Monthly Archives: January 2012

A Burns night feast

Last week, everyone was talking about Burns night – what to eat, what to drink, and how to celebrate the birthday of Scottish poet, Robert Burns. Not wanting to be left out, despite no significant Scottish link, I decided to host a ‘traditional’ (I use the term loosely) feast for my family at the weekend (as one of my work colleagues said, “nobody wants a weekday whisky hangover”).

We started the evening with a taste test of three Scottish whiskies…

1. Highland Park 12 year old single malt – smoky and powerful with a slightly honeyed aftertaste
2. The Macallan Fine Oak 10 year old – mellow with flavours of rich vanilla and a smooth finish
3. Glenfiddich 12 year old – orange peel and pear flavours with an intense oaky aroma

I’m not a whisky drinker so you will have to excuse my sketchy tasting notes, however I can vouch for the fact that they all make a great whisky mac (1 part whisky, 1 part ginger wine, 4 parts Canadian dry ginger ale).

Following our mini tasting, we all sat down to enjoy baked haggis, neeps and tatties, followed by raspberry cranachan trifle (adapted recipes below – thanks again, BBC Good Food).

Now, I’d never had haggis before so I was a little apprehensive, however this went down a treat. Savoury and delicious, I served it with lashings of onion gravy.

A little tired of whisky cocktails by this point, alongside the haggis we enjoyed a bottle of easy-drinking South African Garden Route Shiraz from Tesco. The sweet black fruit flavours of this wine balanced out the meaty flavours of the haggis perfectly.

Baked haggis

Ingredients (serves 6)
2 x 450g haggis

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C (180°C for a fan oven)
2. Remove the outer packaging from the haggis and stab the skin all over with a fork
3. Wrap each haggis separately in foil and bake for 1 hour in the oven
4. Once cooked, slice each haggis open with a knife and spoon the contents alongside neeps, tatties and onion gravy

(I did take a picture of the haggis but it wasn’t very photogenic!)

Neeps and tatties

Ingredients (serves 6)
5 large baking potatoes
Large knob of butter
1 swede
Salt and black pepper

1. Peel the potatoes and cut them into equal sized pieces – roughly 4 pieces per potato
2. In a large saucepan, boil the potatoes until starting to go soft
3. Peel the swede and cut into equal sized pieces – roughly 2cm by 4cm
4. In a separate pan, boil the swede for 50 minutes – 1 hour until soft
5. Meanwhile, tip the potatoes into a roasting dish and coat with butter
6. Bake in the oven for 30-45 minutes until crisp on the outside and soft on the inside
7. Tip the swede into the roasting dish with the potatoes, add some more butter and season with salt and black pepper
8. Roughly mash the swede and potatoes together and serve with a generous spoonful of haggis

Whisky and onion gravy

1 tsp olive oil
1 large brown onion, finely sliced
25ml whisky
500ml good quality beef stock
1 tbsp cornflour
2 tbsp water

1. In a pan heat the olive oil until sizzling, then fry the onion until soft, but not browned
2. Turn the heat up and add a shot of whisky to deglaze the bottom of the pan
3. Once the whisky has burned off (you should no longer smell alcohol), pour over the beef stock
4. To thicken, mix the cornflour and water in a separate cup and gradually add to the pan

Raspberry cranachan trifle

Ingredients (serves 10)
600g frozen raspberries, defrosted
600ml double cream
200g mascarpone
5 tbsp whisky
100g butter
4 tbsp honey
75g caster sugar
150g jumbo oats
75g chopped hazelnuts
60g plain flour

1. Preheat the oven to 180°c (160°c for a fan oven)
2. Melt the butter and honey in a large saucepan, then stir in the sugar, hazelnuts, oats and plain flour until everything is fully coated
3. Spread the mixture out on a lined and greased baking tray, bake for 20 minutes, allow to cool, then crumble into large chunks
4. Whisk the double cream until it forms soft peaks, then fold in the mascarpone and stir in the whisky
5. To assemble, spoon a layer of raspberries into the bottom of a trifle bowl, followed by a layer of cream and a layer of oats
6. Repeat 2-3 times and scatter the remaining oats on top

If you’re not completely full and whiskied-out by this point (well done!), add a shot of Highland Park to your coffee and off to bed with ye!


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Go for an indie

Saturday was a pretty indulgent day as far as food and drink go. After settling into Caffè Nero with two cappuccinos and the morning papers, Luke and I wandered around Borough Market, had tapas and sherry for lunch in Brindisa, and then spent some time in Laithwaites pondering what to pair with our planned dinner of sausage and lentil casserole (recipe below, adapted from The Daily Mail Weekend).

