Which also just happens to be Gluten, Grain and Refined Sugar Free!
The Hunter Valley, about two hours north of Sydney, is well worth checking out, and it has not one, but two super star wines:
1. Bottle-aged Hunter Valley Semillon
Semillon, once said Jancis Robinson, is Australia’s gift to the world. When young this wine is very light, with high acidity and citrusy flavours, at worst like an inoffensive Sauvignon Blanc, at best juicy lime and passionfruit. Personally, I can take it or leave it when young, but leave it for 10 years and oooh boy something happens in that bottle. It develops the most divinely soft, buttery mouthfeel and a flavour that is somewhere between passionfruit and lime, and lemon curd on buttered toast. The weird thing is that it develops these unmistakeable buttery, toasty flavours even though the wine is unoaked. It’s just the evolution of the grape itself, which is quite amazing really.
Food Pairing with Bottle-aged Hunter Valley Semillon
In terms of food pairing, it’s beautiful with scallops or lobster dishes, thanks to its zesty yet rich, buttery flavour. I chose to do scallops in Pumpkin Puree (since it was Halloween week), served with pancetta and rosemary, since scallops without bacon to me is like marmite without butter!!
2. Hunter Valley Shiraz
The other superstar wine is Shiraz. But wait, this isn’t “Aussie Shiraz” like you think you know it. While South Australia (think Barossa, McLaren Vale) has made a global brand out of big, bold, dense, black fruity Shiraz, the Hunter Valley is renowned for more of a ‘Northern Rhone’ style of Shiraz.
Wait, what does Northern Rhone style mean?
It means lower alcohol, and more savoury, peppery and earthy notes with some red fruit character like raspberry and cherry as well as some black fruit.
In the Northern Rhone, the Syrah (as it’s known in the old world) grape is at the very Northern limit of where it can ripen, thanks also to the cooling Mistral winds; this is why you have that more restrained “elegant” style. The grapes rarely reach high enough sugar levels to do anything else.
In the Hunter Valley, cloud cover and ocean breezes give a similar effect, despite a generally hot and humid climate.
Traditionally, some Northern Rhone producers have added a small amount of Viognier, (yep, as in the white wine) into their Syrah. This is as unusual as it sounds and apart from Champagne where white and red grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) are blended together to create the final cuvee (blend) it’s quite unique. Viognier is a very unctuous (sometimes referred to an ‘oily’) grape which has a punchy, perfumed aroma, that gives the final wine a floral lift and extra viscosity.
Some producers in the Hunter Valley follow suit and add Viognier to their blend, which just goes to show how much they are trying to differentiate from Shiraz, and emulate their French cousins.
Hunter Valley Shiraz Food Pairing
In terms of food pairing, peppery, savoury Shiraz / Syrah is perfect paired with braised, slow-cooked rich meats, especially as it’s one of those grapes that develops gamey notes itself with age. I did a gluten /refined sugar free take on The Fortnum & Mason Cookbook’s Braised Ox Cheek, which was super simple as I simply bought Gluten Free stock, and replaced Redcurrant Jelly with true Pomegranate Molasses, and switched the mashed potatoes for Cauliflower Mash.
The Glenguin Estate - A Top Hunter Valley Producer
This is one of the Hunter's really well respected producers and we are huge fans of their wines. We've had some 2007 Shiraz and 2007 Semillon tucked away on in our wine fridge for some time, awaiting a special occasion to give them the attention they deserve!
The Full Pairing Menu
One of our lovely guests has to follow a Gluten, Grain and Refined-Sugar Free diet, so you can feel extra virtuous with this menu, even though it sounds like any other deliciously indulgent dinner party menu! We were celebrating their engagement so yes, we really indulged ourselves!
Pre-Dinner Nibbles & Champagne:
Blistered Padron Peppers served with olive oil and sea salt
Paired with Breaky Bottom Chardonnay Pinot Cuvee Reginald Stone 2010, English Sparkling Wine
Seared Scallops on Roasted Pumpkin and Garlic Puree with Pancetta & Rosemary
Paired with Glenguin Estate The Old Broke Block 2007 Hunter Valley Semillon
Ox Cheeks Braised in Red Wine with Pomegranate Molasses, served with Chestnuts, Cauliflower Mash and Broccoli.
