Friday 28 October 2011

Six wines under £6 from Sainsbury’s

This week it’s Sainsbury’s turn to knock 25% off any wine in their range if you buy six bottles. I thought their wines were showing particularly well at their recent press tasting, especially their own label ‘Taste the Difference’ range. Here are six bargains under £6

Macon Villages ‘Les Côtes Blanches’ 2010 (down from £7.99 to £5.99)
A good chance to pick up a very decent basic white burgundy at a knockdown price. Very useful Christmas drinking - would work particularly well with Christmas leftovers and smoked salmon.

Taste the Difference Coolwater Bay Marlborough Sauvignon 2011
If you’re a Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc fan you’ve got to go for this. It’s already down from £8.49 to £6.49, now £4.87 when you buy 6 bottles. (That doesn’t mean I think you should take advantage of the other cut price offers being advertised on top of the 25% off deal which are by and large pretty dull.)

Taste the Difference Tuscan Red 2009 (down from £5.99 to £4.49)
At the full price this is a good value Chianti alternative. At the discounted price it’s a steal. Great drinking with pasta and pizza

Flor de Nelas Seleçao, Dao 2009 (down from £7.99 to £5.99)
Portugal is currently offering some of the best value drinking in Europe and this is a rich, spicy characterful red that you should enjoy if you’re a fan of wines from the Rhone. Good with roasts, braises and pies - posh enough to serve at a dinner party

Taste the Difference Fairtrade Carmenère 2010 (down from £6.99 to £5.24)
A typically Chilean red - very lush and ripe so possibly not for you if you’re a fan of more classic French styles but a great wine to drink with spicy stews and curries - and even with the turkey. And it’s Fairtrade which is always worth supporting.

Chateau David Bordeaux Supérieur 2010 (down from £6.49 to £4.87)
Bordeaux under a fiver? Yes, hard to believe but it’s true. An attractive young fruity claret that would drink well with cold turkey, ham and other Christmas leftovers. Or with hard British regional cheeses like cheddar.

If you don't want to buy six bottles Sainsbury's also has a 'buy 4, save 10%' offer on its range 'in selected stores' (but not locals) which will save you a bit but I'd go for the six if you can run to it. Both offers finish at midnight on November 1st.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Hachis parmentier (aka French shepherd's pie)

I've been thinking of making this French take on shepherds pie for a while but what prompted it was having a large bunch of parsley in the fridge. (You can't win with herbs - either you get a ridiculously small packet that costs the earth or a huge bunch that you end up wasting.)

There are of course many ways of making hachis parmentier which is basically a leftovers dish. A lot of recipes base it on a stew but you can make it with mince which is what I've done here having picked up a cut price pack in the Co-op reduced from £2.50 to £1.65. You can add some fried onion and garlic to it (which I did) and some finely chopped carrot and celery if you want. You don't really want it gravy-ish so chuck in half a glass of red wine if you have some and a splash of beef or chicken stock. (It's worth keeping frozen stock in an ice-cube tray when you need this kind of amount.)

The parsley is a touch I remember from a French cookery writer called Mireille Johnston who presented a BBC series back in the 90s. The books that accompanied the series were great but I left the relevant one in France so had to cook it from memory. If your kids don't like 'green bits' as many children don't you could cut the amount of parsley back to a single layer or mix it up with the mince so they don't (hopefully) notice, although, of course, the little blighters always do.

I can't remember if it had a layer of mash at the bottom of the dish but it's a good idea because you get some delicious stuck on crusty bits at the bottom of the pie.

