Tag Archives: White wine

Creamy mushroom orzo

I mentioned the other day a while ago that I’d borrowed Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg Everyday! from the library (before tangentially enthusing about my love for Auckland’s public library system…) and tried the chachouka recipe from it, which turned out brilliantly.  And then, aside from a brief (though enthusiastic) mention in a Sunday Smiles post, I never spoke about the book again, which could suggest that none of the other recipes appealed to me, or none of them worked.  What actually happened is that I cooked several recipes, loved them all and had so many others bookmarked to try out that I realised that this was a book worth buying – it was clearly not going languish on my bookshelf, gathering dust.  So that’s precisely what I did: I bought a copy.  But I never quite got around to blogging about those recipes, mostly because I didn’t take photos – I struggle with savoury food photography because I’m not terribly imaginative and I’d usually rather eat my meal hot rather than having to take photos of it whilst it cools.  And I’m also usually hungry.

I did, however, take photos of the creamy mushroom orzo, which was the second dish that I tried from the book (ages ago when mushrooms were still in season over here in the southern hemisphere…  Good timing if you’re in the northern hemisphere though!).  I love mushrooms and often cook them in a cream and wine sauce – my version of the French stalwart that is champignons à la crème.  I’ve always served them with toast, and would never have thought to add orzo, which is a great idea – it makes this more of a substantial meal and more practical to take as a packed lunch (always a bonus).

I don’t think larger pasta would work nearly as well, it would over-power the dish in terms of texture (does that even make sense?), whereas with the orzo, this dish is still all about the mushrooms and the sauce, and the orzo is more of a background addition that fills it out.  This is really a wonderfully comforting (but not heavy) autumnal or wintery dish.  I really like the addition of the balsamic vinegar – it adds a subtle extra dimension to the flavours, and goes so well with the mushrooms.  Since this recipe is very much made from scratch, I’m submitting it to this week’s Made with Love Mondays over at Javelin Warrior.

Creamy mushroom orzo

Serves 2-3
Adapted from River Cottage Veg Everyday!

Flavourful dark mushrooms, such as chestnut or field mushrooms, are best if you can get them – I used portobello mushrooms since I didn’t have much choice in terms of varieties.  Do use a good quality balsamic vinegar as it will impact the flavour of the dish.

Ingredients

500g mushrooms
Knob of butter
4 cloves of garlic
Small bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, to serve
150g orzo pasta (aka risoni)
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
½ tsp dried thyme
100ml dry white wine
75ml crème fraîche (reduced fat is fine)

Directions

1.  Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, ready to cook the pasta whilst the sauce is being prepared.

2.  Brush the mushrooms, trim the stipes (stems/stalks) and slice thickly.  Melt the butter in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat.  Add half the mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until starting to caramelise and the liquid from the mushrooms has evaporated.  Remove to a plate and repeat with the other half of the mushrooms (doing it in batches avoids the mushrooms stewing in an overcrowded pan).

3.  Whilst the mushrooms are cooking, chop the garlic cloves and set aside.  Separately, strip the parsley leaves from their stalks, chop and set aside.  Once the second batch of mushrooms is nearly cooked, add the orzo to the boiling water and cook for the amount of time specified on the packet until al dente.  Drain as soon as it is cooked.

4.  Return the first batch of mushrooms to the frying pan, along with the garlic, balsamic vinegar and thyme.  Cook for about 2 mins, stirring frequently.  And the wine and simmer until it has mostly reduced, then reduce the heat a little and add the cream, stirring until just starting to simmer.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste.

5.  Stir the drained pasta through the mushroom mixture, along with most of the parsley.  Serve immediately, garnished with the remaining chopped parsley.

Enjoy!

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Warm cauliflower, feta & almond salad

Nestled within my lengthy list of first world irritations and peeves is one which frequently shoots right up the list when I’m baking or cooking: measuring dry ingredients in terms of volume.  I’m looking at you, USA.  New Zealand and Australia, you’re guilty, too, though admittedly a little less so.  Things like caster sugar and flour I can deal with (I still think it’s ridiculous, but at least it’s easy enough to convert to a weight).  It’s when we get to things like raisins, nuts, chocolate chips that it starts to be an issue.  Things that it makes no sense to measure as a volume.  And then we get to the truly ridiculous.  Exhibit A: “3 cups of bite-size pieces of cauliflower.”

“3 cups of bite-size pieces of cauliflower” doesn’t help me a great deal when I’m doing my shopping and cauliflower comes in whole heads, not bite-sized pieces.  Perhaps some people have the magical ability of looking at produce and being able to accurately estimate what volume it will take up when chopped up.  I do not have this magical ability.  This isn’t helped by the fact that I suck at anything that involves estimating.  In fact, I nearly didn’t try this warm cauliflower, feta and almond salad out, solely on account of the specified 3 cups of bite-sized pieces of cauliflower.

