• Nutritional information,  Savoury,  Spicy

    Homemade harissa and picnic mortification

    I wouldn’t claim to be a perfect mother by any stretch of the imagination. The ability to discipline, for example, appears to be something that has completely passed me by; lack of motivation is almost certainly the cause because, unfortunately, mischief amuses me no end. I’m apparently known amongst Léo’s friends as a bit of a pushover and I have, no doubt, the same reputation amongst the animals. A healthy diet for my son though is something that I do usually manage quite well. I had to provide a picnic the other day as he was attending an all-day riding course. Picnics for Léo are an absolute minefield because he doesn’t do, amongst other things, warm cheese, soggy bread, raw vegetables, floppy salad, softened chocolate etc. In other words, he doesn’t really do picnics. He does, however, have a bit of a thing for ketchup so, in an attempt to dilute the menace of the healthier components of his sandwich, I applied liberally. More fool me. When I went to fetch him, he shouted (loudly) in front of over a dozen other people: ‘Maman, you totally ruined my sandwiches by drowning them in ketchup – they were inedible!’. I think in future he’ll either be getting a generous dollop of this eye-wateringly spicy harissa instead, or learning to make his own sandwiches!
    Chili peppers contain capsaicin, which gives them their strong spicy pungent flavour. Capsaicin has antibacterial, anticarcinogenic, analgesic and antidiabetic properties. Fresh chilli peppers are also a rich source of vitamin C and contain other antioxidants such as vitamin A, lutein and beta carotene. They also provide reasonable quantities of minerals such as potassium, manganese, iron, and magnesium.
    15 chili peppers, rinsed, topped and tailed
    1 teaspoon caraway seeds
    1 teaspoon coriander seeds
    1 teaspoon cumin seeds
    1 teaspoon dried mint leaves
    3 tablespoons olive oil plus extra for jar
    1 teaspoon sea salt
    5 cloves garlic
    Juice of 1 lemon
    Put the chilies into a bowl, cover with boiling water and leave to soak until softened (about 20 minutes). Heat the caraway, coriander, and cumin seeds in a frying pan over medium heat. Toast the spices for about four minutes until very fragrant. Drain the chilies and transfer to the bowl of a food processor with the spices, olive oil, salt, garlic and lemon juice. Purée, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl, until the paste is very smooth. Transfer to a sterilised glass jar and fill with oil until ingredients are submerged. Refrigerate, topping off with a little more oil after each use.

  • Savoury,  Spicy

    Lamb, fresh fig and almond tagine and fledgling couscous enthusiasts

    We have a young turtle dove in temporary residence at the moment. At least I think it’s temporary. Léo found her nestling in a hole at the bottom of an oak tree and brought her into the house, claiming that she’d fallen from the nest and didn’t know how to fly. He then went on to explain that the hens are  ‘blood-thirsty and vicious she-devils’ and Hugo is an ‘irresponsible nutter’ and that she couldn’t possibly be left to fend for herself. In the face of this irrefutable logic, how could I refuse? At first Léo had to feed her himself, but after about a week she learned to peck and developed an absolute passion for couscous seasoned with Ras el Hanout. A neighbour told us that there are lots of Moroccan turtle doves that have settled in the area, which would explain her exotic tastes. This recipe is the result of my searches for ‘things to serve with couscous’ because, gorgeous as she is, I draw the line at cooking separate dishes for a month-old bird. Léo is coaching her in her valiant efforts to fly, and she now executes perfect sorties from her box to the water jug and back (photo below). And she’s apparently a lot more fun than toy helicopters because you ‘don’t have to recharge her batteries’. The jury’s still out though as to which is harder work; you don’t have to clear up helicopter mess innumerable times a day… I’m not altogether convinced that her plan is to put her flying skills to the ultimate test and up and leave, as I suspect she’ll have a bit of a hard time finding Ras el Hanout-flavoured couscous in the forest around here.
    Ingredients (serves 4)
    85g almonds
    1kg lamb, cut into 3cm cubes
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    2 medium onions, finely sliced
    2 cloves of garlic, crushed
    3 carrots, peeled and cut into thumb-size pieces
    sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
    1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
    1 cinnamon stick
    1 tablespoon cumin seeds
    2 teaspoons ground paprika
    I teaspoon turmeric
    1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
    2 tablespoons honey
    6 fresh figs, cut in half
    Fresh coriander, chopped, to serve
    Toast the almonds for about 15 minutes in a small frying pan. Chop and set aside. In a medium-sized tagine or covered casserole dish (dutch oven), combine the lamb, olive oil, onions, garlic, carrots and spices, tossing well to combine. Add two cups of water, cover and gently simmer for an hour. Add the honey and figs and simmer for a further 30 minutes, checking from time-to-time that there is still some liquid (add more water if necessary). The tagine is ready once the lamb is tender and most of the liquid has evaporated. Sprinkle with almonds and coriander and serve with couscous or rice (couscous is you have an epicurean turtle dove at the table).

