Spanish Rice: 1000 Calorie Counted Recipes Challenge

This part of my 1000 Calorie Counted Recipes Challenge, where I’m aiming to cook every recipe from The 1000 Calorie Counted Recipes by Carolyn Humphries. It’s an amazing book… but there are no pictures!


Spanish Rice | 450 calories per serving | Serves 4


  • 175g roast chicken, shredded
  • lemon juice
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 225 g rice (I used Basmati)
  • 600ml vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 100g frozen peas
  • 10-12 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 3 spring onions, sliced
  • salt and pepper
  • chives to garnish

How to Make Spanish Rice

  1. Shred the roast chicken, squeeze over lemon juice and set to the side.
  2. Spray a little oil into a large frying pan (one that has a lid) and gently cook the green pepper, red pepper and red onion until slightly softened, which should take 5 minutes or so over a gentle heat.
  3. Tip the rice into the pan and stir around for a minute.
  4. Add the vegetable stock and turmeric.
  5. Bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
  6. Add the chicken, frozen peas, cherry tomatoes and spring onions. Season to taste.
  7. Put the lid back on and cook for a further 10 minutes, or until the rice is thoroughly cooked through.
  8. Garnish with chives or other herb of your choice (the book recommends parsely, but I despise it).

The Verdict

Flavour: 2 – could have done with chilli
(1= flavourless, 5= delicious)

Satisfaction: 3 – plenty of it, but needed more flavour
(1= unsatisfying, 5= satisfying considering low cal!)

Ease of Preparation: 5
(1= difficult, 5= easy)

Aftermath Factor: 5
(1= tons of washing up, 5= one pot wonder)

I felt like this recipe was tasty, well-textured and filling. I would definitely cook it again and the principles of a one-pot veggie and rice dish is one I’ll look to adapt in future for quick, flavoursome, healthy meals.

The original recipe only calls for boneless chicken meat – I used leftover garlicky, herby roast chicken and added extra lemon juice to moisten it up. The fact it was previously roasted probably added a few calories, but I feel it also added some crucial flavour and proved to be quite frugal! A bit of chilli or cayenne pepper would have given this dish a kick, which I think it could have done with.

This recipe says that it serves 4, so we only ate half of it and will be freezing the remainder in portions to take with us to work for lunches. Win!


This part of my 1000 Calorie Counted Recipes Challenge <- click the link if you want to find out what it’s all about and see the recipes I’ve already tried. Please note that I tinker with recipe ingredients and meander from the method – the recipe above will deviate slightly from the original book and the method is just the way I happened to cook it this time!

A New Challenge: 1000 Calorie Counted Recipes

Hello! I’m back, after a rather extended hiatus. Where have I been? Well for the past three years my day job has involved blogging, editing, doing SEO and writing press releases for much of the working week. I’m sure you can understand that it left little passion for doing that in my spare time. I have, however, started a new role at work, which means that writing and editing are no longer take up the majority of my time. Consequently, I need an outlet again…

The other side to this is that since November 2012 I have lost 2 stone, mainly through exercise. It’s now time that I put some effort into the other side of the equation: diet.

I love food. Clearly.

Specifically, I love comfort food and fatty food. I love pastry and cheese and mashed potato. I’m a giant savoury food fiend, but I aim to turn a corner and lose at least the same again. To do it, I know I need to be accountable and have motivation. (I hope you don’t feel used.)

My starting point is The Classic 1000 Calorie Counted Recipes by Carolyn Humphries. It’s a bit of a cult classic. When you delve in you find that the recipes are tasty, filling and well-balanced.

frolickingfoodie cooks the 1000 Classic Calories Counted Recipes

The Classic 1000 Calorie Counted Recipes

However, the book is of the no-pictures-whatsoever variety so getting inspired to cook from it can be difficult: and just another excuse to switch off and cook something well-known, well-loved and unhealthy.

frolickingfoodie cooks the 1000 Classic Calories Counted Recipes

Wait… no pictures?

So to pull together my missions of recommencing blogging and getting down to a healthy weight I thought I would attempt to cook all the recipes and blog them, so that others can see the results.

I always tinker with recipes and meander from the method, so I’ll be recording that rather than a completely strict adherence (what can I say, lack of self-control must be in my nature). I’ll also try to share my own low fat recipes and ideas.