Luckily I did though, because this salad is truly delicious, both warm or cooled to room temperature.  It’s super versatile as well, and works on its own as a light meal, as a side dish or as a more substantial meal when mixed with couscous or pasta.  I’m a little on-the-fence about cauliflower – I like it in gratin form with a béchamel sauce and covered in cheese, but other than that I usually find it a little bland and boring.  I was more attracted by the rest of the salad’s ingredients – red onion, lemon, sun-dried tomatoes, capers, feta, almonds – than the cauliflower.  But I actually think that cauliflower works wonderfully here.  It adds a lovely crunch (a cooked crunch though, not a raw crunch), and since most of the other ingredients are quite flavourful, it helps mellow that out and balance them all together.  This is one of my new favourite warm salads.  Not only is it scrumptious, it’s easy enough to prepare and is entirely “from scratch.”  As a result, I’m submitting it to this week’s Made With Love Mondays, hosted by Javelin Warrior.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I found 3 cups of bite-sized pieces of cauliflower to be just a little less than one cauliflower.  I measured it out of interest whilst I was preparing the salad.

Warm cauliflower, feta & almond salad

Serves 3-4 as a light meal or starter
Adapted from Dish, August-September 2012

This salad is an incredibly versatile dish.  It works as a light salad on its own or can be used as a side dish (the original recipe serves it with chicken).  It can also be turned into a more substantial meal by adding couscous or pasta, which is great for a packed lunch, since it’s delicious whether served warm or cooled.  As with any salad, the ingredient quantities are really more guidelines than set in stone.

Ingredients

1 cauliflower
2-3 tbsp organic rapeseed oil (canola oil)
1 large red onion
3 cloves of garlic
1 unwaxed lemon
90 ml white wine
½ tsp ground cumin
Pinch of chilli flakes
5-6 sun-dried tomatoes
Small handful parsley leaves stripped from the stems
Handful roasted skin-on almonds
2 tbsp capers, drained
150g feta

Directions

1.  Chop the cauliflower up into bite-sized pieces.  Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a high heat.  Add the cauliflower once hot with a pinch of salt and cook, stirring frequently, until coloured in places.  Add 2 tbsp of water to the pan, cover and cook for a further 2 mins, occasionally shaking the pan.  The cauliflower should still be a little crunchy.  Transfer to a heat-proof bowl and set aside.

2.  Whilst the cauliflower is cooking, dice the onion and set aside.  Return the pan to the heat, add a little more oil if required, add the onion and cook until soft but not brown.  As the onion is cooking, finely dice the garlic, and zest and juice the lemon.  Once the onion is soft, add the garlic, lemon zest and juice, wine, ground cumin and chilli flakes and 85 ml of water, bring to the boil and simmer for 3 mins.

3.  Meanwhile, finely slice the sun-dried tomatoes and chop the parsley.  Roughly chop the almonds and set aside, ready for serving.  Once the onion mixture is ready, stir in the sun-dried tomatoes, capers and most of the parsley, followed by the cauliflower, and season with freshly ground black pepper to taste.  Mix well, remove from the heat and split the cauliflower mixture evenly between plates (or in a large serving bowl), crumble the feta over the top, followed by the roughly chopped almonds and any remaining parsley.

Enjoy!

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Blueberries, polenta and wine. In a cake.

This month’s Random Recipes challenge has been combined with Tea Time Treats, a blog challenge hosted by Kate at What Cake Baked and Karen at Lavender and Lovage, and the theme is (you guessed it!) “tea time random recipes” – a recipe either from a book or the section of a book that covers tea time treats.  I decided to use randomly pick a recipe from my A Treasury of New Zealand Baking book, which is full of baking recipes (shocking, I know) that are definitely tea time appropriate.  The random number generator on my calculator directed me to page 216, a recipe for blueberry polenta upside-down cake, which also calls for white wine and olive oil in the ingredients list.  Polenta, white wine, olive oil and blueberries?  In a cake?  Intriguing.  And an excellent excuse to clear out some of the frozen blueberry reserves currently taking up space in my freezer.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t too convinced and wasn’t sure what to expect.  As curious as I was, if it hadn’t been for Random Recipes, I might not have tried it at all and gone for a “safer” cake option.  By “safer” I mean a recipe that I was fairly sure what the results would be.  You see, I’ve never cooked with polenta before (never mind baked), so I really wasn’t too sure.  But rules are rules.  So off I went on a mission to find some instant polenta.  I wasn’t expecting it to be particularly difficult since after all the recipe book was written in NZ by Kiwi chefs, so all the ingredients must be available here…  But it turned out that my mission required a trip to the big slightly-out-of-the-way supermarket, which (thankfully) did have instant polenta squirrelled away in the international food section.

