Monday, 29 December 2014

R for Rwanda

Dee:  “So soon after Christmas we wanted to cook lots of vegetable based dishes, and fortunately, the cuisine of Rwanda had much to offer in this regard.
What we found with the dishes that we cooked was that it was possible to create some great flavours and filling meals from relatively few ingredients.  As with the vegetarian meal we were looking for, we were also grateful for the simple preparation methods that each dish required.
There were only a few spices used, mostly in one of the pumpkin desserts, but peanut butter was popular, both in the savoury and sweet courses.  Not a problem for me as I love it.
At the end of the meal, we were both pleasantly full, and pleased that there were plenty of leftovers to enjoy another day.”

Isombe
The page where we found the recipe has sadly disappeared, but this recipe is very similar:  Recipe Link
Dee:  “This was a hearty stew made from leafy greens, pepper, onion, aubergine and spinach.  The leafy vegetables were all cooked until they wilted, with the onion and aubergine adding extra dimension and texture.  Almost at the end of cooking, palm oil and peanut butter were stirred in, to make a self-contained sauce for the vegetables.  I felt that the key to making this stew a success was not to be in too much of a hurry with it.  The leaves were allowed to wilt down on a medium heat in their own time after which we let the vegetables become tender in the cooking liquor from the leaves.  We strained some of this off, in order to cook the rice, which was a great accompaniment to the stew.”

Kachumbari
The page where we found the recipe has sadly disappeared, but this recipe is very similar:  Recipe Link
Dee:  “This was a simple fresh salad made from tomatoes, chilli, coriander and onion, with a dressing containing lime juice and olive oil.  We had some radishes left over so added these to our salad, though this wasn’t stipulated in the recipe.  Also we used spring onions rather than the stated white onions.  We served the salad after the stew and rice, but with hindsight it might have been better as a starter on account of the onions.  It also had quite a kick from the chilli.  Without these it may have been a nice palate cleanser but I think the salad would have lost its character if they’d been left out and it deserved to be a course of the meal in its own right.”

Pumpkin Mash
Dee:  “Unfortunately pumpkin was unavailable so we opted for a sweet squash instead.  It was steamed until very tender, then pureed with some peanut butter, sweetened with some sugar and served as a hot mash, topped with crushed peanuts.  Another simple dish that packed in the flavour.  The recipe also mentioned adding salt as an option, but we decided to leave it out.  That made the mash that we served very sweet, so maybe a little salt, either in the mash itself or as part of the peanut garnish, might be worth a try.  We have some left over so will give it a go next time.”

Spiced Pumpkin
Dee:  “We used a small butternut squash for this recipe, which worked fine.  We managed to get the roasting time sorted so that the squash kept its colour, the spices kept their flavour and the sugar was just beginning to caramelise.  We served this with the mash which was sweet and creamy, while this was richly flavoured but with a tender texture.”

Soundtrack:  King James – King James
Dee:  “This album was made in 1995, and reminded me of R and B but more laid back and with added acoustic guitar.  The tracks where King James is the solo vocalist worked best for me.  I found tracks featuring guest vocalists to sound a little out of place and probably would have been better as a separate ep.  For the most part though, it was a modern sounding radio-friendly album, and we were happy to listen to it while enjoying our meal.”

Next Week:  S for South Korea

Monday, 22 December 2014

Q for Qatar

Dee:  “Qatar was the only choice for tonight’s menu, so we were expecting a similar meal to that of Oman, which we covered a couple of weeks ago.  As with our sampling of Omani cuisine, we were able to source tonight’s food choices from our recently purchased ‘Arabian Delights’ cook book by Amy Riolo.  We took most of dishes from a chapter headed ‘date harvest’, and were thus introduced to the sweet tastes which are as common in savoury dishes as they are in the desserts of gulf state cuisine.  Nothing we cooked was complicated but the flavours produced by the fresh fruits, fruit extracts and spices were in equal measure bold and exotic.”

All recipes from ‘Arabian Delights’ by Amy Riolo


Chicken Breast glazed with Date Molasses
Dee:  “Although the recipe on the book was for Cornish Hens, we opted instead for chicken breasts, as each is of sufficient size to feed two people.  I liked the simple way of preparing and cooking the meat, which was stuffed with crushed dried limes, then spread with date molasses and a spice mixture, then covered and cooked in the oven.  The result was beautifully moist meat, with an occasional sour bite from the dried lime, and a sweet tasting sauce produced by a combination of the date molasses and cooking juices from the meat.”

Basmati Rice with Dates and Apricots
Dee:  “The rice was an excellent accompaniment to the chicken.  Again with a sweetness coming from the fruits which were cooked in the same pot as the rice, and subtle spicing from the tiny portions of cardamom and clove.  The saffron lent a more earthy flavour to the rice, and also its characteristic yellow colouring.”

Orange and Date Salad
Dee:  “Of all the elements to tonight’s meal, it was the salad that took the longest to prepare.  Lettuce needed to be shredded, carrots grated, oranges peeled and separated and dates to be pitted and halved, and then the whole lot to be neatly assembled, only for the preparation to be ruined in an instant as we served it.  Not to worry though, it was worth it as the salad was a great palate cleanser at the end of the main course, again with sweetness coming from the oranges and dates, freshness from the lettuce and carrot and finally a fairly sharp citrusy dressing to finish.”


Sweet Orchid Dessert
Dee:  “This was a bit of an odd one.  It was described as a drink in the book, but the commentary preceding the recipe said that it was particularly filling and could be substituted for a dessert.  One of the ingredients was sahlab, which we were unable to source in time for the meal, so we opted instead for egg whites, which we had left over from another recipe.  Cornflour, our initial choice, was not recommended.  We knew we wouldn't be able to replicate the recipe exactly but pushed on and hoped for the best.  We ended up with something that looked the part and decided to serve it in small bowls and ate it using spoons, rather than drinking it.  Not authentic but we did spot one or two pictures on line of it being served in what appeared to be small bowls, and our finished product didn’t look out of place so we were satisfied with it.
Ironically, once completed, the dessert was the least sweet part of the meal, but the flavours of rose water, cinnamon and pistachio and the thick milky texture marked it out as a dessert rather than a savoury course.  I think if we were to make it again we would seek out the correct ingredients rather than taking risks by approximating them.”

