Recipe: Kale linguini with pistachio pesto

Who said pasta couldn’t be nourishing? There’s nothing like a big bowl of steaming, satisfying carby goodness when the temperatures plummet. Green pasta is nothing new – the italians have been knocking up spinach pasta for centuries, but this version uses kale instead and pistachios in a classic pesto mix to up the vibrancy of the green. Plus, if you’re a mega forward planner, just consider that pasta this shade of Elphaba emerald wouldn’t look out of place at next year’s Halloween table.

WARNING: mixing this handmade pasta will make you look like you’ve murdered The Jolly Green Giant barehanded, so make sure you don’t knead your pasta dough on any stainable surfaces, like wood, and wear an apron!

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Ingredients

for the pasta

240g 00 strong pasta flour (you may need a bit extra for sprinkling on the dough as the kale paste makes the mix very wet)
50g kale, blanched and blitzed into a smooth paste with pinch of salt and pepper
3 eggs

for the pesto

100g parmesan, finely grated
100g pistachio nuts
200ml olive oil
bunch of basil
1 garlic clove

Method

    • Start by rinsing the kale, removing any tough stalks and boiling for 5 minutes until tender in salted water. Blitz in a food processor with a tablespoon of the cooking liquor until smooth. Set aside to cool completely.
    • Pour the pasta flour onto a clean work surface and make a well in the middle. Crack the eggs into the well and, using a fork, gently begin to mix into the flour working from the middle out. When you’ve formed a rough dough, pour on your cold kale paste and prepare to get messy!
    • Mix the dough thoroughly by hand, kneading until the kale paste is distributed evenly and you have a lovely green colour throughout and the dough feels elastic and forms a soft ball. You may need to add an extra sprinkle of flour if it’s too sticky.
    • Wrap the pasta ball in cling film and refrigerate while you make the pesto. You can leave it in the fridge for a few hours if you want to make ahead of time.
    • Add all of the pesto ingredients into a food processor and blitz until combined – don’t blend too furiously as you want your pesto to retain a little bit of texture.
    • Set up your pasta machine and sprinkle the press with a liberal amount of flour. Set a plate with semolina scattered on it close by (this will stop the pasta from sticking together before you cook it).
    • Remove the pasta dough from the fridge and cut in half with a sharp knife. Halve again until you have four lumps of dough. Feed the first piece of dough through the pasta machine, starting on the widest setting. Always run the dough through the same setting twice, starting with the end that came out of the machine last. Repeat, adding more flour to ease the press until you’ve got to the finest setting on your machine and the dough is stretched smooth and thin.
    • When you’ve got your desired thin-ness of pasta, run the length through the linguini/tagliatelle setting to shred it into long noodles. Wrap these into loose spirals and place on the semolina-covered plate until you’re ready to cook.
    • Repeat with the three remaining dough pieces.
    • Set a large pan of water on to boil with a pinch of salt. When it’s bubbling, add your pasta and cook until just done- this should only take a matter of minutes as it’s so fresh. Always do a few tester noodles first to check timings!
    • Drain your cooked pasta, pop it back in the pan and gently stir through the pesto to coat. serve immediately with a dusting of parmesan and some crushed pistachios for crunch.

Created on request of fab, all-natural bath and beauty green gurus, Soaper Duper.

 

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Love in The Loire Valley

A few weeks ago I found myself in the inky, violet-lit underbelly of The London Edition Hotel  listening intently to a man who was encouraging everyone in the room to let themselves go, unleash their imaginations and join him on the boat as we set sail on a sensorial adventure along the winding waterways of The Loire.

Sometimes I wonder how I manage to get myself in these situations and then I remember: wine. Wine, is usually the answer.

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The speaker in question on this night is Douglas Blyde: gastro consultant to the rich and famous, wine connoisseur and waistcoat wearer of the most illustrious order. But I call him the wine whisperer. Back in 2015 he wove me wine stories about Muscadet as dawn broke over Billingsgate Fish Market and it somehow became my new favourite drink. Last year he was lilting something soft and sweet about Chablis, and discovered himself preaching to the beautific converted. This year he’d sequestered us in Berner’s Tavern’s cavernous dining room to establish another French connection: The Loire Valley.

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Recently, the new world rebel in me has been railing against the established old masters. I’ve been singing the praises of some proper modern zingers: lip-curlingly fresh English sparkling wines, jammy, hangover-guaranteeing Argentinian Malbecs and smoky, sultry Australian whites that taste like they’ve been aged in a bordello let alone a barrel. But, naturally, when faced with a wine list, it’s oh-so-easy to see why, with all that choice, most people flip past those more hit and miss Croatian, Chilean and South African bottles and head straight for the lemon-edged siren call of the Sancerres and juicy fruit Beaujolais from the French section.

You see, there’s just something about a French wine. Reliably good, usually, yes, but also cut with a certain sense of reliable charm, too. The attraction of French wine is a bit like the allure of French men, I suppose – all that well-dressed, well-matured heady Gallic charm with a majestic nose and great legs (well…probably). If French wine was a guy, he would swan into a room full of young, peppy New Zealanders and loud, fun-once-you-get-to-know-them Americans and immediately become the one you wanted to go home with.

If French wine in general is an attractive prospect, The Loire Valley itself is possibly the most eligible bachelor in its charming arsenal. A vast network of plush green vineyards that stretches along the sundrenched, breezy banks of The Loire River from Nantes to Blois, if this was a Bumble profile, it would read something like:

“Oxford grad with suspiciously good teeth and hair. Works pro bono for a charity. Likes: sculpture, shoes, shit TV and cooking. Fosters puppies, takes old ladies shopping on the weekends. Has a pilots licence and own plane. Looking for someone to help them drink their way through their inherited wine cellar and review hotels around the world.”

