Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Almond Water, Orgeat and Cocktails

I spotted recently that Victoria’s Kitchen Almond Water was introduced to the UK last month along with the launch of two new flavours: Almond Water Coconut and Almond Water Liquorice Mint. The company was started by husband-and-wife duo David and Deborah Meniane. Originally from France, Victoria’s Kitchen Almond Water was inspired by David's grandmother's (Victoria), recipe and was named after her. It's a refreshing drink but you can also use it in a variety of cocktails (their website has several good ones here).

Almonds are part of the plum family and are native to North Africa, West Asia and the Mediterranean. Almond Water (sometimes also known as Almond Milk) has been made for centuries throughout these regions. It was a staple in the Medieval kitchen as cow's milk could not be kept for long without spoiling and was usually immediately turned into butter or cheese.

In the UK – where almond trees don't thrive – we used barley instead, hence Barley Water. Robinsons Lemon Barley Water is still the 'official still soft drink' at Wimbledon (having been so since 1934) – and incidentally warm Lemon Barley Water is great for soothing a sore throat.

With the onset of refrigeration the use of Almond Water diminished but syrups and cordials were made using the same process. Orgeat is a sweet syrup made from almonds, sugar and rose water or orange flower water. It's used to flavour coffees, drinks, desserts and many cocktails – the most famous ones being the Mai Tai and the Momisette.


This is a traditional French drink, the name of which literally translates as 'little mummy'.

30ml Pastis
8ml Orgeat
Sparkling Mineral Water

Add pastis and orgeat to a Collins glass, fill with ice and top off with sparkling mineral water.

Mai Tai

Mai Tai is the Tahitian word for good and the Mai Tai cocktail was popularised in the 1950s and 60s in tiki-themed restaurants and bars – it was featured in the Elvis Presley film Blue Hawaii.

40ml White Rum
20ml Dark Rum
15ml Orange Curaçao
15ml Orgeat
10ml Fresh Lime Juice

Shake all ingredients except the dark rum together in a mixer with ice. Strain into a Highball glass and float the dark rum onto the top. Garnish and serve with straw.

You can also add a few splashes of Orgeat to Champagne if you'd like to create a novel aperitif – I'd suggest using a sparkling wine as a less extravagant alternative: Comte de Laube (£8.50) would be a good choice as it has subtle notes of toasted almond and will harmonise beautifully.

There are several producers who offer Orgeat – Torani is based in the USA. In 1925, Rinaldo and Ezilda Torre visited family in Lucca, Italy. The two returned home to their native San Francisco with something very important: handwritten recipes, which they used to create authentic flavored syrups. These syrups helped Rinaldo and Ezilda reintroduce the Italian soda to their North Beach neighbourhood. Today, Torani are a global presence but have remained a family-owned company making over 100 varieties of syrup.

Vedrenne has been making its liqueurs, eaux de vie, brandies and syrups since 1923 in Nuits-Saint-Georges, in the heart of Burgundy in the middle of the burgundian orchards. The company initially won fame with the outstanding quality of its Crème de Cassis and has since gone on to acquire international recognition.


Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Beef Olives and Bordeaux Wine

Beef Olives are delicious and just right for warming us up in this cold weather that just won't go away! They are slow cooked, stuffed beef rolls in a rich sauce and although called Beef Olives they don't contain any olives at all. Beef Olives are an old recipe and 'olives' of Fish and Veal have been around since the 16th century in Britain. I don't know how they acquired their name, perhaps it's because they look a little olive shaped when cooked. Some say their name is a corruption of the regional French version of the dish Alouettes Sans Tête (which does contain olives). Alouettes Sans Tête literally translated means 'larks without heads' so both dishes have strange names!

I have both the British and the French recipes of this dish – the British is easier and simpler to cook whereas the French would make a good dinner party dish.

