Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Tues 20 May 2008

Yes, indeed, who or what is Kékfrankos? And if I say Blaufränkisch, does that help? Didn't think so.

Now I am back to drinking wine (rather than studying it), I've decided to have a good stab at the Wine Century. After all, it's a list (and I love lists) and it involves wine - in other words, a list driven reason to drink more widely!

I'd spotted a bottle of Riverview Merlot Kékfrankos in the supermarket the other week. Just £4.99 a bottle, it has a stand out modern label - all pink and purple. The wine is from the Hilltop winery in Hungary: according to the site, this is the Hungarian wine most widely exported to the UK, and you should find it relatively easy to pick up.

Look for this label!

Now, the chances are we're all pretty comfortable with Merlot: one of the main red grapes of Bordeaux, widely grown in the New World (you've probably come across a Chilean Merlot) and widely blended with Cabernet Sauvignon.

Kékfrankos and Blaufränkisch are the same grape, and it's probably new territory. Well, it was for me, anyway!

Kékfrankos is a tannic, Central European grape: you'll find it (under a variety of names) in wines from Germany, Austria, Hungary ...

The wine itself really only falls into the OK category. There's not a lot of fruit on the nose, at all. It was much more earthy, but there is some black fruit on the palate. Not really a lot to say - as the website says, it's an "easy-drinking" wine. There's not a lot of complexity and there's no distinct flavours and aromas. Unsurprisingly, the length is pretty short, but, despite being just 12% abv, the wine does have a pretty good weight about it.

Andy was a lot less kind.

I'd have to say that for me, this would be, at best, a BBQ wine. It's not expensive and it's not offensive, but then I'm not sure it represents outstanding value for money, either. I'd be interested to try other wines produced by Hilltop - until then, my jury is out!

At the other end of the spectrum, a quick note about Pol Roger's Pure Brut which I mentioned about a month ago. Harvey Nicks is advertising it as, of all things, a Champagne for the diet-conscious. A "new low calorie, limited edition"? What I actually I think of this is not fit for print.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Light Suppers

Sat 17 and Sun 18 May 2008

I've already made a brief mention of how we dealt with our Oakwood Farmers' Market purchases ... but since they were such light and easy meals, I thought I'd give them a little more air time.

Firstly, the asparagus. These were such hefty spears, that I was tempted to par-steam them before grilling them. I'm a big fan of lightly steamed asparagus, and Andy's a huge fan of grilling the stuff. Steaming is probably quicker, but a little more hassle, and while the spears will come out looking stunningly green, they won't have the attractive charred marks from the griddle pan.

Before getting your asparagus anywhere near the pan, get it good and hot and lightly grease it with either vegetable oil or light olive oil. If you've rinsed the spears, ensure they're dry: if they're not, as soon as they hit the pan you'll be attacked by tiny droplet of flying hot fat! Turn the spears after a minute or so, and keep on doing this until they're done. The spears are done when you can skewer the bottom end with a fork, but there's still some juicy resistance.

While the spears are grilling, you'll have plenty of time to melt some unsalted butter. When you're ready to serve, top the spears with the melted butter and a squeeze of lemon, and make sure you pass the salt and pepper, as well as some crusty bread to mop up the left over butter. Delicious! In our case, a quick supper, but would serve brilliantly as an easy starter at either lunch or dinner.

The fish received a similarly simple treatment. Andy made a very simple salad: lettuce, tomato and cucumber, and also bought some arancini from Jamon on Otley Road. While the arancini were warming in the oven I melted some unsalted butter and layered in some of the huge sage leaves, all left whole.

I was amazed that the plaice had pure white skin on one fillet (obviously the 'sand-side') while the upper side was a murky green decorated with orange dots ... I'd never thought about that before. General fish-amazement over and done with, the plaice went into a pan of hot melted butter, skin side down. Only the very middle of the fillet is fat, so I left it for long enough so that the skin could hold together. Then I turned over the fish and about a minute later, it was ready to serve. While all of this was happening, the sage leaves were busy crisping up and the butter was turning brown.

