Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Top Ten Wines, Recipes and Stories for 2010

It's traditional at this time of year to look back at what has gone before and reflect so I thought I would highlight some of the miles we have travelled in the world of wine and food over 2010:

Top 10 Recipes

Sauternes and Christmas: Olive Oil and Sauternes Cake With Lavender Icing

Quince for Christmas: Kydonato Kreas

Maury Recipe: Fillet of Pork with Paprika and Maury Cream Sauce

Petits Pâtés de Pézénas: Petits Pâtés

Encornets Farcis from Sète: Encornets Farcis

Cherry Burgers

Chinese Dishes – Pigs Cheeks, Rose Liqueur and Char Siu: Pig Cheek Char Siu

Muscat Recipes: Bream in Muscat Sauce

Muscat Recipes: Melon and Muscat Gratina

Sweet Onion Tart

Top Ten Wines and Their Stories

Wine from the Côtes de Gascogne and a New Discovery! I was so pleased that this story came in top of the list as it is about my new favourite wine: Sancet! The Côtes de Gascogne were a new discovery for Nick and myself - I had a lot of fun finding out about the AOC and its grapes and I am pleased you enjoyed discovering it with me too!

Chateau Palmer and an Unusual White Bordeaux. A rare white wine produced by Chateau Palmer in the 1920s.

Madiran – the Pilgrim's Wine. The wines of Madiran in Gascony that were known as the pilgrims’ wine, referring to the pilgrims who walked the famous pilgrims’ path Camino de Santiago to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in Spain ever since the 11th century.

Blanquette de Limoux. Sparkling wines from the Pyrenean foothills, just south of the town of Carcassonne. This wine pre-dates the making of Champagne by about 150 years – local folk lore says that Dom Pérignon was a monk here before moving to the Champagne region and took the secret with him.

Muscat de Saint Jean de Minervois. One of the finest Muscats from Minervois which owes its name to Minerva the Roman goddess of wisdom Wine has been produced here since the Romans first settled there.

Chateau Les Eymeries. A Merlot based Claret which comes from the little village of Margueron which lies on the borders of 3 departements: the Gironde, the Dordogne and the Lot et Garonne – not too far from Agen, which is famed for its plums.

Irouléguy and its Wines. Amazing wines from the Basque country – with which we have more in common than we think!

Jurançon Wines. Wines with a Royal connection - Henri of Navarre (Henry IV) was born in 1553 at Château de Pau near Jurançon. When he was christened he had his lips rubbed with a clove of garlic and moistened with a drop of Jurançon wine from which he allegedly derived great vigour and a fervent spirit which were never to leave him!

Discovering Bordeaux Wines. Unusual Bordeaux wines made with a single grape variety.

Banyuls. Delicious sweet wines from the most southerly appellation in France.

I hope you enjoyed reading the Blogs as much as I enjoyed writing them! I am looking forward to what 2011 will bring but in the meantime both Nick and I wish you a Very Happy New Year!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Christmas Past: of Gingerbread and Sugar Plums

This year for the first time in 372 years a total lunar eclipse fell on the winter solstice and it made me think about what Christmas would have been like in 1638 . . . after all it's the memories of Christmas Past that make us look forward to Christmas each year. Being snowed in at the moment I have turned my hand to baking and as every one is home I have a varied assortment of helpers and “tasters” wafting in and out of the kitchen. I have found an interesting old recipe from the 1600s for Gingerbread which uses claret! (If you would like to see some more recipes for Christmas Sweets, Treats and Recipes check out the Wine and Christmas tag on my Blog).


A Manchet (or manchette) is a bread that was small enough to be held in the hand or glove. These were luxury breads which contained ingredients that were only available to the wealthy at the time and were often served at Court. Manchets would sometimes be sweetened by the addition of scented ingredients such as rose water, nutmeg and cinnamon. Here is the recipe in old English:

“Take three stale Manchets, and grate them: dry them, and sift them through a fine sieve: then add one ounce of Ginger being beaten, and as much Cinamon, one ounce of Liquorice and Anniseeds beeing beaten together, and searced, halfe a pound of sugar; then boil all these together in a posnet, with a quart of claret wine, till they come to a stiff paste with often stirring of it; and when it is stiffe, mould it on a table, and so drive it thin, and put it in your moulds: dust your moulds with Cinamon, Ginger, and Liquorice, being mixed together in fine powder. This is your Gingerbread used at the Court, and in all Gentlemens houses at festival times.”

