Sunday, February 27, 2011

Pu-er Tea

'Pu-er tea is aloof, and never perturbed by either honour or disgrace' China Culture Express

Pu-er is a large leaf tea from the Yunnan province of China. It is one of the rarest and finest Chinese teas, and is often referred to as the 'Queen of teas'. After having been picked, the tea is briefly fired to allow the leaves to retain some moisture. It is then left to age (and ferment due to the bacteria left on the leaves) in special underground caves. It can either be left as loose tea, or more often than not it is compressed into tea cakes. Pu-er tea is much like a vintage wine, and can be left to age for decades. The rarest pu-er teas fetch extraordinary high prices- for example £90 for 10g of this 1950's Menghai Raw Pu-er supreme :

The art of brewing pu-er tea is a ancient and complicated one (see links below- there are 8 steps). Spring water is recommended, and the first infusion should always be discarded as this washes the leaves. The tea can then be brewed up to ten times, but only for 10-20 seconds for the first few and slightly longer for the last few brews.

Pu-er tea has a distinct aroma (almost fishy, farmyard smell) which nearly put me off the first time I tried it. However the taste is smooth and refreshing.

There have been many studies into the health benefits of pu-er, and it is said to reduce cholesterol.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Recipe: Red Pepper and Feta Pizza with Capers and Chilli

This makes enough for two good sized pizzas (roughly 30cm diameter). The quantities of the topping ingredients can be changed to taste.



-330g strong white bread/ pizza flour
-5g dried yeast
-220ml luke warm water
-1 tsp golden caster sugar
-1/2 tsp fine salt
-1tsp olive oil


-2 tbsp tomato puree
-5 tbsp passata (or tinned chopped tomatoes)
-2 tsp oregano / herbes de provence

-1 clove garlic, sliced
-Thinly sliced onion, red pepper
-1 tsp capers
-Sundried tomatoes, chopped
-A few slices of feta
-100g parmesan shavings
-Chilli flakes

1. To make the base, pile the flour and salt onto a work surface or into a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Add the yeast and sugar to the warm water and mix. Leave for 3-4 minutes, then pour this into the well with the olive oil. Using a fork, start to mix the flour into the yeast by gradually pulling in the flour from the sides. When it gets thick, use your hands to form a ball shape. Knead this for 10 minutes (I did this in a machine). Cover with cling film and leave for 30 minutes to rise.
2. In the meantime preheat the oven to 220 C. Make up the the sauce by mixing together the tomato puree, passata, herbs, salt and pepper.
3. Divide the dough into 2 balls, and roll each out into a 30 cm round, and place on a baking tray/ pizza trays. Leave for 10-15 minutes.
4. Spread the tomato sauce onto the bases and then add the topping ingredients. You can either add the parmesan before or after cooking.
5. Drizzle with olive oil then bake for 10- 15 minutes or until the base is crisp and golden. Serve with a rocket salad.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Recipe: Arancini

This is a great way to use up leftover risotto, but it is so nice it is worth making some up especially.


-650g leftover risotto (I used mushroom)
-2 medium eggs, beaten
-100g fine breadcrumbs
-oil for shallow frying.

1. Put the beaten egg and breadcrumbs in two separate shallow bowls. Start heating the oil in a large frying pan.
2. Take large spoonfuls of the risotto (ideally chilled) and form croquette shapes. First dip in the beaten egg, then roll in the breadcrumbs. Repeat this.
3. Carefully lower the croquettes into the oil and fry gently for 5 minutes or until golden brown on all sides. Serve with salad or as a starter.

You can also make arancini with a melting cheese centre. For this you also need 50g of mozzarella/ fontina/ gruyere or other similar cheese, cut into cubes. When shaping the arancini, take a cube of cheese and mould the rice around it. Fry gently and serve immediately.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Cheese of the month: Camembert de Normandie (AOC)

Camembert comes from the Pay's d'Auge area of Normandy in Northern France. This cheeseboard favourite originated in Crouttes in 1761 by Marie Christine Harel,who perfected her cheese recipe taking advice from a priest from nearby Brie. The cheese was famously issued to French troops during World War I, becoming firmly fixed in French popular culture as a result.

Today, because of it's AOC status, it is made to very strict specifications. It can only be made in three territories in Normandy, and from normand cows.

As a young cheese, Camembert has a creamy taste but as it matures the taste becomes stronger and even quite pungent (I have had to put very ripe Camembert outside in solitary confinement before, the smell was so strong!)

Some people say that Camembert goes best with white wines, if eating with red wine then a light one low in tannin would be best, as strong red wines can give a metallic taste.

Web Camembert

Just for fun- your photo on a box of cheese!

This quirky website allows you to upload a photo/ use a webcam to create your own Camembert label, with a range of traditional styles to choose from.

You can even order personalised plates, mugs, stickers etc. - that may be going a bit too far...