Category Archives: Savoury

Peanut chicken stir fry and food glorious food!

peanutturkeystirfry

Memories are triggered by different senses:  Smell (olfactory memories), sound (echoic memories), sight (iconic memories) and touch (haptic memories). For me, without wishing to plagiarise Proust and his beloved madeleine, there seem little doubt that my memories are triggered by food (perhaps known as gluttonous memories).

By far the most vivid recollection of my first visit to the East Coast of the US when I was seven is not, delightful though they were, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty or The Guggenheim, but a generous portion of sublimely tangy lemon meringue pie – the first I’d ever come across – in a drugstore in Manhattan for breakfast one morning. Clams on the beach in Westport, Connecticut come a close second.

My frequent visits to Scotland as a child were punctuated by fish so fresh it crumbled the second it glimpsed a fork. Crucially, it was always served with a side order of pure, bracing, iodised air. School food was obviously a low point in my gastronomic narrative; the less said the better, but I will just point out that I was properly traumatised by spam fritters at a very early age, and the words ‘Angel Delight’ still set off a Pavlovian gag reflex. I think the better you eat at home, the more potential for grievous bodily harm the food you eat – or try your hardest not to eat – at school presents. This was certainly true in my case.

The highlight of my trip to the Italian Riviera in the late 80s was not the picturesque, colourful and much revered Porto Fino, but a plate of the most exquisite home-made pasta stuffed with walnut paste and dripping with gorgonzola sauce served to me in a simple family-run restaurant in the backcountry. I could easily have eaten several helpings and it’s just as well I wasn’t given the chance, because that wouldn’t have made for one of my finer, more elegant moments…

My memories from the two years I spent in the US in the early 90s? Wilhelm’s dark chocolate and raspberry cheesecake and the 6cm thick chargrilled steaks at The Hyde Park Grill. Do I remember dancing at my wedding? No I’m not sure I do, although I suspect I didn’t as my husband was sporting several broken ribs and a fractured sternum, having being thrown off my engagement ring (a Lusitano stallion). There’s a sentence that’s probably never been written before. I do remember the guinea fowl in apricot sauce though, and believe me, I certainly wasn’t the sort of delicate, blushing bride who had lost her appetite to nerves. We honeymooned in Burgundy which is famous for its many Michelin starred restaurants.

Randomly, the most perfect, simple green salad with walnuts after a day on the ski slopes in the Pyrenees about five years ago left an indelible mark. Usually after skiing, you’d think that a rich and satisfying fondue or raclette would be called for. But no; I have never, before or since, experienced such a rush from eating what was essentially a plate of rabbit food.

rabbitseatinglettuce

I suspect Léo’s childhood food memories will feature carrots and broccoli quite heavily because they are just about the only vegetables that don’t motivate a lengthy speech on nausea-inducing unpalatability. I try to avoid serving him other vegetables unless I have my earplugs to hand.

Ingredients (serves 4)

2 tablespoons groundnut oil

1 red onion, peeled and sliced

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

2 carrots, peeled and sliced

4 mushroom, peeled and sliced

1 broccoli (I used romanesco), cut into florets

4 chicken breasts, cut into strips

3 tablespoons peanut butter

2 tablespoons soya sauce

1 tablespoon honey

100ml chicken stock

1 teaspoon fresh or ground ginger

1 teaspoon chilli powder (optional)

Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper

Handful of crushed peanuts to garnish

Brown the onion and garlic in a wok, adding the other vegetables and chicken pieces gradually. Cook for a few minutes more before adding the peanut butter, soya sauce, honey, stock and seasoning. Stir fry over a medium heat until the chicken is cooked through and the carrots and broccoli are tender. Serve with noodles, rice or quinoa, garnishing with the crushed peanuts.

Savoury French toast and stunts from the past

frenchtoast

Léo’s French teacher recently asked the class to write a chapter from their hypothetical future autobiographies as an exercise. It had to be a memory from their early childhood, and the memory Léo chose was when he and Poly the pony went flying head over heels together in a cornfield when we were out riding one day. Neither of them was hurt — they both got up and shook themselves off and our ride continued. When we got home, Poly, who, amongst other things, had a total disregard for electric fences, decided to visit Léo in the kitchen. Léo claims in his ‘memoirs’ that Poly had come to apologise for having catapulted him into the corn, but I think it might also have had something to do with the big bowl of apples on the kitchen table. I fear that the childhood part of Léo’s autobiography is going to contain an appalling amount of tales of thoroughly undisciplined animals and their exploits. I can only hope that he focuses on the animals and glosses over his parents’ mishaps…

polyhouse

Ingredients (serves 4)

4 eggs, beaten

75g chickpea flour

½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

75ml water

1 small onion, chopped

1 clove of garlic, crushed

1 small courgette, chopped

1 carrot, grated

2 kale leaves, chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil (or ghee)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon garam masala

¼ teaspoon turmeric

4 large slices of bread (or 8 small)

Place the eggs, chickpea flour and bicarbonate of soda into a mixing bowl. Beat well while slowly adding the water to obtain a smooth batter. Add the chopped/grated vegetables and seasoning, stirring well.