Soundtrack:  Various Artists – Music of Qatar
Dee:  “Initially I thought that this compilation album would be showcasing a number of diverse music styles in existence in modern day Qatar, but it was actually an album that was split into two; the first half being more traditional, with the second being a fusion of the old and the ‘new’.
The first half of the album was mostly quite slow and more rhythmic than I was expecting, with most tracks featuring a haunting female vocal.  I liked these, and they proved to be ideal music to enjoy our meal to.
From track 5 onwards, the fusing of this traditional music with other styles began.  ‘Qatar rock’ for example, included an electric guitar and keyboard that sounded quite retro, considering that the album was made in 2013.  Track 6, ‘country music from Qatar’ didn’t really work for me as the styles of music that were too distinct to create coherent sound.  The final four tracks were a fusion of the traditional sounds from the earlier tracks with techno and dance beats and were a bit too hectic to be listened to alongside a meal.  I didn’t mind them though.”

Next Week we’re in the heart of Africa:  R for Rwanda

Saturday, 20 December 2014

The Menu of the album: Fleetwood Mac - Rumours

Introduction
Dee:  This concept is the result of a chat with fellow food blogger Becky at Cooking with Vinyl: Click here to visit it, who shares our love of food and music.  Becky runs a great blog, with much more music-related content than ours, so if you enjoy a musical accompaniment to your meal times, or are looking for inspiration for something to cook and listen to, be sure to pay it a visit.
Liking the format of Becky’s blog, I asked her to suggest an album that I could base a meal on, and not knowing what was in my music collection, she opted for Fleetwood Mac’s 1970s classic ‘Rumours’.  I know the album very well, as I imagine many more people will, so the ideas for a meal to accompany it starting coming to me pretty much straight away.  Initially I wanted to put together a few transatlantic style dishes, to represent the British-US line-up of the band at the time.  Chicken wings with hot sauce was an initial idea, but I then moved on to wondering what the band would have enjoyed food and drink-wise backstage on tour.  At the time of ‘Rumours’ they were already big stars so would have been able to order in pretty much anything to eat and drink, so I decided to reflect this as best I could with the choice of menu.  Cost was obviously more of a factor for Jay and me than it would have been for the Mac, so there are some compromises which will be obvious as you read through the commentary, but I was quite pleased with what I came up with.  It offers a small window on 1970s luxury dining and was a fine accompaniment to the album which, of course, we listened to as we enjoyed the meal.

Drinks:  Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Grande Reserve
Dee:  It just had to be champagne didn’t it.  We don’t drink it a lot, mainly because of the price, but were pleased to find this one on special offer so went for it. We were both very pleased with how it tasted, surprisingly strong and fruity compared to the sparkling whites that we are used to, and also how it complimented the rest of the meal.  

Starter:  Blinis topped with cream cheese and a choice of Caviar and Chutney

Dee:  I made the blinis using a simplified version of a recipe from ‘Bread’ by Christine Ingram and Jennie Shapter, the book inspired me to start baking my own bread (a story for a future blog entry perhaps?) and spread them with a layer of shop-bought cream cheese.  Jay isn’t keen on caviar so went for a topping of Christmas Chutney, wheras I topped mine with lumpfish caviar, which is much more readily available than the expensive stuff, and a few trimmed chives from the garden.  To be perfectly honest, it’s completely the wrong time of year to be eating chives from the garden as they were pretty tough and lacking in flavour, but I wanted to use them as a garnish.  The blinis however were delicious.  Nice and light, with just enough flavour from the buckwheat flour to hold their own with the cream cheese and caviar.  Jay reported nice textures from the creamy cheese and acidic chutney, giving a Christmassy flavour.  For anyone interested in the blini recipe, here it is;

Blinis
Ingredients;
50g buckwheat flour
50g white self-raising flour
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
200ml water
1 egg, separated

Method;
-Add both types of flour, the salt, pepper, water and egg yolk to a bowl and mix to a smooth batter.
-Whisk the egg white until soft peaks form.
-Gently fold the egg whites into the batter.
-Heat a little oil in a frying pan and add the batter in tablespoon sized measures.
-Watch the blinis carefully as the texture will change as they cook, becoming drier on the surface.  As soon as this happens, flip them over and cook them on the other side.
-Flip them back over to check that the other side has cooked.

Main:  King Prawns with Cocktail Sauce, salad and coleslaw

Dee:  We originally wanted lobster for the main course, and were motivated to see them advertised for £5 in Iceland (the supermarket), but we were unable to obtain one as they were sold out due to popular demand and we couldn’t find one anywhere else.  But no matter, we pushed on with the plan for a seafood based main course and instead went for king prawns, which we served on a bed of salad with some home- made coleslaw.  Nothing here was particularly complicated.  The salad consisted of shredded iceberg lettuce, quartered radishes and quartered cherry tomatoes, while the coleslaw was made from shredded white cabbage, grated carrot, thinly sliced spring onions and a dressing of mayonnaise, a little white wine vinegar and salt and pepper.
The prawns were topped with Marco Pierre White’s cocktail sauce recipe, a combination of mayonnaise, tomato ketchup and Worcestershire Sauce.

Dessert:  Key Lime Pie

Dee:  We deliberated at length over what the dessert should be.  Initially we were going to buy a Vienetta, but discussions quickly moved on to making something ourselves, resulting in a choice between Lemon Meringue Pie and Key Lime Pie.  Having tried Delia Smith’s Key Lime Pie before and remembering how delicious it was, that was what we settled on.  I remembered the fragility of both base and filling so decided to play it safe and photograph the pie before we took it out of the case, but I should have had more confidence in my abilities as it came out fine.
It tasted just as good as the last time I made it, the crunchiness of the base contrasted beautifully with the creaminess of the filling, laced with just the right amount of lime.