Wish me luck, I’m going in…

How to Make an iPad Case

This tutorial will show you how to make a case for your iPad 2.

I have been sewing for about 6 months and this fabric iPad case is my first design. This project requires technical skill and patience (both things I tend to lack, so if I can do it I suspect most people with a bit of sewing experience can) and – above all – a lot of measuring, re-measuring, pressing, trimming and lining up. I want to just ZOOM along with the machine, but being neat and precise and patient does pay off (I sound like my mother).

Because this is a soft iPad cover, it’s designed to fit an iPad 2 that has a smart cover on it. You can never be too careful… If you want it to fit an iPad or iPad 2 without a smart cover, you may want to make the fabric a little smaller so it’s a snug fit.

To complete this iPad case project you will need:

Materials needed to make an iPad case

  • 1 piece outside fabric – 50 cm x 29 cm
  • 1 piece lining fabric – 50 cm x 29 cm
  • 1 piece light wadding – 49 cm x 28 cm
  • 150 cm of bias binding
  • 30 cm of Velcro
  • white thread
  • thread to match the bias binding
  • sewing machine, needles, pins, scissors, tape measure
iPad case tutorial – in short:
  1. Cut fabric and wadding
  2. Sew Velcro onto fabric
  3. Pin together outside fabric, wadding and lining fabric
  4. Sew round all edges
  5. Pin bias binding along inside edge
  6. Sew bias binding along inside edge
  7. Fold, check iPad sits comfortably and Velcro matches
  8. Pin sides
  9. Sew sides
  10. Pin bias binding around all edges
  11. Sew bias binding around all edges
  12. Neaten off ends and any mistakes by hand

iPad case tutorial – step-by-step instructions:

1. Cut fabric and wadding

Cut 1 piece of your outside fabric and 1 piece of your lining fabric so that they both measure 50 cm x 29 cm.

Cut your wadding so that it measures just slightly smaller all the way around. By cutting it smaller it makes it easier to sew the edges later on.

The neater and squarer your cutting is, the better. I used a rotary cutter, ruler and mat to get it precise. Press your fabric once it is cut. Press it whenever it is looking a little creased because the flatter your fabric is, the easier it is to work with. I know you don’t want to stop to keep ironing after each stage, but you really should.

2. Sew Velcro onto fabric

By sewing the Velcro on at this stage,  you will end up with a neater finish. However, you need to carefully plan where the Velcro will go.

You will need to sew the ‘fluffy’ part of the Velcro onto the outside fabric. It should be approximately 2.5 cm from the edge of the fabric.

You will need to sew the ‘sticky’ part of the Velcro onto the lining fabric. It should be approximately 4 cm from the edge of the fabric.

Pin the Velcro first. Layer up the outside fabric, wadding and lining fabric and try it with the iPad in place to make sure the two sides of the Velcro meet in the right place. It may take some adjusting.

When you are happy with the fit, sew the fluffy Velcro strip onto your outside fabric and the sticky Velcro strip onto your lining fabric. Sew all round the edges of the Velcro in white thread.

3. Pin together outside fabric, wadding and lining fabric

Layer up your outside fabric (right side facing out), your wadding and your lining fabric (right side facing out).

At all times during this project, accept all help offered. If you don’t, you’ll find helpers reluctant to cuddle you when you’re having a nervous breakdown about the bias binding later on…

4. Sew all round edges

Sew a 0.5 cm (1/4 inch) seam around all four sides. This should sew through the outside fabric, the wadding and the lining fabric.

My sewing wasn’t particularly straight and my seams were a bit bulgy in places, so I cheated and neatened up the edges after I had sew them. The straighter and neater the edges are, the easier it will make sewing it all together.

5. Pin bias binding along inside edge

This is where it gets a bit complicated to explain (and a bit complicated to do). By pinning the bias binding and sewing it along the inside first you will get the best – and least frustrating – result.

The first bit of bias binding to add is the easiest because it’s a straight edge. This bit will become the inside edge of your case. As you can see, this is on the edge of the lining fabric that does not have the Velcro on it.

If you flip the flap over, you should see the outside fabric with the edge that does have Velcro on it.

Completely open up your bias binding and pin the inside edge flush up against the material.

