Friday, 27 February 2009

Gouda and Fleur de Luze

Gouda comes from the city of the Dutch town of Gouda just outside Rotterdam in the Netherlands. The Dutch have been producing cheese since before 400 AD. Records from 1100 show that Dutch bargemen paid their tolls in cheese at Koblenz in Germany and centuries ago, Gouda was a bustling center for cheese trade where farmers from surrounding areas would convene for a weekly kaasmarkt (cheese market). Today a cheese weigh house dating back to 1668 (The Waag) still stands as a beautiful monument in town. This was the place where the cheeses supplied and sold were weighed and taxes were determined.

More than 50% of the total cheese production in the Netherlands consists of Gouda cheese. Specialty Goudas may have cracked pepper, garlic, and onions, caraway or cumin seed, or nettles and other fresh herbs mixed into the curd. Aged Gouda that has been cured for two years is a more rare product, and one prized by cheese experts, but young Gouda has a mild creamy, nutty taste. The Dutch make a dish called kaasdoop, from the cheese which is a Gouda fondue served with potatoes and rye bread.

Fleur de Luze (£5.62) pairs well with Gouda – it's a lovely, lively, fresh and fruity white wine. The wine is made of 100% Sauvignon Blanc from grapes grown on clay and limestone soils. It's a clear, crystalline pale gold colour with a very clean citrus, lychee, and mango bouquet. It has a long, fruity after taste which follows through with a slight hint of ripe grapefruit and a refreshingly slight touch of fizz.

Fleur de Luze is made by The Grands Vins de Gironde Group which co-incidentally owns Château Senailhac where Nick and I stayed when Nick was made a pru d'homme of the Jurade of Saint Emilion. The GVG was formed in 1991 by the merger of several Bordeaux wine merchants and is made up of 8 firms and subsidiaries derived from original wine merchants, and each has its own special features. Maison de Luze is one of these and was founded in 1820 by Baron Alfred de Luze, Grand Duke of Hessen.

Gouda Cheese Fondue

1 lb gouda cheese, shredded
2 tbsp butter
¼ cup flour
1 ½ cups milk
2 tsp finely chopped garlic
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ cup dry white wine
2 tsp Kirsch
bread, cubed

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat; add the flour, stirring with a wire whisk. Add the milk, stirring rapidly with whisk. Slowly stir in shredded cheese, stirring constantly. When blended and smooth, add the garlic, pepper, nutmeg and wine. Add the kirsch, if desired. Serve hot with bread cubes for dipping.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Cheddar Cheese and Chateau Graves de Barrau

Cheddar cheese is the UK's favourite - accounting for 51% of the country's £1.9 billion annual cheese market. It originates from the village of Cheddar in Somerset and has been produced since at least 1170. In times past Cheddar was matured in the caves at Wookey Hole and the Cheddar Gorge. Cheddar has always been popular with Royalty - records show that King Henry II purchased 10,420 lbs of it. When Charles I was on the throne, demand outweighed supply so much that you could only get Cheddar at the King's court, and even then you had to pay before the cheese was made. Queen Victoria was presented with a Cheddar cheese which weighed 11cwt, made from the milk of over 700 cows and in 1901 the village of Cheddar was chosen to despatch an order of 3500lbs of cheese to Captain Scot RN aboard the ship "Discovery", for his famous Antarctic Expedition.

Cheddar, made in the classical way, tends to have a sharp, pungent flavour, often slightly earthy. The ideal quality of the original Somerset Cheddar was described by Joseph Harding in 1864 as "close and firm in texture, yet mellow in character or quality; it is rich with a tendency to melt in the mouth, the flavour full and fine, approaching to that of a hazlenut". Joseph Harding was a 19th century dairyman who is credited with being the Father of Cheddar cheese due to his technical developments, promotion of dairy hygiene and modern cheese-making techniques.

