A Meal For Those Who’ve Had A Tooth Pulled Out

Like most men, Darling-Chéri isn’t massively keen on doctors, dentists, and anyone who might have to do with health services. But eventually, after four years of gentle hints unremitting hassle, he agreed to make a dentist appointment. Well, it’s fair to say his had been a high-risk-high-reward strategy where he lost. As a result of not going for such a long time, he has to have 2 fillings re-done, 2 crowns put in and a tooth extracted. For appointment #3 (after the initial appointment and the one with the fillings), DC thought the dentist would start preparing for the crowns. So there was some serious bottom-lipping when he turned up in the office having had a tooth pulled out! This also meant we had to improvise a bit for our meals as he could only eat liquid or soft food. The small town where we work is quite limited for lunch options so he ended up having a tuna jacket potato, which was ok. For dinner I had planned some Sticky Sausage Kebabs from Delicious Magazine but with chewing not an option, I had to improvise a bit, bearing in mind I had already thawed the sausages! So we ended up with this Spiced Pork Mince Mess, Courgette Mash and Polenta:

For 2 people
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking: 30 minutes

Ingredients:
4 pork sausages or 230g pork mince
2-3 tbsp fresh parsley
3 garlic cloves
1/2 red onion
1 tsp lemon or lime juice
1/2 tbsp. garam masala
1/2 tbsp. tumeric
1 red chili
1 courgette
500ml vegetable stock
2 tsp soft cheese
100g polenta
400ml water or 200ml water + 200ml milk (I prefer it that way)
A pinch of salt

Method:
– Bring the vegetable stock to the boil. Cut the courgette in large chunks and boil for 15 minutes, until tender.
– Meanwhile, finely chop the onion, 2 garlic cloves, half of the chili and the parsley.
– Mix in a bowl with the spices and pork mince.
– When the courgettes are cooked, blend them into a creamy mash with the soft cheese, the last garlic clove and the other half of the chili. Season to taste then put back on the hob (low) and stir every now and then.
– Put the mince mix in a frying pan and cook it for about 10 minutes, breaking it up with a wooden spoon.
– In the meantime, pour the water or milk and water in a pan, add a pinch of salt and bring to the boil. Timing is quite important here as polenta is very quick to cook! Follow the instructions on your pack but essentially, you’ll get soft polenta after 1 minute, and then the longer you leave it the more compact it gets. Remember to stir all the time to avoid lumps and ensure the polenta doesn’t jump in your face (it does have some remarkably volcanic properties!).
– Remove from the hob when you’re happy with the texture.

Plate up. I’ll admit it doesn’t look much. But it most definitely passed DC’s very strict flavour test. So don’t hesitate to try it in case of an emergency!

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Croque-Mrs And Lazy Sunday Mornings

Lazy Sunday mornings are the best. Mostly because they usually come at the end of a wild work week, a busy DIY Saturday or an intoxicated night out or a mix of the three.

So come Sunday we are all too happy to stay in bed for as long as we can before dragging ourselves downstairs to prepare what has quickly become one of our favourite breakfasts (ahem… brunch/lunch/mid-afternoon snack): the Croque-Mrs. It’s definitely not my healthiest recipe, but it feels like a comforting hug on those special mornings after the night before, and that’s where it all started! A couple of years back, on a morning afternoon after a somewhat inebriated night out, we decided we’d make lazy Croque-Madames (without the Bechamel sauce), only to realise we had no ham or gruyere.  Never mind, we decided to anglicise the recipe, so here are the Croque-Mrs:

For 4 Croque-Mrs
Prep: 10 minutes
Cooking 5 minutes

Ingredients:
4 slices of bread
8 bacon rashers
4 eggs
4 slices of cheddar or about 100g of grated cheddar
Butter

Method:
Grill the bacon under the grill or on a griddle pan. In our home we like it crispy, but it’s personal preference that rules on this one!
Place the bread under the grill (medium) until lightly toasted.
Turn the slices over and spread butter on the non-toasted side.
Now, timing is of the essence if you like to eat uniformly warm food, so you might want to start frying your eggs now.
When the eggs are doing their thing in the frying pan, place 2 bacon rashers on each slice, then add the cheese.
Place under the grill (low) for 3-4 minutes until the cheese has melted.
By then, your eggs should also be cooked so you can start plating up by simply topping each slice of bread with a fried egg.

Serve with ketchup or something tomato-based if you fancy cooking.

C’est prêt, bon appétit!

The Olympics Strike Again! (Handball)

After a great afternoon at the Beach Volley-ball on Horeseguard’s Parade, we were lucky enough to also have tickets to go and see the Handball quarter-finals at the Basketball Arena… in the Olympic Park! Our session was at 6pm to see Denmark v. Sweden so we took the afternoon off and headed to Stratford at lunchtime, straight from work. I was honestly a bit disappointed that we wouldn’t get to see France but we arrived just minutes before the final whistle and you could totally hear the French supporters singing “Allez les Bleus” from the outside. There was an enormous roar when the game ended; it looked like the building was shaking from it! According to a friend, the game was very tight (France won in the last second) so my heart may not have survived the emotion had I watched it live! Anyway, we had a great evening at the park. The handball was very impressive – action-packed and fast-paced and there were loads of supporters of both teams, which made for great atmosphere. After the match we had a couple of drinks with some friends who also had tickets and then we decided to wander around for a while. Wearing heels that day may not have been my best idea of late as we walked for nearly 2 hours! But I got some lovely night shots of this really impressive place!