The Out-takes
Dee:  I don’t normally include ideas which fall by the wayside when planning a meal in blog entries, but I thought it might be fun in this instance to offer an insight into the planning which went into this special meal.  It’s just a list of possibilities but might be useful for hosts of similar ‘Rumours’, or 1970s themed meals.

Prawn Cocktail
Waldorf Salad
Caviar/Blinis
Lobster 
Herb crusted salmon topped with slices of lemon
Florida Salad
Vol au vents
Breadsticks
Olives
Pineapple and cheese cubes
Crudites and Dips
Fondue
Beef Wellington
Spicy chicken wings
Champagne
Lemon meringue pie
Posh Ice cream/Vienetta
NY Cheesecake

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Twelve Beers of Christmas 2014: The final three and the winner

Festivity
Tasting Notes said:  Hints of rum mingle with coffee and vanilla to make a truly wonderful old-style porter.
Dee said:  An aroma of slight smokiness, which was reflected in the taste.  This went down rather quickly.  A good strong winter porter.  I enjoyed it a lot.
Jay said:  Same as a lot of the other ones.  I enjoyed it but not getting a lot of Christmas.

Special Holiday Ale
Tasting Notes said:  This is the second release of Special Holiday Ale, which was first brewed in San Diego in 2008. Each brew is following the same recipe, including Michigan chestnuts, white sage from southern California and Norwegian juniper berries, but differences in brewing and aging practices produce different beers. Cheers to being different! Skål!
Dee said:  Now this one I did get Christmas from, in bucket loads.  A strong dark beer combining perfectly balanced flavours of spices, fruits and dark chocolate.  Ticked all the boxes for me.
Jay said:  Cor! I haven’t got past that yet!

Stille Nacht
Tasting Notes said:  Stille Nacht (Silent Night) is a prestige beer from De Dolle Brouwers, brewed for Christmas. It has a very potent beer (12% alc/vol). It has been boiling for many hours, brewed with pale malt with white candy sugar in the kettle. The Nugget hops gives an extra bitterness to balance the extreme sweetness due to the density. The taste triangle is completed with some acidity of the fermentation. It is a very interesting beer to age. We have samples of every bottling we have done so far and aging hasn't decreased the quality of this beer. Keep some samples at 10°C and mark the year on the cap with an alcohol marker. Cheers!!
Dee said:  We saved the strongest beer for last, and this one, at twelve per cent, certainly packs a punch, but still retains a great flavour, with elements of honey and even cinnamon in the mix.  This is not one for drinking all at once.  Savour it and it will be as Christmassy as a glass of sherry.
Jay said:  Loving it.  Again, not getting heaps of Christmas, but I’m wondering now if that’s expectation over reality.

In Conclusion
Dee - We were going to wait until tomorrow before posting the results of our beer tastings, but after a brief discussion, we were both agreed on our favourite;  
Nøgne ø Special Holiday Ale
This for us was the beer which most closely demonstrated all of the qualities that we were looking for in a good Christmas Beer:  Depth of Colour, Strength of flavour, Richness and Spiciness.
There were no bad beers here, just one or two which we felt didn’t deliver in one or more areas.
It was a fun project to undertake and hopefully has been an interesting read. 

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Twelve Beers of Christmas 2014: eight and nine

Santa Paws
Tasting Notes said:  Santa Paws is a 4.5% decadent scotch ale brewed with Scottish heather honey; a robust malty beer packed with ­flavour and at a strength you can drink all (Christmas) day long.
This baby scotch ale is perfect with Christmas pudding or whilst playing Pictionary with your gran. This is our antidote to the chaos of the upcoming festive season. Raise a glass of this Christmas beer, share it with friends, family and strangers, and sit back and enjoy the view as the world descends into a fairy light fuelled frenzy.
Dee said:  Lovely dark copper colour with a beige coloured head.  Rich woody aroma and strong bitter taste up front that gives way to a slightly sweeter, almost caramel-like finish.  Not particularly Christmassy but a great drink nonetheless.
Jay said:  A nice beer, I enjoyed it, but didn’t get a lot of Christmas from it.

Bad Elf
Tasting Notes said:  ‘Tis a heavy hand what adds the hops to this festive amber ale.  Truth be told, there’s near to three ppounds of fresh hops goes in every barrel of this treasured brew.  And it’s conditioned right in the bottle, so please pour gently into your best flagon, leaving that wee bit of natural yeast behind.
Dee said:  Bitter bitter bitter.  A clear golden colour concealing a strong taste.  There wasn’t any Christmas spiciness to it but it was a slow grower.  Not sure if I’d seek out another bottle of it but I would happily order a pint of it if it was being offered at the local pub.

Jay said:  Good drink, not getting the Christmas.

P for Panama

Dee:  “The cuisine of Panama is a long established combination of indigenous ingredients and cooking methods with added elements from Spain and Africa, to produce a wide variety of fresh and tasty dishes.  We were only able to sample three of them for this blog entry but enjoyed all of them and are keen to try more.”

Ceviche
Dee:  “Ceviche is a light, fresh tasting dish of fish, onion and peppers which have been slowly and gently in lime juice over several hours.  It originated in Peru but is enjoyed throughout South and Central America, including Panama, so we decided to give it a go.  I wanted to put together a ceviche of fish and prawns but Jay wasn’t keen on using seafood so we stuck to cod fillets.  We added a little ‘Fuego del verde’ sauce from Pip’s Hot Sauce, a local business, into the mix, along with red onion and red pepper and the essential lime juice and that was pretty much it.  We prepared it the day before we intended to serve it and chilled it in the fridge for a couple of hours before starting the meal.  After the initial hit of lime, we found that it was best enjoyed with a combination of pepper, onion and fish on the fork all at the same time.  We didn’t serve it with the crackers specified by the recipe but still enjoyed it as a great starter.

