Sunday, 28 February 2010

Winter vines, delicious wines and the pizza van

We were back in Burgundy during half-term week and drove down the autoroute wondering if, after the first eventful weekend in the house in January, more nightmare scenarios would greet us on our arrival.  Would we have another burst pipe?  Would the heating work?  There was snow on the ground and below zero temperatures as we pulled up at the house and it was just getting dark.  The house was uninvitingly cold.  A very dodgy half-hour was spent trying to get the boiler going for the heating and the oven but, thankfully and after many a cross word, it all worked.  That meant time for a glass of wine and we celebrated with a delicious Marsannay Blanc 2006 from Domaine Trappet.  The house was soon snugly warm and the SMEG oven did us proud when it was time for dinner.
During that week, we went backwards and forward to Beaune about a million times, or so it seemed.  There are two possible routes from our house and we found ourselves timing each one to see which was the better track to take.  One way, via names such as Santenay, Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault involves going through four villages with indescribably horrible road humps so we hoped that the other, more picturesque and bump-free route, via Saint Romain, Monthélie, Pommard and Volnay would be the quickest.  Our hopes were dashed but the preferred route has glorious views over the vines and I just loved driving through them every day and look forward to going back a few times, before this year’s vintage, to see the vines in different stages of development.  Now, in February, the vines are being pruned and a familiar site across the landscape is the rising smoke from burning vine clippings.
Whilst we didn’t eat out at all during the week (too much unpacking of furniture and trekking around for white goods), we ate and drank well at home.  The best wines included a red Rully les Montpalais 2007 from Jean-Claude & Anna Brelière with goat’s cheese wrapped in bacon, and a Bouzeron Aligoté 2008 from Domaine Chanzy (silver medal at Mâcon 2009) with linguine, homemade pesto and shavings of parmesan. 
The gastronomic highlight of the week was some mouth-wateringly good Charolais steak, the white Charolais beef being from Charolles in southern Burgundy.  We went non-Burgundy for the wine on this occasion as I had brought a bottle of Emily Laughton’s Occam’s Razor Shiraz 2006 from the much-respected Jasper Hill estate in Heathcote, Victoria.  It was a superb match for the steak and a welcome break from the local wines - as much as I adore Burgundy, it’s good to ring the changes.
A final point to mention: we made a terribly important discovery on this trip – the pizza van is in our village every Friday night and, for every 12 pizzas purchased, we get one free!  Friday night in France will definitely be pizza night.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Burgundy (71), here we come.

Having just bought a house in Burgundy (no, not the magnificent pile pictured although it's not far away, being the local château), here's my write-up of our recent trip where the deal was sealed.  There will be a little Burgundy food and wine matching coming your way if you read this blog, so putting things into context seems like a good idea.  We have spent longer than is usually necessary to finalise a sale, mostly because we sought a ‘Permit de Demolir’ for a large, concrete outbuilding in the garden of the house.  The local Mairie passed our application onto the powers that be in Mâcon as, it transpired, the house is within 500 metres of a listed building.  Needless to say, the application was finally passed and we look forward to nearly doubling the size of the garden as soon as we can get the builders in to knock this monstrosity down.
We set off on Thursday 21st January at crack of dawn, with the signing meeting at the notaire’s office planned for the following day.  The vendor had already left the area so it would just be us and the agent at the meeting, the notaire having been given power of attorney.  We arrived in Beaune around 6pm that evening, checked into a cheapie hotel and set off into the beautiful centre of the town to find pizza (we had the 7-year-old and 10-year-old with us).

The next day, we had another pleasant amble around Beaune before setting off down the N74 to the house where we had agreed to meet the agent who would then show us the way to the notaire’s office.  When we arrived, the agent informed us that the notaire had postponed the signing meeting until 10am the next morning.  Aargh!  The first thought that sprung to mind was, ‘So, where are we going to sleep tonight?’.  The ever-helpful agent, Nigel, had already thought of that and had contacted the vendor, who had agreed that it was no problem for us to stay in the house that night anyway.  Our relief was shortlived when we got into the house and realized that the water and the gas had been turned off.  We had enquired about this and it hadn’t been mentioned so it was something of a surprise but, after much begging and pleading with the Mairie and the water company, a charming chap came to turn the water on at 5pm, only to discover a burst pipe!  It was impossible to get that fixed on the Friday afternoon so we faced the prospect of another night in a hotel - fine if it were just the two of us but more of a challenge with the children.

