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I have being spending a lot less time on my beloved Chocolate Chilli Cupcakes blog this year as I’ve been busy with  work, study, creative writing and love. BUT it is not forgotten and I hope to start blogging again one day…

However I am still organising bloggers events and I have some interesting wine and food dates coming up. I’ll let you know. In the meantime if you want to be added to my invitation list then send me an e-mail to katrina@katrinaalloway.co.uk

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Three decades of serious cooking, eating, drinking and tasting wine have not only garnered me an impressive pair of hips, but the accolade of being a ‘food and wine expert’. It is a terrific pedestal to be placed on (the food is fantastic up here) and I get to make lofty pronouncements on the best wine to serve with toad-in-the-hole or sweet and sour crab claws etc etc (Côtes du Rhone, Australian Riesling respectively).

Sometimes it can get a little rocky up here on my judges bench especially when someone wants a binding promulgation on what goes with what, only to later discover that their palate is completely different to mine and my meat, if not their poison, is a yukkie, grimace inducing mouthful. The only thing I can say in my defence is that food and matching is not cast in stone, there’s no accounting for taste and there is really no reason for it all to degenerate into a food fight.

I’ve been wearing my ‘food and wine expert’ hat a lot recently as I have been working as an ambassador for Vive le Cheese, a PR campaign promoting French cheese. So far this job has been a cheesy delight and one of the best things was hosting an evening for food bloggers at London cheese mecca, also known as La Fromagerie.

One of my tasks was to pick a handful of French wines and present them at a workshop matched to recipes using French cheese. I wanted to show a real cross-section of French wines and as I had free reign I decided to opt for five of my own firm favourites:

Pouilly-Fumé AOC, de Ladoucette 2007,

100% Sauvignon Blanc

I’m a big fan of Loire wines, I love their crispness, their aroma and I really like the minerality of Sauvignon Blanc. I often find that Pouilly-Fumé are more floral than their more famous neighbours: Sancerre.

The Ladoucette Château is a fairytale affair with turrets and towers, there is also something ethereal about this wine. It is pretty and dances on the tongue.

Chablis AOC, William Fevre 2008

100% Chardonnay

I recently went to a Chablis tasting where 70 producers were all gathered showing off their wares. The event called alternatively been called variations on the theme of Chardonnay. After the event, once the hullabaloo had faded, one producer stuck in my mind: William Fèvre. Its clarity, purity and sheer deliciousness are a delight.

Crozes-Hermitage AOC, E. Guigal 2006

100% Syrah

I like this wine because it doesn’t overwhelm with pedigree as some wines, especially from a prestigious house like Guigal, can do. This wine doesn’t demand to be stored in a cellar where it can endlessly accrue value and finesse, instead it simply requests you to drink it and enjoy its fruity spicy flavours. Lip-smacking stuff.

Madiran AOC, Plénitude, Producteurs Plaimont 2006

Tannat 80%, Cabernet Sauvignon 20%

I love Madiran’s individuality, it’s SW France Basque country quirkiness. The vineyard’s proximity to the Pyrenees and my spiritual path: The Way of Saint James.

The Tannat grape is a delicious, tarry and uncompromising dark. Great stuff.

I also, at the risk of sounding superficial, love this bottle’s wax seal and metal label. Sometimes it’s fair to judge a wine by its appearance!

Sauternes-Barsac AOC, Château Coutet 2004

Sémillon 80%, Sauvignon Blanc 18%, Muscadelle 2%

I’ve been aware of Château Coutet for a while but since my lunch with Aline Baly (see my previous post) it has become a firm favourite. I love its feminine elegance, its intensity and minerality.

2004 is not a great hoopla vintage, so this wine is flirtatiously sweet rather than beguilingly unctuous.

So there are my five wines. Which one went with which dish? (click on the links for the recipes)

Reblochon PDO Fritters and Spiced Butternut Squash Soup

The Chablis and Reblochon chatted away liked old friends while the spice in the Crozes Hermitage and the spice in the soup got frisky together.

French Emmental, Smoked Lardons and Roasted Cherry Tomato Quiche

The crisp Pouilly-Fumé sparred well with the big flavours of the dish, while the Madiran worked the lardons in the tart with the aplomb of a PR girl at a reception and made them shine.

French Camembert and Fig Tart with Hazelnut and Parsley Vinagrette

The Crozes Hermitage and the Camembert were like two on-line daters who have ticked all the same boxes and really are as compatible in real life as they are supposed to be. The Sauternes and the figs fell head over heels in love.

