Category Archives: Savoury

Radish top soup and hot air and bubbles

I love our dogs, I really do, but they’ve been doing my head in during this Sahara Bubble. Yesterday they kept forgetting just how hot it was outside, which meant that I spent the better part of the 41° heat of the day and early evening playing ‘Doors’, when I should have been prostrate with a cool compress on my head, perusing my book about expeditions to the South Pole to conjure up ice-cold thoughts. The rules of ‘Doors’ are quite simple: you run between the back door and the front door, alternately letting in and out hot, panting dogs with very short memories.

You might be wondering why I don’t exercise a bit of authority (LOL – you and I have obviously never met), and tell them to stay put, but Hugo would head butt the door until he knocked himself unconscious, and Java would do her standing-on-hind-legs routine and end up falling over backwards, also knocking herself unconscious. So tempting, but no. And then this morning, to add insult to injury:  You know those hilariously funny videos you see of dogs rolling in wet, sticky mud coming back coated from head to paw? Java. Not hilarious. That’s all I’m saying.

While I was jet washing the muddy kitchen floor, Luc ‘phoned from the supermarket to say that he had put his trousers on back-to-front (he realised when he tried to put his wallet in his pocket and it fell to the floor). He had to waddle back to the car to wrestle them off and back on again the right way. Give me strength. On a positive note at least it’s a bit cooler today.

As I was far too hot and exhausted to go shopping yesterday, I made this soup with radish tops from the garden. It was more of a success than my dog disciplining attempts, which is admittedly not difficult. Radish greens contain a high concentration of vitamin B6, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, calcium, and vitamin A.

Ingredients (serves 6)

45g butter

1 onion, peeled and sliced

2 shallots, peeled and sliced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

3 bunches radish greens, rinsed

2 large potatoes, peeled and sliced

1l chicken stock (or vegetable if you prefer)

1 teaspoon paprika

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons crème fraîche

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onions, shallots and garlic, fry for about five minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Add the radish tops and potatoes, coating in the butter and cook for a few minutes longer. Add the stock and seasoning and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the radish tops and potatoes are soft. Blend the soup until smooth and add the crème fraîche.

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Chicken Printempier and a catfight

Spring chicken casserole, chicken with spring vegetables

Our cat, Minou, is tiny, opinionated and ferocious. Hugo has, in the past, tried to take him on – on the premise that he is top dog – but quickly thought better of it; he knows when he’s beaten. Java sometimes tries to play with Minou – on the premise that she is as daft as a brush – but it invariably ends badly for Java.

Yesterday Luc and I were standing on the lawn discussing the horses’ hooves, as you do. Hugo is always irrationally put out when Luc and I talk to each other outside (I’m not sure why), and doesn’t hesitate to let it be known. Yesterday, he showed his exasperation by sitting on my feet and boxing my legs with his paws. This, of course, provoked Java (because my legs belong to HER), and she torpedoed Hugo, threatening him with her tiny, bared teeth. Next it was Minou’s turn to be annoyed (manifestly, he is the only one allowed to attack Hugo), and he launched himself between the two dogs, intercepting and separating in a matter of seconds, like a particularly effective anti-ballistic missile.

Which begs the question: is this normal or is our cat a total psychopath?

I always love making this casserole in the spring. It’s satisfying, yet light and fresh. And making it takes my mind off my unstable animals.

Ingredients (serves 4)

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 onion, sliced

4 chicken thighs

2 glasses of dry white wine

450ml chicken or vegetable stock

10 baby carrots (or 4 normal carrots ‘julienned’)

4 small leaks, rinsed and sliced

4 small turnips, peeled cut

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 bay leaf

½ teaspoon paprika

½ teaspoon fenugreek

1 courgette, cut into rounds

80g of peas (either shelled or frozen)

Fresh mint, chopped to garnish

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Gently brown the onions in a casserole dish in the olive oil. Add the chicken and brown gently for a couple of minutes. Add the wine and stock and bring to a simmer. Add the carrots, leaks, turnips and seasoning. Cook for an hour in the preheated oven and then add the courgette and peas, making sure that there is still enough liquid. Cook for a further 20 minutes and add the fresh chopped mint just before serving. Delicious served with new potatoes.