So, with all the ingredients assembled, time to try out the actual recipe…  I really wasn’t too sure about the whole cake until I was able to try some.  But thankfully my doubts were misplaced.  The top of the cake has a little crunch from the sugar that started off underneath the blueberries (it’s an upside-down cake remember), the blueberries come out slightly mushy and all juicy since they’ve been cooked, and as for the actual cake part, I’d describe it as slightly denser than a sponge cake in texture, which I guess probably comes from the polenta, but not particularly heavy.  The citrus zest, white wine and the olive oil add a distinct fruity flavour which goes wonderfully with the blueberries, although one might not necessarily be able to fully pin down the flavour combination if you didn’t know that wine is one of the ingredients.  I probably wouldn’t have been able to guess.  So if you’re looking for something a little different (and there aren’t any kids involved) I’d definitely suggest giving this a whirl.

Blueberry polenta upside-down cake

Makes 16 slices
Adapted from A Treasury of New Zealand Baking

Since blueberries are out of season at the moment I used frozen ones, which worked wonderfully, but fresh will also work (just be sure to pat them dry after rinsing).  If using frozen blueberries, there’s no need to thaw them first.  I used a very fruity NZ Sauvignon Blanc.  The cake will keep for up to three days if stored in the fridge, but make sure to bring to room temperature before serving.

Ingredients

75g light brown sugar
300g blueberries (fresh or frozen)
185g all-purpose flour
1½ tsp baking powder
85g instant polenta
200g caster sugar
2 large eggs
Zest of 1 orange
Zest of 1 lemon
165 ml fruity dry white wine
165 ml olive oil
1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

1.  Line a 28 x 18 cm rectangular baking tin with baking paper.  Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C.

2.  Sprinkle the light brown sugar evenly across the lined baking tin.  Evenly cover with the blueberries.

3.  Sift the flour and baking powder together into a medium bowl.  Add the polenta, stir together and set aside.

4.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the caster sugar, eggs, lemon and orange zests using an electric whisk until pale and very thick.  Gently whisk in the wine, oil and vanilla.  Fold in the flour and polenta mixture and then gently pour over the blueberries in the prepared cake tin (trying to avoid dislodging the blueberries).  Carefully smooth the top if necessary.

5.  Bake in the oven for 60-70 mins until golden and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.  Remove from the oven and cool in the tin for 5 mins before inverting onto a serving plate.  Carefully peel off the baking paper, taking care to leave the blueberry topping undisturbed.  Allow to cool fully before slicing into 16 pieces and serving.

Enjoy!

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Cocktail in a Macaron: Kir

If you read my Sunday Smiles post, then you already know that today’s post features swirly-shelled macarons.  You also know that these macarons are my entry to two different blog challenges…  The random letter for this month’s AlphaBakes challenge, which is being hosted by Caroline Makes, is “W” and upon reading that, I immediately thought of white wine.  This month’s We Should Cocoa challenge is being hosted by Choclette at the Chocolate Log Blog, and she has chosen “blackcurrant” as the special ingredient, which are very much not in season here at the moment.  This was minorly problematic for all of about ten seconds until I my eyes settled on my bottle of crème de cassis, which is a blackcurrant liqueur.  White wine and crème de cassis…  The stars have aligned and I have been presented with a kir…  Recipe challenge win.

I’m not sure how well known kir is outside of France.  Phil from As Strong as Soup correctly guessed that today’s macarons involve crème de cassis (well done Phil!), and also mentioned kir in his comment, but I gather he’s spent a fair amount of time in France, so he might have a bit of an advantage.  I feel that kir royale – champagne with crème de cassis – might be a little better known, and kir is basically its forebear (I think).

Now kir is technically supposed to be made with Bourgogne aligoté (a Burgundy made with aligoté grapes), but I doubt it’s particularly easy to find outside of Burgundy, and so I’ve always made do with whatever white wine I happen to have.  Incidentally, if you’ve got some white wine that’s a little past it’s best or that perhaps didn’t taste as wonderful as you expected, adding some crème de cassis vastly improves matters (there are limits however…  Wine so much past its best that it’s turned to vinegar or Tesco Market value “wine” are both far beyond the help of crème de cassis).  I was a little heavy-handed with the crème de cassis when I was made the one in the photos (woops…), so it’s not usually quite as dark.

So far, I’ve found that best way to transform a cocktail into baked goods is in the form of macarons…  I might even go as far as saying that it’s one of my specialities.  Kir macarons were a no-brainer, and I knew since the beginning of July exactly how I was going to make them, right down to the swirly shells, and the exact proportions of the ganache – I went with a white chocolate base (which also starts with W – do I get bonus points for AlphaBakes?) and a 1:2 ratio of crème de cassis to wine – but I just had to find the time.  I love macarons, and I enjoy making them, but they are time-consuming.  I finally tried them this weekend though, and boy were they worth making the time for.

