This is a translation of a ‘phone conversation between my nine-year-old son and his friend :
Son : ‘Hi ‘Friend’, would you like to play tennis this morning?’
Friend: ‘Er, OK, but could we make it this afternoon?’
Son: ‘But it’s going to be too hot this afternoon – why can’t you make it this morning?’
Friend: ‘It’s just it seems a bit chilly* this morning and I’m wearing short sleeves’
*’chilly’ for a native of Southern France is anything under 25°C
My son applied his steadfast and infallible logic, advised his friend to dig out a sweater and off they went. Imagine though, the possibilites of this kind of rationale. ‘Inappropriate attire’ could become a valid excuse for getting out of just about everything – school, work, boring cocktail parties, cooking lunch, the possibilities are endless…
Unfortunately for me, I was dressed appropriately enough to make lunch and I produced this crab salad. To be consumed on a terrace in light attire:
Ingredients (serves four)
400g tinned crab
1 greek yoghurt
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, pressed
4 heaped tablespoons of chopped cucumber
A thumb of freshly grated ginger
1 tablespoon of raisins
1 tablespoon of sweet and sour chilli sauce
1/2 tsp chilli powder
seasalt and pepper to taste
Combine the onions, garlic, cucumber, raisins and ginger in a small mixing bowl. Add the drained crab and the sweet and sour sauce, mixing well. Add the Greek yoghurt and spices and mix with a spoon until the crab is entirely covered in the yoghurt mixture. Serve chilled.
I’m a great fan of spicy food in very hot weather. Actually I’m a fan of spicy food in cold weather too, but the arguments in favour are less convincing.
Spices help to kill bacteria that develops in hot weather when fridges are unavailable. Certain spices, such as chilli also help kill off intestinal parasites which tend to develop in warm weather. They also stimulate appetite and digestion, both of which become sluggish when it’s very hot. They make you sweat (although this may not really sound like a good thing), which is your body’s way of cooling down and as a final bonus spices boost serotonin levels which makes you happy 🙂
So even if it’s 10 degrees and cloudy with you today, you’ll find this easy, delicious and healthy.
Ingredients (serves 4)
4 filets of white fish (I used hake)
2 cloves of garlic
Freshly grated ginger
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup of peas
Handful of cashew nuts
Handful of raisins
1 cup of coconut milk
1 fresh chilli
1 tblsp coconut oil
2 cups of vegetable stock
Seasoning – curry powder, sea salt, pepper, cumin seeds
Melt the coconut oil in a frying pan and gently fry the onions and garlic until golden brown. Add the fish and the chopped tomatoes and keep frying gently for few minutes. Add the stock and then the spices, ginger, cinnamon stick, raisins, cashew nuts and peas. Bring back to a gentle simmer. Cook for about 15 minutes and then add the coconut milk and freshly chopped mint. Serve!
To follow on from my previous post, my husband decided that the softly softly ‘I’m listening’ approach was not going to be the way forward with our moody, hormonal hen. Anyone who has met my husband will appreciate that this is said without even a trace of irony. So bottom-dunking in a bucket of cold water three times it was. The cussing was impressive, but in fairness, so were the results; she has lost the will to phantom nest and is back to scutteling around happily after her friends, no doubt wishing much harm upon the mad dunker in her mind. Problem solved you might think. Perhaps, but the horses who had been witness to the unceremonious bucket-dunkings are now traumatised and scared witness of their master. They do 0-60 faster than I ever thought possible as soon as he approaches, leaving hens, humans and dogs in their wake. They can rest assured though; we don’t own, and aren’t about to own buckets big enough for him to dunk their hindquarters in.
This has absolutely nothing to do with stawberries of course, for which I’m about to give you details of an original and ultra-healthy way to serve…
Juice of half a lemon
Prepare the strawberries by cutting off the leaves, rincing and cutting into two. Place in a bowl and then add the syrup, lemon juice, grated ginger, mint and peppers. Chill for at least an hour and serve with greek yoghurt.
The combination of antioxidents in the strawberries and peppers, the alkalising effect of the lemon juice, the anti-inflammatory action of the ginger and the many virtues of yacon syrup makes this dish practically medicinal. Consume without moderation.
We have a garden full of nomadic rhubarb. Originally I had inadvertantly planted it over our sewage system, so my husband moved it and it randomly became the ‘pièce de resistance’ by the edge of the pool; I don’t know what that was all about. As much as I love rhubarb, it isn’t the plant of exceptional beauty that you might expect to see in such a prime location, so it was moved again – to the vegetable patch, oddly enough. This time, the dog took exception to its location and dug it up in a fit of frenetic hysteria one night when we weren’t looking. I decided enough was enough and maybe rhubarb just wasn’t meant to be in our garden and chucked it unceremoniously onto the compost heap, where it took root of its own accord and has prospered ever since.