Hachis Parmentier
Serves 2-4 depending on whether teenage boys are involved
2-3 tbsp light olive or sunflower oil
450g minced beef or lamb
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 level tbsp tomato paste
75ml beef or chicken stock (or frozen stock cubes)*
75ml red wine (or 1 tbsp red wine vinegar and an extra 75ml of beef stock)
Pinch of cinnamon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A good big handful of fresh parsley, stalks removed and finely chopped

For the potato topping
800g boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into even-sized pieces (halves or quarters depending on size)
25g soft butter
A good splash of warm milk (about 3 tbsp)
40g comté, gruyère or cheddar cheese (optional)
Salt and pepper

You will also need a medium sized shallow baking dish (I used a rectangular dish that was 26cm x 21cm)

Heat a large frying pan, add 1 tbsp of the oil and fry half the mince until lightly browned. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon, letting the fat run back into the pan then discard the fat. Add the remaining mince to the pan, brown it and drain off the fat in a similar way. Add the remaining oil and fry the onion over a low heat for about 5 minutes until soft. Stir in the crushed garlic and tomato paste and cook for a few seconds. then add the wine, if using and beef or chicken stock. Tip the mince back in the pan, bring to simmering point then season with salt, pepper and a pinch of cinnamon. Turn the heat right down and leave on a low heat for about 20 minutes. (If it gets a bit dry add an extra splash of stock or some of the potato cooking water.)

Meanwhile put the potatoes in a saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Cook for about 20 minutes until you can stick the point of a knife in them easily. Drain the potatoes, return them to the pan and cut them up roughly with a knife. Mash them thoroughly with a potato masher or fork. Beat in the butter and warm milk. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6. Butter your ovenproof dish well and cover the base with a thin layer of mash (just over a third of the total). Sprinkle half the parsley over the top (as above) then cover with the mince. Add the remaining parsley then and spread the potato evenly over the top, roughing up the surface with the prongs of a fork. Sprinkle with grated cheese, if using. Place the dish on a baking tray and bake for 25-30 minutes until the top is crisp and brown. (If you make it ahead and cool it down before baking it it'll take more like 45 minutes)

* when you make a batch of stock it's worth reducing it then freezing it in an ice cube tray when you need a small amount of stock for a recipe like this

Saturday 22 October 2011

Wine of the Week: Sainsbury's Moscatel de Valencia

Moscatel de Valencia, a sweet wine from Southern Spain, has always been good value but it's extraordinary that it still costs only £3.89 a bottle (in most branches of Sainsbury's). A whole bottle, not a half, like most other dessert wines.

OK, it's not particularly fashionable but it tastes just gorgeous. It has a deliciously orangey character that would make it a fantastic pairing for apple tart, pie or crumble (served with cream rather than custard), light chocolate desserts (plain rather than with berries) and - thinking ahead to Christmas - Christmas pudding which is always a tricky one to match. You could also partner it with a Spanish style 'flan' or crème caramel.

As the name indicates, it's a muscat, fortified with a little spirit to bring it up to 15%. Drink it nice and cold.

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Aggie's Granny’s scones

It's taken me a couple of days to get the recipe I promised you from Aggie MacKenzie's new book. I went for these scones because they look so delicious and involve so few ingredients. I suspect there's more to them than meets the eye - they look so fabulously light but have a go. This is what Aggie says about them:

"These are legendary. My mother’s mother made them almost daily (bread was a once-a-week delivery in the remote north-west of Scotland) and they were eaten with crowdie, which is a cream cheese that’s sharp and dense. My mother does these too, and they are the talk of the area. And of course it’s the recipe I always use. A few ingredients to get together, sure, but my goodness the results are unbeatable."

Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: around 10 minutes
Makes 16 scones

40g/1½oz/3 tbsp butter
1 level tbsp golden (light corn) syrup
1 medium egg
300ml/10fl oz/1¼ cups buttermilk 
(if you can get it) or milk
450g/1lb/3¼ cups plain (all-purpose) flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1 heaped tsp cream of tartar
1 heaped tsp salt

Preheat the oven to the hottest setting (Have checked this with Aggie who says 240°C/Gas 9) 
and place a large baking sheet inside. Melt the butter and syrup together in 
a pan. Mix the egg and buttermilk together. Put the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add both the wet mixtures to the dry 
ingredients and stir with a large metal spoon. (If you use milk instead of 
buttermilk, the mix might seem too wet 
but fear not.)