Fish on plate, sage leaves arranged decoratively, and then topped with the brown butter. Probably the most simple sauce, ever!

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Oakwood Farmers' Market

Sat 17 May 2008

Yes, it seems as though farmers' markets are popping up everywhere, and a friend mentioned that one was held once a month at the Oakwood Clock. I used to live in Roundhay, so I'm pretty familiar with the area and was a little sceptical about how it would all work - I couldn't imagine there'd be enough space!

The Oakwood Farmers' Market+ is organised by the Roundhay Environmental Action Project and is a great example of what a motivated group of residents can achieve. The market is plastic bag free (I'm not sure I've seen so many 'bags for life' in one spot at any one time!) and has the full range of vittals: eggs, meat, bread (if you're prepared to queue for it), cheese and vegetables. I was really impressed!

You can see more photos on Flickr.

I ended up coming away with a bunch of monstrous asparagus spears from Woodside Farm in Acaster Malbis (near York), which made a simple supper - grilled and smothered in melted butter and lemon juice. I also bought some plaice (perhaps not the soundest of choices, but at least we're not in the spawning season and it was quite a large one), which has done for lunch, pan fried in plenty of butter and topped with brown butter and crispy sage leaves (also from the market - a huge bunch of huge leaves for just 60p), and a box of eggs.

Now, let's talk about the eggs. I bought half a dozen large free range eggs for £1. The same stall (Church View Farm Eggs, from Agbrigg, near Wakefield) was offering extra large for £1.20, and also selling bantam, goose and duck eggs. Normally, I would have no idea about whether this was expensive or not, but yesterday's Guardian ran an article about rising food prices*: apparently, a dozen free range eggs in one of the UK's largest supermarkets (one of the ones where the advertising would have us believe how cheap it is) costs £2.58. That's a pretty hefty percentage increase for the dubious privilege of buying from a supermarket - and I'd be willing to bet that the farmers aren't seeing anywhere near £2. In fact, in my local supermarket most of the eggs seem to be French ...

The Oakwood Farmers' Market+ also offers advice on sustainable living (the "+") and yesterday they had a wormery display: I only found out about this after I left, so no photos I'm afraid. The website is updated regularly, and you can find out details of guest stalls (such as yesterday's asparagus) in advance. They also have a shopper of the month competition! As it's quite a small market, there's plenty of overflow in the shops along Oakwood Parade: shopping over we stopped for coffee at Timoney's and had to sit outside or face a 15-20 minute wait for an inside table.

The next market is 21 June (starting at 9:30 - I know it's early but there's plenty of coffee and breakfast type food available!) and we'll definitely be going along. It also reminds me to make sure I visit the next Headingley market, as I needn't even catch a bus to get to it!

1. Woodside Farm PYO, Appleton Road, Acaster Malbis, YO2 1XA, phone 01904 704 646, open from mid June to August for soft fruit and potatoes, and also looking for fruit pickers
2. Church View Farm Eggs, 31 Church View, Agbrigg, WF1 5AL

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*Personally I think much of this article is quite flawed - for Eating Leeds purposes I'm just interested in how much cheap food can cost in the supermarket!
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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Australian Wine

Thurs 7 May 2008

I've been lucky enough to attend a few informal wine tasting sessions for external WSET Diploma students. This cuts down the cost of covering the syllabus for the students and gives interested others the opportunity to learn about a wine region and taste a broad flight of wines.

The latest (and, sadly, possibly last) of these was last Thursday in York and covered Australian wines. We covered seven wines formally: three whites, three reds and one fortified.

We started with two Chardonnays: Coldridge Estate and a Tyrells Hunter Valley, retailing at £3.99 and £9.99 respectively. While the use of oak was far more sophisticated in the Tyrells wine, with an incredible vanilla nose and a much more integrated palate, Andy wasn't sure he'd be prepared to spring the extra £6 for the better wine. I'm abstaining from having an opinion, because I still don't like oaked Chardonnay! If you're planning a summer full of BBQs it's worth giving the Coldridge Estate a try - it definitely punches above its price tag.

