Bobbi Brown at Macy's UTC

The UK does Macy’s – the new Macy’s at UTC Sarasota

So next on our wonderful trip to Florida, we hopped back into our amazing Mustang and headed down to Sarasota, to the brand new Mall at University Town Centre (UTC for short).  The brand new Macy’s there is utterly fantastic, and very state of the art.  We joined store manager Kerry Yelle for a tour of the store.  She’s understandably pretty proud of the place and pointed out several really cool features that are unique to this ‘smart store’.  The lighting, for example, has been designed to be sustainable and the lamps don’t need replacing, plus the changing rooms have lights that only come on when you enter, to save energy.

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Fog Head Pinot Noir

The autumn wine round up

We have very weird wine habits in this house.  When Mr English is home we really splash out and try a few nice wines, but when I’m at home on my own when he’s working, I tend to have a glass of a supermarket red on the go and I don’t think there’s any shame in that.  I often read my friend Helen’s blog: Knackered Mother’s Wine Club for inspiration as she’ll regularly recommend a good bottle or two.

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No 2 Pound Street Deli Platter

Wine tasting and deli platters at No 2 Pound Street

When Mr English is home, one of our favourite things to do is pop to No 2 Pound Street in Wendover.  It’s a lovely little place – part wine shop/part deli.  They sell an amazing selection of cheese and other lovely bits, and an equally fab selection of wines.  They concentrate on the slightly more unusual, organic, small-producer type wines, so you’ll always find something a bit different in there.  They usually have four or five different wines on offer by the glass, so we pop in for a glass or two and one of their delicious deli platters:

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SP68 Arianna Occhipinti

A secret wine tasting and some fab new wine discoveries

My brother is really into his wine.  He’s a serious collector and really knows his stuff. He’s introduced me to some amazing wines and we’re always telling each other about our new wine discoveries.

We decided to get together for a bit of a ‘wine-off’ with Big Bro and his wife picking some wines, then me and Mr English picking some wines, and decided to make it a bit more tricky by agreeing to cover the labels.

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Review: Barclay’s Bespoke Offers – Virgin wines mixed case

Star and VineOver Christmas we reviewed tons of wine.  One of the selections that really stood out was from Barclays’ new website, Bespoke Offers.  It’s a new concept full of all sorts of different offers, discounts and deals, from days out and holidays through to tech and appliances and everything in between.  You don’t have to have a Barclaycard and you can also tailor the site to suit yourself, searching by postcode, for example, to find offers near you, or searching by subject, for example, if you’re looking for a spa break, you can look at all of them, or just look at the ones in your region.  You can also register your specific interests and get just the offers that suit you sent to you.  Bonus.

We reviewed a Christmas Treats mixed case of wine from Virgin Wines which contained some outstanding bottles.  Our favourite reds were the Chilean  Tierra del Corazon Casablanca Pinot Noir Reserva 2013 – a gorgeously fruit-filled Pinot Noir and the Star & Vine Lodi Shiraz 2012 - I love a Shiraz anyway and this one didn’t disappoint, with berry, cherry flavours and perfectly festive spicy notes coming through.  Yum.

The whites didn’t disappoint, with a lovely crisp South African Hope Springs Bush Vine Chenin Blanc 2013  and the outrageously good Florentyne Reserve Margaret River Riesling 2012 which was just off dry and beautifully aromatic and fresh, topping our list of favourites, but honestly, there wasn’t a bad bottle in there.

If you want to have a look at the food and wine offers on the Barclay’s Bespoke Offers website, just click here.  I think we’ll be returning for another look very soon.

New Year wine, a lazy loaf and a clementine drizzle cake

Nigel Slater's lazy loaf

I love the time after Christmas when we have a few lazy days before everyone goes back to school and work.  We had a quiet New Year with Gary Barlow (not literally, I’m not THAT lucky).  Sam’s girlfriend has American parents and had us popping a piece of fruit into our mouths on every bong on the countdown to midnight – I think it’s a Spanish tradition, but it’s hilarious and by the last bong everyone’s cheeks were bulging and we were all drooling and laughing.

We’ve opened some really lovely wine over the festive period.  At midnight, we toasted 2014 a delicious Wolf Blass Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir (on spesh at Asda at £5.75 at the moment I notice – SNAP IT UP!).  We also opened the front door to let the old year out and the new year in – think that one’s Irish.  My own favourite wine of the season was the Cune Crianza Rioja 2010  – an absolute beaut with that hint of vanilla that I seem really drawn to.  Again, on spesh at the moment I think.

Mr English is very keen on Pinot Noir.  His favourite of the season was the Californian Clos du Bois Pinot Noir (Majestic, £9.99 if you buy two American wines).  There’s something herbal about it (which doesn’t sound nice, but is) but it’s still full of really ripe fruit.  Yum.

The Big Bro recommended a splash-out Amarone, perfect for Christmas.  I’ve got this one on my wish list from Majestic: Amarone Classico ‘Vigneti di Roccolo’ 2010 Cantina Negrar.   It’s a pricey one at £23 but comes down to £18 if you buy two fine wines.  One for when the coffers have been replenished.

Baking-wise, I’m loving Nigel Slater’s wonderful lazy loaf.  It’s a soda bread, but because it’s baked in a cast iron casserole, it develops a wonderful chewy crust.  Delicious, and barely 30 minutes to make – with no kneading.  I also used up the last of the Christmas clementines with a clementine drizzle cake.  Exactly the same as lemon drizzle cake:

Clementine Drizzle Cake

3 eggs

Same weight (about 175g) of caster sugar, butter and self raising flour

Juice and zest of a couple of clementines.

So just weigh the eggs in their shells, then weigh out the rest of the ingredients to the same weight.

Beat the butter until soft, then add in the sugar and beat until light coloured and creamy.  Add the zest and juice of the clementines to the eggs and give them a quick whisk with a fork.  Add them a dribble at a time to the butter/sugar mix.

Stir in the flour, then dollop the mixture into a buttered cake tin and bake at 180 degrees/gas 4 for about 30 minutes until springy to the touch or until a knife point comes out clean.

Mix the juice of a final clementine with a  couple of teaspoons of sugar and drizzle over the warm cake.  Delicious.

Clementine drizzle cake

 

In pupster news, she’s settling in really well, has made a best friend at puppy classes (a cute and ridiculously soft Vizsla called Ellie) and thinks having everyone at home over Christmas is wonderful!

 

Cute

More adventures in wine: I sample Asda’s summer wine selection

You know me, I love a glass of wine.  Or two.  So when Asda offered to send me a selection of their favourite wines for the summer, well, I jumped at the chance.

As a fledgling wine-taster I’ve done my best to describe them for you (none of that ‘burnt rubber and cut grass’ stuff I promise) mostly without referring to any tasting notes, but this stuff’s all a bit subjective so you might not agree.  Do go and seek them out, though, they’re a delicious bunch:

Asda summer wines

From left to right:

The Wine Selection Pinot Grigio 2012

I always think that I don’t like Pinot Grigio, but we really enjoyed this Italian white from Verona.  Bright and crisp with less mouth-puckering acidity than I remember from last time, although still fresh and zesty.  Bit of a snip at four quid a bottle.