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We are now facing Croatia in the semis tonight, I hope “Les Experts” (that’s how the team is knicknamed) will live up to their reputation! Allez les Bleus!

We Were There! Beach Volleyball At The Olympics

So finally, our first event was here. It was a bit of an early start for us on a Saturday as we had to be at Horse Guard Parade for 10.30am – we’re normally just about opening our eyes at that time! Anyway, the lead up to Saturday was a bit unusual: while checking the schedule on the official website Darling-Chéri found out that things had been changed and we were actually going to see two mens’ games rather that one mens’ and one ladies’. As you’d expect, he was not impressed (yes, I pointed and laughed). Luckily for him (and probably for me, as a consequence), the schedule got changed again and on Friday a colleague who had the same issue told me that we were back to the original programme. Good news. My colleague did encourage me to wind Darling-Chéri up until the last minute but he’d had a pretty poor week so I told him as soon as I had him on the phone and I can tell it really cheered him up!

I also boasted in a recent post that I hadn’t bought any Olympics merchandise, well, that jinxed it all and by Friday we had a Team GB cap, a France cap, some Team GB sweatbands and a couple of hand flags each, just in case we got to see either team play. And I really restrained myself on the official website! Which made me think I shouldn’t take my payment card when we go, or I might just come back with the whole shop! I mean, I really like the little rowing rubber duck!

They advise you to be at Horse Guard Parade about 90 minutes before the event. We were there a bit earlier than that, so got right at the front of the queue and we were in the waiting area within minutes of the gates opening. It was aperitif time so we headed straight for the bar and chilled out with a couple of beers while the Queen’s Guards Marching Band was opening the day: YMCA, the A-Team, We Are The Champions and the inevitable Chariots Of Fire (somebody is making a mint on the rights of this theme tune right now!). I have to credit the staff for doing a great job here. For a temporary venue, I found all the facilities to be of rather high quality and the staff were great at moving people through the different parts of the park and into the stadium in a smooth and friendly manner. The gold medal totally goes to the girl on the life-guard chair right by the stadium who greeted us with a deadpan: “Ladies and gentlemen I would like to introduce you to the rain, our main sponsor today.” In the megaphone when the rain started. Actually I think it might have been this girl: YouTube video of the “happiest” London 2012 member of staff.

Finally, we got to our seats and watched the two games. For the ladies, it was Spain v. Italy, and for the guys it was the Netherlands v. Switzerland. Like most people in the crowd, we had no real interest in the teams playing, but the atmosphere was great nonetheless, with lots of cheering and clapping at each point, Mexican waves going around etc. This was probably helped by Peter Dickson (you will know him for being the OTT voice of the X-Factor, BGT, E4 etc) who was managing the commentary and clearly in good form. Getting the crowd enthused about fit athletes jumping up and down or semi-naked dancers doing an animation at the break is one thing, but getting 15,000 spectators to cheer the volunteers raking the pitch (“You know you love it, it’s rakey-rakey time!”) is talent!

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At the end of the day, we really enjoyed the whole experience and it’s really made us even more excited about going to the Olympic Park on Wednesday for the Handball!

Inspiration Is In A Kitchen Cupboard

I really like lamb and mustard and I have a great recipe of mustard and feta crusted lamb which I’ll share one of these days, but by the time I’d got home from work yesterday and spent an hour removing lining paper in the front room, I just wanted to cook a really quick-fix dinner. I had the lamb already thawed in the fridge, so that was one thing I’d have to use for sure. As for what to do with it, I had a look around the kitchen tops and in the cupboards and ended up making this Mustard and Basil Lamb Rump Steaks served with tender stem broccoli and red peppers. Now a couple of caveats: rump steak really isn’t my favourite cut, I tend to find leg steak has got less fat, but I went with what I had in the fridge, obviously. For the vegetables, I would normally have had pan-fried or roasted Mediterranean veg, but the broccoli was about to go off and is much quicker to prepare so I swapped. And it worked rather well I have to say!

And now for the recipe:

For 2 people
Prep time: 10 minutes
Marinade (optional): 30 mins to 2 hrs
Cooking: 6-8 minutes

Ingredients:
2 lamb steaks
3 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp clear runny honey
1 tsp lemon or lime juice (optional)
About ten leaves of fresh basil

Method:
In a shallow bowl, mix the mustard, olive oil and honey
Chop the basil leaves finely and add to the mix
Place the lamb steaks in the bowl and cover with the marinade.
You can cover and leave it in the fridge to marinate for a couple of hours (optional)
When ready to cook, heat up a bit of olive oil in a frying pan or use a griddle pan. Cook the steaks for about 3-4 minutes on each side.
If you have any leftover sauce, set the meat aside once cooked and add the sauce to the pan for a minute or two then drizzle over the steaks.
Serve it with vegetables and roasted potatoes.