Ropa Vieja y Arroz con Guandu
Dee:  “Ropa Vieja is a stew containing shredded beef and chopped vegetables mixed with a sofrito of onions, peas, peppers, herbs and olives.  It was a bit of a labour of love for us, requiring assembly in various stages over several hours, so definitely not one to attempt for anyone wanting to knock up a quick tea.  However, the investment of time certainly paid off for us as the finished dish was one of our favourite discoveries so far. 
I was expecting a dark, rich, heavy stew with an intense taste but what I got was something different: The shredded meat was tender and soft and didn’t overpower the vegetables, which kept their colour and texture.
The Arroz con Guandu was specified as an accompaniment to the Ropa Vieja, and used similar ingredients to the West Indian rice and peas, but was cooked as a risotto, first in bacon fat, then white wine and finally coconut milk.  This turned out to be the heavier element of the meal and certainly if the stew had been more intense, it would have run the risk of over-facing us, and with a dessert of the quality that we were about to sample, that would have been a very bad thing.
We were also delighted to have been able to source the wine which was recommended in the recipe.  Although the Carménère red wine was Chilean, and made by a winemaker of Swiss origin, we welcomed the recommendation.”

Cocadas
Dee:  “Jay made the mixture for these sweet coconut cookies while I was on washing up duty.  They were simple to prepare, if a little messy, and didn’t take long to bake in the oven.  They were more at home in the category of sweet snack than dessert, and would, I imagine provide a delicious accompaniment to a cup of coffee.
We weren’t able to follow the published recipe to the letter and had to tweak it in a couple of ways; firstly we couldn’t find any shredded coconut, and frankly weren’t feeling up to grating a fresh one (sorry) so used dessicated coconut instead, we also used coconut flour instead of cornstarch and didn’t dust the final bakes with confectioners’ sugar.  However, none of those compromises affected the finished bakes, which still tasted fabulous.  There was a crunch on the baked outside, which gave way to a soft inside.  In fact they were rather addictive, but we managed to stay strong and resisted the urge to eat the whole batch. ”

Soundtrack:  Various Artists – Panama! Latin, Calypso and Funk on the Isthmus 1965-75
Dee:  “Right up my street, this, and an ideal accompaniment to tonight’s meal.  Red hot rhythm driven dance sounds with sax and trumpet solos galore.  There were strong jazz and latin soul sounds at work here.  The vocals were for the most part in support of the instrumentation.  There was much to recommend but particular standout tracks for me were the piano-led ‘soy solo para ti’ by Victor Boa y Su Musica, the superb trumpet and guitar on the Exciters’ six minute soul workout ‘New Bag’, even though it cut out before the end, and the groove of the English vocal ‘Let me do my thing’ by Los Dinamicos Exciters and Ralph Weeks.  Great stuff.”

Next Week is decided for us as there is only one choice:  Q for Qatar

Lunch at Sushi Passion, Great Western Arcade, Birmingham, 13th December 2014

Our first visit to Sushi Passion yesterday was impromptu, as we had originally planned to get lunch from a market stall in another part of Birmingham city centre, but the stall wasn’t there.  We had also planned to visit Loki Wines, in the Great Western Arcade, so decided to seek out an eatery near there.  We were turned away from one place but eventually spotted Sushi Passion, which is located just a few doors up from Loki.
The promotional literature that we picked up said that the restaurant had been open since August, but neither of us had noticed it before.
Inside, it was quite dimly lit and decorated in a traditional Japanese style, but with added tinsel, Father Christmas mobiles and a Christmas Tree.  There were three types of seating area; low tables with tatami mats, ‘western’ tables and chairs and seating around the  bar area.  The restaurant was doing a brisk trade and the seating area at the front was all occupied but fortunately there was room at the inn, and we were offered seats at the bar.  From our vantage point, we had a good view of the sushi preparation area, and an eye catching miniature train set which surrounded it.  The train included a number of mobile platforms, on which, according to the leaflet, bar orders were delivered, but today it was decorated for Christmas and the orders were delivered by hand.  The atmosphere was further enhanced by new agey Japanese style music and kimono clad front of house staff.
Our places at the bar were set with good quality slate plates and black chopsticks with a rest.  The soy sauce was contained in a miniature pouring pot.
The menu was comprehensive, offering a number of different types of rice-rolled sushi, sashimi, and salads.  There were also several set menus available, catering for newcomer and connoisseur alike.  Everything was prepared to order and it was great to see the brigade at work from our bar seats, and I was especially glad of this as I’ve never been able to roll sushi.
While we were making our lunch choices we saw a beautifully presented plate of sushi leaving the kitchen and were informed that it was the geisha selection.  There was a lot on there, and we were advised that portions were on the generous side.
There was much on the menu to tempt us so we went for a couple of mains and a couple of smaller side dishes.  As this wasn’t a planned visit, I didn’t have my trusty notebook with me so will have to rely on memory to describe what we ordered.  I’ve had to look up the terminology to describe the different styles of sushi that we selected and I’m satisfied that it’s all accurate, so I’ll proceed with it.  For the mains, we went for a California roll, uromaki style, filled with seafood and avocado and topped with a tiny amount of spiced mayonnaise, and a futomaki roll containing duck, tiny slivers of spring onions and a rich plum sauce.  For the smaller sides, we selected a hosomaki roll filled with prawn and spring onion and a seaweed salad gunkanmaki.  Everything was served at the same time on a large fish shaped plate.  A small amount of wasabi and pink pickled gari completed the platter.  As with the geisha set that we saw earlier, the presentation was superb and gave us confidence in the quality of the food.
We were both very happy with everything that we were presented with.  All of the rolls were expertly prepared and held their shape well.  We were able to eat each piece in two bites without them falling apart.  The sauces were small in quantity but highly flavoured and maintained an ideal balance with the other ingredients.  We were able to taste the nori, rice, fillings and sauce, and very much enjoyed the delicate fresh tastes of the rolls with the tiny bursts of flavour from the sauces.
There was also an extensive drinks menu, including Japanese beers, sake and soft drinks.  There were also a few different types of tea but the only one I can remember was Taiwanese Oolong.  We chose the Japanese Lemonade which came in glass bottles with a tiny sphere of glass in its own compartment at the top of the bottle.  The taste was  unlike any other lemonade that I’ve tried before.  It was smooth and reminded me of a mixture of lychee and bubblegum.  Until this visit I never realised sake could be served hot.  This seemed to be an extremely popular choice of drink among our fellow diners.
After finishing the main meal, we felt comfortable enough to order a couple of desserts.  Most were ice cream based, but there was also a fruit salad available with a ginger sauce.  The green tea ice cream was sold out, and we were too nervous to try the wasabi ice cream, so opted instead for a selection of flavoured mochi coated ice cream balls.  There were a few flavourings available for the mocha, and we chose coconut, yuzu and caramel.  In terms of taste, these were certainly on the delicate side, and the portion sizes were small, but they made for an ideal after lunch sweetener.  My only criticism of the lunch was that the desserts were served with disposable wooden teaspoons, as used in outdoor catering venues.  These were mismatched with the otherwise immaculate place settings but if it was part of a conscious decision by the restaurant to use biodegradables then that’s absolutely fair enough.
After finishing dessert we felt full, but not over-faced so asked for the bill.  There was no card machine and payments were taken one table at a time via iPad.  The staff explained this when we asked for the bill but there was no undue delay, even on a Saturday, so it wasn’t a problem.
Taking into account portion sizes, quality of food and standard of service, the price was very reasonable.  It came to just shy of £40.
In conclusion, we were both very happy with this discovery and would happily recommend, and indeed encourage, others to give it a try.  Service is professional, polite and friendly, with a knowledgeable front of house staff who can assist diners who haven’t tried sushi before, and also offer recommendations and advice to those who have.
The restaurant doesn’t have a web site, but maintains a presence on Facebook, which can be accessed here: Sushi Passion Facebook profile

