Wednesday, 10 February 2016

the exquisite collection by aldi - a wine review

... I had no idea but as always, i'm last to the table when it comes to stuff that everyone else knows about the supermarket phenomenon that is Aldi.  They have a beautiful collection of very delicious and very good wines.  Labelled under the name The Exquisite Collection these wines have been developed through Aldi's special relationships with wine's most noted producers, the collection comprises bottles of exceptional quality for every occasion and allows wine lovers and connoisseurs alike to discover the finest wine from diverse regions around the world. I always think it's great to know that your local supermarket has thought about the changing tastes in wine and offers such a premium collection... and in a world where looks are as important (if not more so) than actual substance, the bottles of wine look incredibly stylish as a range and will not embarrass you when they're displayed on your shelf...

...I didn't manage to get back to the cottage last weekend and The Viking left me home alone with 6 bottles of wine so I cooked up a storm in the kitchen of our London flat and invited neighbours Jenny and George over to help me taste the wine.  As you can imagine, we had an absolute blast.  It was windy outside but the sun was gloriously shining into the dining room and it felt like a Spring day as we settled in to the lovely grub.  We decided to try the whites first, prior to eating and then the reds once our bellies were a little fuller.  It was such a nice way to try wine.  None of us would consider ourselves connoisseurs... the reviews below are simply honest reviews...but we all drink wine regularly and we know what we like... there were some surprising misses and some even more interesting hits...

I was sent the Aldi Exquisite Mixed Case which is brilliant selection of the wines from the collection and a great place to start.  The mixed case retails at an unbelievable £38.24 which averages out at £6.37 a bottle.

shall we start with the reds...

Argentinian Malbec
This was by far our favourite red.  It's quite full bodied and is a lovely bright and intense ruby-red with aromas of fresh fruits - a result of the high altitude vineyard plots apparently. It feels quite autumnal to me, not that this is a bad thing but i'm thinking warm fire-side drinking with a bowl of meaty stew.

New Zealand Hawke's Bay 'Bordeaux Blend'
This was a very decent glass of red but nothing exceptional.  Like the Malbec it was quite fruity with cherry tones and had a really caramel aroma.  Again, I would pair this with beef or lamb or a wonderfully rich curry.

French Ribera Del Duero
This was the least of our favourite reds.  It was way too sharp for us and had a very 'tannin' taste  It may be because it's so rich and has a more oaky flavour which I don't like but other than the beautiful label it didn't really leave us with much.  The wine uses Tempranillo grapes for what is quite an intense wine.  It has overtones of black cherries and an almost chocolatey quality to it.  Again, perfect with a rich beef stew or slow roast lamb shoulder.

and now onto the whites...

Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
Now I adore a Sauvignon Blanc, it's always my wine of choice so I was hugely disappointed with how much I didn't love this.  It had a wonderful mixed aroma of peaches and nectarines with notes of blackcurrant and lime too but the taste itself was not so intriguing.  To me it tasted a little too bitter and too fresh.  A real shame.

This Gavi reminded me of the summer... or to be more precise gave me a longing for the summer.  It had a fresh, tangy and fruity aroma with a lemon undertone that I liked.  It was very very drinkable and was a lot lighter than any of the whites in the box.  Jenny actually didn't like it and felt it was so light it had an almost watery quality but I liked this aspect to it.  It made it more refreshing.  Divine served chilled with cold salmon and lashings of lemony mayonnaise!

Limestone Coast Chardonay
Surprisingly for all of us at the table this peachy chardonnay was a favourite.  I've never been a fan of the intense smokey flavour of chardonnay but it seems the wine-world has caught up to more contemporary tastes and removed that smokey oaked flavour and what's left is a delicious glass.  This is unoaked, dry and full.  There's a sweetness that comes through that is has a mouth-wateringly fresh pineapple taste...  It's still rich but is refreshing and was perfect with our rich chicken dish.

I hope this little review has been helpful and allows you an insight into what's on offer within this lovely range of wines.

drink and of course enjoy responsibly!

