A winter retreat with lots of cheese and rabbits...

With Chet Baker and Aretha Franklin sounding from the loudspeaker with soothing tunes, the afternoon sun casts a golden glow on the living room floor, and it feels like summer is just around the corner.

But for now, it still just the beginning of spring, and I´m behind.

So behind in fact, that this post will take you all the way back to February, when the winds howled outside my wee countryside cottage, and snow was in the air more often than not.

The only thing that was the same, was Chet and Aretha.

They jazzed it up inside and keep us cool and warm, with the help of the fireplace crackling away ever so comforting from underneath the mantle piece in the living room piled with books on either side.

Ever since moving to the english countryside almost three years ago, I´ve been utterly seduced by the landscape, the green rolling hills, the fog, the rain, the mild winter winds, wonky tea rooms, and the wonderful produce I have right at my doorstep.

Winter kale and leek are some staple pieces in my kitchen during the colder months of the year, and because I love pomegranate, they are pretty much scattered around on everything I cook, allowing their ruby like pearls to be sprinkled and incorporated in most meals. They are most definitely such a versatile and wonderful fruit.

I grew up in the countryside in Norway, spent childhood and teenage summers in France and Switzerland, and my early twenties in Italy. My culinary style is made up of aromas from all the places I´ve spent time in, allowing my cooking style to be a blend of them all, cooking from the heart, with a healthy dose of nostalgia.

Heather, whom I met just a few days after my move to this area of England, became a dear friend after our very first encounter over glasses of brilliant wine in a local pub. In true celebratory style I raised my glass in a toast as I was invited over to her table surrounded by her friends, and with great eagerness lifted it towards the ceiling with great gusto. To the sound of our "Cheers", it flew out of my hands and smashed into a million pieces agains the nearby stone wall of the pub. As you can imagine, we´ve been friends ever since.

By day, Heather creates wonky cake magic, and in the evening, she cooks.

So while I teach photography and visual storytelling at my countryside retreats, she puts on an apron and takes to the kitchen, where she creates hearty and lovely seasonal meals for my retreat participants to enjoy around the table in my dining room for lunch.

As cools winds swept through the valley surrounding my cottage back in January, we sipped to tea and put pen to paper as we began throwing around ideas for what to cook this particular weekend in February.

Rabbit! I exclaimed with great eagerness, we simply must have rabbit!

At the local market I´d seen it for weeks, and yet had the opportunity to cook with it.

So thus it began, us writing down an ambitious shopping list, sourcing for great wine, and Heather phoning up friends to order rabbits.

And because I really cannot invite people over without serving a proper charcuterie and cheese board, I popped by my local deli who has the most creamy and delicious local cheeses. Simon, who owns the local Deli in Tisbury, has a soft spot for Italy and France, which serves me just fine, and I know that when I miss a cheese or two from the content, he´s my man.

So there we were, a few weeks prior to my February retreat, with rabbits on the menu and a crazy long list of cheese I needed to source.

And then there was wine...

Since it was winter, but to be honest, pretty much any time of the year, I was leaning towards a full bodied red wines.

Just down the street and across a few fields, is high street in my local town, where we recently saw the welcoming opening of the Bottle Shop, a boutique with aged wooden floor boards, and reclaimed wood bookcases from floor to ceiling filled with wines from all over the world.

I feel spoilt really, to be nestled in, in a cottage in the middle of the english countryside, and with the world of wines right at my fingertips.

Stan, who until recently worked at the pub up the street, took one good look at my list, and quickly suggested a few options of wintery wines, that would go well with rabbit, a few with my cheese board, and a few bottles of prosecco for good measure.

I´m always a fan or pairing wine with what´s on the menu, however, I´m far too impulsive for my own good when shopping for bottles, and half the time end up being persuaded by a great bottle shape or well designed labels, which Stan knows very well... so in the end I think I end up with a good amount of thought through wines, and a few wild cards for fun.

I may have gone a bit overboard on my cheese section, as when do you really stop!

