Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Scotland, Australia, China ...

.... all without leaving home ! Last week was Burns' Night, Australia Day and Chinese New Year so a busy week in my kitchen.

I love to cook themed meals, for us, for family events or when friends come round for dinner. This week was all for us starting with Burn's Night. Neither Hubby nor I have any known Scottish blood but we do appreciate other's celebrations and in Robert Burns case we certainly have enjoyed his work evey year as he's the author of the meaningful song Auld Lang Syne.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot, 

And never brought to mind? 
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, 
And auld lang syne! 

For auld lang syne, my dear, 
For auld lang syne. 
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet, 
For auld lang syne.

It's definitely a Scottish theme for our Burns' Night supper starting with Scottish mussels. I have to hold my hands up and say I didn't prepare them myself but bought a pack complete with sauce from Aldi. They were so meaty, a good quantity with a creamy sauce and from Scotland!

Mussels for our Burns' Night starter
Of course if we're having mussels we have to have Picpoul de Pinet - for me there is no better wine to accompany these gems from the sea. Later this year we are actually visiting Pinet in the South of France and hopefully trying this wine with fresh seafood.

Picpoul de Pinet used to be a french secret but over the last couple of years has become widely available in supermarkets and wine stores. This bottle was from Asda, full of green crisp apples it was perfect.
My favourite wine with seafood
It has to be haggis, there is no other main possible and to me if you don't do haggis it's not Burns' Night. However we have a variation of neeps and tatties and I made a creamy peppercorn sauce.

Burns' Night supper 
Great flavour in our Macsween Haggis 
And so to pud - raspberries in cream served in a bandy snap basket. I cannot vouch for the raspberries coming from Scotland and I certainly didn't make the brandy snap baskets but we did enjoy the pud !

Our special treat on Burns' Night is a Bobby Burns cocktail - I only make it on Burns' Night, it's quite strong but perfect over ice (we have whisky stones so the cocktail doesn't get diluted) when settled on the sofa after our super supper. It's so easy to make:

1 shot of whisky
I shot dry vermouth
1 tablespoon Jagermeister

Our trip to Scotland over the following evening we popped Down Under as it was Australia Day. No kangeroo steaks or bbq thanks to our winter rain but we did have lamb steaks. My way of celebrating Australia Day is with a very good bottle of Australian red, there's lots to chose from but my favourite wine producer is Yalumba. One day I hope we'll do a trip to the other side of the world and when we do Yalumba will be my priority visit.

In 2015 Hubby and I were priviledged to attend Yalumba's evening in Chester where we met Louisa Rose their winemaker, a great evening which you can read about on my previous blog post Butcher, Baker and Winemaker.

In our wine rack we have a bottle of Yalumba Y Series Shiraz Voignier 2013 with it's striking horse artwork label depicting life when horses were used for transport.I really like this wine with it's dark cherries, fine tannins and hint of white pepper.

However it is still on our rack waiting to be enjoyed as we decided to open another Yalumba - The Scribbler 2012. At Chester we had The Signature with our main, and wow what a wine. The Scribbler is it's younger sibling being of the same Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz pedigree.  Matured 12 months in oak The Scribbler is full of dark juicy fruits with the merest hint of soft spice and smooth tannins. For me a perfect way to raise a glass to Australia.

Yalumba - The Scribbler
Our final overseas trip was to China - Chinese New Year ringing in the year of the Rooster. I enjoy cooking chinese food although it can be a mad panic at the end to get all the dishes out together as most chinese food is cooked quick in the wok.

I made sticky bbq pork which is becoming one of my all time favourites, so easy to do and reasonably priced as it uses belly pork. I cut the pork into cubes and boil in stock for two hours, drain and dry thoroughly before frying in oil adding the sauce last minute so all the pork is coated. Prawns with water chestnuts and noodles in sweet chilli sauce was our other dish along with seasame oil stir fry vegetables - quite a feast.

Homemade Chinese feast for New Year celebrations
Extra Special Pinot Grigio (Asda)
To go with our meal we chose a bottle of Extra Special Pinot Grigio 2015, not my usual choice of white wine but it does pair well with Asian food. This bottle was from Asda, a light colour with an equally light nose. It's flavour was full of apples and pears with a touch of minerality. A light wine that did match very well with our meal.

We didn't have pud with our chinese meal but I made up for it Sunday with a real pudding/beer lovers treat - Wells Sticky Toffee Pudding Ale. Wells have been brewing since 1876 and this ale for me is just heaven. The aroma is like the kitchen on baking day, its flavour full of dark sugar, toffee, and caramel. Wells are quite right when they say 'this beer offers full contentment in a glass'.

Liquid pudding - so yummy 
All in all quite a journey around the world, all without the hassle of packing, airports and hotels, although as I said one day we'll hoepfully take a real trip Down Under.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Sous la Manche pour les vins

It's been a while since we did a trip to Calais, and I've missed it. We've never been in January and as I'm not the world's best sailor we decided to travel 'sous la Manche' using Eurotunnel, again something we haven't done for a few years.

