Saturday, 31 May 2014

Waitrose Cellar: for wine buffs and newbies alike

Waitrose have launched their revamped wine ordering service "Waitrose Cellar" and they invited me to meet their wine experts and sample their favourite wines at the London Canal Museum. Being something of a wine adventurer, I was keen to discover what was going on.

Waitrose have spent a year redesigning not just the website, but the whole basis of the service. Wine is a daunting and huge subject. Everyone comes to it at a different level with very varying interests. Whether it is food and wine matching, wanting to buy a gift for a wine buff, discovering fine wines or just wanting something good but inexpensive, different customers have different needs and approaches. The hope is that they will all receive the help and service they need. Revamped and some brand new tasting videos, articles, testing guides and "how-to" guides are all part of the assistance provided.

I met with two of Waitrose's "Learned friends", their wine experts. Xenia, Waitrose Cellar's wine buyer enthused about how joyful her job is - she just seems to live and breathe wine. Xenia told us of her recent trip to Bordeaux where she literally tried hundreds of wines, which made for an enjoyable but "long and exhausting journey".

My guide to the wines on this tasting was Stephane. He is one of the resident Wine Experts at Waitrose Cellar, meaning that prospective customers ringing up or emailing will receive bespoke advice from either Stephane or one of his colleagues. Stephane was a mine of fascinating information and was happy to advise us on what to serve for special occasions and with pairings with food.

As our barge at the London Canal Museum chugged into life and along the canal, the wine voyage began!

Waitrose Blanc de Noirs Brut NV £21.99
A genuine Pinot Noir Champagne from the Champagne region of France, and winner of the IWSC Gold medal. This is a great value Champers given its sheer quality. If you compare it to the other supermarket Champagnes available at the £20-25 mark, this exceeds them considerable, including some of the "names". This was my favourite of all the wines we tried by a country mile!

Stephane told us about how the French love their Champagne: "If you have a bottle of Champagne in the fridge, you find any occasion as an excuse to drink it. Hey! We just finished work! Let's open the Champagne!" It made me want to pack it all in and move immediately!

Waitrose Prosecco £8.99
Prosecco has really captured the imagination of UK buyers and appears to be the current favourite fizzy wine of choice. This own-label Prosecco is an award winner, having gained an IWSC silver medal. I found this to be a very fine example of a Prosecco and at a competitive price for the quality. The bubbles were light, it was smooth and fruity, and a perfect wine for the coming Summer days. Perhaps not suitable for citrus fruits, this wine would be a good aperitif or wine to have with peach or apple based desserts.

Cave de Lugny Sparking Burgundy Blanc de Blancs NV
This fizzy wine, available by the bottle or in the Waitrose Cellar "Foodie Case" (wines selected for their suitability for food matching) is half the price of champagne at £13.99 a bottle. Made with 100% Chardonnay grapes, I found this to be a highly enjoyable bubbly which would go down extremely well at a dinner party as an aperitif. Burgundy sparkling wines can be erratic, Stephane advised us, because if growers cannot get their grapes bought by a prestigious producer, they tend to sell the grapes for use in sparking wines. But there was no need to worry with this wine, it was dry but floral and suited for seafood, particularly lobster.

Vasse Felix Semillion/Sauvignon Blanc £13.99
This wine is a Western Australian white made from Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes. If you want to investigate this wine, it is in the Waitrose Cellar "Foodie Case". I particularly enjoyed this wine, and think it would be brilliant match for light seafood and white fish. Just seared scallops, perhaps marinaded in light soy sauce, red chili and sesame oil would be lovely.

Le Grande Ballon Sauvignon Blanc £8.49
A Loire Valley French white wine which delivers much of the smooth gooseberry fruit and balance of its far more expensive cousin, the Sancerre. The producer, Thierry Delaunay uses contemporary techniques to create a wine which competes superbly against one of the most treasured and traditional appellations.