I was a little nervous because this was the first time I’ve tried macarons in my oven here, but they worked well.  The feet could have been a little more developed, but that’s more of a macaronnage issue than an oven issue – I guess my technique is a little out of practice.  I’m really happy with the swirly effect though – I’d never tried it before, and I love how they turned out!  I’ll definitely be playing around with that again.  The white wine flavour is more of a very subtle undertone and doesn’t quite cut through as much as it would in a kir, but that was a deliberate choice on my part since I love the flavour of crème de cassis.  If you want more wine flavour, you can just adjust the ratio of the two alcohols to your personal taste.

Kir macarons

Makes about 60 small macarons (so about 120 shells of 1.5/2 cm diameter)
Macaron shell recipe based on Mad About Macarons!
Ganache recipe adapted from Pure Gourmandise

These are quite strong on the crème de cassis flavour – if you’d prefer a stronger wine flavour, then just adjust the ratio of crème de cassis to wine, ensuring that the total amount of alcohol doesn’t exceed 45g max (otherwise the ganache really won’t set).  The macaron shells and the white chocolate in the ganache are already very sweet, so choosing a wine that will cut through the sweetness is ideal.  Make sure you leave these at least 24h before eating them, in order to allow the ganache to soak into the shells a bit.  They’re best stored in an airtight box in the fridge – just remember to bring them out at least 30mins before eating them, so that you can appreciate the flavour fully!

Ingredients

For the macaron shells:
Purple or pink and blue food colouring paste (optional)
100g room temperature egg whites (take them out of the fridge 2h beforehand)
66g caster sugar
120g ground almonds
180g icing sugar

For the ganache filling:
40g double cream
150g white chocolate
30g white wine
15g crème de cassis
Purple or pink and blue food colouring paste (optional)

Directions

To make the macaron shells:
1.  Line three or four flat baking sheets with baking paper and set aside.  Prepare a piping bag with a plain round piping tip.

2.  Mix together a little bit of pink and blue food colouring paste in a small ramekin to get the shade of purple that you want (or just use purple food colouring paste).  Brush three lines of food colouring up the inside of the prepared piping bag (this might be a bit messy.  Purple hands are totally hot though, so no need to worry.  I forgot to take a photo before filling the piping bag, but you get the idea from the photo below.  If mixing your own colour, keep what’s left for the ganache if you want the same shade of purple.  The swirls are totally optional, but it just adds a bit of colour to the macarons, and it’s also kind of fun.)

3.  Blend the icing sugar and ground almonds together (don’t skip this step!).  Sift them through a medium sieve into a large bowl.  Sift them again if necessary.

4.  Make the French meringue by whisking the egg whites into glossy firm peaks, gradually adding the caster sugar.

5.  Incorporate the French meringue into the dry ingredients using a large spatula and mix well.  Now work on the mixture by pressing down well with the spatula, going backwards and forwards, to press out the oxygen from the egg whites (this is the macaronnage stage), until you have a smooth mixture.  Don’t do this for longer than 5 minutes.  The result should be a soft and brilliant mixture that forms a “ribbon” on the spatula.

6.  Transfer the mixture to the previously prepared piping bag and pipe out the desired size of rounds (mine were about 1.5-2cm in diameter).  Press the nozzle right down on the paper and finish off with a flourish to obtain a nice round.  Leave a good space between them so they can spread out.

7.  Leave to set for about 30 mins (this helps to produce the feet).  Preheat the oven to fan-oven 160°C.  When you can feel that a skin has formed over the top, they are ready to go into the oven.

8.  Bake one tray at a time in the centre of the oven for about 8-10 mins (to see if they are done, touch the top – if there is a “wobble,” leave them in 2-3 mins longer).  Leave them to cool on the baking trays, and when they are completely cool, carefully remove them and pair them up by size.

To make the ganache filling:
9.  Whilst the macarons are setting and cooking, make the ganache filling.  Heat the cream, and as soon as it starts boiling, add the white chocolate (broken into pieces), the white white wine, crème de cassis and a few drops of purple or pink and blue food colouring paste (the food colouring is optional, but adds a bit of fun colour), and mix with a wooden spoon until smooth (don’t let it boil or you will boil off the alcohol and we wouldn’t want that now, would we?).  Allow the mixture to thicken in the fridge (or freezer if necessary).

10.  Once cool, use a teaspoon to deposit a dollop of ganache onto one shell of each pair.  Then place the partner shell on top, and use a slight twisting motion to squash the shell down onto the filling.

11.  Leave in the fridge for at least 24h before serving (I know, it’s difficult!  But so worth it!!)

Enjoy!

PS – Apologies for the super long and rambly post…  Well done if you made it all the way to the end!!