Fast wine facts

  • 12 varietals including four majors: Chenin, Cabernet Franc, Melon de Bourgogne and Sauvignon
  • 50 appellations from Nantes to Blois
  • 800 km of wine trails
  • It’s made it onto the Unesco World Heritage list
  • 2700 wine growers
  • 35% produced is white wine
  • 8 bottles per second are sold from Loire with the UK being one of the biggest consumers of that at 18%, alongside Germany and Belgium

So, really, it wasn’t hard to see why I fell fast and hard for the lineup of Loire Valley lotharios that were laid on for us on that particular evening. They came fast and hard, this veritable speed-dating slew of lookers like some sort of boozed-up Take Me Out or, if you’re in your thirties like me: Man O Man

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As the lights dimmed to green and the metaphorical ship set sail onto what was to become a sea of wine, the first candidate arrived with a delicate plate of Colchester crab smeared with brown crab mayo and apple pieces. He was a Muscadet ​​Côtes de Grandlieu (Clos de la Sénaigerie, Domaine des Herbauges​ 2015)the sort of older, sophisticated man that young literature students feverishly dream about meeting at university. Distinguished and learned (just check out the length of that title) with a roguish smattering of grey hair (that’ll be the aging on the lees), he’s got the edge of a zesty rascal about him. He’s the one who’s going to push you to try new things and deviate from your comfortable, Sauvignon Blanc-loving routine.

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Most likely to say: “If you don’t try it, how will you know you don’t like it?”

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Savennières (Clos de la Hutte 2015) was contestant number two, and a tricky customer. The first waft of him alone sent me reeling dangerous close to wine wanker chat territory, reminding me as it did of the straw and salt smell you get scraping along the beach in espadrilles in the summer. This lovely allusion was short-lived, however when I had a swig of it. Then it felt more like being slapped around the face with a wet lemon. It was, to put it mildly, a bit of a bastard. If this wine was a bloke, it would be the sort to carry you across the sand before dumping you unceremoniously in the sea and laughing when you emerge – soaking, indignant and determined not to be ‘that girl’ who cries about a ruined contour. It’s lucky, then, that this glass came with a juicy plate of pink, pan-seared trout with some pretty serious wasabi butter sauce and mouth-searingly salty caviar, because this wine is the equivalent of hangry – a spiky, intolerable thing until you get some food, and then it turns soft around the edges and you forget what you were cross about in the first place.

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Most likely to say: “But why are you mad though? It was a joke. Stop being so sensitive.”

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As we sluggishly slipped further down The Loire and the lights dipped into deep red boudoir territory, we were all invited on double dates for the main course (a fat chop of meltingly soft pork from Dingley Dell, where they massage their pigs for the tenderest meat). A tale of two halves, one glass was the sort you hope you don’t get lumbered with while your mate cops off with the fit one. The former was an intense, mineral-rich Saumer Champigny (Lisagathe 2014), which seemed 100% my type on paper, but in reality turned out be a bit of a melt (say what you want about Love Island, it’s increased my vocabulary no end)

Most likely to say: “I’m going to keep buying you drinks until you find me attractive.”

The latter, a velvety Chinon Rouge (Clos de la Dioterie 2009), which I dubbed the James Bond of wines – the sort that would have you half naked and in bed before you could say Bob’s your uncle (which would be a very strange thing to say at that point). It’s the sort of red that will probably be long gone come morning leaving behind a cracking tannin-induced hangover, but so many good memories that you wouldn’t even really mind.

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Most likely to say: “Are you French? Cause maDAMN!”

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We ended in a golden haze of cheese and Berner’s Tavern house Anjou wines – the boyband of the Loire Valley wine world, meaning that there’s something for everyone, whether you like an earthy, citrusy bohemian-with-a-trust-fund Anjou Blanc 2015  or a more rough-around-the-edges bad boy Cab Franc Anjou Rouge 2014 (both ‘Berners Tavern’, Clos de L’Elu).

Another worthy mention is one of the wines we had pre-dinner – a dangerously easy-drinking Rosé d’Anjou (Maison Bougrier). Don’t let the soft pink colour fool you, this lad is the type who’ll tempt you out for one drink and then lead you on a merry bar crawl across the capital. A fresher of the Loire Valley, it’s semi-sweet, off dry and “at their best at their full flush of youth”…but then who isn’t?

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By the end of the meal the boat had well and truly docked. The light was back to its pre-dinner violet haze and if I was sure of one thing it was this: I might wake up woozy and vaguely seasick tomorrow, but it would be coupled with a sense of sheer elation of the experience of being shown a bloody good time by all these wines. Because while they might not be terribly good for me, these French lovers are simply too charming to resist.

Finding ‘the one’

My favourite wine from The Loire wasn’t actually drunk on that immersive evening. It was discovered afterwards, but deserves a special mention. It’s a Vouvray (Clos du Gaimont) made from Chenin Blanc – a Loire native and one of its most iconic grapes – and trust me, ain’t nobody dope as Vouvray right now, he’s just so fresh and clean with an almost abrasive freshness and honey-laced finish. This wine might be whipcrack dry, but he’s the sort of chap you’d take home to your parents. Totally acceptable to take to any and all social engagements, if he was a man he’d probably be one of those young yet surprisingly talented millennial types who reeks of potential and owns a startup that actually survived its first year in business.

