Pairing Côtes du Rhone & Chinese Take-Away - A Challenge -

In order to complete the Côtes du Rhone Wines Chinese Take Away Challenge Pebble Soup was sent two bottles of Côtes du Rhone.

Tonight Chinese families from all around the world will get together around the most important meal of the year: The New Year Reunion Banquet. In the West, we associate Chinese food with hot tea or beer but on occasions and to honour special guests, wine is served but how do you pair French wines and Chinese food?

That was Pebble Soup's challenge which at HQ we took very seriously. First we went local and ordered our take away from:
Mr Chung's restaurant's facade has changed somewhat over 30 years, a couple of "gigantic" stone lions are now guarding the entrance, but the family hasn't given into churning horrid bowl of noddles as so many of its competitors have. As a result Mr Chung's serves tasty and authentic dishes.
Prestigious labels, luxury branding attract Chinese consumers, who as a result will primarily choose a red Bordeaux. However lucky the colour red is, it doesn't seem right to pair chilli hot food with highly tannic red wine as the tannin tends to prolong the effect of the heat.
We were sent a Incognito 'H' Blanc Côtes-du-Rhône, Paul Jaboulet Aîné, 2011 (Retailer : The Wine Society, RRP : £25) An expensive white wine would honour guests and in doing so, will demonstrate how valuable they are to us.
One tiny problem, "H" is not "lucky red", nothing we could do there so we declared that H which really stands for Hermitage would for the occasion stand for happy.
Personally, I find white wine goes better with seafood.  As we were parting slightly away from traditional symbolism but wanting to invite bad luck to dinner, we dressed the table in red and gold.  
For starters we chose Griddle Fried Dumplings, Crispy Seaweed, Satay of Chicken on Skewers. From the start I  was very pleased the choice of wine. "H" cut through the oil and the fat, the pairing was well balanced. "H" is medium-bodied and rich enough to maintain its flavour well after the first starter dish.

Our mains were Stir Fried King Prawns with aubergines and "Kung Bo"Chilli Chicken Szechuan Style with Egg Fried Rice. Visually the plate of food looked very white and clean. Our chilled Côtes du Rhone was by now singing. Equally gorgeous with prawns and chicken.
Two bottles were sent  but  our   Crozes-Hermitage 2010 Cave de Tain L’Hermitage (Retailer: Majestic, RRP: £11.24) is a "big wine" one which is at its best with red meat and cheese and I am yet to see cheese on a Chinese menu. Kung Hei Fat Choy. 

Credit: Black and white picture of Mr Chung's restaurant from Mr Chung's restaurant website

Lemon Biscuits

"Nothing beats the smell of freshly baked biscuits....." yeah, yeah but what if your attempt to fill the house up with the fairy tale aroma of goodness results in something which looks like this:

Pampered Chef Bisuits press results
And before you ask, this was one biscuit.

Sometimes, no matter how competent you may become  in a field, there is always one aspect which is playing hard to get. One "thing" your brain doesn't seem to be able to quite get. Personally, I live in terror of double consonants and baking biscuits. 
I dread thinking how many t's, s's, n's there are in such and such words. When it comes to baking biscuits, in spite of various gadgety help, it never got any better. But I am still determine to crack that particular nut.
One thing was learnt from various experiences: it pays to research gadgets and don't be too ambitious. Sometimes sticking to a simple apparatus (word with 2 p's) is better (this one has 2 t's, even I know that), A simple cookie cutter might not rock the planet but will make you look competent. Or will it?

Lemon BiscuitsLakeland Biscuits Kit

I had high hopes for this biscuits kit by Lakeland (£14.99) but the biscuits cutter is far too large for the stamps which themselves are not strong enough to leave a clear mark once cooked. However the kit comes with a recipe booklet which is an eye opener.
Because it's not all about shapes. According to Sarah from Maison Cupcake, who knows her biscuits, it's also about cooking time. Biscuits need very little time in the oven and have to be timed perfectly in order to get the correct texture. Best to keep a close eye on a batch from the 8 minutes mark, 15  being the maximum cooking time.
Beside the fact that it does smell nice in the kitchen when baking biscuits they are also jolly handy as a small personal gift. My next stop will be ginger biscuits. Here is one recipe, I made earlier

Lemon biscuits
325g plain flour
150g unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
125g golden caster sugar
1 egg yolk
Zest and juice of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/fan 160ºC/Gas 4. Biscuits will be cooked for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown in a lined baking tray (use greaseproof paper).
In a large bowl mix flour and butter until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs.
Using a fork mix in the sugar, lemon zest, half the lemon juice and the egg yolk and next use your hands to bring the lot into a ball. If it doesn't "gel" add a little water.
Flour a surface and roll the dough to 5mm thick.
Tip: sprinkle very little four on the work surface, you might want to cut the ball in two or three parts to make rolling easier.
Using biscuit cutters, a mug or a cup, cut the dough into desired shapes
Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes until the biscuits are golden.
Leave to cool on a wire rack.
These biscuits can be decorated with lemon icing.
This recipe was first spotted in the Co-op magazine.