Cheddar is great with Chateau Graves de Barrau (£4.89) – which is crimson red and offers big ripe fruits characteristic of the Merlot grape. When Merlot predominates in a blend in Claret it makes a softer, more rounded wine rich in fruity flavours. The wine has beautiful aromas of cherry and just a fine hint of vanilla. It's well rounded and fleshy in the mouth and has a long silky finish. To enjoy its potential, decant and let it breathe for a good while whilst bringing it up to room temperature.

Château les Graves de Barrau comes from an estate that has been making wine for many centuries and is 18 miles north of Bordeaux. The wine makers are Serge Musset and Dominique Château les Graves de BarrauHébrard (famous for Cheval Blanc and Bellfont Belcier). Château les Graves de Barrau takes its name from the gravelly soil on which the vineyard stands – the word Barrau is Gallo Roman and means a difficult place to access – the English equivalent is barrow.

Cauliflower Cheese

1 large cauliflower
300ml milk
110g Cheddar cheese
3 tbsp plain flour
50g butter
25g breadcrumbs
½ tsp mustard
pinch of nutmeg
salt & black pepper

Trim the cauliflower boil in salted water for 10-15 minutes or until just tender. Drain and place in a flameproof dish. Add the milk, flour and butter to a saucepan. Heat, stirring continuously until the sauce thickens, boils and is smooth. Allow to simmer for a further 2 minutes. Add three-quarters of the grated cheese, mustard, a pinch of nutmeg and seasoning. Cook for further minute stirring well. Pour the sauce over the cauliflower. Mix the remaining cheese and breadcrumbs together, sprinkle over the top. Place under a hot grill until golden brown.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Double Gloucester with Montagnac Cabernet Sauvignon and Montagnac Merlot

As we live in Gloucestershire I thought it was appropriate to choose a cheese to pair wines with for which Gloucester is famous. Double Gloucester was once made only with the milk from the breed of Old Gloucester cows, which are now almost extinct. By 1975 only one viable herd of Old Gloucesters remained, yet today through the concerted efforts of the Gloucester Cattle Society, the breed is no longer quite so endangered with close to 400 breeding females now surviving. They produce milk with small fat globules and high protein content which exceptionally well suited to cheese making.

The county of Gloucestershire has been a centre of British cheese production for centuries. The making of cheese here has been documented as early as the 8th century, and many of the region’s festivals and celebrations include cheese rolling. Every spring locals come together to race large rounds of Gloucester cheese down Cooper’s Hill. This delicious (but sometimes dangerous) tradition dates back to the 18th century.

Gloucester cheese has two versions: Double and Single Gloucester: the Double is a richer full cream product, while the Single was frequently made of part-skimmed milk or when the cows were on inferior forage. Both types have a natural rind and a hard texture, but Single Gloucester is more crumbly, lighter in texture and lower in fat. Double Gloucester is allowed to age for longer periods than Single, and it has a stronger and more savoury flavour. It is also slightly firmer. Both types are produced in round shapes, but Double Gloucester rounds are larger.

Despite its old age, the cheese didn’t become popular until the 1700s. During this time, a new rind treatment was developed that enabled the cheese to keep longer and withstand travel to major cities. With this treatment, Gloucester was left to ripen in curing rooms and regularly rubbed with bean and potato stalks. Turned twice a week, the cheese developed a rind as tough as leather. In fact, Gloucester became so sturdy and robust, cheese buyers used to jump on rounds of the cheese with both feet to test their strength. If they didn’t crack, they were safe for travel.

Another development came in the form of Gloucester’s now characteristic golden yellow colour. In earlier times, it was widely believed that cheeses of rosier hues were richer in flavour. So makers of Gloucester began using carrot, beetroot juice or saffron to colour the cheese. Research suggests Gloucester may have been the very first dyed cheese. Today its pale orange colour comes from annatto, a natural orange-red dye obtained from the pulp of a tropical fruit.

