Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Cider and soup

Having eaten way too much blue cheese this Christmas (Partridge Blue, Dorset Blue Vinney and Cropwell Bishop Stilton), I decided to put the remainder into a soup yesterday. So into the pot went chopped leeks, onion, garlic, fresh sage and parsley, vegetable stock and the aforementioned blue). Soup, it seems to me, always tastes better the day after it is made so we had it for lunch today, served with Dorset Blue Vinney croutons and a glass of my father-in-law’s 2008 farmhouse cider . The cider was a great pairing but winelovers may prefer a crisp, inexpensive, dry white. Go French if I were you, with something light and fresh from Savoie or try a personal favourite of mine - white Saint Pourçain.

At this time of year father-in-law’s cider is often used for mulled cider, a refreshing and (I find) lighter alternative to the ever-popular mulled wine. I use a similar mix of ingredients as I would for the wine-based version – a few cloves, cinnamon sticks, orange zest, sugar and a hearty glug of either rum or brandy. Ladled into glass cups, it is a warming accompaniment for my husband’s delicious sausage rolls or mixed nuts roasted in a paste of sunflower oil and spices.

If you have a favourite food match for cider - do leave a comment on the blog and let me know.

Father-in-law’s cider is made in West Somerset on his isolated farm which nestles in a valley in the shadow of the Quantock Hills. In 2006, he resurrected the family tradition of cider-making which had ground to a halt in the mid-1990s when my husband’s grandfather became too frail to continue with his annual production, made from the cider apples growing in his orchards. There was much local interest when the family cider-making started up again as it seemed to be a tradition that was fast disappearing and this interest, to some extent, spurred my father-in-law on.

Today’s cider is ‘cleaner’ than that of yesteryear, a little weaker and not as dry. Grandfather made his cider in the old-fashioned way, by assembling the ‘cheese’ with straw. The pressed cheese was a treat for his dairy cows who would chase across the fields to chew at it once the pressing was finished. Nowadays, hessian sacks are used allowing a more powerful pressing.

Years ago, the cider was given to the farm labourers after a hard day’s work in the fields, sometimes in lieu of wages, and it was always enough to leave them ‘sozzled’ but happy. My husband remembers many a dubious character turning up at grandad’s farm to buy what was, in those days, relatively cheap alcohol and Grandfather never disappointed, a flagon or two always being available for purchase and very palatable it was too. Indeed, I still feel a little guilty for introducing an Australian cousin, visiting Somerset for the first time, to the art of cider-drinking shortly before Grandfather stopped making it. She eagerly rose to the challenge, so much so that she hasn’t touched the stuff since.

Cider-making day comes round in late September or early October when the apples are ripe to overripe. It is quite an event to behold, attracting a good crowd of locals who cheerfully join in with the labour in return for a decent lunch and the odd pint of last year’s cider along the way. With much laughter and merriment, the apples are picked, pressed and put into barrels, with the finished product being ready to drink by the Spring of the following year.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Flaky Smoked Salmon from the Isle of South Uist

I was excited to receive my parcel of flaky smoked salmon from the Salar Smokehouse today. It's my third year of ordering from and each year it's been a seamless process with a delicious, yet slightly different, salmon product to enjoy over the holidays. The smokehouse is on the shore of Loch Carnan in the Hebridean island of South Uist.

We are not talking thin, smoked salmon here. No, not the sort you put on a blini with crème fraîche and caviar - more like a poached salmon fillet but with smoky flavours. To me, this makes a lovely and refreshing change from the usual Christmas fayre and I like to serve it with a salad of chunkily chopped cucumber with a dressing of dill, lemon juice and good-quality extra virgin olive oil. Add some freshly made lemon mayonnaise and a hunk of crusty bread and I am in heaven!

As for wine matches, I would highly recommend any of the following whites: Pouilly-Fumé and Reuilly (both are Sauvignons from the Central Vineyards of the Loire Valley) a dry Chenin Blanc from Savennières or a Viognier from either the Ardèche or, if you're up for taking the boat out, from the acclaimed vineyards of Condrieu.

Check out Salar's website - They state that their last postage date for Christmas deliveries is 20th December so you may still have time. Do try them throughout the year though. They have some great recipe suggestions on the website - I am sorely tempted by flaky smoked salmon and scrambled eggs for a Christmas morning breakfast or New Year's Day brunch.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Easy no-suet mincemeat

As I'm still suffering, following a bout of winter ailments that have hit our household, I have just barked the instructions for my mincemeat recipe at my husband and he has done it for me. He is the mince pie king after all, being a dab hand with many types of pastry. Christmas Eve is always a flurry of pastry-making in this house when he does flaky pastry for sausage rolls and shortcrust for the mince pies.

This recipe can be used straight away, once cooled, although I prefer to store it in sterilised jars in the fridge for a few days at least to be used between now and Christmas Eve. It will freeze well too - just remove from the freezer the day before you need it and allow it to defrost overnight.