Roquefort and Walnut Soufflé with Spiced Pear Chutney.

Chardonnay and eggs are always a compatible match and this was no exception but the smouldering match of the evening was Roquefort and Sauternes-Barsac. Powerful chemistry as opposites attract.

A wine by any other name would still taste as sweet.

I hope the Shakespearian purists will forgive this misquote. Here’s why…

A couple of days ago I had a lovely ladies lunch at The Greenhouse Restaurant, London, with Aline Baly from Château Coutet in Bordeaux. We tried a couple of vintages of her wine: 2001 (truly luscious) and 2002 (fresher and more floral) along with the daily menu, (sweet onion tart followed by wood pigeon for me and sardines and coley fish for Aline).

Now those of you in the know will be aware that Château Coutet is a Sauternes, which means it is a sweet/dessert/pudding wine, undeterred by these suggestive monikers we drank it with our savoury courses. Our wild and maverick ways paid off because the wine complimented and flattered the food fantastically.

It was not the first time I’ve enjoyed pairings between Sauternes and savoury foods. Of course the two classic matches are a good salty, blue Roquefort cheese which makes a saline/sweet opposites attract pair and the unctuous combination with foie gras pâté which makes for an über-bling foodie experience. I’ve also had success marrying Sauternes with spicy foods and game.

‘I think a lot of people misunderstand Sauternes because it is called a dessert or sweet wines which suggests it can only be served with sweet things. As this lunch proves that simply isn’t the case’, said Aline. ‘We need to think of a new name which shows how versatile Sauternes can be.’

I took another long draft of the 2001 and thought about it for a moment, examining my glass, it was a perfect alchemist’s golden colour. Then it came to me.

‘Gold wines’, I said. ‘There are red wines, white wines and then there are gold wines. All the other wines are described by their appearance, so why shouldn’t Sauternes be as well?’

‘Perfect’, replied Aline with a laugh. ‘It’s a new category. Gold wines.’

We then discussed other wines which go into the gold wine sector, these include Hungarian Tokaji, German trockenbeerenauslese and beerenauslese and Loire Quarts de Chaume and Coteaux de Layon. The list goes on and they are very, very delicious.

Of course this doesn’t change the fact that these wines are sweet, most will have at least 45g of residual sugar per litre. But the best also have a lot of acidity which keeps them fresh and zingy and why calling them sweet wines is only half of the story, they could almost be described as sweet ‘n’ sour.

I hope the ‘gold’ wine tag catches on and that more people are prepared to try these wines with different foods and drink them outside the narrow dessert/pudding pairing. I am sure there are all sorts of food pairings that are great with gold wines. I would love to hear about them. In the meantime here’s my new recipe for Gold Chicken.

Gold Chicken

Four chicken thighs

Two generous glasses of gold wine (I used a Gaillac Doux Muscat from Domaine de Labarthe, 2004, keep the elegant likes of Château Coutet for the glass not the casserole dish!)

Marinade the chicken in the gold wine for at least four hours.

Brown the chicken in an oven proof dish, add the remaining wine marinade. Then bake in a moderate oven for twenty-thirty minutes.

I served it with pilau rice laced with walnuts, fresh pineapple and parsley and the rest of the bottle of Gaillac Doux Muscat. Delicious!

Can the anticipation and excitement of a 99 from an ice-cream van ever be beaten by a tub from the freezer? My family puts Kelly’s of Cornwall to a vigorous test.

It’s a hot Sunday afternoon and we’re playing about in the garden. Everyone’s happy. And then we hear a sound that is full of promise and sweet temptation. The ice-cream van! It is still a few streets away. We wait, anxiously for the optimum moment when we can run out into the street; to go too soon would be silly, too late and we would be left with nothing.  The sound gets nearer and nearer, the anticipation mounts and at last we run, grabbing change, losing flip-flops, racing to get to the front of the queue.

But we are not first, so we wait, an age, until finally it is our turn. We ask for 99s and the ice-cream man produces a cornet, holds it up to the machine. Then he pulls the handle and the ice-cream swirls out of the nozzle in a white curl and piles up into a perfect point to be finally garnished with a chocolate flake.

There are many ways to eat a 99, none of them are polite. I think it is always best to slurp off the point and suck it between my teeth, that way you can really appreciate the fluffy and sweet, cold, ice-cream.