Wine which would suit Double Gloucester cheeses are the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Merlot from the Montagnac range, both priced at £5.37. They are both produced in the Languedoc, well known for its cult wines and petit châteaux, by a small co-operative dating back to the 1930s.
The vineyards stretch from the banks of Thau Lagoon to the foothills of the mountains on the right bank of the River Hérault where the ancient river bed stones are similar to those of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

The Cabernet Sauvignon is a rich and velvety easy drinking wine and is a rich ruby red with a superb intensity of ripe, blackberries with a touch of prune and cedar wood. It has a fruity aroma with a hint of green peppers and has soft, smooth tannins.

The Merlot is a dark garnet colour with lovely perfumed cherry aromas and a hint of dark chocolate. A whiff of grassy flavours mingles well with the ripe black fruit. It's well balanced and complex.

Gloucestershire Squab Pie

This old recipe doesn't involve pigeons in case you are wondering – but lamb! You can use the remains of your Sunday roast to prepare it and if you prefer, you can top it with pastry rather than mashed potato.

1lb cooked lamb
1lb potatoes
1lb onions
8oz swede
2 cooking apples
5fl oz stock (lamb, chicken or vegetable)
2oz butter
salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 6, 200°C or 400°F. Peel and dice the potatoes and swede, place into a large pan of cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes or until tender. Peel, core and slice the apples. Slice the onions and then blanch the apples and onions together in boiling water for 5 minutes.

Drain well. When the potatoes and swede are tender, drain them and mash together with half of the butter. Add salt and pepper to taste. In a greased, deep, oven proof dish, place alternate layers of lamb, then the apple and onion mix. Pour the stock over the layers and add the swede and potato mash. Dot the top of the mash with butter, then bake in the oven for 50 minutes, or until golden brown.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Danish Blue and Château Au Berton

Danish Blue was invented early in the 20th century by a Danish cheese maker named Marius Boel with the intention of emulating a Roquefort style cheese and is known in Denmark as Danablu. Danish Blue has a milder flavour than Roquefort and is characterised by a sharp, almost metallic taste, a salty bite, and feels very creamy in the mouth. The cheese has dark blue-green marbling that tends to decrease towards the outer edge of the cheese.

Tradition has it that, as a child, Marius Boel had noticed that mouldy bread had a distinctive, piquant taste and that, when he was an adult dairyman, he transformed this memory into innovation. From 1914 he experimented with adding a little dried, pulverised mouldy bread to fresh curd. And when, in the 1920s, he also found out how to homogenise milk, he had created an original, unique Danish blue cheese.

Chateau Au Berton (£6.60) goes really well with Danish Blue as it is low in tannin. It's a very honest, good value Bordeaux that comes from a good 1998 vintage. It has been allowed to age and is drinking very well and will do for the next 3 years. The colour is definitely mature with a tinge of brown at the rim and is of medium density/body. It has the flavours of blackberries, plums, spice, vanilla and oak. In the mouth it produces a nicely balanced, clean, fruity flavour with a silky finish. It's a really attractive easy drinking wine and is mellow and round.

Au Berton comes from the vineyards of Queyrac which is a small commune lying 6 miles away from the mouth of the River Gironde Estuary and 8 miles from the Atlantic coast. Prior to the 17th century the land around the estuary was marshy but vines have been grown on the gravel slopes since Roman times. This terroir produces remarkable red wines that are complex, elegant, fine, delicate and aromatic.

Blue Cheese Crusted Steaks with Red Wine Sauce

4 tbsp butter
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 bunch thyme, chopped
1 cup beef stock
¼ cup dry red wine
75g Danish Blue, coarsely crumbled
¼ cup bread crumbs
1 tbsp parsley, chopped
4 fillet steaks

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a heavy pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic, onion and thyme. Sauté until the onion is tender. Add the stock and wine. Boil until sauce is reduced to ½ cup,. Set sauce aside. Blend cheese, breadcrumbs, and parsley in small bowl to coat the cheese evenly. Cover separately and chill. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a pan over medium-high heat.
Sprinkle steaks with salt and pepper. Add the steaks to the pan and cook to your preference. Remove the steaks and press the cheese mixture onto the top of steaks, dividing equally. Grill until the cheese browns. Transfer steaks to plates.