6. Sew bias binding along inside edge

Change your thread to match your bias binding. With the bias binding still open, sew along the edge that you just pinned. Sew as close to the fold as you can manage.

All this sewing will be hidden, but it’s important to do this first step as it keeps your bias binding in place and ensure that you ‘catch’ both sides.

Once you have sewn the bias binding in place, flip your fabric over and fold the bias binding so that it neatly covers the raw edge. Pin it in place.

Sew once again along the bias binding, this time as close to the edge as possible. It will sew all the way through and because you sewed it into  place first, it should ‘catch’ all the way along.

You should then end up with a piece of bias binding that neatly covers the inside edge of your iPad cover.

7. Fold, check iPad sits comfortable and Velcro matches

Your iPad case is starting to take shape now. Fold it, make sure it sits snugly and make sure the Velcro matches.

8. Pin sides

Once you’re happy with the fit, pin the sides – make sure you match up the edges as squarely as possible (if you trimmed it earlier after you sewed all round the edges, this is where it pays off).

9. Sew sides

Sew up the sides. You can even sew up to the top of the bias binding to make it nice and strong (this stitching will be covered later).

10. Pin bias binding around all edges

The next stage is to pin the bias binding around all the edges that are left in one long strip, complete with fancily folded corner. I have never done this before and found this How to Attach Bias Tape with Mitered Corners Tutorial really helpful. Like I said earlier, this is the one part of the project that may cause a nervous break down but this method is the easiest way of doing it and I will try and explain how I did it.

Open up the bias binding and pin it flush against the edge, like you did before. Hooray! This feels familiar… but hang on – is that a corner I see up ahead?!

When you get to the corner you need to fold the bias binding back on itself at a 90 degree angle, with the tip of the fold touching the outer corner. Like this:

Then, fold it back on itself so the bias binding sits flush against the other edge. Like this:

If you move your fingers back, you can see there’s a flap:

Now carry on with your pinning along the next edge and you will be left with the bias binding look like this:

Carry on, and do the same thing to the next corner. When you have finished pinning all the bias binding your iPad cover should look like this:

11. Sew bias binding around all edges

Next you need to sew the bias binding all the way around. Like before, this is a two stage process. First you must sew along the inside edge of the bias binding, close to the fold where you just pinned.

Treat this as though you are sewing three separate sides. Sew along the straight edges and when you get about  a centimetre away from the corner, STOP.

Cut your thread, turn your fabric and start again about a centimetre away from the other side of the corner. Do all three sides like this.

When you have sewn the inside edges of the bias binding all the way around, your fabric iPad cover will look like this:

Fold the bias binding neatly over the raw edges and pin it.

Pay careful attention to the edges, so they look as neat as possible. I read somewhere that you can never have too many pins when it comes to bias binding. I have come to realise this is a truism.

Once you’ve pinned your bias binding in every which way, you need to sew the bias binding in place, around all sides and across the corners. Because you  anchored it in place, it should catch beautifully on both sides.

You will now have something that looks like this:

12. Neaten off ends and any mistakes by hand

All that remains is to trim the bottom edges down and sew them up by hand.

Also, if you missed any bits that need strengthening (like this corner) do it by hand.

And there we have it! One funky handmade iPad case, ready to protect and serve.

Lunch at the Bath Priory Restaurant

When TLM and I got married, we stayed the night at The Bath Priory and while we enjoyed the spa and gardens, we didn’t have the opportunity to sample the restaurant. Now, outside of the honeymoon bubble a fancy dinner is a bit beyond justification, so when we spotted a great deal at the restaurant we jumped at it.

Until 14th April they’re doing a great lunch offer, with three courses for £25.50 or two for £19.25. We specifically took the day off work, had a lovely stroll round the Botanical Gardens in Bath and then wandered over for lunch. A pint of cider in front of the blazing log fire in the lounge warmed our fingers while we perused the menu and ate some little canapés.

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We were sat in the bright restaurant, overlooking the garden. It was lovely, but my only complaint was that I couldn’t quite get comfortable (but as a shorty with little legs I find this an eternal problem). Soon after we had sat down, we were offered brown bread with honey and poppy seeds, pain de compagne and wholemeal bread with black olives and sun dried tomatoes. Here, the Priory Restaurant earned super bread brownie points for offering full rolls and slices (rather than piddly little slices). AND they left the basket for us. Each loaf (!) was warm, crisp and delicious.

