Friday, December 23, 2016

Avocado fillings and more

Before, and ever since writing The Oldie Cookbook and Cooking in Docklands Past and Present, I have created and developed simple recipes and put them into my computer for an extended cookbook for publication.
But that won’t happen. Cookbooks are now written by the young and/or famous who crave, and must be, on television. So that counts me out.
I have even given up adding my blog recipes to that extensive cookery tome of mine, blogging recipes when I feel like writing them and leaving it at that.
Now, with my weekly turn at cooking, Margreet often says “write it up”. I sometimes do.
We rather like avocados as a first course, filling them with what comes to mind and hand at the time.
Margreet favours recently chopped-up anchovies in oil and vinegar as a filling.
With this in mind, and a form of fishiness in the filling being a nice change, I have been using oyster sauce, mixed with chopped-up cornichons and capers – the latter two supplying the vinegar element. Should you try this, be careful not to overdo the salt content. Margreet may add to the mix some Tabasco sauce and chopped up shallot.
Incidentally, chopped capers and cornichons with oil, vinegar, pepper and salt, makes an excellent dressing for a salad of finely sliced fennel bulb.
Margreet finds that our own Hammersmith red wine is a little too dry as we ferment it right out. So I may use a bottle of it as a marinade for a beef stew when using shin of beef.
For this, cut up the (marbled) shin into small lumps (you will need a sharp knife). Cover the meat with the red wine (any) and leave it for as long as you like (hours to days).
When ready to concoct this rich stew, pour off the wine and keep it handy.
In an iron casserole or like pot, fry chopped onions and garlic in oil until they reach a transparent state.
Coat the meat in flour and add it to the onion/garlic mix. Add pepper and salt and a stock cube (or two). At this stage I like to add a bit of liquid gravy browning. This added colour enhances the dish. Stir the ingredients around for a while.
Now return the wine marinade, adding water to well cover the contents of the pot.
Now for the first of two special ingredients. Add lots of pitted black olives. I de-stone Kalamata olives as those already without stones are not nearly as good.
The next special part is to add lots of small and tight Brussels sprouts. Rinse them first.
Bring the dish to the boil, leaving it on very low heat for a couple of hours – or more.
Serve with mashed potato. 
You may never have enjoyed sprouts as much as these.
As I am writing about cooking matters, here’s a popular breakfast item.
Cut a pitta bread in half. Open up the pocket (I do this with the back of a knife).
Warm the halves in a toaster, but don’t allow the bread to become crisp.
In a shallow pan, on medium heat, melt butter, and on this butter put a dollop of Dijon mustard. Add pepper and salt.
Now break a large egg on to the mix and, with the back of a fork, break up the egg and keep stirring until the right consistency has been obtained (keep it moist).

Slide the egg mix into the pitta’s pockets – and eat in the fingers.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Debunking wine

I think it was when looking at a TV programme on wine that set me off writing again on wine skulduggery.
Th presenters of this television show loved 14% alcohol in red wine because it was “warming” or suchlike. 
14% alcohol I consider to be too much in a wine – the alcohol content usually overriding the natural smells and tastes that should be in the forefront of a good wine. And one can so easily drink too much and negate the pleasures of sensible consumption.
Tavel, that much renowned rosé from the south of France, was once deceptively strong (and may still be). Locals would have a glass and go on to a less alcoholic rosé. Outsiders would swill down the Tavel and suffer, much to the inhabitants’ amusement.
In the those days when 12% alcohol in wine was considered to be high, I took my containers to a wine merchant in Grasse to have them filled up with either 10%, 11% or 12% red. I chose 10% to both enjoy as wine and quench the thirst in the heat of a south of France summer.
In America, and in impecunious circumstances, I decanted and watered down cheap and strong “gallon wine”. My guests loved it, having no idea of its modest origin.
At home I offer red, white and rosé wine, and eyes pop out when I make rosé by putting a little red wine in a glass and topping it up with cold white. And those who like my rosé keep to it. After all, pink Champagne is made in this way. Others are not meant to, but it is the easy way and, well, who knows?
I like to read out loud the blurb on the back label on bottles of red wine – generally to much laughter.
A favourite is that the wine tastes of “berry fruits”. These may be elaborated to contain black currant and/or blackberry tastes. Cassis is black currant and Mure is blackberry. In the days when Burgundy was a robust wine, was it just coincidence that black currants were grown in quantity in the Burgundy region?
Our own Hammersmith wine is fermented out to become a very dry red. Being unsulphured or fine filtered, it is a completely natural wine – but a couple of glasses at one time are enough. So I sometimes, but rarely, blend it with another wine that may have a little too much sweetness to it. This is done in a two-bottle decanter. And what have I been known to add? – those “berry fruits” no less – but only in the smallest of quantities. Too much added turns the wine into a port-like drink. But when my  judgement is correct, the completed wine becomes rather special.
The most common of these “doctorings” is the addition of sugar to bring up the alcohol content in years of bad weather, or perhaps commercial demand. There are rules (routinely broken) for when, or when not, winemakers may add sugar to the vinification. Many have to add it to make good wine and raise the naturally-fermented  alcohol level – like I do. But I don’t add sulphur, which most commercial wine contains to ensure stability and prevent infection. Alcohol is the preservative in Hammersmith wine.

To me, all this blending and mucking about is fun. And many wines are legitimately blended wines anyhow. But as an ex-wine-writer I have seen and heard about much commercial malpractice, and am rarely surprised. After all, dealing in wine is a business, and fortunes may be at stake.