Extra Special Fiano 2012

This Sicilian beauty was one of my favourites. Fresh and fruity, bright with tangy citrus and – what? – green apple? Wish I had an expert on hand.  £7.00.

The Original Malbec 2011

I adore an Argentinian Malbec and though this French Rigal Malbec was a beauty: spicy, smooth and full of fruit with a touch of sweetness – seriously easy drinking.  £7.25 but currently on offer at £5.50 so snap it up.

Extra Special Gavi 2012

A really special wine (reflected in the price, I’ll admit).  This Italian Gavi was delicious: fresh and crisp but also with a flowery scent that was really appealing (there goes my wine vocabulary letting me down again). Loved it, and did a special online order to buy more as there’s no Asda near us. £8.00.

Lugana 2012

This wine is from a small area just inland from Lake Garda.  The grapes used are Trebbiano – not something I’ve come across before.   I was lost for the words to describe what I was tasting, but it’s almost metallic – not unpleasantly so – I’m sure there’s a proper winey word for it – also fresh and lemony.  £8.50 but currently on offer at £7.00.

Garganega Pinot Grigio Pouch

Almost back to the wine boxes of our youth, we were initially, I’ll admit, a bit snobby about the whole ‘wine in a bag’ idea, then laughed as both of us were caught sneaking back to the fridge for another top up.  This wine is an 84% Garganega/16% Pinot Grigio mix from Verona and you get a stonking 1.5L for your £9.50.  A bit of a bargain and well worth keeping in the fridge for unexpected guests (if it lasts that long).  It stays fresh for a good few weeks during use and is surprisingly eco-friendly too.  I referred to tasting notes for this one and could definitely taste the pear that was mentioned. Delicious, crisp, fresh and dead handy too.

The verdict?  Not a single wet blanket amongst them, but the Malbec was my favourite.  Could have done with a couple of rosés in the mix too.

Thanks to Asda for supplying the wine. Excellent fun. Next!  (Please note the prices may well have changed slightly since I last asked – they often do!)

 

Ten amazing Champagne facts

Tesco Champagne labelI love a bit of fizz.  I also love a nerdy fact.  I realised recently that I’d nearly got enough for a top ten, so I ferreted around for a couple more and came up with this lot: a big top ten of useless, but diverting, facts about Champagne.

No need to thank me…

  1. My lovely friend, Helen McGinn, wino extraordinaire, reckons that champers is the perfect accompaniment to fish and chips.  A fact that I regularly check, to make sure it’s still true.
  2. Everybody moans about Chardonnay, but most people don’t realise that it’s one of the main grapes used in Champagne production (Blanc de Blancs are made solely of Chardonnay grapes).
  3. Champagne contains less than 100 calories a glass (about the same calories as a banana) and, in fact, Laurent Perrier Ultra Brut has just 65 per glass), making it quite a ‘skinny’ option, alcohol wise.
  4. 1996 and 2002 were both excellent years for Champagne.
  5. Champers is the perfect accompaniment to anything salty… but clashes with anything sweet.
  6. The cork from a shaken bottle of champagne can reach 100mph.  DUCK!
  7. Although certain people (I’m looking at you, America) insist on calling it ‘French Champagne’, this is pointless as there is no other sort.  To be called Champagne is must be produced in the Champagne region of France, and only there.
  8. It’s very bad manners to put an empty Champagne bottle back upside down into an ice bucket.
  9. You should also never swirl Champagne in the glass as it bursts the bubbles and will show you to be an ‘amateur’!
  10. Champers doesn’t have to be posh to be good.  Champagne from Tesco, including their very popular Finest Premier Cru, regularly win awards and come up in ‘best of’ listings.

Review: The Knackered Mother’s Wine Club by Helen McGinn

Helen with her brand new bookI’ve known Helen McGinn for donkey’s years.  And if you’re a regular reader, you’ll have seen her appearing several times right here on this very blog, recommending wines for Christmas, wines for Easter, food and wine combos… all sorts of stuff.  Helen is my ‘go to’ person when it comes to wine.  I’m really interested in wine, but I’m often not sure what I’m doing, and am not confident tasting wine either.  She’s always very patient when I bombard her with stupid questions and the recommendations on her fabulous blog, Knackered Mother’s Wine Club, go straight onto my shopping list every week.  She’s never let me down.

Muchos excitement was in the air, then, when she told me she was writing a book.  Happily it’s written exactly like Helen’s blog – with a hearty dash of humour, a ‘we’re all in this together’ chumminess, and an utter disregard for any kind of wine-based pomposity (is that a word? That’s a word, right?).  Oh and I’m quoted on page 45, don’t you know?

This isn’t really a review because I haven’t read it yet (I’m saving it for a long flight I’m taking in February), but I can tell you that it’s full of Helen’s tips for choosing, tasting and food-matching wine – from lovely reds to sip by the fire, to fabulous treats for Christmas and New Year, and will go a long way towards making wine less mystifying for all of us.  This is a book for every one of us who says ‘I really like that wine’, but don’t really know why.  This is a book that will get us trying new wines, finding out what we really like and stop buying stuff that we don’t.  Because, as Helen says, life’s just too short to drink bad wine: “people were always telling me how overwhelming they found the supermarket wall of wine (or the wine list) terrifying.  This book is about giving you the confidence to navigate that wall of wine and break out of your wine comfort zone.  Think of it as loading up your internal wine sat nav.  There’s also loads of useful stuff too – tasting wine, food & wine matching, myths explained – I like to think of it as everything you really need to know about wine.

I quite like the idea that you can treat this book as a bit of a wine course: you can work through it, discovering more about wine and, next time you’re at a dinner party, can flummox your fellow guests with your new-found winey knowledge.

So what are you waiting for? BUY THIS BOOK RIGHT NOW (well, when it’s released on 14th February)

In the words of Helen: ‘peace out, winos’.

English Mum’s Christmas Wine List (according to Knackered Mother) 2012

Christmas wine (image via Sunsetlily on Flickr)

I’m so lucky to have fabulous friends.  I know, I know, lots of people have friends, but not too many people have friends who are wine experts.  I know, right? Still, it comes with its downsides – she makes me spend hundreds on wine y’know.

It’s been a busy year for the gorgeous Helen, who was not only voted Blogger of the Year at the International Wine & Spirit Competitionbut HAS A BOOK OUT THIS YEAR! The Knackered Mother’s Wine Club: Everything you ever needed to know about wine – and much, much more.  And if that’s not enough she also won Red Magazine’s Hot Women Award in the blogger category. PHEW!

Luckily for me, she is vey vey lovely, and has decided that she’s still not too famous to write her lovely annual Christmas wine guide for English Mum.

Over the last few years, I’ve written about the ideal wines to go with traditional Christmas feasts for my mate, the very fabulous English Mum. We’ve done the classic route – Champagne, Chablis, Claret and Port.   And we’ve done the not-so-classic route – Prosecco, Maconnais, New Zealand Pinot Noir and Sauternes.  Then last year, we did more of a food-and-wine-matching thing.  All useful stuff, hopefully.  But what we haven’t done is How Wine Can Save Your Life.  In other words, what wines you can buy as perfect last-minute presents that make you look like a) you know what you are talking about and b) show you really care…

The Husband
So, you could go for classic Bordeaux, but this in fact gives the game away.  You’ve thrown money at it in the hope that you’ll blind him with expensive wine.  There’s a better way: Rhone red.  Something from the Rhone, made with the Syrah grape, delivers power and knowledge and love in a glass.  Now that’s a present.  Go for Hermitage (about £20), or for a slightly cheaper option, Crozes-Hermitage (about £10).