A Thank You Page - Waitrose Champagne & Vol-au-Vent Recipe

Throughout January, Waitrose offers a bottle of  complementary Waitrose Champagne brut to customers shopping £50 or more online. This gesture is part of their "Thank You Campaign," an unconventional way to prompt people to say "Thank You". Personally, I have a soft spot for "thank you" stories which are often heartwarming

On Saturday mornings, I often wake up to the sound of "Saturday Live" or rather "Saturday Dead" as it's known in the house. Far from being my favourite radio programme, I pop a pillow on the top of my head and only come out for the bit when people say "thank you".
A radiophonic catalogue of actions of kindness which were never acknowledged at the time. Ten minutes when humans, at their best, get a mention.

So Waitrose bought the Champagne. Now, we needed a person to say thank you to. This is when I realised that there is a long list of people, I am grateful to. Among which guest bloggers who in 2013 have been brilliant.
Take Allan, for example, who on his birthday stood in for Pebble Soup, bringing back loads of photos from Pastry Chef Richard Bertinet's Baking Master Class and a nice write up which has since been read by over 500 people. That alone deserved a big thank you.
The brief said "There are lots of different ways to serve and enjoy your champagne, from champagne cocktails to specific foods which taste amazing with bubbly, and even using champagne as an ingredient for your cooking"
After cooking Champagne Pâté, it occured to me that cooking with bubbly was a bit of a shame. However mushrooms and champagne are a good match. And  to give the occasion a retro-feel, also because vol-au vents are dead easy to prepare. I went for
 Mushroom Vol-au-Vent
First make a bechamel by heating the butter in a small pan, add the flour and whisk vigorously don't let it brown add the milk a little at the time as you carry on whisking, I often use the hand blender.
when the mix is creamy add the cheese turn the heat off, season to taste don't forget the nutmeg and reserve
Then tail and dice finely 5 or 6 mushrooms which need to be lighty fried in butter.
Now for the vol-au vent (and if you were wondering singular and plurial have the same spelling so here it make 6)
350g/12oz puff pastry1 free-range egg, beaten, plus 1 free-range egg yolkYou will also need a little flour, baking paper and a baking tray

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.

Sprinkle a little flour on a working surface and roll the puff pastry out about 5mm thick - Cut out 12 circles using a cutter I used a cup. place 6 of them on a baking tray covered with baking paper. Using a kitchen brush glaze them with the beaten eggs.

Cut a smaller circle out of the centre of six remaining circles.  Place the hollowed 6 remaining circles on each circle in the tray and brush again.
Cook in the oven for 10- 12 minutes

Leave it to cool a little, place on a serving dish and fill delicately with bechamel mixture.

They will be flatter than the pastry cases bought in the shop but really worth making yourself. The can be customised to your guest too.

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Waitrose. On this occasion working with bloggers to promote their thank you campaign.

Kung Hei Fat Choy - 2014 - Year of the Horse- Picture Patchwork

Last week Pebble Soup was invited to the Chinese Cricket Club restaurant for a preview of celebrations to come. To read more about our first ever Chinese New Year Reunion Dinner click here

Peppered Mackerel & Potato Bake

While in France, during a short Chritmas feast respite, in search of a light dinner we went to a supermarket well known for its fish counter. After choosing a couple of cod fillets, I gasped at the price: 10 euros for 400g which puts the kilo at around £20.

On return and still in shock, thrifty buy such as mackerel seemed liked a good idea especially since as Pebble Soup has already had its fair share of mackerel recipes with:

Mackerel Fillets with Parsley, Mint and Anchovy Sauce a Rachel Allen's clean and lean recipe

Greek Yoghurt Tartare of Mackerel with Minted Cucumber Soup for special occasions

Mackerel Pâté a light lunch or starter ready in 10 minutes

And from now on Peppered Mackerel and Potato Bake, the tip-top of comfort food, a super-thrifty dish which doesn't compromise on taste. One which will grace the table again and again so good it is. Peppered Mackerel and Potato Bake, my only quarrel with this dish is that it isn't very photogenic.
Peppered Mackerel and Potato Bake

This recipe is originally from BBC Good Food magazine on line, it take 1h1/2 of which 1/2h only is preparation.
  • 750g medium-sized waxy new potatoes, such as Charlotte
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 2 large peppered smoked mackerel fillets, about 250g/9oz total weight
  • 284ml carton double cream
Preheat the oven to 190C/gas 5/fan 170C. 
The potatoes are cooked in their skins throughout: first boil them for a good 15min until almost cook. Use a knife to check, then drain and slice into thin slices. Be careful not to over to it as you want them to keep their shapes.
While the potatoes are cooking, slice the onions and cook gently in a pan using the oil.
Add the almost-cooked potatoes to the onions, toss and season.
In an oven dish, pour a little over half the potatoes flake the skinned and boned mackerel over the layer and top with the rest of the mixture. Pour the double cream on the top. Cover with a foil
Cook in the oven for 25 minutes remove the foil and cook for a further 25 minutes.

