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.”

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.”

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

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Book Review: Nile Style, Egyptian Cuisine and Culture by Amy Riolo

For a country with such a well-documented history and frequent attention from people living outside its borders, books on Egyptian cuisine are comparatively rare, so I am always interested when I see one in a shop.  As luck would have it, on my last visit to the book shop there were two: One was shrink wrapped, which prevented me from browsing through it.  The other was this one:  Nile Style by Amy Riolo.

The book is a 240 page paperback with a glossy front cover depicting an enticing looking plate of koshari and a photo of what looks like part of the Cairo skyline on a hot and hazy morning.  Do forgive me if this isn’t what the photo is of.  I’ve never been to Egypt.  The book felt sturdy and was printed on good quality paper, mostly in black and sepia text, with 16 pages of colour photographs of some of the dishes described in the book, and a second set further on, of 8 pages of colour photographs of sites in Egypt, both rural and urban.  The photographs of the food were all quite close-up, with fairly plain backgrounds, allowing the viewer to concentrate solely on the food.  The location shots all had a ‘holiday snap’ feeling to them, giving the viewer a window into someone else’s experience of their travels.  There are also numerous black and white photos throughout the book which, although much smaller, convey the same message as the larger colour ones.

The quality of the printing and the layout of the book did cause me to wonder if I would want to take it into the kitchen with me, where it would have to be held open on a book easel and risked getting splattered with cooking sauce and lemon juice, but the lure of the recipes was simply too great to resist, so I have incorporated a summary of my experiences cooking from the book later on in this review.

So, on to the content.  The book begins with an introduction describing the author’s interaction with, and experience of, the cuisine, followed by a potted history of how it has developed over the last 7000 years.  This is set out as a timeline, followed by brief comments on the significant events in each era, and showing when, and from where, key ingredients were introduced.  The summary is, by necessity, brief.  This isn’t purporting to be a history book, but the author clearly feels that it’s still important to understand how the cuisine has developed in order to be able to appreciate it fully.

The way that the recipes are organised is definitely worth commenting on.  Under three parts, entitled; ‘Ancient Celebrations’, ‘Significant Ceremonies’ and ‘Modern Celebrations’, are contained a number of menus, each with recipes intended to complement each other.  I liked the evocative titles given to some of them, for example; ‘Bedouin Tent Party’, ‘Eid Al Fattir Celebration’ and ‘Nile-Style Street Food’.  This may cause frustration in some readers, who might prefer recipes divided into more familiar and I guess more easily accessible ‘starters’ ‘main courses’ ‘salads’ etc sections, but I quite liked it.  It was something a bit different.  Not unique, but a bit of a challenge, which I don’t mind on occasion.  One word of caution though, the menus are quite large, so if you’re planning to prepare one for a dinner party, it’s wise to read through it first to see what needs prepping and in what order.
Of course, there’s nothing preventing a mixing and matching of recipes from different sections, and there is a recipe index at the back of the book for anyone wishing to select their recipes in this way.

I found the chapter on religious communities interesting, and several Jewish, Christian and Islamic festivals are described, followed by an example menu for each.  I also love to collect bread recipes, so was delighted to find twelve different ones, reflecting the importance of bread in the Egyptian diet.

Some may criticise a few of the recipes for being over-simplistic and not ‘’proper’ recipes, for example there is one for yoghurt with honey stirred through it, but I really didn’t mind this.  The recipes are what they are.  All are contextualised and placed carefully into each menu, accompanied by a commentary in the same way that the more ‘complex’ recipes are.

But are these recipes any good?  I selected three to try, all from the earlier sections of the book.  The first two are from the ‘Ancient Egyptian Nile Festival’ menu, with the last being from the ’Smell of the Fresh Breeze’ menu.
It’s important at this point to say that the serving quantities quoted in the book are based on them being incorporated as part of the whole menus, so what’s listed as ‘8 servings’ in the book will be fine for serving 4 people if you’re only preparing 4 dishes.

Chicken Pitta Bread Sandwiches (Shwarma bil Firakh)
I’ve tried some very fine chicken schawarma recipes before now, so this one was up against some tough competition, but it provided a new combination of fabulous flavours and I’m pleased to say that it was up there with the best.  The marinade provided just the right amount of kick to the chicken, while the condiments added heat and creaminess.  I like books with plenty of sauce recipes and there are five in this one.  I served the completed dish on a home-made flatbread and it was delicious.  In fact, I was so focussed on starting the meal that I forgot to add the specified garnishes of pickled chillies and preserved lemon skins.  Luckily I made enough to have for lunch tomorrow.

