Tuesday 31 March 2009

Savoie Fayre

Angus and Judith came for dinner on Saturday. Angus, just back from snowboarding in France, turned up with L'Pelio Morzine. According to the label it's a 'saucisson de Savoie sans colorant'. As you can see, another guest became obsessed by it.
L'Pelio Morzine was delicious, that great French saucisson taste, and this one had walnuts too.
Angus has a new iPhone, and, like all the iPhone users I've encountered, spends a great deal of time showing it off.

We started off with my latest soup, 'Rockpool'. I've been on a bit of a Japanese trip lately, without ever actually going to Japan. Eventually I hope to create a dish that really is a rock-pool. Filled with live stuff swimming among the seaweed. Until then it's a stock made from kombu and water, clams opened in sake and a sprinkling of wakame. It's seriously delicious.

Next we had sashimi: Salmon, tuna and mackerel. My cutting skills are basic, I delude myself that I'm adding "rusticity" to this fine art. Fortunately the fish, from Macallums, was wonderful.

Wine matching was less successful. Despite very helpful steers from The Winesleuth I'm still struggling to match Japanese food with wine. Suggestions welcome. This one worked best for me. From Oddbins at £5.99 a bottle. It's delicious. Limey, zesty, refreshing and with that bit of sweetness I'm increasingly convinced Japanese food needs in a wine.

There were, of course, other courses. But we were all enjoying ourselves too much and I forgot to photograph them.

Friday 27 March 2009

The Imperious Urge

Just popped into my local Sainsbury's to buy venison sausages for tea. Looking for something to help wash them down my eyes strayed to the "too expensive for you mate" section. Where all the wines have those plastic security necklaces. Now, I've been offered all kinds of interesting things in bars and minicabs before, some of which I've accepted, but never fine claret!
Anyway, I spotted this 14 year old St Emilion with a whopping £10 knocked off. Down from £19.99 to £9.99. Seized somewhat by the moment I lifted the bottle in view and climbed up the shelves where a bit of groping around the back produced another two.
It's a genuine reduction because I remember it appearing sometime last year. Yes, that is sad, but you really don't see 14 year old wines in supermarkets that often. On the label it says this wine was released especially for Sainsbury's. And I believe them..... but mainly cos I've just bought three.
So far this is a bit of a tease, I can't keep writing about Chateau Simard without actually trying it. So here goes.

The cork looks sound and has a branded '95 on top.... nice. It comes off without breaking, so could have been kept reasonably well.

Mmm, it's a very light colour, more Burgundy than Bordeaux looking. Still, it is nearly 14 years old.

Smell, initially, err, well not very much really. "Bordeauxy" is the best I can come up with. Actually it seems a bit watery.... oh bugger. Fortunately with 10 minutes in the glass it's starting to flesh out and become more complex. Phew. Right, enough blogging, I'm away to savour my new bargain.

Monday 23 March 2009

Fill Your Stivali !

Until yesterday I'd always avoided the Chiantis of Familae Piccini. They mass on too many shelves and seem to spend more time discounted than they ever do at full price. So I don't know what came over me when I grabbed this bottle from Sainsbury's. But I'm glad it did.
It's seriously tasty. A classic old style Chianti. Best drunk while wearing a cravate and calling yourself 'Marchese'.
It has an almost floral nose with hints of orange.... and something of the forest floor? On the palate there's a lot of acidity and quite a bit of tannin. The label suggests it's great with red meats, game and cheeses. Well, it went pretty well Guinea Fowl last night and pasta with tomato sauce tonight. Yes, I went back for more.... only to discover someone, probably a savvy Trattoria owner, had cleaned out the promotional shelf. Luckily they'd missed a stash in the main section so I grabbed 6. Both 2004 and 2005 were available. I went for 2004 but only because I've read it was the better vintage in Tuscany.
Familae Piccini Chianti Riserva 2004: Sainsburys down from £9.99 to £4.99. At that price it really is a bargain. But you may need to hurry..... or drink it at your local Italian, where I suspect it'll be a bit more than £4.99.

Sunday 22 March 2009

Gloats do Roam

Work owed me a day off so I'd randomly said last Thursday would do. What a stroke of luck, the warmest sunniest day of the year so far! I headed off to Conic Hill by Loch Lomond for a bit of gentle exercise. Since getting my great Christmas present- a box set of Weir's Way- I've learnt that this hill lies right on top of the Highland Fault line. You can make out the fault line in the photo above, I think the islands are part of it too. It created the Highlands hundreds of millions of years ago, back then apparently, they were higher than the Himalayas. Fortunately for me they've eroded a bit. 
Below is a close up of the fault line, at least I think it is. It's made up of lots of pebbly rocks in what appears to be a crumbly concrete like mixture. Apologies to any geologists reading this.

