Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The Changing of the Seasons, Jasmine, Beef Stew and Chateau Peynaud

With the cooling of the air it seems as if we will be having an early Autumn here this year. The leaves have already started to turn colour and part of me is sad to see the flowers of Summer disappear. However Autumn is my favourite season so the other part of me is glad. I was asked to write a Beef recipe recently and I thought it would be interesting to combine the scents of Summer with the warmer tones of Autumn to mark the changing of the seasons.

Whilst writing about Scented Geraniums, Gin, Ice Cream and Sparkling Comte de Laube I had spotted a news item on Jasmine flavoured Vodka and thought that Jasmine would be the perfect Summer scented ingredient to combine with my Beef recipe. The Jasmine HR Vodka by the way is made by Maison René Laclie (who were established in 1889) and is the result of cooperation between a Cognac producer and a young perfume designer. This is the first time a French vodka has been blended with Jasmine and it is said to be ideal with Champagne or in cocktails. Apparently the company plan to extend their range to include a Ylang Ylang flavoured vodka in the future. I must admit that the Jasmine Vodka appeals to me but a Ylang Ylang? I'm not so sure.

The French are known for their Jasmine Syrup, most commonly made from an extract of jasmine flowers and Monin is a famous producer. The syrup is used in drinks and cocktails as well as a flavouring in baking, desserts and marshmallows. However I was thinking of using Jasmine Rice in my Beef dish and was surprised to learn that Jasmine Rice does not have any Jasmine in it all.

I had thought that it was flavoured with Jasmine essence but is actually a rice named Hom Mali Rice and is native to Thailand. Grown only in a selected part of the north eastern region of Thailand, this rice is as white as the colour of the Jasmine flower and has the fragrant aroma of Pandan Leaves (which are widely used in Asian cuisine for their botanical and nutty taste). When cooked, Jasmine Rice has a subtle nutty sweetness in its flavour.

As Jasmine is the national flower of Tunisia and Damascus is known as the City of Jasmine I wanted to make a Middle Eastern dish. Beef and Runner Bean Stew is a popular family meal in Egypt, Syria and the Lebanon and the flavours will not overpower the aroma of the Jasmine Rice. Making this dish will also help me to use up the last of our Runner Beans, which despite the drought, are still tender and delicate!

Beef and Runner Bean Stew

1 kg stewing beef
1 kg fresh runner beans3 tbsp tomato purée
3 onions, chopped3 tbsp oilsalt and black pepperpinch of nutmeg
pinch of cinnamon
1 bag Jasmine Rice

Wash, string and cut the runner beans in half. If you don't have any runner beans you can use French beans instead. Fry the onions in oil in a large saucepan until golden. Add the meat and brown. Add the beans and fry very gently until slightly softened. Stir in the tomato purée. Cover with water, season with salt and pepper, and bring to the boil. Cover the pan and simmer gently for about 1 ½ hours until the sauce is quite thick. Add more water if necessary during the cooking time. Serve on a bed of Jasmine rice.

Before cooking the Jasmine Rice should be rinsed. I'd recommend steaming the Jasmine Rice - Thai cooks actually wrap bundles of rinsed rice grains in muslin and suspend them in a steamer so that the rice cooking by steaming, and never touches the water at all. If boiling it use 1 1/2 cups of water to 1 cup of Jasmine Rice.

Nick recommends a well balanced red wine to pair with this dish that will compliment the flavours. Chateau Peynaud 2006 is a cracking Bordeaux Superieur and has notes of cigar box spice, cassis, plum, red fruits and smoke. It is a medium bodied, rich and complex wine and can age for up to 10 years and will go well with all red meats, furred and feathered game, strong cheeses and nut based dishes as well as Indian vegetarian cuisine.


Thursday, 4 August 2011

Scented Geraniums, Gin, Ice Cream and Sparkling Comte de Laube

When we first came to Hillfield House the mature gardens needed a little loving care but there was one plant I could not bear to pull out. It was Herb Robert (we know it as the Headache Flower locally). It is native to the UK and belongs of the Geranium family. Geraniums do particularly well in our gardens here – a little too well in fact! Geraniums and Pelargoniums are related – true Geraniums are often referred to as Cranes Bill due to the shape of their seed head after the flowers fade, whilst Pelargoniums are known as Storks Bill.

Pelargoniums were discovered growing at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa in the early 1600s and Charles I's botanist and chief plant finder John Tradescent (c1570-1638) introduced the plant to England. What we know as Scented Geraniums are actually Pelargoniums and there are many varieties whose leaves smell of rose, lemon, coconut, mint, strawberry, spice, pine and apple. Growing Scented Geraniums became a popular pastime in Victorian England. The Victorians raised the plants in heated greenhouses and this craze continued until 1914 when fuel to heat the greenhouses was banned due to the war, and the practice died away.

