Thursday, 31 December 2009

What You Were Searching For in 2009

The top searches on our Blogs were for How to Avoid the Red Wine Headache, the 2008 En Primeur Campaign, Chateaux Profiles, The Bordeaux Appellation Series, Bio-dynamic Wine, Bordeaux Aperitifs and Recipes.

For the fine wine lovers amongst you the top ten most searched for wines included a Sauternes and a Second wine:

Chateau La Fleur Morange
Chateau Calon Segur
Chateau Clerc Milon
Alter Ego de Palmer
Mathilde de La Fleur Morange
Chateau Brane Cantenac
Chateau Climens
Chateau Lynch Bages
Chateau d'Armhailac
Chateau La Lagune

We had some surprises this year regarding your favourite petite chateaux as white Bordeaux and Bordeaux clairet have joined the ranks of their red brothers!

Chateau Sainte Marie
Chateau Chadeuil
Chateau Laures
Domaine de Ricaud Bordeaux Clairet
Chateau Tour Chapoux
Chateau Toumalin
Chateau Les Tonnelles
Chateau Sainte Helene
Clairet du Chateau de Lisennes
Domaine de Ricaud Bordeaux Blanc

Whatever your preference we will continue to discover fine wines and their stories . . . and bring them to you along with a little bit of Bordeaux!

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Top Wine Stories of 2009

It's traditional at this time of year to look back at what has gone before and reflect so I thought I would high light some of the miles we have travelled in the world of wine:

We had great fun exploring the colourful characters and histories of the Bordeaux Chateaux;

We discovered a swash buckling past in Bordeaux Pirates, Buried Treasure and Lafitte and Duhart Milon and the Corsair,

We found haunted chateaux and that vampires, witches, werewolves and goblins are aplenty amongst the vineyards,

Chateau La Fleur Morange picked up a vertiable host of awards and accolades, the ultimate being the town of Saint Emilion's celebration of the Julien's phenomenal success and La Fleur Morange's contribution to the wines of this famous appellation. To honour the quality of the Julien's work and the rise of La Fleur Morange to international acclaim throughout the world's media, the Jurade of Saint Emilion, the Mayor and the town gathered together to mark the occasion and the prestigious wine critic Robert Parker alerted wine lovers the world over to take note!

Our series on the Appellations of Bordeaux led us down many undiscovered paths and to the discovery of long lost Grape varieties.

Nick's work on Wine Investment opened up the very first EIS Scheme offering tax benefits which tie in with wine investment – the 1855 Club.

We found wines for the Circus, wines born under auspicious stars and Comet Vintages, wines drunk by moonlight, and revealed that wine is not only an aphrodisiac but also the elixir of life (apparently).

Nick tasted his way through the En Primeur 2008 Campaign and wrote an Open Letter to the Chateaux concerning the perpetual fiasco re pricing – and a possible solution.

We added hundreds of new drinks, cocktails and recipes to the Blogs covering everything from French regional fayre to old fashioned slow cooking and from rare Rosés to Other Rothschild wines.

We both hope that you enjoyed the Blogs and look forward to discovering new stories in 2010 for you!

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Christmas Desserts – Mincemeat Tart

Did you know that eating mince pies was made illegal in 1657 and according to the Law Society the law has never been repealed? They were outlawed towards the end of Oliver Cromwell’s rule as Lord Protector, when his puritan council abolished Christmas.

Lawful or not, mince pies have been around since medieval times and have been associated with Christmas since the 16th century or earlier. The original mince pie was a large oblong or oval pastry containing chopped meats and spices such as ginger. Dried fruit and other sweet ingredients were added to the filling for variety and also because they helped to preserve the meat without having to salt or smoke it. The initial mince pies were large rather than bite size. It is sometimes said that the large pies were cooked in an oblong dish and that the top often used to cave in. As a result the mince pie looked a little like a crib, in keeping with the Christian nativity story.


Over time the amount of meat in mincemeat was gradually reduced until it became the fruit only substance we know today. In addition, the pies became smaller. Apparently they were sometimes called "wayfarers' pies" because they were given to visitors over the Christmas period.

