Friday, February 27, 2015

Food to fall in love with

Well, better late than never!  Everyone has their Valentine's traditions, mine involve a quiet night in, a nice bottle of wine and a home-cooked dinner.  Having saved a bit of money I decided to splash out on the food this year (although it was still a lot cheaper than eating out in a restaurant).  So here's my recipe for a wonderful Valentine's Day meal, food to really fall in love with.

I've gone for a classic surf  'n' turf dish - rump steak with seared scallops with a rich Champagne butter sauce, prosciutto-wrapped asparagus and sweet potato wedges.

Surf  'n' Turf
I went shopping a couple of days early this year to make sure I could get all the ingredients I needed for my meal so that I wouldn't have to panic-buy anything on the day.

The ingredients
 This recipe took a lot of planning because of all the different components so in the afternoon I sat down with a lovely glass of bubbles to write down everything that needed doing and to work out timings.

Recipe planning
I raided my wine stash for Valentine's Day this year and found some great goodies.  Because a romantic evening wouldn't be complete without some bubbles I got out a bottle of Bouvet-Ladubay Saumur Demi-Sec.  I love anything sweet so this was perfect! It's a sparkling wine from the Loire made with Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay in the traditional method - basically it's made in the same way as Champagne just using slightly different grapes and in a different region.  And for the finishing touch I added a strawberry to the glass.

On to the cooking!  For two generous portions you will need:

  • some olive oil for frying
  • 2 sweet potatoes
  • some rosemary (fresh is better but dried works too)
  • salt and pepper for seasoning
  • 12 asparagus spears
  • 6 slices of prosciutto
  • 2 steaks (I went for rump)
  • 8 scallops (frozen work as well as fresh - just remember to defrost them)
  • 80ml of Champagne/fizz
  • lemon juice
  • a small onion/a couple of shallots
  • 3 tbsps butter
This takes about an hour to prepare and cook.

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6/200 degrees C.  I started by washing the sweet potatoes, making sure to get all the dirt off as I wasn't going to peel them.  Then I chopped them into wedges before putting them in an oven-proof dish, tossing them in about tbsps of olive oil and seasoning them with plenty of salt, pepper and rosemary.  I used dried rosemary but fresh would be better (use about 3 generous sprigs).  40 minutes before serving pop the wedges into the oven (don't forget to turn them every 15 minutes or so).

Sweet potato wedges - ready for the oven
I used the next few minutes to finish off some preparation (measuring out the fizz and the butter, juicing the lemon and dicing the onion).  Now on to the asparagus.  Once it's washed, cut each of the 6 slices of prosciutto in half so you have 12 strips.  Place a prosciutto slip onto a chopping board at a 45 degree angle.  Place the end of an asparagus spear onto one end of the prosciutto and roll it up.

12 perfect bacon-wrapped asparagus spears
The last 15 minutes are the most hectic.  Fry the onion, add the Champagne and about 1 1/2 tsps lemon juice and boil for 3 minutes to reduce it down to around 2 tbsps of liquid.  Remove the pan from the heat and add the butter, whisking constantly until the butter is incorporated.  Set to one side.

Reduce the sauce
Now fry the asparagus - it should only need 1-2 minutes on each side.  Just keep rotating them so they cook through evenly.  Set to one side.

Fry the asparagus to brown the prosciutto
Season the scallops and using the same pan fry them, once again just a couple of minutes on each side.  At the same time use a griddle pan (or a George Foreman grill) to cook the steaks, they won't need long especially if you like them rare.

Fry the scallops
 Now all you need to do is plate everything up and enjoy! You can also garnish the dish with some parsley if you fancy giving it some extra colour.

We enjoyed this meal with a gorgeous white Burgundy, Bourgogne Les Setilles Oliver Leflaive 2011.  The richness of the wine matched the dish perfectly.  I'm not normally a huge fan of oaked Chardonnays but this one wasn't too heavily oaked and I really enjoyed it as a result.

There you have it, my perfect Valentine's Day meal.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A little crumb of heaven

Back in December, for no reason in particular, I decided to do a bit more baking.  I am very fond of apple cakes and having never made one myself, I decided it was high time I did.

apple and cinnamon cake with maple cream cheese frosting
I found the recipe for this lovely cake on a blog called 'Drizzle and Dip', needless to say I found the promise of a maple cream cheese frosting particularly enticing!