The modern version is:

1 cup of honey
½ tsp powdered ginger
pinch ground cloves
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of ground liquorice
2 cups of dry bread crumbs
1 tbsp of anise seeds

Gently heat the honey and add all the spices except the anise seeds and stir to blend. Add the bread crumbs and mix thoroughly, cover and cook over a medium heat for 15 minutes so that the mixture becomes thick and moist.
Place the Gingerbread on a large sheet of waxed paper. Fold up the sides of the paper and mould the dough into small rectangle shapes. Sprinkle anise seeds on the top and press them gently into the dough with the side of a knife. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Sugar Plums are another old fashioned treat and there are three trains of thought as to what they actually were. I had never encountered one before and only knew of them via the Sugar Plum Fairy in Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker ballet. Some believe that they were a comfit (which is a confection that contains a seed or a nut that has been coated with several layers of sugar. Caraway seeds were often used because they left the breath sweet). Others believe that they were nuts that were inserted into dried fruits which were then sugared and wrapped in coloured foils. The most popular belief is that they were a small, round treat made from dried fruit and spices, shaped like a small plum.

Sugar Plums

6 oz toasted almonds
4 oz dried plums
4 oz apricots and figs
¼ tsp anise seeds
¼ tsp fennel seeds
¼ tsp caraway seeds
¼ tsp cardamom
¼ cup confectioners sugar
¼ honey
pinch of salt
1 cup sugar

Chop the almonds, dried plums, apricots and figs in a food processor. Toast the anise seeds, fennel seeds and caraway seeds. Add the toasted seeds, cardamom, confectioners sugar, salt, honey in a bowl and mix together. Form into ¼ ounce balls and dry overnight, covered with a towel. After drying, roll the balls in your hand to warm and coat in sugar.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Christmas Cocktails and Victorian Hot Punch

Having written about Rose flavoured drinks for Christmas I was really pleased to receive an email on behalf of Hendrick's Gin. For the festive season they have partnered with Purl, London’s newly opened eclectic cocktail bar in the heart of Marylebone, to create The Hendrick’s Purl. This is a take on an old gin cocktail recipe (heated beer, gin, sugar and ginger) served in Victorian times. For those of us who can't make it to London (Purl will be serving the Hendrick’s Purl until the end of January) they have kindly sent me the recipe so that we can make it at home. For those who would like to visit Purl you can find it at Purl London, 50/54 Blandford St, W1U 7HX.

The Hendrick’s Purl

150ml Hendrick's Gin
1 litre of good quality hoppy ale
200ml cloudy apple juice
5 slices of satsuma
1 cinnamon stick
90g sugar
5g hops
2 cloves
1 dessert spoon honey
2 large splashes of Angostura Bitters
1 whole star anise

Heat ingredients in a pan. Simmer for 20 minutes then strain the hops out and serve with satsuma slices and a stick of cinnamon to garnish. Serves 6 people.

You can find Hendrick's Gin (£22.75 for a 70cl bottle) at Sainsbury’s Waitrose, Peckham’s and Harvey Nichols. As I mentioned in my earlier blog Hendricks is a most unusual gin as it uses a hint of Bulgarian Rose with cucumber essence. It is distilled in Scotland, in tiny batches of only 450 litres at a time. Hendrick's is the only gin made in a combination of a Carter-Head and copper pot still.

It is made by William Grant & Sons - an award-winning, independent, family-owned distiller founded by William Grant in 1886 and still controlled by the fifth generation of his family. The Company distils some of the world’s leading brands of Scotch whisky, including the world’s favourite single malt Glenfiddich, the hand crafted range of The Balvenie single malts and the world’s fourth largest blended Scotch Grant’s, as well as selected other spirits, including Tulliore Dew and Sailor Jerry. I must admit I have never heard of a hot punch that uses hops before and I can't wait to try it. You can buy hops from hops2brew who are third generation farmers in Herefordshire by the 100g bag. We are just on the edge of hop growing country here and I used to love the smell coming from the local breweries as a child.

I hadn't realised that hops have only been grown in England since the 1400s. Before this period, brewers used a wide variety of bitter herbs and flowers, including dandelion, burdock root, marigold, horehound, ground ivy, and heather. Apparently hops were introduced here by Dutch traders operating in Kent and Sussex, though they were first used by Bavarian monks in the 8th and 9th Centuries.

Beer became popular in the 16th and 17th centuries - Queen Elizabeth I used to quaff a quart for breakfast, but others used it to drown their sorrows. Mary Queen of Scots had dark beer brought to her at Fotheringhay Castle, before she went to the block. Sir Walter Raleigh enjoyed a beer and a smoke on the morning of his execution.