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Drink it with: Sweet-sour Asian food or something richer like buttery trout pork or smoked salmon. The French would probably eat it with Coquilles Saint Jacques, so I reckon it would be a match made in heaven with a light fish pie.

For more info on the fabulous wines from the Loire Valley, or to find your own Loire love, head to the Loire Valley Wine website

Recipe: Isabelle’s blood orange cake

Birthdays mean one thing to me: cake. I like birthday cake. At the risk of sounding a bit like Marjorie Dawes, I like cake in general. I like eating it. I like making. l like making cakes especially for people even more. And this week it was a good friend’s birthday, so, unsurprisingly, I decided that there should be cake.

“I love you like a fat kid loves cake.” – 50 Cent

And Isabelle (or Nana, as we call her, not cause she’s old -trust me, she’s a smoking 30-something-year-old, but she’s wise) deserves cake. She’s someone who should always be swaddled in cashmere and fed buckets of good Sancerre while she plumbs her ocean-deep dreamy depths to draw from her seemingly infinite well of old-before-her-time wisdom. Basically, she’s a good pal who deserves a good cake.

And good cakes mean they mean something to the person who’s eating them, whether it’s a flavour profile that reminds them of a banging holiday or an ingredient that they find irresistible.

So I asked her the following:

Pick a flour: “I love a bit of polenta”

Pick a spice: “cardamom

Pick a fruit/aroma: “orange blossom or pears”

Pick a nut: “almonds”

Pick a country: “something with Middle East vibes”

This could, of course, have gone horribly wrong if she’d decided, for example, that she liked peanuts and pineapples with a taste of Mongolia flavoured with rose water using spelt. Luckily for me (and her, probably…maybe peanut and rose water pineapple is a thing) she picked something I could work with: an orange polenta and almond cake with cardamom syrup and blood orange mascarpone icing.

There’s a lovely light, floral nature to blood oranges that works so well with cakes. Plus, that rosy, just-pink blush it lends white icing is a thing of beauty. And cardamom, too, with its almost-medicinal, mouth numbing tingle is something that gives a rustic, poor man’s polenta cake edge. All in all, this was a genuine joy to make.

Happy birthday Nana.

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Orange polenta and almond cake with cardamom and blood orange icing

Ingredients

for the cake
250g unsalted butter
250g caster sugar
4 large eggs
120g polenta
120g ground almonds
100g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
zest of 1 orange
zest and juice of 2 small blood oranges

for the cardamom syrup
handful of lightly crushed cardamom pods
200g caster sugar
100ml water

for the icing
150g mascarpone
300g icing sugar
zest and juice of 1 blood orange

Method

  • Preheat oven to 140 degrees centigrade in a fan oven (160 if it’s not fan) and grease and line a 9″ cake tin with baking parchment.
  • Cream the butter and sugar for the cake together before adding the eggs one at a time until combined.
  • Zest and juice the oranges for the cake and pour into the butter mix.
  • Add the dry ingredients and mix gently with a metal spoon. Pour into the cake pan and bake for around 45 mins-one hour. Check the cake after 45 mins by sticking a knife into the centre: if it comes out clean, it’s ready. If it’s still a little liquid in the middle, cover with foil and put back into the oven for the remaining time so the surface won’t get any browner.
  • While it’s cooking, make the syrup by putting all the ingredients into a pan and heating over a medium heat for around 15-20 minutes until the water has reduced and the mixture goes thick and sticky. Don’t be afraid to add a little more water if it burns down too quickly – you can’t muck up syrup as it’s basically just sugar. Pick out the cardamom pods, but leave the crunchy black seeds in and set to one side.
  • When the cake is cooked, remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin. While it’s still warm, pour over the cardamom syrup. It will soak in to the top layer and harden, giving a sugary, spicy crunch under the icing.
  • To make the icing, blend the ingredients together in a bowl – the blood orange will give it a delicate pink hue, while using mascarpone instead of butter keeps it a little lighter and easier to spread.
  • When the cake is completely cool, spread the icing over the top and sides and decorate with slices of fresh citrus.

NOTE: The canny-eyed among you will notice I used eucalyptus leaves to decorate with fresh citrus slices…don’t. I was going for a lush, forest, woodland creature concept and assumed that eucalyptus would be fine considering we use the oil medicinally. Turns out (after a cursory google search not the way to the pub), it isn’t. The tree sap is toxic to babies and the leaves poisonous to adults when consumed in large quantities. 

Awesome.

I did fall into paroxysms of fear-guilt-dread when I arrived, slyly sloping off to pick all the foliage and fruit off before it was served. And even then, even when I knew no sap had been anywhere near the cake, I was still imagining headlines like “Londoner massacres entire party with lethal polenta cake” or some sort of Game of Thrones Joffrey death scene on the floor of a Peckham Pub.

Happy to report, however, that no foaming of the mouth occurred and no party-goers where harmed in the eating of this cake.

Recipe: Three-ingredient, no-churn ice cream

“When I’m not longer rapping, I want to open up an ice cream parlor and call myself Scoop Dogg.” – Snoop Dogg.

You should always have ice cream in your freezer. Always.

I mean, can you imagine if you had an ice cream emergency only to discover you were lacking? What if, for example, you went through a stereotypical American sitcom heartbreak. How could you adequately console yourself without a tub of the stuff?

