Sunday, 29 June 2014

Pears Poached in Red Wine & Rosemary

They say when life gives you lemons you should make lemonade. Well, I say when life gives you pears you should poach them in an entire MF'ing bottle of Merlot and then eat the hell out of the whole lot. Maybe not as catchy, but certainly much more enjoyable than some cold drink. Also, making lemonade can be tricky - you've got to find your squeezer, remove the pips, add the right amount of sugar and water...who has time for all that nonsense? Luckily, my recipe for poached pears is quick, easy, and a damned sight more impressive than some glass'o'juice. Trust me on this.
We all know it's easier to spend other peoples' money, and it's also a whole lot easier to cook with other peoples' wine, particularly when you're using an entire bottle of it. So on that note, thank you once again to the fantastic people at Frontera Wines UK - your generosity and eagerness to ply me with free booze is appreciated. (And would *ahem* always continue to be appreciated...)
The first thing you want to do is get your poaching liquid on the go. There's a bit of this and a bit of that in here, and feel free to tweak yours to your own fancy, but this one worked reeeeeaaal good for me. A cinnamon stick and half a dozen black peppercorns will add spice and a bit of heat, and an apple tea bag is a great way to infuse more flavour into your wine.
Right into a deep saucepan you go, along with about 150g granulated sugar and a good squeeze or two of honey, sweetie. Add a couple slivers of lemon zest, then *gulp* dump the contents of a quality bottle of wine in there too. The rich fruitiness of the Concha Y Toro Merlot from Frontera Wines UK is a fine fit here - it's dark, it's delicious and it's going to pound my pears (umm) with bags of berry flavour. Stick on a high heat until the liquid comes to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
Once your poaching liquid is simmering nicely and all of your sugar has dissolved, throw in a few sprigs of rosemary - stems and all. I absolutely love rosemary, and though it might seem a bit weird to use them in a dessert, a few sprigs just add a beautiful earthiness that cuts through the sweetness of the wine and the pears.
Peel your pears, but keep the stems on. Not only does it look nicer, but once they've been poached it makes handling them a lot easier as well, ya get me? Carefully lower them into the poaching liquid, then increase the heat slightly so that it's low-medium and let your pears go for about 25 minutes. You want them to be as submerged as possible, so keep an eye on them and turn if necessary. You know they're finished when a cocktail stick or sharp knife easily slides all the way through the flesh.
When the pears have finished poaching, remove them from the liquid and set aside to cool slightly. Then pass your liquid through a sieve to remove all of your stalks, stems and seeds, stick it back on the hob and turn the heat all the way up. Let the liquid boil until it has reduced by about half and is a delicious thick fruit syrup. And that's all you gotta do. Serve the pears warm or cold, with a hefty scoop of creme fraiche and plenty of that ridiculously tasty sauce reduction. Quick, easy, and absurdly tasty. When life gives you lemons, send them back and go out and buy some pears.

4 medium pears, anjou or any normal dessert pear works great
1 bottle quality red wine
1 cinnamon stick
12 black peppercorns
1 apple tea bag
150g granulated sugar
2 tbsp honey
lemon zest
3 sprigs rosemary