My initial mistake was to buy way cooking apples!  The recipe called for four apples but I mistakenly bought cooking apples and I ended up barely using one of them.  Oops.

Dice the apple
After dicing the apple I whipped up a cake batter mixing plain flour, some cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, sunflower oil, caster sugar, vanilla extract, eggs and lemon zest.  Once the ingredients were combined I folded in the diced apple.  I could actually have added a little more but I erred on the side of caution!

The recipe says it needs between an 75 and 90 minutes in the oven but I would suggest baking it for fifty minutes then testing it with a skewer.  If it comes out clean then remove the cake from the oven as you'll burn the bottom and it will go really dry if you leave it in for the full time.

Let the cake cool
Don't try putting the frosting on until the cake is cool as it's a mixture of butter, muscavado sugar, maple syrup and cream cheese which is quite runny.  I'd definitely advise using an electric mixer to beat the icing together, I didn't have one and although it came out nicely my arm ached for quite a while afterwards!

I cut the cake in half and put about a third of the frosting in the centre and the rest on top.  If you want to put more in the middle I'd suggest making extra as you want enough for a nice even layer on top.  Leave the icing to set before dusting with icing sugar (or a little more cinnamon).

If you want to make this rich dessert even more decadent you could have it with some dessert wine.  I had it with some Maury Solera 1928, a deep, rich dessert wine with lovely nutty flavours.  That said, this is a delicious treat in its own right!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Some very British bubbles

Today I was lucky enough to be invited to a tour and tasting at Hattingley Valley winery in Hampshire.  To those who are still dismissive of English Sparkling Wine, I simply say, where's your sense of adventure?  For those willing to explore this growing category of wine there are some absolute gems to be found.

We started off with a tour of the winery, modest-looking from the outside, it was actually a much larger operation than I expected.  Hattingley Valley is a relatively young winery, founded in 2008 they grow the traditional grapes used in Champagne, namely; Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.  They produced their first wine in 2010 and have been going from strength to strength since, now producing 4 different sparkling wines, all made according to the traditional Champagne method.  They achieve their unique style of wine by fermenting a small proportion of their wine in oak barrels each year, as well as ageing it on lees in stainless steel tanks.

After the tour came my favourite part, the tasting.  We naturally started off with the Classic Cuvee which was enjoyable but not my favourite wine of the tasting.  We moved onto the Blanc de Blancs, made with 100% Chardonnay.  This was for a short time my favourite wine of the tasting, with a distinct flavour of green apple and citrus the wine was fresh and fruity which balanced the acidity nicely, perfect for a celebration.

However, a few minutes later the Blanc de Blancs was surpassed by the Kings Cuvee as my favourite.  The wine used to make up this blend has all been fermented in oak barrels, giving it a unique taste.  Normally, only a small proportion of the wine in a blend would be aged in oak barrels meaning you would only get a subtle hint of that oakiness in the flavour.  The only downside is that at £65 a bottle, the Kings Cuvee is rather out of my price range.

Finally, we were given a sample of a wine which they are still experimenting with.  Having grown some Bacchus Hattingley Valley are trying out a dessert wine in the style of an ice wine.  This was right up my street, there were notes of elderflower and peach and the wine was not overly sweet and cloying, like some dessert wines can be.  I hope to see more where that came from in the future!

Unfortunately the Rose was so popular they didn't have any left for tastings!  They've certainly left me wanting more.

If you want to find out more about Hattingley Valley check out their website, or follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

My Top Ten Kitchen Essentials

For those of you who, like me, don't have access to a fully-stocked kitchen, here are my ten essentials which will enable you to cook pretty much anything.

While at university I had a small kitchen with limited equipment, meaning what I had, had to be versatile.  This was taken to the extreme when I moved to Germany for a year with just two suitcases.  In that year I learnt that you really don't need masses of fancy equipment, it sure does make life easier, but it is by no means essential.