 

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The many uses of a chopstick and other important things that I learnt at University

I haven’t really unpacked all my stuff yet, partially because I have no idea where to put it all, partially because I’m a bit lazy and disorganised, and mostly because once it’s all unpacked, I really have to admit that the St Andrews chapter of my life is closed and that I genuinely have no idea where my life goes from here.  So anyway, the point is that today’s post is not about food (and is also incredibly long – you’ve been warned).  Instead, since University is supposed to be all about learning, I’m going to share the random things that I learnt at University, but outwith lectures and labs.  A few are serious, but most of them are fun little tidbits:

  1. Being a TCK (Third Culture Kid) in a non-TCK environment is hard work – As a result of having lived my entire life (until University) as an expat, I am a TCK, brought up in a mix of cultures.  Although I am half British, and it is therefore one of my “home” cultures, when I first moved here for Uni, I often felt like a total outsider, particularly in first year, simply because there were loads of cultural references that I just didn’t understand.  So culturally, I was (and still am) a bit of a foreigner, but I’m British and I have a very British accent, and a lot of the people that I met found this difficult to comprehend.  Basically, I didn’t fit into a box, so people didn’t really know how to react to me, and I found this quite tough and a little lonely at times.  I realise this all sounds a bit miserable, but don’t worry, although it took a while, I found friends who accept me just as I am, or put up with me because I feed them.
  2. Being able to cook and bake is a great way to make friends – Most people enjoy being fed yummy food, and if they don’t, they probably aren’t worth making friends with anyway.  I’ve always found that, in general, people are particularly enthusiastic about baked goods – unless they contain nuts and you feed them to somebody who is allergic to them.  That might not work out so well. 
  3. Everybody loves madeleines – It might be rather big-headed of me, but I like to think that I bake pretty delicious madeleines.  I have yet to meet somebody who hasn’t enjoyed them and gone for a second, third, fourth helping/finished off the plate.
  4. The effort that goes into baking a cake sometimes goes completely unappreciated – This is a bit of an awkward point, since I am still a bit upset over this particular incident.  I went to a lot of effort to make a birthday cheesecake for somebody once.  They took a miniscule slice of it, told me they loved it (I had baked a trial run and everybody who tried that one agreed that it was lovely), and put it in the fridge “for later,” which was totally fine since we were going out for tea.  So far, so good.  The issue arises in that ten days later, when they left for a two-week break, the cheesecake remained, completely untouched.  Needless to say, it was rather past its prime.  Nobody should ever have to throw out a birthday cake that they made as a gift to somebody.  I don’t wish to name and shame this person, but if they are reading this, I hope they are aware of how insulting it is to have to do that.  Rant over and lesson learnt to only make cakes for people who appreciate it.
  5. Leather handbags are really good for ripening bananas – I accidentally found this out whilst dissertating when I bought a rather under-ripe banana on my way to the Bute one morning and then forgot about it until evening by which time it had totally ripened.  Not that I would really recommend carrying bananas around in your handbag since they might get a bit squished, but it’s good to know.  In case you need to ripen any bananas quickly…  Uhm, ya.  I’ll just stop there.
  6. Muffins can form the base of a pivotal moment in a friendship – Kat and I got to know each other over the course of third year after bonding over cookies and field-working in a knee-deep river (in wellies), but I think we really became close friends when she unexpectedly ended up living with me last summer (long story).  We spent a lot of time faffing in the kitchen, but I think one of the most pivotal moments in cementing our friendship was when we decided to make a US flag for the 4th of July… out of iced mini-muffins.  Ya, we’re that cool. 
  7. Amazon sells food – Ingredients-wise, I’ve almost always been able to find what I needed in St Andrews.  The only exception to this is corn syrup, which I have never seen stocked anywhere.  However, I found out completely by accident that you can order it off Amazon.  Amazing!  Incidentally, Amazon also sells champagne, which I find kind of random.
  8. Allowing others to use your non-stick pans may not be a good idea – All my pans and most of my bakeware are non-stick, and good quality at that (there’s a Tefal factory outlet near where I’m from in France), and since most of what came with the flat was pretty disgusting, we ended up using all of my kitchenware for cooking.  As I’m sure you’re aware, metal should NEVER be used anywhere near anything non-stick.  Apparently not everybody is aware of this (even after being specifically told), and whilst my pans luckily did not sustain any major scratch-mark damage, there were a few near misses.  Moral of the story: never let other people use your pans (further enforced by the next point).
  9. Although somebody may wax lyrical about being God’s gift to the culinary arts, this may not actually be the case – If you’ve read my crêpe post, you may remember my little rant about somebody using my crêpe pan as a frying pan, and searing burning tuna steaks in it.  In my humble opinion, that is not exactly the mark of a culinary God.  Enough said.
  10. People give you strange looks when you whip out an oven glove and take photos of it in tourist spots – This is much less bizarre than it sounds, since my oven gloves are shark-shaped and therefore completely awesome.  You can read about the adventures of Toothamanga around St Andrews here
  11. Some people “have no nose for wine” (from the genius of ‘Allo ‘Allo) – I know somebody who was given a very nice, and fairly expensive bottle of wine for their 21st birthday.  When they eventually opened the bottle with other friends also lacking a nose for wine, they left about a glass-worth in the bottom of the bottle, popped it in their fridge and only removed it (untouched) when they moved out 8 months later.  Now, I’m no wine expert, but really?!  Poor, completely unappreciated wine.  And my poor friend that gave the bottle in the first place – a bit of a smack in the face to see it every time he opened their fridge.