Mincemeat Tart

175 g/6 oz Shortcrust Pastry
1 medium cooking apple, peeled, cored and grated
175 g/6 oz mincemeat
150 ml double cream
25 g/1 oz almonds, chopped and toasted


Roll out the pastry and use to line an 18 cm/7 in flan ring. Prick all over with a fork. Stir the apple into the mincemeat and spread over the base. Bake in a preheated oven at 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6 for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 160°C/325°F/gas mark 3 and bake for a further 10 minutes. Leave to cool. Whip the cream until stiff, then spread over the top of the flan, sprinkle with the almonds and serve at once.


Enjoy!

Christmas Desserts – Sherry Trifle

The earliest trifle recorded was in a book called “The Good Huswife's Jewell” in 1596 but it didn't resemble the trifles we know today. It consisted of thick cream flavoured with sugar, ginger and rosewater and it wasn't until sixty years later that milk was added and custard was poured over alcohol soaked bread.

By the middle of the 18th century, trifles included ratafia (almond-flavoured biscuits) or macaroons soaked in sweet wine, covered with custard and topped with whipped cream. The Victorians doted on trifle and Mrs Beeton, in her classic 1861 book ''Household Management'' gave 4 recipes for trifle and figured the total cost of a trifle at 5 shillings 6 pence.

Sherry Trifle

For the base
4 trifle sponge cakes
4 almond macaroon biscuits
20 ratafia biscuits
4 tbsp sweet sherry
4 tbsp brandy
8oz (225g) fresh or frozen raspberries (defrosted)

For the custard
3 egg yolks
½ pint (275 ml) double cream
1 vanilla pod, split lengthways
1 oz (25g) caster sugar
1 level tsp cornflour

For the topping
¾ pint (350ml) whipping cream
2oz (50g) flaked almonds, lightly toasted
sprinkling of raspberries

Cut the sponge cakes in half and break the macaroon biscuits into rough pieces and arrange with the sponge pieces and ratafias in a glass serving bowl. Mix together the sherry and brandy and drizzle over the sponge and biscuit base. Pile the raspberries over the top of the sponge base.

To prepare the custard, scrape the vanilla seeds out of the pod into the double cream, and add the vanilla pod too. Heat the cream in a saucepan over a low heat. Do not let it boil. Remove the vanilla pod. Meanwhile in a basin, cream together the egg yolks, caster sugar and cornflour. Now gradually whisk in the hot cream. Return the custard to the saucepan and over a very low heat, continue to stir until the sauce thickens sufficiently to coat the back of a spoon. Do not let it boil. Remove from the heat and pour the custard over the sponge and fruit base. Shake the bowl a little to settle the ingredients. Cover with cling wrap and allow to cool. Whisk the whipping cream and top the trifle with it, decorate with almonds and raspberries.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Nuts About Christmas – Almonds and Soup Recipe

Almonds are part of the plum family and are native to North Africa, West Asia and the Mediterranean. Botanically-speaking, almonds are a fruit and there are two forms of the plant, one (often with white flowers) producing sweet almonds, and the other (often with pink flowers) producing bitter almonds. The English word almond is derived from the French amande, which in turn is a derivative of the old Latin word for almond, amygdalus, literally meaning "tonsil plum." Ancient Romans also referred to almonds as "Greek nuts," since they were first cultivated in Greece.

Greek mythology tells of the beautiful princess Phyllis, who was left waiting at the altar on her wedding day by her intended, Demophon. Phyllis waited for years for him to return, but finally died of a broken heart. In sympathy, the gods transformed Phyllis into an almond tree, which became a symbol of hope. When the errant, remorseful Demonphon returned to find Phyllis as a leafless, flowerless tree, he embraced the tree. The tree suddenly burst into bloom, a demonstration of love not conquered by death.
Domesticated almonds appear in the Early Bronze Age (3000–2000 BC) of the Near East, or possibly a little earlier. A well-known archaeological example of the almond is the fruit found in Tutankhamun's tomb in Egypt (c. 1325 BC).

Sweet almonds are used in marzipan, nougat, many pastries (including French macarons), noghl and other sweets and desserts. During Medieval times frumentry (a pudding made from whole wheat and almond milk) was commonly served with meals of venison. One of the early European uses of almond milk was in the preparation of the French dessert blancmange, a delicate, all white, chilled custard whose British version of the 14th and 15th century, blancmanger, included shredded chicken breast, sugar, rice, and almond milk or ground almonds.