Certain Pelargoniums are important in the perfume industry and are cultivated and distilled for their scent. The edible leaves and flowers are also used as a flavouring in desserts, cakes, jellies and teas. I have even spotted a Geranium Gin made by Henrik Hammer: Geranium Premium London Dry Gin. Henrik has been working with gin for many years, hosting gin tastings, seminars and as a judge for the gin category at The International Wine & Spirit Competition. The botanicals are matured for 48 hours and then distilled in 100% pure grain spirit (English Wheat) spirit in a 100 year old copper pot still called ‘Constance’ at Langley Distillery, Birmingham – a 200 year old family owned gin distillery. Apparently the gin has a delicate taste of juniper, a crisp citrus-rosy aroma from the geranium and exotic notes from eight other botanicals.

I have found a super summer recipe for using Scented Geranium leaves . . . Ice Cream! You can use Rose or Lemon Scented Geranium, whichever you prefer.

Lemon Geranium Ice Cream

300 ml milk
10 - 12 Lemon Scented Geranium leaves, crushed
3 egg yolks
100 g icing sugar
300 ml whipping cream
Lemon Scented Geranium leaves, to decorate

Add the milk and geranium leaves to a pan and bring almost to the boil. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 30 minutes. Remove the geranium leaves. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl until pale and frothy. Stir in the milk, then strain back into the pan. Cook the custard gently over a low heat, stirring continuously, until it coats the back of a wooden spoon. Do not boil.

Pour into a shallow freezer container, cool, then cover and freeze for 2 hours, until mushy. Whip the cream until stiff, then fold into the semi frozen custard. Return to the freezer container and freeze for a further 2 hours. Remove from the freezer and place the mixture into a chilled bowl and beat well again. Return to the freezer and freeze until firm. Transfer to the refrigerator to soften for 30 minutes before serving. Decorate with geranium leaves.

Sparkling wine would be a great accompaniment to this dessert and Comte de Laube is a good choice. It is made from grapes grown in the South West of France and the vineyards of the Loire Valley. This is an elegant and delicate sparkling wine fizzing with fine, long lasting bubbles. Made from a blend of Chardonnay, Folle Blanche, Ugni Blanc and Chenin Blanc Comte de Laube has subtle notes of lemon, toasted almonds, greengage, apple and broom blossom. On the palate, it reveals slight floral touches of quite surprising finesse. The finish is pleasantly and very slightly fruity.


Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Saffron, a Recipe and M de Malle

Having discovered Saffron Gin recently I was surprised to learn that you can grow saffron here in the UK. England was a major saffron producer in the 14th century during the reign of Edward III. The price rocketed as saffron based medicines were thought to protect against the Black Death. It's thought that the saffron came to England via Rhodes as the Moors introduced saffron to France in AD 732.

Saffron was cultivated throughout Norfolk, Suffolk and south Cambridgeshire as well as Essex. The town of Saffron Walden got its name as a saffron growing and trading centre. Its name was originally Cheppinge Walden and the name was changed to show the importance of the crop to the local area; and today the town's arms feature crocus blooms.

During the 16th and 17th centuries many people holding a small amount of land planted saffron as a cash crop. You can still see vestiges of our saffron producing past in place names such as Saffron Hill in East London, where the plant was grown for over 500 years. British saffron was produced at a farm in Wrexham in north east Wales up until the late 1990s but now many people are growing it themselves. Apparently the flavour of home-grown saffron is mellower and richer than that grown in a hotter climate. Suttons sell the saffron crocus, Crocus sativus, and it can survive well here as it is tolerant to summer heat and winter cold.

Saffron has a strong perfume and a metallic, honey-like taste that some people say reminds them of sweet hay. The recipe that I thought would go best is Rabbit With Saffron but if you don't want to use rabbit you could use chicken.

Rabbit with Saffron

1 large rabbit cut into pieces
10 saffron threads
4 small leeks
30 cl dry white wine
20cl single cream
1 chicken stock cube
Dijon Mustard
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter

Chop the leeks into small strips (I like to use the green as well as the white parts). Brown the rabbit pieces in a mixture of oil and butter. Sprinkle the rabbit pieces with flour. Add the wine, 20cl of water and chicken stock cube. Then add the sliced leeks. Bring to a boil, then cook over low heat for one hour.

Then, in a bowl, mix the cream, mustard and parsley together. Add the saffron. Pour the sauce into the pan containing the rabbit and simmer for 10 minutes at very low heat.

This will pair beautifully with M de Malle. It's a lovely wine: bold, brilliant green tinted gold with hints of white blossoms, passion fruit, quince, spice and a good burst of lemon acidity. M de Malle is made in the Graves vineyards of the Sauternes Second Growth Château de Malle, owned by the Comtes de Bournazel who have 400 years of wine making experience – it really is wine with a touch of class! It's also good with chicken, duck, pork, feathered game such as guinea fowl and pheasant, salmon, seafood, creamy pasta dishes and soft cheeses.