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Time for a perfect chocolate cake

16 Jun
 

 

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It’s Spring time in France and as the flowers open and share their beautiful colours and perfume with the world, we begin to emerge from our homes and taste the first days of freedom, life on the ‘other side’.   

For those days inside the bubble of confinement, when masked-face trips to the shop weren’t so frequent and shelves not always so full, this Chocolate Almond Cake – comprising only a few basic ingredients, has been so easy to prepare and gives that little whoop to the spirits that only chocolate can provide.  And the added bonus – there is NO FLOUR.

I discovered this recipe many years ago, thanks to the Australian chef Stephanie Alexander , but at the time had to drop a couple of the key ingredients (I’ll explain) – and my edited version remains our family’s favourite cake.  If you are a lover of chocolate, it is perfect… 

First up. Let me explain why this cake.  Anyone who knows me knows I hate dessert.  Not hate exactly, but if it comes to ordering the Tarte aux Pommes or Crème Brûlée at a restaurant, I prefer looking up the cheese selection.  Even better, let me flick a few pages back and pore over the starters again: grilled squid, pan-fried scallops, croquetas… Imagining these small plates takes me back to the anticipatory thrill of seating yourself down at a table, excited by the unknown – ready to open that first bottle and savour that first sip.

chocolate

But!  I have a huge love for chocolate (why doesn’t everyone serve a discreet square of dark chocolate with coffee like they do in France?) – and many years ago, to mark a very important occasion, I stumbled upon this recipe.

To be honest, it was the first time I’d ever made a cake.  For the first time in my life, I had a sincere desire to bake because our baby Lilas (our first and only child) was about to turn one.  It was an important, necessary task.  There HAD to be a cake!

But where to turn with this sudden urge to take the leap and Make a Cake?  I picked up my food bible, Stephanie Alexander’s ‘The Cook’s Companion’ , and landed on the chapter Chocolate.  Chocolate won me over and so did the recipe’s provenance – it hailed from France’s ‘Reine de Saba’/ Queen of Sheba cake.  Lilas being an Australian-French baby, it felt right.  So was the idea that the ingredients were few and the method uncomplicated – it was a beautifully simple sounding cake.  And it was a perfect fit for a one-year-old’s toddler guests – so long as I dropped the brandy and the coffee.

So here’s the recipe, and apart from reducing the cooking time and adding more chocolate than the original recipe, we have served this same cake for many birthdays since Lilas’ ‘premier anniversaire’.

(p.s. I have not ever since added the brandy or coffee.  For me, spare the confusion, I adore savouring each one on their own)

(p.p.s. If you are a lover of wine like me, you’ll find this cake is a beautiful companion to wine, be it a sticky, sweet Rivesaltes-style dessert wine, a lovely red, a fresh white and why not, a glass of bubbles.  There’s a pretty damn good one that I like to match it with too…

VW cremant

 

Chocolate Almond Cake

(adapted from Stephanie Alexander’s Chocolate and Almond Cake)

ingredients:

140g dark chocolate (70% cocoa or higher )

100g unsalted butter

100g ground (flour) almonds

100g castor sugar

3 eggs, separated

icing sugar (optional for sprinkling)

method:

Preheat oven to 160 degrees Celsius

Line a 18cm baking tin with baker paper

Melt the chocolate on the stove in a double-boiler/ bain-marie

When chocolate has melted add the butter

Stir together when melted and then add almond flour and sugar, mix well

Remove from heat

Lightly beat egg yolks and stir into mixture

Beat egg whites until firm and then fold slowly into mixture, pour into tin

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Bake for 25-30 minutes for a softish centre  (the original recipe says 40-45 minutes but I find the cake is dry and too cake-like)

Cool in tin and then remove

Serve with a dusting of icing sugar or surrounded by fresh strawberries or raspberries …and some sweet or sparkling wine 😺

Et voila!