Have lots of flour on your work surface 
and empty the mix on to it. Sprinkle on a good layer of flour. Gently roll out into a rough circle about 2cm/¾in thick. Cut up into 16 pieces; some will be square, some will be corners, but they’ll all taste 

Arrange on the hot baking sheet (no need 
to grease), spaced 
a little apart. Put in the oven for about 
7-8 minutes until nicely golden. Cool on 
a wire rack.

From Aggie's Family Cookbook, published by Pavilion Books, price £20.

Saturday 15 October 2011

Six wines for under £6 at Waitrose

Waitrose has one of those increasingly popular 25% across the board discounts if you buy six bottles offer (12 if you buy online) which lasts until next Tuesday. Trawling through my tasting notes I must admit I struggled to reach my self-appointed target of six bottles to recommend under £6 which shows how much prices have crept up lately but here's a half dozen I think you'll enjoy:

Cuvée Chasseur 2010 (down from £4.35 to £3.26)
This warm southern blend of carignan, grenache and merlot is a reliable standby at its full price but well worth snapping up at this reduction if you're planning to mull wine for Hallowe'en, Bonfire Night or even Christmas. Fine with robust pasta dishes and stews too.

Castillo la Paz Tempranillo/Shiraz 2010 La Mancha (down from £6.99 to £5.24)
Something of a poor man's rioja though to be honest there's a lot of cheap rioja around the £5-6 mark at the moment. Has that appealing gentle soft cooked strawberry fruit that's typical of Tempranillo - with a generous lick of vanilla. A good wine for roast lamb or a cheeseboard.

Chapel Hill Pinot Noir 2009 Hungary (down from £6.99 to £5.24)
It's hard to find a good sub £10 Pinot Noir but this is a real steal. Quite light and delicate it could easily pass for a red burgundy twice the price. If you're lucky enough to be able to source cheap pheasant or rabbit this is the bottle to serve with it. (And if you miss the 25% off deal it will be on special offer at £5.24 until November 8th)

Inycon Grower's Selection Fiano 2010 Sicily (down from £6.69 to £5.02)
If you like chardonnay you'll love this rich, full-bodied Sicilian white which would go well with creamy chicken or pasta dishes or recipes with butternut squash. Good party drinking too.

Excelsior Heritage Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2011 Robertson, South Africa (down from £7.29 to £5.47)
A slightly different style from New Zealand sauvignon blanc - less gooseberryish, more citrussy with a lovely streak of lemon peel - this would go well with all kinds of seafod especially dishes flavoured with chilli and coriander. A lot of wine for the money. (Also available on offer at £5.79 from the 19th to November 8th if you miss this offer.)

Tabali Encantado Late Harvest Muscat 2010 Limari Valley, Chile (£7.79 down to £5.84)
You might find this slightly less useful given that it's a) only available in half bottles and b) only in 173 branches but if you can lay your hands on one as part of your cut-price haul it's a real treat. Exotic, honeyed with a fresh lemony finish - and just a touch of orange - it would be delicious with a whole range of desserts from apple crumble to Christmas pud.

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Aggie's Family Cookbook: review

You may be thinking 'not another celebrity cookbook' and, if so, I don't blame you. If I didn't know Aggie MacKenzie I'd probably be thinking that too.

But it may surprise you to learn her background is in food rather than hygiene - I used to work for her on Sainsbury's magazine and Good Housekeeping before she became famous for How Clean is Your House. So the cooking thing is not just made up to trade in on her fame.

And this is a real family cookbook. Of things she cooks, her sons cook, her mother cooks and even, her ex and her late mother-in-law cooked (now that is saintly!). It's as if your best friend who's a fantastic cook just handed over all her favourite recipes.

There's lots of fun stuff that's suitable for kids too like 'My take on chicken twizzlers' and Clissold Fried Chicken (a Stoke Newington version of KFC) and tips on how to get your kids cooking. The baking section is particularly good - I'll be posting a recipe later this week, hopefully - but love the sound of Tear-and-share Cheesy Rolls, Scottish Morning Rolls and her 'legendary' Granny's Scones.