What about all those times you whip up bitter chocolate soufflés and fondants post-work and pre-bed and don’t have anything sweet to serve alongside them? Well, then my friend you’d have egg on your face wouldn’t you.

“Ice-cream is exquisite – what a pity it isn’t illegal.”  -Voltaire

And don’t even think about hosting a slumber party/girl’s night in/movie evening/Saturday night pity party for one without it. The thought is madness. MADNESS I tell you!

Ok, so, ice cream isn’t exactly one of life’s necessities, but it is one of life’s loveliest frivolities, and having a creamy slab of the homemade stuff on hand is a wonderful thing.

I don’t have an ice cream maker or the patience to stir my mix every few hours to prevent ice crystals forming, so this recipe, which is barely adapted from Mary Berry’s original no-churn offering, is a life saver.

With only three base ingredients, it’s so stupidly easy to make, you should try making a couple of batches at a time and adding a few different flavours and textures.

I’ve noted my two very favourite variations on classic vanilla: sticky, crunchy honeycomb and swirls or tangy lemon curd.

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INGREDIENTS

4 eggs, separated
100g caster sugar
300ml double cream

METHOD

  • Line a metal loaf tin with greaseproof paper or dig out a plastic tub to store your ice cream.
  • Whisk the egg whites in a large bowl with an electric beater until they form stiff peaks.
  • Slowly whisk in the caster sugar until the egg whites are stiff and glossy.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk the double cream until soft peaks form when the whisk is removed.
  • Gently fold the cream and beaten egg yolks into the meringue mixture until combined.
  • Pour into your prepared container and freeze overnight before eating.

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Honeycomb ice cream

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INGREDIENTS 

a little vegetable oil, for greasing
200g golden caster sugar
4 tbsp honey
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

METHOD

  • Lightly grease a big sheet of greaseproof paper and place it over a large wooden board or heat-proof surface.
  • Pour the golden caster sugar and honey into a heavy-based saucepan and stir over a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved. Once melted, turn up the heat and let it simmer until it’s turned into a deep, oozing caramel.
  • Take of the heat and quickly whisk in the bicarbonate of soda, mixing furiously. It will start to foam and froth up. Pour the marshmallowy mixture over the greased paper and leave to cool and harden for around 45 minutes.
  • When it’s cool, cover with another layer of paper and smash into shards with a rolling pin. Sprinkle on the base of your ice cream tin in layers, covering each layer with a thick slop of ice cream so it’s evenly spread. Finish with some larger shards on top before freezing.

Lemon curd ice cream

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INGREDIENTS

1 jar of homemade lemon curd

METHOD

  • Fill your ice cream container a quarter full of the ice cream mixture. Dollop over five or six teaspoons of the lemon curd, gently swirling with the tip of a knife.
  • Repeat until the container is full and finish with a final swirl on top before freezing.

Recipe: The best lemon curd

I’ve eaten a lot of lemon curd in my time.  A lot.

I think the obsession started with my granny, who used to make jam tarts with her lip-smackingly sweet homemade raspberry jam every time my brother I would stay with her.

Don’t get me wrong, my granny was not a spectacular cook. I’ll never forget those beige, viscous curries devoid of all spice (because who would want “that foreign muck”), the vegetables boiled into greyish, sodden submission, and my whole family may still bear the scars of those unidentifiable stews she would slop out to sustain us after our long drive from Hampshire to Dorset. Oh, how we dreaded those.

She could, however, make a bloody fantastic tart. I remember the smell of burnt sugar in her little 70s kitchen down in Bridport. The smears of flour she would leave around the counter top and on the rumpled edges of her old jumper as she pushed butter through the powdery dough. I remember sitting for hours after the hot, flaky, sticky things had been eaten, still sucking at the last few stubborn seeds that would always find their way behind my milk teeth.

Most of all I remember those sacred days when she would make a lemon curd alternative – jaw-paralysingly sharp-sweet, sunflower yellow and wobbling around seductively in thick golden pastry. They were my favourite,  made all the more precious by their scarcity and probably started a lifelong gluttony for all things citrus. As a grown up, I still find it hard to resist lemon curd. I don’t care how it comes: slathered on buttered toast, spread between layers of Victoria sponge, swirled through vanilla-spiked ice cream of ladled straight into my mouth. basically I’m a sucker for lemon curd.

So it was about time I found a good recipe for it, really. Slightly less sweet than most supermarket-bought brands, this zingy one-pan preserve is so easy to make I’m struggling to call it a recipe as such. All you really need are good, fresh lemons (I like checking a few pinkish tiger lemons for a softer flavour) and a strong arm as there’s a lot of whisking and grating involved.

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Make sure you’ve got an hour set aside to make this, however, as it’s one of those temperamental things that demands undivided attention. It can be a right bastard and, if you neglect it, it can ruin itself in an instant.

INGREDIENTS

6 small, sterilised jars plus wax paper covers and labels
6 unwaxed  lemons, zested and juiced
300g unrefined caster sugar
150g unsalted butter, chopped
3 eggs, plus 2 egg yolks

METHOD

  • Set a metal mixing bowl over a pan of gently simmering water on a low heat on the stove.
  • Add the butter, sugar and lemon zest and juice and stir until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Whisk the eggs and yolks and add to the mixture, whisking until completely combined
  • The curd needs to ‘cook’ now for around 10-15 minutes. Make sure you stir it every few minutes, whisking all of the zest up from where it will settle on the base of the bowl so it gets evenly distributed.
  • It’s ready when it’s thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

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  • When it’s cooked, take it off the heat to cool completely before you pour into your jars. Stir the mixture occasionally while it cools as it helps whisk out any lumps that might form and leaves you with silky smooth curd.