Pour the sauce into the pan that you fried the steaks in and bring to the boil, scraping up browned bits. Whisk in the remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon sauce around steaks and serve.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Brie and Château Marquis de Perissac

It's rather fitting that the King of Cheeses should be paired with a claret bearing a the noble name of a Marquis! That's not why I chose the wine though – it's because Chateau Marquis de Perissac (£5.62) is such a lovely wine. It's made by a small, traditional co-operative of wine makers in Perissac itself. There is a little museum of wine making in the hamlet which records their centuries old techniques. Perissac is right at the heart of wine making country and has an ancient history. It was once an important stronghold that was destroyed in the 16th century and the countryside around the hamlet is famous for it's standing stones and dolmens. Coming from the famous Haut Medoc this wine is a very typical example of its region being a nice bright colour with a good fruity aroma. It has good soft tannins which gives a nice soft fruity release in the mouth with a hint of cherries and blackberries.

Haut Medoc wines have complex aromas of red and black berries, as well as liquorice, and, sometimes, menthol and spice. Aged in oak barrels, they offer an elegant and pleasant woody fragrance. As they age, they develop wonderful bouquets of leather, roasted coffee, prunes, cedar and truffles. Marquis de Perissac is of the 2004 vintage and is scrumptious with Brie.
Brie is known as the King of Cheeses thanks to a competition started by Talleyrand at the Congress of Vienna in 1814. An argument broke out amongst the statesmen regarding which country made the best and finest cheese – Brie won.

The Congress of Vienna may have brought Brie to the world's stage, but it was no newcomer. The Emperor Charlemagne is chronicled to have tasted Brie in the year 774. Charles, Duke of Orleans (father of Louis XII) ordered twenty dozen Brie cheeses as Christmas gifts for his ladies and facing the guillotine in the aftermath of the French Revolution, Louis XVI is reputed to have expressed his final wish for one last taste of Brie before his execution.

Bacon and Brie Soup

½ large onion, chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
75g rindless Brie, cubed
100g/ back bacon rashers, chopped
25g butter
150ml milk
2 tbsp single cream
450ml chicken stock
25g plain flour
1 tbsp oil
salt & pepper

Melt the butter in a saucepan add the onion and celery and fry gently for 5 minutes until softened. Add the flour and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the stock and bring to the boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Fry the bacon in the oil in another pan. Remove any fat from the bacon and cut it into small pieces. After the 30 minutes cooking time, add the milk and cream to the vegetables and stir well. Add the cheese and stir until melted then add the bacon . Simmer for 5 minutes. Serve hot.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Camembert and Prince de Prieur

Camembert is decidedly moreish simply with some fresh crusty French bread and a decent glass of red wine. You don't have to break the bank to find a good wine to go with Camembert but you do have to know where to look. Prince de Prieur (£3.18) is a soft, supple wine which makes a nonsense of many ‘cheap’ supermarket own-label quaffing wines. If this wine was from any other region or country it would come with a higher Classification other than a table wine. It has a very pronounced nose with lots of good ripe fruit and is ideal for light suppers, warm salads and soft cheeses.

Camembert takes its name from a small village in Normandy in the fertile area known as the Pays d'Auge, near the river Viette and was reputedly invented in 1791 by Marie Harel, a farmer's wife. She was given the secret of its recipe by Abbe Charles-Jean Bonvoust, a priest from Brie who sought refuge at Harel’s Beaumoncel farm during the French Revolution. There is a statue to honour her in the village of Camembert. However, it’s likely the cheese was crafted long before Harel was even born. Writings confirm the Normandy region was acclaimed for its cheeses since the 1500s.