Dip the bread into the mixture until each slice is well-coated. You may have to spoon the vegetables onto the toast while it’s cooking. Heat the olive oil or ghee over a medium heat in a non-stick frying pan and fry the bread on both sides until golden brown.

This makes a delicious complement to soup or salad.

Green and orange winter vegetables and a gallant caretaker

greenorangeveg

HugojournoandJava

I noticed that Bossy hasn’t been boasting about her latest achievement: a broken bone in her foot, which she achieved running around barefoot like a child. (I’m only telling you this because I felt she was a little bit dismissive — caustic even — about my entirely-justified need for a change of  location for my bed in her last post.) Java goes absolutely stark raving loony if she doesn’t get enough exercise so, in the absence of a suitably tiny strait jacket, Bossy has been taking us out on her bike, pedalling with one foot. Because she’s such a klutz temporarily handicapped, I’ve been staying by her side as her balance looks more than a little bit precarious. Apparently though, I underestimated her ineptitude because she managed to cycle into me and fall off anyway. She wasn’t cross though because I think she knew I was just trying to be supportive.

In other broken bone-related news, the Tall One has been seeing an acupuncturist, Mr Chan, about his shoulder. He seemed quite upset that Mr Chan hadn’t shown any enthusiasm to see his entire x-ray collection as opposed to just the relevant ones. I have to say, I can see Mr Chan’s point; extensive and chronologically-ordered photographic evidence of someone else’s fracture history is hardly inspiring is it?

As you all know, I’m not a vegetable fan, but I have to say this dish was quite pretty and apparently very healthy. With a wide variety of nutrients ranging from magnesium and manganese to copper, protein and zinc, pumpkin seeds pack quite a punch. Having said this, Bossy and Tall eat them all the time and it doesn’t seem to stop them from doing silly things.

Ingredients (serves 4)

500g Brussels sprouts, peeled and halved

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 shallots, peeled and sliced

2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

2 carrots, peeled and julienned

1 handful pumpkin seeds

1 handful flaked almonds

1 satsuma, peeled and cut into segments

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ teaspoon paprika

½ tablespoon honey

Cook the Brussels sprouts briefly in salted boiling water for about five minutes, drain and set aside. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and fry the shallots and garlic until golden. Add the sprouts and carrots and cook until the carrots soften a little (about five minutes). Add the pumpkin seeds, flaked almonds, satsuma pieces, seasoning and honey and cook for another few minutes until everything is honey-coated. Serve!

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.

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.

 

Crab and kelp noodle salad and kayak dyslexia

crabkelpsalad

For anyone who hasn’t tried kayaking, I can highly recommend it – it’s enormous fun. Especially if the person at the helm (in our case, my husband) yelling navigation instructions suffers from left-right dyslexia and is wearing heavy-duty earplugs. We had friends to stay and decided to hire two kayaks to travel 10 kms down a very wild and unspoilt river nearby. Léo organised the teams, taking the person most likely to agree to capsizing at will with him, leaving me with my momentarily deaf husband and girlfriend with whom I chat relentlessly. Hence the earplugs.

Between the incessant chat, barked back-to-front instructions from our ear-plugged, laterally-challenged helmsman, our unheard retorts and copious giggling fits, we descended the river in the most inelegant and perilous zigzag fashion imaginable, ploughing into the banks on one side, only to veer off to hit the verges on the other side. At one point, we all had to disembark to dig the front half of the kayak out of particularly prodigious sandbank. Meanwhile, Léo and his teammate’s boat was approximating a washing machine on spin cycle, and they were dunking in and out of the water like over-excited labradors.

When we finally arrived at our destination, I was mortified to see that our party were the only ones to be soaked through. I was also covered in wet sand, bumps and scratches and a tree branch had taken root in my hair.

Glancing at the brochure when we got home, absolutely wrung out, I was amazed to see that there were all sorts of wildlife to be seen on the descent – turtles, rare birds, salamanders, otters and beavers. Of course, we had created such chaos that all the wildlife had fled, bar a very intimidating and bossy-looking duck that had quacked at us in outrage. Who can blame him?

kayak6

Needless to say my shorts were no longer white at the other end!

Ingredients (serves 4)

400g kelp noodles

200g crab meat (I used tinned)

3 shallots, chopped

100g sweetcorn

2 small carrots, julienned

1 red pepper, julienned

100g cashew nuts

handful of mint leaves

Dressing:

4 tablespoons sesame oil

1 tablespoon peanut butter

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon fresh ginger, crushed

1 clove of garlic, crushed

½ teaspoon chilli powder

Drain the noodles and add to a large bowl. Add the crabmeat, shallots, sweetcorn, carrots, cucumber nuts and mint leaves and mix well with your hands. Combine the ingredients for the dressing together in a jar and shake well. Add the dressing to the salad, mix well and serve.