Since we usually browse the somewhat limited wine aisle in our local supermarket during our weekly shop, this was something of a treat for us. After explaining to the cheery sales rep what we were having for dinner, we were offered several generous samples to try. We eventually decided on two bottles of the 2009 1842 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Barossa Valley (reduced from £14 to just £6.99 per bottle). Full of rich black fruits, subtle menthol flavours and a silky finish, we both agreed it would work well with the food and on its own.

Unfortunately, there was just one bottle of the 1842 left (‘here we go’ I thought – he’s going to pull out a more expensive alternative), but we were offered a bottle of 2002 Wild River Cabernet Sauvignon from the Yarra Valley for the same price. Smooth, blackcurranty and well rounded, this was equally enjoyable, and accompanied the rich sausage casserole perfectly!

Sausage and lentil casserole

Ingredients (serves 4)
8 sausages
2 large onions, finely sliced
2 whole red peppers
2 cloves garlic, crushed
400ml red wine (if you’re serving the food with a Cabernet Sauvignon, stick to the same grape variety – we used the Wild River)
200ml beef stock
250g puy lentils
400g tin chopped tomatoes
300ml vegetable stock
2 tbsp olive oil

1. Heat the oven to 180°c. Rub the red peppers with a little olive oil and place on a baking dish. Cook in the oven for 20 minutes until the skins start to blacken. Remove from the oven and put in a sealed plastic bag
2. In a large saucepan, heat the vegetable stock until almost at boiling point. Add the lentils and simmer for 15-20 minutes until softened slightly. This shortens the cooking time later on. Drain the lentils and leave to one side
3. Grill the sausages until cooked through and brown all over. Set aside
4. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large pan. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes until soft
5. Add the crushed garlic, red wine, beef stock, lentils and tomatoes
6. Reduce the heat so that the mixture is simmering away and, using a pair of scissors, snip each sausage into four pieces and add to the pan
7. Simmer for a further 30-40 minutes until the lentils are soft and the sauce is nice and thick
8. Meanwhile, remove the peppers from the bag, peel off the skins and deseed. Thinly slice and add to the sausage pot. Simmer for a further for 5 minutes until the peppers are heated through
9. Serve with broccoli, green beans and crusty bread

I know it’s not always convenient but I highly recommend visiting an independent merchant such as Laithwaites or Oddbins every once in a while. Both are in walking distance of London Bridge underground station and there are a lot more littered around the UK (Jamie Goode’s website contains a rather useful list).

The staff are friendly and highly knowledgeable in their field and the experience is personalised to your tastes and requirements. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been offered to try before I buy in the wine aisle at Tesco!

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Coq au Vin

A filling, simple and delicious dish that is just perfect to warm up with after a chilly January day!

Partner with French Connection’s (no, not the high street chain) Costières de Nîmes Rouge – a medium-bodied blend of Grenache Noir, Syrah and Carignan. With a subtle hint of spice and rounded blackberry flavours, this wine is perfect with casseroles and stews. Available for just under £6 in Tesco, make sure you pick up two bottles as you’ll polish off two thirds of one to make the Coq au Vin!

Ingredients (serves 4 hungry people)
2 tbsp olive oil
4 rashers smoked bacon, finely chopped
2 chicken legs, skinless
2 chicken breasts, skinless and boneless
4 chicken thighs, skinless and boneless*
8 shallots or baby onions
250g mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, crushed
500ml red wine
150ml chicken stock
2 tbsp brandy or balsamic vinegar
2 sprigs rosemary
2 sprigs thyme
1 tbsp cornflour
1 tbsp water
4 medium potatoes
2 tbsp milk
Knob of butter
Salt and pepper

*you can stick with one cut of chicken if you prefer – I’d go for legs if I had to choose!

1. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large, deep frying pan (a wok is fine) and add the bacon. Fry until starting to go crispy. Remove from the pan and place to one side
2. Cook the shallots for 10 minutes or until starting to soften. Remove from the pan and place to one side with the bacon
3. Heat another tbsp olive oil in the pan and add the chicken legs. Cook for around 5-10 minutes until seared all over and starting to brown. Remove from the pan and place to one side. Repeat with the breasts and thighs but don’t add anymore oil
4. Remove the chicken from the pan and pour in the brandy or balsamic vinegar and add the crushed garlic and herbs. Cook for 1-2 minutes on a gentle heat
5. Put the chicken, bacon and shallots back into the pan and add the red wine and chicken stock
6. Bring to the boil and then turn down the heat and simmer for 50 minutes – 1 hour until the chicken is cooked through
7. In the meantime, you can prepare the mashed potatoes – wash and peel the spuds, cut into equal sized chunks, boil for around 10 minutes until soft, add half of the butter, milk, salt and pepper and mash to whatever consistency you like
8. In a small saucepan, heat the rest of the butter and add the mushrooms. Cook on a medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes and then add to the pan with the chicken
9. When the chicken is cooked through, in a separate cup, blend the cornflour and water to make a thick paste. Add this to the chicken dish to thicken the sauce
10. Serve with the mashed potatoes, some green veg (peas, green beans etc) and a large glass of red wine

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Sugar and spice

The title of this post is a little misleading as the wine referred to below is technically classed as ‘off-dry’, however the Gewürztraminer grape variety is known for producing aromatic wines which, I recently discovered, go down a treat with spicy home-made curry.