Paired with Glenguin Estate Aristea 2007 Hunter Valley Shiraz
Brindisa Canarejal Soft Sheep's Milk Cheese "Cremoso" (You chop the top off the cheese and it’s all melty goodness inside! this was brought to my attention by a Spanish art consultant friend of ours, Inigo Art, with impeccable taste in essentially everything)
Reflets de France Chaource (A super creamy, triple cream, like whipped cream inside a rind)
Caramelised Onion English Cheddar from The Truckle Cheese Co
Paired with 2006 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Vigna Paganelli (An incredibly generous gift from out guests)
Cacao and Date Pots
Paired with 1928 Solera Maury (A sweet, rather Port like dessert wine)
And yes, we were absolutely DONE when we’d finished!
Here are the Recipes for you:
Gluten, Grain and Refined-Sugar Free version of Fortnum & Mason’s Braised Ox Cheek.
The best thing is, you literally won’t notice that this insanely indulgent dish lacks gluten or refined sugar. The only thing you have to change in the menu is replace the redcurrant jelly with (proper) Pomegranate Molasses, use Gluten-Free stock, and swap the potato mash with cauliflower mash. Simples.
A Note on Pomegranate Molasses:
Just make sure to check the ingredients of your Pomegranate Molasses... I’ve noticed some are basically pomegranate flavoured glucose syrup while others (e.g. Waitrose own brand) are actually genuine pomegranate molasses, made from reducing down pomegranate juice into a thick syrup. Of course both are, nutritionally-speaking, sugar. But one has undergone significantly more processing than another.
This is an excellent dinner party dish as:
Mainly prepare ahead and it’s just 3 simple stages, once if which is simply marinading the meat overnight in a bottle of wine, chopped leeks, celery and carrots.
You can serve up a lot of crowd pleasing meat. While a really beautiful piece of fillet steak might be about £7-10 per person, I was able to buy over a kilo of Ox Cheek, (would have easily fed 5-6) for around £20 from a really nice butchers. I got mine from Provenance Butchers in Notting Hill.
What's the deal with Ox Cheek?
The thing about ox cheek is that because of all the chewing and chewing that oxen are wont to do (I mean what else do they do?!) it’s a very marbled, gelatinous, dense cut of meat, that is absolutely full of flavour. When raw it smells very gamey and meaty. That means it requires low and slow cooking; there’s pretty much no other way to cook it but DANG is it good when done right! It’s the ultimate melt in the mouth, soft texture, that just flakes and flakes, pulled pork style, but so much more flavour and juiciness.
Here’s how you do it:
Gluten-Free, Grain Free, Refined-Sugar Free Braised Ox Cheek in Red Wine & Pomegranate Molasses.
Feeds 4 people (generously).
1kg Ox Cheek
2 leeks, sliced
4 celery stalks, sliced
600ml red wine
4 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 Litre beef stock - be sure to order Gluten Free if you need to.
2 Bay leaves
1 Tbsp Pomegranate Molasses
Knob of butter
Parsley to serve
Salt / pepper
Pre-order your ox cheek from the butcher and ask them to trim it, and cut into the number of steaks you need.
Step 1: Marinate the ox cheeks the night before:
- Put the Ox cheeks in a dish with the chopped carrots, leeks and celery and cover it with the wine. (I just used the whole bottle, and just bought some cheap red wine (Waitrose own brand smooth and fruity). I don’t personally believe it’s worth using a special bottle, in fact I think it’s more of a sacrilege to do so!
- Cover and leave overnight in the fridge.
Step 2: Sear/Sauté the elements and add to a casserole dish to braise (slow cook) for 3 hours
- Pre-heat oven to 140’C.
- Strain off the wine and separate the meat from the veggies, reserving everything. Boil the kettle for your stock at this point.
- Heat two tablespoons of oil is a large, heavy-based frying pan. When nice and hot, seal the ox cheek in batches, adding them to a casserole dish when done. (I used our trusty Le Creuset casserole dish so I had this also slowly warming up as the oil was heating). Sealing doesn’t take long, basically as soon as the outside of the meat has seared a nice deep brown (beginning to caramelise), turn it over and do the other side, and the edges if needed. Don’t cook too long, this should be the work of moments.
- Next up, add the wine and stock to the pan (I had to do in two batches as my pan was too shallow) and bring to the boil. Use the liquid to Deglaze the plan, which means to scrape off any tasty caramelised bits off the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. As soon as it's boiling, add it to casserole dish, you dont want to boil off any liquid at this point.
