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Natural Wine at the RAW Fair (and food and wine at the Georgian Supra)

RAW Fair at the Truman Brewery

I love natural wines, and I love Georgia, so it is no great surprise that I should be pretty excited when the two collide in London. It’s a great week to be here, with the RAW Fair, Real Wine Fair and the London International Wine Fair all going on.

Terrific rich reds from Roagna – becoming a firm favourite

Natural wines, for the uninitiated, are wines that have had little interference – chemical or technological –  in the growing of the grapes and making of the wine. They can have a little sulphite in them, which acts as a preservative. Lots don’t even have this.  Some say they are the purest expression of terroir.

My wine of the fair from Batič

For me, at a very basic level, I just really enjoy them. I like life to be eclectic and interesting and I like my wine to be eclectic and interesting too. I like to eat food that hasn’t been mucked around with too much, why not the same with wine? Some say they don’t taste good. True, some don’t. There is good and bad natural wine, just like there is good and bad everything.

Loved this Hungarian Pinot Noir

RAW fair, organised by Isabelle Legeron – otherwise known as That Crazy French Woman and a Georgian Food & Wine obsessive – was on at the Truman brewery this past Sunday and Monday. It was a brilliant venue streaming with light and bright white walls. There were so many producers there, I could only really scratch the surface but it makes me excited to try more. I was very happy to see some of my favourites there: Roxanich from Istria and Batič from Slovenia. In fact the Batič Angel Grand Cuvee was my wine of the fair, full bodied and rich with a lovely elegance and ripe fruit. I could drink it every day.

Georgian Supra at RAW fair

The Supra was everything a Georgian Supra should be. Abundant delicious food, lots of singing and toasting and lots of wine. All of the leftover wine from the fair was placed on the floor at the end of the room, and we all dug in.

The cat who got the cream – foraging for wine at the Supra at the RAW Fair

I must dash now to the Real Wine Fair which finishes today. I will be back with a video of the Supra and details on the food amongst other bits and pieces.

Enjoy the sunshine folks.

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Chinese New Year: A Recipe For Jiaozi (Beijing Dumplings) and a Wine Match

Chinese New Year 2008 - London

Chinese New Year. Now that’s my kind of New Year. Celebrated for 2 weeks and centred on food, bright colours, parades packed with drama, and people having fun. I have always had an affection for it. Clearly, I have a strong sense of food occasion, the only bit that I don’t like is the whole tidying thing you have to do in advance. I am still waiting until I am wealthy enough to pay someone to do all of that stuff for me. As I am not Chinese I don’t adhere to that, I do enjoy the food though, and always indulge.

I love Chinese food as a rule, not the shiny food glistening with cornstarch and gloop that you get in your local take away but real Chinese food from many corners of that huge country, food that is increasingly widely available in London. My particular favourite is Sichuan, spicy, numbing and hot, bursting with flavour, boldly embracing all kinds of offal and other bits coldly disregarded from Western tables.

Chinese New Year 2008 - London

For this dish, I am going to Beijing land of the dumpling, cosy velvet pouches of steamy savoury goodness. Dumplings are excellent comfort food, especially when dipped in black vinegar and chilli oil, and they’re really easy to make too. A little finicky at first, but like everything, after a few Frankenstein attempts, you’ll reward yourself with a perfect little dumpling and a glorious bite.

Not content with being soothing for the soul and your tum, dumplings symbolise wealth, resembling the golden ingots used as currency during the Ming Dynasty. . Serving them at Chinese New Year brings the promise of wealth, good luck and prosperity. I’ll have some of that lovely symbolism thank you very much; I want a new camera and will take all of the lucky symbolism that I can get.

Chinese New Year 2008 - London

Regular readers will have noticed my tenacity, ok obsessive tendencies, with food that I like. So it won’t be any surprise that I have been making these for a week in an attempt to unlock their secrets. I researched many recipes, and tried different techniques and fillings. There are many ways of doing them, and the fillings are supremely flexible. Pork is a popular choice, particularly popular with me, so no surprise then that it was one of my favourites. Some like to cook the filling first, I prefer to put the filling in raw, it helps to shape the dumpling and the resulting texture is solid and the flavours are more fused. Cooking the filling, meat ones at least, results in a more fragmented filling with a drier texture. I could see that cooking would be essential for some vegetarian fillings but it’s not for me otherwise.