  • Gluten-free,  Savoury,  Spicy

    Courgette, cheese and chickpea cake (gf)

    As a follow-on to my previous recipe, I thought I would try a savoury version of the chickpea cake. The result was a protein-rich cross between a paschtida and a savoury flan or cake. In any case, it was very tasty and would make an ideal accompaniment (we ate it with spicy sausages), or could be served on its own with a green salad. This recipe is particularly for Jenna, who is currently in need of quick and easy-to-make gluten-free sustenance.

    Ingredients (serves 6)

    300g chickpeas (garbanzo beans), pre-cooked and rinsed (you can use tinned)

    4 eggs, beaten

    1 courgette, peeled and finely chopped

    ½ red pepper, washed and sliced

    1 shallot or small onion, peeled and sliced

    1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

    sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper

    2 teaspoons paprika

    150g hard cheese (I used Comté), grated

    Preheat the oven to 160°C. Grease and prepare a medium-sized cake tin, round or square. Pulse the chickpeas in a food processor until they reach a paste-like consistency and then mix in the other ingredients, except the cheese, one at a time, continuing to pulse. Add the cheese last and mix in by hand. Pour the mixture into the cake tin and bake for an hour (a fork inserted into the centre should come out clean). May be served hot or cold.


  • Savoury,  Spicy

    Spelt pilaf and painful toes

    Yesterday, when Castaño, our Exceedingly Naughty Horse, stood heavily on my little toe, I thought my husband’s reaction, ‘don’t worry, it can’t possibly be broken – he’s not very heavy’ (translated: ‘stop moaning and get over it’), could have been a little more sympathetic. I don’t know what his point of reference is, but half a ton of gyrating horse on my little toe certainly felt heavy to me.
    Today, while treating our mare’s foot (she managed to stand on the only piece of stray metal within a ten kilometre radius), Luc had his toe stamped on. Castaño, in full-blown ‘joys of Spring’ mode, saw fit to bite the mare’s rear end while she was tied up and, in reaction to the whippersnapper’s blatant audacity, she lashed out behind and stood on Luc’s toe in front.  When he yelled at me to get my ‘damned Iberian hooligan’ out of the way, my innate sense of decorum prevented me from saying: ‘it can’t have hurt that much, she’s not very heavy’. Or it almost did anyway. 😉
    Spelt grain has a robust, slightly nutty flavour and is high in fibre, B vitamins and minerals. It also contains all nine amino acids. Another considerable benefit of spelt is that it is less likely to cause allergy or intolerance than wheat.
    Ingredients (serves 4)
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    2 shallots, peeled and chopped
    2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
    200g spelt grain
    1 tomato, peeled and cubed
    sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
    I teaspoon curry powder
    750ml chicken or vegetable stock
    20g cashew nuts
    fresh parsley or basil
    Gently fry the shallots and garlic in olive oil in a large frying pan until softened. Add the spelt grain and continue to fry for a few minutes, mixing well so that the grain is covered in olive oil. Add the tomato, stock and seasoning, again mixing well. Leave to simmer for about 30 minutes until the spelt is cooked, stirring from time to time to prevent sticking. Stir in the cashew nuts a few minutes before the end of cooking time and add the parsley or basil to garnish before serving.

  • Gluten-free,  Savoury,  Spicy

    Italian-style green beans and lace-chewing mini goats

    Castaño, our most misbehaved horse, still attends the School for Exceedingly Naughty Horses a couple of times a week and Léo has taken to accompanying us. I’m not sure whether he comes because he’s looking for general naughtiness tips, or whether he’s fallen for the stable’s miniature goat. I suspect it’s the latter; my family and I have an immoderate fascination for mischievous animals and this little she-goat fits the bill very nicely. They spend an hour climbing trees, inspecting muddy ditches, making the horses spook and charging each other with imaginary horns. She invariably takes pleasure in undoing Léo’s shoe laces with her teeth and chewing them to bits. Is ‘chewing the lace’ a goat variation on ‘chewing the cud’ I wasn’t aware of? Anyway, as I appear to lack the foresight to buy several replacement pairs at once, I’ve spent much of the past month on a quest for flourescent green laces. Never let it be said that I don’t live life on the edge.
    This dish makes a wonderful accompaniment to fish or meat, or it may be served as a light lunch or supper with a poached egg on top.
    Ingredients (serves 6)
    1kg green beans
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    1 onion, peeled and chopped
    1 red pepper, sliced
    1 tomato, chopped
    2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
    handful of pine nuts
    12 black olives
    6 anchovies
    Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper
    1 teaspoon paprika, piment d’Espelette or chilli powder
    10g Parmesan cheese, grated (optional)
    Precook the beans until ‘al dente’, strain and set aside. Gently heat the olive oil in a large frying pan adding the onions and cooking for a few minutes. Add the sliced red pepper, tomato and garlic and continue to cook until the red pepper and tomato soften. Add the green beans, pine nuts, olives, anchovies and seasoning, gently combining and cook for a few more minutes.