These wines were followed by a Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Riesling. This was easily my favourite white of the evening: a pronounced and complex nose, with Riesling's distinctive oily smell complemented and cut by apple, citrus, lime and even hints of stone fruit. On the palate it had plenty of acidity, riper fruit than on the nose, with a viscous mouthfeel and excellent length.

The three reds (all weighted towards South Australia - we do like that!) were a Merrill Cabernet Sauvignon, a Grant Burge Shiraz Viognier and the Tatachilla Foundation Shiraz. We had a good discussion about the (Côte Rôtie like) addition of the Viognier to the Grant Burge wine, but wine-making niceties aside, I much preferred both the Merrill and the Tatachilla (which, incidentally came in at 15% abv, not that you would have noticed until the next morning!).

We rounded off the evening with the Yalumba Museum Muscat: a luscious fortified from Rutherglen in Victoria and one of my favourite things to drink. The perfect accompaniment to your after dinner coffee.

Another excellent experience to try a really broad range of wines - just a shame it was a school night and there was a train to get back to Leeds!

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Monday, May 12, 2008

BBQ Time

Sat 10 May 2008

Here in the UK we're in the grip of our 4 days of summer so every man and his dog is out having BBQs. And I'm not any different, except that I went to the South Lakes for mine - nothing like a bit of convenience!

Somehow I got roped into cooking (I suspect I might have had one or two too many glasses of wine at some point and volunteered), so much of Saturday was spent acquiring foodstuffs (even I am not so insane as to cart food across the Penines). As with all shopping, it's all about knowing where to go.

We started at Paul Butchers in Flookburgh, where we grabbed a pile of sausages, some chicken and some organic Welsh lamb mince. I was most impressed, however, by the pies: £1 each, still warm and a huge choice - we opted for steak and kidney, meat and potato and mince and onion. Perhaps it's poetic justice that those of us who live in the city get plenty of variety and exotica with our food - but for £1 (or thereabouts) we can buy some pretty near inedible pies (the ones in my work canteen, for example, or anything from Greggs or Ainsleys). Live in the country - you might have to drive for miles to buy an interesting bottle of wine, but you can fall out of your house and into the local butcher's shop for a pie worth eating.

Fortified by meat and pastry, we headed off on the 16 mile journey to Kendal to visit Booths. Apparently this is a flagship store, and only on Thursday night had someone raved to us about the downstairs/underground Artisan store. Having armed myself with a bottle of Booths* own NV Champagne (made by Duval-Leroy, and which received the 'Best Buy' of Decanter's pre Christmas Champagne tasting), and a bottle of the fabulous Querciabella Chianti Classico I headed downstairs to Artisan where by far the most exciting thing was ... THE CHEESE COUNTER.

And yes, this was actually more exciting than the wine department. They stock a small, but very tidy, selection of cheeses. The counter is staffed by a man with, possibly, the best job in Kendal. And it showed: he was calm, pleasant and helpful. He asked us what we were wanting the cheese for, how many people we needed to serve and then let us taste bits and pieces before solving our caseic dilemmas. It was so civilised not to fuss around with "oh, 100g of that one" or "oh, just cut it there with that one". We decided on our three cheeses between 6 people and he did the rest. We came away with a piece of Stinking Bishop, a piece of Wensleydale and a piece of Harbourne Blue from the Ticklemore Cheese Company in Devon.

So - the cheese cost more than the meat, the booze cost more than the other two combined ... how could the BBQ go wrong? Even with a few grey clouds overhead, the event was a success! There are no photos (no time, too much bubbly!), but the menu ran (briefly): sausages, chicken portions in a soy and honey glaze, mackerel with herbs, and home made kofta kebabs - all washed down with lashing of the red stuff** and your choice of red wine/lager/cider/white wine/bitter!

