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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

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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

 

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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…?!

A touch of heat in a consoling casserole for a cold night.

Inspired by a recipe in the River Café Pocket Vegetable Book.

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(Speak it softly but you could have a couple of sausages on the side–we did tonight!*)

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I love beans and especially white beans and I have a penchant for fennel, cooked or raw.

Garlic is a staple here–Lautrec’s pink garlic is grown under our feet–so to speak.

Adding tomatoes coalesces everything into a delicious dish.

for 2

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1 tbs olive oil

2 fennel bulbs–outer bruised parts removed and cut in thickish vertical slices

3 garlic cloves–peeled and sliced

2 small dried chilis–chopped

1 tsp fennel seeds–pounded in a mortar

8oz tinned (canned) tomatoes–drained and chopped

8oz white beans tinned (canned)–drained

salt and pepper

juice of a lemon

1 tbs olive oil (a second!)

 

In a shallow pan heat a tablespoon of olive oil.

Add the fennel and cook for a couple of minutes, turning the fennel over in the oil.

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Add the garlic, fennel seeds and chili and cook on for five minutes.

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Add the tomatoes and mix them well in.

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Add a tablespoon of water and mix again.

Check after five minutes to see if you need another tablespoon of water–I did.

Cover the pan and cook for fifteen minutes or until the fennel is tender.

Mix in the beans and season with salt and pepper.

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Re-cover and cook for another ten minutes.

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Add the lemon juice and the tablespoon of olive oil.

 

*The sausages–sshh!

Heat the oven to 190C (375 F)

Put the sausages in an oven pan with a splash of olive oil and sprigs of rosemary.

Cook for thirty minutes–shaking the pan occasionally.

Add a broken up bulb of garlic unpeeled.

Cook on for twenty minutes or longer to turn the sausages nicely brown.

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Serve with Dijon mustard.

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Endive/chicory are not just good for salads–they are delicious slow braised with a couple of additions if you like…

This was lunch and made a pretty picture.

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It was also light and a bit exotic.

This time of year there’s a local grower of these white torpedoes selling only them in Castres market on Saturdays.

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I chose fat ones for the long slow cooking that reduces them nicely into a super-soft state.

A poached egg (or two) on top and a couple of small discs of pancetta, crisped in the still hot oven, meld with the little sauce of lemon and olive oil.

for 2

3/4 fat endives–bruised outer leaves removed and the bitter root end skewered out.

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3 tbsp olive oil

juice of a lemon

4 eggs

4 thin slices pancetta

salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 170C

Heat the oil in an ovenproof pan with a lid.

Lay in the endive and season well with a teaspoon of salt and several twists of the pepper mill.

Turn the endive [confusingly it’s called chicory in the UK] in the oil and seasoning.

Let them color and caramalise a little.

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Pour over the lemon juice and cover.

Place in the middle of the oven and cook for two hours.

Check after an hour that all is well and turn them–taking care to keep them in one piece.

After about two hours take them out of the oven and let them rest, covered with foil.

Turn up the oven temperature to 200C and crisp up the pancetta pieces–about ten minutes.

Poach the eggs in simmering hot water to which you have added a splash of red/white vinegar.

The vinegar, in principal, will encourage the whites of the eggs to act in a more orderly fashion–doesn’t always work!

Arrange the endive on two plates and…

when you judge the eggs are done as you like them lift them out with a slotted spoon and place them decoratively on the endives.

Finish the plate off with the pancetta.

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“DING!”– said the chief taster!

 

 

SNOW!

White out in the Tarn!

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Back…

and…

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…front!

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“Bird Sanctuary”

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No “al fresco” dining today!

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“Snow?–seen it before; no big deal” Queen mum cat; Pippa not impressed. The other three–“What IS THAT!?”

Our friend Valerie took her young son, Guilhaume, to school this morning before the snow started to fall.

“What are we going to do this afternoon? How can we fetch him home?” she asked her partner, Bernard, soon after she got home. “By tractor,” he replied, “the ancient one in the shed.”

Imagine four-year-old Guilhaume’s delight when Dad turns up at school on the tractor!

“You’ll have to take all the other kids home too,” we added. “We’ll have to start calling you, Saint Bernard,” joked Valérie.

No change in my walking programme…

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…”Captain Intrepid…or silly old fool!”

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