Category Archives: Savoury

Braised beef with winter vegetables and stoned incidents

My annual old lady thermal cure was relaxing and very therapeutic, but not without incident. At the beginning of the first week I knocked myself out swinging on the shower rail. I wasn’t actually swinging on it, but I might just have been judging by the way it collapsed. Afterwards the nurse was very solicitous, and I think I caught a glimpse of ‘hopeless klutz’ and ‘not fit to be left unattended’ on my medical file. My slurred character wasn’t helped by The Great Hanky Haul a few days later: Luc, never one to do things by halves, asked me to pick up 16 (really, I mean wtf?) boxes of tissues and a bottle of whisky on my way home. The cashier, cheeky monkey, asked if I was ‘planning on coming down with a nasty virus then drowning my sorrows’.

During the course of the second week, I arrived back to the car to find it wedged in on both sides. My only option was to reach the front seat via the boot. Spending a morning saturated in mineral water and mud leaves you, or leaves me at least, absolutely stoned with little or no capacity to reason. This meant that my journey through the car via the back seat was complicated further by the fact that I hadn’t thought to remove my voluminous bag which was over my shoulder. To cut a long story short, the owner of one of the offending vehicules returned to find me swearing, sweating and stuck midway with my feet flapping. I felt I couldn’t give him too much of a bollocking as he graciously helped me exit through a side door, a bit like a doctor performing an emergency c-section. 

This comforting casserole is the sort of thing you can leave on a very low heat nearly all day, while you’re out and about causing havoc.

Ingredients (serves 4)

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, peeled and sliced

2 shallots, peeled and chopped

4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

800g stewing or braising steak, cut into rough pieces

Cornflower to dust

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon paprika

2 parsnips, peeled and cut into large pieces

6 carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces

1 fennel, rinsed and cut into chunks

3 tablespoons tomato purée

1/2 bottle red wine

275ml beef stock

Preheat the oven to 150°C. Put the olive oil into a casserole dish over a medium heat, adding the onion, shallot and garlic and fry until golden. Toss the meat in the cornflour, season and then add to the casserole. Add the vegetables and tomato purée, wine and stock, gently stirring. Transfer to the preheated oven and cook for 3-4 hours or until the meat is falling apart tender. If you want to leave it longer check there is enough liquid and turn the oven down.

Roast pork tenderloin with ceps and a bossy gourmet cat


Luc appeared in the kitchen the other day armed with a hefty chunk of venison supplied by a hunter friend, and a bottle of good red wine supplied by our wine cellar. Apparently our cat, Minou, a tiny semi-feral ball of fury who terrorises humans and animals alike, had gone on hunger strike having polished off the venison bourguignon that he’d been eating for the past week (unbeknown to me). He was back on a diet of tinned food and had not taken kindly.  He had apparently become distant — defiant even — to better convey his displeasure. All along I had naively imagined that the cat ate cat food. I won’t be publishing his recipe though (here is my recipe for human beef bourguignon), because Luc had been detailed to have it made without mushrooms or carrots, both of which he despises and spits out; Minou is a cat of temperament.

discerning cat

Ceps, or porcini, are high in vitamins (A, B complex and C), minerals (iron, potassium and calcium), fibre and antioxidants. An excellent source of protein, they are also good for digestive health and for fighting inflammation.

Ingredients (serves 4 people plus a discerning cat)

1 pork tenderloin (600-800g)

Tablespoon olive oil

300g ceps, finely sliced

1 shallot, sliced

2 cloves of garlic, cut into small pieces

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Esplelette pepper (or paprika)

2 bay leaves

Fresh thyme

175ml white wine

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Coat the pork in olive oil and place in an ovenproof dish. Cover the meat with the ceps and shallot and then make small cuts in the meat to insert the garlic. Add the seasoning and gently pour the white wine over the top. Cook for about 30 minutes, or until the pork is properly cooked through, without being dried out.

 

Coconut fish curry and a very analytical horse

For the first time since my accident in 2015 (The Ditch Incident), I have started riding regularly again. I have had to revise my methods and objectives (no more breaking in mad, young horses), and also be very fussy about the horses I ride. Which means that for the moment I ride Jojo, my handsome 21-year-old Lusitano. More crucially, I have completely revised my ‘riding state of mind’; I used to get on a horse to try to sort out my brain chaos and I realise with hindsight that this was disrespectful to the horse and absolutely not inducive to a calm, happy horse and ride. I now never get into the saddle without a relaxed, focussed mind, which usually involves doing yoga first.

Jojo was ‘entire’ (had a full set) until the age of five, which is relatively late for castration. It usually means that, even afterwards, the horse retains his male characteristics, which wouldn’t be the case if castration were to take place at a younger age. Without going into the details of the effects of testosterone of the male psyche (!), I will just say that Jojo is dominant – a very typical alpha male. Every September we have an invasion of horribly aggressive horse flies that attack humans and horses alike, leaving painfully swollen, itchy welts. Jojo isn’t terrified of much (if a herd of deer jump out of the bushes in front of him, he is unfazed and just stops to let them go by), but he does have a fear of insect repellants, particularly spray bottles. I used to just wing it and chase him around the field spraying everywhere like a crazy person, hoping that at least some of the product would land on him. Realising that this approach didn’t gel with my new-found equestrian zenitude, I decided to read the side of the bottle to him in dulcet tones, explaining in detail what the product did and also the list of ingredients. When I was done, he lowered his head — a sign of compliance — and stood motionless while I sprayed him all over. I think he had basically said: ‘Fair enough, you had the time and patience to respectfully explain to me what you were going to do and why, so go ahead and do whatever you have to do with your incredibly annoying bottle’.

I never fail to marvel at the lessons we can learn from our horses.

This curry has become a bit of a regular in our house. Despite the relatively long list of ingredients (which luckily I don’t have to read out to everybody to get them to eat), it’s quick and easy to make, and always goes down a treat!

Ingredients (serves 4)

1 tablespoon coconut oil

1 onion, peeled and sliced

1 shallot, peeled and sliced

1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated

2 jalapeño peppers, sliced, seeds removed

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes

2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped

1 red pepper, diced

4 carrots, peeled and sliced

1 litre of vegetable stock

Freshly ground black pepper

Sea salt

2 teaspoons curry powder

2 kaffir lime leaves

1 stick lemongrass

200ml coconut milk

400g white fish (I used frozen cod)

Cilantro to garnish

Heat the coconut oil in a large saucepan or wok. Add the onion and shallot and fry for a few minutes. Add the ginger, jalapeño and garlic and continue to fry. Once soft, add the potatoes, tomatoes, red pepper and carrots and then cover with stock. Add the seasoning and spices and simmer for about 20 minutes. Add the coconut milk and then the fish and simmer for a further 10 minutes or until the fish is cooked and crumbly. Garnish with cilantro and serve as a standalone or with noodles or rice.

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.

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.