Of course high-brow ice-cream lovers may dismiss the 99 as being a mere bagatelle lacking the depth and intensity of an Italian gelato, but I like its softness, the fact that is slightly synthetic and so distinctly childish. So can any tub from the freezer match this mixture of precision timing, ritual and sticky sweetness?

I wondered about this when Kelly’s of Cornwall offered me couple of tubs of ice-cream to review on this blog. It was a generous gesture but perhaps lacked the drama of the ice-cream van. It arrived by courier bike, two tubs: Clotted Cream Vanilla Ice Cream and Honey Comb Caramel Ice Cream, so no Greensleeves, but still WOW, FREE ICE-CREAM. I realised that I was hardly going to make any kind of discerning and impartial judgement, so I asked my nephews, Fin aged 14 and Ru aged 10 and my sister, Cornelia, aged 26 (or thereabouts) to help me review it.

We started off with the Clotted Cream Vanilla Ice Cream.

Ru: It’s OK.
Fin: Nice. Creamy.
Katrina: Good. Not too sticky and sweet.
Cornelia: I was initially put off by the yellowy colour, I thought it looked synthetic, especially when you compare it to the really white colour of Green and Black’s vanilla ice-cream which is excellent. But I think the deeper colour comes from the clotted cream. This is really creamy and tasty. How much is it?
Katrina: £2.99 for a litre.
Cornelia: That’s good.
Katrina: Try it with fresh raspberries, it’s like raspberry ripple. Now that’s a good ice-cream flavour.
Ru: It reminds me of fruit flan.
Cornelia: This is even better. Makes a great contrast.

Kelly's of Cornwall Ice Cream in the garden.

Kelly's of Cornwall Ice Cream in the garden.

Then we moved on to the Honeycomb Caramel Ice-cream.

Katrina: I like it. Good texture. I like the bits of cinder toffee in it.
Fin: I prefer the vanilla.
Ru: This is a BOLD flavour.
Cornelia: Tastes better quality. It’s good for the price bracket.

We then added fresh peaches to our bowls and tucked into the rest of the tub.

Ru: Delicious.
Fin: Yes. Tasty.

At the moment we heard the ice-cream van in the distance.

Katrina: 99 anyone?
Fin: Nah, not this week. Thanks.
Ru: Slurp. Slurp. Slurp.

In 2007 somebody volunteered and saved my life. That isn’t a joke or the words to a song but a true story. In turn their actions prompted me to volunteer. I didn’t save anyone’s life but perhaps I made the world just a tiny bit better?

I enjoy long distance walking and particularly ‘classic treks’. A couple of years ago I walked the Pennine Way, 270 miles starting in Derbyshire and ending in Scotland.I’d walked for three weeks and this was my final day, the last push, a tough 26 miles across the Cheviots and although friends and family had joined me for other parts, I was doing this stint alone.

It started well with bright and sunny weather and the hills stretching for miles without a human in sight. I was eager to get to the end of a long adventure and enjoy a pint at the pub in Kirk Yetholm so I strode eagerly on. But then, as often is the way in the North/Scotland, the weather dropped and the mist crept in and my visibility was reduced to a couple of yards.

I had no choice but to press on as I had long passed the point of no return. So I walked for several hours, map and compass in hand, clinging to the path which was thankfully very well marked. My guide book assured me that the views were marvellous, I have no idea if this is true as with my arm outstretched I couldn’t even see my fingers. Although I knew there was very, very little chance that there would be anyone around, there was a moment when I thought I could hear voices in the distance. Perhaps I did, but it occurred to me later that I might have started to hallucinate through shear fear.

Auchope Carin in good weather.

Auchope Carin in good weather.

And then around 5pm I got to Auchope Cairn which is just on the England/Scotland border and the well marked path petered out. Every time I moved away I started to flounder in a bog so I scrambled back to the Cairn. This happened several times and as the evening light started to fade I realised that I couldn’t move and I was in serious danger of having to spend the night on that bare mountain.

By some miracle I got a one bar mobile signal and called Mountain Rescue. They told me to sit tight warning me that I was very close to a precipice called Hens Drop. I’d have little chance of surviving a tumble over it. So I stuffed my kagool with the entire clothing contents of my rucksack and sat and waited staring at the mist in front of my face.

Periodically a lovely policeman called Dave called me and gave me an update on the progress of my rescue. Then two hours later Dave phoned me again and told me to start blasting on my whistle. I did with all my might. Eventually I got a whistle signal back. Never has anything sounded so sweet.

