chilli, finely chopped
    • 360g tagliatelle
    • 300g raw king prawns, peeled and deveined
    • 50ml Pernod (vermouth would work too)
    • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • Small bunch of parsley, chopped

    Gently heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the shallots, fennel, garlic and red chilli. Cook the tagliatelle (al dente) according to the instructions. Adding the prawns to the mixture in the frying pan, cook until pink. Add the Pernod, seasoning and parsley, stirring well. Toss the prawn mixture in the tagliatelle and serve immediately.

  • Sweet

    Almond, rum and raisin dark chocolates, to bee continued, and a nerve-wracking coat

    Almond, rum and raisin dark chocolates

    Léo mentioned our beehive issue to fellow students in Bordeaux, where he is studying. It turns out that the ‘Bordelais’ refer to the Landes, which is just to the South of Bordeaux, and where we live, as the ‘Wild West’. As such, beehivegate resulted in philosophical shrugs and ‘c’est normal pour les Landes’ comments. This seemed pretty accurate a few days later when, at the notary’s office on other business, we mentioned the problem. We explained that we had rogue beehives on our land, and that we were looking for compensation in honey. We fully expected him to refer us to page 1043 of the Beekeeper’s Code of Conduct, or some such. Instead, his advice was to make absolutely sure they gave us proper heather honey, and not ‘that disgusting sunflower crap’!

    Jazz, the horse we acquired recently to accompany Bijou, another of our horses, has not dealt well with the recent rain fall. Arab horses have particularly sensitive skin and seemingly, Jazz is no exception. Despite three shelters, he got very wet on Friday, and this very nearly catapulted him into a nervous breakdown. Outwardly, he showed the signs of a horse with colic: rolling, pawing the ground, looking despairingly at his abdomen… What didn’t make sense was that he kept alternately jumping up in the air as if on springs, and then sitting on the ground like a dog. When I noticed that rubbing him with a towel seemed to bring comfort, I realised it wasn’t colic; it was a full-blown damp-coat hissy fit. As soon as I got inside, I ordered him a raincoat, thinking, trust us to end up with a horse with severe weather neurosis.

    Jazz and his beautiful, but sensitive coat

    Recipe for rum raisin and almond chocolates

    • 50g raisins
    • 2 tablespoons of rum
    • 50g almonds
    • 200g good quality dark chocolate (I use this one, which is excellent for cooking)

    Soak the raisins in the rum for at least four hours, overnight if possible. Toast the nuts in the oven until lightly browned and fragrant, let cool, then chop coarsely.

    You can just gently melt the chocolate in a bain-marie, stir in the rum-soaked raisins and almonds and then fill the silicone moulds (I use these) with the mixture and leave them to set in the fridge. Or for a really shiny, flawless finish, you will need to temper the chocolate (see below).

    To temper dark chocolate

    Untempered chocolate is less controlled and uneven, resulting in a duller appearance. Untempered chocolate is also more sensitive to heat and humidity, and melts more easily.

    Finely chop the chocolate and place two thirds in a metal bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Make sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Place a digital thermometer in the chocolate, which you should stir frequently with a rubber spatula. The temperature of the chocolate should never exceed 48°C. Once the chocolate has melted, remove the bowl from the heat. Stir in the remaining third of chocolate little by little, letting it melt before adding more. Leave the chocolate to cool to about 28°C, then immediately place it over the simmering water again. Reheat to 31-32°C and remove the bowl again once you have reached the temperature. The chocolate should now be ‘in temper’ and must be used quickly before it cools and sets. If it does cool and solidify before you have finished using it, it should be re-tempered (i.e. reheated to 32°C).

  • Honey and other bee products,  Nutritional information,  Savoury,  Soup

    Butternut squash and chestnut soup and what will bee will bee.

    Butternut squash and chestnut soup

    There are some newcomers at our homestead, some welcome, others not so much. In August we inadvertently became hosts to five million bees. We didn’t actually count them because that would have been laborious and dangerous, we counted the hives and used a calculator. The average beehive houses between 20,000 and 80,000 bees, and there are just over 100 hives. The problem is not the hives, but the fact that the bees use our pool; seemingly for recreation as well as quenching their thirst! After a bit of research, we discovered that a beekeeper, based over 60kms away, wanted to make heather honey, and decided our land was the ideal place to do it. Apparently it didn’t occur to him to ask our permission, for the use of the heather or the pool. I’m all for bees; in fact I’m a big fan, I’m just not keen on swimming with them. We suggested they pay their rent in honey: it will be honetary compensation!