Beijing Dumplings (Jiaozi)

My research included two very good recipes from Helen at World Foodie Guide and Rasa Malaysia that I would highly recommend. My trials revealed two further personal favourites, one plain ground pork with Chinese chives, spring onion some rice wine, a little sesame oil and shredded spring onion. I varied it slightly for another version adding approximately a quarter of the volume of pork, in raw chopped prawns. The fillings are so flexible, play around until you hit the one you like the best. I used white pepper instead of black pepper for seasoning as it’s so good with pork, and the Chinese use it a lot. It has a lovely gentle spice and a strong aroma, not for everyone but I love it. Irish people use it a lot too, incidentally. We had no black pepper in our house growing up.

Beijing Dumplings (Jiaozi)

If you can, I urge you to make the dough. It’s infinitely superior and not that challenging, it just takes time. The texture is also more gentle and malleable for rolling and shaping, and it tastes so much better. However, there is no real harm in buying jiaozi wrappers in your local Chinese shop (if you have one) and are short on time.

Beijing Dumplings (Jiaozi)

There’s no perfect meal without a good wine, and when that wine matches, well, life is sweet and that little bit more in tune. The jiaozi are quite delicate, with no strong spicing, save some white pepper so a crisp white wine with body, creaminess and a little zing matches well. I tried two, a Marlborough Pinot Gris from Wither Hills (2008), at a very good £9.99 at Waitrose. It was lovely and fresh with lots of sweetness and aromas of honeysuckle and quince. It had a gentle sweetness and creaminess, but I felt wasn’t crisp enough to be a perfect match. I preferred the second, Petaluma Riesling 2008 Hanlin Hill, Clare Valley, Australia, which had a really refreshing acidity and was sufficiently dry yet fruity. It was a lovely wine and was a great match for the Jiaozi. Also available at Waitrose for a bargain £9.49.

Beijing Dumplings (Jiaozi)

Jiaozi Recipe

Dumpling Wrapper Ingredients

1 cup dumpling flour from your local Chinese shop OR plain flour

¼ cup water

A pinch of salt

Filling Ingredients:

450g minced pork

3 spring onions finely, chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

A handful of finely chopped Chinese chives (or normal chives)

I tbsp rice wine vinegar

½ tsp sesame oil

Salt & white pepper to taste

To serve: black vinegar & chilli oil

Method:

Filling: mix the ingredients and leave covered in the fridge while you make the dumpling wrappers. This will allow the flavours to integrate.
Wrappers: combine the flour, salt and water and mix. Knead until shiny and elastic for 10 minutes, or chuck in your mixer and let it do the work for 5 minutes. This is what I did!

You may want to add more water or flour; you want a mixture that is firm without being too wet.

Cover in cling film or put in a plastic bag for 30 minutes in the fridge. Roll your jiaozi wrappers by pulling off little balls, smaller than a 10p piece, and rolling until thin, about as thin as pasta, and about three inches in diameter. Roughly!

Brush the edges of the wrappers lightly with water (not too much as they’ll get soggy). Place a teaspoon of filling in the centre and fold in a half moon shape and press closed ensuring they are sealed.

Add to boiling water for a few minutes, when they rise to the top they are cooked in theory but do check by cutting into one, as you don’t want to eat raw pork. I didn’t have any problems with this, they were always cooked through, so don’t worry too much. Be careful not to boil for too long, as the wrapper may burst if it’s quite thin.

Serve with a dipping sauce of Chinese black vinegar with some chilli oil.

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This Little Piggy Went to Pig Masterclass

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This little piggy loves eating out, and doing all sorts of things relating to food, you may have noticed. I especially love new places and trying new things, learning new skills, watching someone and learning from them. So, as often as I can, I’ll get out there and try something or somewhere new.

London is a big city with lots of options and it won’t surprise you that I’ve not been everywhere yet Far from it. So, when I received an invite from a restaurant on my hit list, Trinity, to attend a pig master class, where the head chef would do a butchery demonstration at the kitchen table, followed by a dinner matched with Trimbach wines from Alsace, I was thrilled. I love Alsatian wines, I first discovered my love for them at a Hugel tasting a couple of years ago. Trimbach were particularly interesting as they are a small house, family run for many generations. Just my cup of tea, or should I say glass of Gewurz.

Trinity is a highly regarded restaurant in Clapham, South London. Food critic Giles Coren is a fan, having called it “The perfect restaurant” and it was awarded AA London Restaurant of the Year 2007/2008 and Time Out Best Local Restaurant 2007/2008. It’s a blogger’s favourite also, and frankly, the only reason that I haven’t visited is it is so bloody far away from where I live.