Dr Loosen 2012 Weinger Wurzgarten Reisling Kabinett £15.99
Stephane described this wine as "my guilty pleasure with Thai food". But why guilty? Sure, it is sweeter than is currently fashionable, but to hell with fashion! This wine is to the medium sweet side, and there is no way of describing it as off-dry. However, it is perfect with any spicy, chilli driven food. It particularly works with lemongrass, it drops the heat of chillis because the acidity cuts through the heat. It would would with an Indian curry, with its layered and often complex spicing (I would particularly suggest a south Indian style fish curry with chilli and grated coconut), but would equally go with Malaysian or Thai food. 

Vigneti Massa Sentieri Barbera £11.99
This is usually a very heavy red; gutsy and full. One which gives great enjoyment in the drinking but may give a headache the next day if taken in excess. This particular Barbera was lighter, it was plump and juicy in character. It would suit meat, and lamb in particular. I don't care about food snobbery, good food is good food. Full stop. So I would suggest this as a wonderful wine to go with kebabs. I'm personally thinking of shish or kofte, but if you prefer (lamb) doner, then go for it!

Waitrose Chianti Classico Barone Ricasoli £11.99
This wine has been made in partnership with Barone Ricasole, the oldest winery in Italy, and has won a bronze medal at the Decanter wine awards. Made with Sangiovese grapes and quite tannic, this would be good wine to cook with because of its balanced flavour and suitable level of alcohol. Stephane suggested a slow cooked brisket, as you would need some fat in the meat to balance the tannins. Another option would be Quattro Formaggio Pizza as it would complement the fatty cheeses, tomato topping and sunshine. 

Stonier Pinot Noir £14.99
Another wine in the "Foodie case", this light red wine from Mornington Peninsula, Australia has a smoothness you can expect from the better Pinot Noir wines. If you are sceptical about Pinot Noir because you've had a bad experience with some of the cheaper and harsher offerings made from this grape, please put your prejudices aside.

Catera Malbec £12.99
This was a very gusty and bold red wine from Mendoza in Argentina. I enjoyed the intense, brambly fruit. It had good body and deep tannins. This wine would be one I would have with Ragu Bolognese or steak. 

Chateau Segonzac Oak Aged £10.49
An award winning oak aged "Cru Bourgeois" wine made from a blend of grapes from Premieres Cotes de Blaye in Bordeaux. Waitrose's experts help select the blend for this wine, so they work hard to get the balance right each year. Perfect for Sunday lunch with roast beef or lamb.

Waitrose Reserve Shiraz, St Hallet £11.99
This Barossa Shiraz red is made in partnership with St Hallet winery in Australia and is exclusive to Waitrose. I found it to be very full flavoured. It has a fairly high alcohol content and so is not suitable for cooking with. As we come into the Summer, I would suggest this a Barbeque wine, suitable for the grillmaster or guest alike to have while the meat is sizzling and once the BBQ goodies are served up!

If you would like to check out the new Waitrose Cellar website, you will find it here:

Thank you to Waitrose Cellar for inviting me to the wine tasting, which I attended as their guest.

Friday, 23 May 2014

May 2014 Favourites List

My students and I have reached the end of an era. We have made it through to the end of teaching. I am so proud of them all. 

My students joined the one year course they have been studying in September. In possession of law degrees or postgraduate diplomas in law, they had a head full of the theory, but little or no experience of practice. 

They have had to learn all about court procedures, from 3 massive books with 2000+ pages in each. Some had never done any public speaking, yet had to stand up in front of their classmates and perform advocacy as if they were doing it for real in court. They have had to learn about ideas like evidence and proof and how to win cases by using tactics. They have had to learn judgment, analysis, and then had to apply this by advising clients in writing and in person, verbally. 

Toys of the iconic Auto Rickshaw (AKA Tuk-tuk)

The students have been through so much; exam stress, the monotony of revision, heavy workload, the challenges of receiving negative feedback, responding to feedback, being responsible for their own learning. As they now complete their final assessments, I hope you will wish them the very best of luck.