One of her descendants, Thomas Paynel, offered Napoleon III in 1863 and offered him one of his cheeses. Napoleon III was so delighted with the taste of the cheese that he made Thomas Paynel the official furnisher of Camembert to the French Emperor. In 1890, engineer M. Ridel invented the now famous round wooden box and Camembert was exported throughout the world.

Camembert was famously issued to French troops during the First World War, becoming firmly fixed in French popular culture as a result. The artist Salvador Dali was also inspired by Camembert and painted his famous work “The Persistence of Memory” after eating soft, runny Camembert on a hot summer's day.

Camembert is also delicious deep fried or baked within its box.

Deep Fried Camembert

1 whole Camembert
1 egg
dash of milk
salt & pepper
parsley, chopped

Cut the Camembert into 6 segments. (In this case it is better if the Camembert is fresh and fairly solid rather than runny.) Prepare a batter using the egg, milk, salt, pepper and parsley.
Take each segment and using some plain white flour, coat them evenly over its entire surface. Place each of the segments in to the egg batter making sure they are fully covered. Then dip in to the breadcrumbs. In order to stop the breadcrumb coating from breaking during frying give them another dip in the batter and then repeat the breadcrumb coating. Fry then for about 2-3minutes in a hot deep fat fryer or a frying pan. Serve with raspberry or cranberry sauce and a parsley garnish

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

The Fleur-de-Lis

Fleur-de-Lis is literally translated from French as "lily flower", and is widely thought to be a stylized version of the Iris and not the Lily. There are various legends of how the Iris came to represent the French monarchy. One is that Clovis who, in 496, is said to have abandoned the three toads on his banner in favour of the fleur-de-lis. His Christian Queen, Clotilda, had long sought to convert her heathen husband but he always ignored her plea. Then faced with a formidable army of Alamanni, the Germanic tribe invading his kingdom, he told his wife that if he won the coming battle he would admit that her God was strongest and be baptised. He did win and the toads disappeared from his banner and were replaced by the fleur de lis.

The other legend is that 1147 Louis VII had a dream that convinced him to adopt the purple iris as his device shortly before setting out for his ill-fated crusade. The iris was so powerful a symbol of the French kings that the Revolutionaries in 1789 set out to totally obliterate it the symbol of the hated monarchy. It was chipped off buildings and torn from draperies. Men were guillotined for wearing a fleur-de-lis on their clothes or as jewellery.

The Iris's history is rich, dating back to Ancient Greek times when the Greek Goddess Iris, the messenger of the gods and the personification of the rainbow, acted as the link between heaven and earth. Purple irises were planted over the graves of women to summon the Goddess to guide the dead in their journey.
The root of the Iris is known as orris root and in France it was hung in wine casks to enrich the bouquet of the wine. It was used as a perfume for linen and is mentioned in 1480 in the wardrobe accounts of Edward IV. Orris root also was important to the new high hair fashions that at one time towered two feet off the ladies foreheads. They were powered with orris root which was added as a perfume to flour or starch. One of the complaints of the hungry peasants in France was that so much of the flour they needed for food went to dress the hair of the nobility.

The meanings of the iris has come to include faith, hope, and wisdom. Depending on factors such as colour and region, irises may bear additional meanings as well. In some parts of the world, the dark blue or purple iris can denote royalty, whereas the yellow iris can be a symbol of passion. Irises may also express courage and admiration.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009


There is a romantic legend about how the Forget-me-Not came to be named. A knight and his lady were walking along the banks of the river Danube when the lady saw a pretty blue flower floating on the water and exclaimed that she was sad that it would be swept away. The knight leapt into the water to get it for her but was dragged down by the current. As he was drowning, he threw his lady the flower and cried, “Forget me not!”

