Take one bottle of Fiano, add rice … then stir and slurp

Cooking with wine

I WAS happily stirring rice last weekend for my version of risotto when I started thinking about wine with food. No apologies if I’ve said this before … I love wine, I love food, I love wine with food. I love cooking with wine.

It’s thanks to my favourite combo that I have a wine glass figure rather than an hourglass figure.

In my glass was The Co-operative Truly Irresistible Fiano 2014 (£6.99 until November 24) and I was daydreaming that its lovely how cooking with wine can turn a simple dish into something magical.

If you like food and wine, and don’t know where to start when matching one to the other, a good rule of thumb is to think where the wine comes from. Well, it works for Old World wines such as those from France, Spain, Italy. They’ve been produced by local people for local drinking with their local foods.

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It doesn’t take a genius then to think ah, I know, Italian red wine for pasta and pizza; a red Burgundy with French classics. I’m not a genius, and that’s how I think.

I’m not a food and wine pairing expert; I just go with the flow, follow my instinct (and read lots of books and websites!)

Back to my fiano. Its an Italian white, and the Co-op’s wine comes from Campania where vines grow under the influence of the Mediterranean.

Right I thought, I’ll slosh some wine into the pan (and my glass too) with the arborio rice and cook it out before throwing in stock.

I’d already fried onions, green pepper, garlic, and cubed pancetta in the pan, then tipped out before adding the rice. I popped a handful of frozen peas into the still-hot veg so they’d warm through.

When the rice was almost done I added chicken which had been poached separately in stock and a glass of fiano wine, and then I tumbled in raw king prawns.  The vegetables went back in the pan to warm through with a good handful of chopped parsley and basil.

The wine added a good fruity citrus bite to each mouthful; and in a glass it had floral hums, a breeze of herb and the same citrus reflections. Whether this was risotto or paella I don’t really know .. but it was fun making it up as I went along!

Cooking with wine

Taking a punt on regional food helps when you don’t know much about a wine.

Take Terreforts de Madiran 2003 (£6.50, Tesco) and Cîmes Pirenèus Madiran 2010 (currently £39 a case, which is 50% off at www.tesco.com). At the heart of most Madiran wines is the tannat grape and it is often blended with cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon.

Tannat is high in tannins and is best with a bit of aging to soften the wines. Blackberries, tobacco and spices prevailed in both of my wines, which were blends of tannat, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon.

I always say cook with a wine you’d be happy to drink and I glugged a glassful of the Terreforts into a pan with cubed and seared beef, before adding stock and veg. I popped in the oven.

It could have been French rustic .. but it was my version of rustic. The wine in the glass met its match on the plate and warmed and glowed with a nod of approval.

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Published in the saturday extra magazine November 7, 2015

Liverpool Echo – South Wales Echo – Daily Post Wales – Huddersfield Examiner – The Chronicle, Newcastle – Teesside Evening Gazette – Birmingham  Mail – Coventry Telegraph – Paisley Daily Express

Great British Bake Off and drinks with sweet things

PX sherry: The Great British Bake Off

I WALKED around work with a Post-it note stuck to my jumper last October. It said: “Don’t discuss The Great British Bake Off … I haven’t watched it yet!!”

This year I’m at least four episodes behind and playing catch-up. I can see a Post-It note coming out again!

The other night I watched a man make a lion’s head out of bread and felt pretty useless so I’ve wimped out of making cakes for my Scientific Experiment (it had been my plan).

Instead, I’ve bought ready-made shortbread, lemon drizzle cake, a chocolate cake and a vanilla cheesecake to talk about wines with cakes, sweet bakes and fruity things.

Jane Clare, The Great British Bake Off
Last year I was determined not to find out who won The Great British Bake Off

There’s a couple of simple rules when pairing wines with sweet things.

Dishes high in sugar should be paired with wines that have at least as much sugar; so don’t pour wines that are less sweet than the yummy treat you’re eating.

What’s this? Babycham? I spotted it in Tesco (£4 for four 20cl bottles) and thought I’d give it a whirl.

It brings back memories of mum, aunties and my sister, though I think brandy was a pairing of choice back then. With a mouthful of lemon cake there was a dapple of lemony explosion but mainly from the cake. The Babycham was much better with shortbread whose buttery flavours shone through.

Sweetheart sparklies that would definitely fizz and flutter with a lemon delight are the dreamy Barefoot Bubbly Pink Moscato (£9.99, Tesco) or Lidl’s Allini Asti Spumante DOCG (£5.25) which pops with peaches.

Rustenberg Straw Wine 2012 (Majestic, £13.49, or £8.99 each when you buy two until October 26) is a blend of viognier, chenin Blanc and crouchen blanc grapes which are allowed to dry on straw mats for four weeks before they’re fermented.

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Then someone like me comes along and asks it to sit quietly in a glass while I slice tiny triangles of supermarket cheesecake.

There are aromas of pineapple, honey and the candied oranges and lemons you get in a Christmas box. Velvet peach cream oozes in the mouth, divine with the creaminess of the cheesecake. I think I’m in love. The lemon drizzle was too sweet (remember those rules) so stick with creamy fruity bakes on this one.

Plaimont Producteurs Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh Duc de Termes 2011 (£4.49 from £5.99, 37cl, Tesco) is lighter on the nose, with vanilla and candied peel.

The Great British Bake Off wines
I had a bit of taste-test fun with wines for The Great British Bake Off

The cheesecake was a decent match as the wine’s apricot notes weren’t overwhelmed.

You’ve got to love pedro ximinez sherry. You might have had PX as a drizzle over ice cream; now try it in a glass with chocolate cake.

Taste The Difference Sweet Pedro Ximenez Sherry (£8, Sainsbury, 50cl) is a sticky glug of liquid bonfire toffee. I bet ginger cake would be perfect, but I won’t tell the chocolate cake if you don’t.

This just doesn’t feel like sherry; it’s unctuous like a liqueur, all gloopy and mahogany-deep, with flavours of raisins and prunes and a lick of spice. Chocolate wonderland.

Over at Marks & Sparks, Rare Pedro Ximenez (£8 for 37.5cl) is a touch lighter and has more fruity freshness. Figs bring the X factor, there’s a velvet encore of coffee and balanced acidity as the curtain goes down.

Next time, I’ll buy ginger cake.

After that, I just wanted a cup of tea which is probably best for the excitable lemon cake. Talking of tea (tenuous link here) I tried a couple of chilled fruity teas (both RRP £1.99) courtesy of the Berry Company (www.theberrycompany.co.uk)

Berry’s Green Tea with Aronia and Blueberry has the haziness of just-squeezed blueberries and is really fruity with just the hint of green tea in the background.

Berry’s White Tea & Peach is a blend of white tea and concentrated peach juice and is pale golden, bright and sharp. Perky peach aromas are backed up with refreshing peach flavours.

To find out more about The Great British Bake Off, click here.

Published in the saturday extra magazine September 26, 2015

Liverpool Echo – South Wales Echo – Daily Post Wales – Huddersfield Examiner – The Chronicle, Newcastle – Teesside Evening Gazette – Birmingham  Mail – Coventry Telegraph – Paisley Daily Express