Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Sauternes and Christmas

Snow is forecast and I am starting to tick items off my Christmas shopping list. This time of year I always think of the old poem: “Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat, Please to put a penny in the old man's hat; If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do, If you haven't got a ha'penny then God bless you!” We are not having goose this year and I have had an odd request for Kangaroo Steaks on Christmas Eve which I am not sure about! What I am sure about though is my cheese board and what we are having with it. Stilton is a “must” and so is Sauternes.

Before the First World War it was traditional to accompany roasts and other banquet dishes with Sauternes - the rage for dry whites dates from the 1920's. Traditionally Sauternes are paired with desserts, crystallised fruits and chocolate but Sauternes can accompany rich dishes such as Confit de Canard very well indeed. Sauternes can also be paired with fish such as monk fish, prawns, scallops and sea bass as well as cheese. Chicken is very often served with Sauternes and creamy sauces made with ginger, honey and spices bring out the fragrance of the wine.

Stilton is smooth and creamy with an acidic flavour. It is the perfect cheese to drink with Sauternes - if you are eating Stilton with biscuits and you are looking for a wine, then Stilton needs one with a depth of flavour. Château de Sainte Hélène (£15.49) is a great match for Stilton - it's the second wine of the Second Growth (2ème Cru) Château de Malle, owned by the Comtes de Bournazel who have 400 years of wine making experience. Sainte Hélène has the creamy sweet taste of honeysuckle, orange peel, apricots, cinnamon and honey.

Did you know that there are over a million Stilton cheeses sold a year and that a third of Stilton’s annual sales are made in run up to Christmas totalling up to 2,500 tons in the UK alone. Last year the Stilton Cheese Makers Association was searching for a broker to insure their cheese graders (of which there are only 21 in the world) against damage to their acutely trained senses of smell and taste as the traditional winter colds kicked in. The graders, highly trained cheese specialists who determine that every Blue Stilton produced meets exact prescribed standards of taste and texture, will have combined noses worth a potential £1,000,000 - that’s a whopping £25,000 per nostril!

The Comtes de Bournazel have been making wine for a century longer than the cheese makers have been making Stilton. Stilton is relatively young compared to some British cheeses having first been made in the 18th century. Stilton is still made in much the same way as it was when Daniel Defoe, writing in his “Tour through England & Wales” in 1727, remarked that he “. . . passed through Stilton, a town famous for cheese." And yet, Stilton was never made in the town of Stilton!

Stilton is situated about 80 miles north of London on the old Great North Road. In the 18th century, the town was a staging post for coaches travelling from London to York. Horses would be changed and travellers served light refreshments at one of the hostelries in the town. Cooper Thornhill, an East Midlands entrepreneur, was landlord at the famous Bell Inn and it was he who introduced these travellers to a soft, creamy, blue veined cheese which subsequently took its name from the town.

Whilst thinking of food pairings for Stilton I came across this fabulous recipe in the Daily Mail for Olive Oil and Sauternes Cake with Lavender Icing. It looks delicious and I love the idea of lavender flowers with Sauternes so this is one recipe I will definitely be making!

5 eggs separated plus 2 extra whites
150g golden caster sugar
finely grated zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon
125g plain flour sifted
½ tsp sea salt
125ml Sauternes
125ml olive oil
150g icing sugar
juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp lavender flowers
purple food colouring

Preheat the oven to 190C/170C fan/375F/gas 5. Butter a 20cm x 9cm-deep loose-bottom cake tin and line the base with baking paper.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff using a hand-held electric whisk, then whisk in half the sugar a tbsp at a time, whisking well with each addition.

In another large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and the remaining sugar together for about 3 minutes until almost white and moussey, then fold in the zest. Fold in the flour in about three goes, and the salt, then blend in the Sauternes in several goes, and finally the oil.

Now fold the whisked egg whites into the mixture in three goes. Pour into the prepared tin, bake for 20 minutes, then turn the oven down to 170C/150C fan/325F/gas 3 and bake for 20 minutes longer. Turn the oven off, cover the surface of the cake with a circle of buttered baking paper and leave to rest in the oven for another 10 minutes.