75 ml ruby port
75 g soft dark brown sugar
300 g raisins & sultanas (I like the vine fruits mix from Waitrose)
1 1/2 tsps mixed spice
40 g dried cranberries
1 satsuma, zest finely grated & juice squeezed
30 ml brandy
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 dessert spoon of golden syrup

Pour the port and sugar into a saucepan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Then add the dried fruits, spices and the zest and juice of the satsuma. Simmer gently for 20 minutes or until the port is soaked up by the fruit. Remove from the heat and add the brandy, vanilla extract and golden syrup. Give it all a good stir and pour into sterilised jars. Store in fridge for up to 3 weeks.

And to drink with mince pies? Mulled wine is probably best but, on Christmas Eve, when friends call in during the early evening, it'll probably be a glass of Champagne - not a great match but sometimes it just doesn't matter!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Here we go.....

So, here we are in December. The Christmas cake is made and is being fed with rum regularly before its ritual icing on Christmas Eve. The children have excitedly opened the first door of their advent calendars (no chocolate ones in this house though) and I am in a flat spin not having done a stroke of Christmas shopping.

I've been rather neglectful of my blog recently - a succession of seasonal ailments have left us all rather jaded - but that should change this month as there is nothing I love more than talking about Christmas - the food, wines and traditions, so here we go into December. Watch this space.........

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Spicy Pumpkin Soup for Bonfire Night

With children in the house, celebrating Bonfire Night is essential and, contrary to the views of some, I think it's fun to join in with the spirit of the occasion whether you have children or not. So, last night, we donned coats and scarves just after dark, lit the barbecue and set off the pre-prepped pack of fireworks. The kids loved it and were in awe of their sparklers too.

On the food front, we went for a simple barbecue supper of Gloucester Old Spot sausages, baked jacket potatoes (with celeriac remoulade) and corn on the cob, but to start things off, we enjoyed bowls of steaming, spicy pumpkin soup - very seasonal indeed. Here's the recipe:

Spicy Pumpkin Soup (serves 4)

You will need:

1 medium sized pumpkin
Up to 2 pints fresh vegetable stock
1 red chilli
1 onion
5 large cloves unpeeled garlic (or fewer if you are not a big garlic fan)
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 tbsps olive oil
4 tbsps chopped coriander
4 tsps dukka (optional)

And this is how you do it:

Pre-heat the oven to 2oo degrees C (400F or Gas Mark 6). Chop the pumpkin (no need to peel the skin). Add 1 tbsp of the olive oil in a baking tray and warm in the oven for one minute then add the unpeeled pumpkin chunks and unpeeled garlic cloves and roast for 20 minutes or until the pumpkin is soft and browned on the edges.

Meanwhile, chop the onion and fry on a medium heat in the remaining olive oil until soft. Add the chopped chilli and spices for the last couple of minutes. Remove the pumpkin and garlic from the oven and peel the skin from the garlic cloves - I love the roasted flavours in the soup. Place the garlic, pumpkin and onion/chilli mixture into a saucepan. Warm 1 pint of the vegetable stock, add to the vegetables and season with salt and pepper as desired. Simmer for 10 minutes. Then, using a hand blender, whizz the mixture until smooth. Add more vegetable stock, if necessary, to thin the soup.

The soup is ready to serve but I do find the flavours develop further if you leave it in the fridge overnight and reheat it the following day. To serve, add a tablespoon of chopped coriander and I like to add a teaspoon of dukka, a Moroccan spice mix which includes sesame seeds, coriander, cumin and chopped almonds.

To drink, I would normally go for a white wine that can cope with the spices - Aussie Riesling, New Zealand Pinot Gris or an Albariño from Rias Baixas in Spain - but, on this occasion we wanted something that would pair well with the sausages too. Our choice was a red Southern Rhône blend from Costières de Nîmes, an earthy, inexpensive and versatile wine that is a favourite in our house. A red Côtes du Rhône (same blend of grapes - Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre etc) would also work well in this instance.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Apple Day at Stourhead Farm Shop

Yesterday afternoon, during a break from the rain, we popped up to our local farm shop where they were celebrating the English apple harvest with some 26 varieties of apple to try. The apple theme was expaned with tastings of chutneys, jams, pork and apple sausages not to mention cider and, of course, apple juice. The latter were laid on by The Orchard Pig, a local award-winning producer of apple based drinks who had their own apple harvest day in September where the invitation was to "come pick your own dessert & cooking apples or bring a picnic and enjoy it in the orchards. Hot food and drink will be available as well as tractor and trailer rides. Of course the famous Orchard Pigs will be in attendance too." I shall be looking out for a similar invitation next year. We enjoyed talking to them yesterday while propping up their 'Cider Bar' and downing a cup of warming mulled cider.