Weir's Way was filmed in the 1970s but they started showing it in the early hours a few years back. I met Tom Weir when he was in his 80s and still walking every day. He told me he'd started getting fan mail from young people "The sort that suddenly get very hungry very late at night", he said with a glint in his eye!

Tom wouldn't have liked this. In the wood on the approach to Conic Hill are some remnants of the old Caledonian Forest that once covered Scotland. Some of these beautiful old Scots Pine trees are believed to be over a thousand years old. Yet in the few years I've been coming here they've been shadowed by quick growing forestry trees and many are dying. It seems like madness, couldn't they just leave it clear around these ancient old trees?
On the way back I stopped in at a newish farm shop and smokery, Edenmill. I took a photo but frankly the building's just ugly, a big green agricultural unit that looks like it fell from the sky. 
I was after venison, "Aye, I've got some venison" said the butcher, "But I cannae let you have it". I must have looked perturbed because he quickly added, "It's hanging, won't be ready till Mothers Day". Now it's a funny thing, but until then I'd never associated Mothering Sunday with a well hung stag. 
Luckily the Aberdeen Angus was already well hung, so I was allowed to buy two sirloin steaks. They were utterly delicious. Washed down with a glass of Bierzo, El Cayado, picked up in Oddbins for about £8.99 I think. It was very nice. Black fruits and surprisingly complex. It got better and better as it swirled around my glass. 

Saturday 21 March 2009

A Farewell To Wines

Have you noticed that the older you get the less people "drop by" unannounced? It used to happen to me all the time, all my friends did it to each other. Nowadays texts, emails and diary checks are needed just to drop off a book.
There is, however, one glorious exception. Occasionally friends still do drop in unannounced. Or, more cunningly, suggest going for a pint at the pub next door...... thirty minutes before closing time. Somehow, and I don't know how, these impromptu visits always happen just after I've taken delivery of a case of wine. Are they getting tip offs from the delivery man? I'm not complaining, it's good fun, I just wish someone would drop a few tip offs my way too!

Despite last month's gripe (Wine Society Price Hike) I decided that tough times were no times for grudges. So, to do my bit for the recession effort, I bought a case of the Society's own label reds. Isn't it funny, spending money we didn't have got us into this mess in the first place, and now we're told, the only way to get out of it is to spend all the money we do have? 
Anyway, it seems like only yesterday it turned up, pristine and packed to the gunnels with shiny new bottles all clamoring to be first out of their little trenches. Oh, you should have seen them! Eager beavers from across the globe- Chilean Merlot, Chianti Ruffini, Claret, Beaujolais Villages and a Spicy Australian. This is, after all, a world recession.
Alas, there is no mercy on the front line, doodlebug like, the buzzer kept sounding. Too soon they were gone, cut down in their prime, they shall never grow old.
All served with honour, but medals for the Chianti and the Australian. A mention in dispatches for the Beaujolias.

Sunday 15 March 2009

La Dolce Vita

Is any dish more evocative of La Dolce Vita than clam linguine? Clams fresh from the sea, parsley picked in the garden, olive oil from the grove down the road and all washed down with local wine. Over the years, tallied up, I've spent one of those years watching food programmes, sad I know, but I've seen countless TV chefs eulogize this dish. 

At some point, in most series, chefs will rail against the fancy elaborate cooking responsible for their success in the first place. The most perfect realisation of this conceit sees a TV chef placed among "real people". Ideally old fisherfolk with weather beaten faces and an even more weather beaten hut. A simple meal is prepared using 'just caught' fish and 'wife grown' vegetables. Then chef, humbled by the thrilling honesty of it all, tells viewers that these people, this food, what it represents, this is what impassioned him to cook in the first place. An artificial epiphany, and chef, seeing his soul lost somewhere in the firey hell of the kitchens, the endless appearances, the affairs, the book signings, stares out to sea. Then it's on with the show!

I've never eaten this dish overlooking the sea in Italy, or overlooking the sea anywhere else. But it's good. So good, most had been eaten before I remembered to take a photo. It was my best rendition so far, an extraordinary rendition! 
Is it authentic?  Well, it has evolved over time from snippets taken out of programmes, blogs, books and restaurants that are Italian but not in Italy. A modern condensed version of a dish's evolution.

