Tag Archives: thermal cure

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 chicken with chanterelles and way TMI

I am about to embark on my final week of a three-week thermal cure in an attempt to relieve my knackered back. Handily, we live just half an hour away from one of the most renown and effective thermal resorts for my sort of problem in France. For two hours a day, I’m smothered in thick, sticky, mineral-rich mud, the texture of which is not dissimilar to melted chocolate, and then immersed in delicate champagne-like bubbles of pine and mineral-infused water. And then the really tough part: the relaxing therapeutic massage. Most of the other patrons, although fit enough to withstand the cure which is actually pretty tiring, have various medical complaints, details of which they are only too happy to divulge and contemplate. Yesterday the man in the massage booth next to mine spent a full 20 minutes waxing lyrical about his extensive collection of, frankly, alarming ailments. I was quickly on more familiar terms with his offal — or what was left of it — than I might ideally have liked. The thing that never ceases to amaze me about the French is the way they consider their maladies to be badges of honour and, as such, refer to them in, if not hushed nonetheless reverential tones. Unfortunately, the massage seemed to have a purging effect on him and the medical technicalities became increasingly gory and colourful. The overall, and in my case faint-making, effect was embellished by the fact that the masseur felt compelled to repeat everything he said REALLY LOUDLY, presumably on the grounds that she shouldn’t be the only one to benefit: ‘So you only have quarter of a kidney left on one side, half a liver and your entrails were scattered all over the operating table…’ I’m so glad I was lying down.

The combination of rain and sun that we’ve had recently means that chanterelle mushrooms are especially plentiful at the moment. Their delicate, slightly earthy flavour is a perfect complement to roast chicken and they are a surprisingly rich source of vitamin D, but also vitamin C and potassium.

Ingredients (serves 6)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 chicken, gutted

200g fresh chanterelles

4 shallots, peeled and sliced

4 cloves of garlic, crushed

a handful of fresh thyme

1 bay leaf

4 carrots, peeled and sliced

Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon piment d’espelette or paprika

200ml dry white wine

100ml chicken stock

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Pour the olive oil into a large casserole dish (dutch oven) and add the chicken, chanterelles, shallots, garlic, herbs, carrots and seasoning. Gently brown the chicken on all sides over a medium heat and then add the wine and stock, which should be brought to a simmer. Put the lid on the dish and cook in the oven for just over an hour, or until the ‘sauce’ is beginning to caramelise slightly. You might want to remove the lid for the last ten minutes of cooking. I served with a potato and butternut squash purée and broccoli roasted with orange.