That’s all she wrote

A few weeks ago, I handed in my Ph.D. thesis.

When I began blogging about this time last year, I had a few key motivations. Firstly, and probably most importantly, I am very enthusiastic about food, wine, and gastronomy, and wanted to share that with others. Secondly, I wanted to develop my writing a little, something I hadn’t really done before. But lastly, I knew I would be writing my thesis in the near future, and didn’t fancy what seemed to be a painful process of trying to write 150 pages of quite technical science, so hoped by writing regularly it would make the writing process easier. I can’t say blogging made writing up particularly fun, but I got it done quickly and efficiently. For any young graduate students out there, I would really recommend keeping a blog to help with your writing.

Since finishing my thesis, and the ten-hour days writing, I can’t say I’ve had much desire to write again. I thought after a few weeks it might return, but it just hasn’t. I’m also moving on to new things, looking for a job, a house, and so on, so with all this in mind, I’ve decided to retire the blog at this point. I’ll still keep up the material for anyone who finds it interesting, or wants to use any of the recipes, and I’ll still be contactable for any food related queries. And although I won’t be writing anymore, I certainly won’t be hanging up the apron (or spittoon) at this point, either.

To finish off, I’d like to say a huge thanks to everyone out there who has support Oxfoodblog during the last year. It’s been great. Whether you have cooked with me, drunk wine with me, eaten some of my food, offered encouragement or culinary conversation, been a reader, or anything else: it’s been very much appreciated. I can only hope you all have as much fun with food and wine as I do.

James

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Yaki Gyoza

This is a guest post my a friend of mine, Joe. These look delicious- great job Joe- just a pity I wasn’t there to taste them.

Cooking exotic food can be intimidating. The ingredients can often be difficult to obtain, and when you use substitute ingredients, it doesn’t turn out quite right. With traditional dishes, memories of cooking with parents and grandparents make them feel achievable. Even slightly further afield, my long and happy history of eating other European dishes reassures me that I’ll be able to reproduce them. As a result, it is easy to develop a chronic imbalance in confidence. For me, this was typified by gyoza, a filled dumpling always first in my order when I eat at Japanese restaurants. I had imagined that some sort of wizardry was involved in their construction. After learning to make sushi this week (which still feels like preparing an incantation, even after learning some of the secrets), and with a salt-toothed girlfriend to please, we steeled ourselves for an attempt.

Gyoza Frying

The results were reassuringly close to the real deal. Yaki gyoza have a delicious variation in texture, arising from flash frying one side before steaming, which is more or less fool-proof. Making the filling is even easier. The only real sticking point is stretching a dough thin enough to achieve the delicacy gyoza-lovers will recognise. This is a real challenge and, first timers as we were, we didn’t quite satisfy on this front. I’m told ready made wrappers can be found in asian supermarkets (for a soft option). However, having since made them again, I can say that the results are rewarding if you have time and patience to achieve a thinner finish. The lesson here is that exotic recipes don’t necessarily tax a different skill-set from familiar ones (and that Japanese food is really excellent).

Gyoza Steaming

Yaki Gyoza

Makes at least 16 (serves 2 for a main, or 4 as a starter)

Ingredients:
Gyoza wrappers
150g strong white flour, plus extra for rolling
pinch salt
100ml boiling water
vegetable oil, for frying
Prawn filling
200g prawns, cooked and finely chopped
1 bunch spring onion, finely chopped
2cm piece fresh root ginger, peeled and grated
sesame oil
oyster sauce
lemon zest
salt and black pepper
Dipping sauce
soy sauce
rice vinegar
sugar

Recipe:
1. Prepare the dough. Sift the flour into a large bowl and mix in a pinch of salt. Bring some water to the boil and add slowly to the flour, stirring with a knife or chopsticks, until the mixture comes together. Beware making the dough too wet. Let the dough rest for 1 hour.
2. Meanwhile prepare the filling. Combine the prawns, spring onion and ginger with a generous glug each of sesame oil and oyster sauce. Season generously (taste bearing in mind that the seasoning needs to lift the flavour of the dough too).
3. Make the gyoza. On a generously floured surface, knead gyoza dough until smooth and elastic. Roll as thin as possible and cut into circles of diameter ~10cm. Place a large teaspoon of the filling in the centre of each wrapper, wet the edges, and crimp to achieve a cornish pasty shape. Pinch tightly to seal.
4. Cook the gyoza. First heat a glug of vegetable oil over high heat in a shallow pan with a lid. Fry the gyoza until golden brown. Immediately add ~100ml of water and cover with the lid. The dumplings now need to steam for two minutes, so do not remove the lid. Beware the dummplings sticking to the pan; the word Gyoza is taken from the chinese Jiǎozi or “pot sticker”! Using a decent amount of oil and shaking the pan from time to time should keep everything on track.
5. Serve the gyoza. Scoop out the dumplings and serve immediately with your choice of dipping sauce. I like the acidity from rice vinegar, but chilli heat works great too. The filling is of course enormously flexible; any east Asian flavours will be delicious, but make sure it packs plenty of umami. The dumplings can also be deep fried (age gyoza) or boiled (sui gyoza) but the above is the tastiest and simplest method.