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Rushing, as always, I was greeted with a glass of wine and some pretty impressive looking pig carcass that the head chef, Adam Byatt was presiding over, cleaver in hand and smile on his face. I felt welcome, and slightly overwhelmed but I was desperate to catch up. It was really interesting, he made deft work of the butchering, and presented several joints at the end, some stuffed with sausage meat.

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I found it quite inspiring really and wanted to get stuck in myself and discover how to do it hands on, should they run a hands on course, I will be down there in a flash. It makes so much sense when it comes to quality and price, if you have the space and the inclination. I’ve been considering getting a half pig this year and giving this a try, if my new home has enough space for a big freezer.

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Class adjourned, we ate some spoils from the butchery, some prune pork sausages with rosemary, seductively moist and succulent and some delicious smoky taramasalata, made with cod roe from a small smokehouse in the UK, I intend to source some, it was utterly divine, smooth and rich.

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The meal commenced with a creamy and milky white onion and thyme velouté. Delicately scented and light, it soothed the tastebuds and set us up nicely for the smoked eel, steamed oyster and sole goujons. My dining companions were enthralled by the leek, but frankly, no contest, the eel was the star of the show. Gentle starts for the two robust courses that were to follow.

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Pigs trotters served on sourdough with fried quail egg, sauce gribiche and crackling over shadowed this. It is one of Trinity’s signature dishes, and it really impressed. With a shard of crackling protecting it, it didn’t stand a chance for I had it devoured in record time. A perfect example of producing something very fine and delicate with bold flavours using the cheapest of meat cuts, the simple crubeen (Irish for trotter).

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One of my favourite cuts followed, pork belly, which was served with black olive oil mash, braised celery hearts and cockle and saffron vinaigrette. Sadly, I didn’t enjoy this as much. It had been cooked sous vide for 16 hours, and I felt it didn’t do the meat any favors. Instead of the tender fragments of meat rendered by slow roasting, the meat was dense and compacted and while full of flavour, I didn’t enjoy the texture, which seemed a great shame considering how much work had gone into it. I did enjoy the fragrant cockle and saffron vinaigrette though. One slight shadow on an otherwise lovely meal.

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We finished with an intensely sweet and delicious quince tarte tatin and honey ice cream, which was everything a tarte tatin should be: fruity, intense, caramelised and golden. Nothing complex, a simple dessert that was well executed, exactly how I like my desserts to be.

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The wines were a real treat, the rieslings were particularly good. Two shone out particularly, the 2001 375th anniversary cuvee, beautifully dry with lots of mineral and a real pleasure to drink. The final wine was a very fine Gewurztraminer, the Gewurztraminer Selection des Grains Nobiles 1989.

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Overall impressions were extremely positive, Trinity is a lovely local restaurant offering very fine food, lovely service and a warm and cosy atmosphere. The Trimbach wines were really excellent, and it was a real pleasure to be taken through the tasting by Jean Trimbach himself. I was pleased to see a Trimbach wine in my local Waitrose recently, the Trimbach Riesling Réserve 2007,very well priced at £13.29, I will be trying it soon.

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Should you fancy going to the Trinity Pig Masterclass costs £70 per person, and includes the butchery demonstration and lunch, matched with ciders and perrys. It runs from 10am-1pm and is well worth a visit.

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http://www.trinityrestaurant.co.uk/

Trimbach Wines

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A Wine-ding Tour of Portugal

European Wine Bloggers Conference

I’ve much bemoaned the lack of travelling I’ve been doing of late. Get out your tiny violin and let me tell you that I’ve not been to anywhere but Ireland for more than 5 days in over 2 years. Now, what is that about?! I’ve been working hard but playing less, in the last few months particularly, so I figured it was time to do something about this somewhat depressing state of affairs, and headed to Lisbon for the weekend.

Why Lisbon? The European Wine Bloggers Wine Conference was there this year, and having met, and tasted much wine with Gabriella & Ryan Opaz and their co-organiser Rob MacIntosh this year, I had to go. They’re great people and extremely innovative, whatever they were organising, it was sure to be good. There’s also been much talk of organising a food one over a few days next year, since last March in fact so it made sense to see how it was done before getting that moving after the Blaggers’ Banquet. The bonus was that I had never been to Portugal and was keen to explore.

European Wine Bloggers Conference

How was it? Well, great. The Portugese people, in the wine world and without are open, friendly and beyond hospitable. I had a somewhat twisted expectation that I may be seen as a fraud deeply entrenched in the world of wine, but really, that says more about me than them, as my experience was quite the opposite.