I came across the delightful Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference 2010 Alsace Gewürztraminer this week. Rich and peachy with notes of lychee and rose petal, this wine was enjoyed alongside two tasty curry dishes. The rich spices in the food were balanced perfectly by the sweet ginger flavour present in the wine. You should generally avoid serving dry wines with spicy food as hot chilli takes away the sweetness in wine making dry ones taste a lot drier and unpleasantly astringent.

Chicken curry

Ingredients (serves 4)

8 skinless chicken thigh fillets
1 medium onion, sliced
1 clove garlic. chopped
1/2 tsp dried ginger
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
1 tbsp medium Madras curry powder
1 chicken stock cube
1/2 tsp salt
400g tin chopped tomatoes
250g button mushrooms, sliced
1 green pepper, sliced
1 tbsp vegetable oil
Knob of butter


1. Heat the vegetable oil in a large frying pan and brown the chicken fillets. Place in a large saucepan
2. Add the butter to the frying pan, heat until sizzling and fry the onions until soft (but not browned)
3. Add the garlic, ginger, chilli flakes and curry powder, stir well and fry gently for 3-4 minutes
4. Stir in the tomatoes and salt, and crumble in the stock cube
5. Bring to the boil and add to the chicken in the saucepan
6. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes
7. Stir in the mushrooms and pepper slices and simmer for a further 45 minutes until the chicken is cooked through

Chickpea curry

Ingredients (serves 4)

400g chickpeas, drained
1 small onion
1/2 green pepper, sliced (optional)
1/2 red pepper, sliced (optional)
400g tin chopped tomatoes or 4 large chopped fresh tomatoes
1/2 tsp dried ginger
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp coriander (or substitute 1tbsp medium Madras curry powder for the spices)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
Knob of butter


1. Heat the vegetable oil and butter in a large frying pan until sizzling
2. Turn down the heat and gently fry the onions until browned
3. Add the pepper slices (if using) and spices and fry for a further 3-4 minutes
4. Stir in the tomatoes, chickpeas and extra water, if needed
5. Bring to the boil and then simmer gently for 45 minutes until the liquid has reduced and everything is heated through

The great thing about these two dishes is that they require a lot of the same ingredients so extra shopping is kept to a minimum!

Serve with fluffy basmati rice, naan bread, crispy pappadums and a cucumber raita to cool things down (1/2 finely diced cucumber, 3 tbsp natural yoghurt, 1/2 tsp chilli flakes, salt and pepper).

If Indian food isn’t your thing, try pairing the Gewürztraminer with Thai cuisine for an equally pleasing food and wine match.

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If you like Riesling…

Try Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference 2006 Hunter Valley Semillon. Semillon is a grape variety often found in blends (with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and so on) and unfortunately, it tends to be overlooked on the wine list.

At the weekend I wanted to try something different to go with our fishy dinner of grilled prawns and oven-baked salmon. At £8.99 the Semillon isn’t a cheapy, but it’s definitely worth the price tag! With bracing acidity and pink grapefruit flavours, this Australian stunner is light in body and in alcohol (at 10.5%). It has ripe, tangy citrus flavours and subtle toasty undertones that have developed with bottle age. It instantly reminded me of the Tim Adams Clare Valley Riesling that I reviewed towards the end of last year.

We had baked the salmon in a foil parcel with cherry tomatoes and anchovies (have no fear – they melt down to nothing), and the salty flavours in the fish dish complemented the acidity of the Semillon perfectly.

The label on the bottle recommends that you try this wine with oysters… if only I was brave enough to try oysters!

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January detox?

It’s that time of year again – Christmas is over, the weather is depressing, and you’ve eaten too much and overdone it on the grog (I know I have, hence why the scales are no longer my friend!)

If you’re in the middle of a January detox and are in desperate need of a warming tipple, Bottle Green’s Spiced Berry Cordial is perfect! I’ve always been a fan of their Elderflower Cordial (delicious in vodka cocktails), but the berry version is intended to be enjoyed warm. All you have to do is mix a small measure with hot water and you’ve got a pretty convincing mulled wine for a fraction of the calories.

Filled with seasonal spices, you can instantly smell the cinnamon and cloves. On the palate it is packed with orange and blackcurrant. Delicious!

If you aren’t on a detox and fancy something a little stronger, add a measure of the cordial to hot red wine instead of water. Chuck in a slice of orange and you’re all set for a night in front of the TV, fire, or with leftover relatives.

Available until April, you can pick up a bottle from various supermarkets including Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, and Tesco for just £2.99.

Happy New Year!

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