Category Archives: Spicy

Beef Rendang and pernickety males

I inadvertently surround myself by fussy men. My father was very tricky to buy presents for, and I always ended up buying him books which was an interesting challenge. Well-written, knowledgeable, lively, original and slightly wry biographies about Winston Churchill or Napoleon were usually a good bet, and most things by Philip Roth or Ian McEwan usually passed muster. Books that tried to be too witty or too clever would be cast aside in disgust, as were novels by PD James who never ‘got to the bloody point’ quickly enough. It was with great sadness that I recently saw there was a new Churchill biography out because I’ll never know what he thought of it.

Luc and Léo are inordinately difficult to shop for because they’re both strangely obsessed with the weight of all shoes and clothing. Léo also has an aversion to pink, yellow and anything patterned. And not only must everything be feather-light, any zips or buttons must be ultra rapid to avoid, god forbid, slowing him down. Luc is a big fan of parachute silk and doesn’t care if his clothes make him look like gay Hawaiian televangelist, as long as they’re diaphanous. Mon dieu!

But it is Hugo that takes the biscuit (unless they’re dog biscuits which he spits out). His bedding is a source of sleepless nights for everybody. We are currently testing bed number four as the first three were not to his liking, which he made very clear. I do understand because I’ve had unpleasant experiences at times with uncomfortable bedding, but I don’t show my exasperation by growling and huffing and puffing all night.

Little Java is a breath of fresh air. Although I suspect she must have a preference for cashmere cushions (who wouldn’t?), she sleeps anywhere and on anything. She also eats absolutely everything (including dressed salad, mustard and melon, which, as dog owners will know, is incredibly random). There is literally nothing that makes her unhappy. Except gunfire; gunfire unhinges her, which is ironic as she was born and bred to be a gundog…

Ingredients (serves 4)

1 onion, peeled and  chopped

5 shallots, peeled and chopped

4 cloves garlic

1 stalk lemongrass, chopped

1 teaspoon turmeric (or fresh turmeric, grated)

4 fresh chillis, washed and chopped

1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated

600g braising steak, cubed

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1 cinnamon stick

6 cardamon pods

4 kaffir lime leaves

500ml coconut milk

1 lime, juiced

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the onion, shallots, garlic, lemongrass, turmeric and chills into a food processor and blend to obtain a smooth paste. Add the meat to the paste, mixing well and leave to marinate in the fridge for at least a few hours. Heat the coconut oil in a casserole dish and fry the meat/paste mixture for a few minutes until well browned. Add the cinnamon stick, the cardamon (releasing the seeds from the pods beforehand) and the kaffir leaves.  Add the coconut milk, lime juice and seasoning and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for about an hour and a half, stirring frequently. The meat should be tender and the sauce reduced and rich.

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Stir-fry scallops and decorating hens

Java has a boyfriend. In fact, she has two. One lives about a kilometre away to the east, and the other a kilometre to the west. At the moment they have different visiting times but, as one of them in particular is making himself more and more at home ‘chez Java’, it’s inevitable that one day they’ll turn up at the same time and I’m afraid it won’t be pretty. Especially if drama llama Java has anything to do with it. Meanwhile, Hugo is delighted because it gets her off his back for a bit; when either of them turns up,  he shrugs a gallic canine shrug, sighs with relief and leaves them to it. There are only two prerequisites to be Java’s dogfriend: speed and stamina (although Hugo would no doubt say stupidity was another one). ‘Dates’ consist of running around the house at break-neck speed for hours on end, stopping only occasionally either to change direction or to slurp noisily from the pool. If they tire before she’s had enough, she barks at them manically. A catch she is not – just ask Hugo.

Niko, Java’s handsome admirer from the East

In other news, I noticed the other day that a couple of the hens had blobs of Farrow and Ball’s ‘Folly Green’ paint on their wings. Thinking that they’d just been hanging out too long in the workshop, I rinsed them down and forgot about it until Luc started to rant that the hens’ ‘tattoos’  had faded. Apparently he’d been colour-coding them according to how many eggs they lay. No doubt this information was to make its way onto a complicated spreadsheet to determine whether they’re paying for their keep, and if not, whether their next port of call should be a Le Creuset casserole dish. As he knows that I refuse to cook any beast that I’ve fed and built up a relationship with, it seems rather futile, but whatever floats his boat. And spreadsheets seem to.

These scallops seemed to float everyone’s boat when I last made them. I served them with rice, but they would be delicious with noodles too.

Ingredients (serves 4)

4 tablespoons sesame oil

10 mushrooms, peeled and sliced

1 red onion, peeled and sliced

2 small carrots, peeled and sliced

75g greens peas

1 red pepper, sliced

500g scallops

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated

1 teaspoon chilli powder

4 tablespoons soya sauce

Heat the sesame soil in a large frying pan or wok, add the mushrooms, onion, carrots, peaks and pepper and stir fry until tender. Add the scallops, garlic, ginger and chilli powder and stir fry for about two minutes or until the scallops become opaque. Add the soya sauce heating for a further minute and serve. I served with a combination of wild rice/thai rice.

 

Spicy chicken and coral lentil soup and dog ASBOs

chickencorallentil

Every time I go to London I’m reminded of just how unruly our dogs are. Dogs in London parks amble around acknowledging each other politely, sometimes stopping for a chat or a bit of a play, then rejoining their owners as soon as they’re called. Our dogs? Not so much; if canine ASBOs were a thing, we would have an impressive collection. Hugo, in his labrador way, does have a certain amount of innate savour faire, but it doesn’t stop him and his 30 kilos from climbing onto unsuspecting visitor’s laps or availing himself of the driving seat of their cars. He also has a tendency to break into neighbour’s kitchens to relieve them of their baguettes.