We came home from 'Apple Day' with a huge bag of Spartan apples - the dark red variety in the top row of the photo above. Obviously, I couldn't resist buying a hunk of cheese from the wonderful counter of local cheeses inside the shop - this time Fosseway Fleece, a hard, ewes milk cheese from Somerset that was delicious on the cheeseboard last night. It's fairly mild and pale in colour but with a concentrated nutty and slightly sweet flavour that suggests it would go well with an aged grenache-based red wine. I shall be experimenting with this match again - last night's red Lirac (2006) was just a bit too heavy for it.

The afternoon's final purchase was some locally reared pork (diced) with which I am planning to casserole this week with mushrooms, shallots and a good glug of 2008 cider from my inlaws' farm in West Somerset.

Monday, 21 September 2009

The Stur Cheese Festival

We awoke to a gorgeous September Saturday last weekend and were all up and out of the house to get to the cheese festival before the majority of the crowd. We've made this annual pilgrimage to Sturminster Newton (locally known as Stur) with some very good, equally cheese-mad friends for a few years now although, sadly, last year's festival was cancelled because the ground was too wet to pitch tents. None of that this year thankfully and what a day we had in store.

The festival focuses on UK cheeses, predominantly from Southern England and a smattering of other stalls are thrown in with it - Dorset Coffee Co, Peppers by Post (who had some gorgeous, really colourful chilli plants on their stall), Hogs Bottom Garden Delights (chutney), Bridport Gourmet Pies (husband salivating at this one), Olives et al and the Somerset Cider Brandy Co to name just a few.

We arrived as the festival was opening and soon implemented our usual plan of attack - the morning was spent tasting cheese and some of the wares from the other food stalls, all the while eyeing up a bit of cheese, bread, chutney and pie (gin and rabbit this year) for lunch on a hay bail in front of the band. It has become traditional to wash lunch down with a pint of the local beer or cider and this year was no exception. In the afternoon we browsed the craft stalls and other goings-on which, this year, included fire-throwing and Punch and Judy which the children lapped up.

So, to my favourite cheese of which there were many: I particularly liked the unpasteurised cow's milk cheeses from Cranborne Chase Cheese ( - Eldren, a fresh lactic cheese which is incredibly lemony, was my absolute favourite. When I returned to their stand, mid-afternoon to collect my purchases, they were 'fresh' out of cheese so I was glad I'd had the forethought to buy as I tasted.

Another fresh, unpasteurised cow's milk cheese which very much appealed to me was from the Windswept Cow Cheese Company, based in Worth Matravers near Swanage (no website) - really fresh and creamy. Both this and the Eldren would be perfect for a light cheeseboard after a heavy dinner party.

Two old favourites were there at the festival - Westcombe Cheddar, with a very attractive-looking stall with huge truckles of cheese on display and the Exmoor Blue Cheese Company, with their fabulous blues and showing a new recipe, goat's cheese marinated in oil with herbs and garlic (there's some in my fridge waiting for an appropriate moment for it to be devoured on crusty bread or toast).

Two other cheese stands that I really enjoyed visiting were Wootton Organic Dairy - their soft, unpasteurised sheep's milk cheese, Little Ryding, is to die for and was definitely my husband's favourite, judging by the rate he's been getting through it this last week. And we came back to the first cheese we tasted as our choice for a lunch cheese - Old Winchester Extra Mature from Lyburn Farmhouse Cheesemakers near Romsey. A bit like a matured Gouda, it is made from the milk of the farm's herd of 180 Holstein Fresians.

Once again, a fantastic day out which was greatly helped by the sunshine. We went home, very happy with our cheese selections, and made the most of the day with a barbecue followed by, perhaps unsurprisingly, a rather large cheeseboard accompanied by the inevitable wine matching!

Friday, 11 September 2009

A simple aubergine lunch

For the first time this summer, I've grown aubergine plants (the baby variety) and have looked after them like a woman possessed, hoping for a great crop of one of my favourite vegetables. They've spent five months sitting on either the kitchen windowsill or in front of our French windows, both of which face due south, benefitting from what little sun we've seen in this part of the world. Imagine my excitement when an aubergine actually started to form and was then followed by not one, but two more. I thought I'd got this aubergine-growing thing cracked but three aubergines was where it stopped and today I picked my huge yield and devoured the lot for lunch.

First I sliced them in half and baked them in the oven with olive oil which left them juicy, soft and plump. In a small pan, I sautéed some finely sliced garlic with a little chopped green chilli and spring onions. This mixture was then sprinkled over the aubergine halves with some freshly squeezed lime juice and a small handful of oregano, freshly picked from the garden. The resulting dish was absolutely delicious as the aubergines were so full of flavour. I didn't have a glass of wine with lunch today as I was on my own and nothing was open. If I had partaken of a glass, however, I would have gone for an Italian Fiano (white) or perhaps an Albariño from Spain. If you wanted to add a bit more depth to the dish, some crumbled feta would be great with it and then I would go for something really cleansing to offset the saltiness of the cheese - a dry Riesling from South Australia or a Sauvignon Blanc would work well.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Pork Belly, Pommes Dauphinoise & a note about the Morteau Sausage

It's hard to believe that it's the end of the seven-week summer holidays. The children are back to school tomorrow and I'm back to work, although I haven't had anything like the whole seven weeks off that they've enjoyed, sadly. Getting back into the routine tomorrow morning could be something of a shock. Anyway, we made the most of our last day and cooked a great Sunday lunch of roast belly pork (the pork was bought at our local farmshop), cabbage and runner beans which I picked up at a country fair yesterday and pommes dauphinoise. To go with it, and very well it drank too, a 2001 Pinot Noir from Pommard, just south of Beaune in Burgundy. The lunch was a fitting and filling end to the holidays (great crackling!) and the next activity on our agenda was a very long walk.

