Our small, ladies only, wine group meets monthly in our homes. The hostess presenting the wine tasting also prepares the meal. Last night I presented a Bordeaux Blend comprising of all 5 Bordeaux grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot and then we tasted all the single varietals to understand how they contribute to the complexity of the blend. To compliment the French theme I served a French inspired meal.
As a winter starter a French Onion Soup is always a winner. As usual, I ‘tweak the traditional’ to suit my palate and local ingredients. Here are some of those changes that I make to my version of French Onion Soup:
- White wine is usually used, but years ago I came across a recipe using red wine and prefer it. Depending on the theme of the day I either use Pinot Noir making it Burgundian, a Shiraz for the Rhone and last night I used a Merlot in my Bordelaise version.
- Years ago I had the most delicious Onion Soup ever n Paris. It was packed with cheese, making it almost fondue-like, so I always add a good tablespoon of grated cheese under the traditional toasted crouton. In South Africa Gruyere cheese is often expensive and not easily found in our supermarkets so I use a mixture of good quality white cheddar, German Emmentaler, Parmesan and if I have some in the fridge, Mozzarella, just to add that ‘pull’! I finely grate the cheeses, add a few grinds of coarse salt and black pepper.
For the main course, if I was cooking for men I could have done a rich red-wine based beef or pork dish, but I know that most of the ladies prefer something a little lighter. For the main course I decided to lighten things up and serve chicken with no wine added, but with plenty of herbs and citrus. This is an easy make-ahead dish that works well for crowds. All it needed was my favourite mix of brown and wild rice and some sautéed and buttered courgettes.
The seasoning in this dish makes it rich and delicious. Here I use Zatar, a mix of Middle Eastern Herbs – oregano, basil, thyme and summer savoury, but don’t despair if you do not have any. Just use mixed dried herbs. I also add Sumac, a ground spice from the Middle East with a gentle lemony flavour, if you don’t have any, simply add 20ml lemon juice to the citrus mix.
I use chicken with skin on to get the golden colour and delicious flavour. Bone-in chicken also has a richer flavour, but if you detest bones, de-bone the cuts.
This is another dish that you can prepare ahead of time, just finishing the last 20 minutes before you serve it.
Recipe: Citrus Chicken Casserole
The dessert was richer. I served a Monbazillac (see my blog: The Delicious Wines of Monbazillac) that we brought back from France, so I need the perfect dessert to compliment this delicious wine.
When I saw these tiny pears in my local supermarket I decided that they needed to be poached in a local Muscat based wine and served with blue cheese.
I took a local blue cheese and blended it with equal parts of cream cheese, a splash of cream to ‘loosen’ it and a pinch of flaked salt. The combination was sublime and it worked perfectly with the wine. I love a savoury element in desserts and in this case the cheese mixture piped under the pears added stunning balance.
Recipe: Muscadel Poached Pears with Blue Cheese Cream