Forever after the lady wound the flowers in her hair to remember him by. It’s said if you plant forget-me-nots on the grave of someone you love, the plants will never die as long as you live. Forget-me-nots are unusual because you can see both blue and pink flowers on the same stem. Some people think that blue is for boys and pink is for girls. So these little flowers symbolise true love and remembrance.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Lily of the Valley

Lily of the Valley is sometimes known as Our Lady's Tears as it was thought that its fragrant blooms sprang from the tears of the Virgin Mary. It has long been used as a perfume and was once believed seductive enough to lure the nightingale into mating. In France, it has been used to bring good luck since the early Renaissance and you will often find it adorning the lapels of people there on May Day which is known as the Fete de Muguet. Old folk tales claim that Lily of the valley protects your garden from evil spirits. Carrying a posy of the flowers is said to improve your memory.

Due to the flower's pristine colour and its association with the Virgin Mary's tears, it often symbolizes “purity” and the "return of happiness."

Friday, 13 February 2009

The Meaning of Roses on Valentine's Day

Roses have been used symbolically for centuries - the Romans used rose petals to throw over their floors, their heroes, even their wine. In Medieval times it was common to carve a rose into the ceiling of a meeting room as this meant that the conversation in the room should be secret (which is where the Latin term for keeping it quiet - ‘sub rosa’ comes from) .

Red roses mean "love and passion" but did you know that different shades of roses signify different meanings? Deep purple red roses mean love at first sight, pink roses symbolise happiness and gentleness, white roses stand for worthiness and loyalty, apricot coloured roses signify the desire to get to know you better and yellow roses mean friendship.

Offering someone a single rose rather than a bouquet can speak volumes about the message that you are trying to convey. A single red rose traditionally means that you are deeply in love with someone while a mixed bouquet containing both red and white roses signifies unity. For people with marriage on their mind, two roses entwined to form one single stem is said to represent a deep commitment and hints at an engagement or intention to marry.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

The Language of Flowers on Valentines Day

Flowers have always held symbolic meanings and if you are interested in the Language of Flowers you can send a secret message to your loved one on Valentine's Day by choosing particular blooms. Floriography was introduced to Europe by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu who travelled to the Middle East in 1716 who was then the English ambassador to Constantinople and the first European flower dictionary to be published was written in France in 1818 by Madame Charlotte de Latour and was titled "Le Language des Fleurs".

During the Middle Ages harsh restraints were placed on courtships and this led to the exchange of flowers to grow amongst couples, as the flowers they gave symbolised different messages, allowing couples to express themselves secretly without others seeing or hearing.

Flower meanings progressed through the 1600’s and became so refined that even military messages could be sent in a harmless gift of flowers. Floriography soon became highly fashionable and the Victorians used it extensively to send coded messages, allowing individuals to express feelings which otherwise could not be spoken. This language was most commonly communicated through Tussie-Mussies, an art which has a following today.

A tussie-mussie, which literally means sweet posey, is a small bundle or bouquet of flowers sometimes referred to as a "word posey" or "nosegay". The little bouquet would be surrounded by lace and tied with ribbons.

Where a girl wore a tussie-mussie presented by an admirer signified her feelings toward him. If pinned in her hair it meant "caution;" in her cleavage preserved in a bosom bottle stood for "remembrance or friendship." However, if it were pinned over her heart this was a declaration of love. If the flowers handed over were in the right hand it would mean “yes” to a question, just as flowers handed over in the left hand would mean “no”.

Queen Victoria believed in the language of flowers. Myrtle was tucked among the flowers of her bridal bouquet symbolizing constancy in affection and duty. She had it planted and it grew. Today at every royal wedding in England a piece of her myrtle is either tucked into the bride’s bouquet or added to a floral arrangement at the wedding breakfast.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Wine Red Snow

There is a phenomenon in the snow fields of the North that turns the white expanses into a bright red.

