Friday 27 November 2009

Elixir D'Amour

A few weeks back a very attractive young lady popped this into my pocket as I was leaving her house. I say...

"Tea? From France?... Tea from France?". It sounds like Peter Kay's garlic bread routine and, as a potion, failed miserably, in the admittedly tall order, of making me irresistible. However, I've fallen head over heels for it.

This morning, smiling away as I caressed the packet, I realised there's only about ten cups left. Panic. I dived online and phew, because there they were.

With three shops in Paris and two in Tokyo 'Mariage Freres' stock an incredible range of over 500 teas.

This one's a blend of black tea with flowers and, I think, oil of bergamot. It's incredible. Enveloping, intoxicating, irresistibly exotic. Never mind love, this tea is pure sex.

Friday 20 November 2009

I ain't yellow, I ain't mellow

I've always hated mellow. Even the sound of the word. It's so wet, stoned, passionless. What use is mellow? "This is your Captain speaking, if there are any mellow passengers on board could they please make themselves known to the cabin crew immediately". I don't think so.
But age distorts so many things and the black dog currently nibbling at my shoulder is the terrifying realisation that I'm mellowing. Take this one time Christmas stocking filler.

Written as a series of letters to a daughter just off to university. Snippets of a family's history intertwined with recipes and signed off 'Mummy'. Excruciating. Everything about this book got me ranting and raging. It seemed the embodiment of conceited middle class smugness writ large. Even the title was embarrassing. So it sat in a darkened cupboard for years, in case anyone thought I'd bought it.

I can't remember when exactly, but gradually, bit by bit, I started dipping in. A pasta recipe here, a risotto recipe there. I still couldn't go the 'letters' but it quickly dawned on me that the food was good. Many books claim to reveal family recipes handed down through generations, most are either lying or their family's food must have been a bit shit. This book was the real deal.

It's the subtlety of the tastes that really impresses. Little techniques that impart so much flavour. Combinations that compliment and never overwhelm. Do not be fooled by the apparent simplicity. One of my favourites is 'Poussin with an Orvieto style stuffing'. I eat it once a week. This is all you need. Plus some rosemary.

First bash two unpeeled garlic cloves with a heavy knife. Let them gently fry while chopping the roasting potatoes and fennel bulb.

Pop them into the pan once the garlic is golden. Fry for 10/15 minutes till they colour a bit. I always find they stick, so just before finishing add a little water and scrape up the tasty brown stuff.

Fish out the garlic and add a tablespoon of chopped olives, the dry 'stone in' ones are best, salt and pepper. Stuff the birds, pop in a sprig of rosemary season and rub with a little olive oil.

Into the preheated oven, 220c for 25 minutes. Remove, baste, pour in a glass of white wine and add any left over stuffing to the roasting pan too. Then put everything back in the oven for 15 - 20 minutes. It's divine.

White wine probably suits this dish best, I guess something from Orvieto would make sense. But I fancied red wine.

£7.99 from Sainsbury's. Made utilising a technique developed in Beaujolais to extract all the nice things from the grape and less of the difficult stuff.

It's now used to great effect in the Languedoc when some of the rougher grapes need, err, mellowing. Oh hell, why fight it? I may even try reading those letters.

'Dear Francesca' by Mary Contini
Ebury Press. First published 2002.
If you see it, buy it.
Or just visit her family's original 'Valvona & Crolla', 19 Elm Row, Edinburgh EH7 4AA
Pricey, but by some way the best Italian deli in Scotland.

The poussins came from Sainsbury's: £4.50 for 2.

Saturday 14 November 2009

Waking the Dead

Working till two in the morning meant I was determined to drive in the evening. If I started to droop, an escape would be easier. Persuasive powers and the pop of a cork melted that resolve in minutes. I'm glad.

Tattinger's Prelude was gorgeous. Honeyed praline reviving juice that bundled me into the cab. We drove towards Paisley in the drizzle and finally found the place. A splendid Victorian villa whose owners put their own art in the basement to make way for art to sell. A proportion of the money raised goes to charity.

Best in the sale for me looked like a fucked up Amelia Earhart. Unfortunately my art purchasing fund couldn't stretch to the £5000 asked. Instead I spent more time gazing upon my favourite piece, it wasn't part of the sale, so I felt better coveting it.

Flaking after the taxi back I was given an elixir to sip. This stuff could wake the dead.

Immense mineral refreshment. It's probably wrong, but I like Grand Cru Chablis young, unfortunately my wine purchasing fund rarely stretches to it's asking price either.
Thank you Jo.