We polished off most of it very happily. Thankfully the waistress came with her little crumb scraper (I love those!) and cleaned up the mess we’d managed to make after falling on the bread and devouring it à la the Cookie Monster.

Next up was a ‘compliments of the chef’ jobbie in the shape of celeriac velouté. I have no shame in admitting I dunked my bread in and it was OH SO GOOD. I do love a celeriac volouté (seems a popular chefs’ compliment) and this one was not only packed with cream, but it had a little truffle oil and diddy chunks of celeriac inside.

TLM had Fillet of Loch Duart salmon with honey and soy vinaigrette and wasabi yoghurt to start. The salmon was uncooked, but that didn’t bother us at all as it was such good quality. I had a taste of this dish and while I usually find wasabi… *shudder* not to my taste, this was actually very balanced. The sweet honey and soy was gorgeous.

I started with pressed terrine of Somerset guinea fowl, truffle mayonnaise and hazelnut salad. It was meaty and lovely. I’m nervous about ordering terrine as I’m a bit funny about the jelly and have had a couple of gristly experiences (ho, ho). However, it was delicious and while I did leave some of the jelly to the side that is just my little thing. The truffle mayonnaise was gorgeous and I took my delight in having saved a teeny bit of bread to mop up the last dollop. Oh, scrum scrum.

We both opted for the same main (and, it seemed, everyone else in the restaurant without exception!). Slow roasted fillet of pork with crisp confit shoulder, butternut squash and Calvados sauce. It tasted a thousand times better than this little picture shows. The pork was tender, the confit delicious (though I do snigger to myself that I’m having deep fried nuggets with a confit) and the crackling crisp. The perfectly square ‘smear’ was spiced with cumin, the little dollops were apple and the cubes (query: carrot and celeriac?) all worked wonderfully. The Calvados sauce was scrumptious. I ate this with a glass of Orchard Pig cider and it was just spot-on for a fairly nippy early Spring lunch.

TLM had passionfruit and milk chocolate crèmeux with a dark chocolate sorbet. While this went down well with him, I couldn’t have eaten more than the teeny spoonful I tried. So rich, and the combination of passionfruit, lime and chocolate just left me cold.

I had petit fours and coffee instead. We ended up sharing and from left to right we had chocolate truffles, jellied passion fruit, vanilla pannacotta with berry topping, almond and sesame brittles (probably has a fancy name). The pannacotta was my favourite and the almond brittle was delicious.

We arrived at midday and it was gone 3pm by the time we left, at which point we were stuffed and very satisfied. The atmosphere was lovely and it seemed there were lots of people taking up the offer. Tap water was offered freely and people were splitting desserts, so it didn’t feel like there were extras being tacked on to make up for the deal price. It was a lovely leisurely lunch and I would thoroughly recommend it!

Spicy Lamb Pie

Spicy Lamb Pie Recipe

Having had the same repertoire of dinners for some time, I felt it was time to try something different. I spotted a recipe for spicy mutton pie and wildly adapted it to suit my purposes, so I am very pleased to claim this as my very own recipe. It was utterly delicious – just sweet enough, but with a hefty kick. It could definitely be cooked with less lamb and with only a pie top, making it healthier and more economical. Do give it a whirl!

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds (crushed)
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 500g lamb, diced
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 200 ml vegetable stock
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeld and diced
  • salt
  • 500g ready-to-roll puff pastry (yeah, baby)

How to make it

Heat the oil in a pan and sweat the onion and carrots for 10 minutes or so until they are soft but not browned. Adding a little salt here will stop the onions browning. Add all the spices, the garlic and the diced lamb meat and stir till it coats and the lamb starts to colour. Add the tomatoes and stock. Cover and simmer for an hour. After one hour, add the diced potatoes, remove the lid and turn the heat up a notch – this will help cook the potatoes and thicken the sauce. Cook for a further 30 minutes.

Cut your puff pastry so you have two thirds to roll for the base and a third to roll for the lid. Line your pie dish (mine is a 23 cm one) and then add the filling. Place the lid and cook your pie according to the pastry guidelines – usually 25-30 minutes at 210 Celsius (you can see I burnt mine ever so slightly…)

Let it cool a bit and it will be ready to serve.