Up early Friday morning we had a good journey to London to meet our friends who were joining us for the weekend. Our continued journey south on the M25 to Folkestone passed surprisingly quickly and trouble free, unusual most days never mind a Friday rush hour. In fact everywhere was quiet, we had no delay checking in, we were allocated an earlier crossing and we've never seen the car park/loading lanes so empty.

The weather Friday was actually quite good, cold but dry with little breeze, we could have smoothly sailed across in bright winter sunshine. As it was we had a quick trip on Le Shuttle and arrived just after lunch in sunny Calais.

Our weekend plans were a mix of wine shopping and sightseeing. Our first stop Auchan my favourite supermarket. However it's not good to shop on an empty stomach so our actual first stop was at the local bar for a croque monsieur and coffee, delicious.

Shopping time; my french supermarket list always includes Le Petit Marseillais soap refills, Café du Maison coffee, and Rince Couchon beer. Of course there's our favoruite wines too.

My two favourite sauvignon blanc wines from Auchan 
A great red we shared in the hotel
This square shaped bottle caught my eye.
The square bottled Pure Loire was perfect - not only a lovely crisp citrusy sauvignon blanc but the perfect shape to lie on the outside window sill at the hotel to chill whilst we went out for dinner - a very good reason to have white wine in a square bottle ! 

Dinner was a first for our friends but an old favourite for us - Flunch. It's a self service restaurant - you chose your meat/fish which is cooked to order and then help yourself to a large variety of vegetables, chips, potatoes, rice or pasta. Lovely food, great value and they serve our favourite Cellier des Dauphins wine.  

Saturday morning and we set off north for a little sightseeing. Our first stop was Dunkerque, another port which we have sailed to in the past. It was a very cold day but we did have a short stroll around before a warm up and rest in a small typical french tabac/bar. We ordered coffee and croissants which to our delight arrived piping hot as they had been cooked just for us. 

An old church tower that is now the Tourist
Office - you can climb to the top.
Dunkerque's Town Hall
Dunkerque Harbour - beautiful clear blue skies but so so cold.
Our next stop was a village I'd seen on the map, it caught my eye as it had a star shaped waterway around it. Gravelines is in fact an old fort town and the waterway a defence. In the summer you can hire boats and sail around them, it was a lovely place which I'm sure we'll be visiting again along with Grand and Petit Fort Philippe, the two villages on the banks of the long harbour inlet. 

The intriguing waterways on the map
The steep sides of the fort with the moat below
One of the gateways into Gravelines
Beautiful but cold day
 After a lovely picnic looking out to see and watching the DFDS ferry pass by we were ready for our serious wine shopping ..... don't worry it was a picnic in the car, far too cold to picnic outside.

Our first stop was at Calais Wine - a wine store we have been visiting for many many years, in it's original shop in Coquelles when it was known as Oddbins. They now have a lovely new tasting room with three machine servicing measured samples of red, white and rose wines. Unfortunately the heating was not working so the store was as cold inside as out and all the wines were served chilled.

We were not bulk buying this trip - partly because of space with being four in a car plus luggage already but also because for us it was as much about being back in Calais as bringing many items home - saying that we did fill the boot between us.

Four great whites from Calais Wines
Two Spanish reds from Calais Wines
Our second wine store was Majestic, we are big fans of this wine merchant visiting their Leicester store quite often and having enjoyed many wine courses/tasting with them. It was lovely to wander around looking at familiar labels at a lower price than home. We mainly brought home our favourites with a couple of new ones to try.

Majestic reds including Cote Mas, a new one to try.
Majestic whites - interesting Vinho Verde bottle
We did also pop into Lidl, as with here at home Lidl and Aldi offer a cheaper range and we did find a few bargains in store including a Jean-Claude Mas Viognier.

Lidl reds
Lidl white - Graves and Viognier
Saturday night was a french treat - mussels in Roquefort sauce, pure delight. We had a great night out at The Black Bull Pub in the Cite de Europe centre. A supposedly English pub serving great french food and beer - you could get English beer too. If on holiday a dessert is a must but which one? In the end we had a Cafe Gourmand which comprises of three or four mini puddings and a small espresso coffee. We decided the caramel set custard with caramel crumb topping was definitely a 'naughty' pudding.

Our stay at the Ibis Tunnel sous la Manche was perfect; clean rooms, comfy bed and great location for dining out. It was so nice to be able to enjoy Calais and it's surrounding area again. Unfortunately Sunday morning we had to travel home, another quick crossing on Le Shuttle soon had us back in misty England.

It really was a good weekend trip away, one we'll be repeating for sure and one we can remember each time we uncork one of our holiday wines - cheers !