- Add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil to the pan again, and dump in your wine-soaked veggies from the marinade; sauté these for a good while, until they sort of dry off and take on colour. Add to the casserole dish, along with your thyme and bay leaves.
- Bring to a simmer, season, and cover. Transfer the casserole dish to the preheated oven, and cook for 3 hours.
Step 3: When ready to serve: reduce the cooking liquor.
- You need to separate the liquid from the meat and veggies, so do this carefully as after 3 hours slow cooking, the meat will be absolutely falling apart. As it cools, it will will firm up and reset a bit.
-Put the winey, meaty liquid into a pan and bring this to a simmer until it’s reduced by about half. At this point, stir in your pomegranate molasses and butter and it will turn into a mouthwateringly rich, thick sauce. Add your pre-cooked chestnuts so they warm up and get coated in the sauce. Don’t reduce it too much as the sauce is amazing so you don’t want to boil it all away! Remember the reduction process will speed up towards the end.
- Serve up your ox cheek with a spoonful of the cooked veggies over your cauliflower mash, and pour over your sauce with the chestnuts. Sprinkle with parsley and serve up like a smug motherf*cker.
Emma’s Amazing Cauliflower Mash: link to the detailed recipe here
Emma herself is the master of Gluten, Grain and Refined Sugar free cooking, running a very successful food and travel blog called EmmaEatsandExplore. If you're looking for more recipes for these dietary requirements; look no further!!
In a nutshell, it involves steaming your cauliflower well to ensure a smooth mash, taking on minimal water, and then whizzing up in the food processor with plenty of butter, salt and pepper. I'm not sure I exactly did it justice, but it was tasty and an excellent accompaniment to the rich Ox Cheeks, as much lighter than Potato Mash.
Scallops in Roasted Pumpkin and Garlic Puree with Pancetta
1 x Culinary pumpkin (does not need to be huge)
1 x Small Garlic clove
- Preheat oven to 180’C
- Cut your pumpkin in half, across the equator and scoop out the seeds. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper and chilli flakes. Place on a baking tray, with the flesh facing upwards, and roast for 30-40 minutes or until it looks soft and caramelised.
- Take your whole garlic clove and slice the top off, so that you have just exposed the tops of the garlic cloves. Glug some olive oil in an oven dish and place the whole garlic clove top down, so the tops of the exposed garlic cloves are in contact with the oil. Whack this oven for the remaining 20 minutes.
- When cooked, allow your roasted pumpkin and garlic to cool a tad. Take a spoon and scrape the pumpkin flesh away from the skin, and add to a food processor. Take as many roasted garlic cloves as your dare (2-4) and add to the food processor. The garlic cloves should just satisfyingly squeeze out of their skins.
- Whizz it up in the food processor, adding a dash of olive oil. This then gets heated up in a pan later when you're ready to serve, which also helps to cook it down a fraction, as sometimes pumpkin can be a touch watery. Season to taste at this point (i.e. when it's warm, as warm food needs less seasoning than cold food).
- When ready to plate up, fry up your pancetta in a heavy based frying pan. When ready, add your scallops, adding a little more oil if the pan is dry (otherwise you might damage your delicate scallops if they start to stick). Add the chopped rosemary at last minute, and serve everything up on warm plates over a dollop of the pumpkin puree.
3 Ingredient Cacao and Date Pudding
The simplest of make-ahead puddings!
This recipe is sweetened with dates and made from cacao liquor - a mix of pure cacao and pure cocoa butter - the real deal.
6 oz/ 170g Cacao Liquor - I used Raymond Blanc Cacao Liquor drops
1 3/4 cups almond milk (or any non-dairy milk)
1 cup (about 12) Medjool dates
- Melt your cacao drops, either over a bain marie (pyrex bowl over a bowl of boiling water ensuring the water does not touch base of bowl) or in the microwave, in 30 second bursts, stirring in between each zap. Be patient and when most of the drops are melted, just keep stirring and let the residual heat do its thing. Don't over cook it!
- Chop up the dates and whizz them up in the food processor.
- Add the almond milk, chocolate, and vanilla essence to the food processor and whizz up.
- Pour the mixture into little pots (this is very rich so you only need a few spoons) and refrigerate for 3-4 hours. When you serve you can add some cacao nibs to the top if you have, but I had run out!
That's all folks - enjoy - and my advice?! Cancel all your plans for the next day!