Spicy Lamb Pie Recipe

TLM is in the middle of preparing for job interviews, so we ate in the midst of some serious swotting!

I reckon this pie, if fennel substituted for carrots and fish for lamb, would work wonderfully as a dish to serve to my pescetarian friends. I’d have to cook the sauce first and then add the fish just before baking – what do you think?

Christmas Dinner

This year’s was the fifth Christmas lunch I’ve cooked and I stripped it back to greedily indulgent from ridiculously extravagant. In the past, I’ve gone for volume in terms of vegetables (I think personal best is 15).  I decided that vegetable variety always proves a bad decision: goodbye red cabbage, peas, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, runner beans etc. This year we pared it back to what we couldn’t do without: meat in various forms, stodgy sauces, vegetables, lots of gravy and Yorkshire puddings.

Yes, Yorkshire puddings are a non-negotiable part of our Christmas, on the basis that my Yorkshireman husband would be heartbroken without them. Lots of people object to Yorkshire puddings because they are a ‘filler’ and not suitable for a feast day. I think that if it makes you happy, and gives the bonus side effect of more meat for leftover dinners, then that’s not to be argued with.

We also took the decision to get a big and happy chicken from the butcher rather than a turkey. It was daunting (what if it ruined Christmas!) but now we’re never going back to turkey for Christmas dinner as long as I’m cooking it!

Christmas Lunch 2010 Menu

  • Garlic-and-herb-butter roasted chicken, with streaky bacon all over
  • Christmas stuffing
  • Pigs in blankets
  • Bread sauce
  • Leek sauce
  • Gravy
  • Yorkshire puddings
  • Roast potatoes
  • Roast parsnips
  • Cabbage
  • Brocolli
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower cheese

I felt the meal provided the right balance of just what we wanted on the day and also furnished us with just the right amount of leftovers that we really enjoyed. There’s nothing like snaffling a roast potato just after the Christmas afternoon nap…

This is possibly my favourite festive picture of TLM – he’s in his hat, and totally in his element with oodles of gravy (there was more on the hob) and a mountain of Yorkshire puddings.

And in close-up, the Christmas dinner in all its glory.

I have to say that it was the most magical Christmas to date, with a delicious dinner eaten overlooking a snowy garden.

I’m so glad we dispensed with the turkey and cut back on the vegetables. What Christmas compromises do you make to keep yourself sane? What can’t you live without at Christmas (not sprouts… surely)?

In the Festive Spirit

I do love Christmas, and this year is the first year we’ve tried to choose some lovely wines to go with our food. After our ‘Choosing Wine With Confidence’ course, we felt it was only right! So what have we plumped for? Left to right…

Domaine Bernard Fleuriet Sancerre Rouge (Pinot Noir) 2007, France

This was a bin end and bought on a bit of a whim. It will be a totally new one for us, which we will be having with our Christmas ham tonight. A little investigation says it should go well with pork or charcuterie, so here’s hoping it’ll be a lovely match for Christmas ham. *Went very well with Christmas ham (and dare I say it… prawn cocktail!)*

Fratelli Bortolin (Prosecco) NV, Italy

Again, a bit of a whimsical choice. We bought some white peach juice from the local Italian deli so we could make Bellinis on Christmas morning so we thought something ‘extra dry’ would mean the cocktail wouldn’t be overly sweet. *Peach juice was quickly discarded so we could drink this alone. Lovely sparkles, very bubbly without being co-codamol fizzy.*

River Farm, Ben Morven (Sauvignon Blanc) 2009, New Zealand

This was one of our absolute favourites from the wine tasting course, so we thought we’d get some for Christmas day. I’m not sure it’d be a stellar match for turkey (probably better with fish) but we’re having chicken and usually end up drinking wine before and after the meal (and water during) so, why not go for something we like?

Heartland, Langhorne Creek (Dolcetto and Lagrein) 2008, Australia

This was another wine we had on the wine course which was the only wine that everyone agreed was wonderful. It’s by winemaker Ben Glaetzer and is made from two lesser Italian grape varieties – apparently this Glaetzer is a bit experimental, but it certainly pays off. No idea what we’ll be drinking this with, probably on its own on Boxing Day!