Ready to eat Gyoza

 

Food and Wine Pairings V: Thoughts from an expert

Recently, the Oxford Blind Tasting Society was very privileged to host Jan Konetzki, Head Sommelier at three-Michelin-starred Restaurant Gordon Ramsay and winner of the Moët UK Sommelier of the Year 2012. As a sommelier, you not only have to put together a restaurant’s wine list, price the wine sensibly, and be able to sell wine to customers, but you need to understand which wine to recommend to people to go with their food. Gone are the days when you can just go with the “classics”, people want new and exciting wines nowadays, and wines which are interesting. Given my interest in food and wine pairing, I was excited to see which wines he brought, and to pick his brain on food-wine matching.

The Whites

The wines he bought did not disappoint. I think it’s fair to say that they were a bit off-the-beaten-track, with the most mainstream probably being an Austrian Blaufrankish. Other wines included a Riesling from Sicily, built on the volcanic soils of Mount Etna, a Sangiovese from Australia (a grape variety that is almost exclusively grown in Italy), and a beautiful sweet wine from Jurançon in France. Needless to say we weren’t guessing many of the wines correctly, but it was really fun to try and figure these out.

What was particularly interesting were some of the common themes of these wines. All of them were reasonably “complex”, in that they had many different things going on, but a few qualities stood out. Firstly, all of the wines had relatively high acidity. Acidity helps a wine cut through the fat in food, and at a top restaurant, for rich sauces and high-quality cuts, acidity will be key. Secondly, most of the wines had seen a small amount of oak, even wines typically not oaked- like the Riesling. Perhaps this makes the wine more robust, and gives it an extra dimension with the food. Lastly, was that all the wines had a herbal quality, or some “greenness”. This might provide a different seasoning to the food. Unfortunately we didn’t get to try any food with the wines, but I will look for some of these qualities in the future.

The Reds

Jan also shared some thoughts on serving wine, something I had not given large amount of though to before. Particularly, he was focused on the temperature of the wine. On the night of our tasting, he was moved wines around the fridge and asked for some warm water just to warm the wines up a couple of degrees before serving. He noted that there is around 4 degrees difference between a fridge door and the back of the fridge, which makes a big difference in changing the wine characteristics. Aromatic wines like Riesling want to be cooler than average, and oakier wines slightly warmer than average. By changing the temperature of the wine, you change how it expresses itself. Jan thought temperature was more important than wine glass shape, and considering he had over 20 different wine glass shapes available at the resaurant, that says a lot.

After the tasting, we had some discussion on food-wine pairing. When asked what part of the dish he looked at first, Jan (perhaps unsurprisingly) was focused on the dish as a whole, but then spent a lot of time discussing seasoning. How prominent each flavour is, and how it develops in the dish, largely factor into the wine choice. Similarly, how cooked the meat would be (even in a good restaurant, people would like the meat well-done), would change slightly how fatty the meat was, with a less-cooked cut having more fat. All little things which changed the character of the dish.

Lastly, the discussion turned to cheese. “Cheese kills everything”, a popular opinion, was confirmed by Jan. However, you are not totally lost. He supported the idea of regionality, so if you are stuck with a pairing, picking a wine from the same region as the cheese is often not a bad call. He wasn’t so keen on red wines with cheese though. Interestingly, fortified wines played a big part here, suggesting a sherry with mimolette, and indeed that a nice glass of Madeira will keep most people happy with cheese. But, as was the underlying theme throughout the evening, the food-wine pairing was about what the customer liked- if the customer wants a wine a certain way, that’s fine. Experiment with what you like, and find out what works for you.

The Wines

If you are interested in food-wine pairings, check out my other posts on food-wine pairings, The Blind Tasting Black Tie Dinner, Wines for a Wedding, Creating a meal around sweet wines, and Regionality. Also, The Wine Society has a great section on food-wine pairings, and a good food-wine matcher.

Book Review: My Life in France

My Life In France is a biography of Julia Child, one of the key figures in bringing French cuisine to America, and one of the first TV chefs. Written jointly with Alex Prud’homme, the great-nephew of Julia Child, the story starts in Paris where Julia and her husband Paul resided. As Paul worked for the US government, Julia developed an interest in cooking, eventually studied at the famous French cooking school Le Cordon Bleu. The book takes you through the culinary successes (and occasional failures), restaurant meals eaten in Paris, and the habits of other gastronomes of Paris at that time, as well as illustrating some time spent in Provence, Germany, Norway, and of course the USA. All of these experiences well-equip Julia, and her collaborators, to begin working on a cook book, which became a classic, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Eight years of hard work went into the cookbook, and the love and devotion towards it are evident.