Review written by Dee 14th December 2014

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Twelve Beers of Christmas 2014: five, six and seven

4 Elf
Tasting Notes said:  A spiced Winter Warmer brewed with nutmeg, clove, allspice and other holiday flavors.
Dee said:  A rich and spicy aroma gave way to an equally rich, dense taste.  There were hints of espresso coffee and treacle/molasses.  One to enjoy on its own rather than as an accompaniment to food.
Jay said:  Definitely a winter warmer with that ‘knock your socks off’ strength.

Humbug
Couldn’t find any tasting notes
Dee said:  Not for me this one.  I didn’t mind the maltiness but I found it a bit on the flat side.
Jay said:  Not a lot of Christmas but a nice quaffing beer.

Cuvee de Noel
Tasting Notes said:  This beer has a generous head - compact and firm. Its slightly brown colour is the result of the roasted barley. It has a dark ruby brown colour and a very intense aroma. The aromatic herbs and spices used greatly enhance its delicious smell. This beer is full-bodied with a smoothness that is the result of the synergy of caramelised malts, carefully controlled fermentation and long cold storage. St-Feuillien Cuvée de Noël has a very subtle bitterness that is the dominant flavour in this harmonious ale that strikes a perfect balance between all the different ingredients.
Dee said:  An enticing liquorice-like aroma led to a taste which reminded me of a blend of subtle spices and honey.  A powerful hit of strength and sweetness.
Jay said:  Didn’t get Christmas from it, but it was quite celebratory in its taste, alcohol and fizz.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Jay and Dee’s Twelve Beers of Christmas 2014, the first four

Dee:  Following our last trip to the beer shop to buy some Christmas beers, we decided that it would be a nice idea to write a review of each one for the blog, with an accompanying photo showing the bottle and the colour of the beer.  That initial idea soon grew into the ‘Twelve Beers of Christmas’ concept. 
We were originally going to post the whole review as one long blog entry, as we did with the Birmingham Beer Fest, but we’ve now decided to post the reviews of each of the beers as we finish them, firstly to avoid long gaps in blogging and secondly, to give anyone who might be inspired to try one or more of the beers as a result of our reviews enough time to do so in time for Christmas. 
So, without further ado, we are pleased to present the first four;  

Ding Dong Mulled Porter
Tasting Notes said:  See-Deep Ruby Red, Smell – Kola Nut, Cinnamon, Ginger, Taste – Rich fruit, spicy, warming
Dee said:  Not as strong or dark as any of the other porters I’ve tried before, and the spicing was also quite subtle, but the taste was not unpleasant and it went down rather quickly.
Jay said:  Not getting a lot of ‘mulled’ but am getting a rather good drink.
                      
Christmas Dark Box
Tasting Notes said:  A dark ale with well balanced bittering.  Spicy and full bodied with a deep fruit aroma.
Dee said:  Initial aroma was of coffee, and the taste reminded me of bitter chocolate but didn’t linger.  Not unpleasant but would seek out other beers before returning to this one.
Jay said:  Getting more of a ‘Christmassy’ taste from this one but I think the difference is that I would only have one of these, wheras I would sit and quaff the Ding Dong beer.

Holly Bush
Tasting Notes (from the JD Wetherspoon real ale site) said:  This seasonal beer is a rich mahogany colour, with an intense aroma of malt and resinous hop notes, leading to a rich flavour, balanced by generous quantities of hops, with spice and citrus hints.
Dee said:  A strong hoppy aroma and taste.  Would happily drink this again at any time of the year.
Jay said:  Yum!

Crazy Christmas
Tasting Notes said:  Dark and full of spices, like Christmas pudding in a glass.  Beautiful accompaniment with with your festive cheese board.
Dee said:  A lovely dark colour and lots of fruit and spice in the aroma contributed to a great first impression.  The spice was carried through into the taste, making this a very seasonal beer.  I enjoyed it.  As the tasting notes said, this would have gone down nicely with some good cheese, but we finished the last of our cheese with the last beer.
Jay said:  This was probably the ‘christmassiest’ beer that we have had so far.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

O for Oman

Dee:  “After a couple of weeks away we’re back to sample the cuisine of Oman.  We’re well prepared this time, after having purchased a copy of ‘Arabian Delights’ by Amy Riolo, which includes a chapter dedicated to Omani cuisine.  In a previous blog entry I reviewed Amy’s book on Egyptian cuisine ‘Nile Style’ and there is much to say about this book too, so maybe another review will follow in a later blog entry but for now we’ll concentrate on the task in hand.
The cuisine of Oman turned out to be broadly similar to those of other regions in the Arabian Peninsula but with a particular emphasis on fish and a selection of spices that are characteristically Omani.