If you remember the Morteau smoked sausage I picked up in Poligny on the way home from the Jura, just a short note about what I did with it: I cooked it a couple of weeks ago in white wine, garlic, carrots and herbs and served it on a bed of puy lentils. It was pretty tasty - I liked the smokiness of the sausage - but the earth didn't move. We drank another red Burgundy with it, an Hautes Côtes de Beaune 2006, which coped admirably.

Monday, 24 August 2009

A sizzling Sunday barbecue

I was up with the lark yesterday at the prospect of one of those hot, lazy, summer Sundays that we love here in our house. So few have been the opportunities to barbecue recently that I had my marinating hat on before breakfast to prepare a veggie starter, pictured above, and a pork main course, pictured below.

Barbecued Halloumi slices with olives and a dressing of chilli and mint

Halloumi is a fairly solid cheese with a high melting point, making it one of the few cheeses that you can cook on a barbecue without the whole lot falling into the coals. Traditionally from Cyprus, it is popular throughout Greece and the Middle East. A fairly salty cheese, it is produced mainly using goat's milk and ewe's milk although the ingredients list on the cheese I cooked with stated cow's milk as well.

I quickly rustled up the dressing by mixing together three tablespoons of Extra Virgin olive oil, the juice of a lemon, a red chilli (roughly chopped) and a couple of cloves of crushed garlic. I then left the dressing for five hours to let the flavours integrate (two hours should be plenty), before adding a handful of chopped mint when ready to serve. I sliced a 250g pack of Halloumi into thick slices, brushed it with olive oil and grilled it on the barbecue until the slices were browned a little on both sides. The dressing is simply poured on top of the cooked cheese. Don't worry if it seems a bit squeaky when you eat it - Halloumi is the ultimate squeaky cheese. After a hot morning's gardening (so much for the aforementioned lazy Sunday), we had built up a thirst so we enjoyed a simple, cold beer with the dish.

Pork steaks in a spicy marinade

For the marinade, I poured in a glug of olive oil (probably about four tablespoons), the juice of a lemon, three cloves of crushed garlic and a teaspoon each of cumin, turmeric and paprika. This made enough marinade to cover four large pork steaks. The pork was left in the fridge for five hours until ready to cook on the barbecue. Check that the meat is properly cooked through (no pink bits) before you take it off the barbecue. It's a little bit spicy but not too hot so my 6-year-old and 9-year-old devoured theirs with gusto. We served it with some Mediterranean vegetables but couscous with pine nuts, a finely chopped and sautéed red onion and a little paprika and cinammon would also go well. To drink, the husband and I found a lightly chilled St Nicolas de Bourgueil (Cabernet Franc) from the Loire to be an ideal match.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Back from the Jura.....

Our camping holiday in the Jura got off to a less than auspicious start as thunder and lightning danced around the campsite on our arrival and the thought of putting the tent up, in the torrential rain we had driven through, became almost more than we could bear. This sad scene faced us, on top of a 12-hour drive from Dorset, and with two very tired children buried in the back of the car amidst much camping paraphenalia.

I am happy to report, however, that things got much better as the week progressed. The weather was mostly glorious, the local markets and cheeses (notably Comté, shown in the photo above, Morbier and some great goat's cheeses) were divine and the mountain/lake air relaxed us immeasurably.

Whilst the simple wines of the region that we tried weren't particularly memorable, we did stumble across some good Pinot Noir (which is grown along with Chardonnay much in the same way as in Burgundy as the soils and climate are similar) and some excellent Vin de Paille (literally straw wine - a long-lived sweet wine made from dried grapes). Many of the local white wines, predominantly from the local grape, Savagnin, are of an oxidative style and, perhaps, the best known Jura wine made in this style is Vin Jaune, a wine capable of considerable ageing and made in a similar fashion to Sherry. Reds made from the local grapes, Plousseau and Troussard, tend to be quite light in style. A Crémant de Jura is also produced and rosé wines are fairly common.

We've come home with a local smoked sausage, Morteau, which should be cooked in boiling water or wine and served with potatoes or a lentil stew. The sausage smells divine in the fridge and I shall be experimenting with it this week. Watch this space................

Monday, 3 August 2009

Squid with chilli and lime on toasted bread

A great Saturday night starter - easy to prepare and something a bit different. Do check with your dinner guests that they like squid before you present it to them, though. It's surprising how many people aren't keen - I think it's the texture that baffles them.