What's New in the Kitchen # 7

This month "what's in the Kitchen" reveals a few secrets. It is time to lift the veil to show what has been kept hidden, let's start with, 
Secret attraction: shaped cheese. My French friends have a generic name for it: "silly cheese" going even further by saying that anything which is not a "natural looking cheese" which I suppose means a block or round-shape, doesn't deserve to be called cheese.
Well sorry, Pilgrims Choice Extra Mature Cheddar Sticks are smooth, no annoying crystals and have a very strong flavour, exactly the way I like my cheddar.
Three months ago, Pilgrim's Choice launch these ready made portions, with the snack-market in mind, since then they have proven very versatile and if you manage to refrain yourself and don't snack on the lot, they are great to cook with. 
RRP: £1.70
Secret failure: I have to come clean, I can't boil rice.
It's invariably too mushy or undercooked. but now I can produce rice cooked to perfection every time.
The trick which will never fails: Tilda basmati range. It is not limited to white, there is a whole range of cook in the pouch basmati rice, sweet chilli and lime, bbq, coconut and many more flavours.
RRP: £ 1.60

Secret Santa :OXO Tot Range. Their feeding set to be precise, which was a winner with the latest addition to Pebble Soup's taste-testing family, little Manon age 2. The fluo green was the first attraction although it comes in two other colours. But the clincher was the design which very clever. The ring at the top is curved and removable. This seems to put an end to adults and toddlers' frustration, hardly any food "jumps" over that silicone barrier.
 The whole range is curve therefore pleasant to grab and the bottom of the plates "stick" to the table making the range worthy of its full name OXO Good Grips.
Though you may need a babe with Manon's delicate mouvements to demonstrate it. I suspect that with a more boisterous kid, the adhesion process would not work so well.
RRP: £17.97


Disclaimer: Thank you to the companies which names are mentioned above for sending samples for review. I wasn't asked to review positively, all words are my own.

The Secret Life of Gingerbread Men

Gingerbread Man Recipe

Renewing an insurance policy is not the stuff one normally writes about in a food blog. Contrary people might enjoy the process but as an overall it is rather tedious. The funniest it gets, is when they ask you if there has been any changes at all?

-"Date of birth?
-"yes, yes, still the same?"
And the sempiternal:

-"What is your occupation... Ma'am?"
-"Well, luckily enough, same as last year: freelance writer" which is usually followed by....... a short silence, a clearing of throat and a "hmmm....sorry? would you mind tell me what your profession is?"

So at that stage, I usually patiently recapitulate the highlights of the past year, explaning what was written, for whom etc... etc..

However this year, the script changed:

-"I take you are still writing, I see here: art, culture, travel, food, May I put you on hold"

Ominous. After what seemed like 10 minutes, the voice came back and solemly said

-"Solange, after consulting with two of my supervisors, we have decided that your occupation is not in the high risk category........However, it is borderline and we will review, In the meantime you should take care."

What did the voice mean?

Visions of mad artists, runaway trains, hungry chefs armed with knifes invaded my thoughts, surely I was over-reacting. Nothing was threatening me and then the penny dropped, oh yes I was at risk........I had been obsessing.

Obsession is rather helpful when writing, it keeps the momentum going but lately I had been obsessed with gingerbread Men.

It started rather innocently, lunching in the park, I bought a gingerbread man, next thing I knew, I could not stop buying them but the worse is to come.

One day he mischievously said "I bought you, a Gingerbread Man....but this one has got only three buttons?"

"Oh yes" I replied, trying to look knowledgeable, not having the faintest "Thank you, very kind, I saw some with two buttons only"

-"ah, have you ever seen any with four"

-"duh! no, why?"

-"very rare, four buttons gingerbread men..... have a willy"

That was it, I knew, it was not possible of course. But since then, I can't pass a bakery or even worse, a child with gingerbread man without staring and make a mental note of how many button there is.

The voice was right, I am at risk and I should be insured heavily against an attack of gingerbread men.
Gingerbread Men Recipe
350g/12oz plain flour plus extra for rolling out
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon( optional) or
1 tsp vanilla powder or extract(optional)
16g unsalted butter
125g/4.5oz light soft brown sugar
4 tbsp golden syrup

To decorate
writing icing
cake decorations

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.
In a saucepan, melt butter, slowly, add the sugar and the golden syrup, stir all the time.
Remove from heat and let it cool for 10 minutes add the vanilla extract or the cinnamon if using
In a bowl, sieve flour, bicarbonate, ginger, then mix with the lot with the content of the saucepan until you get a firm paste (food processor can be used)
Flour a worksurface, transfer the dough onto the surface and roll until you get a sheet 5mm thick
Using gingerbread man shapes cut as many men as possible, this recipe should make about 20
Place them onto the prepared baking trays
Cook for 10 minutes (biscuits cooking time is rather fast)
Cool before decorating
Can be stored in sealed containers for up to 2 weeks


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