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How to talk about wine, without sounding like a wanker

I grew up watching the peerless Jilly Goolden inhaling glasses of wine and gesticulating about how she could smell old leather watchstraps, romps in sun-ripened hay bales and elderflower-draped forests; so naturally, that’s just how I thought most people chatted about wine.

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That was until I found myself working in wine, specifically writing about it for M&S, and I quickly realised how much of a complete pillock you sound if you fall into the common traps of wine wanker chat.

Here’s a starter for ten: don’t use industry words like ‘mouthfeel’ or describe a wine as ‘turgid’ and never give it human characteristics like ‘confident’, ‘brave’ or ‘sexy’ – not only do they sound inherently stupid, they say bugger all about what the wine actually tastes like. I’ve done all of these before and now tread that precarious journalistic line between informative and douchey on a daily basis.

Somebody who drinks wine pretentiously in the company of others to show off their knowledge and try to make other people feel inferior.”
“It was really embarrassing seeing Declan complain about all the wines we drank just to get attention. What a wine wanker!”

Most people can say they understand a bit about wine these days and have an inkling of what they’re buying. You tell people you’re stoking the fires for a BBQ and they’ll crack out a full-bodied red from the safe regions of Rioja or an Argentinian malbec. Basically, it boils down to three things: what does it taste like, what can I eat it with and (if you’re a connoisseur of the supermarket wine aisles) is it in the gifting appropriate price bracket of £10-18.

So, how do you talk about an event and tell people about wine they haven’t drunk and food they haven’t eaten if you can’t rely on a bit of Brontë-esque frippery in your writing?

But there I was a month or so ago, elbow-to-elbow at the Andaz hotel for the Bacchus on a Knife Edge (no, I still don’t know what was on-edge about it) with a roomful of writers and bloggers doing just that.

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After the crab and cucumber canapés and delicate rounds of buttery cod fishcakes with Scandi remoulade from Italian-Norwegian duo Nordish, the wine chat began in earnest.

And I was right in the thick of it, crossing from Brontë to bullshit in an instant as I compared the canapés matched to a salt-laced, citrus-spiked Petit Chablis as “like breathing in the seashore in winter.”

It got worse. There followed a starter from Pickled Plates of cod with roasted baby radish salad and tempura samphire paired with a La Boissonneause chablis. I distinctly remember describing it as “tasting like an English garden smells. It tastes green: like the first slice of spring.” What. A. Prat.

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There are far more interesting things to talk about when it comes to La Boissonneause, like how it comes from one of Chablis’ first organic and biodynamic vineyards; or how they mix nettles, sage and lavender with manure from their on-site, free-range cows and, come Equinox, bury the brew in the vineyard in the cow’s horns to be re-discovered the following Equinox and homeopathically applied to the vines.

Now, in my defense, if you’re going to wax lyrical about a wine, it might as well be a chablis. It’s the kind of beautifully complex white that comes with its own hazy semantic field of delicious words swimming around it. Chablis is aniseed, fennel, lemon and sherbet. It’s lime and salt and oysters. It’s earthy and buttery and mineral. It is, in short, worthy of pratting about over.

And even its own producers agree. Apparently, it’s not uncommon for blood to be spilled over terroir territory wars, or for famous chablis-producing families to marry off their kids to improve their grape stocks.

So I could, in theory, take you all the way to wanker town, where we talk about crisp whites shivering with freshness like a milky-white virgin in a dew-slicked meadow. Where we describe chablis as a sibilant sylph of a wine, lisping lemony with the siren call of the French coastline. But that probably wouldn’t tell you much about the wine we drank.

So let’s leave the clay and the chalky soil and the sweep of the shore and talk instead about the room in London near Liverpool Street station, where, against the bottle-lined walls, people sat and ate and drank. We could talk about how we all argued over whether or not the Japanese rice that the soy and mirin-doused pork steaks came on was meant to be served as soft and slippery as rice pudding comes in boarding school – amniotic and squelching and slopped out by lunch matrons with arms like mutton: russet-veined and marble muscled…but then we’d be heading back to wanker town.

So let’s talk about the wine that came after A Little Lusciousness‘s punchy pork instead, which was a slurp into the big boys of the region:

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“Cru” is used to indicate a named and legally defined vineyard, which grows on a reputed terroir; by extension of good quality.  The term cru is used within classifications of French wine in Bordeaux and Burgundy, as others have indicated in their answers.

The terms “Premier Cru”, “Grand Cru” are translated as “First Growth”, and “Great Growth”. These designate levels of presumed quality that are variously defined in different wine regions.”

So, I suppose the salient point you’re after is why should you care about chablis. Well, apart from being a universally crowd-pleasing white with the sort of gravitas that means it’s never out of place at a party or as a present, it’s also about to hit a dry patch.

2016 has been, so far, an annus horribilis for the region. Following hail and floods in May, there’s going to be around 50% less chablis produced than expected this year. So, if you’ve got nothing else from this, the main take away is: it’s good, get some now. Cheers!

Weekend bake: Lavolio Easter egg nest cakes with pineapple, toasted coconut and rum buttercream

When you’re a grown up, Easter just isn’t as much FUN. And a little bit of me hates admitting that. There’s something about being a child and knowing that there’s a time of year when you are legitimately allowed to gorge yourself silly on chocolate with no repercussions (unless you grew up with a dentist for a father like me and had to suffer through the disapproving glances and constant, terrifying threat of egg confiscation). Somewhere along the way though, when you get old enough to have your own money and have thrown off the shackles of the pocket money dictatorship, the anticipation of events like Easter loose their potency.