To prepare the squid (I used 20 pouches to serve four people), slit the body pouches down the middle and score across and down the skin to give a 'criss-cross' effect. Cut each pouch in half and fry, scored side up, for 30 seconds or so. The pieces of squid should roll up as you do this. You can also add the tentacles from inside the body pouch but, at this point, I should admit to being slightly put off by these wobbly bits. I usually leave them out.

Remove the squid from the pan and throw in two finely chopped red chillis (I removed the seeds to avoid overpowering the dish with chilli heat) and four chopped spring onions. Fry for a minute then return the squid to the pan with a couple of cloves of crushed garlic. Toss the mixture for a further minute to brown. Season with a little salt and pepper and add some chopped flatleaf parsley. Serve on toasted, rustic bread which you have first drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. Top the lot with a squeeze of lime juice.

Our wine choice, and it was an excellent accompaniment, was a young Australian Riesling from the Mount Lofty Ranges Zone of South Australia which encompasses Adelaide Hills and the Clare Valley. The Eden Valley, also in South Australia, is renowned for its Riesling too.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Friday Frittata

Yesterday was a very long day and I got home to find nothing much in the fridge, no thought having been given to supper. Going out again in search of suitable ingredients was not to be contemplated so I pulled together the best of what we had and made a baked bacon, sage and squash frittata.

The beauty of baking a frittata (I use a round fruit cake tin) is that it can be left to cook in the oven for 30 minutes, thus avoiding all that prodding and fussing that tends to be involved when making frittata in a pan.

In preparation for baking, I mixed the following ingredients in a bowl:

small chunks of roasted squash (I used spaghetti squash but butternut would be better)
lightly fried pieces of bacon
a little crushed garlic
some grated grana padano, a cheaper yet tasty alternative to parmesan
8 free range eggs
a handful of chopped chives and the same amount of sage

I then poured the lot into the cake tin, which I had greased with butter, and cooked it in a medium oven for about half an hour.

The frittata was served warm with a tomato and chive salad and some crusty bread. As an accompaniment, we enjoyed a glass of Barbera d'Asti 2006, a mid-weight red from Piedmont in northern Italy which coped ably with the different flavours in the dish and proved to be a great match. So much so that, for lunch, we are going to have the rest of the frittata (cold) with another glass of the Barbera.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Gooseberry Chutney

I'm not the world's biggest fan of gooseberries but, determined to make use of the fruit from our rather large gooseberry bush this year, I picked a pound and a half of them on Sunday and made chutney. I'm going to leave it for a few months to mature and I reckon it will then be wonderful with hard cheeses and maybe pâtés or terrines in the late Autumn (preferably in front of a roaring woodburner).

Anyway, here's the recipe (makes 5 small-medium jars):

1.5lbs / 700g gooseberries, topped, tailed and chopped in half
1/2lb /225g sugar
1/2lb / 225g shallots, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 pint / 275ml vinegar (I used cider vinegar)
1/2 pint / 275ml water
pinch of salt
tiny pinch of chilli powder
2 tsps ground ginger

Place the chopped gooseberries and shallots in a saucepan with the water and simmer until they are softened. Add the rest of the ingredients and leave to bubble gently on a very low heat until you achieve a sticky, thick consistency - this will take about an hour. The mixture will be a dark pinky/brown colour. When the chutney is ready, pour it into sterilised jars (fresh out of the dishwasher is the best way).

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Cucumber Glut

We're much divided in our house about the merits of cucumber. The six-year-old and I can't get enough of it whilst the husband and the nine-year-old would rather drink vinegar than go anywhere near the stuff. So the fact that, in my first year of growing cucumbers, we have a glut of the things has met with mixed reactions.

The variety I have grown is Marketmore, a short, slighty bumpy cucumber which has done very well in tubs. The two of us have been enjoying it in salads and with smoked salmon but I wanted to try something a bit more adventurous so I've been on the hunt for recipes. This week I shall be doing sweet cucumber pickle and, if I can get some fresh mackerel (none to be found locally yesterday afternoon - all sold out in the morning), I'm going to try this from Valentine Warner:

Mackerel and gooseberry sauce is perfect at this time of year - both are in season - and, as I have just picked 1.5lbs of gooseberries from the garden, I might go for that instead. An aromatic white might match well, perhaps an Alsace Pinot Gris or Riesling.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Borrowed Broad Beans........

The broad beans in the veg patch have been attacked by a mass of green insects and, consequently, we have only managed four pods so far from about 20 plants - very disappointing as I had such high hopes. Never fear, the mother-in-law has been to the rescue, sending up supplies from her (always prolific) plants in West Somerset, which is a relief as I always think that supermarket broad beans taste as if they've been sitting around for ages.

Broad beans with chorizo is one of my favourite combinations and tonight I blanched the beans, fried some chorizo and chopped spring onions for a minute or two in some olive oil and put the whole lot in a salad bowl with some fresh thyme and a little lemon juice.