The Mother-in-Law
This is where a bottle of Bailey’s isn’t going to cut it.  (Quick fact: I know the man whose dad invented Bailey’s.  Imagine that! What a legacy).  No, Bailey’s will betray the fact that you really didn’t know what else to buy them.  What you need here is sparkles, possibly pink.  So, either a bottle of Rose Champagne or – more fun but similar in price, about £20 – a bottle of Prosecco and a bottle of Campari.  Then you can bond over Dirty Prosecco (just add a splash of Campari to a glass of Prosecco and marvel at the colour and taste).

The Favourite Auntie
My sister – known to my children as Auntie Alex, obviously – is, according to them, the funniest person they know.  And she’ll be even funnier after a few lugs on what is quite possibly the most delicious sloe gin I’ve tasted this year: Sipsmith’s Sloe Gin (£23, Waitrose). Not only does it taste quite delicious, it is also beautifully packaged. Says I love you like no other gin can.

So, hope that helps and here’s wishing you all a very merry Christmas.

KM x

You can find Helen’s blog, Knackered Mothers” Wine Club, just here

In which I taste Asda’s Christmas wine selection (not all at once) *hic*

I am loving Asda’s Extra Special range again this year.  Last year, if you remember, I travelled to Leith’s to see (and taste) a little of the Extra Special Christmas range they’d developed in association with Asda, and this year, they sent me a few of their wines to try.  I don’t have an Asda near me, sadly, but I’ll be having a drive to stock up.  Here are my top picks:

Chardonnay La Maison Elyse £7.17 – don’t be put off because it says Chardonnay – hey, it’s what  makes Champagne, remember?  This isn’t oaky AT ALL and is deliciously creamy.  I ate it with salmon and pasta so I reckon it would be a winner with your smoked salmon starter.

Asda Extra Special Falanghina 2011 £5.00 – I cannot believe this wine is only a fiver… peachy, fruity and rich but still crisp, I LOVED it.  I’ve never had Falanghina before but will be seeking it out.  We had it with halloumi, rocket and pancetta wraps, but I it would be a delightful party wine, to be sipped with friends and nibbles.  Yum scrum.

Asda Extra Special Pinot Grigio 2011 £5.00 – I don’t usually buy Pinot, but we both thought this was delicious, so I’m kind of changing my mind now – light, crisp and appley, but not so acidic that you can’t drink it on its own. Which I did. All of it.

Asda Extra Special Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 £5.00 – gorgeously fruity, full of ripe berries and – I’m not very good at this, but – chocolate?  Raspberries?  Whatever, it’s delicious and if you come across it, stuff your trolley. You’ll thank me.

Wine Selection Cava Rosado £3.78 – A beautifully soft, crisp and fruity rosé sparkler that’s bursting with lovely strawberry flavours – perfect for all festive celebrations and SUCH a bargain!  I’ll be drinking this on Christmas morning and I’m not even sorry.

Thank you to the lovely team at Asda for sending me the wines. I love you all xx

My Florida diary, part 4: How do you poo in space? The Kennedy Space Center, The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel and dinner at Kouzzina

After a restful night at the gorgeous retro Helmsley, we set off early towards the east and the Space Coast.  Arriving a little late, we had to nip in the back at our scheduled lunch with an astronaut.  If you’re visiting, don’t miss this amazing experience.  To be accurate, it’s not like an intimate lunch, it’s more a big, full restaurant, one person talking at the front kind of lunch.  Still, this suited us fine and we were happy to listen to the amazing Bob Springer, veteran of both Space Shuttle Atlantis and Space Shuttle Discovery and and all round good guy.  There aren’t many times you hear ‘and this is a photo of earth I took out the window of the shuttle…’  We shared the lunch with an enormous party of Chinese school children.  They were very well behaved, but of course Bob had to field the ubiquitous ‘how do you poo in space?’ question, which he fielded bravely, and with pictures (if you really want to know it’s all done with suction. And leg straps). We were all impressed.

The Apollo/Saturn 5 Center is also AWESOME.  The films are humbling and actually quite emotional, plus you get to sit in a galleried area and watch as an entire countdown to launch is re-enacted in an actual mission control centre.  We also got to visit the huge launch area complete with the biggest single storey building in the world, a hangar so huge that looking at the ceiling nearly makes you fall over backwards.  Our gorgeous guide, the incredibly knowledgeable  Andrea Farmer, PR for the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex let us into a secret too: Atlantis is going to be permanently exhibited at Kennedy, the planned date being summer 2013.  I’m SO going back.  Check out kennedyspacecenter.com or follow them on Twitter @ExplorespaceKSC.

Our home for the night was the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel, my favourite, I think, of all our Florida accommodation.  The rooms were beautiful, and the actual hotel (well, hotels, there’s Swan and there’s obviously Dolphin) feels slick and classy, but is child-friendly too. Quite a feat.  There are bars and restaurants galore, a white sandy beach, stunning waterfalls and lush gardens.  In the evening, we wandered along Disney’s Boardwalk (one of my favourite places) to Kouzzina by Cat Cora, a frankly fabulous Greek restaurant.  The food was ridiculously good: we started with amazing dips: tzatziki, a spicy aubergine dip, taramasalata and hitipiti (red pepper and feta) served with delicious warm breads, followed by gorgeous melty Kasseri, a sheep’s milk cheese flamed so it’s lusciously gooey, served with toasted ciabatta.  Our mains were a tasting trio of braised short rib with feta mashed potato, lamb slider and a fisherman’s stew, and we finished off with an oozy chocolate centred budino cake, baklava and outstanding sorbets.  The wines were stunning too, and we staggered out just in time to watch the fireworks over the water before waddling back to the Swan, replete.

For more information, check out the Visit Florida Facebook page.

I travelled to Florida with Visit Florida and Virgin Holidays.  If you’d like to recreate my trip, here’s some information about a very similar seven nights in Orlando from £949

Seven nights in Orlando with Virgin Holidays, including scheduled flights with Virgin Atlantic from London Gatwick or Manchester direct to Orlando, two nights accommodation at the 5V Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, two nights accommodation at the 3V+ Sunset Vista Beachfront Suites, two nights at the 5V Longboat Key Club & Resort and one night at the 5V Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Hotel, all on a room only basis with car hire included starts from £949. Prices are per person based on two adults travelling and sharing a standard room, price includes all applicable taxes and fuel surcharges which are subject to change. Prices are based on departures 12 – 14 Nov 2012.

Start your holiday before you’ve even taken off in the v-room at Gatwick Airport or Manchester Airport; Adults £20, Kids £12

Virgin Holidays is a member of ABTA and is ATOL protected

To book: www.virginholidays.co.uk, 0844 557 3859 or visit one of their 90 stores located in Debenhams and House of Fraser stores nationwide

 

Union Jack cakeage and English wine tasting – a pretty fabulous Jubilee weekend

So what a wonderful Diamond Jubilee it was, then.  We didn’t do very much until the Tuesday when we had my big bro and his family round for some yummy food, wine and a mahoosive cake (see above) but we watched the festivities on the telly and moaned about the rain: very British.