Which is why you have to find some other way of getting excited about it. And what’s more exciting than a poorly concealed triple pack of Cadbury’s and or Nestle £1.99 egg specials waiting to be discovered in the garden? Actual grown up, decadent Easter treats made for adults whose discerning tummies no longer crave the sugar high that comes from wolfing down four creme eggs and most of a KitKat Chunky egg (you know, the ones that come with those god-awful mugs that invariably end up lurking at the back of an office kitchen cupboard coated in inedible tea stains).

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Grown up little morsels of deliciousness like Lavolio’s mini Easter eggs. Created by former banker Lavinia Davolio, who quit her job to set up a bespoke chocolate company, these sugary bites are made by hand coating roasted almonds in layers of white, dark and hazelnut chocolate before spinning them in a pristine shell of sugar. It’s safe to say that when Bake with Maria, the baking school who taught me all about gluten and sent me on a culinary odyssey to Tuscany, posted me a tin of these eggs and asked me to come up with a cupcake recipe using them for Easter, I was pretty pleased.

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The below recipe is my tropical take on Easter nest cupcakes and is made with adults in mind…which basically means it has a tasty glug of booze in it and a sweet surprise hidden inside each cake. Enjoy!
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Lavolio Easter egg nest cakes with pineapple, toasted coconut and rum buttercream

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Makes 12

Ingredients

125g self raising flour
125g caster sugar
1⁄4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
125g soft unsalted butter
2 large eggs
1 tbsp coconut milk
Lavolio Easter eggs

For the syrup
2 tsp caster sugar
1/2 ripe pineapple, cored and sliced into chunks
pinch chilli flakes
200ml water

For the buttercream
250g salted butter (you need salt here to offset the sweetness. If you only have unsalted, beat in a good pinch of Maldon sea salt along with the sugar)
250g icing sugar
2 tbsp good rum – I used Bajan Estate Barbadian rum

For the decoration
1/2 ripe pineapple
50g shredded toasted coconut (if you can’t find any, buy some fresh coconut, slice thinly and roast in the oven along with the pineapple)
Lavolio Easter eggs

Method
  • Slice the stalk and leaves from your pineapple and cut off all the hard rind and the ‘eyes’. Halve it horizontally and turn one half into slim slivers using a mandolin slicer – be extra careful here, I nearly lost a thumb to my mandolin when I wasn’t paying attention!
  • Lay the rounds of sliced pineapple onto a baking sheet lined with parchment and leave to dry out into an oven set to 100 degrees C for around 1-2 hours. Peel the dried pineapple from the parchment and set aside to cool and harden.
  • Put the syrup ingredients into a saucepan along with any leftover pineapple juice from the mandolin and simmer on a low heat until the pineapple chunks have broken down and you’ve got a sticky, sweet reduced syrup – about 20 minutes.
  • Make the cupcakes by creaming together the soft butter and eggs in an electric mixer. Add the coconut milk and beat for a further 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of your mixer and beat for another 30 seconds.
  • Fill cupcake cases 2⁄3 full of the cake mixture and drop one or two mini Lavolio Easter eggs in to each cupcake. Pop into the oven to bake for 20-25 minutes, until a cake skewer comes out clean. When they are hot out of the oven, spoon a teaspoon of the pineapple syrup over each cake and let it soak in.
  • While the cakes are cooling, make a start on the rum buttercream. Beat together the butter, icing sugar and rum and set aside until your cakes are completely cool.
  • Decorate by smearing over a generous amount of buttercream using a small palette knife (don’t worry about making it smooth – you want your cakes to look a little rustic) and top with two mini Lavolio Easter eggs. Arrange shards of dried pineapple and toasted coconut around the eggs to make a nest.

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Explore the upcoming classes at Bake with Maria’s school here, their private events here, and find out about their annual culinary holiday to Tuscany, here.
Find out where you can locate Lavolio’s chocolate shop, here.

Weekend bake: Valentine’s champagne, raspberry & French goats cheesecake

Did you know that the ancient greeks invented the cheesecake? They even served small cheesecakes to athletes during the first Olympic games in 776 B.C. and if that isn’t a ringing endorsement to consume them for health reasons then I don’t know what is.

We might have been a bit late to the party by the time it rocked Western Europe’s world in 1000 A.D. but we quickly made up for it by making it one of our best-loved desserts.

A fat wedge of cheesecake is one of my guilty pleasures too, which is why I decided to make one with a Valentine’s Day-apprporiate version for this most sappy of weekends using a very special ingredient…no, definitely not love, although I am unashamedly in love with the product in question: French goats cheese.

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When the lovely folk at Easy Chèvre sent me a cool bag full of goats cheese, I’ll admit, pudding didn’t automatically spring to my mind. But, after my experiments with ice cream in the last recipe challenge and after tasting the fluffy cloud of whipped fresh goats cheese with it’s salty sweet tang and sharp, lemony edge, all I could think about was how deliciously it would whip into a cheesecake.

My champagne & raspberry cheesecake with a brown butter shortbread base is an insanely rich and delicious dish to make for a weekend treat, as well a brilliant way to finish a meal – especially on Valentine’s Day, when the thought of shelling out cash to sit elbow to elbow with a bunch of strangers eating a reduced version of a restaurant menu for double the usual price seems less than appealing.