Snow algae blooms in the snow in late winter, and marks the end of the season. The algae can be seen in high mountain country, when snow is remaining on mountain slopes even after the grounds below are dry and beginning to turn into spring. The algae are tiny, and 2.5 million thrive in each teaspoon of snow. They prefer to grow at temperatures just above freezing, which is why they appear during thaws and snow melts in late winter. Snow algae can be seen in Japan and Greenland.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Snow Aged Rice Wine

I have heard about wine aged on the sea bed but never in snow before – until now . . .

Green River Sake makes Rice Wine that is aged through unique snow-ageing process. The Sake is fermented for 25 days, immediately followed by snow-ageing in bottles for up to 6+ months. According to the wine makers this produces sake of a very strong character which retains an original fresh fermented, mellow, faint chocolate aroma with a cherry-smoke and cider cask flavour.
The snow-ageing was originally done in a snow dome but now it is performed in a more controlled environment. During ageing, fresh sake becomes smoother, mellower and well-balanced. This is a natural ageing process that current science may not be able to explain fully.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Turning White Wine Into Snow

Did you know that Instant Snow Polymer can turn white wine into snow – not that I recommend you do it!

When water is added to this granular white powder, it instantly expands to 40 times its original volume, producing a snow-like material. This artificial "snow" is fluffy and can be readily poured. When wet, it adheres well to boots and is very slippery. It was used in Steven Spielberg's mini-series, Band of Brothers and is becoming popular as an artificial base for skiers. You can carry almost two cubic meters of snow in your briefcase; just add water!

Friday, 6 February 2009

Snow Ski Wine Racks

I spotted these fun wine racks at They are certainly a conversation piece and are made out of the tip and tale of a re-cycled snow ski, they are durable enough to be used outdoors on a deck or patio.

Still on a skiing theme did you know that Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte is owned by former Olympic skiing champion Daniel Cathiard?

He has invested heavily in the Château and fully modernised the wine making facilities, restoring buildings and constructing a new 2000 barrel cellar. Cathiard has also established a luxury hotel, a Michelin star restaurant and a wine-therapy institute at the château. In 1993 Professor Vercauteren and Mathilde and Bertrand Thomas teamed up to create Caudalie - a health and beauty treatment and range of products based on the grape seeds left over from the must from making the wines. Mathilde is the daughter of Daniel Cathiard.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Wine De-icer?

I was listening to the radio reports on the snowy weather and somebody rang into Hereford & Worcester Radio to say that in Germany they are not allowed to put salt on their roads when snow and ice were forecast, but instead they sprayed wine on! The caller claimed it helped to utilise up the wine mountain.

This intrigued me as I couldn't figure out how this would work as wine DOES freeze. The only information I could uncover was a company who used the by-products of commercial brewing and wine making as a new product to keep roads snow and ice free in the USA. It is called Ice Ban Magic and was popular in the late 1990s with a number of local public works officials as a cheaper, more effective and environmentally friendly alternative to straight salt and sand.

Many towns in snowy parts of the country are trying to cut down on their use of road salt. Not only does the salt cause corrosion of vehicles, it also has environmental effects when the the snow melts and salty water runs off into streams, rivers, and lakes. One alternative to salt is sand, which does not melt highway ice but does help to increase traction. The disadvantage of sand is that unless it is cleaned up at the end of the season, it tends to clog drainage pipes, channels, and streams.

Ice Ban Magic is a biodegradable liquid similar to molasses and can be spread directly on roads or mixed with sand or road salt. However it doesn't look as if it has taken off to any great degree.

Does anyone know any more about the subject?

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Chinese New Year Food: M de Malle and Shrimp with Cashew Nuts

If you are looking for inspiration when planning a meal to celebrate the Chinese New Year why not try Prawns and Cashew Nuts with a bottle of M de Malle (£11.73). M de Malle is a dry White Graves wine and has been awarded the Coup de Coeur in the Hachette des Vins 2007.