C’est prêt, bon appétit!

Faster, Higher, Stronger… We’re Going To The Olympics!!

We said we wouldn’t go. That it was too expensive. That the lottery mechanics for tickets was absolute nonsense. That it was obvious we wouldn’t get anything. But things turned out differently as somehow we got caught in the excitement. So inevitably, on April 26th 2011 at 23h44, we lost it to the curiosity of knowing where our taxes go the marketing pressure (“the event of the century”, “a unique occasion”, “an unforgettable moment” etc) and we applied for tickets. Lots of talks, calendar pages being turned and finally we click on “Send”. Athletics (twice, as we really wanted to see the stadium), Beach Volleyball, Gymnastics, Handball and Swimming. £916 if we get it all… Shame on me as I work in Marketing and really should have seen the trick.

Eventually, after a long silence from the organisers, a fair amount of controversy (all these people who, a bit like us actually, got carried away and might not have enough funds to cover the cost of all the tickets they applied for; the lottery that takes your money and only tells you a month later what you actually got; the stories about cheap tickets being sold in Germany…) and last-minute savings, we got the confirmation: we have tickets for Handball and Beach Volleyball. No Athletics, which is a shame, but with two events out of the six we applied for, we really can’t complain! Especially as the probability of being disappointed was really high, with around 6.6 million tickets available and 20 million tickets applied for!

And finally a few weeks ago, we receive our tickets. Everything’s been such a whirlwind since last Summer that we had pretty much forgotten we were going, and it’s a miracle we haven’t accepted a wedding/dog birthday/bbq/fruit-picking/other invite on those dates! It’s now just a week before our first event, Beach Volleyball. Hmmmm, fit guys in shorts exerting themselves in the sand… Sounds good to me! Well, apart from the other game in that session, with fit ladies wearing the tiniest square-centimeterage of fabric, jumping up and down for Darling Chéri’s enjoyment… Oh, how I hate compromise! And then we’ll have the Men’s Handball quarter finals, I’m hoping to be lucky enough to see the French team (but then, they are the current champions so it’s likely they’ll fold under the pressure and go out at the group stages in the true French style).

Strangely I have to admit that despite all the themed adverts, media reports, torch relay broadcast, Boris messages on the Tube etc, my excitement for the event isn’t quite what I was hoping it’d be at this stage, although I’m pretty sure it will all get into gear tonight with the Opening Ceremony (and a few beers). And on the plus side it means I have resisted buying any of the countless Olympics-branded key rings, mascot plush toys, t-shirts, caps, towels, drawstring bags, wallets, Monopoly games, commemorative coins, jigsaw puzzles, toy London cabs and routemasters, cufflinks, snow globes and the inevitable rubber ducks that have invaded shops recently (actually, the list goes on but I think you get the gist – someone got a bit carried away with the branding plan!).

Oh! Who am I kidding? I am so getting that little rowing duck with its cool shades! And it will sit nicely next to my Wills & Kate biscuit tin and Silver Jubilee mug! (and yes, I still work in Marketing so I should know better.)

How about you? Are you excited / not bothered / annoyed about the Olympics?

Close Your Eyes, You Are In Provence…

At the week-end a couple of my friends came for lunch. It was the first time they visited since we’ve moved house so we had a customary tour of the place (loose lining paper, picture rails hanging off walls and areas covered in “protective” newspaper, what a sight!) and then settled in the kitchen to enjoy the aperitif while I was finishing to cook lunch. It was a lovely day so I decided to mirror the blue sky with some sunshine in our plates, looking at Provence for some inspiration. I will post the lunch recipe later (mustard and feta crusted lamb with roasted vegetables) but I completely forgot to take a picture! So we started with a typical southern drink – and no, it wasn’t pastis! – le vin d’orange, orange wine. It is something my mother and her friends and family would usually prepare in April/May, ready to open in June (in the South of France Summer does not wait until mid-July to show up).

For 2.25L
Prep: 15 minutes, 6-8 weeks in advance

Ingredients:

3 bottles of rosé wine. No need to go expensive, you will add flavour to it!
0.45L vodka (or white fruit alcohol)
350g white sugar
4 oranges
1 vanilla pod
1 cinnamon stick
3 tbsp lemon juice
4 cloves

Method:

– In a large airtight container, mix the wine, vodka, sugar and spices.
– Cut the oranges in quarters and add them to the mix.
– Add the lemon juice, mix well and close the container.
– Let it macerate for 6 to 8 weeks in a cool dark place. Every week check on the container and mix gently to ensure the sugar dissolves properly.
– After about 6 to 8 weeks, carefully filter the wine, ideally through a muslin (or a coffee filter, although that takes longer), and bottle.

Serve chilled for a very summery aperitif!