Elysium (Black Muscat) 2008, California

We spent ages trying to find our very favourite sweet wine (Campbells Rutherglen Muscat) without success. It would have been perfect to go with Christmas pudding… However, we’d been eyeing up this little bottle for a while so we’re looking forward to giving it a whirl. *OH. MY. GOODNESS. Raspberry and blackcurranty, and it went amazingly well with Christmas cake. Would definitely buy this again to serve with a very fruity/berry fruit dessert.*

Autumnal Lamb and Pumpkin Stew

pumpkin and lamb stew spice mix

I love the colours of autumn, and being able to have thick stews and warming robust meals with a glass of gutsy red wine. This lamb and pumpkin stew is one of my absolute favourite dinners for this time of year, it takes time to cook but it’s really really easy. Serve with some roasted vegetables, cous cous and finely chopped salad (with leaves, cucumber, red onion, parsley). I also took on board Fiona Beckett’s suggestion in her Guardian column of the Argentine Fairtrade Malbec Reserva 2009 wine from the Co-op and it went very well with this dinner (and I’m still enjoying it as I type this blog post…)

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • flesh of one butternut squash, weighing approx 900g before preparation
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp tahini
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp turmeric
  • 1 tbsp powdered ginger
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp dried chillis
  • 450g diced lamb
  • 300 ml stock
How to make it

To start, cut the butternut squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Put three cloves of garlic, in their skins, into the hollowed out sections and roast for 30 minutes. I also roast my carrots and parsnips at the same time to make use of the oven heat and give them a head start. Leave to cool before scooping out the flesh and squeezing the cloves out of their jackets. I do this in the same pan (see first photo) and then add all the spices, tahini and honey together.

In a separate pan, brown the lamb in batches. Once this is done, simply pour in the pumpkin/squash mixture, add the stock and turn down the heat and leave to simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. I simmer it on the hob for the delicious smell and the extra warmth it gives to the house.
When the lamb is tender, serve the stew with some roasted vegetables (peppers and courgettes work just as well as carrots and parsnips), finely chopped salad and cous cous.

Autumnal Spicy Lamb and Pumpkin Stew

Filleting a Salmon – Kitchen Technology

What’s your favourite piece of kitchen technology? A blender? A KitchenAid? I’m beginning to think mine is my iPhone perched on a book chair.
Having spent time on an island in the South Pacific, I have gutted, descaled, beheaded and lopped fish like barracuda, tuna, red snapper and all manner of unidentifiable reef fish into pieces. And while I have plenty of experience of getting a fish ready to eat, I can certainly tell you that I have no skill in filleting whatsoever. I should probably have seized the opportunity to experiment more when fish was so abundant and cheap, but filleting wasn’t really the done thing.
But with the world at my fingertips (well, not when covered in fish) and a whole salmon in the reduced section of the supermarket, I was ready for my first filleting challenge.
First was off with its head and tail. Then I took a blunt knife in hand and flecked myself with scales (how do you stop them pinging everywhere?!). Fish prepared, I armed with my book chair (essential piece of kit for watching iPhone programmes in the bath etc) and my iPhone, I followed a video step by step. And I didn’t waste too much!
Scruffy and a bit ragged, yes, but I still managed to cut 14 fillets, and make a saucepan full of ends that I boiled up for stock. After it was slowly simmered, I managed to pick off enough good flesh to make 4 salmon fishcakes, and a whole enormous bowl of skin and fat and discarded bits suitable for cat consumption.

Hmmmm… it’ll do

So what’s your kitchen kit of choice?