Rhubarb is a little tart (particularly ours, as it gets around so much!) and really needs more sugar than I’m willing to use. I get around this by stewing it with yacon syrup, which has a low GI and deliciously fragrent caramel taste. Made from the roots of the yacon plant which is indigenous to the Andes, it is used throughout South America for its nutritional properties; it is said to help diabetes as well as renal and digestive problems.
4 stalks of rhubarb
2 tbsp yacon syrup
1 cup of water
stem ginger, chopped
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup of raisins
1/4 cup of butter
1/4 cup of coconut oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
a pinch of salt
2 tbsp yucon syrup
1 cup of chickpea flour
1 cup self-raising flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 cup milk
Start by stewing the rhubarb. Peel the stalks and cut into pieces of approximately 2cm. Add the yucon syrup, ginger, cinnamon and about a cup of water. Gently braise for about 20 minutes or until the rhubarb forms a runny jam-like consistency.
Prepare the cake mix by creaming the warmed coconut oil and butter until light and fluffy. Add the yucon syrip until the mixture is blended. Next beat in the egg and vanilla. Sift together the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda and combine with the milk. Add little by little to the egg/fat mixture until well blended. Finally fold in the stewed rhubarb and spoon into a greased cake tin. Bake in a preheated oven for about 40 minutes at 180°C.
A lady fishmonger served me this morning and, instead of enquiring into the corpulence of the people I was going to cook for, took the time to explain this delicious recipe to me. There was a massive queue, but she certainly didn’t let this deter her from such minutiae as the exact size to cut the basil leaves and a description of the delectable aroma that would waft from the oven after about five minutes’ cooking. She even took the time to wish me a ‘bon appétit’ before turning to her line of, by this time, fuming but drooling clients. It’s a terrible cliché, I know, but I do maintain that one of the things I love most about the French is that they have their priorities well and truly in order.
Ingredients (serves four)
4 cod filets
12 cherry tomatoes
1 tbsp mustard
10 basil leaves
handfull of pinenuts
1 cup of wholemeal breadcrumbs
1 clove of garlic
sea salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Cover the cod filets with olive oil and place in an ovenproof dish. Season and then brush the filets with mustard before tossing them in the breadcrumbs and sliced basil leaves. Cover the tomatoes (cut in two) with breadcrumbs and then add to the dish. Sprinkle the chopped garlic and pinenuts over everything and cook for 15 minutes.
When I asked for cod filet for three this morning, the fishmonger asked if it was for three normal people or three rugbymen. I had replied that it was for three normal people before wondering if this wasn’t perhaps stretching the truth a bit.
In southwestern France, we live amongst constant reminders of the rugby-playing heritage. Many refer to the region as l’Ovalie, which means the land of the oval ball. One Landaise priest has even dedicated his chapel, Notre Dame du Rugby, to his passion! Towns and villages are deserted whenever there’s a match on, and weekends in hospital emergency rooms are not for the faint-hearted; they’re bursting at the seams with sights of broken and bloody noses, limbs and assorted extremities and sounds of blubbering girlfriends.
Back to my normal fish. Delicious as it is, cod can be a bit bland. Although that could be due to my overextended tastebuds which are singed on a regular basis by very spicy food. This chickpea batter is both healthy and delicious and an excellent vehicle for herbs and spices. Chickpea flour is far healthier than refined wheat flour as it’s packed with vitamins (particularly folic acid), minerals and protein-building amino acids. It also has a very low GI.
Ingredients (for 4 normal people)
4 cod filets
50g chickpea flour
1 cup of water
1 garlic clove
olive oil and coconut oil
seasoning (salt pepper, paprika)
pinch of bicarbonate of soda
Combine the chickpea flour and bicarbonate of soda with enough water (roughly a cup) to make a batter similar to a pancake batter. Add the seasoning and crushed garlic clove. Dip the cod filets in the batter, making sure they are covered all over. Cook in about half a centimetre of olive and coconut oils on a medium hob (cooking oil should never smoke) for about five minutes on each side. The result should be golden brown and crisp!
We have two hens called Sel and Poivre (Salt and Pepper). We bought them in the hope of being able to teach Hugo, our dog, that chickens are to be admired from a respectable distance and not eye-balled viciously, whilst sinking sharp canine teeth into their necks. He had taken to sloping off to the neighbouring farms to ‘play’ with their hens in a way that would have earned him an ASBO if he lived in the UK.