A few minutes later a line of shadows appeared scrambling up the hill in front of me, then the shadows turned into men. Nine of them. Good, decent, brave men who turned out in the worst of weathers to rescue me and guide me down off the mountain. I burst into tears and asked them to marry me.

I didn’t receive a single word of reproach from my rescue team. They told me I was well equipped and had done exactly the right thing. A few months later I was contacted by the BBC and asked to speak on a TV program about when it is appropriate to call Mountain Rescue as the service is being over loaded with inappropriate calls and although this didn’t come to anything, I felt further vindicated.

So while I did not feel that I did anything wrong, I was still aware that the chain of events could have been different. I might not have got a mobile signal, I might not have been at such an obvious landmark, my nine rescuers might not have bothered to volunteer. I could have fallen into Hen Hole, I could have spent the night at Auchope Cairn and got hypothermia.  So I was still left with a feeling that I needed to pay back. That I had a debt. That a donation was not enough. I needed to physically do something in return.

As I can’t join Mountain Rescue (not enough mountains in South London nor do I have the skills) I had to find something else which I could effectively do. Eventually I hit upon being a volunteer warden for the Youth Hostel Association. So after interviewing and training, last week I did my first stint at Telscombe Hostel in the South Downs.

Telscombe Youth Hostel

Telscombe Youth Hostel

My days were free and in the evenings I welcomed the guests. They ranged from weary cyclists and walkers to a group of teenagers on a Prince’s Trust project who were a little rough around the edges but a lot of fun to a jet lagged family from Australia and a man who was translating the Bible into Persian. I made sure they had somewhere to cook, hot showers, beds and then sold them mars bars.

This might not have been as momentous as a mountain rescue but I did help provide inexpensive accommodation so that people can get out and live their lives to the full. I did my bit and I’ll keep on doing it because somebody volunteered and saved my life. I do not want to sound sanctimonious or take the moral high ground because it took a very dramatic event to make me volunteer but I like the idea of a chain reaction. Of positive cause and effect. That perhaps somebody who stayed at Telscombe last week might be inspired to go out and do something. Who knows?

Finally as this is supposed to be a food blog I’ll just finish this post with a couple of foodie highlights. First the mountain rescue guys gave me a cup tea out of a flask on Auchope Cairn. It was stewed and had too much sugar in it, but it was still the best brew I have ever tasted.

Secondly my week at Telscombe Hostel was a bit of a gourmet desert, so when my good friend Paul turned up on his motorbike with a couple of couple of sirloin steaks, a bottle of red wine, some salad, strawberries and a chocolate cake in his top-box it was a bit of a gastronomic rescue for a stranded foodie. Thank you darling it was delicious! And in the true spirit of cause and effect, I will cook for you next time.

I think the latest celebrity dish du jour ‘meat free mondays’ are a great idea for so many well documented ecological reasons. (Cows produce a lot of methane i.e. they fart a lot.) However, like many people, on Mondays I tend to eat the left overs from the Sunday roast, today that means turning yesterdays remaning scraps of chicken and some lovely fragrant chicken stock into a risotto. So how about ‘left over Mondays’ and ‘meat free Tuesdays’? Is that a goer? Probably not as it doesn’t have the right alliterative ring to cleave into national diet. But no matter I never did follow the herd.

Does the smell sea remind you of your childhood? Does the perfume of hair gel make you think of a teenage romance? Does the pong of antiseptic liquid make you shudder? Which aromas trigger involuntary memories for you? Good or repugnant the Proust Effect poll wants to hear about them.

The ‘Proust Effect’ is an on-going theme on this blog. The idea fascinates me because it shows how easily the mind can be manipulated by aromas: the smell of freshly cut grass, baking bread, petrol, sour beer… all can conjure up an involuntary memory of a special moment, perhaps from childhood or of a once familiar place, which just for a moment is poignantly and clearly remembered.

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I know from the number of hits on my previous postings on the Proust Effect that I am not alone in finding this phenomena interesting. So I have decided to gather anecdotal evidence from readers on this ‘Proust Effect Poll’ to find out which aromas most affect them and what times of their life they remember most vividly. My only goal in doing this is to create some interesting reading, I do not expect to make a neuro-scientific break-through or any other earth shattering conclusions!

