Here we are, February has crept in and I’m celebrating the New Year. I don’t know about you, but I’m never quite ready for New Year on the 1st of January. We’re still in the midst of the festivities, parties with friends, family visits or away on travels. Other than the symbolic clink of the Champagne glasses, it doesn’t really feel like a New Year just yet. And when the New Year properly starts – that moment of back to work, back to school, the decorations packed away to face the routine – well, it doesn’t feel quite a revitalised fresh start but rather a slight deflation once the party is over.
But a few weeks later, come the time of the Chinese New Year, that’s the time I really feel ready for the New Year. I’ve had a chance to quietly take stock, think about what I would like to do and make happen in the year ahead and re-balance a bit from the excesses of the holidays.
Nature too, seems more inclined, with the edges of daylight gently pushing out each way into slightly longer days. By the end of January there’s a noticeable change in the length of day and a real sense of promise that Spring is not that far off.
We haven’t had much of a wintery winter this year, but we have been drenched in the rains. As I walk over the nearby fields, the grass is soaked like a sponge. But beautiful it is too with the transitory lakes in the flood plains.
So, the Chinese New Year chimes just about right with my personal New Year and I feel excited to celebrate, with the vibrant colours and drums, dragons and delicious food. And this year with wine too!
I’ve been set a challenge – to pair some dishes from the Chinese takeaway with some delicious Côtes du Rhône wines. Who could resist that? The wines I am matching are a white, Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc ‘Les Arbousiers’, Domaine La Réméjeanne 2012 and a red, Rasteau Côtes-du-Rhône Villages, Domaine de la Soumade 2011.
After a brisk walk through the gorgeous glowing winter landscape, working up a good appetite, I thought about some favourites from the Chinese menu. I decided that to go with the Côtes du Rhône Blanc, we would have some spicy dumplings, crispy prawns and spare ribs. The wine is described by The Wine Society as “a mass of delicious flavours, herbs and citrus with a touch of honey, plenty of roundness and lots of freshness too on the finish.” So it seemed a wonderful match for the fragrant dim sum to start – indeed, it was a perfect match!
And what to choose for the red Côtes du Rhône? This wine is described as a “full-bodied, full-flavoured winter warmer” so I wanted to choose some equally vibrant flavours to match. Some crispy Peking Duck, rich and aromatic, made a brilliant partner for the wine. As did the spicy black bean and beef noodles. A most delicious feast – and no cooking for me this time!
This year is the Year of the Horse, apparently a good year for fast victories, adventures and travels to far off lands. It is considered a fortunate year that brings luck and good things.
The fortune cookies held promising messages too!
Wishing you all a happy New Year, rich in blessings, good fortune and peace.
Summer’s here – in full, hot, sunshiny glory. Our little village is ablaze with roses and hollyhocks. Cricket, village fetes, cold drinks in the pub garden, all perfect and classic ways to spend the long light days. But how about a day of Italian cookery in the stunning kitchen of a beautiful old stone village house? Not so usual, but just as wonderful. Shall I tell you about my day at the Cici Coco Kitchen?
Cici Coco is an artisan food company run by the immensely talented Giuliana Cortese. Famous locally for her wonderful lasagne, and consistently winning awards for many of her handcrafted products, it’s a natural step for Giuliana to branch out into offering cookery classes. Cici Coco means “things that go well together” and Giuliana’s passion for using the absolute best ingredients (with an emphasis on locally sourced, seasonal food) along with her expertise and Italian flair just sums that up perfectly. Take a look at the website http://www.cici-coco.com.
So on to our day. Giulina (below on the right) gathered a few of us together and over coffee and cake we looked at the menu she had planned for us to prepare. An ambitious, generous menu – we had our work cut out!
So we got to work. We made fresh creamy Ricotta cheese. We made silky sheets of fresh pasta with spinach. We peeled and cooked artichokes. We prepared a heavenly long simmering ragu of beef, pork ribs and sausage. We rolled and filled delicate pasta parcels of smoked cheese and ricotta. We made a vibrant salad of tomatoes, bread and capers. We baked a luxurious, fragrant Ricotta and Almond Cake.
The artichokes, braised with capers, baby onions and anchovies is amazingly delicious – but I had to laugh when I looked at this photograph of the dish in preparation. Have you ever noticed how much anchovies can resemble earthworms? I’ve offended the food styling gods with this one!
On to the pasta making. Is there anything more satisfying, authentic and just pure fun than making beautiful smooth sheets of fresh pasta? It helps to have an expert by your side.
Are you hungry yet? I certainly was, and it was such a sweet moment when we all sat down – with a glass of crisp white wine – to enjoy the delicious food. I could so easily have lingered the rest of the afternoon – but no, it was time to meet the school bus on the village green.
What a lovely day. I learned so much. Thank you Giuliana.
Well it’s a long time coming – Spring, that is! Every morning I eagerly look for little bulbs to emerge or a sprinkling of delicate blossom. But Winter is clinging on, long overstaying its welcome in my view. Just this week I’ve seen more flurries of snow. The perfect food for this weather – when you are longing for fresh Spring flavours but still need some warmth and comfort – is a big pot of mussels, steamed with wine, garlic, fresh green herbs and a dash of cream. And some crusty bread of course! What do you think?
Mussel shells are so beautiful, aren’t they? That inky blackness and the sparkling reflections on the wet shells. Makes you dream of the sea.
Mussels are very quick and easy to cook. The only slighty troublesome bit is taking the time to clean the mussels and pull off the little seaweed like beards. But this is a contemplative task, an opportunity to sit at the kitchen table or stand at the sink and reflect on your day while you work. It is also a great task to dish out if someone asks what they can do to help!
So this is how I like to cook mussels. You will need:
2-3 shallots, or a small red onion, finely chopped
a knob of butter, about 25g
a large glassful of white wine, about a quarter of a bottle
a generous spoonful, or three, of double cream (you can leave this out – it’s still nice, just not as deliciously decadent)
a handful of fresh herbs, parsley is especially nice
Rinse the mussels under cold water. Give them a little scrub if necessary, and pull out the little beards. Discard any broken mussels
In a large heavy pot, gently soften the shallots or onions in the butter. Add the wine and let it bubble away and reduce down for about 5 minutes. Dump the mussels into the pot, cover tightly with a lid and allow to steam for about 3 minutes. Check and see if the mussels are all open and just cooked. If so, take the pot off the heat – 0therwise continue steaming for a minute or so longer. Pour over the cream and sprinkle on the herbs and stir together. That’s it! Your mussels are ready to enjoy with lots of crusty bread to soak up the lovely sauce. I often make some chips to go with the mussels too – the classic match made in heaven.
And look! I did find a few sprigs of blossom!
I’ve been working on some interesting projects over the past couple of months – hope to share more about that soon.
Hope you are all well – drop me a comment and let me know!