What struck me most about My Life in France was the relentless enthusiasm about French food, wine, and gastronomy. Exact menus of meals eaten forty years ago can be recalled, with the Chateau and vintage of the bottles of wine drunk with them. Anecdotes about pots and pans and the attention given to shopping in markets help relay such passion, that it would be hard not to become more excited about food after reading this. Another enjoyable aspect of the book is the insight given on cooking at different parts of the 20th century. From cooking with different kind of stoves, to the availability of ingredients and recipes, or just the changing of attitudes towards food and cooking, you learn a lot of cultural history through considering gastronomy. A few of the couple’s photographs are printed, which help give a better sense of their experiences. Overall, the book is well written, clear, very enjoyable to read, and so comes highly recommended. 9/10.

Divin

Divin Assembly

When you think about it, French patisserie is just complicated versions of very simple foods. A millefeuille is just pastry layers with cream in between. Macarons are just biscuits. Brioche is just a rich buttery bread. So you shouldn’t be put off making French patisserie at home. If you can make biscuits, you can probably have a go at making macarons. Sure, you might not get it right the first time, as I frequently don’t, but it wouldn’t be fun if it was easy. One or two bits of French patisserie is a very useful thing to have in your culinary repertoire, and if you start getting something consistently right, you’ll feel great about your culinary abilities.

The Divin I made with a friend at the weekend was no different; it is basically a glorified raspberry Victoria sponge. A Divin has two cakes, with raspberries, a raspberry jelly, and a cream in between. Writing such a simple description is mildly depressing, given the afternoon we spent cooking and morning trudging around London looking for ingredients, just to make a glorified Victoria sponge, but that’s what it is.

Divin_Cake

So how is it different from a raspberry Victoria sponge? Firstly, the cake isn’t a sponge. It’s made from ground almonds and egg whites, not unlike a macaron, and piped into shape on a baking tray instead of poured into a mold. You have to whisk, fold, and sift, rather different than just putting all the ingredients into the Kenwood, as I do with sponge cake. Perhaps even more complicated is the cream, a nougat crème mousseline, which is a thick egg-based cream combined with a nougat cream. Finally the raspberry jelly is made from a raspberry coulis. “Fussy” doesn’t begin to describe the four page recipe we were working from.

All these differences add up to an increased difficulty. Get one or two things a little wrong, and you’ve not got quite the dessert you set out to make. Unfortunately this is what happened to us. Perpetually afraid of cooking the eggs in a sauce, I didn’t thicken it quite enough, and even after some time in the fridge, it just didn’t have the right texture. We hopefully spooned it on to the cake, thinking that the cream might just be thick enough for the raspberries to hold as a dam, but sadly not. After trying to top with raspberry jelly, disaster struck, and cream started flooding out.

Divin Cream

The Divin we made was still great though. The thinner cream meant eating it out of a bowl- not unlike a trifle, actually- but that was hardly a problem. All of the flavours worked really well together, and the rich cream absorbed by the sponge. After using this as pudding one evening, we had seconds for breakfast the next morning, with tea the next afternoon, and there was still some to leave behind as I headed back to Oxford. But not for long, as shortly after I left, “I ate it all, no regrets” was the text I received.

So have a go at some more advanced cooking once in a while. It’s a great social activity, will help improve your cooking, and even if it doesn’t turn out quite the way you wanted, you’ll still have food to be excited about.

The Divin

Buffalo Chicken Wings

I went to a friend’s place for Superbowl Sunday, and, asked to bring a dish for the meal, a friend and I thought we would have a crack at some Buffalo wings. We did some online searching, and simply made what we found in a “consensus” recipe. They went down brilliantly, even with somebody there who used to own a wings store. The wings were so easy to make, and turned out so well, that two weeks later I made them again.

Uncooked Buffalo Wings

What surprised me most was how cheap chicken wings were. I paid under £2 for a 700g box, which, granted, is a lot of bone as well as meat. But one box of wings will easily feed one person, and will probably feed two, so you are getting great value. The wing is not a very useful cut of chicken, and the only use off the top of my head is for snack wings like this, so perhaps that is why they are so cheap.

The hot sauce suggested in the recipe was also surprisingly easy to find. I went along to my local Sainsbury, thinking I would find whatever was the closest substitute, and lo and behold there was Frank’s Hot Sauce. Making the wings a second time, I found the same sauce bottles in Morrison’s. Given the taste of the sauce, I would imagine that the recipe would benefit from the original product, so if you can get hold of it, I think this will be reflected in your wings.