Last night saw us finally visiting the lovely Neil Irvine at No 2 Pound Street in Wendover, Buckinghamshire.  Neil and his partners all have a background in wine/hospitality and this lovely wine shop is always worth a trip if you’re in the Home Counties (or even if you’re not, frankly!).  The shop prides itself in stocking unusual, quirky and interesting wines, and also boast a fine array of fabulous British foods too.  Their cheese selection is wondrous and shortly due for expansion and the cured meats are fabulous.  More of this later.  Neil has been promising me a little English wine tasting evening for a while and we went along to visit him and check out his pick of the best that England has to offer.  We weren’t disappointed.

What we love about No 2 is not only that it is a gorgeous wine shop and deli, but it’s a lovely meeting place too.  While we were there several people popped in for a glass of wine (the wines by the glass are eclectic and brilliantly chosen) and a chat – they’re open until 11pm Monday to Thursday and midnight on Saturday!

On to the wines, then.  I took the liberty of photographing the labels for you in case you’d like to give them a go.  I took basic notes on each one – they’re a mixture of what we thought and what Neil suggested we might pick up during the tastings.  Neil made us laugh when he said that up until quite recently, English wine traditionally had a kind of ‘beardy, corduroy, dandelion, elderflower’ kind of reputation, but now that’s changing, especially with our sparkling wine which is now beating Champagnes and winning serious awards.

Up first was Denbies’ Flint Valley (Non Vintage) £9.60, which was acidic, crisp and fresh, and with just 11% abv was nice and light too.  A fabulous start.

A quick note on English wine pricing here as well: we’re never going to compete with your four quid a bottle types in Asda – what with minimum wage and small yields – think of English wine as you would an artisan-produced food product and you won’t go wrong.  We found some fabulous wines and felt that they were all worth the money.

Next, we tried two types of wine made from Bacchus grapes:

The very delicate Welcombe Hills Bacchus 2010 £15.50: I thought I could smell elderflower and grass, and Neil suggested maybe blackcurrant as well.  Delicious.

Cornwall’s Camel Valley Bacchus Dry 2011 £17.00 – richer (from being grown in Cornwall’s lovely microclimate) and almost exotic fruit tasting.  Very dry.  We were divided on these two, with exactly half of us liking the Welcombe Hills, and the other half lovely the more viscous Camel Valley.

    

Next we tried Stopham Estate Pinot Blanc 2010 £14.70: I LOVED this wine.  There was a lot less acidity than the Bacchus wines (the appropriate term is ‘fleshier’ apparently!) – it’s much softer tasting.  Again we were divided with some liking the more acidic Bacchus varieties, but I loved it. Easy drinking.

We took a quick break for some of No 2’s amazing food.  We chose a cheese and meat platter and feasted on fennel salami from Monmouthshire, Shropshire black ham, air dried spiced beef, wild venison and cracked green peppercorn salami, Lincolnshire Poacher cheese (lush!), some gorgeously orange Shropshire Blue, some very strong and pongy but delicious Nuns of Caen, make in Herefordshire, and some delicious Bells Bloomin’ White  (I hope I got that name right) which was creamy and rich with mould on the outside.

We then tasted a bit of a secret project.  Element 20 £16.50 (calcium is the 20th element in the periodic table) is made from grapes grown by Denbies – 80% Chardonnay, 20% Bacchus.  It’s fermented in oak barrels and tasted lovely with our platter of English cheese and charcuterie.  You won’t find this in many places but it’s worth seeking out.

Onto the rosé now, with another wine from Welcombe Hills, this time their 2010 Rosé £13.20.  This wine is England in a glass: I could really taste lush strawberries, cut grass and sunshine – it’s like a day at Wimbledon! Delicious.  The Gusbourne Pinot Noir 20101 £16.50 was our last favourite – a very light red, it didn’t really stand up to our strong cheeses, but Neil assured us that it’s a lovely drinking wine.

  

And now a red.  Again from Welcombe Hills, the Pinot Noir Precoce 2011 £16.00 (literally ‘precocious’) was a far deeper red.  It tasted riper and really fruity and a lot softer too.  Fleurie lovers would adore this.  We loved it.

And finally, we started on the English fizz!  We started with a bang by cracking open the very popular Camel Valley Brut 2010 £31.00 from Cornwall.  This was a HUGE hit with us.  This wonderful bottle of Cornish sunshine has delicious fruity flavours and is elegant and gorgeous – it’s lighter than champagne I think – a bit like Prosecco, and it’s been beating the likes of Bollinger in recent awards.  Seek it out!

Nyetimber Classic Cuvée £29.00 from West Sussex is blended from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes and has just rebranded away from a classic Champagne-like look to a more English, quirky label.  It has delicious, creamy bubbles and traditional Champagne elements of toasty, biscuity flavours.  Lovely.

And last but not least, Gusbourne Estate Blanc de Blancs £29.00 is obviously Neil’s fave (you should have seen him pouring this with a massive grin on his face).  In Champagne terms, Blanc de Blancs would be the most elegant, classic wine, and this doesn’t disappoint.  A fabulous celebration fizz with a price tag competitive with the Champagnes it beats off with a big stick!

  

And finally, hiccuping somewhat, we hit the shop.  What did we buy?  Well,  a lot of the Welcombe Hills wine: the 2010 Rosé, the Pinot Noir Precoce 2011 and the Bacchus 2010 white and also that delicious Stopham Estate Pinot Blanc.  And we’ll be back.  Oh yes, we’ll be back to hear more of Neil waxing lyrical about his beloved wines, and to share a glass (or four!) with him again very soon.

Massive thanks to Neil and all the staff at No 2 Pound Street for taking the time and making the effort to treat us to such a wonderful evening.  And to my big bro and his wife for joining us.

 

 

 

 

Tenerife part 3: it’s all about the food: mojo, papas arugadas and flan

The afternoon we arrived at Bodegas Monje was utterly stunning. The sky was a shimmering turquoise and the rows of vines glowed emerald green, rolling down towards the sea. What a gorgeous place.

First up was a tour of the winery (meaning that we had to head into the gloom of the cellar… boooo.)  Still, I learned absolutely loads about wine making (the winery produce a stunning range of wines, mostly exported to the USA).

Next, it was upstairs to the rather beautiful cookery school, to get a crash course in Canarian cooking and test some of those stunning wines as well:

First on our menu was that Canarian staple (and my Disreputable Dad’s absolute favourite): papas arugadas (meaning literally ‘wrinkled potatoes’).  We had a bit of a laugh when we discovered that the type of spud used is ‘Quinegua’ – pronounce it in a Spanish accent and you’ll see exactly how it got its name: King Edward!

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We watched as the small potatoes were barely covered with boiling water and an eye watering amount of sea salt was added (at least two handfuls, but don’t worry, the potatoes will only absorb as much as they need – we tested this theory).  The potatoes were then covered and boiled for about 20 minutes, depending on size.  When tender, they were then drained and returned to the heat where they were tossed and shaken until all the remaining water was gone and they took on their traditional wrinkly, dusty appearance.  Delicious.