But first lets take a look at what the Proust Effect actually is. Neuroscientists call involuntary aroma-triggered memories the ‘Proust Effect’, in homage to the description in Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust, when Marcel, the protagonist, eats a madeleine:

And suddenly the memory appeared. That taste was the taste of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday morning at Combray (because that day I did not go out before it was time for Mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my Aunt Léonie would give me after dipping it in her infusion of tea or lime-blossom.[1] 

The memory stirred by smelling and eating this madeleine is the significant starting point of what many people view as the greatest novel of the 20th century. It is certainly the greatest literary description of the link between smell and memory.

Not all Proust’s reveries are sweetly romantic though, later on in Remembrance of Things Past, Proust talks, less poetically, of the stink of urinals on the Champs-Elysées. Odours are often base and can reveal our deepest Freudian fears. Our reaction to them can show our hidden psychological make-up; the events and people that have shaped us into the adults we are.

Like everyone I have a memory bank of smells that remind me of different times of my life. There is one, a stench rather than a smell, that strikes me with such terror that anytime I stumble across it I switch into flight mode and run. I won’t tell you what it is or why, because the memory cuts too deep. Thankfully there are plenty of other aromas which remind me of happy times.

Garlic frying in olive oil on a hot summer’s day makes me think of the summer of 1984. I had just moved to London and got a job cooking in a restaurant. Everything was new and exciting, my hair was pink, my nose was pierced and the world was full of possibilities.

Ripe Camembert reminds me of my first trip to France and a boy called Julien. The smell of horses makes me think of the stables where I learnt to ride. And the nose of Madiran wine makes me think of a trip to South West France just a few weeks ago.

Marcel Proust

Marcel Proust

 

I must stress that the Proust Effect is not a reaction to the smell itself, for example my father can not bare the smell of boiling vinegar (I have to make chutney when he is out) and I am not a great fan of jasmine, but we are reacting to the smell itself, not an association with that smell. I love the aroma of Darjeeling tea, but The Proust Effect moment is when a cup brewed in my London home transports me back to the Himalayas and another cup drunk at the Planters’ Club at the Darjeeling Hill Station, looking out at the snow on the mountains.

As I would love to know more about what smells are significant to other people I have set up this ‘Proust Effect Poll’. If you are inspired to contribute by posting a comment on the smells that trigger involuntary memories, good or bad, for you then it would help me to answer many of the questions that I have such as:

Is there just a small bouquet of aromas that are meaningful to many, many people or whether, given that there are thousands of different odours which could potentially be significant, the Proust Effect is as idiosyncratic as each individual’s history?

I am sure that food smells will be important to many of us. I also expect that like my memories there will be many ‘firsts’: first trips abroad or first visit to the sea etc. I imagine that people in different countries will have different associations. I suspect that we become blasé of perfume as we grow older and fewer moments get added to our personal memory bank. I wonder if natural smells lavender etc are more thought provoking than those that are created and bottled by perfumers and whether it is always the strong smells that stick or whether subtle scents, like Proust’s madeleine, also linger in the mind.

 

So I can answer these questions I need your comments. I hope you will be inspired to write a few lines and in a few weeks return to see what others have said and to read the conclusions that I may be able to extrapolate.

 

In the meantime, hopefully to whet your appetite and encourage you to contribute, here is my recipe for Madelaines.

 

Proust Effect Madeleines.

 

The basic Madeleine recipe is a Genoise sponge, I add two teaspoons of orange blossom water to make the particularly fragrant and so extra ‘Proustian’.

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120 grams butter

140 grams plain flour

0.5 tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

Grated zest of an orange

3 large eggs

140 grams castor sugar

2 tsps orange blossom water

Vegetable oil for greasing tin.

 

Melt the butter.

Sieve together flour, baking powder and salt. Add the orange zest.

With an electric whisk, whisk together the eggs and sugar for about 5 minutes until the mixture is thick and creamy. Add the orange blossom water.

Gently fold the dry ingredients into the whisked egg and sugar.

Take out a spoon full and whisk into the melted butter. Return this to the main mixture and gently fold through.

Leave to stand for 30 minutes. The mixture will become firmer.

Heat the oven to 190 degrees centigrade.

Grease the Madeleine pan.

Put a generous spoon in each shell indentation.

Bake for about 12 minutes. Be careful they don’t over cook or they will become dry.

These are best served the same day. 

  


[1] Marcel Proust, The Way by Swann’s, In Search of Lost Time, Trans. Lydia Davis. Penguin Books, London 2002

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