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Fresh and a bit wild looking this soup–adapted from a recipe in The New York Times–for the first day of March.

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You build most winter vegetable soups from the inside out—i.e. making a “soffrito” of finely chopped vegetables such as onion, celery and carrot, cooked slowly in olive oil, before adding stock—the taste “engine room” for a big winter-warming blanket.

But it’s March 1st today, so I’m lightening up a little–starting with plain water, not stock, adding the ingredients in stages, building the taste and depth gradually.

The lemon zest topping—sprinkled just before serving— is a touch of Spring.

First stage:

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Bring the water to the boil and add the first eight ingredients.

  • 2 pints water
  • 3 tsp salt–more to taste
  • 4 tbs olive oil
  • 1/2 an onion–(for the taste)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • sprig of rosemary
  • 1 lb tinned (canned) chickpeas
  • a small piece of parmesan rind (optional)
  • 3 garlic cloves–pulped

Bring back to a simmer and cook, covered, on a low heat for 30 minutes.

 

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Second stage:

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  • 3 carrots–peeled and sliced
  • 3 sticks celery–chopped
  • 1lb/450gm–tomatoes–chopped
  • 1/2 small cabbage–sliced and roughly chopped

Add the sliced vegetables and bring back to a simmer.

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Cook, covered, for a further 30 minutes.

Third stage:

During this second half hour of simmering, prepare the parmesan mix for sprinkling.

  • 3 tbs grated parmesan
  • zest of a lemon
  • 1/2 tsp milled black pepperIMG_9808

 Mix the three topping ingredients and sprinkle over the soup before serving.

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Fishcakes!

There’s a recipe in both my cookbooks–and they are the most visited on the blog.

I am not alone in loving them!

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They were always a favorite with me–but were off the menu after my diagnosis because they usually share the space with an equal mount of mashed potatoes (sometimes more, one suspects, in restaurants!). Potatoes have a very high glycemic index rating–mashed especially.

So when I spotted the alternative versions, I was delighted.

One recipe mixes the salmon with smoked haddock; another adds fresh dill.

These secondary ingredients are not always easy to find—so here is a third version with the perennially available smoked salmon.

My local supermarket sells 200gm/8oz packets of smoked salmon off-cuts—-perfect for this and less expensive than traditional slices.

LUNCH–with a green salad!

for 2

200 gms/8oz skinless salmon fillet

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200gms/8oz smoked salmon

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  • 1 shallot–chopped small
  • white of an egg
  • 1 tbsp chickpea flour–or any whole flour
  • 1 tsp wholegrain mustard
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 2 tbsp parsley–chopped
  • salt and pepper

Cut up the fresh salmon and the smoked salmon into pieces as illustrated above–roughly bite-size.

Pulse them briefly in a food mixer–they should not be mushy.

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Empty them into a bowl.

Carefully turn in the rest of the ingredients.

Taste for seasoning–delicious exercise!

Scoop out the mixture and form your patties (I use a tablespoon.) Don’t “overwork” the mixture.

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If you have time, cover and refrigerate for half an hour or so–it helps firm up the fishcakes.

Heat the oil to HOT in a frying pan. Very important that the fishcakes cook in hot oil.

Slide them carefully into the pan and flatten them a little with a fish slice/spatula to hasten the cooking.

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After a couple of minutes flip them over and cook briefly the other side.

When you see the milky liquid appearing from inside the fishcakes, they are READY.

Lift them gently out of the pan and arrange them on a serving plate with sliced lemon.

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Delicious served with a little yogurt sauce:

  • 1 pot yogurt
  • 1 tsp wholegrain mustard
  • pinch of salt

Whisk the yogurt smooth and stir in the mustard and salt.

Whisk again.

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Extra Cooking Workshops

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There are a few places left on this extra cooking workshop in the first week in June (4th-8th) and in the extra autumn workshop at the end of September. The focus is hands-ons cooking of Mediterranean cuisine–with the accent on healthy recipes.

This June weekend will be the sixth I’ve run chez Dominique and Philippe, the warm and welcoming owners who run the beautiful La Terrasse in Lautrec.