All recipes from ‘Arabian Delights’ by Amy Riolo.  The recipes we selected were from a menu which had been put together for an incense party, or Istakbal.  We didn’t buy any incense as it was the food that we were focussing on, but we did light a spiced orange scented candle to accompany the meal.

Omani Spice Mix (Bizaar)
Dee:  “I love to collect recipes for spice mixes, so was pleased to find one here.  This mixture has sweet elements in the form of cinnamon and cardamom, savoury elements in the form of cumin, coriander and black pepper and heat from chilli.  There was a footnote to the recipe indicating that the quantities listed were not hard and fast and that it was fine to adjust them to suit individual tastes, but I stuck to what was quoted in the book and was quite happy with how it turned out so will stick with it for next time.”

Parsley Salad (Salata Baqdounis)
Dee:  “We had to produce two versions of this salad as Jay can’t abide parsley, so the second version used kale which was quickly fried and then left to cool.  For my parsley salad I decided to separate the leaves from the stalks and add them to the salad bowl as they were.  The leaves are quite pretty so it seemed a shame to chop them up.  I didn’t throw the stalks away though; I chopped them up finely for use as a garnish.  This simple salad was quick to prepare, and provided a fresh tasting accompaniment to the heavier meat and rice dish.”

Dee: “Given the prominent place of fish in Omani cuisine, I wanted to include a fish dish.  There was a tasty sounding fish in coconut sauce recipe in the book but we wouldn’t have been able to eat two main courses and were keen to try the meat and rice.  However, I did have a tin of pilchards in tomato sauce which needed using up, so I decided to put something together with them.  I drained the tomato sauce away, rinsed the fish, removed the bones, and served them with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of lemon juice and a scattering of the chopped parsley stalks mentioned earlier.  It made for a very simple-but-effective side dish.  I still couldn’t convince Jay to try them though.”

Meat and Rice (Kabouli)
Dee:  “This dish was the Omani variant of Kabsah, from Saudi Arabia.  What we cooked and enjoyed was comfort food of the highest order.  The lamb was slow cooked with onion and spices in a stew, to which uncooked rice was later added.  Finally slices of lime and lightly sautéed raisins were added as a final touch to the finished dish.  We deviated slightly from the recipe, which called for the lamb to be removed from the cooking liquid and the onion and whole spices discarded, but we didn’t want to lose the onions so just removed the whole spices.  The finished dish was a merging together of the meat, its cooking liquid and the spices, with the rice taking on all of these flavours.  The addition of the lime slices and raisins to finish off the dish gave it another dimension, as the lime juice provided occasional bursts of sharpness through the rich textures of the rest of the dish, and similarly, the raisins were like small pearls of soft fruity sweetness.  Yes it was rich, yes it was heavy, no it wasn’t low-calorie, but above all, it was absolutely delicious.”


We were intending to make Sweet Mouthfuls with Spiced Syrup (Loquemat) for the sweet dish, but were quite full from the meat and rice dish, so instead of making it anyway and risking not enjoying all of it, we decided to leave it and move straight on to the coffee and dates.

Omani Coffee (Qahwa)
Dee:  “It was a shame that we didn’t have an ornately decorated pot from which to pour this coffee, or the authentic small beakers to drink it from, but we were able to make do with what we had to hand in the kitchen.  I was alarmed by the amount of cardamom quoted in the recipe, and didn’t expect to see saffron either, but stuck to it and rather quite enjoyed it.  It was a perfect accompaniment to the dates that we served with it.  The coffee had a different focus than either of us were used to, delivering sweet spice rather than acidity.  Neither the cardamom nor the saffron dominated the overall taste, rather they ebbed and flowed through each mouthful.  Next time I make it I will probably increase the amount of ground coffee beans but that’s only my personal preference.  It’s not going to replace our everyday morning coffee but we will certainly make it again to finish off our next Arabian themed meal.”

Soundtrack:  Salah Al Zadjali - Ayyar
Dee:  “This album was released in 2010 and merges traditional instruments with modern synthesizers to create a quite contemporary sound.  The rhythms are strong with plenty of percussion and the vocals are supported by backing singers on much of the album.  The shortest song is 3 minutes 52 seconds, with 5.22 for the longest, but the alternating vocal and instrumental passages in each song require these sorts of times to make sense.
With its modern slant, the album is reminiscent of an urban city scape rather than a tent in the desert.
Towards the end of the album the songs begin to mellow and the singer takes on the persona of a crooner, which he does very well.  I would imagine that the songs in this particular style would be the perfect musical accompaniment to a plate of dates and a supply of coffee watching the sun set over the sea.  However, as it’s winter as I write this, I’ll have to just rely on my imagination for that bit.  At least for another few months.”

