Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Secret Wine Business

There is a secret society in Canberra.  Its members gather every Mid Winter to appease the gods with offerings of fine wine and gourmet food.  Led by the ‘High Winer’ (like the Grand Poobah), members must prove their worth by creating amazing culinary dishes to share and pontificate about the merits of the various bottles of ‘nectar of the gods’ they consume.

The ‘Winers ‘ group of Canberra friends has been meeting for almost twenty years.  Every few months we get together for blind wine tastings.  Every now and then we find some beauties, and every now and then some absolute shockers come out.  We never get consensus about most favourite and least favourite, and no one ever guesses them totally right, but we have good fun trying.  The High Winer does a fabulous job of keeping our unruly mob under control as the tasting evenings progress.

The Mid Winter feast is the Winers’ annual highlight.  There is always a great amount of unspoken friendly rivalry to see who can whip up the standout dish of the evening.  This year ended up being a bit of a French provincial theme, and the competition was fierce.

The evening started with hors d'oeuvres of asparagus spears wrapped in prosciutto, dates stuffed with fetta and dried apricots topped with soft blue cheese.

The real standout dish of the evening was the entr√© of tomato and capsicum soup, topped with a basil leaf, and served with sourdough bread.  The fresh, clean flavours were lovely.  Particularly impressive given our friends who made it are currently going through a major kitchen renovation and cooked the dish in their bedroom using an electric wok!  Watch out for the recipe in future posts.

We had two dishes for main course - a hearty beef braised in Guinness, and coq au vin (chicken in red wine) made by Mr D. and yours truly.  Cooking a new recipe for other people is always a little nerve-wracking, so we were rather relieved that the chicken turned out to be melt-in-the-mouth tender and the sauce rich with wine, rosemary and thyme flavours.  The polenta was a beautiful accompaniment, smooth and creamy with parmesan and a touch of butter.  See the recipes below.
Dessert was a classic cherry clafoutis (cherry custard tart), which complemented the rich mains wonderfully with its eggy lightness and lovely fruity sweetness (again, watch out for the recipe in future posts). 
As a grand finale, the chocolates with coffee were amazing works of art in their own right – little Christmas trees of white chocolate filled with the smoothest, most delicious strawberry mousse (the little gems can be bought from the chocolate counter at David Jones).

And what of the wine, you may ask?  There were some fabulous bottles produced – an Orlando St Hugo’s Cab Sav 1996 from the Coonawarra ($65/bottle); a Hardy’s Eileen Hardy Shiraz 1996 from McLaren Vale (hard to find now; $100+); and a Finniss River Sparkling Shiraz 2008 from South Australia (another one that’s hard to find now).  The last was my absolute favourite, with the bubbles bringing out a wonderful full body with blackberry overtones – fabulous with the dessert!

Coq Au Vin
(chicken in red wine)
Mr D. and I always cook our dish for the Mid Winter feast together (which is great, but it means that I have to let go – a bit hard for a total kitchen control freak like me!).  We found this great Womens Weekly recipe for coq au vin (see the recipe).  We doubled everything up so we could feed a large group of people.  One thing the recipe doesn’t tell you is to tie all the herbs together with kitchen string first so you can fish them out later – we ended up having a very twiggy dish J. 
Creamy polenta
The creamy polenta accompaniment was perfect for the chicken and all that rich sauce (see the recipe).  We used chicken stock instead of water to give a slightly more intense flavour, and didn’t bother with the cream – the parmesan and butter were more than enough to make the dish nice and creamy.

So tell me, what do you love to cook for your friends?

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