Remove the cake from the oven, run a knife around the collar and turn it out on to the cling film.

Leave to cool completely, when the cake will shrink (it's meant to be quite rustic-looking) then turn it back up the right way. The cake will keep well for a couple of days, wrapped in foil or cling film.

To make the Lavender Icing juice a lemon and infuse the juice with 1 tsp lavender flowers. Make an icing with 150g icing sugar and about 3 tbsp of the strained lemon juice. Using food colouring, tint the icing pale lavender and drizzle over the cake, letting it trickle down the sides

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Quince for Christmas

The one tree that we do not have in the orchard is a Quince but I was lucky enough to be presented with a basket of them by a neighbour. They are an odd fruit but they have an intoxicating exotic perfume that makes them well worth using in cooking. They look like a squat, fat, misshapen pear and are too sour to eat raw - and if you tried you would probably break your teeth as they are really hard. However once cooked they are heavenly!

The quince is actually part of the rose family, Rosaceae, that includes pears and apples. The tree is small compared to other fruit trees (usually only about 12 to 20 feet in height) and has beautiful blossoms in the spring. If you cooking with quince it's best to discard the seeds as they are toxic (like apple pips) if a large quantity is eaten.

The homeland of the quince lies between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea, a mountainous region called the Caucasus that touches northern Turkey and Iran as well as Southern Georgia. The ancient Greeks used the quince at weddings and the Roman writer Pliny mentioned it when he described the Mulvian variety, a cultivated quince, as the only one that could be eaten raw. The Roman cookbook of Apicius gives recipes for stewing quince with honey, and even combines them with leeks. Apparently the quince was actually cultivated prior to the apple and reference to the apple in the story of Adam and Eve may not have been an apple at all but might have been a quince instead.

Charlemagne was partly responsible for introducing the quince into France with his orders in the year 812 to plant trees in the royal garden. Chaucer mentioned the quince in 1232 using the name coines, a word that comes from the French word for quince, coing. It's thought to have been brought to Britain after the Norman Conquest of 1066 and is known to have been a favourite fruit of King Edward I as he ordered 4 quince trees to be planted around the Tower of London in 1275.

Quinces are used to make jam, jelly and can be roasted, baked or stewed. The flesh of the fruit turns red after a long cooking time. The very strong perfume means they can be added in small quantities to apple pies and jam to enhance the flavour. In fact Marmalade was originally a quince jam and the word is derived from "marmelo," the Portuguese word for this fruit. Orange marmalade didn't arrive on the scene until 1790 when it was created in Scotland in Dundee.

In France from the15th century to the present, Cotignac d'Orleans (a clear gel made from boiled quince juice and sugar) is set into small wooden boxes to form confections. These treats were originally presented to French royalty in honour of their visit to cities and outlying villages. Cotignac is still available in some areas of France and is known by other names in Spain and the Middle East. When Joan of Arc arrived in Orleans in 1429 to liberate the French from the English, she received the honoured gift of cotignac.

The English, during the 16th and 17th centuries, delighted in preparing many variations of quince preserves which they called quidoniac, quiddony, marmelade or Paste of Genoa. The preserves formed a thick paste that could be shaped into animals or flower forms. Though the quince paste is rarely found in England today, a coarse version, called membrillo, is a favourite treat presently served along with cheese in Spain.

Wine and cider can be made from the quince. The wine was popular when quinces were very common in Britain in the 19th century, the wine reputed to benefit asthma sufferers. In the Alsace region of France and the Valais region of Switzerland Liqueur de Coing is made from quince and used as a digestif. In the Balkans and elsewhere quince brandy is made.

I split my quinces into two batches – one of which I stewed with some sugar to add to apple crumbles (you can also make a quince sauce which is traditionally served with roast partridge – or use as a glaze with roast ham). I intend to use the rest with a meat dish (this used to popular in Medieval England). Moroccan cuisine incorporates the quince in its highly seasoned tagines which are stew-like combinations of meats and dried fruits often spiced with cinnamon and cloves. However I have found a Greek recipe that I think would be great over the Christmas break.