With it, grilled garlic and lemon-marinated chicken breasts and a few new potatoes (also provided by the mother-in-law) tossed in extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice and paprika.

Our wine this evening was a red Saumur 2007 from Cabernet Franc - a light-bodied wine from the Loire that benefits from a light chilling on a hot day and worked wonderfully with the paprika/chorizo flavours which were prominent in the dish. A heavier style of rosé would work too - Grenache-based from Southern France or Spain (Lirac, Tavel, Navarra spring to mind).

By the way, it's not all doom and gloom in the garden. Yesterday I made courgette fritters using our very own courgettes - delicious. The cucumbers are going crazy as are the tomatoes, sweetcorn and aubergines.

Friday, 26 June 2009

In the veg patch - Part 2

It's all happening in the veg patch and the greenhouse this week as things suddenly start to flower and fruit. This weekend, I think we'll be ready for homegrown potatoes and I ought to do something with the gooseberries but I've been putting it off as I'm really not a fan. The gooseberry bush is prolific, despite a very shady spot, and is something we inherited from the previous owner of our house. Every year I gaze at those plump little green fruits and usually end up giving them away to one gooseberry fan or another. This year it will be different - to mask all that gooseberriness, I have an idea to boil them, to within an inch of their lives, with the aim of making some kind of chutney to accompany hard cheese. I'm still working on the recipe and will report back when it's finally perfected. Apologies to all you gooseberry lovers out there - please let me know if you have any great recipes that might encourage a gooseberry sceptic.

Another inherited plant (or tree, judging by the size of it hanging over our garden) is the elderflower. It wasn't there when we moved in seven years ago and now it's a beast! Last weekend, my husband was adamant that he was going to go round and remonstrate with the neighbour about it and have it chopped down. "Not before I've made elderflower cordial", I barked, and so I did, for the first time ever. So successful was the experiment that it is likely to become a regular annual feature chez nous - it's deliciously fresh and just shouts 'Summer' at me.

This week has been a long one so I think I might try the cordial with a slug of gin tonight and, thanks to the weather, make the most of being saved from the most herculean of tasks - watering the garden.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Somerset Cheese Tasting

Last night we tried the Somerset cheeses that I bought from the local farmshop on Friday and tried to match them with some different wines. Here's what we tried:

Pennard Ridge Goat's Cheese - a very salty, hard, white cheese
Green's Cheddar from Pennard - a pretty strong cheddar
Smoke Acre from Galhampton - a very tasty, smoked cheddar

We tried them all with a 2007 white Hautes Côtes de Beaune, a 2007 red Côtes du Rhône Cairanne and a 15-year-old Verdelho Madeira.

The goat worked well with both the red and the white wines, particularly the white. The Madeira didn't like it at all. The Green's Cheddar was too much for all the wines - the white became flat and the red lost its fruit. The Madeira was the only wine to put up a fight but it wasn't an ideal match for this very strong cheese. It came into its own, however, with the Smoke Acre, the slight sweetness and smokiness of the wine balancing well with the saltiness of the cheese. The white was also tolerable with the Smoke Acre but the red became pretty bland.

We all agreed that the cheese of the tasting was the Pennard Ridge goat's cheese and that it also provided the best match - with the white Hautes Côtes de Beaune. I'll definitely be enjoying this pairing again.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

A Supper of Farmhouse Sausages

Our local farmshop, at Stourhead Gardens (a National Trust property), is a favourite stopping point for excellent local meat and cheeses. Yesterday I called in for some hard cheeses for a cheese tasting but, as usual, I came out with a bag full of extras having been unable to resist their plump and succulent Cumberland sausages and a few other goodies.

An idea had immediately sprung to mind for the sausages and, later in the evening, I got started on preparing a puy lentil accompaniment for them. It's very simple - fry some chopped red onions and garlic in a little olive oil and add chopped sundried tomatoes, capers, seasoning and then a slug of red wine. I also threw in a few chopped fresh tomatoes to bind the sauce. To this, add some cooked puy lentils (I use the Merchant Gourmet pre-cooked lentils for speed) and let the whole thing simmer gently for a few minutes while grilling the sausages. Chop some fresh oregano and add it to the lentil mixture, leaving a little for garnishing. We enjoyed this with a watercress salad and a bottle of Perrin & Fils Côtes du Rhône Cairanne 2007 (red). 2007 was an excellent vintage in the Southern Rhône and this juicy Cairanne went perfectly with the rustic simplicity of the dish.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Summer Vegetable Pilaf (in the rain)

It was looking fairly summery outside this morning when I planned tonight's supper but, now I'm cooking, the rain is coming down. Still, this old favourite should brighten up the evening - a light pilaff, using basmati rice, with asparagus, freshly-podded peas, lots of lemon (juice and zest), spring onions and fresh basil and oregano. My husband can't resist some grated pecorino cheese on the finished dish but take care as they can mask the flavours of the other ingredients. I'm chilling a bottle of white Saint Pourçain from the Auvergne - a blend of Chardonnay, Aligoté, Trésallier and Sauvignon - a fine, fresh match for the pilaf.