So here you go, my ten kitchen essentials:
  1. A plate - this is without a doubt one of the most important things you'll need.  You can use it not only to eat off but also as a chopping board and preparation surface.  During my time in Germany I didn't have a work surface, just a ridged draining board, meaning I needed my plate for pretty much all food preparation as it was the only flat surface I had.
  2. A bowl - the bowl should be large enough to hold a can of soup.  Great for mixing ingredients, beating eggs and generally holding anything for which a plate it too flat.
  3. A can opener - on the topic of soup, this really is a must.  You can force your way into most packaging but cans really are a nightmare without a can opener, especially as they don't always have ring pulls.  Given how many of my basic ingredients come in cans (since they last a lot longer in this form meaning I waste less) a can opener is definitely high on my list of essentials.
  4. Cutlery - this is technically three items; a knife, a fork and a spoon, but they tend to come as a set.  They are also useful for more than just eating.  For example, a spoon can be used to mix ingredients while a fork can be used to beat eggs (although I would not advise trying meringues without a whisk or mixer). 
  5. A vegetable peeler - I know that you can peel veg with a knife but I always find I waste way more when I do, so this is another item which I couldn't live without.  You can also use it to cut very fine strips of veg such as carrots and courgettes when making salads and side dishes to add a bit of interest.
  6. A mug/cup - essential when you want a drink and with many other uses besides.  If you don't have access to a set of scales then a mug is a life-saver.  Ok so you can estimate how much of an ingredient you need but with a mug you can be a little more accurate.  I knew the volume of my mug as I acquired it from a Christmas market meaning the 200ml line was marked on it.  I suggest finding out the volume of your mug if you can (borrow some scales/a measuring jug) as you can then convert quantities into volumes and measure them using your mug.  Alternatively you can use American recipes which do everything by the cup anyway.
  7. A chef's knife - nothing fancy, just a sharp knife which can be used for all forms of prep, from chopping vegetables, to slicing meat.  There is nothing more dangerous than working with a blunt knife so if you're not able to keep your knife sharp yourself just buy a cheap one and replace it when it gets blunt.
  8. A saucepan - so you've got everything you need to prep your food, now onto the actual cooking.  The saucepan doesn't have to be anything fancy, just big enough to prepare your food.  I was also grateful to have one which had a strainer on the lid to make it easier when draining water from food such as pasta (although this isn't essential as a plate can also act as a strainer).
  9. Frying pan - although you can fry things in a saucepan it is useful to have a frying pan, especially if you have two hob rings as it means you can have two elements of your dinner on the go at once and it gives you a bit more flexibility.
  10. A box grater - this would probably be my luxury item.  You never really need to grate things, but I really love grated cheese as it's so much easier to use in sauces and as a topping, so I always like to have a grater to hand.  I've recommended a box grater as it has a different texture on each side meaning you can also use it to grate things more finely, such as lemon zest or garlic, and given that a garlic crusher hasn't made it onto my list this is a very handy tool!
Don't underrate the basics
There you have it, my top ten kitchen essentials.  With these in your cupboard I think you can make a huge variety of recipes.  Remember, just because you've got limited space or money, doesn't mean you can't cook varied and interesting food, you just have to be a little more resourceful.

If you want any other tips on cooking with limited equipment or space just ask me in the comments below.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Rösti - a Swiss hash brown

As you may have realised by now, bruch is one of my favourite meals and Rösti is up there with asparagus and eggs as one of my favourites.  For those of you who don't know, rösti is a swiss version of a hash brown, eaten for breakfast and often served with a fried egg and spinach.  I kept it simple and just went for the rösti and some roasted cherry tomatoes to add a bit of colour (it means you can at least pretend you're being healthy).

Rösti with roasted cherry tomatoes
This was a super simple recipe which makes a perfect brunch for two.  All you need to do is parboil 400g of potatoes (Maris Piper or King Edward potatoes work best), fry half an onion and a crushed garlic clove until soft, followed by a handful of pancetta until it is crispy.  After about 15 minutes strain the potatoes and allow them to steam dry.  Once they're cool enough to handle dice them and mix them in a bowl with a large handful of grated cheese (I would definitely recommend splashing out on some gruyere), a large beaten egg, the onion, garlic and pancetta.  Season at this point and add some parsley too if you fancy.

Frozen herbs are a great way to avoid wasting lots of fresh herbs if you want to use them but can't get through a whole bunch before they go off, as they keep for ages and you can defrost as much or as little as you need.  Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a medium frying pan and tip in the potato mixture before pressing it down with a spatula.  Fy over a medium heat for 15 minutes (the bottom should be golden brown, although be careful not to break the rösti when checking).  Tip the rösti onto a plate then slide it back into the frying pan, cooked side up.  Fry for another 15 minutes and serve with some roasted cherry tomatoes (just drizzle some oil over the tomatoes in a baking dish and roast them in an oven pre-heated to a medium heat while you're cooking the rösti).

Perfect for sharing
Now isn't that just the tastiest thing you've seen all day?  Go on, you know you want to try it!