Beef Olives

Serves 8

675g beef topside cut into 8 thin slices
8 small slices of streaky bacon
1 tbsp flour
1 ½ tbsp olive oil (if you prefer beef dripping use this instead – around 25g)
300ml beef stock
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce


50g breadcrumbs
1 small grated onion
1 ½ tbsp olive oil
1 tsp chopped fresh parsely
1 tsp chopped sage
1 tsp chopped marjoram
freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
1 egg yolk

Mix all the stuffing ingredients together in a bowl and divide into 8 sausage shaped rolls. Beat the slices of beef to flatten them (a rolling pin is ideal for this) and place a slice of bacon and a roll of stuffing on top of each slice of beef. Roll up and tie with a length of kitchen string to make an 'olive'.

Add the oil to a frying pan and place the beef olives in once the oil is hot. Cook until the olives are sealed. Remove the olives from the frying pan and place them into a shallow casserole dish. Return to the frying pan and sprinkle in the flour, cook for 1 minute. Add the beef stock gradually whilst stirring to stop lumps from forming. Add the Worcestershire sauce. When boiling pour over the olives and cover.

Cook in a moderate overn (Gas 4, 350ºF, 180ºC) for about 1 ½ hours until tender. To serve remove the string and place on a serving dish. Pour the sauce over the beef olives.

Alouettes Sans Tête

Serves 8

8 thin slices of beef
8 tsp. Dijon mustard
8 tbsp parsley, chopped
8 garlic cloves, halved
2 thick slices bacon, diced
16 black olives, pitted and roughly chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
2 carrots, finely diced
2 onions, chopped
1 bouquet garni of 6 parsley sprigs, 2 bay leaves, 8 leafy thyme branches, 2 leafy celery sprigs
1 tbsp tomato puree
2 tbsp flour
splash of eau de vie or cognac (optional)
1 cup dry white wine
3 – 4 cups beef stock
kitchen twine
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp additional chopped parsley

To make the rolls: spread each slice of beef with the mustard. Near the wider end, place the halved garlic, cut side down, lengthwise. Add the diced bacon (about 2 tablespoons per roll), 2 chopped olives, and 2 tablespoons chopped parsley. Roll up the slice of meat snugly around the filling. Tie a loop around the roll at each end. Trim any excess.

Heat the oil in a frying pan and brown the rolls on all sides and remove to a plate. Add the chopped onion and carrot along with a healthy pinch of salt and cook in the pan, stirring until softened (about 5 minutes). Add the tomato puree and cook until slightly charry. Return the rolls to the pan, sprinkle with the flour, and stir about gently until flour is no longer visible. Remove from heat. Sprinkle with the eau de vie or cognac (if using) and ignite. Turn the rolls in the flames until they are extinguished. Return to low heat and deglaze with the wine. Bring to a boil. Add 3 cups of stock and stir gently. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat the lowest possible setting.

Cover and simmer, turning the rolls occasionally in the sauce, until very tender when pierced with a knife. This can take up to 3 hours depending on the cut of beef used. Adjust the seasoning, remove the bouquet garni, and delicately snip and remove the twine. Sprinkle with the parsley, and serve immediately.

Wine Pairing

Bordeaux is amongst the traditional wine pairings for Alouettes Sans Tête and Nick recommends it for our Beef Olive version too. There are two superb clarets from the Côtes de Castillon in Bordeaux that would be brilliant with these dishes: Chateau Cap de Faugères 2000 and Chateau Puyanche 2005.

Cap de is Faugères 2000 is from the Chateau Faugères estate and is hailed as one of the up and coming wines from Bordeaux that has got some wine critics quite excited, claiming that it is the beginning of a legend. Being made with a high proportion of Merlot the wines of Cap de Faugères are a luscious velvet style. The wines are full bodied, aromatic and concentrated with blackcurrant, spice, chocolate and floral notes.

Chateau Puyanche 2005 is made by the Arbo family who have been winemakers ince 1900. It’s a dark garnet colour with the aromas of blackberry and plum compotés, leather and spices. Puyanché is a supple, aromatic and complex wine, well balanced and silky and is well worth discovering!