Next Week:  P for Panama

Monday, 1 December 2014

Dee Reviews The Eastern Restaurant First Birthday, 30th November 2014

The Eastern is located in Wylde Green, near Sutton Coldfield, above a hairdressing salon, and offers a choice of Chinese, Thai, Malaysian and, to a lesser extent, Japanese cuisines.  Usually I am wary of restaurants offering multiple cuisines, but the Eastern is an honourable exception, as their culinary output is of a very high standard. 
The restaurant is clean, spacious and elegantly decorated, the equal of any I have seen in the centre of Birmingham.
The evening of our visit was the restaurant’s first birthday, and a special evening had been publicised, promising a free bottle of Prosecco (Terms and Conditions applied) for each table booked.  In addition, entertainment was provided by singer Nolan Terry, who often performs there at weekends, singing covers of familiar classics by Sinatra, the Bee Gees, Billy Joel and a few Christmas songs thrown in for good measure.  A day early for me, but not too much to worry about.
We hadn’t made a prior booking but luckily there was a table available for us, and even though we didn’t qualify for the Prosecco, the manager offered us a complimentary glass each, which was gratefully received.
It was nice to see the restaurant busy and buzzing as we have been in before when it has been a little on the quiet side.  This didn’t seem to trouble either the kitchen or the front of house teams, as all of the customers seemed happy, and staff were moving from table to table, with meals arriving out of the kitchen at a steady pace.
The confidence in cooking is evidenced by the choice of set menus on offer: all of them showcase a wide range of dishes from the main menu, allowing diners to sample the different cooking styles and bookmark favourites for future visits.  The Thai dishes are my favourites, with the wonderful Tom Yum soup deserving of special mention.  Hot without being unpalatable, and having very vibrant colour and strong flavour.
On this occasion, we opted for the Eastern Feast set menu, which comprised a platter of four starters, tasting plates of four main courses and a dish of rice.  The starter platter was nicely presented, with sculpted vegetables dotted in amongst the chicken skewers, barbeque spare ribs, tempura prawns and vegetable spring rolls.  There were three sauces served with the starter, to compliment the skewers, spring rolls and prawns.  The spare ribs were served with the sauce already poured over them.  These were a particular favourite of Jay’s.  A sweetened soy sauce was paired with the prawns, an even sweeter plum sauce accompanied the spring rolls, while a garlic chilli satay sauce went with the skewers.  As the sauces were served in their own small dishes, it would have been fine to mix and match if desired.
Just the right amount of time passed before the mains were served, this time on separate plates.  The stir-fried vegetables were treated with the subtlest of sauces and held their flavours well.  We had these first before moving on to the more heavily sauced dishes.  The sweet and sour pork and sliced beef in teriyaki sauce, garnished with sesame seeds, were both pleasant tasting but my favourite of the main courses was undoubtedly the Thai green curry.  A mainstay of Thai restaurants, the Eastern’s version was a delicious combination of skinless chicken, crunchy Thai aubergines and kaffir lime leaves in a creamy coconut milk based sauce.  I enjoyed it so much that after enjoying the curry itself and the sauce coated rice, I then started on the leftover sauce with a spoon. 
Also worth mentioning was the rice, which included tiny cubes of sausage and green peas stirred through it, an interesting alternative to the more common plain steamed rice that features in set menus.
The portion sizes were just right and left us feeling full but not uncomfortably so.  We had room for dessert but decided not to order from the dessert menu.  This is the only real sticking point for me.  With all the care and attention to detail that had gone into the savoury dishes, it was a shame to see that the desserts were standard freezer-to-plate options so often seen in many other restaurants.  Perhaps this is a question of economics as desserts are not commonly ordered, but even a simple freshly prepared fruit salad would have made a nice end to the meal.
At 21.50GBP for the food for each person, the price was about right, with no additional service charge added to our bill, but with the level of service and quality of food, we were happy to leave a bit extra.
Upon leaving we were offered a mint from a tray before being bid goodnight.  A small but welcome gesture from a very fine restaurant.

Happy Birthday to the Eastern.  Here's to more of the same.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Cheese Tasting Evening at Cherry Blossom Bakehouse

Dee:  "Yesterday evening the Cherry Blossom Bakehouse hosted a cheese tasting event in conjunction with their supplier, who was also in attendance to discuss and answer questions on the various cheeses being presented.  Tasting notes were provided for nine of them but there were a few more, not all of which we tried.  In addition, there were also recommendations for wines to accompany each type of cheese, which we found most useful.

Below is a breakdown of what was on the tasting notes and what my own views were;"

Aged Leicestershire Red
Tasting Notes said:  “Made using a traditional recipe, Aged Leicestershire Red is buttered, cloth-bound and matured for six months to produce a flaky, open texture cheese with a slightly sweet, caramelised flavour and rich golden orange colour. It is the only pasteurised Red Leicester produced in the county of Leicestershire and is a firm favourite at Long Clawson Dairy.”
Dee said:  “Great, lovely deep colour, packed with flavour and a strong texture.  This was the cheese that I used in the recipe for the sunshine patties in an earlier post.”
Recommended Wine:  Grove Mill Riesling

Roquefort Societe PDO (AOC)
Tasting Notes said:  “Appellation d’Origine Controlle (AOC) protected, this cheese is made with milk from sheep grazing in Les Caussos mountains and ripened in the caves of Combalau”
Dee said:  “The PDO notification stands for Protected Designation of Origin.  A good mixture of saltiness and creaminess.  The pairing of this with the sweet wine was inspired.”
Recommended Wine:  Chateau des Arroucats (or Sauternes)

Occelli in Foglie di Castagno
Tasting Notes said:  “Produced from goat's or sheep's and cow's milk in quantities that vary according to the availability of the season, this cheese is left to age for about a year and a half. The wheels are then wrapped in chestnut leaves which transform them and imbue them with a strong and exceptional flavour.
Dee said:  “Loved the strong taste of this one and could make out a hint of chestnut.  Quite a crumbly texture giving a very pleasing finish.  Goes well with beer too so I have to love it all the more for that.”
Recommended Wine:  from the Tasting Notes: “It pairs well with Langa wines but is ideal with dark craft beer too.”

Tornegus
Tasting Notes said:  “Tornegus is a washed-rind cheese - during maturation the rind is washed with brine including some special bacteria: this affects colour, texture, tase and aroma. The pinkish rind also has a scattering of Egyptian Mint, to give the cheese a sweeter finish; texture is  silky - semi-soft - and the flavour spicy, becoming fruitier and more powerful as it matures.”
Dee said:  “A powerful, earthy flavour.  I got hints of leafy green vegetables.  Went really nicely on a cracker with some home made chutney.”
Recommended Wine:  Gruner Veltliner

Verzin di Vacca
Tasting Notes said:  “A marbled cheese made from full cream cow’s milk. Its name echoes the famous marble of the Frabosa quarries, as the paste is white with green ('verzin' in the Piedmontese dialect) streaks. Creamy and spreadable, it has a strong flavour but with hints of fresh milk.”
Dee said:  “A very pleasant smooth and creamy blue cheese.”
Recommended Wine:  Suri Monferrato Bianco.  Tasting Notes added: “Verzin can be paired with a good Piedmontese red, even young, but a good-bodied still white will also go well with it.”