European Wine Bloggers Conference

Highlights were Friday nights tasting and dinner with the Douro Boys, a meander through the Portugese wine stands on Saturday trying gorgeous ports, tawnys and many wines featuring the national grape touriga nacional, a wonderful canape and wine session at michelin starred restaurant Eleven, followed by a mildly misjudged dancing session in Lisbon, a superb trip to the Tejo region and winery Quinta Lagoalva, featuring a tour of their cork farm and a sample of theirs and the regions wines, followed by lunch with the winemakers. Such a treat.

European Wine Bloggers Conference

European Wine Bloggers Conference

More still, a wonderful dinner, lots of delicious wines, and more dancing at Alfandega in Lisbon. Where things got really special, however was, bus journey aside, for I am a terrible bus passenger, especially after much dancing, wine swilling and little sleep, a trip to the Douro and to (for me) two wineries. This was a wonderful exposure to the wine and food culture in Portugal and the really lovely people. There was no pretension, just warm, friendly people and lovely food and wine. Thanks so much to Francisco Olazabal of Quinta do Vale Meão, Cristiano Van Zeller of Quinta do Vale D. Maria, Jorge, Tomas and Miguel Roquette of Quinta do Crasto for a wonderful experience.

European Wine Bloggers Conference

Throughout all of this I had exposure to a whole new community of bloggers, the wine bloggers, who are enormous fun and very knowledgable. I look forward to seeing them next year, and before then in some cases.

That’s the overview! I’ll write more about it soon. Thanks to Gabriella, Ryan, Rob and Andre and the boys from Adegga for a superb weekend. They did a wonderful job.

<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/niamheen/4073785596/” title=”European Wine Bloggers Conference by Niamheen, on Flickr”><img src=”http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2696/4073785596_63d873fb7d.jpg” width=”500″ height=”333″ alt=”European Wine Bloggers Conference” /></a>
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Competition! Prosecco + Food Matching: Submit Your Recipe

Regular readers will know that I’ve been having lots of fun at Covent Garden Real Food Market. Serving up food from my kitchen and matching it to wines, chiefly Bisol Jeio Prosecco, one of my favourite sparkling wines. When Denise & I decided to do the stall, we really wanted to do something fun and sociable. We wanted a great wine, with some fizz and energy. Something that would match the food, and provide a fun experience for our customers. We’d sampled Bisol at a tasting and so we bought some from Bibendum to serve at the stall.

The world of food & wine matching is quite new to me. Before I would choose my wine and choose the food, not quite independently but nearly. I would always pair red wines with red meats, white wines with fish, but the intricacies of matching I just didn’t understand. It’s not a complicated and tedious process, learning bottle by bottle and glass by glass, it’s a thoroughly pleasant and indulgent affair. We like those kind of lessons! I am still learning and I am really enjoying it.

Initially the Bisol Jeio Prosecco was for the first week, but it proved so popular, we brought it back. Our first match was Bisol Jeio white prosecco with smoked salmon and cucumber pickle on Irish brown soda bread. A lovely match! I felt encouraged and progressed to match the Bisol Jeio Rose with slow roast pork. At home, I’ve matched the Bisol Jeio Prosecco to my prawn curry, risotto and love it with other fruity and/or fish dishes. They’re just my limited attempts.

Bisol are not just about prosecco, they also love food, boasting a fantastic restaurant, Ristorante Certosina on the island Certosa in Venice. They liked that we were matching the prosecco with non Italian foods and thought that it might be fun to explore this further by expanding the concept with a competition.

IMG_3311Mazzorbo Scarpa Velo.jpg alta bella

So here it is. It’s simple, submit your recipe with a photo that you think would be a good prosecco match. Post it on your blog with a link back to this post, and the trackback will appear in the comments. Not a blogger? Please submit via the Contact Me page, you entry would be most welcome! All entries must be submitted by Wednesday 21st October, just over 2 weeks.

5 finalists will meet to prepare their dishes and the best match will win a gorgeous meal for two with me and a representative from Bisol at the chefs table in bloggers favourite Trinity, London. Giles Coren has proclaimed it “the perfect restaurant”. All 5 finalists will receive a pair of tickets for the wine show in London 22 – 28 October.

Just one problem, you’ve not tried Bisol? Come down to my stall at the Covent Garden Real Food Market this Friday 9th October and sample a glass on the house from 6pm. We want this to be fun and interesting, bringing the experience from the browser to the real world.