  • Savoury,  Spicy

    Simple coconut chicken curry and a fine way to drive

    No doubt in retribution for the gentle mockery in my last post, I received a speeding fine this morning in the post. Or to be precise, my husband received a speeding fine, which absolutely thrilled him. The irony is that I was flashed coming back from a very active skiing weekend and traffic cop-in-the-making, Léo, was fast asleep and not in a position to attend to his functions. Of course, the problem with radar tickets is that you can’t flirt negotiate your way out of them. If I’m stopped by an actual live policeman, I play the ‘oh gosh I’m so sorry officer —it must have been a slip of the foot during a fleeting blonde moment’ card. Shiny grey metal boxes, however, are not nearly as indulgent with lame excuses.
    I like my curry the way I like my driving: fast and hassle-free. It is none the less delicious for it though.
    Ingredients (serves four)
    1 tablespoon coconut oil
    4 chicken breasts, cut into chunks
    1 onion, thinly sliced
    2 cloves of garlic, crushed
    4 carrots, peeled and cut
    2 green chillies, chopped
    1 tablespoon of peeled, grated fresh ginger
    1 kaffir lime leaf (or bay leaf)
    1 cinnamon stick
    ½ teaspoon turmeric
    3 teaspoons cumin seeds
    1/2 teaspoon sea salt
    1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    100ml chicken stock
    100ml coconut milk
    Gently fry the onion, garlic and chicken in the coconut oil for a few minutes in a medium-size casserole dish. Add the seasoning and spices (cumin seeds, salt, pepper, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon stick…) and continue to brown, stirring frequently. Add the carrots and chillies and then the chicken stock and coconut milk. Simmer for about 20 minutes and then serve with basmati rice, naan bread, chickpea pancakes or just a green salad.

  • Gluten-free,  Savoury,  Spicy

    Sweet potato crab cakes and lettuce pilfering

    Not only is this recipe extremely appetising, it also has the advantage of being very nutritious: sweet potatoes are bursting with vitamin C and are also high in calcium, folate, potassium and beta-carotene. They have a low glycemic index, far lower than that of regular potatoes. Crab meat is high in protein and Omega 3, as well as being a potent source of vitamins and minerals.
    Young delinquent horses, on the other hand, are less beneficial from a nutritional standpoint, particularly if they break into your vegetable garden and steal all your salad while you’re out to lunch. In an ideal world (a world in which horses do not kick down fences), a crisp green salad makes a delicious accompaniment, but they may also be served alone with a spicy chilli sauce.
    Ingredients (serves 4)
    350g sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
    ¼ red pepper, diced
    2 cloves of garlic, peeled
    sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
    olive oil
    350g crabmeat (I used tinned)
    1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
    2 spring onions, chopped
    Flour for coating the ‘cakes’ (I used quinoa flour)
    2 tablespoons peanut oil for frying
    Place the sweet potatoes, red pepper and garlic cloves on a roasting tray and douse with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in an oven preheated to 180°C for about 25 minutes. Mash the vegetables with a potato masher until you obtain a rough purée. Add the crabmeat, parsley and chopped onions, mixing well. Shape into individual cakes (roughly 8 cakes 5cm in diameter) and coat with flour. Fry in peanut oil (you could use another oil but I find peanut oil gives a lovely crisp result) until golden brown on both sides (roughly 4 minutes on each side). Serve with or without salad, depending on  your animals’ disposition. 😉

  • Hugo blogs,  Savoury,  Spicy

    Curried prawns in agar agar and how to pluck a hen


    by Hugo, 
    Canine Correspondent

    I’ve had quite a relaxing week because The Noisy One has been away on a sailing trip. I expect he’ll be quite hoarse by the time he gets home from barking orders at adjacent boats (did you like my animal imagery there?). Anyway, it’s nice to have some time off from being shot at and tackled to the ground. There has been one thing that’s been bothering me a bit though: two of the hens are nesting (and very unpleasant they’re being about it too), which leaves one hen wandering around alone looking a bit pathetic; even more so than usual ;-). I’ve been trying to keep her spirits up by grabbing her for a cuddle and an affectionate chew of her wings, but I just get yelled at by old Bossy Boots. Life can be very complicated sometimes *doggie sigh*.
    Ingredients (makes 6 mini terrines)
    250g frozen prawns
    juice of half a lemon
    25g butter
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    150ml fish stock
    1 clove garlic, crushed
    1 shallot, chopped
    1 bay leaf
    sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
    2 teaspoons curry powder
    1 tablespoon mango chutney
    4 fresh basil leaves
    4g Agar-Agar powder
    Place the prawns steeped in lemon juice in a frying pan and add the olive oil and butter. Fry gently, gradually adding all the other ingredients with the exception of the Agar-Agar and basil leaves. Simmer for about 10 minutes, until the prawns are cooked through and the liquid partly evaporated. Once cooked, add the basil, blend briefly in a food processor and set aside. Dissolve the Agar-Agar in a small amount of water and bring to the boil (according to the instructions on the packet). Once boiled, add to the prawn mixture and distribute into moulds (I used silicon muffin moulds). Compact the mixture well. Refrigerate for at least a couple of hours and serve chilled.
    Health benefits of agar agar
    Agar is a good source of calcium and iron, and is very high in fiber. It is an excellent aid in digestion and weight loss and also carries toxic waste out of the body. Other benefits include its ability to reduce inflammation, calm the liver, and benefit the lungs.

