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!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

To tempt Hansel and Gretel

For years I have been saying that I will make a gingerbread house from scratch and I've never quite got round to it.  However, this was the year I actually found the time to do it! Rather than using one of my few days off in December to chill out, I (perhaps foolishly) decided to spend the entire day in the kitchen baking gingerbread, making copious amounts of icing, and constructing a gingerbread house.

I followed Mary Berry's gingerbread house recipe and in true Mary Berry style it was easy to follow and make.  Unlike in the shop-bought kits you can get, when you make the gingerbread yourself it turns out sturdy enough to build the house, but still enjoyably soft and tasty.  I made a few alterations to the recipe as my dough came out incredibly dry, meaning I had to add quite a bit of water to make it soft enough and stick together enough to roll and cut out.  I also decided to keep the windows square and as I didn't have a small enough star cutter I left out that part of the design too.

One part I was determined to try was the stained-glass windows made out of boiled sweets.  Simply crush up some boiled sweets (I used rosy apples to get the mottled effect) and when the gingerbread is nearly baked remove it from the oven, sprinkle the crushed sweets into the window gaps and return to the oven.  The sweets should melt and form a thin window pane.

Before assembling the house use icing to stick giant chocolate buttons onto the roof panels to create a tiled effect.  For a house of this size I needed two packets of giant chocolate buttons.  I don't have any photos of the assembly process as I was too preoccupied trying to hold all the components together until the icing was dry enough to do the job on its own.

As well as the buttons and the boiled sweets I also used some silver sugar balls and honeycomb to decorate the house and as I'd already made rather too much icing I used the extra as added snow around the joints on the house.  I also had extra gingerbread which I rolled out and cut out into stars before baking and icing.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

New Beginnings

With the craziness of December over and a somewhat more relaxed January to look forward to I've finally found some time to get back to blogging.  In this post I've decided to take a look back over my year, it's had its ups and downs but here are some of the highlights.

My year began with the discovery of one of my now all-time favourite cafes Afternoon Tease. This is a gorgeous little Cambridge-based cafe, perfect for a cuppa and a slice of what must be the best cake in town (my personal favourite is the chocolate Guinness cake).

Having received a subscription to the BBC Good Food Magazine for Christmas I was keen to try out new recipes each month and in February I made the perfect meal for two - pan-fried trout with mixed salad, bacon, almonds and beetroot.  This made the perfect Valentine's day meal and went really well with a bottle of Bacchus from the Chapel Down Winery followed by a favourite dessert wine of mine, Royal Tokaji .

March saw me on the road again heading back to Bamberg to revisit some of my favourite places and take a much-needed break from work.  I spent my free time over the Easter holidays cooking, of course brunch featured along with some Easter-themed creations.  In April I also managed to finish my Beekeeper's quilt after months of hard work.


With exams looming I didn't manage to do as much cooking as I would have liked in May and June but that didn't stop me from having some foodie fun.  In between writing essays and revising I managed to fit in trips to the first ever Cambridge street food market (Food Park is now a regular feature on the streets of Cambridge) and the main Eat Cambridge event.  This was also when I discovered the best burger I have ever had, courtesy of Steak and Honour.

Despite graduating I couldn't stay away from Cambridge for long and in July I returned just in time to try some of Cambridge Smokeworks incredible slow food done fast.

After an amazing few weeks spent in Disneyland and Vegas, August saw me back in the kitchen and creating some of my best food of the year (even if I do say so myself). My first ever attempts at home-made scotch eggs and macaroons turned out beautifully, as did my rendition of a traditional French tian

With the prospect of leaving home looming on the horizon I spent some time in September learning some essentials from my mum, including how to cook a traditional roast dinner.  Moving to Southampton has been eventful.  In just four months I moved house four times and D and I still haven't managed to move into our more permanent home (here's hoping we'll be settled by February).  What with moving and starting a new job blogging has taken a bit of a back seat.

My blog celebrated it's first birthday in October and I celebrated in style (albeit a little late) with an awesome Halloween-themed fondue.

I may not have found the time to blog in December but that didn't mean I had completely abandoned the kitchen.  Hopefully I'll now have a bit more time to actually write some posts about what I got up to in December but for now here's a sneaky peak.

Apple and Cinnamon Cake
Red Velvet Cake
Gingerbread House
So, a new year, a new job, a new home in a new city, here's to new beginnings and a year as good as the last.