*Seriously - I can't work out if the supermarket is Booth's or Booths or Booths', so I'm omitting apostrophes on purpose, not because I can't use them!
** That's tomato sauce!

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Friday, May 09, 2008

Smoked Salmon, Goats' Cheese and Dill Risotto

Sun 4 May 2008

I actually have one more Marcus Wareing recipe to post but I'm running the risk of becoming a one trick wonder so let's skip past Sunday's baking (just for now) and move on to Sunday's afternoon tea and supper.

For afternoon tea we had some smoked salmon along with a bottle of 2003 Cape Mentelle Chardonnay. I've probably only had this bottle about a year, and I hadn't meant to keep it that long. In hindsight, I very much wish I hadn't. The full retail price had been £13.99, but this was another wine I bought on offer. The back label advised drinking for up to three years, and the Cape Mentelle (extraordinarly slow) website offers no cellaring suggestions for their whites (although the 2006 they advise drinking up to 2014). You know where I'm going with this: the wine was old and tired. The fruit had vanished, its high alcohol (14.5%) dominated the back palate and it was all a bit one dimensional, both nose and palate wise.

I know I'm not a big Australian oaked Chardonnay drinker but I am actually being quite fair. There is something quite distinctive about a tired Chardonnay (and I'm thinking back to a very past it Kumeu River I had a couple of years ago), and leaving a wine too long to drink is always annoying. Cork taint, wine faults - they're someone else's problem. Leaving a wine hanging around, un-drunk - it's 100% YOUR fault. If I get the opportunity in the near future, I'll see if I can pick up a more current vintage CM Chardonnay for comparison.

Wine disappointment meant that supper had to be good. With dill and chèvre left over from the sea bass, and smoked salmon left over from afternoon tea, the obvious thing to put together was a risotto.

For two people, I used about 150g of Arborio rice. On Sunday night, I used one small onion, finely chopped and sweated down in some unsalted butter. I didn't bother with garlic. Add the rice, and stir, so that the grains are covered in the butter. Now start adding hot stock. You don't have to be too precise about how much stock you have on the go. I have one pan that I always use and often I need to top it up with some water (or white wine) as I go along. The main thing is that your stock is hot and you mix it in to your rice slowly. Let the rice absorb the stock before adding the next ladle.

Yes, this takes a while but it's not exactly tricky ... pour yourself a glass of wine, put some music on or read the paper, just keep stirring.

When the rice was cooked (you need to keep trying it), I added half of my remaining chèvre, chopped, some grated parmesan and a load of chopped dill. I put the remaining chèvre in the bottle of our bowls, quickly stirred the chopped smoked salmon through the risotto and finished with a sprinkling of chopped dill and a twist of pepper.

Not bad at all for a meal based on leftovers!

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

WBW 45: Old World Riesling

Wed 8 May 2008

Hooray for Wine Blogging Wednesday: my once a month excuse for a good bottle of wine, mid week, on a school night! And this month, Tim at WineCast has chosen Old World Riesling.

I was so excited I almost did WBW last Wednesday!

Having grown up in South Australia, home of the great Clare Valley Rieslings, I used to think that Riesling was, well, kind of nasty. For a long time, my white wine grape, almost exclusively, was Semillon. Then a bit of Sauvignon Blanc. And more often than not, a glass of Shiraz, thank you very much. Riesling smelt nasty and tasted even nastier.

And then a wine maker bought a bottle of ten year old JJ Prüm Kabinett* and I was sold. This was a completely different beast. It was, truly, aromatic.

Of course, this doesn't mean that German Riesling is widely available in Adelaide: it's hard enough getting hold of Victorian wines, let alone the even more foreign types! But in the UK, it's generally a different matter, and, given half a chance, I'll be drinking an Old World aromatic (Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Gewurztraminer from the Alsace in France, or Riesling from Germany). They tend to be a lot more food friendly than many other wines (and can even handle spicy food), and they tend to be stupidly good value for money (although I'd avoid the £3.50 Riesling I found in Somerfield as a comparison!).