Thursday 12 November 2009

Run rabbit, run rabbit, quick, quick..... oops too late.

Picked up a wild rabbit for £5 in Alan Beveridge, the fishmonger on Byres Road. Jointed then soaked in water with a drop of vinegar for a few hours. This blanches the meat and gets rid of the 'rodenty' flavour.

Used the trimmings to make a stock which cooked while I fannied around making the rest of the dish.

It came with the liver and kidneys intact. Rabbit liver is one of the best and the kidneys, well, if another animal produces a tastier one I'm yet to eat it.
This is what I did:
Cut a piece of pancetta into cubes and fried it gently for 5 mins. Added two cloves of garlic and continued frying until the garlic turned golden. Strained it reserving the pancetta and garlic and keeping the fat.
Put a tablespoon of the fat back in the pan and browned the rabbit. Put the pancetta and garlic back in the pan, poured in a glass of white wine and reduced it to almost nothing. Strained the trimmings stock into the pan to just cover the rabbit. Brought everything to the boil, then simmered very gently with a lid on for about an hour. The simmering could have taken longer if the rabbit was older.
Once the rabbit was tender I poured the juices into another pan and boiled to reduce by a half. Then I added a a few tablespoons of cream and boiled for a few more minutes. Finally I added about a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, some fresh chopped parsley, a minced clove of garlic, salt and pepper. Popped it all to one side while I quickly fried the liver and kidneys in some of the reserved fat. About 2 minutes on each side, no more. Served with potatoes, cut into slices, parboiled, rubbed with olive oil then roasted in an oven @ 200 c for approx. 40 mins.

In my time I've done some serious poncing around with rabbit... marinades, stuffings, waterbaths, boning and wrapping... but I reckon this was the tastiest rabbit dish I've eaten. Next time, if I'm flush, I reckon a few morel mushrooms would really make it.

Drank this with it. The name was so nearly so right...

It came from Sainsbury's and at £5.49 it's a good price for white burgundy. It tastes pretty typical too. But it does have a rustic edge, a touch of rough, a hint of rodent perhaps? Archie the fox terrier was uncontrollably excited after his first bite of rabbit, so I took him out to calm down. Spotted this on the walk and thought it looked a bit like a fossilised dinosaur rodent.

Saturday 7 November 2009

Music & wine: Chew Lips 'Salt Air' & Muscadet

The motorway was dreadful, "Slow for 6 miles" read the sign. I decided to take an early exit, and, as the lights turned green at the top of the slip road, pressed down on the throttle. What followed was the loudest snapping sound ever. The car wouldn't budge. Fellow motorists honked horns, shouted, gesticulated and implied that my parents weren't married when I was conceived. Their initial anger transformed into amusement as I took the warning triangle from the boot and placed it in the road.

I've always wanted an excuse to use it, unfortunately this wasn't an excuse. After that I stood on a traffic island for an hour being ignored by police cars, waiting for the RAC, singing a tune I couldn't get out of my head and imagining what I'd be doing if the car hadn't broken down.

I decided the best bet to go with Chew Lips 'Salt Air' would be a Muscadet. Grown near the ocean and great with seafood. Also, over the past ten years, it has transformed from being one of the most unreliable names in French wine to being one of the most consistent.

To eat with it? After much deliberation I settled on Moules Frites. My thinking was to combine the quintessential elements of being 'seaside' on both sides of the Channel.

Well, the car's still gubbed, but tonight's the night. Moules frites, muscadet and Chew Lips. Can't wait, but whether it goes or not, I'm sure it'll be better than standing on a traffic island.

Tuesday 3 November 2009

Smuggler's delight

Cornwall was once synonymous with rum coves and hidden passages. These days, thanks to global warming, there's little need to sneak it in through the back door. Niven and Sabeen were justly proud of this souvenir, so much better than a plastic pirate's patch.

It's light, aromatic, invigorating and very similar to a Loire sauvignon. Apparently it sells out every year and costs about £10. So is that too expensive?

Well, if it was from the Loire, yes, it's not quite Sancerre. But for one of the best wines in Cornwall? Clearly that's what you have to pay.

Niven and Sabeen are getting very close to producing something else they'll be proud of...

To help them celebrate, and given the scarcity of Cornwall's finest, I'm suggesting this little beauty. I love it.

Melony, limey, sherbety and totally refreshing, it's hard to stop drinking this wine. A cracker and best of all, yours from Oddbins for just £5.99! Total bargain.