Salad with Grapes and Fried Feta Balls (Salata bil Aghnib wa Gebna Makleyah)
This was a simple but effective salad with the most complex element being the preparation of the feta cheese balls.  The recipe called for them to be deep fried, but as I was counting the calories, I decided instead to try baking them in the oven.  This yielded a completely unexpected but very pleasing biscuit like appearance which is shown in the photograph.  I also used little gem lettuce rather than romaine, for the simple reason that they are easier to divide up; one lettuce serving 2 people.  The salad combined sweet and salty flavours from the grapes and cheese, with crunchy textures from the lettuce and citrussy tang from the dressing.

Cherry Topped Semolina Cookies (Biskoweet bil Smeed wa Kareez)
Sometimes semolina cookies can be a bit bland tasting, but the addition of cinnamon and especially the apricot jam glaze on these really brought them to life.  In fact, they were so gorgeous that Jay and I ate the whole batch and need to bake another in order to enjoy them with lunch tomorrow.  The recipe states that there is enough dough for 20 cookies but we only managed to get 11 out of it.  We also had to use glace cherries as we couldn’t find any maraschino cherries, but I don’t think that detracted from the recipe too much.

In conclusion then, this is a great book, packed with fabulous recipes, which I will certainly be using again.

Reviewed by Dee, 15th and 16th November 2014

Sunday, 9 November 2014

M for Madagascar

Dee:  “I was expecting the cuisine of Madagascar to be primarily African, with the odd Arabic and French ingredient or preparation here and there, but it turned out to be much broader than that, with strong influences from India, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The web site where we found these recipes, Celtnet, contained a wealth of information and we will no doubt be visiting it again.”

Curried Beans (Kabaro au carry)
Dee:  “This was a simple dish to prepare, and the curry powder gave just the right amount of spicing to the tomato and onion sauce in which the beans were simmered.  The recipe called for lima beans, but we only had fava beans so used those.  They turned out fine and seemed to take in the flavour of the sauce well.”

Pork Kebabs with Mango Salsa (Brochettes de porc avec sauce mangue)
Dee:  “These delicious kebabs were full of sweet and spicy flavours and went beautifully with the fresh tangy salsa.  The whole kebab mixture, consisting of pork, onion wedges and chunks of pepper, were marinated for about 8 hours before being grilled until the edges began to blacken.  I would have loved to have to have grilled these over hot coals, but had to make do with the grill in the kitchen”

Pigeon Droppings (Caca pigeon)
Dee:  “Yes, you read it right.  These aren’t actual pigeon droppings of course: they are strips of seasoned and spiced dough fried and eaten as a snack.  The egg in the dough mix gave them a softer, smoother texture than the crunchy bread sticks that are sold commercially.  They would be particularly enjoyable alongside a dipping sauce, but we ate them as they were.  Jay quickly developed a particular fondness for them.”

Fruit Salad with Lychees (Salady Voankazo)
Dee:  “This was a simple fruit salad served with a vanilla flavoured syrup.  Unfortunately we couldn’t get hold of any lychees, and instead of using a cantaloupe melon we used a mango, as they were only available in packs of two.  One went into the salsa for the kebabs, so it made sense to use the other in this fruit salad.”

Malagasy Chai
Dee:  “The taste of this tea was very gentle, but that could well have been down to the fact that some of the spices we used needed replacing, plus we used Darjeeling tea as the base, which could also have accounted for the subtlety of the flavour.  Just as well that we had the tea with dessert rather than the main course."

Soundtrack:  Jaojoby - Malagasy
Dee:  “The African influence is more prevalent in this music than in the meal.  This is an album from 2010 and features complex percussive rhythms and lead guitar tunes, over which a single male lead vocal and chorus of female backing singers form the core sound.  Occasionally brass instruments and accordions appear.  The songs sound celebratory in nature and it’s easy to imagine people dancing to it, but we were a bit too full and tired to dance to it ourselves.”

Next Week:  N for Netherlands 

A Caribbean flavoured Weekend

Dee:  “We hadn’t cooked any Caribbean meals for a while, so this weekend decided to revisit our battered copy of ‘Creole Cooking’ by Sue Mullin.  It’s one of our oldest recipe books and we’ve cooked from it quite a bit over the years.  We bought it from a library sale, and it was well thumbed even then.  It includes recipes from all across the Caribbean, with chapters on drinks, soups, fish and seafood and a particularly good one on salads.  The recipes for the main courses are pretty much all meat based, so vegetarians/vegans would need to refer to the chapters on side dishes or salads and adapt the recipes there, although some of the soups are suitable too.  I mentioned the chapter on salads being good but there are also plenty of recipes for sauces and spice mixtures which I always enjoy collecting. 