The reason why I'm reviewing it on this blog is that - unusually for a celeb - she keeps the cost of food very much in mind, witness the Baked Chicken Casserole she makes "when I need to see off those lonesome bits at the bottom of the fridge", A Great Veg Dish for Leftover Cheese and Eggy Bread with Fudgey Plums "dead quick when you haven't planned a pud." And there are loads of useful tips on meal planning and saving money when you're food shopping.

This is a brilliantly down to earth cookbook that you'll use again and again. You can currently buy it for just over £11 on Amazon but even at the full price of £20 it's well worth the money. One for the Christmas list, defo.

Saturday 8 October 2011

Wine of the Week: Gran Vega Garnacha

I was thinking of making a white wine my wine of the week this week but since the weather has turned chilly and now finally feels like autumn I'm reverting to red again. This time from Asda which seems to permanently have its entire range on special offer.

Don't let that encourage you to go mad in the aisles. There's some pretty dreadful stuff on Asda's shelves but here's one that's a fantastic bargain, even at its full price of £4.18.

It's a modern Spanish red called Gran Vega Garnacha from Bodegas Borsao in the Campo de Borja region, a big lush, ripe blockbuster of a red that would make great drinking with hearty stews or gutsy plates of sausage and beans. And it's currently reduced (until October 17th) to £3.78 which is ridiculous. Make sure you get the 2010 vintage (it needs to be drunk young) and lay in some for mulling on bonfire night.

Thursday 6 October 2011

Rosewater cupcakes

So scornful have I been of the world's obsession with cupcakes I'd conveniently forgotten that I included a recipe for them in my book Food, Wine & Friends back in 2007. And when I was trawling through my photographs just now I didn't think they looked too bad. Even though they were - for heaven's sake - pink.

To be frank they're more like a fairy cake - they haven't got the ludicrous amount of icing of today's pumped up specimens but I think they're the better for it. Try them and see.

Rosewater cup cakes
Makes 24 cakes
250g soft butter
250g caster sugar
4 large eggs, beaten with 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
250g self-raising flour, sifted twice
125ml milk (whole, not semi-skimmed)

For the icing
50g soft butter
a few drops of pink food colouring
200g icing sugar, sifted twice
1/4 tsp rosewater
A small pinch of salt (about 1/3 of a tsp)
2-3 tbsp whole milk
sugar roses or other floral cake decorations (obviously the simpler the more frugal. Or you could just dot them with silver balls)

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4

You will need two x 12 hole muffin tins and some slightly kitsch paper cases

Tip the butter into a large bowl and beat with an electric hand whisk until smooth. Add the sugar about a third at a time and continue to beat until pale yellow and fluffy. Add the beaten eggs and vanilla essence gradually, adding a spoonful of flour with the last few additions. Fold in the remaining flour alternately with the milk taking care not to overmix. Spoon into the paper cases and bake for about 20- 25 minutes until well risen and firm to the touch. Remove the baking trays from the oven for 5 minutes then transfer the cakes to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Rinse and dry the beaters then make the icing. Beat the butter until soft. Pour a few drops of pink food colouring onto a teaspoon (easier to control than pouring straight from the bottle) then carefully add to the butter, pouring back any excess into the bottle.

Gradually add the sifted icing sugar 2-3 tablespoonfuls at a time. Add the rosewater, salt and enough milk to make a spreadable consistency. Spread on the tops of the cupcakes and decorate with the sugar roses or flowers. Leave for 2 hours before serving.

Monday 3 October 2011

Storecupboard spaghetti with garlicky prawns

One of the few advantages of being under the weather is that you don't want to go to the shops and make do with whatever you have in the fridge, freezer and cupboard. Hence last night's spaghetti which was also designed to blast through a cold.