 

Cider and bacon mussels and terror-struck parents

Cider and bacon mussels

Léo and I attended a morning course at the Driving School yesterday, along with about ten other learner drivers and their frazzled parents. In France, following about 20 hours of lessons and a pre-test, learners are able to drive accompanied until they reach test age at 17. The aim of the course was just to check in with everyone and see if there were any concerns or questions (ha!). What struck me was how many parents seem to regard their teenage offspring as basically just really tall, inconsequential, hormone-drenched toddlers.

When asked how his daughter’s driving was coming along, one man, with tears in his eyes, kept repeating mantra-like, : ‘I can’t do it anymore, I can’t do it anymore’. His poor daughter, sitting beside him looking slightly bemused, didn’t seem to have it in her to comfort him anymore. Somebody else asked if it was possible to hire a dual control car, because if not there was no way in hell that they would contemplate going out with their child again. One man was very hot and bothered every time they hit a roundabout (and that’s a whole lot of hot and bother because roundabouts are all the rage in France now). Yet another father was very troubled by the fact that his son somehow managed to hit sixth gear before he’d reached the end of the driveway. He had a virtual spreadsheet in his head, details of which he regaled us with at length, of every time he changed gear. He kept saying: ‘I don’t think he gets it, he’s just not made for driving’. Luckily for both of them, the son took his father making him out to be a total cretin in very good humour.

All in all, it was not dissimilar to an AA meeting so when it was finally my turn to speak I said: ‘hello, my name is Fiona and I break out in a cold sweat and start shaking every time we approach an intersection’. As Léo explained to me quite resolutely afterwards, I ‘need to go and make peace with my bloody intersections because I’m the one with the problem, not him’. He has a point, but the good news is I certainly don’t seem to be alone!

These mussels make a nice change from ‘moules marinières’.

Ingredients (serves 4)

2 kg fresh mussels

30g butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 shallots, finely chopped

2 cloves of  garlic, crushed

6 rashers of bacon (cut into strips)

4 sprigs fresh thyme

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

150ml dry cider

Wash the mussels in cold running water making sure to remove any grit or sand. Discard any that float or any that are already open. Heat the butter and oil in a large saucepan over a low heat. Add the shallots, garlic and bacon and cook for a few minutes until softened. Add the mussels and coat well with the melted butter, oil and shallots. Add the herbs and seasoning and then the cider. Bring to a simmer and cook for about five minutes until the mussels have opened.

BBQ ribs and life in a haze

I was on the loose in town today sans glasses. I realised they weren’t on my nose as we were leaving, but Léo was driving so I didn’t think it would be too much of a problem. Also we were running late, and the whole ‘when and where did I last see them etc.’ thing would have been too boring and time-consuming. It would obviously be easier to wear them all the time, but as I’m short-sighted, shallow, vain and in denial, it’s never going to happen. Anyway, Léo is a 16-year-old know-all learner driver boy racer, so out-of-focus is definitely the way to go. Far less white-knuckle stress.

While Léo was having his French horn lesson, I went shopping. All things considered, I didn’t do too badly. I bought baby peppers instead of tomatoes, but you know, who cares?  And I had to ask the owner of the shop to tap in my credit card code but again, no big deal. I waved like a maniac across the shop at someone who didn’t know me from Adam, but she was very nice about it and we chatted for a bit. In hindsight I realise she maybe just felt sorry for me, but is hindsight always a good guide? Going in to the post office I misjudged the doorstep, which resulted in an expedient and slightly melodramatic head first entrance. I then ‘Madamed’ a Monsieur, although he didn’t seem too put out – he was obviously quite woke; it’s so last century to fixate on gender.