Last time I visited the vet with Hugo, we were asked to leave by the back door because his arrival by the front door (the Door for Civilised Dogs) had created pandemonium (try to picture cats and small dogs splattered all over the walls). The following week when I visited with Java, I was allowed to leave by the Door for Civilised Dogs, which was a big mistake because she launched herself at a pony-sized Pyrenean sheep dog like a tiny heat-seeking missile. Luckily for her, enormous dogs tend to have impeccable manners and gentle dispositions and he shook her off like a rather annoying fly. With great shame I picked her up, seat-belted her into the back of the car and ignored her all the way home.

The dogs have outdone themselves this week though: Hugo got stuck in the car for nearly four hours and we only realised where he was when we heard the car horn tooting persistently. Java, not to be outdone, got herself stuck in the railings of the staircase. Between her wriggling, our giggling, and not knowing whether to push or pull, getting her out was quite a feat. In hindsight, we should have left her there because on our walk afterwards we met five seriously well-trained and hard-working English Setters with a hunter. (At least they were well-trained until Java intervened – I think she must have revealed a chink in their training armour.) She ran into the midst of the pack, her body quivering with high-spirited enthusiasm, despite her presumably bruised ribs from the staircase debacle, hysterically barking ‘PARTY TIME’ and after that there were six setter reprobates running around like maniacs. I’m off to lie down.

Ingredients (serves 6)

4 chicken thighs, skin removed

1 tablespoon olive oil

Dried rosemary

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon coconut oil

1 onion

1 celery stick, chopped

1 leek, chopped

2 carrots, peeled and sliced

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

1 teaspoon curry powder

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 bay leaves

3 litres chicken stock

250g coral lentils

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Put the chicken thighs into a roasting tin coated in olive oil, dried rosemary and seasoning and roast for about 30 minutes, or until cooked through. Once cooked, cut or rip into pieces, removing from the bone and set aside. Melt the coconut oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion, celery, leek, carrots and garlic and fry until golden. Then add the seasoning and stock and bring to a simmer. Add the coral lentils and simmer for about 20 minutes (don’t cook the lentils too much or they’ll go mushy). Add the chicken pieces, warm through and serve.

Chinese-style pork patties and recalcitrant photographic models

After the fiasco that was Bossy’s attempt to film her dogs’ ‘obedience’ (it still makes me chuckle just thinking about it), she has been trying to capture us next to flowers, which naturally fills me with an overwhelming and unfettered joy. Not. I’m concerned that the very hot weather we’ve been having has fried her brain: I mean seriously, do I look like a dog that enjoys the company of pale pink girly flowers? At least it’s quite entertaining when she lies down on the grass on her tummy to get a better angle, especially when she struggles to get up. What’s the point in a good angle if the subject has got bored with the tediousness of sitting still and wandered off? This photo is apparently a testament to my compliance, although it feels more like a punishment to me. At least nobody could mistake me for a dog happy to be caught next to a flower. She tried to photograph Java a number of times, but all she got was a dirty white blur. And Bossy considered the ‘flattened to the floor in a stranglehold’ look to be unflattering because it made her eyes boggle (Java’s, not Bossy’s). I really hope she loses the camera enthusiasm soon; in the meantime she’s the gift that just keeps on giving…

Ingredients (serves 4)

100g tinned whole water chestnuts, drained and finely chopped

500g lean pork mince

5 spring onions, finely chopped

1 clove of garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon grated root ginger

1 red chilli, finely chopped

1 teaspoon Chinese spice

1 tablespoon soya sauce

1 tablespoon cane sugar

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 egg, beaten

3 tsp olive oil or peanut oil

Combine all the ingredients together well in a large bowl and form about 16 patties. Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan and fry for about four minutes on either side until cooked through and slightly caramelised. Delicious served hot or cold with fried rice, noodles or crispy Chinese cabbage salad.

Tandoori chicken breasts and a twisted ankle

The equine osteopath paid a visit to put Bijou’s ankle back into place the other day. He had dislocated it while gallivanting furiously around the field with Java; just how incompetent can a horse be? It’s a shame the osteopath couldn’t put his brain back into place too. At one point he and Java were so over-excited that he was bucking, pirouetting and galloping simultaneously. And I certainly don’t say this as a nod to his prowess.

In other news, Java has been passing the time chewing on hens’ heads. I’m not sure whether her intent is malicious or not, although I do know that I wouldn’t feel comfortable about having my head chewed on by Java. I will have to explain to her that, in civilised circles, you wait until the chicken is cooked before chewing on it. I do feel a little responsible though – I’m afraid she may have spotted me doing something similar when I was a dishy young whippersnapper (as opposed to the handsome and distinguished older man that I have become) and one of the hens and I were an item. Those were the days…

Hopefully this recipe will show Java why it’s worth waiting for the chicken to be cooked before eating it, although I’m not holding my breath.

Ingredients (serves 4)

4 chicken breasts, cut into strips

150g plain yoghurt

1 tablespoon olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon

2 shallots, peeled and chopped

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground corinder

1 teaspoon chilli powder

1 teaspoon garam masala

Mix the ingredients together and marinate the chicken breasts for at least an hour, or overnight if possible. Preheat the oven to 220°C. Place the chicken on a lightly oiled baking tray and cook for about 15 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces. Delicious served with basmati rice or chickpea pancakes.

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.

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.