To follow, there's some Saint Marcellin cheese and crusty bread which should also work with the Saint Pourçain.

Monday, 15 June 2009


After yesterday's meatfest on the barbecue (homemade lamb and mint burgers with pork ribs marinated in maple syrup, garlic, paprika and tomato puree), I find myself, of a Monday evening, with yet more lamb mince to do something with. We also had aubergines, broad beans, feta cheese, mint and olives. So here's what I concocted:

I fried an onion with some garlic (5 big cloves - I do like a lot of garlic) and then added the lamb mince. Once browned, I threw in some cinnamon, cumin and dried thyme, chopped black olives and some aubergine that I had sliced, brushed with olive oil and grilled. The aubergine was chopped into smaller pieces before being added to the lamb. I simmered the whole lot for 20 minutes or so in some fresh vegetable stock and seasoned it well.

At the same time, I boiled some broad beans, took them out of their thick, outer shells and added crumbled feta, chopped mint, lemon juice and a drop of extra virgin olive oil.

We scooped up the lamb and broad bean salad into toasted pitta bread - messy but delicious. To drink, we had a young Spanish red from Tempranillo which worked fairly well although I think, given the richness and oiliness of the lamb, a crisp Loire Chenin or even a Jurançon Sec might have been more interesting and a bit different.

I would try this again with pieces of shoulder or neck of lamb, slow cooked and served with couscous but I would stick to a red wine for this heavier style of lamb.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

A fish barbecue

The minute the sun comes out everyone is barbecuing and we are no exception although we are fairly traditional in our practices here - no gas barbecues or easy-to-light coals in our garden! The weather looked fairly promising this morning and, having acquired some whole rainbow trout, we decided to barbecue them, stuffed with thyme, sage and lemon juice, with some Jersey Royals (par-boiled first and then finished on the barbecue on wooden skewers) and English asparagus. All this was accompanied by homemade lemon mayonnaise and a green salad of Lollo Rosso straight from the greenhouse. My wine choice was Gavi, a fairly aromatic white wine from the Piedmont region of North-West Italy. It's made from the Cortese grape and today's bottle is a 2007 - very fresh and lemony.

NB I have been asked to mention, by my husband, that the trout was excellently cooked and filleted to perfection. I find myself compelled to agree. Like most men, the caveman tendency reveals itself whenever a fire is lit.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Summer Fête Season

Today I've been helping at my children's school summer fête where my job was to look after the cake stall. I also was tasked with making two dozen scones for refreshments. Some friends tell me that homemade cakes are banned at their school fêtes for reasons of hygiene. I find this unbelievable and completely over the top and, considering that the only worthwhile cake on a cake stall is a homemade one, the act of presenting me with a shop-bought cake (as many parents did) is an outrage.

Anyway, I shall get off my high horse now and go and make paella. With it, I'm going to have one of my favourite wines - a full-bodied rosé from Irouléguy, a gorgeous village in the foothills of the Pyrenees in French Basque country.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Another summer tart success!

Last night's feta, tomato and basil tart was great summer food. This time I went for (homemade) shortcrust pastry rather than my usual favourite, puff! After baking the shortcrust blind for 15 minutes with my baking beans, I ladled on some sliced onions, chopped garlic and baby courgettes that I had browned lightly in olive oil. Then I added some sliced baby plum tomatoes, crumbled feta and some finely grated Grana Padano and poured over a mixture of beaten eggs (3) and double cream (150mls). The whole lot went in the oven for about 20 minutes at which point I added a bit more crumbled feta and some torn mint and basil before baking for a further 5 minutes. Delicious and doesn't need much with it - just a big green salad with perhaps an olive oil and balsamic (or lemon) dressing.

As for a wine accompaniment, we had some Chilean Maipo Valley Cabernet Sauvignon open but it wasn't the best of matches as I had thought. Today, I've had cold leftovers with a white Rully 1er Cru 2007 (Burgundy Chardonnay) which was a much better partner.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Lunch at Le Givry in Givry (Burgundy)

It doesn’t seem possible that it’s a week since we enjoyed a great lunch at Le Givry in Givry – a town in the Chalonnais wine region known for its reds from Pinot Noir and the rarer whites from Chardonnay. Slightly panicked by a loud whining noise coming from the car as we parked it in the town, we decided there was nothing to be done about it at lunchtime and that the best thing to do was to face it later and on a full stomach!

After heading in completely the wrong direction on foot, we eventually came across the restaurant in a small square looking out at the Halle Ronde, a round building as the name suggests which houses a covered market.

Two waitresses were very attentive and installed us outside, overlooking the Halle Ronde, and after my husband nearly did himself an injury trying to put the patio umbrella up over the table, the Patron came out and remonstrated with it – there was clearly a knack. A bottle of red Givry 1er Cru 2006 from Domaine Mouton was brought out after we had chosen our dishes and it was delicious – soft, full of fruit and perfect with our selections from the short but varied menu. The list also featured wines from Domaine Joblot, a well-respected name in Givry.