Next we moved on to the sauces.  Traditionally, red mojo sauce is served with meat and green with fish.   We were on the green team (the green can be coriander, but is just as often parsley or a mixture of the two) and set to work.  Mojo is traditionally made entirely by hand in a pestle and mortar and takes LOADS of elbow grease.  I bet there aren’t many bingo wings to be seen on the island, what with all that pounding!

For Green Mojo

6 cloves garlic

1 tsp sea salt

1 green pepper, deseeded and finely diced

One small (and very hot) green chilli

1/2 bunch fresh coriander (or parsley)

2 tsp cider vinegar

2 wine glasses of olive oil

First, crush the garlic with the salt, then slowly add in the green pepper, pounding until it’s all completely pulped.  Now add a tiny piece of the green chilli (to taste, but if they’re as hot as the ones on Tenerife, a teeny tiny square is all you need), then add in the coriander and keep pounding. When everything is completely pulped, add in the vinegar ad the oil.

We added a handful of crushed almonds and sultanas, which adds a little sweetness and thickens the sauce, but this is optional, as is an avocadeo, which adds a lovely creaminess.

For Red Mojo

3 cloves garlic

1 tsp salt

1 red pepper, deseeded and finely chopped

1 red chilli (again, as much as you like, but a small piece if they’re the very hot fiery ones)

1 slice toasted bread

2 tsp red wine vinegar

2 wine glasses olive oil

1 tsp sweet paprika

Again with the red, the garlic is pounded with the salt before the other ingredients are added one by one, making sure they’re completely broken down before the next ingredient is added.  The toasted bread works as the thickener in the red mojo.  Both were absolutely delicious.  We ate the red mojo with some pulled pork and those gorgeous potatoes.

We also had a demonstration of how the locals eat Gofio, the baked corn flour from the mill we visited in La Orotava.  The Gofio is mixed with ground raisins and almonds, milk, a splash of water and local honey.  It’s worked into a firm dough and that’s it.  It’s eaten sliced with goats’ cheese, and maybe even some mojo sauce.  We were divided on the gofio but I thought it was really lovely.

I adored the food on Tenerife: the seafood was delicious and very fresh (the ‘wreckfish’ was delicious, but I’m struggling to find out whether this is just local to Tenerife, or if it’s called by another name elsewhere), and obviously we ate an enormous amount of flan (I suppose we would say creme caramel), delicious custardy slabs, sometimes served with the dark caramel sauce, or sometimes with other little drizzly sauces, but often just plain.

Muy delicioso!

If you’d like to see more foodie photos from my trip, check out my Facebook page.

Knackered Mother’s Wine Guide to Easter

So my lovely gorgeous friend Helen, wine expert, International Wine Challenge judge, writer of Knackered Mother’s Wine Club and all-round wine smarty pants, is used to my incessant pestering for guest posts on wine.  Happily, she’s lifted the restraining order just enough to accept a request for a no-holds-barred guide to Easter wine, even how to match wine with the dreaded chocky egg.  Over to you, lovely Hells:

Now that Spring has definitely sprung and Easter Sunday is in sight, there’s been a shift in what I look forward to in my glass at the end of the day. There are a few more aromatic, ‘floral’ whites such as Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling rather than the winter-warming oaked Chardonnays and higher-than-average-alcohol Viogniers making it into the fridge. The deep, intense Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon- dominated red wines are moving over for lighter, fruitier Gamay, Sangiovese or Pinot Noir style wines. Given the unpredictability of our weather I’ll keep some of those winter warmers in the wine rack, just in case. But, with fingers firmly crossed, here are some wines that should put a spring in your step and just happen to go a dream with traditional Easter fodder:

Fizz-tastic!

The shops are chock-full of sparkling wine deals at Easter time so you really can take your pick of the bargains. Of course, you can go for a cheaper Prosecco but it really is worth spending a bit more on something that gets its bubbles from being fermented in the bottle a second time. If you like a lean, elegant style of Champagne – think Kate Moss pre-Pete Doherty– go for a Blanc de Blancs. That means it is only made from Chardonnay grapes. If you like your Champagne with more flesh and curves on show – think Elizabeth Hurley in THAT dress – go for a Blanc de Noirs. This means it is only made from the permitted red grapes, Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier. If you can’t choose between the two, go for a blend of all three grapes but make it a Premier Cru (meaning made from grapes grown in slightly higher-rated vineyards than your average Champers): Tesco do a brilliant one in their Finest range.

Red Wines ♥ Lamb

Assuming you’ve got a huge leg of lamb stuffed full of garlic and rosemary in the oven, you’ll need a red to go with it. You can try a white, but the fat (from the lamb) and the acidity (from the white) will fight and both will taste the worse for it. However, give the lamb a juicy red with some lovely supple tannins and everything will taste as it should. Both Cabernet Sauvignon and the lovely, if slightly slutty, Tempranillo grape from Spain – what Rioja is made of – are great matches for lamb. If you are doing a lighter take on lamb, going easy on the garlic & herbs, then a New World Pinot Noir will also make a great match. Try one from New Zealand or Chile (the latter being slightly cheaper).

Wine & Chocolate

I know lots of people who swear by red wine and chocolate being a heavenly match. I’m not one of them. Years ago, when working as a wine buyer for a big supermarket I developed a range of wines to go with particular foods. One of the wines on the list had to go with chocolate so, hard as it was, I tasted about 50 different wines with a variety of puddings including chocolate. Almost none of the combinations worked. Tannins, found in red wines, are not bessie mates with chocolate. The best match is either a light Moscato-style fizz or a lovely thick sweet wine like Banyuls from France.

Happy Easter x

Gifts for magnificent mums and delectable dads. The Christmas Countdown Gift Guide

FOR THE MUMS

All mothers love to receive flowers from their children. Surprise yours with one of many arrangements of vibrant and beautiful flowers delivered right to her door.  Choose flowers for any occasion, or just to let her know that you love her.  Check out www.serenataflowers.com or if your mum has a sweet tooth, maybe www.serenatachocolates.com.

Red Magazine is my favouritest magazine ever.  The best food, the best fashion and the nicest editor (follow her on Twitter at @SamatRedMag).  If you subscribe now, you can get 6 issues for just £9.99 plus a really nice Elemis freebie.  Grab it for yourself AND buy your Mum a subscription!

Red has a fabulous new website too! Check it out at redonline.co.uk – there’s beauty, recipes, fashion, news and tons more – it’s like a whole other magazine on the web:

All for Eve is a great beauty brand where  100% of net profits are donated to the Eve Appeal that funds research into gynaecological cancers.  There is currently a capsule collection of 8 fantastic products (the awesome red lipstick was created by make up artist Daniel Sandler).  Great quality, and what a fab cause too.  Available in loads of stores (including Harrods dahling).  Check online for stockists.

Carol Savage, the Dragon’s Den ‘alumnus” and founder of recipe website MyDish.co.uk has launched lovely personalised  recipe calendars for Christmas this year.  You can either source and upload a favourite recipe or alternatively add your own recipes and photos:

The calendar costs £15.00 and £5.00 from every calendar donated to Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Brown and Harris have some beautiful and very on-trend old-fashioned English toiletries which would make lovely gifts.  They have some gorgeous gift-sets as well as individual products – I keep an enormous tube of the lavender conditioning hand and nail cream on my desk which smells absolutely delicious (lavender’s not just for grannies you know!).  The perfumed wardrobe and drawer sachets are gorgeously vintage and make really sweet stocking fillers too.   Available online from their website, and from Amazon, plus other stockists.