It's not the most beautiful creation, I admit - if I was making it again I'd definitely add something green - most probably some chopped coriander or snipped chives but it's dead tasty. A slightly ritzed up version of the thrifty Italian classic spaghetti aglio olio e peperoncino

Serves 2-3*

2-3 large cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
1 fresh chilli, de-seeded and finely sliced (or 1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes)
3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 a small glass of white wine (optional)
A few drops of fish sauce (recommended - a bottle lasts for ages)
180-200g frozen prawns (the cheap North Sea ones not pricey king prawns)
A good chunk of fresh ginger, peeled
200-250g spaghetti depending how hungry you are
Salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon if you think it needs it
A couple of tablespoons chopped coriander or fresh chives (optional but looks good)

Heat a frying pan, add the oil and tip in the sliced garlic and chilli. Cook over a very low heat until the garlic begins to change colour. Add the wine if using, reduce by half then add the fish sauce and prawns. Stir and cook over a low heat until the prawns are completely thawed and hot through (about 4-5 minutes) then take off the heat.

Meanwhile pour a kettleful of water into a large pan bring to the boil, add salt and cook the spaghetti for the time recommended on the pack. Drain, saving a couple of tablespoons of the cooking water. Put the prawns back on the heat, grate in the ginger and heat through with the reserved pasta water. Season with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice if you think it needs it. Stir in the coriander if using then tip in the cooked spaghetti and toss together. Serve in warm bowls.

If you wanted to do a veggie version you could replace the prawns with broccoli which I'd cut into small florets and stir-fry in the garlicky/chilli-laced oil.

* We managed to get 2 reasonably-sized portions out of it plus 1 to warm up for today's lunch. Which is why it's in a frying pan.

What's your favourite food when you've got a cold?

Saturday 1 October 2011

6 good wines to buy at Tesco

Unless, like the residents of Stokes Croft in Bristol, you wouldn't be seen dead stepping through the doors of a Tesco supermarket it's the place to be buying wine this weekend. They've got their autumn festival on plus a 25% off offer if you buy any six bottles from them online.

That doesn't mean you should snap up everything you can lay your hands on. A lot of the bottles are priced at an artificially inflated level so the 50% reductions aren't nearly as good as they look. Still, there are deals - here are six that would tempt me. (Offers end on October 4th)

Tesco Finest Picpoul de Pinet 2010 (above, down from £7.99 to £5.29)
I thought we'd left summer behind us but not at all. If you're down by the sea or just eating fish and chips this crisp, fresh-tasting white from the south of France will fit the bill perfectly.

Sketches Chardonnay Semillon, S.E.Australia (down from £7.99 to £4.99)
Semillon-Chardonnay used to be a popular Aussie blend that's slightly fallen out of favour so it's good to see it back. The semillon grape adds a touch of freshness to the rich chardonnay. A bright breezy white that would make good party (or barbecue) drinking. (I'm not so keen on the red which is a bit jammy.)

Chukker Argentinian Torrontes (£36 a case of 6 from Tesco Wine)
Torrontes is a fragrant floral white from Argentina that you'll enjoy if you like riesling and gewurztraminer. Great with mild seafood curries and kormas and spicy Indian nibbles like pakoras. I don't rate the Malbec under the same label as highly, though.

Tesco Finest Touriga Nacional 2010, Alentejo, Portugal down from £7.79 to £5.79
A big, warming gutsy red made from one of the grapes used in port. A good wine to drink with hearty casseroles and braises. One to save for colder days ahead

Tesco Finest Howcroft Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (down from £8.99 to £6.49)
Another good red from the Finest range - a delicious smooth, blackcurranty Australian Cabernet. I wouldn't normally advocate buying an inexpensive red as old as this but this should have the concentration to be still drinking well. Perfect for a steak pie.

Tesco Finest Amontillado Sherry down from £5.49 to £4.12 for 50cl
And the biggest bargain of them all if you like sherry. Gorgeously rich and nutty, it's a great buy at £5.49 but totally unmissable at £4.12. Stock up if you find it*

*Note: Tesco now has some 2500 outlets so you won't necessarily find these wines in smaller branches - including ones like my local Metro (unfortunately) and possibly in Scottish branches given the new legislation outlawing wine promotions.

Incidentally if you want to keep tabs on offers on your favourite wines check out Find Top Wines