Sunday, 31 January 2010

Quick PX Pud

Pedro Ximinez sherry is something I came across when studying for the Diploma in Wines and Spirits (WSET). The exams involve blind tastings so, in an attempt to get to grips with a drink I knew precious little about, extensive tasting evenings were arranged chez nous with two sherry-loving friends.

I don’t have an amazingly sweet tooth and favour cheese at the end of a meal, which is partly why you won’t find many sweet recipes on this blog - something I should address, perhaps? Anyway, a pleasant outcome from all those hard evenings of fortified wine research, if you can call them that, was a new fondness for the sweet, treacle-like sherry, Pedro Ximinez (pronounced himinez), commonly referred to as PX.

This dark, warming, lusciously sweet sherry is great at the end of a meal, poured over vanilla ice cream, but I like to go a step further and steep dried fruits in the sherry. Earlier this week, I chopped dried figs and dates, popped them in a jam jar and covered them with PX. Today, I poured this mixture over rich, Cornish dairy ice cream which we enjoyed for Sunday lunch pudding, with a small glass of chilled PX on the side, naturally. You can use any dried fruits – sultanas, raisins, dried cherries or cranberries and the jar will keep for months, making it an easy last-minute pudding, providing you have ice cream in the freezer. I regularly make some of this nectar for my father-in-law who, rather extravagantly, likes to pour it over his breakfast cereal – a great morning pick-me-up, I imagine!

Other tried and tested food pairings for PX are: strong, salty cheeses, fruit cake, chocolate puddings and pecan pie.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Crab, chorizo & black olive pilaf

I adore chorizo and I’d had one of the picante versions sitting around in the cupboard since before Christmas, waiting to be used. I often bake it in red wine and then serve it in chunks, as a canapé on cocktail sticks, something that always goes down well and is so simple to prepare. The red wine and paprika oozing out of the chorizo are so moreish and most people find they can't resist. This year, however, the chorizo remained untouched over the festive season.

So, what to do with it? Below is the recipe for the supper we enjoyed on Friday night with a glass of 2007 Collioure rosé from Les Clos de Paulilles, bought at Nicolas. It’s a full-bodied rosé from 50% Grenache and 50% Syrah and it sat perfectly alongside the dish – don’t believe that rosé is only for the summer. The full-bodied examples are great partners for food and I am a keen fan of them all year round. If rosé’s not your bag, a soft, medium-bodied Spanish red from Tempranillo and/or Garnacha is a great accompaniment for this pilaf.


Serves 4 or 2 VERY hungry people (aka the husband and me)

Half a large piccante chorizo, sliced
3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tbsp olive oil
100g white crabmeat
Handful black olives (I used couchillo)
250g basmati rice
20 saffron strands
100ml vegetable stock
1 tbsp chives, chopped
Lemon juice to taste plus more for garnishing
Small vine tomatoes for roasting and garnishing

Cook the rice according to packet instructions. Soak the saffron strands in the warmed vegetable stock and leave to one side.

Roast the tomatoes in a hot oven for 5-10 minutes. At the same time, heat the olive oil, in a frying pan, until sizzling and add the chorizo. Fry for a minute, then add the garlic, paprika and thyme and cook for a further minute, stirring all the time.

Add the cooked rice to the chorizo mixture and stir it in. Pour in the saffron with the vegetable stock and then the crab and olives. Mix well and season with salt and pepper. Finally, add the chopped chives and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Serve with the roasted tomatoes, chives to garnish and slices of lemon.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

An Alpine supper for Alpine conditions

Tonight’s cold weather supper was just delicious and perfect for the alpine weather we’ve experienced today. Tartiflette is a dish I always associate with skiing as it's popular on the slopes of the French Alps from where it originates and the key ingredients are potatoes, bacon, cream and Reblochon cheese (here's a link to find out more on Reblochon), a combination requiring brisk exercise before or after. Today, the husband and I marched up to the local pub at lunchtime in the snow expending a good bit of energy and making room for some serious comfort food. The pub really did feel like a mountain restaurant with snowy puddles in the porch from wet boots, sledges propped up against the front door and several people sitting around in salopettes. The landlord must have been over the moon at the amount of custom for a Wednesday lunchtime in January.