Choosing Wine With Confidence – Week 1

One polystyrene cup of red wine or two?
For most of my drinking life, wine has been consumed either through drinking games or the boat has been pushed out on sugary pink fizz. There were few criteria to get through: is it white, is it under £3, is it over 11%, does it have an animal on the bottle (extra points if it was a koala)? Once I graduated I became a bit more discerning, but still totally bemused.
TLM and I mostly choose wine by standing baffled in the supermarket (or Majestic Wine if we’re feeling adventurous) and generally plumping for something on offer. We decided it was about time to sign ourselves up for a wine appreciation course and ‘Choosing Wine With Confidence’ sounded just the ticket. The course is 8 weeks long and aims to reduce the number of “I don’t know, you pick” public arguments. Or thereabouts.
So after a 45 minute stride out to the venue (driving would obviously be a bad idea) we arrived for our first session. We had no idea what to expect or what everyone else in the group would be like. There were just 10 or so of us and it was a bit awkward to begin with (we were by far the youngest people in the room), not helped by the fact there were no icebreakers or even going round to state your name!
It was straight down to business, with the first session focussing on how to taste and describe wine, with lots of reassurance that we could like or dislike whatever we chose.
We were greeted with our first wine, a sparkling. Now, at this point we’d not been shown how to drink it and I wasn’t even sure if we were supposed to. The lights went down and power point commenced, and without my contact lenses on I couldn’t see if anyone else was sipping theirs or not… so I went ahead as we were taught about the different components of wine and how they affect taste: acids, sugars, alcohol, tannins, flavours and aromas.
I sipped on my first wine:
Green Point (Chardonnay & Pinot) from Australia, NV.
I learnt that this wine is made from Chardonnay and Pinor Noir grapes, two of the three grape varieties used in Champagne and is made in the same way (though because they can’t say this, they state ‘Method Traditionelle’ to let us know…) and as I took a sip scribbled some notes like ‘acidic’, ‘crisp’, ‘butterscotchy’ and ‘floral’ on my sheet. It was tasty, but did not surpass my beloved Lindauer as my favourite sparkly tipple.
As the lecture about taste components of wine came to a close, we learnt how to sniff and ‘chew’ our wine to appreciate the flavours best. I’d polished mine off by this point which, apparently noone else had done (pff, theirs would be warm). So I just listened as the technique was explained while other people tried it themselves. Thankfully, no silly snorting or air puffing was endorsed and the spittoons were shunned by everyone.
After the first hour of lecture follows an hour or so of further wine tasting. The course leader lets you know what to look out for (e.g. oak fermented) but does not tell you how it will taste or whether you should like it (yay). It’s also so helpful that if you don’t like something, he gives some reasons why maybe you don’t (e.g. too tannic) so you start to build up an idea of what tastes suit you and which don’t.

Moschofilero Boutari (Moschofilero) from Greece, 2009.
This was a really rather tasteless white wine, very little aroma. It was thin and didn’t really do anything for me. Not one I’d be rushing out to buy any time soon. Apparently Greece has a long history of wine production, but maybe we know more about Ouzo for a reason!

Chamonix, Reserve Chardonnay (Chardonnay) from South Africa, 2008.
After the first wine, I could definitely see a difference between that and this white. It was full-bodied (meaning it looked syrupy rather than watery) and it had a strong oak aroma, which made sense as it was aged in oak barrels for 14 months. I can safely say that I went into the course thinking I didn’t like Chardonnay and this confirmed it for me, though that may have been on account of the oak rather than anything else. I vigorously scribbled out the wine on my notes (scathing).

Balnaves, Cabernet Sauvignon (Cabernet Sauvignon) from Australia, 2007.
This was the sort of red wine I’m very used to tasting – extremely fruit-driven, with a bit of a smokey flavour too. I found it very drying to my mouth and bitter (these are the tannins at play, it seems). It was OK.

Grand Listrac (Cabernet-based) from Bordeaux, 2000.
This was a great one to compare to the previous wine – aged as it is for 10 years and a traditional Claret (apparently that’s the British term for wines from the Bordeaux region). This was rather lovely and so much smoother than the previous red wine. It wasn’t smokey and had no overpowering fruit taste, though I thought I could taste some cherry flavours in the background.

Le Dauphin de Guiraud, Sauternes (Sauvignon Blanc & Semillon) from Bordeaux, 2002.
Finally, we tried a white dessert wine. This one is made from botrytised grapes, which is a fungus [called noble rot] that affects grapes – deliberately! They pick the most withered and wizened old grapes and go round day after day getting the ones just about to turn rotten. This makes for a very sweet (but not fortified) wine with a distinctive flavour. Apparently it was a good example of botrytised grapes and I can certainly summon the flavour right now! I liked it actually, it was very sweet and spicy tasting. Apparently this would be great with blue cheese, but wine and food matching is not due until the last session…
So overall, I didn’t find any wines I was itching to get out and buy but I really enjoyed the first session and appreciated being able to have wines that contrasted so I could understand what to difference between watery and full-bodied, smooth and tannic was in practice.
Bring on the rest!