La Gran Reserva: Beppino Occelli
Tasting Notes said:  “These cheeses are selected to be Beppino Occelli's best. They are aged for a long time in the Valcasotto cellars, they are refined and enriched with Barolo. 'Old' cheeses for 'new' flavours, born from the quest for intense flavours that combine well with the prized Langa wines.  Their unique characteristics are what make them the Grand Cheeses of Beppino Occelli.”
Dee said:  “Had the perfect balance of maturity, strength, saltiness, creaminess and added flavour from the blended herbs and spices on the outside, which Jay informed me were the grape must from the wine, so there you go.”
Recommended Wine:  Barolo Flori

Joie de Chevre
Tasting Notes said:  “Joie deChevre is a wonderful semi-soft goat’s cheese from Brock Hall Farm in Shropshire.  It’s got a lovely fresh taste, slightly fruity with a little sharpness.  Great if you’re unsure of goat’s milk – this one is likely to convert!”
Dee said:  “I wasn’t too sure about this one first time round.  The taste was a bit mild for me, but something drew me back to it and it grew on me.  Quite a milky feel to it.”
Recommended Wine:  Gamay Rose

Rosary Goat
Tasting Notes said:  “Rosary is a fresh, creamy goats' cheese with a mousse-like texture and a natural acidity. Recent winner of the Supreme Champion Award at the British Cheese Awards 2014, it is made from pasteurised milk, using a microbial rennet, which makes it suitable for vegetarians. Just enough salt is added to enhance its unique flavour.”
Dee said:  “This was great spread on crostini bread.  The texture lent itself well to spreading rather than being cut into chunks.  No chutney needed, just the cheese itself.”
Recommended Wine:  Nostros Reserva Sauvignon Blanc

Morbier Aoc Hennart
Tasting Notes said:  “This a semi-soft mountain cheese made in the Jura mountains of the Franche-Comte.  It has a layer of vegetable ash running through the centre which is an echo of the tradition of adding a layer of charcoal overnight to protect the leftover curds from the making of comte that day, then the following morning the cheese would be topped up with fresh curds.  It has a mild flavour with a nutty aftertaste and a fairly strong odour.”
Dee said:  “We were divided on this one.  Jay didn’t like it but I did.  Soft and chewy texture with an earthy flavour.”
Recommended Wine:  Cotes du Rhone Blanc

Jay’s Cheese of the Evening:  Tornegus
Dee’s Cheese of the Evening:  La Gran Reserva:  Beppino Occelli
Honourable Mention:  Occelli in Foglie di Castagno

Sunday, 16 November 2014

N for Netherlands

Dee:  “For a country so close to my own I was surprised at how little I knew of Dutch cuisine.  Sure, I’d heard of the cheese that is perhaps the country’s best known food, but that is only part of a meal rather than dish in itself.  I had vague notions of there being a baking tradition with various pastries and Tiger Bread originating there but that was about it.
As it turned out, Dutch cuisine turned out to be simple and unfussy but hearty and nutritious.  It included familiar ’meat and two veg’ type ingredients and cooking styles, and with a rich baking tradition of fine cakes and biscuits.  All in all, I found it to be closer to the cuisines of the English and Germans than the French.
One more snippet of information I knew about Dutch cuisine; orange coloured carrots were developed in the Netherlands, so that gave me a starting point for devising the menu.”


Bitterballen
Dee:  “These were described as a Dutch bar snack, enjoyed with a glass of beer, which endeared them to me straight away.  Instead of fresh parsley, we added some dried mixed herbs, which complimented the beef and onion that formed most of the mixture.  We’re still watching the calories so baked them rather than deep frying them, and I'll be honest, they didn't look good enough to photograph, but what they lacked in appearance, they certainly made up for in taste.  We managed to source a sweet German mustard from the Christmas Market which opened in Birmingham a few days ago, and this proved a perfect accompaniment, as did the very fine Dutch Trappist Beer.
I would love to see some bitterballen in pubs here.  I’m sure they would prove popular”
Jay:  “Not so much Bitterballen, more Amazeballen!”

Hutspot met Klapstuk
Dee:  “The Hutspot element of this dish was a type of three root mash made from carrots, potatoes and onions, while the accompanying Klapstuk was sliced braised beef.  A beef gravy completed the plate, making a very familiar tasting dish. It was ideal as a winter warmer.
As with the starter, we decided to enjoy it with a glass of beer, the well-known Grolsch lager this time.”

Spiced Biscuits and Coffee
Dee:  “I was originally going to bake a Boterkoek (Butter Cake) for dessert, but decided that it might be a bit too heavy to follow on from the previous course, so instead went for a recipe known as Kruidnoten.  They were described as pebble-sized cookies enjoyed around December time, but as the photo shows, ours ended up like biscuits. 
We’re a bit early time-wise, but I liked the look of them and wanted to give them a go, as we could be absolutely anywhere in the culinary world come December.  Besides, Birmingham’s annual Christmas Market has just opened, so for the purposes of this blog entry, we can class the festive season as having now started.  Rather than beer this time, we served these little treats with some coffee, as the source web site described the Dutch as having a fondness for both cookies and coffee.
As they were baking the aroma from the kitchen was fantastic.  The taste was sweet, spicy and warming all at the same time.  Leaving the dough overnight to allow the flavours to infuse certainly had an effect as the cookies were full of flavour.
I can see us making these again before Christmas.” 

Soundtrack:  Rowwen Heze - Boem
Dee:  “Rowwen Heze are part of a Dutch music scene known as Boerenrock, which I’d not heard of before so decided to give it a go.
The music had a traditional, folky sound and reminded me of a German ‘oompah’ band, though faster paced, and a Cajun band.  It was accordion led, with guitar and snare drum accompaniment, and lead vocal in Limburgish-Dutch.
There was a distinct ‘party’ feel to the music, and I could imagine the band being well received in a live setting, or at a beer festival with everyone enjoying a drink or two.”

Next Week:  O for Oman