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We start with tea–well I’m a Brit!–in the garden on Thursday afternoon and finish with a celebratory Sunday lunch.

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We eat outside in the garden as much as possible!

We eat outside in the garden as much as possible!

In between we top and tail, chop and slice, chew the fat and generally hang out together round the large central table of the working kitchen of the gite which Dominique and Philippe designed specifically for cooking courses.

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We are blessed to have Simone Sarti (pictured below) with us who keeps everything ship shape and the wheels turning.

Friday morning, we walk to the little market held in the main square of Lautrec and buy the makings for lunch, then go back and prepare it together.

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Friday evening we give ourselves a break and dine chez Valerie—a fine cook—in the converted barn where she and her partner, Bernard, have created a delightful table d’hôte.

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They have a sociable “Long John Silver” parrot in residence who is in love with Meredith and hangs on her every word.

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Saturday morning shop at the open air market in Castres, our nearest town, buying our fresh food for lunch.

Before the final dinner, Phillippe offers his expert take on local French wines in his extraordinary cave deep under the house.

Each attendee–Bravehearts to me!–has their cooking station with a chopping board, cook’s knife and an apron!

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It’s a hands on workshop–we are all in it together

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The aim is to have fun, make friends and eat well.

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The setting for all this is Lautrec—a medieval bastide (hilltop) village in the Tarn, proud of its designation as Un des plus beaux villages de France. It’s famous for its pink garlic–l’ail rose–and hosts a Garlic Festival the first Friday in August every year, attracting 10,000 visitors!  On a clear day you can see the Pyrenees from the hilltop.

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So far into the melting pot have jumped Bravehearts from the UK, USA, Canada, Ireland, France, Italy, Australia and Majorca.

The pictures tell the story–it’s the people who’ve made it work.

Come be a Braveheart!!

Here’s more about it…

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This simple North African lamb stew, spotted years ago in Frances Bissell’s The Pleasures of Cookery (great title), is a handy winter dish for companybut I haven’t made it for a while.

Six French friends are coming to lunch tomorrow so I’m preparing it today. That way the taste should deepen while the panic levels lighten in the morning.

I once cooked this and was puzzled by the reduced volume–much less than usual. Then I spotted the bowl of beans hiding in full view on the counter–I’d forgotten to put them in!

All the ingredients, save the meat, looking eager to get started.

for 8

1 boned lamb shoulder (about 2k/4lb meat)–cut up into bite size (1″ish) pieces

lamb

3 tbs olive oil

4 garlic cloves–peeled & chopped

3 onions–sliced

1 1/2 tsp each whole cumin seeds

1 1/2 whole coriander seeds

24 dried apricots*–halved (the yellow ones show up prettier than the untreated variety I normally like)

1 1/2 pints stock–I use organic vegetable cubes

2 large tins (cans) of flageolet beans (little green ones)–drained

salt and pepper

A bunch of fresh coriander (or parsley)–chopped

Heat the oven at 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3.

Seal the meat in the hot olive oil, using a large frying pan–(you will probably have to do this in batches).

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When nicely browned, remove it to the ovenproof casserole from which you will serve it.

Gently fry the onions and garlic in the fat and oil left in the pan, without browning them.

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Fold in the whole spices and let them cook a little.
Add almost all the stock and let it reduce a bit.

Add the apricots.

Season this mixture well, with salt and pepper and pour it into the casserole.

Add a handful of coarsely chopped parsley or coriander.

In a separate pan heat the drained beans with the remaining  stock.

When hot, add the beans with the stock to the casserole and turn everything over carefully.

Bring it all to a simmer on the top of the stove, then cover and place the casserole on a low shelf in the oven.

Cook for about 2 hours, checking after an hour to see if it needs topping up with stock—being careful not to lose the intensity of the sauce.

Serve over bulgar wheat–or if you prefer, cous cous or basmati brown rice.

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Remembered the beans this time!

* Dried apricots are especially suitable for anyone, like me, watching blood sugar levels. http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/apricots-blood-sugar-9889.html

 

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Guinea fowl stepping out in her high heels and lipstick.

Guinea Fowl (UK), Cornish Game Hen (US), Pintade (Fr).