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Instead of more traditional ginger or digestive biscuits, I’ve opted for shortbread enriched with brown butter and crushed roasted hazelnuts to bring out the mellow edge of the fresh goats cheese and offset the sharp, citrus sweetness of raspberries and champagne.

Valentine’s champagne, raspberry & French goats cheesecake

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Ingredients

200g goats cheese
500g raspberries
1 bottle of champagne (you’ll only need two glasses but if you’re like me you’ll want to drink the rest of the bottle while cooking)
300g shortbread biscuits
100g roasted and chopped hazelnuts
125g unsalted butter
500g marscapone
75g icing sugar
4tsp caster sugar
half a lemon

Method

  • Start by cracking the champagne (obviously)! Halve 160g of raspberries and put into a bowl and then pour over a glass of champagne to cover the fruit and leave to stew until they’ve turned the liquid a pretty blushing pink. You can add a teaspoon of caster sugar along with the bubbles too, but I prefer to keep my berries tart to offset the sweetness of the cheesecake.
  • Grease and line a 7-inch fluted tart case with baking parchment. Then blitz the shortbread biscuits in a processor until you have a rough crumb consistency. Pour into a bowl with the roasted and chopped hazelnuts.
  • Heat your butter in a small pan on the stove until it bubbles and turns a delicious golden brown – this will add a lovely richness to your biscuit base and enhance the nutty flavour that the hazelnuts give. Pour over the crushed biscuits and nuts and mix before flattening into the base of your tart tin, ensuring you press right down into the edges. Pop the tin into the fridge to keep cool and firm up until you want to fill it.
  • Cream together the French goats cheese and the marscapone with the icing sugar and a good squeeze of lemon juice.
  • Take your chilled cheesecake base out of the fridge and arrange your champagne-soaked raspberry halves in concentric circles on the biscuit base (drink the marinating liquid if you feel inclined) and then carefully top with the creamy cheese mixture using a pallet knife to spread the topping over the fruit without crushing it.

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  • Put it back in the fridge to cool and set while you make a raspberry sauce to finish. Blitz the remaining raspberries in a processor with another glass of champagne and two or three teaspoons of caster sugar to taste. Pour the raspberry puree into a saucepan and gently heat until it’s reduced to the consistency of soft caramel. You’ll need to keep stirring the mix as those champagne bubbles make it a little volatile (I learned the hard way how difficult it is to clean pink foam off the stove top).
  • Finish by pouring the raspberry sauce into a squeeze bottle or syringe or, if you don’t have one in your kitchen (I didn’t) just dip the handle of a spoon into the puree. Take out your cheesecake and gently drop spots of the sauce in concentric circles on the top. As a rough guide, they should be about the size of a 5p coin and about an inch and a half away from each other.

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  • Then, carefully trail a skewer through the dots, dragging as you go around the cheesecake to create the effect of dripping hearts.

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  • Paint a few more hearts onto plates to serve with glasses of leftover champagne and the rest of the raspberry sauce to pour.

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Pays d’Oc IGP recipe challenge: Partridge in a pear tree pt.2

Earlier this week, I made a nutty, sweet pearl barley risotto with partridge and pear jus to eat alongside a plummy bottle of 2013 Les Boissières Merlot (£10.25). Usually when I make a decadent mid-week dinner, it’s because I’m being a pig. Standard.

But this time it was for a wine and recipe challenge set to show off the inherent quality of the wines from the Pay d’Oc, a territory caught between the land and the sea that produces some of the finest wines in France.

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It appears that I’ll never be a one-and-done sort of person. So, in the spirit of Christmas leftovers, I’ve created a second sweet and spicy raw salad recipe for the Pays d’Oc IGP wine challenge that uses similar ingredients to the first one, found here, but, as an added bonus, can be made from any leftover roasted partridge you might have.

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While this would work with turkey, too, there’s something about the gamey richness of partridge meat that works so well with the fruity, spiced flavours of this raw winter salad’s dressing and pairs so perfectly with a glass of indecently fruity, pillow-soft Les Boissières Merlot. Plus it involves my favourite festive vegetable: Brussels sprouts.

Roasted partridge salad with shaved sprouts, cauliflower and radish with a spiced fig dressing

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Serves 2

Ingredients

Leftover partridge breasts, sliced
1 ripe Comice pear
6 Brussels sprouts
1 head of red endive
1 cauliflower
6 radishes
4 figs
4/5 cloves

Kitchen cupboard:
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
brown sugar
ground ginger

Method

  • Wash all of your veg to remove any lingering bits of dirt and grit.
  • Remove the outer leaves of the cauliflower head and, using a mandolin if you have one (or a large, sharp kitchen knife if your don’t), thinly slice pieces of the cauliflower.

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  • Thinly slice the sprouts, radish and pear and arrange on plates along with leaves of red endive and shaved cauliflower.
  • Slice up your left over partridge and scatter over the vegetables.
  • Cut the figs in half and put in a small pan with four teaspoons of balsamic vinegar, five tablespoons of water, a pinch of brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger and the cloves.

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  • Simmer the mixture on a low heat until it’s reduced down to a glossy, almost jammy liquid and the figs are a fudgey mess. Mix with a little olive oil to loosen and drizzle over your salad before serving.