I went back to the car to wait for my chauffeur (I got into the right car after just one small blunder), and passed the time contemplating my seemingly smooth, almost Photoshopped, wrinkle-free forehead (I’m making myself sound like a simpleton/lunatic now). I concluded that forgetting your glasses is cheaper and more effective than botox, probably less painful too, although that might be open to debate, as my doorstubbed toe will attest. It can be quite comforting to not see things too clearly all the time – I’m not sure that an obsession for detail is necessarily healthy. Think big picture. All in all, blurred worked pretty well for me today.

These ribs are a bit time-consuming, but so worth it. I had given up making ribs because they didn’t seem to be available to buy. We have now found a great butcher who has them all the time. They’re really not particularly healthy, but in a way they are because they’re so delicious they make you happy. And anyway, moderation is the key.

Ingredients (serves 4)

For 4 racks of pork ribs (approx. 400g each)

For the marinade:

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon paprika

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 orange, juiced

1 tablespoon brown sugar

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

Combine the ingredients to form a runny paste in a food processor.

For the BBQ sauce:

1 onion, peeled

2 cloves of garlic, peeled

1 chilli, seeds removed

1 teaspoon fresh thyme

1 tablespoon fresh coriander

1 teaspoon chilli powder

50g brown sugar

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

50ml tomato ketchup

Dash of Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon mustard

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine the ingredients to form a paste in a food processor.

Rub the marinade over the rib racks and leave in the fridge overnight. Preheat the oven to 125°C, place the ribs on a baking try and cook for 1½ hours. Remove from the oven and wrap the ribs in tin foil and cover with the sauce. Return to the oven for another hour. Open the tin foil wrapping and increase the oven temperature to 200°C for a further half hour.

 

 

 

Watercress soup and disarray at dawn

I have to get up far too early at the moment; it’s still dark  which makes it the middle of the night in my book. Java has become a bit of an early bird and launches herself at me like a little, blonde heat-seeking missile as soon as I come downstairs. I have to let her out quickly because she has work to do.  She has taken to ‘rearranging’ the scruffy pile of shoes that hangs out on the doorstep, depositing them thoughtfully and poetically on the grass in front of the house. This morning she outdid herself: She took each shoe and dunked it in the river before laying it out to dry on the grass. Getting ready to leave in a rush is fun when it involves having to retrieve a pair (preferably, although I have on occasion resorted to wearing odd shoes) in my size, which is  neither too soaking wet nor chewed to pieces. You might think I’d be inspired to tidy the shoes away, but no. I can’t tell her off because it causes her to develop a very bad limp and disappear for hours.

When Luc gets up I have to ‘talk him down’ with regard to whatever weird dreams he’s fallen victim to during the night. It’s asparagus season, and for some reason eating asparagus in the evening has much the same psychedelic effect on him as a large plate of shrooms. This morning he was quite distraught at how France had suffered despicable referee bias during a France/Spain football match. He was obviously thinking in terms of retribution, because he asked me lots of detailed questions about disposing of bodies in concrete, which is just the ticket when you’re eating your porridge. This is obviously my specialist subject so I was happy to provide him with particulars. A few nights ago, there was a coup d’état in Argentina, which he was called upon to fly over and sort out, taking me along as his interpreter. I’m still worrying about how that would have turned out.  Thank goodness for small mercies: Hugo and Léo are far less complicated in the morning because neither of them communicates until after midday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watercress contains enormous quantities of vitamin K, but also vitamin C and vitamin A.  It contains the minerals manganese, iron and calcium and flavonoids such as beta carotene, zeaxanthin, and lutein.  It is a good source of B-complex vitamins.

Ingredients (serves 6)

4 potatoes, peeled and chopped

2 turnips, peeled and chopped

2 onions, peeled and sliced

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon olive oil,

Freshly ground black pepper, sea salt,

1 teaspoon paprika

4 bunches of watercress, well rinsed and chopped

600ml organic stock

Crème fraîche

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, adding the potato, turnip, onion and garlic.  Fry until translucent. Add the seasoning, watercress and the stock and simmer for about five minutes. Blend until smooth and serve with crème fraîche.