Kydonato Kreas

(Kydonia - or Cydonia - is the name of the ancient city of Chania in Crete (founded by King Cydon, son of Hermes and of the daughter of King Minos) – quinces were once known as Kydonian Apples as the best quinces were thought to originate there, hence their Latin botanical name of Cydonia oblonga.)

1 kg beef (brisket would do)
1 cup olive oil
1 kg quinces cut in small pieces
salt and pepper
3 sticks cinnamon
1 chopped onion
1 chopped clove garlic
1 can tomato puree

Cut the beef in small portions and stew them for an hour to soften. Then strain them. In a casserole, sauté the chopped onion and the garlic and then add the pieces of beef. Once it is sautéed, add the tomato puree, pepper, cinnamon and some water. Leave it for a while to boil. If it is necessary, add some water. Half an hour before the meat is ready, add the pieces of quince, salt and more water. Leave the meat to stew until the quinces are soft. You can serve this dish with fried potatoes, rice or pasta.


Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Bonfire Night

With Bonfire Night falling this Friday I began looking for Firework Wines and the nearest I could come up with were DolceVita wines from Brazil with labels designed by Romulo Castilho which feature fireworks. I was quite surprised that given the diversity of modern wine labels out there I could not find more!

Rather than Mulled Wine this year I thought we would have a Hot Punch and this recipe is as delicious as it is warming:

12 lumps Sugar
2 Oranges
8 Cloves
1 tsp Ground Nutmeg
1 stick Cinnamon
4 tbsp Water
2 Lemons
1 3/4 pints Cider
3 fl oz Rum
3 fl oz Brandy

Rub the sugar over the zest of one of the oranges and remove the zest. Cut this orange in halves, squeeze out the juice and put into a pan with the sugar. Cut the other orange into 8 sections, stick a clove into the skin of each section and sprinkle with the nutmeg. Add to the pan with the cinnamon, water and rind of the lemons cut into strips. Heat gently until the sugar dissolves and then simmer for 5 mins. Leave to cool and remove the cinnamon, pour in the cider and heat until really hot, but not boiling. Serve.

I have found out some facts about Bonfire Night that I hadn't heard of before. Did you know that until 1959, it was illegal not to celebrate the date of Guy Fawkes arrest in England? Also as late as 1998, the death penalty still existed in peacetime for the crimes of treason and piracy with violence in England and Wales? The guy on top of your bonfire was not originally put there to commemorate Guy Fawkes as you would think but Pope Paul V, who after the Gunpowder Plot refused to allow Catholics to take the oath of allegiance to the Crown. So, presumably, the traditional cry of 'Penny for the guy, mister?' was never uttered by children until relatively recently.

Centuries ago children were allowed free rein at this time as the night before Guy Fawkes' Night was known as Mischief Night, when groups of young children roamed their neighbourhood looking for mischief and playing pranks. Children would also blacken their faces as Guy Fawkes might have done when he waited to blow up Parliament. The bonfire was originally known as a 'bone fire', to signify the 'bones' of the effigy. However, bonfires had been burnt at this time of year long before Guy Fawkes' day as they were an essential part of Halloween, which falls less than a week earlier.

The ritual of fireworks is inextricably linked with Guy Fawkes' Night, but their origin is 6th-century China where, it is said, a cook had accidentally mixed and lit three common kitchen ingredients (potassium nitrate or saltpetre, sulphur and charcoal) within a bamboo shoot. (They don’t like common kitchen ingredients to me!) The first recorded fireworks in England were at the wedding of King Henry VII in 1486. They became very popular during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, and have been a tradition of Guy Fawkes' Night since 1677.

In Ottery St Mary, Devon, thousands congregate to watch barrels full of burning tar first being carried and then rolled up and down the streets and through the main square, an ancient tradition possibly pre-dating the Gunpowder Plot and more relevant to the ritual burning of witches. In many places you will find torchlight processions and bell-ringing (5 November is also known as Ringing Night), and at the State Opening of Parliament one of the annual ceremonies is the searching of the cellar by men in early-17th-century costumes.

We will be having a small family party but there are some great organised events around this weekend. However you celebrate Bonfire Night I hope you have fun and be safe!