Then it will be time for the Summer marking season. I'm praying to the gods of weather to give me some sunshine so that at very least I can get the monotony of marking done outside in the garden. The sunshine will do me (and my students' marks) a power of good.

This month's pictures are from Kerala, South India, as they have been for the last couple of lists. I hope you won't mind, but the sunshine and warmth of the place is exactly what I need to remind myself of to keep me going. 

Enjoying a sneaky cocktail!

Blogs Worth Following:

Indian and fusion recipes:

Frankfurt based Karin's multi-national food blog with recipes and more:


Pav bhaji is an Indian street food classic. Find out how to make it here:

Ivor Peter's Beef or Ostrich carpaccio with an Indian spiced crumble coating, a recipe for Curry For Change:

I love chocolate. I love curry. But can they work together? Zoe Perrett, AKA The Spice Scribe thinks so. Check out her spectacularly original Bombay Mix Chocolate Cheesecake recipe for Find Your Feet's Curry For Change fundraiser:

Inspired by the flavours of Vietnam, a white fish recipe with ginger, chilli, turmeric and dill:

Tom Kerridge's Red mullet soup, Blanquette of pork with braised lettuce salad & Dried apple drop scones with apple cider jam 

Speedy supper mixed bean salad by Mark Hix, serve with a grilled pork or lamb chop on a weekday night:

Spicy sausage stew with beans and tomato, healthy & simple:

Masala Dosa. Just add green and red chutney!
Karam Sethi (chef/owner of Trishna and Gymkhana) shares his recipes for authentic versions of well known curries - Lucknawi chicken korma, Hyderabadi dal & Goat keema

Tomato, chicken, peach, corn and feta cheese salad for sunny days:

Poha is flattened rice, often used for Sunday brunch in India, here's a typical recipe with potatoes and peppers:

Ivor Peters, The Urban Rajah's authentic Meatball curry (Kofte curry):

Lisa, AKA Cookwitch Creations, is inspired by Moro's Sam and Sam to create this porky nibble treat:

Colourful mountain village house in a rainstorm

Articles/Know How:

Got a Breville sandwich toaster languishing in your cupboards? Time to give it pride of place and revive its use!

Fiona Beckett's top pairings for dry and off-dry Alsace whites (Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Gris, etc):

Kitchen/Cooking skills video! Chef Vaibhav Bhargava demonstrating how to properly slice onions to be used for Chinese or Indian food.

Alchemy festival celebrating Indian food and culture is coming to the South Bank. Here's a guide to what's happening:

"Can I have that sushi cooked & to go?" LOL! Poor Jiro, genius sushi chef from "Jiro Dreams of Sushi", gets the customer from hell in his restaurant.

Fancy having your Friday night curry fix in an old 737 aeroplane? Sounds pretty cool to me. Bhajis on a Boeing!

Appam, vada, curry and chutney - Keralan breakfast





House Of Cards (US Version) Season 2


Damon Albarn - Everyday Robots

Juana Molina - Wed 21

Beck - Morning Phase

Please note: as with every monthly Favourites List, all of these items have been selected by me simply because I love them. I do not receive any money, benefits in kind or other incentive for posting these links or recommendations.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Butter bean and chick pea salad with marinaded pork

Weekday nights are some of the hardest things to cook for, I have come to realise. You put in a full day's work. You contend with the evening commute (mine is courtesy of Southeastern rail, and just a cursory check of #southeastern on twitter will tell you EVERYTHING you might want to know about their customer service). Then, tired and careworn, you make it home. Frankly, all you want to do is crack open a bottle of wine and ring out for takeaway. 

But home cooking is a noble and worthwhile art. Even on a "schoolnight" (and to all those people who disapprove of grown ups using that phrase to describe Monday to Thursday evenings, I say this: I work for a university, so I'm ALLOWED to call it a schoolnight!). You will feel more pride from doing it yourself... and if recent revelations from Which and the Food Standards Agency are anything to go by, you are far more likely to know exactly what you are eating too!