A traditional Christmas soup in Spain is Sopa de Almendras (Almond Soup) and it is delicious!

Sopa de Almendras (Almond Soup)

200g almonds, skinned and blanched
50ml olive oil
garlic
2 slices day old bread, crusts removed and diced
10 peppercorns, crushed
1.5 litres chicken or vegetable stock
1 tsp vinegar or lemon juice
saffron
ground cumin or cinnamon

Fry the almonds, bread, saffron and garlic in the oil, then put them in a blender with the peppercorns and cumin. Blend with the vinegar and a little of the stock to a purée. Mix this paste with the remaining stock in a suitable pan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 15 minutes and serve garnished with a few slivers of toasted almonds, croutons or some chopped parsley or mint.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Nuts About Christmas – Pecans and Pecan Pie Recipe

The Pecan is a species of Hickory and is native to the USA. "Pecan" is from an American Indian word, meaning a nut requiring a stone to crack. The nut was a staple food for American Indians who pounded the nut into a thin meal and then added water to create a nutritious Pecan milk. Although wild Pecans were well-known among the colonial Americans as a delicacy, the commercial growing of pecans in the United States did not begin until the 1880s.

Pecans first became known to Europeans in the 16th century; the Spanish explorer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca is credited with writing about this plant. The Spaniards brought the Pecan into Europe, Asia, and Africa beginning in the 16th century. Thomas Jefferson planted Pecan trees, "Carya illinoinensis,' (Illinois nuts) in his nut orchard at his home in Virginia and George Washington reported in his journal that Thomas Jefferson gave him "Illinois nuts" which grew at Mount Vernon, George Washington's home.

Tradition holds that the French invented Pecan Pie soon after settling in New Orleans, after being introduced to the nut by Native Americans. It is sometimes referred to as "New Orleans Pecan Pie," and is often cooked for Thanksgiving.

Pecan Pie

1 cup maple syrup
2/3 cup sugar
3 eggs
¼ cup melted butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1 9-inch (23-cm) purchased or home made pie shell, unbaked

Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC). In a mixing bowl, beat together maple syrup, sugar, eggs, melted butter and vanilla with an electric mixer until slightly thickened, about 2 or 3 minutes. Stir in chopped pecans and pour the mixture into the prepared pie shell. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until a knife poked into the centre of the filling comes out clean. Let cool completely or serve slightly warm with whipped cream or ice cream.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Nuts About Christmas – Walnuts and Rumkugeln (Rum and Walnut Balls) Recipe

The Walnut's Latin name Juglans, translates as "Jupiter's acorn" and means a nut fit for a god. Our word Walnut comes from from the Anglo-Saxon word wealh meaning foreign or alien and hnutu meaning nut. It's thought that the Romans introduced the Walnut to Britain from Gaul. In the Périgord, France, excavations have brought to light petrified shells of nuts that were roasted during the Neolithic period, more than 8000 years ago. Around 2,000 B.C. in Mesopotamia, the Chaldeans left inscriptions on clay tablets revealing the existence of walnut groves within the famed Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

The walnut appears in Greek mythology in the story of Carya, with whom the god Dionysus (the god of wine) fell in love. When she died, Dionysus transformed her into a walnut tree. The goddess Artemis carried the news to Carya's father and commanded that a temple be built in her memory. Its columns, sculpted in wood in the form of young women, were called caryatids, or nymphs of the walnut tree.

Pickled walnuts are a traditional English pickle although there is doubt as to which country first pickled walnuts. The Pickled Walnut was certainly a common delicacy in early 1800s England. Charles Dickens mentions them in his book Pickwick Papers published in 1836. Today they are a delicacy found on tables mainly at Christmas time but many recipes can be found using them, more commonly cooked in with beef dishes or served with an English blue cheese such as Stilton.

One of the oldest recipes for Pickled Walnuts comes from Iran where walnuts are picked green in mid-summer, soaked for a lunar cycle in brine from the Caspian, rinsed thoroughly, then cooked to perfect tenderness in an open vat of honey, with fresh ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg added for flavour. This mid-summer treat was eaten "hot from the pot" as a village festival finger food, and enjoyed by young and old alike.

