Lemon cream meringue and dwindling decorations

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I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas. We did and, true to form, Hugo spent most of the time either hiding from Java or chewing her ears, while Java spent most of the time either looking for Hugo or chewing up paper hats, corks and tree decorations. Needless to say, her visits to the naughty corner were not infrequent. The hens, I suspect, breathed a collective sigh of relief at having, once again, been spared.

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I kept expecting to come down in the morning to the sight of the Christmas tree prostrate, having ‘fainted’ in the night. But no, Java prefers to play the long game when it comes to dismantling the tree, and her progress is insidious and incisive. She’s a pretty little, furry, decoration-seeking stealth missile and if it weren’t for the telling crunch of trodden-on glass baubles on the floor, and glitter and tinsel in places you would least expect, you would hardly know she had been untoward. She isn’t devious but she prefers to proceed this way for practical reasons: the trauma and commotion of a whole tree falling over at once would tip her right over the edge.

This dessert is ambrosial. It’s light and refreshing, almost sparkling – a very welcome antidote to a rich main course.

Ingredients (serves 6-8)

4 eggs

2 lemons

320g sugar

pinch of salt

400 ml whipping cream

Meringue:

4 egg whites

200g sugar

pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 140°C. Add the egg whites and salt to a medium-size mixing bowl until foamy. Gradually add the sugar, a tablespoon at a time, beating until stiff peaks form and sugar dissolves.

Spread the meringue mixture onto greaseproof paper covered baking trays. Bake for 30 minutes and then turn off the oven and leave for an hour. Remove the meringues and leave to cool.

Lemon filling:

4 egg yolks

120g sugar

Grated rind and juice of 2 lemons

400ml whipping cream

Place the egg yolks and sugar in a small saucepan and stir over a gentle heat until paste-like. Add the lemon rind and then the lemon juice little by little until the mixture is thick and smooth. Remove from the hear and leave to cool completely.

Beat the whipping cream until soft peaks form and then fold into the cooled lemon mixture. Spoon the mixture into one of the the cooled meringue shells and gently place the other one on top. Chill overnight.

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Green and orange winter vegetables and a gallant caretaker

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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

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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.

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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.

Buckwheat banana cake (gf) and a gluten free mouse

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We are still being outwitted by a tiny little mouse who has become addicted to my buckwheat crackers. As she seems unfazed by the supposedly dissuasive mint essential oil with which I flood the cupboards, I did a bit of research and came across a sonic mouse deterrent. Rushing out to buy one, I discovered reading the small print while waiting to pay, that the device ‘could perturb domestic animals’. Totally panicked by this news, I explained (at some length) to the man at the checkout that my domestic animals didn’t need any more crazy in their lives, particularly my little English Setter with her fragile constitution, delicate nerves and rather unusual ways. Wondering whether the strange look he gave me was pity or amusement, I arrived home to the realisation that my extended monologue about my dogs’ mental health had been a case of the pot calling the kettle black: I was sporting a back-to-front top. And it wasn’t a subtle, hardly discernible back-to-front either; it was definitely an in-your-face ‘escaped from an asylum’ back-to-front. I made this cake to take my mind off the fact that I’m losing it, and intentionally omitted, OK totally forgot, some of the ingredients. It was however a very fortuitous error, because the result was a perfectly deliciously light, fluffy succulent cake. The bad news is though that the mouse has become a permanent fixture.

Ingredients

2 medium eggs

100g cane sugar

1 large ripe banana, cut and mashed with little lemon juice

100ml unsweetened apple purée

100ml plain yoghurt

2 tablespoons walnut oil

60g ground hazelnuts

170g buckwheat flour

a pinch of salt

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

100g raisins, pre-soaked in rum

Preheat the oven to 180ºC and prepare a medium-sized loaf tin. Whisk the eggs and sugar until light and smooth and slightly fluffy and then add the banana, oil, apple purée and yoghurt and whisk a bit longer. Mix the ground hazelnuts, buckwheat flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon and ginger together and then combine well with the wet mixture. Stir in the soaked raisins and pour the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for 50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Remove from the tin and leave to cool. Delicious served alone or with butter and jam. May be used a mouse bait too.

Leek and potato soup with mushrooms and repeat offenders

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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

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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…

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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.

 

Apple cider vinegar: an impressive multitasker

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The word vinegar translates to vin aigre, which means ‘sour wine’ in French. One of the earliest noted uses of apple cider vinegar was by Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine. He used it extensively, sometimes mixed with honey, as a remedy for a multitude of ailments.

It has been purported to cure just about every condition under the sun at some time or another. While some claims of its plethora of healing powers may be exaggerated, it is, in my opinion, most beneficial for digestive health. I take a couple of teaspoons in a glass of water every morning and haven’t suffered from indigestion for a long time.

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Rich in enzymes, apple cider vinegar aids digestion when there is a lack of stomach acid; a lack of hydrochloric acid is the most common reason for indigestion and reflux problems. It also acts as a natural prebiotic by encouraging the growth of good bacteria in the intestine. In addition, the acetic acid has also been shown to help with mineral absorption, which means you get the most out of the food you eat. The consumption of apple cider vinegar on a regular basis helps the gut flora function more efficiently.

The vinegar contains a perfect balance of 19 minerals including potassium, phosphorus, chlorine, sodium, magnesium, calcium, sulfur, iron, fluorine, silicon and zinc. Drinking a couple of teaspoons diluted in water is an excellent way to replace electrolytes lost after exercise or during hot weather. Its potassium and magnesium content can also help relieve leg cramps. It is rich in enzymes which boost chemical reactions in the body, and malic acid which protects from viruses, bacteria and fungus.

The acetic acid content of apple cider vinegar slows the digestion of starch, tempering the insulin response and maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. Numerous studies show that vinegar can increase insulin sensitivity and significantly lower blood sugar responses after eating. It also contains pectin which helps to regulate blood pressure and ash which contributes to the maintenance of an alkaline state in the body.

And one of apple cider vinegar’s more random abilities is its effectiveness in stopping hiccups in their tracks. It works by cancelling out the message sent to the brain to hiccup by overstimulating the nerves responsible for the spasms. It is also effective to reduce the itchiness, redness and inflammation of insect bites.

The best form of apple cider vinegar to buy is the ‘mother’ form – the pure, murky, unpasteurised form. And obviously it should be organic: choosing apple cider vinegar made with organic apples is the best way to maximize the nutrient content and minimize your exposure to pesticides.

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