Here's my recipe for 2 people:

0.5 kg of live clams
glass white wine
olive oil
2 cloves garlic- chopped
2 shallots or a small onion finely chopped
a massive bunch of flat leaf parsley- about 4 tablespoons finely chopped
pinch of chilli flakes
1/4 teaspoon of fennel seeds
1/2 pack of linguine
(A very good tip I picked up somewhere was to rinse the clams then put them in a bowl of cold water in the fridge for a couple of hours before using. I don't know why, but it works, getting rid of any sand that may be in them. Surf clams especially can be gritty).

Have everything ready to go.
Start cooking the linguine according to pack instructions.
Meanwhile in a large pan with a tight fitting lid saute the shallot in a decent amount of olive oil with the chile flakes and fennel seeds. After 2 minutes put in the garlic. Let that start frying then throw in half of the parsley. Continue frying until the parsley noticeably darkens.  Pour in the wine and let it bubble. Drain the clams and throw them into the pan. Put on the lid and turn the heat up full. Give the pan an occasional shake. Once the clams open they're ready. They take about 5 minutes tops. Drain the linguine and put it in the pan with the clams, or put everything into the drained pasta pan, and mix. Throw in the rest of the parsley and some black pepper. Taste, it'll need a little salt. And serve. It's dead easy and delicious. Some people suggest removing most of the clams from their shells before serving, but I think that's a faff.

Drinking suggestions? We drank this:

Part two of our present for looking after Seamus. I'd been planning to try it with a cheese fondue. But needs must. And the Savoie region was once part of the Duchy of Savoy, which makes it almost Italian. 
It worked well, nice clean apple flavour and surprisingly rich. Think this is the first Roussette I've tried, not really seen it about much. As they say in Manchester, sweet.

Friday 13 March 2009

I hate myself.... for loving you!

It stands for everything I like to think I don't. Peter Lehmann Wild Card Shiraz 2006 is a mass market, widely available brand from a company now owned by the Hess Group. On HG's website it says: "core activities are as a leading provider of brand name products in the beverage industry". Oh the mystery, the terroir, the thousand year history. 

So, on the face of it, a real wine of our times. It screams inclusion, people who drink this don't need it taxed out of self harm's way. Shiraz swillers are stakeholders, they vote. 

And yet........ it's really rather nice. Actually, it's better than that, it's bonza mate! Bloody good! A sweet jammy nose, fruity palate and a really good structure. This is my default "there's no wine in" wine. They sell it at the Coop across the road, and just now it's £4.99. Normally £5.99.  At either price it's a steal. I can't think of any other widely available wine I'd rather drink at this price. But any suggestions greatly appreciated!

According to Wikipedia Peter Lehmann sounds like he was a bit of a maverick...  that makes me feel a little less dirty.

Wednesday 11 March 2009

Wine with merguez

Niven and Sabeen's present from France for looking after Seamus "the sushi muncher" was a kilo of merguez. A favourites of mine, spicy red sausages made from mutton and beef. I lived off them in France. Think they're north African in origin but not sure if the recipe was brought over or invented in France? They come in mild or spicy, these ones were quite mild. I've never understood why they're not more popular.

They don't need much embellishment, just some frites and a blob of Dijon mustard. And, for near perfection, sliced stale baguette popped into a basket lined with kitchen roll. Then all that's missing is a wonky Oringina umbrella and a stroppy French girl. Neither, alas, very practical in a flat. 

We also got a bottle of Roussette de Savoie, but I'm determined to try that with something cheesy. So, instead, went for another M&S wine. The Argentinian EL ESTECO TANNAT 2008. It worked a treat. The overt fruitiness of the new world held in check by, as the name suggests, a lot of tannin. For me the two balanced each other well. It's got a real rusticity about it.... and so have the sausages. Not a glugger, but a good country food wine.
I paid £5.99 and was happy. Until I turned up a few days later and spotted it's now on promotion, down £1.50 a bottle. At that price it's really good value.
Later on, clearing up the last two sausages, I made a discovery that might explain why they're so tasty, and, perhaps, not so popular:

Friday 6 March 2009

Latest Bargain!

Hangovers? Until now I've used Nurofen Plus, which includes a helpful whack of codeine. A doctor friend once explained codeine's a drug that doesn't work on everyone.... well, it really works on me! 
Cushioned against the side effects of my research, I'll head off to the park, find a good tree and watch the world float by. Well, now N+ could have a serious rival, and one that isn't so weather dependent. Pinot Bianco Alto Adige 2007.

