Saturday 31 October 2009

I have been to a very dark place...

There was an amazing night last week. It was filled with the incredible tension that comes from when it should be pouring but somehow never does. The threat, and the wind, keeps everyone indoors, those who venture out get the city to themselves. It's the best time to walk.

What goes up must come down. All buoyed up and back in the flat I'm heading for a crash. One I've adored since first meeting is about to let me down terribly...

Of course, it's all my fault. Convinced I know something I don't, and that macs can do no wrong, I dive in. Trying to fix a glitch with email I manage to delete everything on the hard drive and can't find anything on the back up. What follows is shock and I'm not prepared for it. A week spent coming to terms with my own stupidity and thick headedness.

Salvation came from a very nice man in work. He pressed the right buttons and found what was missing. Which was everything. I had no idea a computer could become this precious. It's wrong. To help pull me out of the abyss I cracked open my last bottle of Condrieu.

Years ago a famous wine writer said Condrieu was best drunk young from a jug in the regions cafes. He described it as a heady mix of mountain streams and wild flowers but said it didn't travel. Back then the appellation was dying out and the grape it's made from, Viognier, was almost extinct. How times change. This wine even spent time in oak. Gorgeous stuff, but beneath its now serious structure was a haunting reminder, a whisper of youthful exuberance, of what it was like before going inside that dark place.... the barrel that is.

Condrieu 2006
Les Vins De Vienne
Bought from Tesco two weeks ago. Reduced from £24 to £11.50 a bottle.

Friday 23 October 2009

Tour de France

Sometimes only steak frites will do. Way back, it's what we got for enduring my father's determination to drive the length of France non stop. After 14 hours squashed among the camping gear, our reward was something with frites from a roadside van. I still love it.

Frites are tricky ones. My attempts to cook them never quite work and the smell lingers. So it's always M&S Frites now, my 'supermarket food product of the year'. 15 minutes in the oven et Bob est votre onlce. Picked up the wine at the same time for £5.49. A steal.

French green peppercorn sauce, not essential, but ideal. This stuff transformed limited camping stove fayre into restaurant like splendour... to a ten year old at least. Nowadays I never visit France without picking up 20 'Poivre Vert'. It always gets a comment at the till.

Another tip is to rehydrate the sauce with half water half wine. Other than that, who knows why it tastes so much better than the packets bought here? It just does.
Finally, the steak shouldn't be too posh. It never was in France. This was a great lump of popseye cut from the beast by Andrew Reid Butchers on Great Western Road.

Mmmm, I could almost hear my mother's voice... "Slow down or you'll get indigestion..."

M&S Piedmont Barbera
Juicy, slurpy, sour cherryness.
A very good wine for £5.49.

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Funky Porcini

Some mornings are just right. It's hard to explain, almost mumbo jumbo, a feeling of warmth, sensing the unattainable will soon be attained.

'How come I was walking that way? Why did I stop when I did? What made me go in?'.

I envy people who know exactly what they want, I rarely do. A vague notion, perhaps, an idea of something, maybe, even my cravings are often unfocused. Often that is, but not always...

The early bird catches the worm, and if so inclined, the unblemished porcini too. Good job, saved me getting up.

Sauted the Italian way. Garlic and a handful of chopped parsley fried in oil first, porcini in next, more parsley at the end. Salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon. Served on toast. My hearts desire... for this morning at least.

71 Holdsworth Street,
G3 8ED
0141 204 4456
[Mainly fish but sometimes they do mushrooms too]

Saturday 17 October 2009

Of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness

Green's an overrated colour. Those who live in the wettest places deceive themselves of it's beauty. The truth is, nature often looks best when it's dying.

Cottiers, once a church, was memorably described by a friend as 'full of loud c**ts with kitchen brochures sticking out their back pockets'. Not any more, recessions aren't all bad.

Outside, inhaling sweet hops, there's a sense that something dreadful just happened. The stunned calm borne of shock. That sinking-in feeling.

It's shattered when a visiting businessman stands and shouts into his phone... "Jeff? Ah THE Jeff, ha-ha-ha, what is he like!". As another leaf falls from the tree, I'm reminded that we all die alone.

Tuesday 13 October 2009

Divine intervention

Ordinarily I'm with the Woodlands Road box ticker. But then, later that evening, something truly amazing appeared before me...

I felt elated, overcome with wonder, the senses enveloped by pure joy. Hallelujah, for my cup did overfloweth with fermented gorgeousness.

To sup of this, is to drink the very body of the earth that created it. Rolling Burgundian hills, golden harvests and a mellow sense of time lapping gently at your feet. I was led to it by a prophecy...

"Try this, it's very good", he said.