When it came to WBW, I was surprised to find a German Riesling tricky to track down (always the way - as soon as you look for something, you can't find it), but found that (of all places) Harvey Nichols had an OK selection. The bloke in the HN wine shop suggested a Sybille Kuntz 2004 Riesling Trocken from Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. It was about £11, and even when I started looking at the £23 single vineyard number (remember, I was spending prize money!), he still recommended this.

So, what do we reckon?

This is a pretty gold wine, with just the merest hint of green as the glass empties. The nose is predominantly floral, with some stone fruit and the whiff of petrol that comes with age. On the palate, the mineral notes were very much to the fore, and the fruit was almost tropical and most certainly honeyed. This was cut through with some pretty solid acid, so it felt clean and bright in the mouth. And the length was pretty good, although not necessarily sophisticated: you don't get a lot of flavour development, more flavour persistence.

This is all quite positive, I know, but this is a German Riesling for which I paid £11 and, to be honest, I'd expect it to deliver just a little more. It was very slightly unbalanced in terms of alcohol (this is packing a whopping 13%): leaving the alcohol dominating just when you kind of wish it wouldn't.

I drank this with a bowl of pasta, dressed with a simple dill pesto: dill, whizzed up with pinenuts, a clove of garlic and a good slug (or two, or three) of extra virgin olive oil, plus plenty of parmesan - both in my pesto and on the pasta. To its credit, the wine stood up to me munching parmesan cheese and worked well with the pasta. Both pretty tall orders.

As far as I'm concerned, the less well known, or less fashionable, German Riesling (or Riesling in general) remains - the better. It allows me to moan that, at £11, this is perhaps a trifle expensive for what it delivers. Blimey - you'd never get away with that with a red Burgundy!

The wine: Sybille Kuntz, 2004 Riesling, Trocken, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, available in Harvey Nichols, around £11.

*In the same meal, the same bloke bought a bottle of Château Montrose, thus setting me up for even more expensive tastes than the ones I'd already acquired ...

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Monday, May 05, 2008

Fish Dish

Sat 3 May 2008

At the risk of sounding very much like Marcus Wareing's PR lady, I've made yet another dish from his (so far) excellent One Perfect Ingredient. This time, it was the sea bass with pine nut crust. Not every recipe in the book is illustrated, but this one is and the fish looks absolutely fantastic.

I think Wareing's recipe is more complicated than it need be, so what follows is my 2 person Wareing-inspired fish dish.

We bought one sea bass at the market (£3.20) and had the fish monger fillet it. Leave the skin on.

The topping requires just butter, garlic, dill and pine nuts. I began by toasting about 25g of pine nuts, but I think that even this is a little unnecessary. So my pine nuts were only lightly toasted, before they were blitzed. I then added about 50g of unsalted butter (the slightly warm pine nuts meant that it ended up malleable, which is probably worth a quick turn in the pan with the nuts in itself!), some roughly chopped dill and a clove of garlic. When this mixture is well combined, add a further 25g of pine nuts and chop until they just begin to break up. Leave some texture in your paste.

I then made a couple of slashes in the fish skin before slathering on the butter and pine nut paste. Rub it in to the slashes but remembe you're making a crust, so build it up and cover the fish generously.

Because sea bass fillets are quite slender, I heated some oil in a grill proof pan, put the fillets in (skin/crust side up) and, after about a minute, put the whole pan under a pre-heated grill. A few minutes later, the crust was bubbling and the fish was cooked.

I served the fish with potatoes sautéed in duck fat and a simple salad (lettuce, tomato, red onion and chevre), with a dressing made from olive oil, red wine vinegar and a spoonful of the butter topping. Finish the plate with some more chopped dill and a sprinkling of black pepper ... and supper is served.