Introduced to Britain by the Romans (apparently).

This is odd because I once saw a flock of these nervy birds, moving as one in a tightly packed phalanx (safety in numbers) that reminded me of the testedo–the Roman military formation.

As they approached a target, a platoon of legionnaires would use their shields to protect themselves top and sides, moving as one. The images relieved the tedium and frustration of Latin lessons at school!

ROMAN SOLDIERS IN TESTUDO FORMATION-ILLUSTRATION

“Left a bit, lads! Close-up, close-up! Not so fast at the front! Steady boys, steady!”

The testedo of guinea fowl–perhaps equally unsure of their fate–made a heck of a panicky row.

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The combination here of anchovies melted into a classic sauce of olive oil, lemon juice and capers works well with the gamier taste of the guinea fowl. It makes a nice change from chicken.

This recipe comes from Jenny Baker’s excellent Simple French Cuisine cook book.

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1 guinea fowl–cut up into quarters

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1 tbsp olive oil

1 onion–chopped

4 anchovy fillets–chopped into a mash

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1 glass white wine

1 tbsp capers

juice of a lemon

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salt and pepper

Heat the oil until hot in a pan large enough to cook the entire bird. Then add the guinea fowl pieces and brown, turning occasionally.

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Take them out of the pan and set them aside.

Soften the onion in the same pan–turning often.

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Mix in the anchovies–giving them time to melt into the oil-coated onions.

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Add the wine and bring the mixture up to a gentle bubble.

Add the guinea fowl pieces, the capers and the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.

Bring back to a bubble (Meredith thinks I should say that a bubble is more than a simmer but less than a boil!), turn down the heat and cover the pan.

Cook for about 30 minutes until the meat pieces run clear when pierced–being careful not to over cook them.

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(Guinea fowl can be dry.)

Served with brussels sprouts and brown basmati rice.

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Right lads–it’s shields down–time out–and off to the canteen for a tasty dish of numididae*!

*Latin for guinea fowl

 

Diabetes Logo

This week marks the end of the testing season–feet, heart, liver, kidneys, prostate, skin–you name it!

On Monday it was the annual love fest with Dr Nguyen Ngoc Luong, my opthamologist.

A man of few words, Dr Luong sits on a swivel chair with an alarming revolving table to his right.

At the push of a button this table goes in to action, swinging round to position a new chin rest at eye level between me and the good Doctor. This happens three times in the course of the test.

Then comes the checking of my long sight.

Reading off the numbers or letters projected on the wall opposite, as Dr Luong slips different lenses in and out of the “pince-nez” he fastens onto my nose.

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I feel like a schoolboy keen to answer teacher’s questions correctly.

Now it’s time for the most intimate moment of the session.

We both shift nervously on our chairs preparing to stare into one another’s eyes for a few breathless moments.

My freshly shaved chin juts towards his as he points a penetrating light at my pupils–shining  it into every corner of my cornea and beyond.

Breaking the spell, he leans back and utters three precious words. To my relief–a few days short of Valentine’s Day–not “I Love You” but…

“Pas de diabétes!”

I uncross my fingers–and feel foolish again for indulging in the Superstition Game.

Another year CLEAR!

 

Meredith shows me a Breugel 16th century winter scene reminiscent of the world outside our windows at the moment–except for the skating.

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It leads her into thinking of other artists’ depiction of winter.

“Who was that painter we liked at the Metropolitan after we saw that Matisse exhibit a few years back? Industrial landscapes and the boxers. Remember?”

Club Night by George Bellows

“B-B-B-Be…”

I use my hands to mime the thing that fans a fire into life.

“Be-Be-Bel-Bello-BELLOWS!”

“George Bellows–brilliant realist painter–died too young–42, he was. Painted winter–town and country.”

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“Wow!” says Meredith. “Nothing wrong with your memory!”

Next day this article appeared in the newspaper–explaining why…!

Apparently the antioxidant, resveratrol, found in the skin of red grapes, some berries and peanuts, has a positive effect on the hippocampus–the part of the brain vital to memory, learning and mood.

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Cheers! Santé! Good health! Chin chin! Salud! Prost!

Now what did I say was for supper…?!

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