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!

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Simple Salmon Supper

Tonight, simple and quick was the name of the game for supper so I roasted some salmon fillet and served it with puy lentils through which I forked roasted red onion, lemon juice and chopped flatleaf parsley. To go with it, I couldn't resist more British asparagus, also roasted. The whole ensemble was served with a big green salad.

And to drink.......? How about a young, dry Chenin Blanc from the Loire (Vouvray Sec, white Chinon) or a lightish Pinot Noir (a red Sancerre perhaps and a good tip is to stick it in the fridge for half an hour first).

We went for the Chenin option as we have done on more than one occasion - it lapped up the salmon and puy lentil mélange but didn't cope with the roasted asparagus at all (a seasonal addition to this tried and tested recipe - so leave it out if you're doing Chenin). We also tried an AOC Bourgogne Pinot Noir (2007) which didn't work with the salmon nor the lentils both of which rendered it quite bitter. It wasn't bad with the asparagus though and I might try it with asparagus and goat's cheese another time.

I haven't mentioned Chablis with this dish and it would do a fine job - just a village wine or even a Petit Chablis if you want to keep the price down.

Monday, 18 May 2009

In the veg patch!

I know it seems to be the 'in' thing this year but we have gone for it again with our veg patch (and greenhouse), hoping for a better crop than last year. Even the damson tree gave up last summer so my husband, aka Jam-maker Supreme, had to rely on a meagre crop of cooking apples in the garden and a surprising glut of blackberries in the hedgerows around our village. Sloes were virtually non-existent so we made no sloe gin which was disappointing and stocks of the 2007 vintage are now exhausted so here's hoping for a bumper crop in 2009.

This year, I'm experimenting with a few things I've not tried before - butternut squash, cucumbers, sweetcorn and broad beans. I've always relied on my mother-in-law's excellent efforts with broad beans in the past but, as she lives a reasonable distance away, we have only had a couple of big bagfuls from her of a summer and I am hungry for more! I only hope we can live up to her reputation. My mouth is watering just thinking about broad beans with feta cheese and mint (really must look into Greek wines) or with chorizo and a juicy Spanish red. I can't wait - the first planting is flowering now and the second is not far behind!

More on the veg patch as things are ready to use.......

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Tim Atkin on Food and Wine in the Observer today

Interesting article in the Observer on food and wine matching today by Tim Atkin. He sums the whole subject up very well so follow the link below to read the full article:

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Which wine for Bourride?

I've never cooked Bourride before although I've eaten it a few times in France. Bouillabaisse has been done in my kitchen on occasion, and with success, but on Friday I was on a mission to find a good Bourride recipe and a great wine match for it. As with many things French, there seem to be endless variations on a theme with Bourride so I mixed and matched from three recipes I found in my rather-too-extensive-as-far-as-my-husband-is-concerned cookery book library. The three were from Leith's Fish Bible, Michel Roux Junior's 'Matching Food and Wine' and Clare Ferguson's 'Flavours of Provence'. The latter provided most of the inspiration although I used white fish easily available here - hake and monkfish.

So how does Bourride differ from that other southern French 'stew', Bouillabaisse then? I like to differentiate between the two by saying that Bourride doesn't include tomatoes and that it is served all in one go whereas, with Bouillabaisse, the done thing seems to be to eat the broth first (with rouille, grated gruyere and little garlic toasts) and the fish is tucked into afterwards, almost as a second course. Feel free to correct me!

Wine suggestions for Bourride seem to centre on white Cassis and provençal rosé although other possibilities abound. I can vouch for the Cassis so, to ring the changes, I went for some cheapish white Bordeaux (sémillon/sauvignon) which I wasn't expecting to be anything special in terms of a match, an Albariño (grape of the same name) from Rias Baixas in Northern Spain and a Corsican rosé (niellucio, grenache, alicanté). Whilst I can see why a rosé might work with Bouillabaisse, I was struggling to see how it could work with the Bourride sauce which was made with egg yolks, aïoli and crème fraiche.

Sure enough, the rosé did nothing for the Bourride nor the Bourride for it and the finish on the wine became very bitter. For me, the Albariño worked tolerably in combination with the dish although some of its characteristic floral and spicy notes were lost. The body and lemony flavours of the white Bordeaux were fantastic with the Bourride and the wine kept its character completely whilst enhancing the lemon flavours in the stew. My quest for the perfect wine for Bourride ends here - it's great how this food and wine matching game often throws in a real surprise!

And now I'm off to make gougères in celebration of the fact that we're off to Burgundy in a few days. Mmm, might put some Crémant de Bourgogne in the fridge...........

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Ah! British Asparagus

Where better to start my blog than with something I look forward to every Spring. British Asparagus has started to appear in the shops in the last two weeks and, not having had the chance to go and source it somewhere rural, I have had to rely on my local Waitrose. We planted some asparagus this year but it takes three years for it to produce, or so I am reliably told. Fortunately, the hours I spent planting tomatoes, aubergines, squash, rocket, onions, peas, broad beans and a whole host of other stuff should, weather permitting, see things come to fruition this year. Watch this space....

So, let's get back to the asparagus. I cheated and bought some ready made puff pastry, which is a shame because my husband is the ultimate puff/flaky pastry king but saves his delights for the Christmas sausage rolls. Onto the rolled out pastry, I ladled my homemade (yes, really) pesto, some softly-sweated onions, thin slices of goat's cheese and some delicately arranged (in nice, neat rows) asparagus spears. A sprinkling of grana padano and a brush of milk on any bare ends of pastry finished it off before placing in the oven. Truly delicious with just a green salad and ,the leftovers are perfect taken the next day to work, cold, in a lunchbox.

To drink with that, we had a Loire Sauvignon Blanc from Reuilly, nice and acidic from the 2008 vintage and ready, therefore, to cope with the goat and the roastiness of the asparagus. Reuilly is a lesser-known and usually cheaper neighbour of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. I would highly recommend it.

What are your favourite wine matches for asparagus?

Introduction to The Food and Wine Diarist's Blog

Welcome to my food and wine matching blog which is all about having a bit of fun with both traditional and contemporary recipes and then finding great wines to accompany them, whether it be for a posh dinner party, a casual weekend lunch at home, a seasonal occasion or just a weekday supper. Recipes come at us from all over the world nowadays as do the wines and there are so many potential matches to experiment with. By using a few tried and tested ideas as guidelines and throwing in a bit of ‘whatever you fancy’ a world of gourmet enjoyment is to be had! The one principle that, for me, should constantly be referred to is the fact that, in regions where wine has been produced for centuries, or even just decades, the inhabitants have built up a pretty good idea of which recipes work well with the wines of the locale. We should bear this in mind.

So, do drop in to the blog. If you have some great food and wine matches to share, let me know. And feel free to comment if I’m struggling to find the ideal pairing – I’d love to hear your ideas.