In Armenian cuisine, walnuts are preserved in sugar syrup and eaten whole. In Italy, liqueurs called Nocino and Nocello are flavoured with walnuts, while Salsa di Noci ("Walnut Sauce") is a pasta sauce originating from Liguria.

I have found an Austrian Christmas recipe using Walnuts which is marvellous wit a glass of Sauternes:

Rumkugeln - Rum and Walnut Balls Recipe
180 g (6 oz.) ground walnuts
150 g (5 oz.) icing sugar
80 g (3 oz.) grated dark chocolate
1 egg white
1 tbsp rum
For decorating: chocolate sprinkles

Combine all the ingredients, except the chocolate sprinkles, to form a workable dough. Let rest in the refrigerator one hour. Lightly moisten your hands; form the dough into small balls and roll in the chocolate sprinkles.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Nuts About Christmas – Hazelnuts and Chocolate Hazelnut Truffles Recipe

Hazelnuts have been harvested for thousands of years and there is evidence of large-scale Mesolithic nut processing, some 9,000 years old, on the island of Colonsay in Scotland. The evidence consists of a large, shallow pit full of the remains of hundreds of thousands of burned hazelnut shells. Similar sites in Britain are known only at Farnham in Surrey and Cass ny Hawin on the Isle of Man.

The Celts also believed that the Hazelnut tree was the tree of knowledge and the phrase "in a nutshell" probably derives from this legend because all wisdom is within the nut. Hazel is a favourite wood for magicians staffs, wands, walking sticks, self-defence and shepherds' crooks. It is even said that Moses wielded a hazelnut rod when he smote the rocks to make water come forth.

Hazelnuts are also known as Cob nuts or Filbert nuts, depending on the species of tree and Turkey is the largest producer of Hazelnuts in the world. Cob nuts were introduced to the UK in the 17th century and Kent still grows them. Unlike many other nuts, which are sold dried, Cob nuts are sold fresh. In the past Cob nuts were popular with mariners, as they kept fresh for months, and the Victorians were devoted to them and bred many new kinds. In 1913, plantations extended to over 7,000 acres, most of the orchards or “plats” being in Kent. Stored nuts were available from London wholesalers for most of the year, and fetched high prices. However, today, 200 - 250 acres of old plats survive, but new orchards are once again being planted, of Kentish Cob as well as other hazelnut varieties.

The modern name for Filberts has evolved from European folklore. The original name was connected with Saint Philbert's Day (Saint Filbert), the day that harvesting the nuts began, August 22nd, the day of observing the Saint's day of celebration. The famous Roman historian, Pliny, recorded that ‘hazels' (filberts) were frequently gathered by the Romans as food. Pliny believed that filberts had originated in Damascus, Syria, where they grew naturally in forests; however, archaeological records have shown some fossilized remains of filberts that were 5000 years old in prehistoric excavations from China.

Filberts are alleged to conjure up mystical powers and have been thought since ancient times to be used as ‘divining rods' to locate underground spring heads of water, buried treasure, minerals, ores, and as various remedies for illness and ailments of many kinds.

Hazelnuts are extensively used in confectionery to make praline and also used in combination with chocolate for chocolate truffles and hazelnut paste products (such as Nutella). In Austria and especially in Vienna hazelnut paste is an important ingredient in the world famous tortes (such as Viennese hazelnut torte) which are made there. Hazelnuts are also the main ingredient of the classic Dacquoise and in vodka-based Hazelnut liqueurs, such as Frangelico.