I think you could get away with drinking your favourite white wine with this dish. We could have even finished off our afternoon tea ... if there had been any left. We'd enjoyed a bottle of Gosset NV Brut Excellence Champagne, which we'd bought for about €20 in Cologne Airport. I have a friend who raves about Gosset, but this was my first taste - and, for an entry level wine, I was very impressed. I'd certainly be happy to invest in another of their more expensive wines! A blend of all three Champagne grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier), this wine had some of the weight and complexity that you'd expect from a vintage. I thought the nose more complex than the palate, showing plenty of bready, biscuity and even brioche aromas. The palate wasn't quite as clever, but it is a good savoury Champagne and would certainly go well with food. In fact, although I have doubts about how the dill would work, the bubbles and acidity could well make it a good match for sea bass with a rich, buttery crust!

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Saturday, May 03, 2008

On Champagne

Sat 3 May 2008

Champagne is one of my favourite drinks. I say 'one' because I wouldn't be so bold as to be definitive (a lot of other wines may feel miffed and I apologise to all the wonderful wines made from Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Sauvignon Blanc - I still really really love you, same goes for any wines from Alsace and good Riesling in general, and anything else - I'm not picky, really).

However, today I learnt a very salient lesson.

A month or so ago I mentioned that Pol Roger had released a zero dosage Champagne that was being sold in Harvey Nicks. Having recently won £60 I decided to treat myself to a bottle of this, on the premise that I've never tasted a zero dosage bubbly before and that I don't have to revise any more (and that leaves more time for drinking).

So off I went to Harvey Nicks. Past the queue outside the Espresso Bar in the Victoria Quarter, past the impossibly tanned ladies buying make up and accessories on the ground floor, past the impossibly tanned and glamorous ladies hovering around the Christian Laboutins on third and past the wannabes queuing for the ladies' loo on fourth. Just a normal Leeds on a Saturday afternoon.

And then I had a brain fail. There I was, looking impossibly tanned and glamorous (hmm, pale skinned, jeans, hiking boots, tatty t-shirt and five year old jacket) and I spotted the Laurent Perrier Ultra Brut. £44 a bottle. I bought it. I got back home and realised I'd meant to buy Pol Roger and it should have cost me £33.

The real stinger? Oddins sell Laurent Perrier Ultra Brut for £32 a bottle.

The moral: do your homework. While some things may cost the same at Harvey Nicks as at House of Fraser ... in other areas they may well be taking the mick.
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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Marcus Wareing Does Curry - Part 2

Mon 21 April 2008

So ... finally on to the lamb chops that went with Marcus Wareing's tasty dahl. Another recipe from One Perfect Ingredient: lamb chops, Indian style.

This dish is a fantastic example of the flexible nature of the recipes in this book. Now, ideally you begin this recipe the day before - that way the lamb will soak up the flavours and the yoghurt and remain deliciously moist. But all that means is a bit of prep on a Sunday afternoon and Monday night's dinner is sorted. This is also a perfect dish for a BBQ: prep the day before, throw the chops on the BBQ as and when you're ready.

And ... it's simple.

First ... my alterations ... Because we were still missing the fennel seeds (this has since been rectified, but I doubt any recipes will call for them for months now), I substituted in coriander seeds, and I had no fresh mint. I meant to use some dried mint I had but I forgot ...

Start by heating a pan (no oil) and dry roasting equal quantities of coriander seeds, cumin seeds and peppercorns. Once roasted, grind the spices and then mix into plain yogurt. Finally, mix in a good load of chopped, fresh coriander.

Take your lamb chops and cover them with the yogurt mix. If you're in a hurry - grill straight away. If not, cover them and leave in the fridge overnight (or at least a few hours).

We grilled (basting with any left over yogurt mix), but you could easily pan fry or griddle, or slap on the BBQ. No lamb? Chicken would work just as well.

Serve with a little fresh coriander sprinkled on top, and perhaps rice and dahl.

The verdict: gorgeous!

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