  12. Tesco Market Value wine can de-block a bathroom sink – Tesco Market Value wine comes in little cartons, very similar to individual drinks cartons.  Craig and I bought one once for a laugh, just to see how utterly disgusting it was.  The only reason neither of us spat the stuff out after taking the smallest sips possible is that we’re too polite to do so.  I’m pretty sure labelling it as “wine” counts as false advertising and it should really be sold as “vinegar” or “sink de-blocker.”  If you think I’m exaggerating, the bathroom sink was a little clogged so we poured the carton down the sink to see if it would de-block it.  It did.  Enough said.
  13. Pieropan: Soave Pieropan wine can be relied upon to result in some seriously awkward comments – The first time we tried this wine, I managed to accidentally come out with a spectacularly awkward comment.  Every time we’ve had this wine (which, due to it being good both with food and on its own and also very drinkable, happens fairly regularly), somebody has managed to go off on a roll of unintentional and awkward comments, with truly hilarious results.  Consequently, we’ve affectionately nicknamed it “The Awkward Italian.”
  14. Always keep a spare bottle of gin or three – For some reason, the gin always seems to be running low or gone (why is the gin always gone?).  Don’t underestimate the value of having spare gin.  And tonic, obviously.  Oh, and also make sure that you always have limes/cucumber in the fridge as well.  The freezer is a great place to store spare gin, by the way.
  15. It is possible to get tipsy (possibly even drunk) off my muffins – After much practice, I now have the baking of muffins with rum (or any other alcohol) as the principle ingredient down to a fine art. 
  16. At a party, when in doubt, grab the Cointreau and hang out by the freezer – This is a particularly great tactic if you don’t really know anybody or don’t really want to speak to people who are in the drawing room.  Why the freezer?  Because that’s where the ice cubes live.  People will realise that you’ve hit on a genius plan and also hang out with you by the freezer, or you might already find a collection of fellow alcoholics already there to make friends with.  Sharing the Cointreau is optional, obviously, though highly recommended if it belongs to somebody other than yourself.
  17. BUT when you run out of orange juice/Passoã/both to make punch, Cointreau is not a suitable alternative – This might sound like a genius idea, and it tastes fabulous at the time, but it leaves you feeling a little bit on the rough side the next day.  And also leaves you with a bit of a blank memory.  I speak from (hazy) experience.  Let’s just leave it there.
  18. An illuminated punchbowl fountain is a brilliant investment – A totally awesome addition to any party.  The end. 
  19. You can get chatted up through eBay – The eBay seller from whom I bought my James Bond DVD boxset attempted to chat me up via eBay message.  I’m sure you can imagine my surprise and amusement.  The guy’s profile name thing was something along the lines of “Hotrod69” though, so I probably should have seen that coming (please refer to the following point if you chuckled at that).
  20. Maturity is overrated – I could give plenty of examples of my immaturity, but I’m just going to stick with one.  There is a lane in St Andrews which I’ve walked past almost every day for four years, yet I still chuckle a bit to myself whenever I do, because it’s called Butts Wynd.  I’d like to think that one day I might grow up a little, but I somehow doubt that will be happening any time soon (I kind of secretly hope it never happens.  Being totally immature is really quite fun).
  21. Making friends with local shop-keepers can only ever end in win – This one is pretty self-explanatory really…  If you get to know the shop-keepers (and they like you – baked goods help with that) of shops that you frequent often then they get to know what you like.  And they might set aside that last slice of your favourite cheese for you, or give you a reduced price on that lovely bottle of wine that they know you’ll love.  How is that not a win?
  22. Over-enthusiasm for dinosaurs at the age of 22 is totally acceptable…  If you’re a biologist – I know I said that this was a list of what I’ve learnt outwith academics, but I’ll make an exception for this particular point.  When I was younger, I never went through a dinosaur phase.  I think it was in second year that we learnt about how amazing dinosaurs are and I’ve been enthusiastic ever since (totally nothing to do with the fact that our professor dressed up as a swamp monster for the lecture).  I even own dinosaur cookie cutters.  Whilst my fellow biologists totally share my enthusiasm, most of my other friends think I’m crazy.  They are clearly missing out. 
  23. There is only one way to get away with dressing up as oneself for Halloween – Dressing up as oneself for Halloween is a complete cop-out, and I have serious issues with it.  To the point where at our last Halloween party, I threatened anybody who dared turn up as themselves with multiple shots of tequila (nobody dared).  However, if one happens to have been caught on Google Maps Streetview and there is a funny (though blog-innapropriate) story behind it, dressing up as oneself as seen on Google Maps is totally acceptable.  And highly amusing, for those who are aware of the back-story.
  24. Watching rugby in the library is incredibly stressful and difficult – Due to a heavy workload during the Autumn Tests and the Six Nations, I managed to end up having to watch most of the matches whilst working in the library.  Have you ever tried to keep quiet whilst watching a rugby match?  It’s remarkably difficult and really quite stressful.  Needless to say, not a whole lot of work ended up getting done.  Woops.
  25. There are approximately 562 different uses for chopsticks – The flat that I lived in for the last three years came with several sets of chopsticks.  I think I might have used them as eating implements a grand total of once.  However, I discovered that chopsticks are, in fact, incredibly useful.  Stirring jugs of Pimm’s, loosening out curls if the hairdresser was a little too enthusiastic with the hairspray, fishing teabags out of the bottom of a Thermos flask, making mojitos, stirring paint, poking holes in the tops of muffins to fill them with rum and pushing fairy lights into empty champagne bottles are but a few alternate uses (ok, so 562 may be a slight exaggeration). 