Chocolate Hazelnut Truffles

¾ cup icing sugar
2 tbsp cocoa
4 milk chocolate bars (1.55 ounces each)
6 tbsp butter
¼ cup whipping cream
24 whole hazelnuts
1 cup ground hazelnuts, toasted

In a large bowl, sift together icing sugar and cocoa; set aside. In a saucepan, melt chocolate bars and butter. Add the cream and reserved cocoa mixture. Cook and stir over medium-low heat until mixture is thickened and smooth. Pour into an 8-in. square dish. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Using a melon baller or spoon, shape the truffles into 1-in. balls; press a hazelnut into each. Reshape balls and roll in ground hazelnuts. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Christmas Sweets and Treats – Figs

Did you know that the fig is one of the first plants to be cultivated by humans. Nine subfossil figs of a parthenocarpic type dating to about 9400–9200 BC were found in the early Neolithic village in the Jordan Valley, north of Jericho. The find pre-dates the domestication of wheat, barley, and legumes, and may be the first known instance of agriculture.
The fig was such a staple food that Egyptian armies are recorded as having cut down the figs and vines of their enemies, and whole baskets of figs have been discovered among the tomb offerings of dynastic Pharaohs. Cleopatra ended her life with an asp brought to her in a basket of figs.

Figs were also a common food source for the Romans. Cato the Elder, in his De Agri Cultura, lists several strains of figs grown at the time. The fruits were used, among other things, to fatten geese for the production of a precursor of foie gras.

The Fig is found throughout the Mediterranean, Iran and northern India, and also in other areas of the world with a similar climate, including the USA, north eastern Mexico, as well as Australia, Chile, and South Africa. Figs can also be found in continental climate with hot summers, as far north as Hungary, and can be picked twice or thrice per year.

In the first half of the 16th century, the fig was brought to England by Cardinal Pole, a few years before Cortez introduced the tree to Mexico. Figgy Pudding – the precursor to what we know know as Christmas pudding – the famous 16th century carol We Wish You A Merry Christmas was written at this time:

We wish you a Merry Christmas;
We wish you a Merry Christmas;
We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Good tidings we bring to you and your kin;
Good tidings for Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Oh, bring us a figgy pudding;
Oh, bring us a figgy pudding;
Oh, bring us a figgy pudding and a cup of good cheer
We won't go until we get some;
We won't go until we get some;
We won't go until we get some, so bring some out here
We wish you a Merry Christmas;
We wish you a Merry Christmas;
We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


Figgy Pudding

½ pint milk
8oz flour
6oz dried figs
¼ pint brandy
4oz suet
4oz prunes
3oz raisins or sultanas
2oz dried apricots
2oz dates
1oz dried apples
1 tbsp honey
¼ tsp ginger
¼ tsp cinnamon

On the day before making the pudding, place the dried apricots, prunes and apples to soak in water and place the raisins or sultanas to soak in the brandy. Remove the stones from of the dates and prunes. Butter a large pudding basin. Sift flour into a bowl. Stir in suet and mix to a fairly soft dough with cold water. Turn out on to a floured surface. Lightly knead until smooth.

Roll out two-thirds of pastry into a round and use to line a well-greased 2-pint pudding basin. Melt the honey and stir in the ginger and cinnamon. Add to the soaked fruits and brandy mixture. Mix well and place into the pastry lined bowl. Moisten edges of pastry with water. Cover with lid, rolled from remainder of the pastry. Press edges well together to seal. Cover securely with greased greaseproof paper or aluminium foil. Steam steadily for 2 hours. Ensure that the water does not evaporate, topping it up from time to time with boiling water. Turn out onto a plate and serve

Monday, 14 December 2009

Christmas Sweets and Treats - Dates

Dates are the fruit of the date palm and have been a staple food of the Middle East for thousands of years and are believed to have originated around the Persian Gulf. There is archaeological evidence of date cultivation in eastern Arabia in 6000 BC.

In fact in 2008 researchers brought an extinct date palm back to life by resurrecting the oldest seed ever. They call it Methuselah, and the ancient seed was found at the cliff-side fortress of Masada. For centuries, the fruit seeds remained buried beneath the fallen citadel, once the luxurious palace of King Herod. The big question is whether Methuselah is a "boy," or a "girl" - in which case, researchers may be sampling its fruit by 2010.

In the Middle East dry or soft dates are eaten out-of-hand, or may be pitted and stuffed with fillings such as almonds, walnuts, candied orange and lemon peel, tahini, marzipan or cream cheese. Dates can also be chopped and used in a range of sweet and savoury dishes, from tajines (tagines) in Morocco to puddings, ka'ak (types of Arab cookies) and other dessert items.