So, if you think you can handle my table manners, submit your recipe. Simple or complex, they will be judged on how well they match, not on the intricacy involved. It’s a fun competition with a great prize. So, what are you waiting for?! Send me your recipes :)

More info on Bisol Jeio Prosecco here [PDF].

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Twitter Taste Live

Twitter Wine Tasting

I was invited to a very interesting event recently, a wine tasting organised by the fantastic host and wine blogger Rob, who was aided superbly by fellow wine blogger Andrew, from Spittoon. This was no normal wine tasting, it was multinational, and we would share our thoughts on the wines via twitter. The wines were supplied by Bin Ends, all from the Alsace region, and we would be tasting them with fellow twitterers in the US, Spain, South America, and one in China!

Our Twitter Usernames

Our Twitter Usernames

If you don’t know twitter it’s a microblogging application, where you send your thoughts out into the world in 140 characters or less. It’s community focussed, so those twitterers that are connected to you see those updates, and you can send replies and direct personal messages that only the people involved see. So, it’s like online shared texting, or status updates on facebook. If you’re on there, I am eatlikeagirl, come join me. I really enjoy it and use it as a means of communication with friends and other food bloggers e.g. Helen of World Foodie Guide, Su Lin of Tamarind & Thyme and Helen of Food Stories.

There’s the background, now: back to the tasting.

Now that’s a number of different locations, and clearly timing was going to be an issue, so we started early and planned to twitter with everyone else from midnight. Rob and Andrew prepared a wonderful 5 course meal and matched the food to the wines.

Twittering and blogging the evening

Twittering and blogging the evening

I am guessing you are a little curious about the wines and the food. Now, I don’t blog about wine, and it’s not because I don’t like it, it’s my tipple of choice, I just don’t have anything approaching the level of expertise that wine bloggers have and it’s, well, intimidating. I do want to know more, and I see a wine tasting course looming on my horizon, but for now, I surf the part of the wine list that I know and I try to learn more by breaking out of this occasionally. I’ll get there. This evening all 5 wines were white wines from Alsace, which would prove to be interesting as I am generally more of a fan of red.

scallops starter
So, we started with a delicous starter of scallops accompanied by Hugel Tradition Gentil (aka Les Fleurs d’Alsace) 2006. The scallops pan fried with white wine, ginger, garlic and chilli, the spices added to compliment the spice in the wine. The scallops were fantastic, large, juicy and perfectly cooked and the wine was a very pleasant accompaniment, light with gentle spicy flavours.

asparagus tart

Next up was red onion or asparagus tarts with baby leaf salad accompanied by Hugel Tradition Pinot Blanc 2006. The tarts were great, light and quite eggy, the wine cut through this quite well. I wasn’t a huge fan of this wine, on first taste I was underwhelmed, putting it mildly, but the food was a good match and it improved. It was quite rich and acidic, heavier than the first.

hugel pinot blanc

At this point, we were all starting to feel really spoiled, with our two wine blogging friends slaving in the kitchen, and us chattering, sampling and generally having a very good night. It was time for the next course and our most decadent yet, with fois gras mi cuit with toast and fig chutney matched with Hugel Tradition Gewürztraminer 2006. The foie gras and fig chutney were well matched even before the wine got involved, but the wine was a wonderful match and brought the best out in everything. It was rich and golden with hints of honeysuckle and quite an oily texture, which amplified the flavours in the meal. Delicious.

foie gras with fig chutney

hugel wines

Next up was pork medallions with mustard mash, apples and cider reduction accompanied by Hugel Riesling Jubilee 2004. The dish as all previous was perfectly executed and the wine, for me, was sharp, acidic and spicy with background syrupy sweetness. It was a good match for the food.

pork tenderloin with mustard mash apples and cider reduction.Our last wine was awaiting us, unfortunately so was the last train, so we had to rush. We had coconut macaroons with Hugel Gewürztraminer Vendage Tardive 2001. Now this wine was delicious, and was great with the coconut. It had a honey fragrance, intense sweet syrupy honey flavours, rich and gorgeous.

coconut macaroons

It was truly a wonderful evening, I learned alot, and am determined to expand my wine tasting experiences. The company was great and it was a very fun evening. Thanks to uber host Rob and Andrew, for organising and serving up such a wonderful meal,Bin Ends Wine and Hugel & Fils for the wines and setting up the event and Annie Mole, Lea, Kai, Sandrine, Jeremy, Lolly & James.

There’s lots of photos, you can take a look on the flickr group – Twitter Taste Live.

Flickr Group

Flickr Group