We also have the Dutch to thank for Gin - the word is an English shortening of Genever, the Dutch word for juniper. The origins of Gin are rather murky but in the late 1580s a juniper-flavoured spirit was found in Holland by British troops who were fighting against the Spanish in the Dutch War of Independence. They gratefully drank it to give them what they soon came to call "Dutch courage" in battle.

If you are hankering after a cocktail this Christmas I have 2 suggestions, both using Hendrick's Gin:

The Hendricks Leaf

In a shaker muddle three wedges of melon and three wedges of cucumber, then add ice, a large (50ml) shot of Hendrick's gin, half a small shot (25ml) of Melon Schnapps and a small shot of sugar syrup. Shake well and strain into a Martini glass.

The Cucumber “Gimlet”

1 ¾ oz Hendrick's Gin
¾ oz Lime Juice
¼ oz Elderflower syrup
1 dash Orange bitters
Float of Champagne

In an ice filled mixing glass, combine ingredients (except Champagne). Shake and strain into cocktail glass (Martini glass). Add float of Champagne. Garnish: Three cucumber slices.


Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Mulled Rosé Wine for Christmas

Whilst looking at Christmas Roses and Rose Water I came across a Rose Petal Vodka made by Lanique. It comes from Lancut in south east Poland and the distillery was founded in 1784 by Princess Izabela Lubomirska (it is one of the oldest distilleries in Poland). on the vast estate of the Lubomirski family. Apparently this is where Pierre (Pyotr ) Smirnoff learnt his trade.

The distillery’s vodkas gained fame throughout Europe and proved to be a great commercial success, winning numerous gold medals and securing many other awards this century.

Unfortunately, with the advent of communism in Central and Eastern Europe, the supply of vodka to bourgeois Western Europe was seriously impeded. With another upheaval after the fall of the Berlin Wall Poland’s distilleries were privatised, and Lanique became the brand name under which Lancut exports to the UK.

The Lanique Rose Petal Vodka is made to a 150 year old recipe and Attar of Roses is the ingredient used to provide the flavour and fragrance. It became a favourite drink of the titled and wealthy of Europe during the 1920’s.

Moving from Vodka to Gin Hendricks is a brand of gin produced by William Grant & Sons in Girvan, Scotland. In addition to the traditional juniper infusion, Hendrick's uses a hint of Bulgarian Rose with cucumber essence. The Rose Valley in Bulgaria, near the town of Kazanlak, is among the major producers of attar of roses in the world. Hendricks Gin is said to have a velvety smooth texture and Hendrick's suggests that the gin be served with tonic over ice garnished with cucumber instead of the traditional lemon or lime.

Hunting further I found that a Rose Petal Schnapps is produced by Trenet in France and the Dijon producer Edmond Briottet makes a Rose Petal Liqueur. I would love to make a hot spiced Christmas punch based on a rose flavoured spirit so if anyone has any ideas please let me know!

I do have a recipe for Mulled Rosé Wine which is fragrant and warming (a must in this freezing cold weather we are enduring at the moment!). I'd suggest using Chateau Lamothe Vincent Rosé or Clairet de Chateau des Lisennes for their deep flavours.

2 bottles of good Rosé wine
2 sticks cinnamon
1 vanilla pod
4 whole cloves
4 allspice berries
1 pinch of grated nutmeg
¼ pound of sugar
2 handfuls of cranberries

Add all the ingredients into a large saucepan and simmer. Be careful not to boil! You can add more sugar (or honey) to taste if needed.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Christmas Roses

We had snowfall last night and when I peeped out into the eerie silence at 5 this morning the roses were under a blanket. They still have flowers on – albeit frozen ones. These are repeat-flowering old noisette roses that don' mind being hacked back to a stump every year – in fact they seem to thrive on it, sending out clusters of pink flowers way into the cold months. I wish I knew their name but they were part of the mature garden when we came here.

Our friends in Bordeaux have roses growing in the vineyards - you find them nodding in the breeze at the end of the lines of grape vines. Roses and vines have been grown together for centuries as they have much in common. The rose acts as the sentinel of the vine as they are both susceptible to the same diseases. Roses and grapevines are both susceptible to the fungus powdery mildew. In fact, roses are more sensitive than grapevines. Sulphur won't cure powdery mildew, but it can prevent it. So, if a grape grower noticed that one day his roses had powdery mildew, he knew it was immediately time to spray sulphur on his grapes to prevent them from getting the same disease.