Buffalo Chicken Wings

This recipe is based on one we found online. This should make enough wings for two hungry people. Also, you’ll need a sharp knife to cut the wings in half.

Ingredients:
2x 700g packs chicken wings
2x 148g bottles Frank’s Hot Sauce
1/2 lemon, juiced
3 tsbp white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp garlic granules
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Recipe:
1. Cook the wings. Preheat the oven to 200ºC. With a sharp knife, carefully cut each wing in half. Roll the wings in flour, and place on a large foil-lined roasting tin (or two, if you are making a lot), and cook for 30 minutes.
2. Make obligatory joke about buffaloes having wings.
3. Meanwhile, make the sauce. Add all of the sauce ingredients into a sauce pan and stir. Reduce slightly until a little syrup-y. When the wings are done, pour the sauce over, and toss and turn the wings to coat in the sauce. Enjoy.

Buffalo Wings

The 60th Varsity Match

Yesterday saw the 60th Anniversary Oxford-Cambridge wine tasting competition, sponsored by Pol Roger. We had a brilliant day, with Oxford taking the trophy, Oxford taster Tom Arnold winning top taster (along with a Cambridge taster) and myself winning the reserve match.  Pol Roger really outdid themselves with the food, wines, and the event itself- really, a beautiful day. Since the Oxford celebrations, er, went on a bit late, instead of a full match report, here are some photos from the day which should give you a taste of the fun we had.

Who doesn't want Riesling at 8am in the morning? Oxford captain Ren handing out glasses on the train to London.

Who doesn’t want Riesling at 8am in the morning? Oxford captain Ren Lim handing out glasses on the train to London.

We then arrived at the Oxford and Cambridge club, and went to the pre-match briefing. Nerves tense all around the room.

We then arrived at the Oxford and Cambridge club, and went to the pre-match briefing. Nerves tense all around the room.

Having tasted the six white wines, we moved on to the reds. Little did I know at the time just what quality of wines were in front of me.

Having tasted the six white wines, we moved on to the reds. Little did I know at the time just what quality of wines were in front of me.

Tasting finished, waiting for the sheets to be marked and results announced, we headed to the pub. Serious wine people at the local with a pint.

Tasting finished, waiting for the sheets to be marked and results announced, we headed to the pub. Serious wine people at the local with a pint.

Now in the cellars of Berry Bros. & Rudd, a glass of Pol Roger 2002 for the combatants. The announcements that I had won the reserve prize, and Oxford had won the match followed. Great relief and enthusiasm followed.

Now in the cellars of Berry Bros. & Rudd, a glass of Pol Roger 2002 for the combatants. The announcements followed that I had won the reserve prize, and Oxford had won the match. Great relief and enthusiasm followed.

Some very cool stuff in the cellars of Berry Bros. & Rudd.

Some very cool stuff in the cellars of Berry Bros. & Rudd.

The setting for lunch, and the wines set out. A lovely setting.

The setting for lunch, and the wines set out. A lovely setting.

The wines we had to try and identify blind- including a 1953 Rioja, to fit with the 60 years theme. To say they were a stunning set is an understatement. It's not often when you are more than 50 years out on your vintage guess...

The wines we had to try and identify blind- including a 1953 Rioja, to fit with the 60 years theme. To say they were a stunning set is an understatement. It’s not often when you are more than 50 years out on your vintage guess…

The starter. John Dory with curry, coconut, and cauliflower, paired with a grand cru Alsace Riesling. Delicious.

The starter. John Dory with curry, coconut, and cauliflower, paired with a grand cru Alsace Riesling. Delicious.

The main. Venison, bacon panna cotta, and sprouts. Came with a brilliant 1999 Burgundy. Lovely.

The main. Venison, bacon panna cotta, and sprouts. Came with a brilliant 1999 Burgundy. Lovely.

Caramel sponge, apple and walnut. Paired with a Sauternes. Yum.

Caramel sponge, apple and walnut. Paired with a Sauternes. Yum.

The red wine we had came in Methusaleh. Everybody present then signed the bottle, a lovely memento from the day.

The red wine we had came in Methusaleh. Everybody present then signed the bottle, a lovely memento from the day.

Last but not least, to continue on the 60th anniversary theme, some 1953 Hine brandy. Formal proceedings then finished, with the day not much better for Oxford. As winners of the match, we will get to go Champagne to take on the French champions. France here we come!

Last but not least, to continue on the 60th anniversary theme, some 1953 Hine brandy. Formal proceedings then finished, with the day not much better for Oxford. As winners of the match, we will get to go Champagne to take on the French champions. France here we come!

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