May 19, 2004
Spring Dinner

first strawberries.jpg I'm going to describe last night's dinner in reverse order, because frankly what cook - however talented - can improve on home-grown strawberries fresh from the garden? Or in my case, fresh from the terrace. Yes, that's right, we have NINE strawberry plants on the terrace. Not eight, not seven. For the last six weeks (bar a few days) the fruits have been withering on the plants in the rainy weather. But just four days of sunshine were enough to put these five darlings in prime picking condition. I have to say they were delicious. Strawberries grow pretty well without any help at all, so the only trick really is to be able resist picking them until they are good and ripe. Yum! So that was dessert.

For dinner, I decided to try something different and roasted a couple of duck breasts with mustard, thyme and fresh garlic and made two interesting vegetable dishes. Read on if you'd like to know more...

Roasted Duck Breast with Fresh Herbs and Garlic and Mustard

I adapted this recipe from one I found in the Epicurious site. The original recipe called for fennel seeds instead of mustard and when I came to look for them, the cupboard was bare (of fennel seeds). So I gave the rosemary a sniff and decided it would go well with mustard.

2 duck breasts
1 Tbs grain mustard
1 clove fresh garlic
a few sprigs of fresh rosemary

Smear the mustard on the meat side of one of the duck breasts, cover with sprigs of rosemary and sliced fresh garlic. (View image) The recipe called for slapping the second breast on top of the first, meat side down (which I did) and tying them together with twine (which I didn't - couldn't find the twine). Bake in a hot oven (200c/410f) for 20-30 mins, depending on whether you like your duck meat rare or well done. It's dead simple and really tasty. I didn't even bother making a gravy from the juices as the meat stayed nice and juicy and had loads of flavour.

While the duck was baking, I made:

Creamed Spinach with Fresh Garlic (do you see a pattern here?)

Wash a handful of fresh spinach and put in a small saucepan with one clove of fresh garlic, sliced. Cover and cook on a medium heat until the spinach is wilted. Add a teaspoon or more of crème fraîche and a grating of freshly grated Parmesan. Stir and eat immediately, completely forgetting to take a picture first. (I was hungry, the duck was starting to smell good but was nowhere near finished...) Because the garlic was fresh, it didn't need to be thoroughly cooked to give off a mild flavour. It really went extremely well with the spinach and the Parmesan.

Zucchini with Fresh Herbs and Lemon Juice

This is another Nigel Slater-inspired dish. Put a tiny amount of olive oil in a frying pan and heat. Toss one zucchini, sliced in thinnish pieces and cook, into the frying pan turning them occasionally, until just soft. Sprinkle with a little fresh basil and fresh thyme while it is cooking. Once they are done, remove from fire and squeeze a bit of lemon juice over the slices. Use a slotted spoon to remove to plate and sprinkle a bit of parmesan over the slices. (Is there any vegetable that isn't better with a bit of Parmesan? I don't think so...)

If you click here, you can see half my dinner. And I had the strawberries for dessert - a perfect ending. I didn't even have to share them! (I did, however, share a small amount of the duck with the Feline Critic, who judged it was very tasty and please can I have some more?)

Posted by Meg in Sussex at May 19, 2004 11:17 AM | TrackBack Print-friendly version

I'm impressed. I have a really hard time cooking anything like a real dinner when the red head's not around. The closest I come is probably pasta with oil and cheese.

Posted by Barrett on May 19, 2004 at 2:03 PM

Sounds really good. I'm also impressed with the good looking picture.

What pesticides do you use on your strawberries?

Posted by Bryan on May 19, 2004 at 3:40 PM

Don't you go dragging her into this now.

Posted by Barrett on May 19, 2004 at 4:35 PM

Didn't need any - one of the few joys of balcony gardening is that you suffer a lot less from pesky parasites. I was worried the first time I grew strawberries that the pigeons would find them, but so far they have not spotted them. Or maybe, being citified birds, they just don't recognize that they are edible.

However, since the plants were store-bought, I did was the berries in a water/vinegar wash.

Posted by Meg in Paris on May 20, 2004 at 2:25 AM

And if you really want to know about organic gardening, ask me about my wormery...

Posted by Meg in Paris on May 20, 2004 at 2:26 AM

So, tell me about your wormery. Would that work on single chicks? Do I have to grow a beard and dress in burlap before it sounds natural?

I'm an organic gardener gonna-be. Did OK with it in Kentucky except for the fungi infestations from the humidity and the wet. Gonna have to see how Illinois shapes up on the pest and fungi front.

And I ain't talking about Barrett the funguy. He shapes up OK, except when he drops spores. What?!?!?

Posted by Bryan on May 20, 2004 at 11:35 AM

The wormery is cool. I have a tower block called the Can'O'Worms, which has three trays kind of like the sifters kids use in sandboxes only larger. You put the vegetable refuse in the top and cover it with newspapers or a woven bio-degradeable moisture mat (I buy them from a place in the UK) and let the worms do their work. When the tray is full, you remove one of the bottom ones, clean out the compost and put it on top and start over. It only takes about three months to get your first tray of compost. I wrote about the early days on my old website (, which makes it sound much more complicated than it is. Now it more or less runs itself.

Posted by Meg in Paris on May 20, 2004 at 1:22 PM

Hello Meg

I have just seen the Can-o-Worms thing in a shop in Barcelona. Where can I get it here in Paris? It kills me throwing organic stuff that I could recycle.

Please help!

Best regards


Posted by Patricia FINN on February 12, 2006 at 11:50 AM

Patricia, I bought mine from the UK from Wiggly Wigglers, a gardening supply store. They supplied me with the Can-O-Worms, the worms, the moisture mat and a few coir bricks for about 100 pounds sterling as I recall and they shipped to France with no problem. I still order the moisture mats from them from time to time. Here's the web site address:

It's great fun, really! Send me an email if you want any more information/tips!

Posted by Meg in Paris on February 12, 2006 at 3:36 PM
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