    Over a hundred bee hives in the heather

    Equine segregation

    We also have two more horses. One of the horses, Bijou, we owned already, but he has been on loan to a nearby riding club, having been chased from his stable by our two grays. Whoever imagines that horses are not racist, imagines wrongly. The grays used to make life very difficult for Bijou who is chestnut, by blocking his access to hay, chasing him around the field and generally behaving like grey-supremacist hooligans. Now Bijou has his own fields and a gorgeous, newly-acquired chestnut friend called Jazz. Their contact with the greys is restricted to unpleasantries over the fencing.

    Bijou and Jazz, the chestnuts
    Equine segregation
    Heated discussions

    Chestnuts (the nuts, not the horses) are nutrient-dense. They are vitamin and mineral-rich, and also a great source of antioxidants. Chestnuts are high in fibre, which means they are effective for both blood sugar and hunger control. The tannins and flavonoids help suppress inflammation and in-vitro studies show that extracts from chestnuts suppress the growth and spread of various types of cancer cells.

    Recipe for butternut squash and chestnut soup (serves 6)

    • 1 tablespoon olive oil
    • 1 tablespoon butter
    • 1 onion, chopped
    • 250g of pre-cooked chestnuts
    • 1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into cubes
    • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into rounds
    • 1.5 litres of chicken stock
    • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • Curry powder to taste (optional)
    • 200ml cream

    Fry the onions in the olive oil and melted butter until golden brown. Add the chestnuts, butternut squash and carrots and then chicken stock and bring to the boil. Season and cook for about 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Add the cream and purée until smooth.

  • French,  Savoury,  Spicy

    Basque Piperade and Party Mouse finds our crack cocaine stash

    Basque Piperade

    I returned after two weeks away in August (a cruise around The Adriatic, which was very hot, but absolutely stunning. My photos are here if you’re interested), to even greater heat and forest fires far too close for comfort. Luc, who had stayed at home to look after the animals because he doesn’t really enjoy travelling anymore, had done a great job, with one exception: he had inadvertently invited a frenetic mouse into the house.

    Living in the middle of the country, we see quite a few mice. But I have never seen a mouse as brazen as this one. At first, I noticed loud rustling noises in the cupboard, and holes in the pasta packaging. Then she (I’m calling the mouse ‘she’ because mice are feminine in French) started to drag and drop whole walnuts, potatoes, bits of dog food and, to my shame, enormous fluffballs across the kitchen floor at night, which means I come down to even more chaos in the kitchen than I have left the night before.

    You’d think that the night-time activity might wear her out. Alas no! She spends her days playing ‘cat and mouse’ with us, peaking her nose out from under the cooker and fridge, and scuttling across the floor in front of us whenever we deign to sit down. She is upstairs, downstairs, in every nook and cranny and never seems to sleep.

    I was seriously wondering where Super Mouse was sourcing her crack cocaine, when I stumbled across the reason for her hyperactivity: an enormous hole in the packet of ground Ethiopian coffee blend. Her drug of choice has now been confiscated, and she’s going to have to go cold turkey. It’s just a waiting game now… surely she’ll fall asleep at some point.

    Basque Piperade originated in the Basque region, where sun-ripened tomatoes and peppers are plentiful.

    Recipe for Basque Piperade (serves 6)

    • 600g onions, sliced
    • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
    • 4 tablespoons olive oil
    • 3 green peppers, seeds removed and sliced
    • 6 mild red chilli peppers, seeds removed and sliced
    • 1.5k tomatoes, skinned
    • Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
    • Espelette pepper (or paprika)

    Lightly fry the chopped onions and garlic in olive oil in a large saucepan. Skin the tomatoes by blanching in boiling water for a minute or so and then add to the dish. Cut the peppers into thin strips and add to the tomato mixture. Season with salt and pepper and Espelette pepper and leave to simmer on a low heat for at least an hour, or until the mixture begins to caramelise very slightly.

    Traditionally, piperade includes beaten eggs cooked in the vegetable mixture. Often a thick slice of Bayonne ham is fried and served over the top. It is also good with fried or poached eggs on top.