So to the food – my husband went for a fillet of beef in a Pinot sauce. He asked for it to be cooked ‘saignant’ which is usually slightly rarer than ‘rare’ would be in the UK. When it arrived, it was nearer medium but my husband pronounced it to be delicious and it was served with a potato purée, very fine asparagus and a little round of puff pastry with ratatouille. I went for an open ravioli with a velouté of three types of mushroom and ‘escargots’ which looked like not much more than a mouthful in the large plate on which it was presented. Under the ravioli, however, was an abundance of mushrooms and snails and the velouté was divine – light yet creamy and full of flavour.

The children were catered for with stuffed tortellini with a slightly spicy pesto sauce followed by ‘deux boules de glace’ – chocolate of course! Both main course and pudding disappeared in no time.

So if you are looking for a relaxed lunch in that part of the world with good local wines and excellent cooking, I can highly recommend Le Givry. Oh, and by the way, the car was fine when we returned to it but gave up the following day and is still in a garage in Chalon-sur-Saône nearly a week later while someone sorts out who should repair it – the French garage or a UK one. Thank God for the AA!

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Just back from Burgundy - cheese tasting!

We’re back from Burgundy and the garden has gone mad in just a week. The vegetable patch is growing well – the broad beans particularly. Still hoping for a good crop.

It’s been wonderful to come back to summer and we’ve sat outside today and tasted our cheeses from Alain Hess in Beaune with some Aligoté from Bouzeron, the place most known for producing the second white grape of Bourgogne, Chardonnay being the obvious chief here. We went for some of the lesser known cheeses – mostly very local goat’s cheeses (Clacbitou, Vézeray and a tiny Baratte affiné). We also chose a cow’s milk cheese, Chaource, produced in Burgundy and Champagne-Ardenne.

The goat’s cheeses were all creamy and went well with the Aligoté. The Baratte was quite dry and dense with citrus notes, the Clacbitou similar but milder and much creamier and the Vézeray, my favourite of the three, was softer and less dense. It could have been better matched with a less lemony wine, perhaps, a Rully springs to mind? The Chaource was creamy but pretty salty and didn’t suit the Aligoté at all. I would have preferred a sweet wine with it.

The most famous cheeses of Burgundy are orange-coloured, washed-rind cheeses from cow’s milk, often soaked in Marc de Bourgogne to aid maturation. They are members of the Chaource family but are much more flavoursome. Names you might recognise are Langres and Epoisses, readily available over here, as is Chaource. I particularly like Ami du Chambertin from Gevrey-Chambertin which I found at La Fromagerie in Marylebone. These cheeses are salty and are recommended as matches for Sauternes. We tried Monbazillac with them before we went to Burgundy and that worked pretty well. There was much argument as to whether a Pommard was a good accompaniment or not - I would stick with the sweet wine suggestion if I were you.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

A few food matches for champagne and some sparkling wine suggestions

An invitation to an evening of ‘fizz’ with friends tomorrow night found me wondering about the complex issue of what to drink with champagne. Whilst it’s often enjoyed as an aperitif at the start of a dinner party, it rarely features as an accompaniment to the meal itself and more’s the pity. I can proudly admit to having drunk champagne all the way through a dinner party on a couple of occasions and a jolly good time was had by all!

For me, favourite foods with non-vintage, dry (Brut) champagne include Thai-influenced dishes – monkfish saté, meatballs in a coconut, chilli and coriander sauce with noodles and a simple Thai chicken curry spring to mind. Seafood is an obvious pairing perhaps – a platter of fruits de mer seems very sophisticated and fresh crab is perfect. If you're feeling really decadent, why not poach some white fish (turbot or seabass perhaps) in champagne with a little butter , a splash of cream, a squeeze of lemon and some chopped chives and shallots - and then drink the remaining contents of the champagne bottle with it!

Soft, creamy, white cheeses and goat’s cheeses can be surprisingly good matches for champagne as can cheese-based canapés like the Burgundian speciality, gougères (cheesy choux buns), that I made on Sunday - see photo. A recent cheese find, Brillat-Savarin, is a cow's milk cheese which hails from Northern Burgundy although its true provenance is often disputed by those over the border in Champagne-Ardennes. I adore this cheese and it doesn’t last long in our house – you can get it at Waitrose. It also works with the Burgundian sparkling wine, Crémant de Bourgogne, which will be lighter on your pocket than champagne.

Other reasonably-priced French sparkling wine options include, from the Loire valley, Vouvray Mousseux Brut from Chenin Blanc which I particularly like with Thai food. Another favourite is Crémant de Limoux from down in the Languedoc – often a blend of two of the champagne grapes, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir although Mauzac is the indigenous and traditionally-deployed grape.

I wonder what will be on the menu with our fizz tomorrow night!