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Tarragon & White Wine Sauce

So every now and then on this blog I feel an obligation to post something that's not chocolate-covered, triple-fried, and smothered in cheese. Not for the sake of my health, believe me - if that were the case I would have given up way before the bacon bomb meatloaf. No, it's because - despite what my blog might suggest - classical cooking styles and techniques have always been incredibly important to me. Everyone who taught me to cook, be it my parents or the chefs I was lucky enough to work under (be sworn at/have knives thrown at me by), did so with traditional methods and dishes. Because of this I've always respected and have tried to draw inspiration from these recipes, even if that does sometimes mean wrapping them in bacon and deep-frying the life out of them.
I was recently surprised with a wicked-awesome gift from a friend at Frontera Wines (click here to check out their site - it's pretty damn sweet). A couple of bottle of wines on the proviso that I use them in some of my recipes...not a bad trade if you ask me!
Still trying to make my mind up what to do with the merlot - I've got a few ideas, though I'm open to suggestions! - but as it was Sunday and I had a hankering for roast chicken, I figured a classic white wine sauce would go down a treat. Plus, that would leave a few glasses left in the bottle for me and the wife to enjoy - and enjoy them she certainly did. (Every drunk wife joke I make on here probably edges me closer and closer to divorce...I'll learn one day, hopefully before it's too late.)
So this is super quick and easy (I know better than to make another joke about my wife here). Finely dice a white onion, add to a pan with a small knob of butter and fry over a medium heat until soft. 
When the onion is soft and translucent, add a whole chicken stock cube along with about 150ml of white wine - this is where the fantastic Frontera Pinot Grigio comes in. I'm not a big white wine drinker myself, but this was truly excellent, so much so that I had to pour myself a small glass to keep me company whilst I made my sauce. Produced by the highly-acclaimed Concha Y Toro, this wine was fruity and refreshing, with such a gentle crispness that I quite easily (and quite happily) could have seen off a bottle (or two) of the stuff with very little difficulty. Like a glass of Pimms or a G+T, this is a drink that demands to be taken outside and enjoyed on a picnic blanket in the sun.
Allow the wine to simmer for 10 minutes, then pour in 300ml double cream, a clove of minced garlic and a handful of chopped tarragon. Not normally one of my favourite herbs - sambuca aside, I try to avoid aniseed at all costs - against the richness of the cream and the wine, the aromatic tarragon works brilliantly in this sauce. Season with a pinch of salt and plenty of black pepper.
Give it a good stir, and you're ready to serve. I poured this over roast chicken, but this is a versatile sauce that will go great with most fish dishes, or even over pork chops. You could even use any leftovers on roast vegetables, or to make the most incredible potato gratin. Enjoy! I know I did.

1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
150ml good quality white wine, like Frontera Pinot Grigio
300ml double cream
handful chopped tarragon
salt & pepper

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

My Perfect Roast Potatoes

I'm a firm believer that, regardless of how interested you truly are in cooking, everyone should have a few strong recipes in their locker. I'm not saying that you need to know anything complicated, or to be able to dabble in classic culinary techniques, but if you're able to make a decent burger, throw together a tasty salad, and bake a delicious batch of cookies, chances are you'll do well out of life. Take, for instance, the humble roast spud. The cornerstone of any Sunday dinner worth it's salt, a perfectly roasted potato is a glorious thing that will make you friends and get you laid (probably not true). So, for all of you lovely people I've put together my top tips for those 'triffic taters. Enjoy.
You gotta start with the right spuds and I'm a big fan of the Maris Piper. A English all-rounder with creamy, fluffy flesh - these fellas are perfect for roasting. Some people swear by the Desiree, or King Edward which also work great...take your pick. (I'm not a pedant, life is short).
A few important steps here, so listen up. Peel (obviously) and cut the taters into sizeable chunks, not too small you crazy person, you. I was always taught that your roasties should be about the size of an egg and that's never done me wrong. Stick in a pan and fill with cold water then give the potatoes a good rub to remove as much excess starch as possible - this will help your spuds brown nicely and also gives them an extra bit of crunch. Drain and repeat a few times until your water remains clear.
Cover with cold water and bring to the boil. I appreciate I'm telling you how to boil potatoes here, but stick with me. You want to give them a good boiling...let them go until they're just about holding together, that's how you achieve maximum fluffiness. Then carefully drain and LEAVE. Let them chill for an hour or so until they're completely cooled down. Go and, I dunno, read a book, check your Twitter feed or take the latest Buzzfeed quiz (apparently if I were a kitchen appliance I'd be a toaster).
Hey look it's me! I go into the pan with vegetable oil, and LOTS of it. Don't be shy here, if you're after something healthy you should have eaten an apple. I also add a nice dollop of butter which, apparently, helps to keep the potatoes moist. Though saying that, it's mostly a force of habit more than anything else...but why risk it? Stick in a hot oven (at least 200C) to warm through and then place on the hob until the oil gets ridonkadonk hot and starts smoking. Carefully add your potatoes, turning so that they're evenly coated in the oil, and bung the tray back in the oven.
Your roasties need about 40 minutes or so, but keep an eye on them and give them a good shake every now and again. Once they're golden brown, take them out, drain them and give them a good pinch of sea salt, and you're good to go. That's my perfect roast potato. Let's see you beat it.