So there we have it – 25 of the crucial life lessons that I’ve learnt at University.

Wherever in the world you are, enjoy the rest of your day!

PS – As a reward for getting to the end of this mammoth post, here’s a special bonus life lesson: If you are staying in a B&B or hotel, always close the curtains – There were B&Bs across the street from our flat.  Apparently people didn’t realise that if they could see into our flat, we could also see into their room.  A surprising number of people didn’t shut the curtains, you can imagine the rest yourself.

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What to do if you have 3.5kg of salmon tails residing in your freezer

Over the summer, I worked in one of the University research labs, for a professor who is looking into changes in the condition of Scottish wild Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) populations and how this may be tied to climate change.  I won’t bore you with the details, but basically, we processed a lot of salmon in the lab this summer.  44 salmon if I remember correctly. Most of each fish was used for research, with the exception of the tail section, and we didn’t want it to go to waste.  Since the fish were chopped up in an ouside shed rather than in the lab (thus avoiding any potential chemical contamination), the meat was perfectly fine for human consumption, so we shared the tails out amongst the lab members.  Consequently, guess who ended up with about 3.5kg of salmon sitting in her freezer by the end of the summer?  (And that’s not counting the salmon that had already been eaten!)

So I ended up with a load of salmon – what’s the big deal?  Firstly, wild salmon is just so flavourful.  Unfortunately, farmed salmon just doesn’t compare.  Not even remotely.  Secondly, we got the tails for free.  Wild Scottish salmon retails at minimum £20 per kg (depending on your fishmonger).  As a student, that’s a whole achievement in itself!

Now, 3.5kg is a lot of tasty salmon (an entire freezer drawer actually) – what does one do with all those tasty tails?  I can scientifically gut and dissect a fish, I can slice through a fish’s brain and find the otoliths for you, but I’m no fishmonger – I can’t presentably fillet a fish and the tails make rather tiny slices.  So no salmon fillets/steaks for us.  How about… quiche!  The great thing about quiche in this particular case is that the salmon doesn’t have to be perfectly sliced or anything, so it can be steamed and then just flaked off the bones (so much easier than trying to fillet it before steaming).  These wild salmon had so much taste in them that the quiche didn’t really need additional flavours so I only added an onion and some garlic, but quiche recipes are always flexible and with less flavourful salmon you could add wilted spinach or cooked broccoli.

I defrosted the last of the salmon for Burns Night (it seemed an apt occasion – and yes, due to deadlines, this is a delayed post).  I’d made salmon quiche so many times over the summer and last semester that I really thought my friends would be a bit fed up of it.  I was trying to think of something else to do for a starter, perhaps salmon mousse, but they actually requested quiche.  So I made “lab salmon” quiche one last time…  I was really touched when they told me they’d been looking forward to it all day (thanks guys – I hope it lived up to your expectations!)  This time we accompanied it with Pieropan Soave Pieropan 2009 (Italy), but we’ve previously enjoyed it with Cousino Macul Sauvignon Gris 2009 (Chile) and Crazy by Nature Shotberry Chardonnay 2008 (New Zealand).

Salmon quiche

Serves 6-8 as a starter, 4 as a main course
Recipe from my imagination

This quiche works as a starter, lunch or light dinner, and can be served warm or cold.  The salmon has to be cooked beforehand – I marinated it in some olive oil, pepper and herbes de Provence for at least 15 mins before steaming it in my pressure cooker.  If you do likewise, reserve the marinade oil to sauté the onions in.