Sunday, 7 February 2016

oven roasted spatchcock chicken stew

... oh my what a week.  My good intentions went south very quickly at 5pm on Monday with a glass of pink Chandon at the desk and then it was pretty much downhill from then on in... I had the new Fashion Show exhibition at Madame Tussauds to style, two pitches for new business and an event contract which was hinging on being thrown in the bin to sort and this was all before dinner with the family on Wednesday night.  Oh and did I mention 2 nights out with clients that ended at 3am in the morning.  I've probably drunk my way through half a cask of vodka, a couple of barrels of Sauvignon Blanc and some very dodgy Moscow Mules at a 'new London club' that was, quite frankly like sitting in a hotel lobby surrounded by prostitutes... I could go on but I might get offensive and I need a lie-down...

oven roasted spatchcock chicken stew
because of the above, Saturday was a day of rest.  Quite literally I spent it mostly in bed flicking through the TV between snoozing and a very very long bath and at some stage, after nodding off in front of some dreadful home-improvement show where the buyers were quite clearly as annoyed with the over-enthusiastic presenter as I was, there must have been one of those sappy 'made for TV' movies come on the screen... I have no idea what it was about but there was a lot of crying and driving in upstate New York and some driving whilst crying in the snow... anyway, at some point there was a montage of one of the characters learning to cook and he pulled out of the oven a glorious pot of spatchcock chicken stew.  I was immediately smitten with the thought of golden chicken bathing in wonderful juices that I knew I had to make this for Sunday lunch.  With no recipe and just a fragment of memory to go on I'm making this up as I go but how hard can it be... bung whatever veg you have in the fridge and a chicken in a pot and roast the bugger... it was very good and served perfectly with creamy mash... I was a very happy boy and proves that falling asleep in front of the television can be a blessed thing...

1 medium free-range chicken
2 carrots - chopped
1 onion - roughly chopped
2 inches of celery - chopped
3 cloves of garlic - un-peeled
half a butternut squash
2 glasses of white wine
a little plain flour
1 teaspoon good quality vegetable stock powder
rosemary and lemon thyme
salt and pepper

pre-heat the oven to 160C

i'm using my procook 28cm shallow round casserole dish with a lid which just about coped with the chicken after a lot of squishing

spatchcock your chicken -  don't be scared, it takes seconds...

spread out all the chopped veg and herbs at the bottom of the dish then lay the chicken, breast up on top

season well, pour over a glass of wine and drizzle with a little olive oil then place the lid on and roast for 1 hour at 160C then take the dish out of the oven, carefully turn over the chicken and add a little more wine and some water - the chicken should be resting in a few centimetres of liquid at all times - place the lid back on and into the oven for another 30 mins

place a teaspoon if plain flour and a teaspoon of stock powder into a cup or bowl

repeat the above with the chicken but this time, as you turn the chicken back to breast up, spoon a few tablespoons of liquid into the cup with the flour and stock, stir it into a loose paste and then pour it into the liquid under the chicken

place the lid back on and into the oven for another 30 mins... after which, take the lid off, turn the oven up to 180C and let the chicken become golden on top - roughly 30 mins

take the chicken out of the oven, put the lid back on and let it rest whilst you prepare whichever veg you're making

serve the chicken in the pot at the table and let your guests spoon out the vegetables and glorious liquid

eat and of course, enjoy!

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

blackcurrant jam layered sponge cake

... we've decided to give the cottage a little bit of an internal and external facelift.  Believe it or not, despite our creative bent, The Viking and I are quite the procrastinators, particularly when it comes to our own home.  It has been known to take years to pick a paint colour.  It begins with the recognition that the job needs doing... The Viking will mutter words such as 'we really should get the upstairs hall painted' or 'i'd like to get sash windows for the front of the cottage' and these mutterings can be years in advance of the final installation of job... years of choosing paint colours followed by months where nothing happens... followed by meeting decorators and suppliers... followed by months of nothing happening.  I find it both exhausting and quite exciting.  I tend to ignore him when the muttering begins but those last few weeks where we rush into a decisions where I come alive.  We've started work on the bathroom.  Something we should have done the day we moved in 11 years ago but we've finally chosen tiles and a new bath and have managed to lock down a man who can - believe me, in Lincolnshire, when they say they can it means they can, perhaps, next year... the kitchen is next... it needs a bit of a touch-up since being done so gloriously a few years ago and of course we're having a new log-burning fire installed, all within a matter of weeks.  It means the cottage is an absolute mess... dust sheets everywhere... dust everywhere, including my skin but I love living in the progress and since we had our kitchen ripped out three years ago i've got used to the idea and would much rather be on site during the process... there is no bigger critic than oneself and The Viking loves to tell me that I didn't measure twice cut once... which of course, drives me insane....

