Saturday, 28 July 2012

The 2012 London Olympics Opening Ceremony

With his clever and audacious ceremony Danny Boyle has created a new image of Great Britain.

I'm sure we were all nervous, "Please don't let it be shit", was my over-riding thought. With the world watching I would have hated it had we embarrassed ourselves. And for the first 15 minutes I thought that was going to happen.

The rural idyll, the peasants, the farmers and the pipes. Everything seemed to be leading towards some thoughtless, lazy, typical view of Britain as a green and pleasant land populated by gurning simpletons. Although I liked the sequence which showed us Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales nevertheless I began to cringe.

But then it all started to change. The dramatic transformation from countryside to industrial landscape completed by a stunningly staged sequence of the forging of the Olympic rings, rising slowly and steadily into the sky. No CGI manipulation here, very clever. At this point I began to think we could be in for something special.

And we were. Bond. And The Queen! The completely staggering inclusion of our Monarch may have been lost on anyone not British. But it can't have been lost on us. This is The Queen! I find it hard to believe that they managed to get her involved like that. The audacity and the cheekiness of it was perfect. This was a ceremony for us Britons. I was now beginning to feel quite proud.

What followed with the sequences devoted to the NHS, our literary history, music and technology showcased a diverse range of talent and industry of which we can be proud. This is what we do and we do it well. There is much more to us than fields and farming.

The ceremony was the most inclusive I can remember. From The Queen to volunteers from the working class areas of London and the four corners of Great Britain. Top to bottom, left to right, everyone was given not just a chance to join in, but a starring role.

All this within a brand new stadium built in a previously run-down area of London. Completed on time and full of promise of better things continuing for some of the poorest boroughs of our capital.

The entrance of the athletes was underpinned with a thoughtful intelligence and set to a terrific soundtrack which seemed to fan the flames of the excitement felt by the young competitors. Accompanying athletes of each country was their flag, naturally, and an unexplained copper petal, which led to the crowning glory of a terrific ceremony.

Britain's previous gold medal winners put their egos to the side and let the next generation of hopefuls parade the flame around the stadium and then light the copper petals of a large flaming flower. The petals then rose to create one giant fire containing a flame for each competing country. What a perfect message to give. Hats of to Thomas Heatherwick for that one.

Come, all of you, to London, to Britain, and join in this celebration of sport and endeavour.

And there we have it, our new message for the World. This is Britain, and it's Great.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Barbequed lamb with Cabernet Sauvignon

At last. AT LAST! Summer, finally. After weeks and weeks of grey skies, downpours and floods we finally get to Summer. And that means barbeque.

There's nothing finer on the barbeque than lamb, and to make sure the first one of the season set the right standard I asked Al from Wine Chateau to suggest the right wine,

"It has to be Cabernet Sauvignon", said Al. "There's some great wines around, but Chile in particular is producing some fantastic Cabernet Sauvignon right now. Try the Los Vascos, produced by Rothschild".

Barbequeing lamb doesn't require much of a recipe really. Get a barbeque hot, put some lamb on it (we used chops) and cook. Lamb always seems to respond really well to the heat and smoke of the barbeque, taking on a lovely red tinge in places, and the fat crisps up nicely and becomes very,very tasty.

Lamb is also very versatile, you can go so many different directions with it. We stuck to the Med, pairing it with some roasted and stuffed peppers, spiced spinach and chickpeas and hummus.

Al's recommendation of Cabernet Sauvignon is spot on. The wine at first is very fruity with a taste of lots of red berries and cherries. But after some time to breathe the tannins develop to deliver a dry finish. It's a great match with the lamb, which is quite a sweet meat. The sweet fruit of the wine matches nicely. There's also a hint of smoke and spice which complements the char-grill from the barbeque.

What a perfect start to Summer. The grey skies seem a long time ago, and the future seems rich with the promise of more great food and wine.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Gnocchi and cheese sauce with Pinot Gris

Simple but effective, this Italian dish with an Italian inspired wine is an unassuming yet elegant meal.

Al runs We've been tweeting about food and wine matches. After all, who better to ask what wine to drink with your meal than a guy who runs a wine company?

Al's first suggestion, Roast Chicken with Napa Valley Chardonnay, was a winner. So I asked him what he'd put with something simple like gnocchi with a cheese sauce,

"Pinot Grigio would be a nice match", said Al, "but if you want something a bit special, try a Pinot Gris from Oregon."

My only experience of American wine until now had been red from California. Some of it is excellent, Zinfandel in particular. And Chardonnay clearly does well in the vineyards around Napa. But I wasn't familiar with wine from Oregon.