Dates are also processed into cubes, paste called "'ajwa", spread, date syrup or "honey" called "dibs" or "rub" in Libya, powder (date sugar), vinegar or alcohol. Dates are also made into a sparkling date juice, used in some Islamic countries as a non-alcoholic version of champagne, for special occasions and religious times such as Ramadan!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Nuts about Christmas

It's traditional in our house to have a nut bowl at Christmas and one of my favourites are the Brazil nuts. They are known as Noix du Bresil in France and their genus (Bertholletia Excelsa) is named after the French chemist Claude Louis Berthollet, born in the Duchy of Savoy in 1749. Berthollet was one of several scientists who went with Napoleon to Egypt, and was a member of the physics and natural history section of the Institut d'Égypte.

Brazil nut trees are enormous, frequently attaining the height of 40 to 50 metres or more, and can reach ages of 500-800 years old. The tree is found throughout the Amazon rainforest in Bolivia, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador. As well as its food use, Brazil nut oil is also used as a lubricant in clocks, for making artists' paints, and in the cosmetics industry.

Brazil Nut and Fig Torte


Base
4 cups brazil nuts
3 cups raisins
1 cup fig, dried

Frosting
1 cup pitted dates
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon rind
1 passion fruit, pulp of

To make the base: Blend base ingredients until there is a solid mass in the food processor (it should be very fine with the occasional chunk). Place on a plate and form into a cake shape.

To make the frosting: Blend frosting ingredients well. If the dates are very firm and resist blending, just blend partially and let soak about 15 minutes to soften. Blend until smooth and creamy, then frost the cake. Decorate with lemon zest or passion fruit pulp.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Christmas Appetizers and Snacks – More Vol-au-vent Recipes

Salmon, Dill and Caper Vol-au-vent

2 salmon portions
250g cream cheese
2 eggs
2 tbsp crushed capers
¼ cup dill sprigs, chopped
¼ cup chopped chives
4 large vol-au-vent cases

Place salmon fillets into a deep frying pan. Cover with cold water and place over a medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 mins or until fish is cooked through. Drain, cool and flake. Preheat oven to 180C. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Combine cream cheese, eggs, capers, dill, chives, flaked salmon, salt and freshly ground black pepper in a bowl. Place vol-au-vents onto prepared tray. Spoon salmon mixture into vol-au-vents. Bake for 15-20 mins or until golden and heated through.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Christmas Appetizers and Snacks – More Vol-au-vent Recipes

Mushroom and Bacon Vol-au-vent

8 vol-au-vent cases
2 tsp butter
2 slices bacon, diced
1 tbsp minced shallot
6 oz mushrooms, chopped
pinch crushed garlic
pinch of chopped fresh thyme
¼ cup good beef stock
2 cups double cream
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
fresh parsley

Melt the butter in a frying pan, add the bacon and shallots and sauté until the shallots are soft. Add the mushrooms and garlic and sauté for 2 minutes longer. Add the thyme, stock, and cream, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook until the sauce thickens slightly. Season with salt and pepper. Allow to cool slightly before spooning equal amounts of the filling into each vol-au-vent case. Garnish with parsley.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Christmas Appetizers and Snacks – Vol-au-vent

Vols-au-vent are puff pastry shells that resemble a pot with a lid. They can be small (individual-size) or large (6 to 8 inches in diameter). The pastry is classically filled with a cream sauce-based mixture, usually of chicken, fish, meat or vegetables. The puff-pastry lid is set on top of the filling. The term vol-au-vent is the French for "flying in the wind," refers to the pastry's incredible lightness.

Vols-au-vent are said to have been created by the famous French chef Antonin Carême who made his fame in the early 19th century, cooking for royalty and the very rich. Carême baked Napoleon's wedding cake, and dazzled Britain's future King George IV at Brighton's Royal Pavilion. He created masterpieces for the Romanovs in St. Petersburg and soufflés flecked with real gold for the Rothschilds in Paris. He is credited with inventing the chefs hat, the vol-au-vent, the soufflé, and the service a la Russe (serving one dish after another in proper order) rather than the service a la Francaise (all at once).

You can buy preprepared vol-au-vent cases or you can make your own from puff pastry sheets using shaped cutters.