black currant jam layered sponge cake
I was in a cake baking mood this weekend which is handy because I know that February is going to be one of those blog-lite months and I wanted to pop something up here that was pretty to look at and sit as a bit of a place holder whilst i'm busy going crazy at work... the cake tasted spectacular but I went a bit too far with the blackcurrant icing and it curdled a little.  I tried to revive it with some extra icing sugar but it was getting more sweet and not smooth so I gave up and went with it anyway... so, not so pretty but very tasty.  I love a jam-in-the-batter cake.  It always comes out so moist and fruity and a great way to add sugar without actually adding sugar, if you know what I mean...

for the cake
3 large free-range eggs
220g sugar
220g butter
220g self raising flour
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
the grated zest of one orange
2 tablespoons blackcurrant jam

for the butter cream
250g butter
500g icing sugar
the grated zest of an orange
1 tablespoon blackcurrant jam

pre-heat the oven to 170C and grease and line 2 x 18cm loose-bottom cake tins - I also lined the sides as this cake tends to burn easily

in a large bowl, beat the sugar and butter until soft and light and creamy (roughly 5 minutes) and then beat in 2 of the eggs, followed by half the flour, then beat in the last egg and the rest of the flour along with the vanilla paste - then, using a metal spoon, fold in the blackcurrant jam

divide the batter between the two cake tins and smooth over the tops

bake on the same shelf for 30 - 40 minutes, then remove from the oven and set aside to cool on a wore rack until cool

for the buttercream icing simply beat the butter in a large bowl until very pale and soft, then gently fold in half the icing sugar, then beat together until creamy, then fold in the remaining icing sugar along with the orange zest and beat again until creamy

use the icing to sandwich the cakes together and cover the outside, then add a tablespoon of blackcurrant jam to the remaining icing and a little milk to slacken and beat until a creamy consistency and swirl onto the top of the cake

eat and of course, enjoy!

Monday, 1 February 2016

Simply Eggcellent #12 - anything goes

... welcome to February and it's an 'anything goes' month for Simply Eggcellent which means you can cook with free-range eggs to your hearts content and I will accept any recipes... sweet... savoury... breakfast... lunch... dinner or anything in between and if you love eggs as much as me then it could be every meal of the day.  If you need inspiration February has both pancake day and valentines day so there are plenty of excuses to make and bake...  Come on people lets celebrate the egg!

how to take part in the simply eggcellent bloggers link-up

it's really easy to take part; all you have to do is create a recipe using free-range eggs, post it up on your blog and then link back to this post... please include my simply eggcellent badge in the post to help spread the word and use the linky tool below so that I know you've taken part.

I will collate all the posts at the end of every month and produce a special round-up of entries and maybe we can even teach a thing or two to those egg phobic fools out there!

feel free to tweet and instagram me your pictures using the #simplyeggcellent hashtag and I will retweet and like all those I see... you can find me on social media @belleaukitchen

i'm happy to take previously posted recipes but you'll need to go back to the post and adapt it to link back to this post and include the simply eggcellent logo

eat and of course, enjoy!

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Simply Eggcellent #11 - the #healthy round-up

... oh January.  You fickle mistress of post new years eve alcohol-free back to the gym struggle... torn between Christmas, the highest of all celebrations and the sappy love-fest that is Valentines Day.  For me the second half of January was better than the first.  I've been 'steadily healthy' if that's a thing, with bouts of alcohol thrown in.  Yes, there has been cake but let's face it, there always will be and it seems for many of you that is also the truth... we can all be good, there's just no need to show off about it...