Oatcakes and small lazy animals

Bossy is currently embracing her inner sloth (her excuse is that she has the flu). I would like to say it makes for a peaceful house, but I’d be lying. She screamed at the Tallish One (you may remember I can’t call him The Tall One anymore because The Noisy One has overtaken him by 10cm) this morning to ‘call the  doctor and order him to get rid of this f**king bullshit virus’. So that was reasonable; silent, or even gracious, she is not. Apparently she has very low blood pressure (not that you notice, mind you), which gets worse when she’s ill, which amusingly enough means that when she tries to stand up she collapses. This has the advantage of shutting her up momentarily, although it doesn’t make her any less stroppy. I wouldn’t like for her to actually hurt herself collapsing (she has quite a lot of form with collapsing and broken bones), but needs must.

It is a well-known fact that when you’re ill, you need a sturdy dog to sit on your feet to keep you warm (and give you pins and needles and cramp). As I’m sure you’re all aware, I take my duties very seriously and carry out this role to the fullest, however time-consuming and unpleasant it may be. The trouble is, Java thinks it might be her duty too (when it suits her and when she’s not off doing things of little consequence). This means that we both end up sitting on Bossy who gets thoroughly overheated and panicky and red in the face and I have to throw Java off and we all end up in a growling, feverish heap on the floor. I’m absolutely wrung out; I hope we’re back to business as usual soon because this flu malarky is getting on my nerves.

Oats contain beta glucans which are very beneficial for the immune system (ha!)

Ingredients (makes about 12 oatcakes)

225g rolled oats

60g chickpea flour (or any other flour)

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

60ml olive oil

Large pinch of salt

80ml hot water

Preheat the oven to 190°C. Combine the oats, flour, bicarbonate of soda, olive oil and salt well and then gradually add the hot water until you have a thick doughy mixture. Roll out the mixture and use a cookie cutter (or upturned glass) to make the cakes. Place the cakes on a greased baking tray and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Leave to cool.

The perfect omelette

I managed to live for over half a century without knowing how to cook an omelette properly. Or at least in a way that avoided husband and son sharing eye rolls and ostentatious dry heaves.

Speaking of exasperation, there are a few culinary fads that really boil my noodle: egg white omelettes (just eat the whole egg or go for the polystyrene option) and spiralised ‘spaghetti’ vegetables (eat spaghetti or eat vegetables, both if you really want to push the boat out, but don’t eat ‘pretend’ food unless you’re a toddler; exactly how idiotic do you think your taste buds are?)

Back to The Omelette. There used to be a restaurant, l’Hôtel de la Tête d’Or, on the Mont St Michel in Normandy, which was famous for its omelette. The owner of the hotel, Madame Poulard, attracted tourists from all over, and although there was much speculation about her secret recipe, she always stayed circumspect. I suspect that her secret had more to do with hardware and impeccable timing than the actual ingredients, although apparently we will never know. 

In any case, the simplest dishes are often the most delicious, but also the most difficult to get right. During my years of blissful ignorance, I used to beat the eggs a bit, add a touch of seasoning and then fry until most of the runniness was gone. They used to taste OK, although they sometimes looked as if I’d finished them off in the tumble dryer.

In my naivety I didn’t realise that in fact you have to go all sado-masochistic on the poor eggs, furiously beating and whipping them into complete submission.  You then have to pitch them, molecules awhirl, from across the room into a blazing furnace of a pan for mere seconds, until the outside is seared and the inside still runny. The experience is athletic, stressful, and affirmative.

As the saying goes, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, sweating profusely, hyperventilating, F-bombing anyone and anything in your way and setting off the smoke alarm…

Ingredients (serves 1)

knob of butter

2 fresh free-range eggs

Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a flat-bottomed frying pan over a high heat. Beat the seasoned eggs very fast until they become frothy. Throw the still-frothy mixture into the pan immediately and sear. Fold the omelette in half while the top is still runny. Serve! And breathe…