Chicken and Asparagus Vol-au-vent

60g butter
1 large onion, finely diced
425g mushrooms, sliced
50g plain flour
600 ml chicken stock
1 tin (420g) cream of Asparagus soup
½ glass dry sherry
500g chicken breast, diced
36 small vol-au-vent cases

Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. In a large pan, melt butter over low heat. Stir in onions and mushrooms, and sauté until onions are soft. Stir in the flour and continue to cook for 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Pour in stock gradually, and continue to stir over a medium heat until thickened. Stir in asparagus soup, sherry, and chicken. Reduce heat to low, and simmer until the chicken is done and the sauce has thickened, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, arrange pastry shells in a large baking tray. Bake in preheated oven until golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before spooning equal amounts of the chicken filling into each shell.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Christmas Appetizers and Snacks – More Canapé Recipes

Stilton and Wine Jelly Canapés on Savoury Shortbread

¾ cups flour
pinch baking powder
pinch cayenne pepper
pinch salt
¼ cup finely chopped pistachios or pecans
2 tbsp grated cheddar
1 tbsp freshly grated parmesan
¼ lb butter
150g stilton cheese, cut into 20 thin slices
¼ cup red wine jelly
20 seedless red grapes, sliced

Place the flour, baking powder, cayenne and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine. Mix the pistachios or pecans and cheeses. Place the butter in another bowl and beat until light. Add the dry ingredients and mix well until a loose dough forms. Transfer to lightly floured surface. Shape the dough in a ball and then form and press into a roll about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap in plastic wrap; chill 2 to 3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 300 F. Line a baking tray with grease proof paper. Cut the roll into ¼ -inch thick slices. Place on the baking tray, spacing them about an inch apart. Bake 15 to 18 minutes, or until a light golden brown. Set on baking rack and cool to room temperature.

Top each savoury shortbread with a thin slice of the cheese, a small spoon of the jelly and a slice of grape.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Christmas Appetizers and Snacks – Canapés

Canapés are finger food and are little crackers, small slices of bread, toast or puff pastry, cut into various shapes topped with a "canopy" of such savoury foods as meat, cheese, fish, caviar, foie gras, purées or relish. Canapés can be traced back in time to the 3rd century B.C. when the Athenians introduced the first hors d’oeuvre buffet, complete with garlic, sea urchins, cockles and small pieces of sturgeon placed in front of the diners on small plates.

The word Canapé is French and means “couch”. Canapés are normally eaten in one bite and are often served during cocktail hours as they can be either salty or spicy, in order to encourage guests to drink more. A canapé may also be referred to as finger food, although not all finger foods are canapés. Crackers or small slices of bread or toast or puff pastry, cut into various shapes, serve as the base for savoury butters or pastes, often topped with a "canopy" of meat, cheese, fish, caviar, foie gras, purées or relish.

Smoked Salmon Canapés with Egg and Caviar

These canapés can be made with inexpensive lumpfish caviar or with the very expensive caviar if you prefer. To get perfect egg slices you can use an egg slicer sold at most kitchenware shops.

4 thin square slices of rye bread
½ cup spreadable cream cheese
8 to 12 slices smoked salmon
16 thin egg slices
3 to 4 tbsp caviar
chopped chives or dill to garnish

Spread the bread slices with the cream cheese. Arrange the salmon slices on top in a clean, single layer. Trim the very outer edges of each bread slice to get clean edges. Cut each bread slice into 4 squares. Top each square with a slice of egg. Top the egg with a small spoon of the caviar and garnish with chopped chives or dill.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Kirsch

Kirsch is a clear, colourless fruit brandy traditionally made from double distillation of morellos, a dark-coloured cultivar of the sour cherry. The German word Kirsch comes from the word karshu, the name given to the first cultivated cherries in Mesopotamia in 8 BC and the liqueur is known as Kirschenwasser (from Kirsche 'cherry' and Wasser 'water'). As morellos were originally grown in the Black Forest region of southern Germany, Kirschwasser is believed to have originated there.

Unlike cherry liqueurs and so-called “cherry brandies,” Kirschwasser is not sweet. The best Kirschwassers have a highly refined taste with subtle flavours of cherry and a slight bitter-almond taste that is derived from the stones. Kirschwasser is colourless because it is either not aged in wood or is aged in barrels made of ash.