It's a beautiful wine with a touch of class: bold, brilliant green tinted gold with hints of white blossoms, exotic fruits, spice and good lemon acidity and is ideal with sea food and grilled meats.

Prawns with Cashew Nuts

½ tsp salt
1 tsp cornstarch
1 egg white
1 lb. fresh prawns (shelled and deveined)
4 oz. cashew nuts
3 cups cooking oil
2 spring onions, chopped
2 slices ginger
¼ tsp sugar
1 tbsp cooking wine
½ tsp salt
½ tsp sesame oil

Mix the salt, cornstarch and egg white together in a bowl. Add the prawns and marinate for 1 hour. In a large frying pan or wok, heat the oil and add cashews, stirring until browned. Remove, drain cashews on paper towels and set aside. Reheat the oil in the pan, add the prawns and stir fry for 1 minute. Remove shrimp and drain on paper towels. Discard the oil. Add two fresh tablespoons of cooking oil, heat in the pan and quickly stir fry the spring onions and ginger. Add the prawns, stir in the sugar, cooking wine, salt and sesame oil. Add the cashews and stir until thoroughly mixed. Serve immediately

Chinese Good Luck Foods for New Year

Over the Chinese New Year dishes are prepared whole as the use of knives is considered unlucky as this could sever the entire family's good fortune. When cooking, people generally avoid chopping up fish, leafy greens and other items such as noodles. Almost every dish has a symbolic meaning or name that sounds like a Chinese characters for fortune, happiness, longevity and prosperity.

Seaweed with dried oysters sounds like "wealth and good business," lotus roots mean abundance year after year, while lettuce translates into "growing wealth" and pig's tongue forecasts "profit." When families visit each other to exchange New Year greetings it is customary to take gifts such as tangerines and oranges, as their Chinese names sound like "gold" and "wealth".

In many homes, a platter with either 5 meat or 5 vegetable dishes might be served. This dish is called "the five blessings of the new year," referring to longevity, riches, peace, wisdom and virtue.

On New Year's Eve, when everyone gathers around the table for the "Family Reunion Dinner" and carp is a typical main course, because it symbolises a profitable year ahead. The fish is never fully eaten to ensure that the family will have an excess of good fortune through the year.
During the New Year month, auspicious ingredients such as oysters, seaweed, abalone, and sea cucumber are added to the feast as symbols of good fortune. Fish represent "having enough to spare," while the word for garlic chives has the meaning of "everlasting," wishing your family and guests a long life. Turnips mean "good omens," and oysters in Chinese, sounds like the word for "an auspicious occasion or event."

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Chinese Lucky Number 9

The traditional New Year dinner for the imperial house was composed of 99 dishes since the number 9 is an auspicious number! The number 9 was historically associated with the Emperor of China; the Emperor's robes often had nine dragons, and Chinese mythology held that the dragon has nine children. Moreover, the number 9 in Chinese sounds like the word for "long lasting" and as such is often used in weddings.

Other lucky numbers are 6 and 8. Number 6 is considered good for business and also represents happiness. Number 8 in Chinese sounds similar to the word which means "prosper" or “wealth”.

Monday, 2 February 2009

The Year of the Ox - 2009

The Lunar New Year dates from 2600 BC, when the Emperor Huang Ti introduced the first cycle of the Chinese zodiac. Because of cyclical lunar dating, the first day of the year can fall anywhere between late January and the middle of February. On the Chinese calendar, 2009 is Lunar Year 4706-4707.

If you were born in 1913, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985 or 1997 - you were born under the sign of the Ox.

The Ox is one of the most patient signs in the Chinese zodiac, but when opposed your fierce temper comes to the fore — and woe to anyone who crosses you! For the Ox in 2009, any recent setbacks or obstacles can be overcome, so look forward to a year in which to really shine, either personally or professionally.

Famous people born in the Year Of The Ox? They include President Barack Obama, George Clooney and Wayne Rooney!