Anyway, we arrived back at the house the following morning to let in the very helpful man who had agreed to fix the burst pipe and then drove down to the notaire’s office for the signing.  The children were left in an ante-room to amuse themselves, which concerned me rather, but they did us proud and sat quietly reading their books for 45 minutes.  Everything was straightforward, the monies had arrived from our bank account on time, our insurance on the property was in place so the deal was swiftly agreed and off we went to the restaurant nextdoor, with Nigel and his colleague from their Beaune office, for a coffee (it was before 11am so too soon for proper drinks) and to bask in our new status as property magnates, as my husband jokingly described us.  I can’t speak highly enough of our agents – this is where we came across Nigel

So, back we went to the house and drank a bottle of Dom Perignon (at midday) in the freezing cold and hoped that the gas company would arrive, as agreed, to turn the gas on.  They never did and we spent a freezing cold night, sleeping in our clothes on blow-up beds, before getting up at 5am to return to the UK.  We go out again during the February Half-Term, by which time we should have heating (the gas is now connected) and the furniture will arrive mid-week.  We had wondered if we might think we’d made the wrong decision about buying the house when we returned – it was nine months since we had last seen it – mais je ne regrette rien and neither does the husband!

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Gooey Marmalade Cake

Whilst surfing the internet last Friday, I came across a recipe for Marmalade Cake which took me straight back to my childhood when my Mother used to make the most gooey version that would disappear from the cake tin in no time.  So, having recently made Seville orange marmalade at home, I decided to bake a marmalade cake on Sunday.  As they always did when Mum made them, my cake sank in the middle…..  Oh no, I hear you cry – but, please, don’t be worried about my caking-making skills.  This is a cake that is so much the better for a bit of sinking. The middle is succulently sticky and moist yet its rich texture is offset beautifully by the sharp, citrus tang.
The husband has been taking a piece of the cake to work every day this week and has decided I should make a different cake every Sunday (I rarely make cakes at all except for Christmas / Easter, rum or brandy soaked, dark fruit cakes).  Good of him to decide, I thought, but, actually, it’s not a bad idea.  I think once a fortnight might be more realistic though.
If you’re game for a pudding wine with this cake, try Brown Brother’s Orange Muscat (widely available in supermarkets) or a southern French sweetie such as Jurançon Mœlleux  or Monbazillac but, I have to say, I find the cake is quite enough on its own.  If I drank English tea, which I don't, I would probably go for that.
Marmalade Cake
(inspired by Jam & Clotted cream’s recipe -
175g butter
175g caster sugar
175g self-raising flour
3 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
1 heaped tbsp marmalade (Seville orange, preferably)
2-3 tbsps orange juice – add as required to make a gooey, not too stiff, mixture.
Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade (350f or Gas Mark 4) and grease an 8inch/20cm cake tin. 
Mix the butter and caster sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the flour and eggs and beat until smooth.  Then put in the marmalade and orange juice.  Finally, fold in the baking powder with a metal spoon.  You can put the whole lot in an electric mixer if you prefer, but I hate washing those things up!
Pour the mixture into the pre-prepared cake tin and bake in the oven for 40 minutes.  Once cooked, the cake should be springy on the top.  Leave in the tin to cool for 15 minutes or so, then turn out onto a metal rack.
For the orange butter icing
(this is a light icing – I don’t like it with too much butter and the cake doesn’t need it)
250g icing sugar
3-5 tbsps of orange juice, as required
zest of an orange

50g butter, softened 
Sieve the icing sugar, add the butter and orange juice and mix to give a smooth icing.  It shouldn’t be runny but thick enough to coat the sides of the cake without slipping off.  Wait until the cake is completely cool before icing.