So, my tartiflette recipe is below but, first, a word on what to drink with it. The traditional, and perhaps obvious accompaniment, is a crisp, alpine white wine and we looked no further than that this evening, choosing a 2006 Jacquère, one of several Savoie grape varieties. Others to look out for are Roussette and Altesse. From Burgundy, the lesser know white grape, Aligoté, produces clean, fresh white wines that I would also recommend as a match. If red wine is required, try the light Savoie reds from the Mondeuse grape or even a New World Pinot Noir. An Aussie Pinot from the Yarra Valley went down particularly well on a previous occasion. Otherwise go for, and I have done this on a ski slope, a cold, refreshing lager.

Tartiflette - serves four hungry people who have done lots of exercise or who are sure that they will do shortly afterwards.

750g potatoes, peeled and thickly sliced
1 onion, sliced
25g butter
8 rashers of smoked, streaky bacon, chopped
300g Reblochon cheese
A 142ml pot of double cream

Pre-heat the oven to 220C, 425F or gas mark 7. Place the sliced potatoes in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Simmer for a further ten minutes and then drain.

At the same time, fry the sliced onion in butter until soft. Then remove and add the bacon bits and fry until crisp.

Cover the bottom of a baking dish with potato slices and scatter half the onion and bacon over the top. Season with salt and then lay strips of the Reblochon cheese over this mixture. Add a further layer of potatoes, the rest of the bacon and onion and a final layer of cheese. Pour the cream over the dish.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes by which time the top of the dish should be crispy and browned.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Lurking in the freezer......

This last week, with its glut of leftovers, has forced me to rummage through and make an inventory of the contents of our freezer and my husband has tasked me with using the meat and fish contained therein before going out to buy any more. I’m afraid he doesn’t escape that lightly from this exercise as I have tasked him with concocting something from the not inconsiderable number of packets of soft fruit he bagged up in the late summer – raspberry and blackberry jam should soon be on the agenda with any luck.

This coming week will see me devising dishes from venison mince, veal steaks and tiger prawns amongst other things although Operation ‘freezer’ commenced on New Year’s Eve, with a pheasant tagine, using pheasant thighs from the secret stash. Last night’s supper, of (defrosted) pan-fried seabass accompanied by a bean stew, was just right for the time of year so I’ve decided to share the recipe. The fennel seeds flavour the dish superbly and complement the seabass, giving the dish a lovely freshness.

We drank a 2008 Sauvignon Blanc from Saint Bris (by Simonnet-Febvre), a little-know French appellation not far from Chablis. It’s a light, crisp wine with typical gooseberry Sauvignon flavours and was ideal with the fish and the tomato-based stew.

I also enjoy preparing a similar sauce, using rosemary and thyme rather than fennel and cumin and a light, red wine in place of white, to go with a heavier fish such as tuna or swordfish.

Pan-fried seabass with a bean and fennel seed stew

(Serves 2)

2 sea bass fillets
400g tin of mixed beans (e.g. cannellini, black, kidney)
1 red onion, sliced
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 tsps fennel seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp dried oregano
4 bay leaves (optional – we have a bay tree in the garden which is very convenient)
400g tin cherry tomatoes
100ml dry white wine
100ml vegetable stock

Fry the onion and garlic gently in olive oil until soft. Bruise the fennel seeds and cumin seeds in a pestle and mortar and add to the onion and garlic, together with the oregano, and fry for a further two minutes to release their flavours. Add the white wine and let the sauce bubble for a minute or so before adding the tomatoes, stock and bay leaves. Let the sauce simmer for 10 minutes and then add the mixed beans.

Pan-fry the sea bass fillets for two-three minutes on each side (start with the skin side). The skin should be crispy. Remove the bay leaves from the bean stew and serve in large pasta bowls, topped by the fish. Garnish with chopped parsley and slices of lemon.