Six weeks on and the hens are still alive, which is nothing short of miraculous when I think back to the way he greeted their arrival. But the hens’ biggest passion is the horses; they preach at the alter of all things equine. If the horses are lying down in the sun, so are they; if the horses are eating hay in the grange, the hens will be pecking away next to them. And when the horses gallop around the field, they follow as fast as their little legs will carry them.
Anyway, we moved the horses down the road a couple of days ago to ‘mow’ a neighbouring field, and the hens (who live in the horses’ stabling) went into a sharp decline. To such an extent that one of them (Salt) stopped laying. I’m not quite sure how that works, but I’ve been assured by People Who Know that hens, contrary to appearances, are really quite emotional beings. We brought the horses back this evening (I was getting hungry!) and they were met by two very very happy ladies. They’re cuddling up as I type.
The original aim of this post was actually to point out the fact that eggs are Very Good News from a nutritional point of view, and not go into our poultry’s state of heart in such detail. So, eggs contain substantial quantities of high-quality protein and most vitamins (with the exception of vitamin C) and minerals; valuable components in a healthy diet. From a culinary point of view, as well as being healthy and delicious, they are incredibly versatile – they can be boiled, poached, fried, scrambled or made into omelette, quiche, tarts, sauces, mousses…
From your point of view as well as the hens’, please buy free-range.
Although I never let slip a chance to take a cheap pop at vegetarians (our horses, for example – how could anyone in their right mind just eat grass all day?), I’m not exactly a flesh-ripping carnivore myself. In fact, the better meat is disguised, the happier I am.
It’s complicated serving meat in this house. My husband and son, in true French male style, get inconsolably hysterical if they think it’s overcooked and I ‘come over queer’ if it’s underdone. Hugo, the labrador, is extremely conciliatory (or greedy?) and eats it either way.
This fragrent meatloaf ticks all the boxes; vegetables for me so that I forget I’m eating meat, and just enough meat for my carnivourous husband and son to satisfy their Neanderthal instincts.
Ingredients (serves six to eight)
2 garlic cloves
3 medium tomatoes
200g pre-cooked chickpeas
300g minced beef or lamb
1 tbsp Lee and Perrins sauce
50ml tomato ketchup
seasoning to taste (seasalt, pepper, cumin, coriander, cayenne pepper)
Cut the aubergine into slices and leave to ‘sweat’ out the moisture with seasalt. Brown the vegetables (including the aubergine) in olive oil in a large frying pan cooking over a medium heat for about 20 minutes. Add the rosemary and seasoning and set aside. Combine the meat, beaten eggs, Lee and Perrins sauce and ketchup in another bowl. Roughly blend the vegetable mixture, chickpeas and fresh parsely until it forms a lumpy paste (ie not blended too much) and add it to the meat mixture. Spoon the combined mixture into a loaf tin and cook for about an hour and a half in a medium oven (180°C). Leave to sit for ten minutes before slicing.
May be served hot with couscous cooked with mint, sultanas and peas and a hot tomato sauce, or cold with crisp green salad and gherkins.
It actually stopped raining for the first time in over three weeks this morning and I was able to walk the (by now totally manic) dog without coming back absolutely soaked to the core. I even caught a glimpse of a rather strange, bright yellow ball of fire in the sky – I wonder what that could have been?
My meteorological ponderings and canine therapy took longer than expected, so I wanted to do something quick for lunch. And this is it. If you use frozen salmon, make sure it’s thoroughly defrosted before you cook it; cooking from frozen causing a thermal shock which tends to make the fish (or meat) tougher. Obviously it’s best if you can get fresh salmon (and preferably Scottish 😉
Ingredients (serves 4)
4 salmon filets
2 spring onions (or shallots)
Lee and Perrins or soya sauce
seasoning (salt, pepper, chilli flakes)
1 tsp brown sugar
1 cup of quinoa
1 cup of peas
handful of fresh basil
Put the salmon filets in an ovenproof dish, coating fairly generously with olive oil on either side. Rock salt and pepper to taste and then I added some chilli peppers (not for the children though), spring onions and dried seaweed (OK for the children as long as you don’t actually utter the word ‘seaweed’). Also a dash of Lee and Perrins. This should be cooked in a very very hot oven for 12 minutes. I know this sounds OCD, but it really must be 12 minutes; 11 too few, 13 too many!
Use organic quinoa if possible cooked with a handful of peas. Don’t overcook or it will become a slimy mess (losing many valuable nutrients along the way). Once cooked, run under cold water or it will continue to cook, drain thoroughly and then mix with chopped garlic, fresh basil (ripped into small pieces,) and nice juicy chopped tomatoes. Season with rock salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
I also served it with a few white aspargus, of which we have an absolute glut at the moment (life can be very hard).