I'm always looking for new and fresh ideas for weekday night suppers. Dinners which can be rustled up quickly, but don't suffer from blandness. 

Another prerequisite is full and happy flavours. An area where the gutsy, sunshine flavours of Spain come up trumps. Who doesn't love the fragrance of fresh parsley, the punch of chorizo coupled with lemon and onions? 

My idea was to make a salad influenced by the flavours and typical produce of Spain. Obviously influenced by the Moors and southern or eastern Mediterranean, I wanted to include healthy and protein rich pulses and legumes, herbs and olive oil. Chorizo would add paprika along with its meaty texture and pepper and artichoke some crunch. 

Recently, I followed Nizami Foods on twitter. They are a company producing food products with an Indian twist. Think Chinese Chilli oil with roasted garlic or Thai tamarind chutney with an Indian flourish of cumin and dates. Well, everyone told me that twitter was "a total waste of time". Turns out I was their 100th follower (genuinely) and as a thank you, they wanted to send me some products as a thank you. One of them was a Romesco sauce, which was an Spanish red pepper sauce with an Indian twist. 

The Romesco sauce suggested that it be used as the base for either a pasta sauce or a marinade. Marinading is one of the midweek cook's top tricks. You either start the marinading before you go to work (for those typically long marinaded dishes) and leave the ingredients to work their magic whilst you toil away or you start as soon as you get home and get all your preparation and other tasks done before cooking. It was a no-brainer; marinade was going to be the use.

This dish uses a number of storecupboard ingredients I have recently discovered. One was garlic paste by Garden Gourmet which is very useful for squeezing into salad dressings (as I have done here) but also marinades. The other was artichoke bottoms in brine by Morphakis found in the local Turkish shop. The Romesco sauce I have already mentioned. 

So here is a supper we enjoyed recently. The salad can be enjoyed as a meal on its own or a side dish with grilled meat, possibly a full flavoured fish. I think the salad, if made in excess, would make a wonderful packed lunch for work the next day (cook's prerogative, of course!).

Spanish style chick pea and butter bean salad

Serves 2-4 people, depending how much salad to meat you like. 

You can substitute the red onion with a banana shallot. You don't want to use a white onion, as it won't be sweet flavoured enough.


For the salad:
1 can chick peas drained and rinsed
1 can butter beans drained and rinsed
1 handful of fresh flat leaf parsley chopped roughly
70-80g chorizo chopped into fine rounds
1 small red onion, halved and sliced finely
2 artichoke bottoms, finely diced
2 peppadew peppers, finely diced
For the salad dressing:
1/2 teaspoon garlic paste
juice of 1 lemon
3-4 tablespoons of olive oil

For the marinaded pork:
2 pork loin steaks
1/2 bottle Romesco sauce by Nizami


1. Marinade the pork loin steaks in the Romesco sauce for at least 30 minutes. An hour would be better.

2. In the meantime, prepare the salad ingredients as set out above. Get all your ingredients except for the herbs, chorizo and dressing in a bowl.
3. Another task to deal with in the meantime is to heat either your grill or your griddle pan so that it is hot.
4. Put the pork loin on to grill, about 7 minutes each side.

5. Fry your chorizo rounds in a little olive oil. Wait until they start to go brown. 
6. Once the chorizo is brown, lift out of the pan with a slotted spoon or spatula onto a plate covered in kitchen paper (to soak up the excess fat and oil).
7. Mix up your salad dressing in either a mug (mixed with a spoon) or in a jam jar by closing the jar and shaking vigourously.

8. Just before you are ready to serve up, mix all of the salad ingredients with the chorizo and dressing. You want the dressing to coat everything thinly.
9. Serve the salad with the cooked pork loin steaks. 

Snigdha was sent a bottle of Romesco sauce by Nizami who did not expect any coverage to result. It was sent on account of my being their 100th follower on twitter.