This is delicious stuff. Like lying down in an Alpine meadow surrounded by by wild flowers and gazing at the clear blue sky. The sound of cow bells in the distance and a taste of butter melting slowly in the mouth.  And just before it all gets too sickly comes the refreshment, like they've scooped up some melting snow and popped that in the bottle too.  

Actually on the back label it explains 30% of the wine came from grapes grown at high altitude for extra freshness and minerality. Maybe I should lay off the codeine.

Pinot Bianco Nalles 2007 Alto Adige: larger Marks and Spencer: down from £9.99 to £6.66. BARGAIN !  And not much more than a pack of Nurofen Plus.

Tuesday 3 March 2009

Jap Tang Bab

Lunch at my favourite Korean restaurant Kokuryo. Actually it's the only Korean restaurant I've ever been to. Friends who've visited Korea tell me it's pretty authentic and there's always lots of Koreans chomping away inside. Over the last year I've eaten everything on the lunch menu but this is the dish I keep coming back to. "Is that how you pronounce it?" I asked the waitress this time, "I've no idea", she said,"I'm Japanese!". Oh how we laughed.
Anyway jap tang bab is £6 at lunchtime and they throw in side dishes and a miso soup. It's a spicy mix of green lip mussels, squid, whole baby octopus, king prawns, clams and every now and then a few scallops too. It's delicious. Since I have to go back to work green tea's my drink. But I've checked out the wine list- it's straightforward and small but looks very good value with house wine coming in about £10.99. It was 'Cuvee Richard' which I used to buy in Majestic.  A pretty quaffable plonk. 

Kokuryo: 1138 Argyle Street, Glasgow G3 8TD: 0141 334 5566
They do home delivery and sushi too!

Monday 2 March 2009

Funky wine

A few years ago I was watching an interview with a big French 'nose' from a big French perfume maker. It was all very interesting in an "oh, that's interesting" sort of way, when, out of the blue he announced that the most erotic smell known to mankind is that of rotting human flesh. Monsieur 'Le Nez' went on to say that another very erotic smell, albeit not quite as arousing as those not for rousing, was that of babies faeces. As a result, in small doses, both became important perfume ingredients. Somewhat unconvincingly he insisted that nowadays they were artificially simulated.
Nuits Saint Georges, Premier Cru, Domaine des Pedrix 1999
I've been eyeing this wine across the Costco isles for some time now. Those alluring, 'come hither' eyes from the Partridge on the label. But it always seemed a bit out of my league. Then last week something came over me, what the hell, I was seized by desire.... I just had to have it, oh, and it was the last bottle! I secreted it away ready for the right moment.... which turned out to be last night, just 3 nights later. Note to self, must improve self control.
Delectable stuff. A smokey bouquet reminiscent of good lapsang tea with more than a hint of strawberries. Noticeable browning at the rim. Perfectly balanced palate with hints of powdered ginger, glucose and an unmistakable wallop of funk. A real sense of decay, but in a very sexy life affirming way. Then, when it's almost over, a post swallow hit of classy tobacco. Nice. (approx. £22 if there's any left)

Sunday 1 March 2009

Wine with sushi

Had another go at making sushi and sashimi last night. Still haven't quite mastered the "look", but it's not too bad is it? Can't quite get my rolls right, these ones all seem to have smiley faces. Suggestions welcome. On the right is squid sushi and scallop sashimi. I put the roes on sushi too, they were delicious, but pretty intense. The rest is made of salmon and tuna. 
We weren't too keen on the squid.  Fortunately someone has been staying with us this week and he loved it.  Yes, Seamus ate all the squid sushi.....bizarre.
Anyway, what to drink with it? Seamus seemed happy with his bowl of luke warm tap water, but if he'd been offered a glass of 2004 Anjou Domaine de Pierre Blanche he'd probably have taken it. Wise dog. I got it as part of a mixed case from Yapp and it worked a treat. Otherwise it's £7.50 a bottle. It's dry but honeyed with age. Has a lovely acidity and a delicious scent of slightly bruised  apples. That cut through the vinegary sweet rice and it's minerality complemented the raw fish. Not the sort of wine I can ever find in supermarkets or on the high street.   Yapp have some great wines. On the face of it they may seem a tad expensive, but all the ones I've tried have real character. Actually they maybe too tastey! It takes real self control not to pop the cork on a second bottle...... and I'm not very self controlled. 
It's not the first time I've made sushi and wanted to try some good sake but I know next to nothing about it.  If anyone reads this and can point me in the right direction I'd be very grateful.