We prepared these dishes over the course of the weekend, rather than all at once.  The chicken and salad were tea on Friday, wheras the patties were baked on Sunday, for lunches in the week.”

Caribbean Coconut Chicken
Dee:  “We decided to give this recipe a go as we hadn’t cooked it before, and were pleased with how it turned out.  We didn’t adhere one hundred per cent to the recipe, as not all of the ingredients were available, but we were able to use stock-cupboard ingredients to good effect.  The recipe calls for unsweetened coconut flakes, which we couldn’t find, so tried sweetened dessicated coconut instead.  Normally associated with cakes, it actually gave the filling for the chicken a pleasing texture and sweetness which the sauce went well with.  Caribbean food is often thought of as being all barbequed and blow-your-head-off hot, but while these dishes are certainly present in the culinary identity of the region (there’s a chapter on jerked food in this book for example), there are also milder dishes cooked in different ways with different tastes on offer, and so it is with this one.  The tastes here are strong and sweet, perhaps not to everyone’s taste but we enjoyed it.  The dessicated coconut of course made it sweeter than the ‘authentic’ version, but with a sauce that included apricot preserve it was unlikely to have ever been too much of a clash.
The recipe calls for the chicken breast to be flattened, rolled up with the filling inside, secured and baked, with the cooking juices used in the sauce.  In our version we had to improvise with the sauce as there weren’t any cooking juices to use, so we added tomato ketchup instead.  This turned out to be an amazing base for the sauce and may even have inspired us to make up a batch of it to use with other meals.  The chicken rolls should have been served in sliced, but we decided to stick with serving them as they were as they looked a little fragile.
The photograph shows them being served with two sweet potatoes but one turned out to be plenty, so we saved the other to warm up with lunch the next day.  The sweet potatoes were just pricked all over, coated with a little oil and jerk seasoning, then baked for about 35 minutes. 
The chicken would also go well on a bed of rice with some cooked peppers mixed in.”

Creole Spinach Salad
Dee:  “We’ve made this salad several times now and although it takes a bit of preparation, mainly de-stemming the spinach leaves, it remains a favourite.  As with the chicken dish, we had to make a couple of substitutions, but neither changed the salad for the worse.  The first was by using toasted pumpkin seeds instead of pecans, but they were a more than suitable alternative.  The second was by using shop-bought croutons, as we only had flatbreads in the bread bin, and they were earmarked for other meals.  The dressing packed a punch, having mustard and balsamic vinegar added to the yoghurt base, but it worked well with the large amount of spinach.  The occasional taste of the toasted seeds was also very pleasing to taste.”

Vegetable Patties
Dee:  “This recipe isn’t from the book.  It’s by Levi Roots: Recipe Link   
We made a slight change to the published recipe by leaving the butter out of the patty dough.  This made the finish inauthentic but we’re trying to watch the calories so had to compromise somewhere.  The filling included cheese, but this was needed to bind the vegetables together and to add a little saltiness so had to stay.
The patties are intended for lunches during the week, so we made up a quick dipping sauce from yoghurt, chilli sauce and a little jerk seasoning to go with them.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Chocolate Chilli and Lime Brownies

Dee:  “The original recipe for these lovely brownies was created by fellow food blogger Lindsay over at ‘Always Make Thyme’.  She has a great blog going packed with easy to follow and clearly photographed recipes, so do stop by and check it out:  Link to Blog

The recipe for the brownies is here:  Link to Recipe

I fancied trying a bitter chocolate and a red chilli to accompany the lime to make a really rich mixture.  We used dark muscovado sugar rather than golden caster, and only had about 50g of plain flour left after most of it went into our Christmas Cake, so had to make up the shortfall with self-raising.  We used golden caster sugar to dust the top of the mixture as soon as it came out of the oven.  We divided the mixture into 32 bite sized pieces rather than the 12 stated by the recipe, on account of the bitter chocolate, dark sugar and chilli.  The result was a very pleasing, rich tasting yet light textured brownie.  The flavour of the lime was subtle and neither it nor the chilli overpowered the rich chocolate”.

