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

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The French goats cheese challenge part 1: Honey-roasted pears & walnuts with French goats cheese ice cream & fig crisps

French goats cheese is one of those rare foods that has a strange, hypnotic sort of power over me. Whether I’m in a restaurant or wandering around the supermarket aisles, if my eyes happen to graze over even a mere mention of it, I’m overwhelmed by a sudden craving and have to have it there and then.

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I suppose I grew up with it really. My mother is a hardcore cheese fanatic and she used to give me slivers of the milk white stuff as a saturday afternoon snack, smushed onto salty crackers with a tall glass of milk.

Later, when I was a teenager, I remember eating huge wedges of it balanced on a bitter frisee salad in pubs when I was trying to order something sophisticated. The last time I had it, it had been transformed into a decadent dessert with olive oil cake and splodges of tomato and strawberry. It was sharp and rich and…interesting, but all I could think was how much nicer it would be with a hint of caramel from some warm honey, or with the buttery crunch of toasted nuts.

I’ve always wanted to try a dessert with, as Frances Quinn from The Great British Bake Off put it, “a hint of goat.” Something that shows off this punchy cheese in all it’s glory without hitting you around the face with it.

So I was rather pleased when Easy Cheesy Chèvre got in touch and asked me to create a recipe using their ridiculously good French goats cheese. Because it meant I had an excuse to experiment with turning one of my favourite lunchtime ingredients into a dinner-party worthy pudding.

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For this recipe, I plumped for the creamy, soft Valençay cheese. While the most pungent in odour (I was possibly the least popular person on the tube carting these badboys home mid-rush hour), and, with its greenish, zombie brain like exterior, the most unappetising to look at, it is actually one of the softly-flavoured goats cheeses that I’ve come across, which made it perfect for this pudding.

“Valençay cheese used to have a shape of perfect pyramid with a pointed top. But when Napoleon returned to the castle of Valencay after his unsuccessful expedition in Egypt, he saw the cheese, in a fit of rage drew his sword and cut of the top of cheese. Since then the cheese has always been made with a flattened top.”

Honey-roasted pears & walnuts with French goats cheese ice cream & fig crisps

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Ingredients

for the ice cream
1 tbs runny honey
3 egg yolks
100g soft goats cheese, scooped from its rind
500ml double cream
70g caster sugar
pinch of sea salt

for the dried fruit
4 figs, thinly sliced
1 ripe pear

for the roasted pears 
100g roughly chopped walnuts
4 tsp runny honey
30g softened butter
3/4 ripe pears

Method

Start by making your ice cream. This is the simplest recipe for ice cream I know. You can add the scraping from two fragrant vanilla pods if you want to make it vanilla-flavoured, too.

This simple recipe uses double cream, which means that the ice cream won’t form crystals as it freezes so you don’t have to keep stirring it – just whack it in the freezer until it’s set.

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  • Pour the cream and sugar into a saucepan and heat until the cream is boiling and the sugar has dissolved. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks, honey and crumbled goats cheese until you’ve made a smooth, butter-yellow paste.
  • Slowly add the hot cream, whipping as you do to avoid a scrambled egg texture and sprinkle over the pinch of sea salt – you’ll need that sharp edge here to counter the honeyed sweetness and bring out the tang of the goats cheese.
  • Pour the mixture into some tupperware and freeze until it’s set, which can take anything from two-four hours.
  • While the ice cream is freezing, thinly slice the figs and one of the pears (don’t worry about removing the core or the skin) into little slivers and lay them on a sheet of baking paper.
  • Let them dry out in an oven preheated to 100 degrees C. After about three hours you should have tender, slightly crispy little shards of fruit, which are perfect for decorating cakes or puddings.

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  • When you’ve made your dried fruit and the ice cream is set, make a start on the roasted pears. Halve some ripe varieties of pear such as conference or comice and scoop out the core with a spoon. Pop into an oven-proof dish and spoon over the butter, honey and sugar mixture. sprinkle over the chopped walnuts and cook in the oven at 180 degrees C for around 20-30 minutes.