Surprisingly there are few roses named after wine making châteaux - there is Rosa Château de Clos Vougeot, named for the 12th century château in Burgundy. Its vineyards were planted by monks and nowadays, protected by a wall of stones, Clos de Vougeot is one of the largest single vineyards in Burgundy and produces grand cru wines.

There is also a Rosa Bordeaux which is grown for its cut flowers. The rose was launched on the market for the first time in August 2005 at the Floraholland flower auction, accompanied by a bottle of Bordeaux!

I have also found a Rosa Claret Cup which is a pretty little rose and one that I might get for the garden.

It's a shame that there are no roses named after Bordeaux châteaux such as the Sauternes First Growth Yquem – just think of the golden petals it could have! I would have thought that Chateau Lafite would have its own rose but the only one I can find is a hybrid tea named Rosa Baronne Edmond de Rothschild – Baron Edmond did play a pivotal role in Israel's wine industry so that is close enough!

The only château I can find that is named for the rose is Chateau Rose du Pont in the Medoc which was named after the large number of perfumed roses planted on both side of an ancient bridge in the village. France itself has a long and romantic history of Rose growing. Rosa Gallica Officinalis was possibly the first cultivated rose and is the first and the most famous of the Gallica roses. The Romans introduced it in Gaul (later to become France) where it assumed the named Rosa Gallica.

Legend has it that Eleanor of Aquitaine, was so jealous of Fair Rosamund, the mistress of her husband (Henry II of England) that she poisoned her and disguised the potion with Attar of Roses. Henry and Eleanor are famous for starting the English love affair with claret as Eleanor brought her favourite wine from Bordeaux with her. A rose was said to have sprouted near Rosamund’s grave from the tears that she spilt – it was named Rosa Mundi after her.

Attar of Roses is the essential oil extracted from the petals of the rose and is a much more concentrated form of Rose Water (a rough conversion is 5ml Rose Essence = 15ml Rose Water). The ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans extracted rose fragrance by steeping flower petals in alcohol, oil or water. In some areas Rose Water is known as "Avicenna," named after a 10th century Persian physician usually credited with its discovery. It spread to England and the rest of Europe via mediaeval Crusaders.

Rose Water is used throughout India and the Middle East for sweets (for example Turkish Delight – see recipe here) and such drinks as lassi and sherbet. Attar of Roses was once made in India, Persia, Syria, and the Ottoman Empire. The Rose Valley in Bulgaria, near the town of Kazanlak, is among the major producers of Attar of Roses in the world. Only three varieties of rose are used in commercial production of rose oil and rose water: Rosa Centifolia, Rosa Damascena and Rosa Gallica.

Thinking of Christmas there is a recipe for Christmas Pudding from Armenia that uses Rose Water. Anoush Abour is more similar to a home made Rice Pudding (which I love) than what we would normally think of as a Christmas Pudding.

The recipe calls for wheat berries which are whole wheat kernels which have had their husks removed. Health food stores and some supermarkets carry wheat berries and depending on the wheat cultivar, the kernels can be tannish to red in colour, and they are available in soft or hard forms. People use wheat berries in salads, add them to breads for extra texture and fibre, or use them as a starch with meals. When people want to prepare wheat berries, it can help to soak them ahead of time, so that they will cook more quickly. These whole grains have a chewy texture which will be retained even if they are slightly overcooked, and a nutty flavour. If you can not find them locally then I suppose you could use either pearl barley or pudding rice but it would not give the same flavour.

Anoush Abour is traditionally served leading up to January 6th- the day Armenians celebrate the Birth of Christ. As the Armenian Orthodox Church still reckons its year by the Julian Calendar, this date (also known as “Old Christmas” in many other parts of the world) has not changed since sometime in the 5th Century, when Armenia became the first nation on earth to embrace Christianity as its state religion.

½ cup wheat berries
1 ½ cups dried fruit e.g. apricots, cherries, dates, raisins, candied ginger
1 ½ quarts of water
1 cup of sugar
2 tbsp Rose Water
almonds or pistachio nuts

Place the wheat berries in a saucepan of water and bring to a boil. Cover and set aside overnight to soak. The next day, set the pan back on the stove and slowly cook over a low heat for 1 ½ to 2 hours. If all the liquid absorbs, add more. Keep cooking until the wheat berries are soft and the starches have made the mixture the consistency of a rice pudding or tapioca.

Add the sugar and the fruit and stir well. Return to a low heat and cook for another 30 minutes, stirring well to make sure that it doesn’t burn. Add the Rose Water.

Spoon the mixture out into a deep bowl, cover and let cool to room temperature. Decorate the top with the almonds or pistachio nuts and serve in small bowls.