Talking of smellies, if your mum is a lover of scented candles (aren’t we all?) look no further than the gorgeously scented Spa Paradisa candles.  The packaging is wonderfully retro and I thought the scents were utterly delicious.  Available at next.co.uk and Debenhams too.

And let’s not forget mums to be in our little line up.  I can heartily recommend the delightfully girly Mum to Be Pamper Me gift set, which includes bath soak, tummy cream and a vanilla scented candle:

They also do a really lovely Little Me Organics lavender-scented gift set for mum and baby.  Lovely new mum Denise Van Outen is a big fan of the range.

Last but not least, if you can count booze as stocking fillers, I’d heartily recommend Martini’s range of festive fizz:

MARTINI Asti DOCG (7.5% ABV, £6.28 at Tesco).  This is the original Asti taste that I remember from many Christmases past, and although a tad sweet for some palates, it makes for a lovely cocktail when mixed with plenty of fresh lime (a tip I learned from the lovely Nigella).

MARTINI Prosecco DOC (11.5% ABV).  Prosecco is well trendy this Christmas and this one, with hints of apple and peach, is gorgeous.

MARTINI Cuvée Speciale Rosé (8% ABV).  I love  rosé – not only because of the colour!  This is the perfect party wine – and has only 75 kcal for a 125ml serving!

The Prosecco and Rose is £6.00 in Asda on spesh at the moment.

Chin chin!

FOR THE DADS

First of all, I must recommend 1001 Beers You Must Try Before You Die by the fabulous Adrian Tierney-Jones, hubby of my lovely friend Exmoor Jane.  Available from Amazon priced £10.92, it’s a must-purchase for every beer-loving dad.

Still on the subject of beer, here are two fine beers born out of a collaboration between Rick Stein and Sharp’s Brewery.  Chalky’s Bark has subtle hints of ginger, a perfect match for spicy food, whilst Chalky’s Bite has notes of fennel which goes great with any seafood. If your dad’s a real foodie, you’ll seriously be in his good books. Chalky’s Bark & Chalky’s Bite are both available in cases of 12 bottles at £24, from Majestic stores  or www.sharpsbrewery.co.uk

No Dad’s stocking should be complete without this fabulous tin of yummy Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls  mint balls.  The newly designed tin costs just £3.27 and with 100% natural ingredients, these famous mint balls are suitable for vegetarians, vegans and are gluten-free too.  http://www.uncle-joes.com

The brand new Black and Decker 14.4v Autoselect® Lithium Ion Hammer Drill is out now(oh come on, you know every Dad secretly wants a drill even if they don’t ever use one).

Radox have got some fabulous gift sets out at the  moment.   Available nationwide from Boots and all good chemists – one of these sets would make a great stocking stuffer for any dad.

If you’re going to go the trad route and give socks (the hubby insists on it every  year), Jeep have got some really trendy ones.  We (well, not me) tried out the Luxury Terrain ones, and they’re a cut above your normal stocking filler.  Available at the usual outlets priced £7.99.

This gorgeous Mont Blanc Special Edition John Lennon pen is a snip at £585.00 (ahaha), but there are pens for every budget that would make a great pressie for any office-bound brother or crossword-loving dad.  Check out thepenshop.co.uk for loads of choice.  There are tons of Filofaxes in every colour too.

The Powermat is an awesome pressie if your man has an iPhone 3 or 4.  We tried it out and it’s really good.  Once fitted with the special case, you can just pop the phone straight onto the mat and it charges it straight away.  It works for Blackberries/DSi/PSPs and loads more as well.  A word of warning though, if you’ve got a ‘normal’ phone (I’ve got a Nokia 5800), you can’t use it.  There are some extra attachments, but they’re mostly USB based.

The Knackered Mother’s Christmas Wine Survival Guide


It just so happens that I have an amazing friend, Hels, who is also a wine expert.  She used to be a buyer for a big supermarket and now works for a fabulous wine company.  I know – how lucky am I?  She’s very busy doing international winey things and judging at wine exhibitions, but I managed to nab her to give us the low down on Christmas booze.

The culinary countdown to Christmas has begun and decisions need to be made. What size turkey? Make or buy the Christmas cake? How many things I can really put on my Christmas list without looking greedy? All that can wait. For me, the fun part is choosing what wines to get in. With all the thought, love and care that we put into food for the Big Day, this is no time to leave wine to the last minute resulting in a dash to the corner shop for an extra few bottles of Blossom Hill. Of course, there are timeless Christmas Classics – Champagne, Chablis, Claret and Port – but the explosion in wine choice from around the world gives us endless possible glorious combinations. Here are a few recommendations, both classic and not-so-classic, to try:

Christmas Morning – a good Prosecco

I like to think of this as Mother’s Little Helper: a small glass of Prosecco in the kitchen whilst getting things ready, quite possibly in my dressing gown. Others can help themselves too, they usually do. It has a gentle fizz, a touch of sweetness and a definite festive feel. Try and find one from the Valdobbiadene region, a small area in Italy – near Venice – recognised for making fizz from the Prosecco grape that is a quality notch above the rest.

Christmas Lunch

I bloody love Christmas lunch. Being naturally greedy, I love being able to put so many different things on my plate all at once, trying out different food combinations with every forkful: a bit of turkey with cranberry sauce, my mother-in-law’s brussel sprout puree (the only way I’ll eat them) with a bit of sausage wrapped in bacon. Finding a wine that can cope with all these different flavours on one plate is not easy, so have both white wine and red wine on the table. Either stick to whatever colour you prefer or go crazy: have both! Not at the same time, obviously. I seem to start with a glass of white before sitting down to eat and move on to red with lunch. Acidity in the whites will help cut through the saltiness (bacon, sausages).  Chablis – which is made from the Chardonnay grape – is often touted as the fail-safe match for turkey and so it is, but I prefer a rounder, almost creamier Chardonnay to cope with the mixed bag of savoury flavours. Last year we had a Chilean Chardonnay that worked a dream. This year I’m going for an old world classic Chardonnay from Burgundy in France; Meursault (if feeling reckless) or a white from the Macon region (if I’ve spent too much on presents).

For red, I’m going for a big Pinot. I love a good Pinot. Don’t always like the price (notoriously expensive and is a bugger of a grape to grow) but when it’s good, it is so worth it. Now, this grape’s natural homeland is France, Burgundy again to be precise. However, a country on the other side of the world has quietly been getting its Pinot act together over the last few years. New Zealand, specifically a region in the South Island called Central Otago, is producing some of the most delicious Pinot Noir wines I’ve tried over the last year. Again, not cheap but it really will help bring out all the flavours in the food. Often, I see Claret (that’s red wine from Bordeaux under another name) suggested as a good match for Christmas lunch but I find it can dominate the flavours and the tannin clashes with the fat. The less-tannic New Zealand Pinot Noir doesn’t fight with the food, if you know what I mean. If the price of the NZ Pinot puts you off, try one from Chile: arguably better value for money.