I loaded up on creamy fresh gorgonzola cut out from a delicious smelling wheel, which is, lets face it, just the most heavily thing, and i can't help but having niles just like that without a piece of cracker or bread in site. We baked up the rather mature smelling Mont d´or with rosemary sprigs and honey comb all melted in as it baked for a mere 10 minutes in the oven. The way the warm cheese just oozes out as you cut into it, is my kind of treat, and more often than not, do I give in to baking a cheese or two for starters as my guests wait for dinner with a cooling drink in their hands.

Rosemary pecorino is a must, and so is local stilton with damson jam, and any goats cheese is welcomed with open arms. And because every now and then, you simply need a chunk of cheese on your plate that has just the right amount of personality, but is neither too quiet, nor too overpowering, very much like the perfect guest, a local aged cheddar is just the ticket for your cheese board.

We really had the loveliest time, with participants arriving from the four corners of the world, we ate, drank, prop shopped and photographed to our hearts content.

And every evening, I fell asleep with a happy grin on my face...this is what makes a house a home, the people that create happy memories together within its four walls.

These retreats held in my countryside home, are my very favourites...

As i sit her gazing out in the green garden below with warm spring sun shining through the window, this feels all so far away.

But as I´m preparing from my two next retreats here in the english countryside, these lovely recipes from Heather came to mind.

So while we wait for warmer days, here´s a few recipes that will get you through this temperamental season with ever changing temperatures and cool winds.

Rabbit in white wine

(Serves 8)

Ingredients:

2 prepared rabbits, jointed by your local butcher.

50g unsalted butter

1tsp of good olive oil

1 bottle of dry white wine

3 bay leaves

2 cloves of garlic

Salt and freshly ground pepper to season

Method

Brown the rabbit joints quickly in a large casserole over medium to high heat in butter and oil. the butter  and oil combination will help the fat not to burn as it browns.

Preheat oven to 140 Celsius.

Add the wine, garlic cloves and bay leaves.

Cover, and bake gently in the oven for about 3 hours at 140 Celsius.

Halfway through, turn the rabbit joints over in the juices in the casserole.

When the meat is almost falling off the bones after a good three hours in the oven, staring off the juice in the casserole, and simmer it in a saucepan till reduced, add seasoning as you go to taste.

Serve warm with the sauce on the side, with a cheesy leek grating and a kale salad.

Cheesy leek gratin

(serves 8)

Ingredients:

4 Large Leeks, washed and sliced lengthwise.

20 g unsalted butter

1 tbsp oilve oil

5 sprigs of fresh thyme

1 heaped teaspoon all purpose flour.

1 dl Single cream

1dl Whole milk

100g grated parmesan

100g fresh breadcrumbs

Ocean salt and freshly grind pepper for seasoning.

Method

Gently sauté

 

Gently sauté the leeks in the butter and oil for about 5 minutes or until softened. Stir in the flour and cook for about a minute. Stir in the cream and milk and mix well to make a smooth sauce. Let this bubble for a minute gently. Stir in the cheeses and thyme and season to taste. Spoon into a shallow gratin dish and scatter with the breadcrumbs. Bake in a moderate oven (170c) for about 30 minutes until golden and bubbling.

Serve warm with the Rabbit above, or as a side for any meat dish.

If you´d like a few of our wine recommendations from the retreat, heres a few of our favourites:

Chateau Barreyres, Haut-Medoc, Cru Bourgeois 2013 (red)

The vines are grown on clay soil and its a 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Merlot blend. Way to easy to drink, and ever so beautiful rich without being heavy.

 

Babylonstoren, Babe 2013 (red)

South African wine, utterly delicious and ever so surprising flavours of chocolate and berries. Yet another blend, this time, 60% Merlot, 24% Shiraz, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Malbec.

Babylonstoren, 2657/8000, Chardonnay 2013 (white)

This is such a delicious and fresh white, with just the right kind of body to give it a bit of depth.

Bon Appetit!