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  • When the pears are bubbling and have turned a rich, golden-brown, take them out of the oven. Scoop out a generous dome of ice cream and set onto of a mound of cooked pears, leaving it to slowly melt over the hot fruit. Decorate with shards of fig and pear crisps and serve.

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Wine recommendation: with its sharp , cheesy tang and sweet, honey-rich finish, this beautifully juicy pudding needs a dessert wine tat’ll cut through that sugar yet compliment those savoury notes. I’ll be eating this with a glass of L’or du Ciron Sauternes, an oak-aged dessert wine with syrupy apricot notes and a fizzing, acidic edge.

Music in my kitchen: the weird & wonderful world of K-Pop

Recently I fell down a deep, dark hole. Its name was K-Pop.

It started with a joke on American Dad about boy bands with ridiculous amounts of members and lead to this video.

If I felt anything after watching EXO’s Overdose, it was deeply perplexed. I had so many questions. Did the pretty lady make it out of the maze? How many people are in the band and who’s the main singer? Did they steal that opener from Labyrinth? Who thought that a blonde bowl cut was a good idea?

This lead to more videos and more questions, but, slowly, one video at a time, I’d worked my way through BIG BANG, 2NE1, Girl’s Generation, Orange Caramel, B.A.P, SHINee and finally BTS. And so began my love affair with K-Pop – a sort of socially inappropriate boyfriend that you’d call if you were home alone but would never dream of introducing to your friends.

Quick facts about K-Pop

  • K-Pop is an entirely manufactured industry. A conveyor belt of pop that recruits future stars in their early teens using country-wide auditions. They’re then sent to bootcamps and rigourously trained before the best are divided into man-made groups, given a makeover (which can involve the K-Pop plastic surgery triple threat: eyelid, nose and chin surgery – yes, there are sites dedicated to spotting the surgery) and then debuted. Sort of like The X-Factor on steroids.

“We’re sick with work for half our days
We live sickly in our studios, our youths may rot away
But thanks to that, we’re running to success.” – Lyrics from BTS’s Dope

But hey, sacrificing your youth in pursuit of your popstar dreams, being put into a group with strangers that you have to share bunk beds with and spending evey minute of your life either training or performing must be worth it for the cash, right?

  • With Korea’s leading record label, SM Entertainment, posting a reported annual revenue of $1 Billion in 2013, you’d think that its stars would be banking the mega bucks. Not true, apparently. Unless you’re a megastar like BIG BANG’S G-Dragon (the undisputed daddy of K-Pop who, at 27 is worth around $8 million), the average K-Pop idol income is around 47 million won (£26,718) so, less than a London tube driver…and K-Pop stars will work nights.

Ah. But, when that magic formula works, it REALLY works. According to Forbes, SM entertainment’s artists played to a total audience of 2.5 million in 2010-2013 and their YouTube page got 1,000 views a second.

  • One of the most recognised K-Pop songs ever, Gangnam Style, has more than 2.5 BILLION views on YouTube. To put that into perspective, that’s more than Beyoncé’s Put a Ring on it, Love on Top, Run the World, Drunk in Love, Crazy in Love, Halo and If I Were a Boy combined.

And, with armies of fans across the world – due in part to the fact that Korean popstars can perform in multiple languages, including English, Japanese and Chinese – K-Pop is only going to get bigger. So you’d better brace yourself for the bonkers bubblegum, bullet-ridden onslaught.

10 reasons to love K-POP

The styling


To be honest, this could have just been a gallery of Korea’s leading trendsetter, the solo artist and BIG BANGer, G-Dragon, but that wouldn’t have been fair to some of the other exceptional efforts from bands like EXO, 2NE1 and SHINee.