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Find out more about the exceptional wines of the region here: http://www.paysdoc-wines.com and on their twitter account @paysdocigpwines

And buy the wine I was matching, Les Vignes de L’Arque, Les Boissières, Merlot, 2013 (£10.25) at Leon Stolarski here: http://www.lsfinewines.co.uk/acatalog/Les_Vignes_de_l_Arque.html

Pays d’Oc IGP recipe challenge: Partridge in a pear tree pt.1

Sometime in the last decade, around the time Sideways came out, drinking Merlot, like drinking Chardonnay, became a little bit uncool.

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Perhaps it was the echo of Paul Giamatti as Miles Raymond spitting out: “If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am NOT drinking any fucking Merlot!” Maybe it was market saturation, when every wine growing nation from America to Argentina became to make Merlot from vines planted in geography that would give quantity rather than quality. Either way, I never really got it.

An inherently heritage variety with the official stamp of ‘noble grape’ attached, Merlot is one of the most drinkable reds around. A good bottle almost goes out of its way to be welcoming: soft, rich, low-tannined and often, illicitly, voluptuously fruity. And when it’s good, it’s very good.

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So when I was asked to pick from four wines from the Pay d’Oc IGP 2015 collection and spotted a 2013 Les Boissières, it was a bit of a no-brainer.

The challenge was to match this plummy, purple-stained red’s notes of nutty oak and sweet, sticky berry to a dish worth serving up over Christmas. Given the whisper of winter that’s winding its way around London’s bleak December, and the fact the my palette is already laced with the biting spice of mulled wine and the woody richness of late Autumn vegetables and that I’m finding myself humming snatches of half-remembered carols that spill out unbidden at odd moments of the day, I took inspiration from a festive classic: The Twelve Days of Christmas.

Specifically, the first gift on the first day: a partridge in a pear tree. Given that this song was apparently French before it was taken by the British and published in 1780, it gave me a lovely excuse to mix the wine of France with some other English-adopted ingredients – pears, parsnips and partridges.

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This hearty, warming dish pulls all the sweet, spiced and nutty notes from the wine, while offering enough full-flavoured sustenance to stand up to this beautifully muscled Merlot.

 

Roasted partridge with braised onion barley risotto and parsnip crisps

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Ingredients

2 partridges
1 ripe Comice pear
4 white onions
800ml chicken or vegetable stock
120g pearl barley
1 bunch of sage
1 parsnip

Kitchen cupboard:
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
salt & pepper
salted butter

Method

  • Peel and halve four medium-sized white onions and chop half your pear into chucks and lay them both face down in hot pan coated in a slick of melted butter. Season with course sea salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Turn them after a minute or so to coat each side in butter, then pour over 500ml of chicken stock (homemade is best). Cover and leave to simmer on a medium heat for around 40 minutes until the fruit and vegetables have become soft and unctuous.

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  • Deglaze the bottom of the pan with a splash of boiled water and transfer the contents of the pan to a blender and whizz until you’ve created a sweet, aromatic onion paste. A generous spoonful of this paste is perfect for adding richness to risottos without cream or cheese and makes a brilliant base for winter vegetable soups.
  • Rinse the pearl barley in a sieve – 120g dry should be enough for two people.
  • Set aside a heaped tablespoon of the onion paste for later and put the rest in a big heavy-based pan along with the barley and 800ml of water. Bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook until the grains are swollen and tender, stirring occasionally to ensure the base doesn’t burn – this should take around 45-60 mins. Add more water if the pan gets dry.

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  • About half way through cooking the grains, put 20g of butter into a heavy-based frying pan along with a few sage leaves. As the butter starts to foam, drop in your two partridges and sear for about a minute on each side until they’re golden.
  • Pop the partridge in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees C for 15 minutes to roast. Remove from the oven and leave the birds to rest for 10 mins. this should give you perfectly cooked, slightly pink breast meat.
  • Make parsnip crisps to garnish by shaving slivers of parsnip with a peeler and drizzling them with olive oil (or truffled olive oil if you’re feeling fancy – the earthy notes pair well with game birds) and balsamic vinegar. Bake at 180 with the partridge for around 5 mins until they turn a deep golden brown. Remove from the oven and peel away from the baking sheet, leaving them to one side while you make the sauce.
  • Deglaze your partridge pan with a splash of boiled water and a good glug of Les Boissières Merlot – it may seem wildly decadent, but as Julia Child once inferred, you should never cook with wine you wouldn’t drink!

“If you do not have a good wine to use, it is far better to omit it, for a poor one can spoil a simple dish and utterly debase a noble one.”

  • Add in a your leftover tablespoon of onion paste and the remaining chopped pear and reduce down until you’ve got a glossy jus to dribble over at the end.
  • While it’s reducing down, carve your partridge. The principle is exactly the same as a chicken – find the ridge of the bone between the breasts and slice either side, carefully cutting the meat from the bone in short, sharp slices. You can also carve around the little legs and snap them off at the bone to serve whole – the meat on these is extra juicy and flavourful. I estimate one partridge per person. Keep the carcasses to boil into a beautifully gamey stock for later.
  • Spoon a generous helping of the pearl barley onto a plate and top with the partridge breast and legs. Top with shards of parsnip crisp and crispy sage leaves and pour over the reduced jus.

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Find out more about the exceptional wines of the region here: http://www.paysdoc-wines.com and on their twitter account @paysdocigpwines

And buy the wine I was matching, Les Vignes de L’Arque, Les Boissières, Merlot, 2013 (£10.25) at Leon Stolarski here: http://www.lsfinewines.co.uk/acatalog/Les_Vignes_de_l_Arque.html