Kat xoxo

The Vigneron at work

27 Oct

squeeze those babies

squeeze those babies

That’s it.  The grapes are all in and the Vigneron is content.  No more 24/7 reading of satellite images and predicted weather patterns on numerous websites, he can relax and is relieved that this region has been pretty bloody lucky with its weather.

The grapes on the vines looked great and ripened slowly resulting in fruit with a lower baume and high maturity.  So, enfin, 2013 looks like a good year!  The man is happy.

Autumn vines, La Liviniere

Autumn vines, La Liviniere

Autumn vines 2

I came down from the hill rather early a couple of mornings ago and had a peek at what was going on in the cellar.  I love the smell in there.  Takes me back to when we met.  OK squeaky violins time – yes, harvest time is special for me, it was during a harvest, all those years ago, that the V and I met.  I was in my hometown, Adelaide and he was ‘the Frenchie’, with little English (come on, admit it), clad in King Gee work gear, a divine Roman nose, working long vintage hours for a winemaker friend – that swept me off my feet.

Fast forward a decade or more, and I am still smitten when I smell the tanks of fermenting grapes in the cellar (oh to bottle this in a jar, a quick whiff and happy married couple all over again…).

‘Les Vendanges’ is a dynamic time and as I’ve said many times before, the village comes alive when the grapes are coming in.  A whole year’s work is reaping its rewards and the old tractors are out on every village road, chugging in full force with trailers laden with glistening grapes.  Even our baby was born on the first day of an Aussie harvest…

But let me get back to where I started.  I was in the village early one morning this week and called in on the V to see what was going on in his cellar.  The red grapes are all resting in their tanks and every couple of days they’re  ‘pumping-over‘.  After a month of this, they will put it all through the press.  One more step towards a delightful, drinkable juice.

Here’s some images for you from that morning, in and out of the cellar…

hq bn

ben at work

Benji in the cellar

Benji and Yves

grenache

grenache!

juicy Grenache

nose

gren a gren bthe Grenache resting in wooden 'tank'

the Grenache resting in wooden ‘tank’

And over the road…

the neighbours opposite

the neighbours opposite, Domaine Arnaud

yves 2

…another neighbour, another Yves – of Chateau Faiteau, the cousin of Domaine Arnaud…(in a village, it’s all family)

Eloise

Eloise, downtown La Liviniere

downtown La Liviniere

Eloise and Fanny

Eloise and Fanny

nap

heart door

hearts

laundry wall

aut col

…and the ride back up the hill to home

autumn col 1

picking

11 Oct

Ambroise emptying 'la hotte'

Ambroise emptying ‘la hotte’

Picking at last.

There’s been stops and starts… and now it’s all GO to get the grapes in.

We’re harvesting three weeks later than previous years, but it’s shaping up to be a pretty good ‘recolte’ … there’s a charged atmosphere and smiles all round.

I’ll fill you in on this harvest over a few posts, but here’s a selection of pics from today, in and out of our village.

(you may note some ‘fx’ in the images – my dear old camera is on the blink so what you see are the results of lumping around with a clunky electronic rectangle)

woke to to the noise of the harvester outside the kitchen window

woke to to the noise of the harvester outside the kitchen window

tent-picking

tent-picking

checking out the noise... a tractor cruising down the driveway

checking out the noise… a tractor cruising down the driveway

picking 1

pick cal1

here comes the sun

cal pick3

empty 2

empty 3

empty 4

cal 7

house on the prairie

pick cal 2Meanwhile, back in the village…

ca 4

chat arnaud

clearing out remains of the ‘pressoir’ (press)

ca 3

the Vigneron having a spray

the Vigneron having a spray

...and the ladies are still out checking the 'raisins'

…and the ladies are still out checking the ‘raisins’

 

Roti de Porc au Lait (Roast Milk Pork) …tonight!

25 Sep

LOVED this dish tonight!  I know I’ve put this recipe up earlier this year, but had to share it again… with the “NEW”photos!