"The Wine by Joe Pinot Gris is an excellent wine, I'm sure you'll enjoy it", said Al. How right he was.

We cooked for 2, using the following recipe.

500g pack of ready made gnocchi
3 small shallots, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
splash of white wine
2-3 tbsp mascarpone
1-2 tbsp creme fraiche
150g Taleggio, chopped into small chunks
splash of olive oil
Small handful of fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper

Get a pan warm over a medium heat, add a good splash of olive oil and soften the shallots and garlic. After 3-4 minutes add a small glass of white wine, around 150ml. We used the Pinot Gris we were going to drink with the meal.

Reduce the wine by half. Add the mascarpone and creme fraiche and stir until melted.

At this point, start your gnocchi. It depends on what it says on the packet, but it should just be a case of adding it to boiling water and cooking it for a few minutes.

Add the taleggio to the sauce and stir until melted and combined. Season with a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. You probably won't need to add any salt, but it depends on your taste.

When the gnocchi is cooked, drain it and add it to the cheese sauce. Serve with some freshly chopped parsley.

Obviously the cheese sauce is rich, but the creme fraiche keeps it from being too rich, and the soft, doughy balls of gnocchi make the dish simple and comforting. However, the classy Pinot Gris transforms the dish, like Cinderella going to the ball.

I'm not normally one for appreciating white wine, certainly not the colour of it, but this Wine by Joe Pinot Gris is beautiful, like the flesh of a freshly cut apple, and there is a hint of green apple in the taste. Its clean lines cut through the richness of the cheese sauce and give it lift. It also opens up and enhances the aromas of the dish, so you get a real experience of it from your olfactory senses. 

There is also a very enjoyable contrast of hot, creamy sauce with cool, crisp wine. However, the fruit of the wine stops short of being dry so the contrast doesn't go too far. It is a wonderful combination.

Friday, 6 July 2012

The best cheese for burgers

I found it tonight - the best cheese for burgers. Taleggio.

It's got a tang a bit like blue cheese, but nowhere near a Stilton or Roquefort. It's creamy and buttery a bit like good mayonnaise. And it's kind of nutty. Burger cheese perfection.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Roast chicken with braised lettuce and peas and Napa Valley Chardonnay

It's funny what can happen when you use Twitter. I've been in touch with a range of people I simply would not come across in my normal day-to-day life.

I've been in touch with a guy who makes handmade pasta in Shepton Mallet, the chef at my favourite local restaurant, a blogger who lives in Australia and Al. Al runs, a wine merchants in New Jersey.

I'd been tweeting about my latest cooking and eating experiences, posting links to my blog, and Al got in touch to say he liked it. We exchanged a few tweets and then conversation (is it conversation on Twitter?) turned to a subject close to both our hearts - food and wine.

Most of the time my posts are just about food, either what I've cooked or what I've eaten out somewhere. Rarely do I blog about food and wine together, which seems odd when I often make a point of seeking out a nice bottle to go with what I'm cooking.

This seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. Surely Al could give me some guidance on what wine to put with food. Thankfully he obliged.

His first suggestion was for roast chicken with a Napa Valley Chardonnay - like this one (available from So that's what we tried.

For 2 people we used the following:

4 chicken thighs
1 lemon, chopped into wedges
4 cloves of garlic
splash of olive oil
salt and pepper

2 little gem lettuce cut into quarters
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 good handfuls of peas
1 small onion, or large shallot, finely chopped
200ml good chicken stock
4 tablespoons creme fraiche
1 small knob of butter
splash of olive oil

Put the chicken thighs in a roasting pan, drizzle over some olive oil, season with salt and pepper and place around them the wedges of lemon and cloves of garlic. Roast in the oven at 180c for about 30 minutes or until the juices run clear when you skewer the chicken.

Whilst the chicken is roasting, get going with the lettuce. Put a small knob of butter in a pan with a splash of olive oil and soften the chopped onion or shallot over a medium heat. Then put the lettuce quarters on top, cut side down, and cook for a couple of minutes. Then, pour over the stock, put the lid on the pan and lightly simmer for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes lift out the lettuce quarters with a slotted spoon, leave to stand whilst you reduce the cooking liquor over a high heat. When it's reduced by half, add the creme fraiche, mustard and peas. Turn the heat down and warm the peas for a minute or 2.

Plate the lettuce and chicken and spoon the pea, cream and mustard sauce around them.

The wine, of course, is a great match. The maturation in oak means it's full-bodied, which compliments the meat and the rich sauce. The natural chardonnay flavours of citrus and crisp apple work nicely with the lemon the chicken has been roasted with. And there's a  minerality which goes well with the lettuce.

So, thanks Al. Just goes to show what Twitter can do.