For pudding and/or cheese, I’m still usually on the red but if I remember to move on to the sweeties (darling) I am always glad I did. A small 37.5cl bottle of something sweet and sticky, especially Sauternes made from a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon grapes, is a suitably decadent way to wind it up. Made from grapes ripened and naturally rotted, the result is a wine with divinely concentrated sugars, flavours and balance that will match both sweet Christmas pudding and a savoury slab of Stilton.

And then there’s the Amaretto…

Happy Christmas!

KMx

You can find Helen’s blog, Knackered Mothers” Wine Club, just here.

If you want to find the wines that Helen recommended, the lovely Matt at Curious wines has given me the links for:

The ProseccoThe Chardonnay and The Pinot Noir

Curious Matt gives us the lowdown on what Chilean miners are drinking this year, dahling

I thought it was quite interesting, when I was watching the tv programme yesterday covering the rescue of the Chilean miners from the San José mine, that the voiceover guy said:  ‘in the past, Chile was only ever famous for its ‘con carne”.  Yes okay, so it made me laugh, but seriously?  I only knew about Chile because of their rather scrummy wine.

I was going to do a Chilean food post, but frankly, unless you count fabulous steaks (nope, sorry – chilli con carne is American in origin) and some rather good seafood near the coast, Chilean food is, well, a bit uninspiring (although if a nice Chilean foodie would like to guest write me some nice recipes, my door’s always open).

Happily, though, Chilean wine is altogether more exciting.  And I asked fellow foodie and wine expert, Matt, from Curious Wines to tell us more:

Chile’s wines have only arrived in the UK and Ireland in big numbers over the last decade or so, so it’s tempting to assume that Chile’s wine industry is a relatively young one. Tempting, but wrong…

Grapes have been grown in Chile since the 1500s when the conquistadors took over cuttings from Spain to grow their sacramental wine. What they were growing wasn’t, frankly, something you’d want to drink unless you had to. But the modern industry began as long ago as 1824, when the first wealthy businessman decided he wanted to grow French grape varieties.

Soon, everyone who was anyone was at it, and expensive wine estates – planted with Bordeaux grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and Burgundy grapes like Chardonnay, were springing up all over the valleys south of the capital.

By the 1980s, the industry had its second re-birth, when producers began to invest in the same sort of new technology that has boosted winemaking standards in places like Australia and California. This, combined with an even-better understanding of just what makes the country’s vineyards tick and special attention to their marketing message shot the industry to world prominence.

Currently the Chilean wine industry is looking to reform its image and with a collective concerted effort the times of cut-price deals might be coming to an end for many producers. Reports from disgruntled Chilean producers suggest that they are no longer willing just to ‘break-even’ as the capitalistic nature of the 1st world countries continue to squeeze them for silly prices, with not a care for cost in terms of product quality.

Using a similar business model to New Zealand – that is bringing wines to market that have real character and distinction, and deliver excellent value within the mid-range price bracket – Chile can compete with anyone on their own merits by producing honest wines that showcase the best of their terroir and the skills of each winemaker. Think of it as a product life cycle. These guys don’t want to see themselves in decline any time soon.

To see Curious Wines’ selection of Chilean wine, check out their website.

Oh, and check out my recipe for lamb shanks braised in Chilean Carménère over at Curious Wines’ lovely blog.

Auntie L’s birthday curry and home made Christmas liqueur

Liqueur shot

My sister in law, the  lovely Auntie L, has her birthday ridiculously close to Christmas, so on Saturday we decided to throw her a little birthday party.  It also just happens that the lovely chaps at Cobra Beer had contacted me a while ago and said ‘guess what, we know you like curry so we’re going to send you some beer to go with it’.

No way.  ‘What, like no strings?  You’re just going to send me beer?

‘Yup’.

‘And you don’t want anything in return?’

‘Nope’

‘What, like not even a mention?’

‘No, we’re cool’

Wow.

I love blogging.

Curry it is, then.

And yup, they did.  Sent us a whole box of Cobras to go with our curry.  And the links to a load of curry recipes on their website.  Anyhoo, digressing.  So I made a beef dhansak and their recipe for marinated spicy chicken (and no, not just ‘cos they sent me free beer, honest), along with some yoghurt/cucumber/mint raita (raitha? I’m never sure), some onion salad with coriander, and a rice pilaff from Nigella’s ‘Feast’ book.

For pud, I set Turtle, my adorable niece,  a secret mission to find out Auntie L’s favourite cake.  It turned out to be coffee and walnut.  Frankly, the less said about this the better.  I made the walnut cake, but my attempt at coffee frosting was a total shambles.  Hell, we poured it over, stuck a few candles in it and ate it anyway.  It didn’t set, but it didn’t seem to matter.  Not my finest moment, but hey, it tasted okay.

Finally, I served frozen shot glasses of my special Chrimbo liqueur: a shudderingly, toe-curlingly whizzy little mouthful of Christmas.  Try it, you won’t be disappointed:

First, then, assemble your ingredients:

Liqueur ingredients small

1 litre vodka (or Eau de Vie or Bacardi – whatever really)

50g soft brown sugar

1 clementine or tangerine, peel and juice

1 lime, peel and juice

1 tsp mixed spice

A handful of dried cranberries

2 cinnamon sticks (make sure they’re slim enough to fit in the vodka bottle)

4 cloves

1 star anise (likewise, pick ones that fit in the bottle)

2 bay leaves

So first, bung the brown sugar in a pan and add in the juice of the clementine and the lime.

Pop the brown sugar in a pan

You don’t really need to stir it, just swirl it around and allow it to come up to the boil so it’s all bubbly and kind of syrupy:

Liqueur caramel

…and when it’s bubbling, turn it down and add in your other ingredients:

Liqueur spices

Stir them around so they’re all coated in the caramel, then take it off the heat and carefully add the vodka (watch out, it’ll spit).  Now, pour the whole lot back into the vodka bottle (you’ll need to poke some of the ingredients in with a knife or something).  And that’s it.  Just leave it somewhere to fester for a couple of days (not too long or you’ll just have cough medicine), sieve it and serve in teeny, cold shots.

Wehay!

Restaurant Review: The Forge Restaurant, Pottlereagh, Carnaross

So here, finally, is the review of The Forge Restaurant where we celebrated English Grandma’s 70th.  We went with open minds because (let’s face it, like most restaurants) some of our friends had had fabulous experiences, and others not so good – we’d also heard tales of being rushed through desserts to free up tables, but when I phoned I spoke to a very friendly waitress who assured me that we could take as long as we needed.

First things first, then, it’s in an absolutely beautiful spot.  Nestled in quite a rural location, but only about 5 minutes off the N3 (the main road between Kells and Cavan) and just 4 miles north of Kells.  I’d guestimate that it’s probably just over an hour’s drive from Dublin.  It’s a beautiful old stone building with plenty of parking, and we were given a very warm welcome by owner Irene, who was reassuringly present in the restaurant all evening, and the lovely smiley waitresses.

Obviously the first thing we did was order some wine and we weren’t disappointed with our South African Lookout Ridge Chenin Blanc ’08, which was fresh and zingy.  The dinner menu (we booked at 7pm)  is small but lovingly chosen, and Irene was more than happy to chat about the decisions behind the menu, their suppliers, where their seafood comes from, etc.