The nights are cooler, Benji is now in harvest swing and it’s time to cook up some warm, slow-cooked meals…  Bon app.

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delicious 'Porc au Lait'

delicious ‘Porc au Lait’

I was on the phone to Mum and Dad last week and mentioned that I’d just cooked up some Milk Pork – ‘Porc au Lait’ – for the next day’s dinner.  It’s funny, these conversations about food are always totally out of whack with our time zones.  It was 11pm my time and 8.30am the following morning, their time.  Normally it’s me cleaning up the breakfast dishes as Dad explains with excitement what he’s got on the stove for dinner.

I’ve never served them Porc au Lait but I know they’d love it.  It ticks all our family’s favourite food boxes:  MEAT, lots of sauce, herbs, garlic and the required ‘three veg’ – and it is easy to prepare.  It’s one of those old-fashioned French dishes that is simply delicious comfort food.  My husband and mother-in-law showed me how to cook this years ago and I can’t count how many times I’ve prepared it since.  We had the poker men for dinner + a few UK visitors and it went down a treat with the new ‘Boulevard Napoleon‘ wines – white and red.

the empties:  the Boulevard Napoleon Grenache Gris white and a few reds...

the empties: the Boulevard Napoleon Grenache Gris white and a few reds…

had to show you these beautifully coloured carrots - they actually gave the milk sauce an almost mauve tint by the end

had to show you these beautifully coloured carrots – they actually gave the milk sauce an almost mauve tint by the end

After the meat has been cooking for awhile in the milk, drop the vegies and parsley in

After the meat has been cooking for awhile in the milk, drop the vegies and parsley in

amples of milk sauce...

amples of milk sauce…

...to serve with this tender juicy meat.  The butcher told me the pork roll was 'parsleyed' ('persille') - I thought he meant stuffed with parsley, but he laughed and corrected me - no, it is the lines of fat running through the piece , 'marbled' as we might say.  Even the Vigneron hadn't heard of this!

…to serve with this incredibly juicy meat. The butcher told me the pork roll was ‘parsleyed’ (‘persille’) – I thought he meant stuffed with parsley, but he laughed and corrected me – it actually refers the lines of fat running through the piece , ‘marbled’ as we might say. Even the Vigneron hadn’t heard of this term, so I was proud to bestow some francais on him.

Roti de Porc au Lait

serves 6-8

ingredients:

1.5kg roll of roasting pork – preferably of shoulder (fillet is drier and less fat, don’t want that)

1 litre full cream milk

2 large onions, sliced

6 carrots, cut into in large chunks

8 potatoes, as above

8 small turnips, as above

4-5 cloves of garlic

2 sprigs fresh thyme

bunch fresh sage (about 10-12 leaves)

2 sprigs rosemary

oil, butter

salt, pepper

method:

Fry up the onions in heavy cast iron pot with a big chunk of butter (30-40g) and a little olive oil, until golden.

Add the roll of pork and brown on each side over medium -high heat.

When the meat is almost all browned, add the garlic and salt, pepper to taste.  I find garlic burns very easily, so I add it near the end of the browning.

Pour over the milk (meat should be 3/4 covered, if not add more ) and add the herbs.

Cover with lid and let simmer for an hour.

Add the carrots and turnips and keep simmering for another hour.

Add potatoes and keep simmering until they are tender.

Serve with lashings of dijon mustard on the side and a big white or red wine!

N.B.  If this is prepared the night before eating, I don’t add any of the vegetables until the next day.

And.  I cook this for a few hours, the longer the better.  I like it when the meat falls apart.  A lot of recipes cook it for less though, and you keep the form of the pork roll and then slice it.  As the French would say, ‘as you want’…

harvest is coming

19 Sep

la liv panneau

…any day now.

Benji’s hovering over the grapes, ready to pick what will be a very late harvest… it’s about three weeks later than previous years.

And he has a (very enthusiastic) little helper, checking on sugar levels.

lilas checking grapes

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