Ingredients

Quiche pastry (click for recipe)
300g of cooked salmon, flaked (skinned and de-boned if necessary)
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
2 eggs
5 tbsp crème fraîche
5 tsp herbes de Provence (at least!)
2 tsp Dijon mustard (optional)

Directions

1.  Roll out the pastry to about 3-4mm thickness and line a well-buttered 24 or 26cm tarte tin with it.  Trim the edges and prick the pastry with a fork.  Leave to rest in the fridge for about 30 mins whilst you prepare the quiche filling.  Pre-heat the oven to 170°C.

2.  Dice the onion and finely chop the garlic cloves.  Sauté them in some olive oil (or the reserved oil from the salmon marinade) until softened and golden.

3.  Beat the eggs in a large bowl, add the crème fraîche, the herbs and some pepper and mix well.  Add the flaked salmon and the (fairly) cooled onions and garlic and mix well.  Add a little more crème fraîche if you feel this is necessary.

4.  Remove the tarte tin from the fridge, spread the mustard thinly over the base (this is optional, but it helps to bring out the flavours in the quiche), pour the salmon mix over the top and spread it evenly.

5.  Cook for 30-40mins, until the pastry is golden and a toothpick comes out clean (if the top is getting a little too brown, cover with tin foil).  Serve hot or cold with a simple salad on the side (oak leaf salad and walnut oil vinaigrette both go really well with salmon).

Enjoy!

PS – Uhm, ya, I really did put the scientific name for Atlantic salmon up there in that first paragraph.  I left it in because it amused me that I didn’t initially notice.  What can I say?  I’m in the middle of writing a review essay for my dissertation – it’s kind of automatic.  You’re lucky I haven’t thrown in any references.

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Warm minty feta salad

My amazing friend (and fellow food-lover) Kat and I first tried this salad whilst she was living with me over the summer.  I think it must have been September-ish – so it was still technically summer, but starting to get cold again (which would imply that it had actually been warm this summer – it wasn’t).  A semi-warm salad sounded like an excellent idea.  And indeed it turned out to be rather fantastic.

We both had a bit of a reminiscent craving for it over the weekend.  We decided to have a fridge left-over-based meal before leaving for the holidays, so we made this as a main course.  Yummy!

Apparently we ate most of the feta off the top - oops

We drank a chardonnay – Olivier Leflaive – Les Sétilles 2009 (Bourgogne) with it – which balanced the mint out really well.  Incidentally, I’ve previously ranted about the bizarre cork for the 2008 Les Sétilles, and we were glad to see that they appear to have sorted that out and just used a normal fake cork.

Warm minty feta salad

Serves 2
Adapted from Waitrose.

This salad would work well as a starter, or as a main course, or as a side salad to go with a barbeque (lamb skewers perhaps?).  Simply adjust the amount of each ingredient that goes in (particularly the cheese) as you see fit.  The measurements are completely adjustable anyway – that’s the beauty of salads!

Ingredients

200g of feta cheese (200g is the smallest amount in my local supermarket – might as well just use it all)
4 tbsp mint sauce (use less if you’re not a huge fan of mint)
1 small pack of mixed salad leaves
½ a small cucumber
2 tomatoes
175g jar of black olives in brine, drained
1 tbsp fresh mint, shredded (don’t worry if you don’t have any, just use extra mint sauce in the marinade)
1 tbsp vinaigrette (or more, depending on how saucy you like you salads)

Directions

1.  Cut the feta into about 16 even chunks.  Place these in a small bowl, add the mint sauce and gently mix without breaking up the cheese, until evenly coated.  Set aside to marinate for at least 10 mins.

2.  Cut the tomatoes and cucumber into 2-3cm chunks, along with the salad, if necessary.  Place in a salad bowl with the olive, fresh mint and vinaigrette and toss to combine.

3.  Warm a small non-stick frying pan over a medium to low heat.  Add the feta and cook  gently for about 4 mins, until the cubes start to melt a bit, but don’t colour.  Either spoon the salad into plates and serve the feta on top, or add the feta to the big salad bowl and gently mix.

Enjoy!

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The prize for the weirdest wine cork goes to…

Olivier Leflaive – Les Sétilles 2008 (Bourgogne)

Now, I’m hardly a wine expert, but I’ve uncorked quite a few bottles of wine…  However, uncorking this bottle was a whole new experience.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  The cork turned out to be a bizarre concoction of fake cork (which I have a personal dislike of in the first place) with a ring of black plastic, and then more fake cork in the middle, presumably to be able to insert the corkscrew.  And then a strange plastic cap on the bottom part of the cork.  Which meant that re-corking the bottle was a bit of a fight.  I uncorked it last night and am still perplexed by it!  I’m not sure how well the photos below show it, but hopefully you get the idea.


At this point it would make sense to add my thoughts on the wine itself, but I’ve been ill the last few days and my taste buds have been rather off (and still are a bit!), so that’s probably not a good idea…!  However, I will say that sans fully functioning taste buds it’s a very drinkable wine.  I guess I’ll just have to try it again once I’m fully recovered (if I can get over the cork).

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