(Omnipresence via mail order)

Sunday 11 October 2009

Eating out in Lytham St Annes

There's a great series of promotional films from the late 1970s featuring Telly Savalas professing his love for some unlikely places... "So long Aberdeen and here's looking at you". Though it's suspiciously short of any footage of Kojak actually in the Granite City. I'm not sure Lytham St Annes would have been Telly's sort of town. Actually, it's two towns that roll into each other and they're more Des O'Conner's sort of towns.

You wouldn't be surprised to bump into 'Little and Large' in the local Booths supermarket or 'Keith Harris and Orvil' having a quickie in the pier toilets. It's a place that has everything old entertainers like: sea, fancy golf course, Blackpool next door and best of all, lots of people old enough to remember who you are.

If you should find yourself in Lytham and can remember that you haven't had your tea, you'd do well to head to Portofino. Our very kind friends, and Lytham locals, Colin and Sarah took us.

It's bustling and Italianesque with some Portugese leanings. Good competent cooking, generous 'northern' portions and some decent bottles on the list.

Picks for me were steamed clams 'Portugese': palourdes clams, with loads of garlic and olive oil. Delicious. Seafood linguine with a lovely shellfish flavour and rabbit in a sweetish sauce tasting of burnt sugar, in a nice way.

Drank a perfectly mature bottle of Italian Morellino with the mains.

Here's looking at you Lytham. But just in case you fancy somewhere else, might I be so bold as to suggest...

Friday 9 October 2009

It's pronounced 'B-A-R-G-A-I-N'

There's a great scene in the one of the Harry Palmer spy films where Harry opens a bottle of Portugese Dao and announces, in his best Micheal Caine voice, "It's pronounced Down". Until that scene, I think it's fair to say, not a lot of people knew that.

Rioja never seemed to cause pronunciation problems. It may not be exactly how they say it in situ, but for English speakers a very oaky wine called 'Ree-oak-aah' makes perfect sense.

Sainsbury's have this one on sale at the moment, down from £15.99 to just £8.00 a bottle.

£8 for a quality ten year old Gran Reserva is a serious bargain. It's only available in some stores so worth calling ahead to check they have it. The store on Glasgow's Crow Road had about 10 bottles left last night. I'm planning for there to be less tonight.

At times it seems beautifully mature. All cedary sweetness. Then a few swirls later and it's back in it's youth. Stroppy, brooding, slightly out of balance. Weird, but very enjoyable. You get two phases of a wine's maturity in the same glassful. Can wines have a late 'teenage' phase? Increasingly I'm aware that many things do...

Saturday 3 October 2009

How to BBQ like a Basque

Try shooting magpies in Kelvingrove Park and pretty soon you'll realise there are many things you can get up to in the countryside that tend to be frowned upon in a city. Take for example this interesting article in the Observer Food Monthly about Jay Raynor's visit to BBQ aficionado Bittor 'charcoal is the enemy' Arguinzoniz. Bittor only barbecues and only ever over wood. He claims his method doesn't smoke the food, instead it imparts it with a complimentary essence of the wood. Charcoal, on the other hand, destroys the flavour and brings out expletives, in Bittor that is.

How could I resist? Well, attempting this in Glasgow would end in three fire engines and an ASBO, luckily I was in deepest darkest Wales, where as it happens, some years ago my brother spent a summer labouring for a builder. Convincing himself he could build, he set about constructing a barbecue and laid concrete foundations two feet deep. A few stones appeared on top and for months that's how it stayed until my grandfather, then in his 80s, turned it into a barbecue one afternoon. It's still going strong, frankly with foundations that deep it could probably survive a direct hit. This was my improvised Basque BBQ.

I chose logs from the wood pile based on whether they smelt nice. Think they were oak and applewood, but I've no idea really. The article doesn't give away much about technique. I decided to split the wood into pieces that would burn down quickly but still leave decent chunks of hot smouldering ash.

Ribeye steaks came from George the Butcher in Talgarth, "We slaughter 'em out back", he told me with rather more glee than was strictly necessary. Local grass fed beef hung for a minimum 4 weeks.

They went on when the wood was a smouldering grey and the smoke had died down.

A beautiful smell as the meat juices hit the hot wood.

Had to lower the grill towards the end just to finish them off. Except the grill doesn't lower...

Made some chips as the meat rested.

Now I'm sure this was not a patch on Bittor, but wow, what a revelation. Credit must go to the beef, it was superb meat, but what a great way of cooking it. It really brings out the flavour, it works with the beef, not on top of it... if that makes sense? Delicious, can't wait to try cooking seafood the same way. We drank a bottle of Porcupine Ridge 2008 South African Syrah with it. Currently on offer at £4.99 in Waitrose. Probably the red wine bargain of the year so far.

A word of caution though. Whilst the meat, as Bittor explained, doesn't taste at all smoked, indeed far from it, I did. It impregnated my skin and I smelt like a smouldering log for two days.