We got an amazing platter of warm home made bread while we were waiting, with some lovely spicy fruity walnut bread being my particular favourite.  The fellas all chose a mussel casserole as a starter.  The mussels were small and deliciously sweet, swimming in a generous broth of cream, white wine and onion (which was a bit too creamy for their tastes, but I thought was lovely – maybe in need of a bit more reduction, although I’m no expert):

Mussels (c) Englishmum.com

Grandma and I both chose the smoked haddock fishcakes, which were exactly as promised: with chunks of soft smokey fish and a lovely crisp coating:

Fishcake (c) Englishmum.com

Everything was beautifully presented and absolutely scrummy.

For mains, Hubby and I both chose salmon with a crab Creole sauce, #2 went for a rib eye steak and #1 chose a rack of lamb.  I can’t remember what Grandma chose (I blame the Chenin Blanc).  Again, every meal was painstakingly decorated and lovingly presented: the lamb expertly cooked and just pink in the middle:

 Rack of lamb (c) Englishmum.com

… the salmon moist and delicate (what?  I stole some chips, okay?), nestled on the Creole crab which was amazingly sweet and warmly spiced:

Salmon (c) Englishmum.com

… and the steak (what was left of it by the time we got a photo) huge, meltingly tender and perfectly cooked:

Rib eye steak (c) Englishmum.com 

The side orders were beautiful, and generous: big fat chips, lovely creamy dauphinoise potatoes and fresh crisp vegetables.  Most importantly, they were included in the price of the meal – it really annoys me when restaurants charge you 6 quid for a teeny plate of veg.

On to desserts, then.  And although we were all feeling a bit like overstuffed cushions, the menu was so tempting that we had to go for it.  Hubby and I shared a Baileys and mixed nut parfait in a hazelnut tuille with fruits of the forest coulis, which was first class.  The parfait had an amazing texture and creamy flavour, and the tuille was light and crisp.  Yum:

(c) Englishmum.com

#2 naturally went for a big slab of squidgy chocolate roulade, complemented by a lovely sorbet (can’t remember what flavour but it was zingy and fruity and fabulously countered the richness of the chocolate roulade):

(c) Englishmum.com

…and even the birthday girl managed to squeeze in a bit of sorbet:

Grandma's sorbet (c) Englishmum.com

All in all we were delighted.  It’s not a cheap meal, but the care and attention taken with the sourcing, cooking and decorating of each plate of food means that you feel that you get proper value for money.  The staff and owners are friendly and welcoming (even to little English boys with very loud, squeaky voices) and passionate about their product, the setting is divine and the restaurant is homely, warm and inviting.  If you live in Ireland, do try and make the effort to head north and try out this absolute gem of a place, and if not, then next time you’re in Ireland, you must visit.  In fact, you can pop in to English Towers and say hi at the same time.

The Forge Restaurant
Pottlereagh
Carnaross
Kells
Co. Meath

Tel: 046 924 5003
Fax: 046 924 5917

http://www.theforgerestaurant.ie/

A Curiously clever combination: butternut squash risotto and NZ wines

Grub's up!

I love butternut squash.  I love its sweetness, its softness, and its beautiful orangey colour.  I love risotto too, and the combination of both of them is one of my favourite meals.  I happened to mention to the lovely Matt, fellow blogger and ‘Wine Evangelist’ (I love that title) at Curious Wines that I was going to knock up a butternut squash risotto and he very kindly offered to send me a couple of wines to taste with it.  ‘I can’t taste wine’, was my initial reaction, but with the promise of help and tasting notes, I felt much better.  Was I in?  Too bloody right I was.

#1’s homecoming from bleeding his Grandparents dry in England seemed a good enough time for a little celebration, so I put the vino on ice and set about making the butternut risotto: 

1 butternut squash

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

7 or 8 sage leaves, finely chopped

Butter

1 onion, finely chopped

350g risotto rice (arborio or carnaroli)

2 litres chicken stock

Parmesan, grated, and some for serving 

So preheat the oven to 200/gas 6.  Peel and deseed the squash and cut into cubes.  Spread the pieces out on a baking tray and drizzle with a little olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle over about half of the finely chopped sage leaves:

Drizzle the chunks with oil and sprinkle with sage

Roast for about 30  mins or until soft and slightly caramelised.  You can do this in advance and allow the squash to cool, if you like:

Caramelised roasted sagey butternut squash

For the risotto: allow the stock to come to a simmer in a saucepan, then keep warm on a low heat on the hob:

Chicken stock

Grab a heavy based pan, put it on a low heat and melt a tablespoon of butter.  Glug in some olive oil (about 2 tbsp should do it), then gently fry the onion until it’s translucent (try my trick of adding a pinch of caster sugar to stop it browning too quickly).  Then add in the rice, stirring around until it’s all glossy.

Add half the squash and the finely chopped sage.  Now just keep adding ladlefuls of stock, one at a time, stirring constantly and making sure all the liquid is absorbed before adding another.  When all the stock is gone – this might take half an hour or so – the risotto should be nice and creamy, still with a teeny bit of bite to it.

Now add in the rest of the squash and stir in the rest of the sage (the smell is amazing).  Turn the heat off, have a quick taste and season generously, then stir in another knob of butter, and a handful of grated parmesan, put the lid on and leave it to sit until you’re ready to serve.  Finally, ladle the risotto into warm bowls, topping with some grated parmesan, and serve:

Risotto, and a nice hunk of Parmigiano

Now to the wine.  Our first contender was the Waipara Springs Premo Dry Riesling 2006 (€12.99 from Curious Wines), and wow did this baby surprise me.  I think the last time I tried Riesling it was some medium German shocker (you can read all about what Curious Wines’ Mike has to say about Riesling here), but this was amazing – so zingy it was almost fizzy on your tongue.  We’re no wine buffs, but could actually taste something citrusy, (#1 had a sip and reckoned he could taste grapefruit – and do you know what?  It was actually on the tasting notes – he’s far too young to be this good) and the crisp, acidity was a perfect foil for the creamy sweetness of the risotto.  Yum.

Onto the next one, then.  Next up was the Tussock Pinot Gris 2007 (€14.99 from Curious Wines).  You can read Matt’s notes about Pinot Gris here.  This was a different kettle of fish.  You could see instantly that it was much darker in colour, and for those of you who might find the Waipara Springs a little too sharp, this was much softer and really, really pleasant, although still retaining a crispness that again complemented the risotto perfectly.  Try as we might, though, our dodgy palettes couldn’t make out the promised pear/apple notes – but I think that was our fault rather than the wine –  and there was a lingering aftertaste that I can’t describe (help, Matt!) but that was absolutely delicious.  Although this was lovely with food, we could well imagine polishing this one off whilst tucked up on the sofa in front of Lie to Me.

Sadly, after finishing two bottles of wine between us, I can’t read many of my notes and lost one of the pieces of paper, but the Waipara Springs definitely came in the winner with an impressive score of 16/20.  So that’s it, then, my first ever wine tasting.  I’d like to thank Mike and Matt for their patience, copious notes, encouragement… and the free wine, oh and for the slightly giggly game of poker that followed.  Bless you.

Now whose turn is it to wash up?