The high production values

No one watches music videos anymore right? Well, we would if they made them like the Korean’s do. All you need is a loose theme, an acre of glitter, six costume changes and, as my friend put it, a banging donk. Oh, and an absolute ton of cold, hard cash. Some of the most expensive music videos outside of America have been K-Pop ones, like T-ara’s Cry Cry – a 20-minute musical soap opera that cost around $1,000,000 to produce or B.A.P’s gangster-themed gun-toting kidnapping montage for One Shot

The elaborate dance moves

It isn’t enough to be able to sing in a K-Pop group, you have to be able to dance like the lovechild of Michael Flatley and Usher. Every music video has a complicated routine, often involving some sort of gimmick like the shiny-gloved human centipede dancing in a pool of milk in TVXQ’s Catch Me

And, even when only a fraction of the actual routine is shown in the resulting video, the bands still release their full practice videos. You know, incase you feel like learning them of an afternoon…

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Let’s take a moment to appreciate this beautiful moment of symmetry from BTS’s Boy in Luv studio session

The obligatory rapping

Every K-Pop band has at least one rapper. It’s imperative, because how else would they sample American tracks and channel that oh so 90’s desire for, as Suga (BTS) puts it: “Big house, big cars and big rings” (and bitchin’ hood threads, too, obvs).

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However, no one does it better than Korea’s answer to Busta Rhymes, Outsider, or T.O.P from Big Bang. At least, I think so, I still have no idea what he’s saying, but I appreciate the Twin Peaks madness of his video.

The sheer volume of members in bands

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If K-Pop had a motto, it would be more is more. I mean, why have five people in a band when you can have ten and up the choreography difficulty to infinity? Also, bonus, with that many members, fans are bound to find someone to obsess over and, if a couple have to drop out to complete their obligatory military service, you’ve still got enough to maintain the vocal harmonies. Smart K-Pop, smart.

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The cultural mash-up

It’s no secret that K-Pop likes to imitate American and British culture. Sometimes it’s a little nod like a Sid Vicious T-Shirt or an overuse of the Union Jack, and sometimes they take it to the edge of too far, a la Big Bang’s gorgeously garish bedlam that is BANG BANG BANG.

The glittery gimp on a leash and THAT lacy shirt aside, this track is packed with a back catalogue of cultural appropriation, from Indian headresses and cowboys to lowriders, astronauts and American football shoulder pads.

It’s like a drinking game – take a shot every time you see a piece of Americana.

The English language fails

K-Pop is littered with token English words…usually used incorrectly. But then again, what isn’t sexy about being told “I really want to touch myself”, “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know but I’m hard” or “you look like a door”.

The fan service

K-Poppers are treated almost like public property in Korea. On top of their shows they do endless promotional TV stints and behind the scenes programmes, from a wacky show invoking random choreography challenges and a plastic toy hammer called Weekly Idol to embarrassing shows like Intimate Moment, where stars who are perceived to not have close relationships with other brand members are forced to play games with each other all day until their pride is battered into non-existence and they’re the best of friends.
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Can you imagine any Brit pop star letting anyone have this much access? although…I wouldn’t mind seeing Noel and Liam Gallagher being forced to re-assess their relationship through two-person limbo and feeding each other…

Oh, and then there’s this advert from EXO-K for Baskin’ Robbins, which deserves a special mention…Strong.

The fact that they’re idiots

There’s a universe of #derp memes and macros out there celebrating the stupid side of K-Pop.

And can we talk about Aegyo?

Aegyo (Korean: 애교, hanja: 愛嬌) in Korean refers to a cute display of affection often expressed through a cute/baby voice, facial expressions, and gestures. Aegyo literally means behaving in a coquette-ish manner and is commonly expected for male and female k-pop idols to behave this way

If anyone was worrying about BTS’s mental state after their ‘we work like slaves’ lyrics in Dope, don’t. They’re fine.

Their videos MAKE NO SENSE

One of the most appealing things about K-Pop is that their videos. As beautifully produced and choreographed and manufactured to within an inch of their lives they are, they’re also, sometimes, bat shit crazy.

The most obvious example of this is Orange Caramel’s Catellena, which involves mermaid sushi, tears and cannibalism. I’ve watched this five times and am still none the wiser but have become unnaturally disturbed by the octopus and the feminist in me has become increasingly annoyed at the fact that they’ve slapped a price tag on their sushi bodies.

Surrender to the K-Pop, you know you want to…