1. Eggs in a Basket from Made With Pink
2. Shin Ramyun from Gingey Bites
3. Indian Masala Egg Omelette from Travels for Taste
4. Tuna Nicoise Salad from the Gluten Free Alchemist

5. Brussel Sprout and Egg Breakfast Boats from The Law Students Cook Book
6. Sugar Free Tea Loaf from Onions and Paper
7. low carb, diabetic chocolate cake from Family Friends Food
8. Banana Bread from Lavender and Lovage

9. Gluten Free Spiced Sweet Potato Cake from Snack to the Future
10. Chocolate Avocado Brownies from The Baking Explorer
11. Spicy Scrambled Eggs from De Tout Coeur Limousin
12. Shirred Egg with Potato Puree from The Spice Garden

13. Lemon Yoghurt Cake from Nasifriet
14. Lemon Cardamom Marzipan Cakes from Tin and Thyme
15. Root Veg Terrine from A2K
16. Smoked Salmon and Avocado Breakfast Muffins from Belleau Kitchen

and that's your lot for this month... thanks for the fabulous healthy recipes, I think we all feel pounds lighter.  Look out for the Feb #SimplyEggcellent coming in well, February!

Friday, 29 January 2016

oregano and mint pita bread

... I feel like this blog has become somewhat of a weather report but us brits are obsessed by the weather so I apologise for nothing... and so whilst the east coast of the US has been battered by arctic weather and enough snow to fill a child's dreams for 20 years, once that storm left the US it headed over here.  On it's journey over the atlantic it warmed up and snow turned to rain and wind... lots of wind.  We're back at the cottage for the weekend and whilst it's quite warm outside for the time of year there is a very strong wind battering the countryside.  It's quite odd.  Sun is shining but the trees are swaying quite alarmingly and if that garden gate squeaks any more my brain may explode.  I know it's only the end of January but I really need a holiday.  It doesn't help that i've been researching Greek food for this pita recipe... all those pictures of azure blue waters, al fresco tables laden with wonderful summer dishes and image after image of bronzed bodies by infinity pools is enough to drive you to dampen the fire, close the shutters, pack your suitcases and actually book that holiday.  I adore the cold.  I love a snowy landscape and a christmas tree but I need some warmth in my bones and the hot sun on my face...

oregano and mint Greek pita bread
i've never made pita before so when the kind people from luxury travel company destinology contacted me and asked me to create an authentic recipe that originates from one of their most popular holiday destinations, Greece, my thoughts turned immediately to bread.  I adore local breads and love the way that almost all countries, cities, town and very often even villages have their own local special breads.  If i'm on holiday or visiting a place I will always try and seek out the local loaf... and inevitably the local cheese to eat with said loaf... I feel it connects you with the people, the history, the local farmers and how they harvested the crops.  As a kid growing up in suburban London I remember mum bringing home pita bread for the first time and how we all marvelled at the way, when toasted they puffed out allowing a knife to slide in and create the perfect pocket for whatever glorious fillings we chose to stuff it with... I don't even think we knew what a falafel was back then so they'd get stuffed with salad and whatever meats we had to hand.  Of course, since then our pallets and knowledge of 'foreign' food has matured somewhat but I think you'll find the humble pita is still the most user-friendly of breads...

... to help inspire me to bake I was sent some classic Greek herbs plus a glorious jar of the divine Navarino Icons roasted red pepper and tomato dip and of course this made me instantly think of warm toasted slices of pita...

240ml hot water
2 teaspoons instant yeast
320g plain flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried mint
1 tablespoon olive oil

in a large bowl mix the water and yeast together and let sit for about five minutes until the yeast is dissolved.

add the flour, salt, mint, oregano and olive oil and then bring together with a rubber spatula and then get your hands in and begin to knead into a ball.  Once you've got all the flour off the inside of the bowl and the dough has begun to smooth out slightly, flour your work surface and place the dough onto it.  Oil the inside of the bowl and set aside.

knead the dough for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. You shouldn't need to use too much flour whilst kneading but if the dough is sticking then use flour sparingly.

place the dough in the oiled bowl, cover with cling film and let it rise until it's doubled in size, about 1 hour.