  • Savoury,  Spicy

    Tandoori chicken and shameless squatters

    I’ve arrived at the conclusion that our animals need to be brought to heel. When we were first married, someone actually suggested my husband bring me to heel (yes, really :lol:), but don’t let’s go there today. The hens, having been told in no uncertain terms that hoarding is NOT on, have now taken up squatting. I suppose bad habits are never really eradicated, just replaced with other bad habits – they’ll no doubt be smoking and chewing gum next. Unfortunately they are particularly fond of squatting the most comfortable chair on the terrace, the only one we own that doesn’t dig menacingly into your back. Having made Tandoori chicken yesterday, I’m thinking of investing in a Tandoor oven and was wondering whether they would understand the veiled threat 😉 ?
    A Tandoor is a cylindrical clay oven, typically found in Central, Western and Southern Asia. The heat source is a wood or charcoal-burning fire and temperatures can reach over 450°C. If you don’t have a Tandoor to hand, obviously a hot regular oven will do.
    Ingredients (serves 4)
    8 skinless chicken thighs
    1 red onion, chopped finely
    Juice of 1 lemon
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    For the marinade :
    150ml greek yoghurt
    1  piece of fresh ginger, grated
    4 garlic cloves, crushed
    1 teaspoon cumin seeds
    ½ teaspoon chilli powder
    ½ teaspoon paprika
    ½ teaspoon turmeric
    ½ teaspoon sea salt
    Slash the chicken thighs several times then cover them with the lemon juice and chopped onions. Set aside in a deepish dish. Mix the marinade ingredients together and pour over the chicken, making sure that all bits are well covered. Leave to chill for at least an hour or overnight if possible. Preheat the oven to 220°C. Carefully place the chicken thighs on a lightly oiled baking tray and cook for about 25 minutes, depending on the size of the thighs. They are cooked through properly when the juice runs clear when prodded with a fork. May be served with basmati rice, naan bread, chickpea pancakes (recipe here), or vegetable curry. Delicious with chutney too.

  • Savoury,  Spicy

    Vegetable couscous and crestfallen hens

    As if a deeply neurotic dog isn’t enough to cope with, I now appear to have a depressed hen on my hands. She’s been a bit down in the beak since the arrival of the young louts and has taken to spending time alone, presumably heeding the French adage ‘Il vaut mieux être seul que mal accompagné’ (it’s better to be alone than badly accompanied). I’m a dab hand at dealing with dippy horses (two headcollars ripped to shreds in under five minutes today; a record even by our standards) and bipolar dogs, but this is somewhat baffling…
    I made this vegetable couscous with her in mind as it meant lots of vegetable peelings and some remnents of couscous grain to perk her up a bit. I used spelt couscous which is nutty, subtle and lighter than wheat couscous, but you can use either. I’m a big fan of spelt, an ancient protein-rich grain offering a far broader range of nutrients than wheat (manganese, phosphorus, vitamin B3, magnesium, copper…). It also seems to cause fewer digestive problems than wheat, although it does contain gluten.
    Ingredients (serves 4)
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    4 carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces
    1 potato, peeled and cut into large chunks
    1 onion, peeled and sliced
    4 cloves of garlic, peeled
    1 red pepper (sliced)
    2 tomatoes (blanched, peeled and sliced)
    1 large courgette, cut into approximately 4cm slices
    4 baby turnips, peeled
    100g pre-cooked chickpeas
    1 bay leaf
    Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
    3 teaspoons ras-el-hanout
    200ml chicken or vegetable stock
    200g couscous
    handful of raisins
    harissa and fresh mint to serve
    Fry the onions in the olive oil, gradually adding the other vegetables. Add the seasoning, spices and stock and simmer for about 30 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Prepare the couscous according to instructions, adding the raisins to the boiling water. Serve the couscous and ladle the vegetables and sauce over the top. This is good either on its own or to accompany grilled or barbecued sausages and meat.