at this point, you can refrigerate the pita dough until it is needed. You can also bake one or two pitas at a time, saving the rest of the dough in the fridge. The dough will keep refrigerated for about a week.

turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces and gently flatten each piece into a thick disk. Using an oiled rolling pin, roll one of the pieces into.  It will pull back due to the elastic nature of the dough but if you lift and turn the dough frequently as you roll it should begin the stay in shape... I actually pulled it out quite a bit before throwing into the pan... repeat with the other pieces of dough.

warm a frying pan over medium-high heat - you won't need to add any oil because you've used oil to roll out the pita but ensure the pan is very warm although not smoking hot.   Throw in a rolled-out pita and bake for 30 seconds, until you see bubbles starting to form. Flip and cook for 1-2 minutes on the other side, until large toasted spots appear on the underside. Flip again and cook another minute to toast the other side. Set aside until all your pita's are cooked.  They were of course delicious eaten straight away but I preferred them toasted in a toaster, split or sliced and slathered with butter.

eat and of course, enjoy!

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

watercress, turnip and blue cheese soup

... when we first moved to Belleau about 12 years ago I remember being told by a local that the area used to be famous for its watercress beds and in fact there is still wild watercress growing in the chalk stream in the field opposite the cottage... then, last week when I posted a picture of my watercress delivery from the lovely people at Love Watercress, Sarah, the lady who we bought the cottage from sent me some more info about it.  It turns out that watercress was grown at Belleau between 1911 and 1970 by three generations of the same family. The watercress was taken by donkey cart to the Aby station for dispatch to markets in the north of England. The pure spring water, which ran through the watercress beds, provided a perfect growing medium, but sadly, severe river flooding in 1968 and 1969, coupled with the closure of the Grimsby to Peterborough railway line caused its demise... I love this little bit of history about my insignificant little village and what a shame that such a successful business was ruined by the foolish choices of 'men in power' making decisions about the national infrastructure...

so when I received the watercress to the cottage it was a little like sending coals to Newcastle but never one to turn down some glorious fresh green stuff I greedily accepted... I adore watercress.  Its peppery, earthy taste compliments many rich dishes such as beef and oily fish but its versatility as one of those vegetables that works as both a salad herb that can be eaten raw and a green vegetable that can be cooked into soups and stews that I love so much.  There is nothing more wonderful than a simple fresh watercress sandwich on dark rye bread with perhaps a slither of mild blue cheese but it's this classic soup that I haven't had in a long time that I had to turn to this time...

watercress, turnip and blue cheese soup
I adore this soup.  It comes from my grandma Sylvia and it's THE soup that reminds me of Sunday lunches at her house when we were kids.  The whole London-based family would get together and run riot at grandma and grandpa's house... knees were scraped... fights broke out (and not just between the kids) there were tears of joy and pain... endless games of cricket and rounders in the summer and never-ending games of Monopoly on the colder and rainy days... plays were written and performed on the double bed in the spare room... and of course most importantly great food was eaten.  It was always a three course Sunday roast, staring with soup and then tea and cake was always served at 4pm.  There were many soups but this was my absolute favourite...

1 medium onion - finely chopped
3 large turnips - fist sized (man fists) - peeled and diced
3 salad bags of watercress - roughly 300g
1 litre good quality vegetable stock
100g mild and creamy blue cheese such as Saint Agur or Cambozola
a little butter and olive oil
salt and pepper

heat a little butter and olive oil in a large pan and throw in the onions.  let them sweat for roughly 5 mins until they begin to soften and turn translucent, then add the turnips, stir and let them sizzle a little in the heat before placing the lid on and letting them gently sweat until soft - roughly eight mins with a few stirs in between to stop them sticking.

take the lid off and lay the watercress on top without stirring and place the lid back on.  Let the watercress wilt till very soft - roughly 5 mins, then season well with salt and pepper, add the stock and let the whole thing gently bubble away for 15 minutes

turn off the heat and let it cool for 10 minutes before whizzing with a stick blender until smooth, then add the blue cheese and whizz again until it has all melted into the soup... serve immediately

eat and of course, enjoy!



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