L for Laos

Dee:  “We’re lacking the familiar dining room pictures this time, as we’re in the middle of decorating.
We decided to prepare a vegetarian feast again tonight, and, after searching through the recipes, discovered a few promising sounding dishes.  Initially I thought that we would have trouble sourcing ingredients, but I’m happy to say that this didn’t turn out to be a problem.  I read that sticky rice was a staple of Lao cuisine, but we hadn’t allowed ourselves enough time to prepare it, so opted for a soup, a salad and a spiced vegetable based dish
Everything that we cooked, and brewed in the case of the tea, was simple to prepare and full of flavour.  A winning combination I think.
The main feeling I got when we sat down to eat was of balance.  Everything complimented everything else.  The sweetness of the tea, the saltiness of the beans and the different textures in the salad.  Even the music created a pleasant and relaxing atmosphere.”

Papaya Salad
Dee:  “The recipe for this calls for unripe green papaya, but we had to go with what was available to us, which was a ripe one.  An alternative of shredded cabbage and carrot was suggested, but we decided to see how the dish would taste with ripe papaya, and fortunately it was fine.  We found some Thai spiced peanuts which we added both to the salad mix and as a garnish.  Laos and Thailand share an extensive border, and I’m not sure how ‘Thai’ the spiced nuts were anyway, so I decided that I’d be ok to use them.  The nuts and lightly steamed beans gave a nice contrast of textures with the shredded papaya and tomatoes, and the lettuce and cucumber brought an additional fresh dimension to the overall taste.  The original recipe called for fish sauce as part of the dressing, but we used soy sauce instead as a vegetarian alternative.
We served it on a bed of shredded lettuce and finely chopped cucumber”

Hot and Sour Mushroom Soup
Dee:  “This soup was a real hit and would have been even better if we’d been able to find some fresh kaffir lime leaves.  Unfortunately we only had dried ones which had been hanging round for ages.  I pre-soaked them before adding them to the soup but was fighting a losing battle with them.  The recipe was simple.  Basically just put everything apart from the chilli in a pot, bring it to the boil and simmer it for 25 minutes.  Then add the chilli and simmer for another 5 minutes.  During this time the mushrooms had softened and the broth had taken on an intense flavour.  The taste was more sour than hot but that was ok.  The recipe also called for green chillies but we used red instead to give the soup a bit more colour.  ”

Akha Beans
Dee:  “The write-up for this recipe said that either ginger or sesame seeds could accompany the beans, but not both so, as we’d used ginger in the tea, and sauce with ginger in it in the soup, we decided to go with the sesame seed option.  I love toasted sesame seeds.
Jay sent me out into the garden with a torch to get some mint, but it was worth it as they helped to give these beans star treatment.  The recipe called for 3 tablespoons of soy sauce along with 1 teaspoon of salt, which did give the dish a pronounced saltiness so next time I’d probably cut down on the amount of soy sauce, but I was still very pleased with it overall.”

Lemongrass and Ginger Spiced Tea
Dee:  “The original recipe that we picked was for Iced Tea, but that wasn’t going to be suitable for a cold, dark evening at the start of the English Winter, so we adapted the recipe and made hot tea instead, which we served in the small espresso cups as shown in the photo.  These turned out to be perfect vessels, as the tea was very sweet, though not unpleasantly so, and would certainly be best enjoyed in small measures.  I was a little worried that the ginger would overpower the other ingredients but it didn’t. Although it was present in the overall taste, the spicing was subtle and the sweet tea was a fine accompaniment to the other dishes.”

Soundtrack:  Nouthong Phimvilayphone – Visions of the Orient: Music from Laos
Dee:  “This fascinating album opened with what sounded like a vintage synthesizer with a few preprogrammed notes on loop.  It managed to capture my interest even though there was no tune as I was sure I detected subtle changes in among the seeming repetition.  There were one or two tracks in this style interspersed among the rest of the album.  The vocals kicked in on track 2 and sounded as if they were half sung, half chanted, and worked in close harmony with the music, which was driven by slow rhythms, on top of which various stringed instruments and bell-like percussion seemed to weave this way and that.  I would describe this album as a collection of intricate musical patterns, rather than verse-chorus-verse style songs.  The only discernable tunes came from a pipe-like instrument, but these sounded more improvised rather than structured.  It's difficult to imagine how this music is created.  The pace of all the various tracks on the album was quite slow, but some, such as ‘Lam Phoeng’ sounded like they could accompany choreographed dances.  After a few tracks, it started to have quite a calming effect on me.  It was an ideal accompaniment to tonight’s meal.”

Next Week we’re off the South East Coast of Africa:  M for Madagascar

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Jay and Dee’s Trip to Birmingham Beer & Cider Festival 2014

Dee: "Only a mild hangover this morning, but lots of debris from last night to sort through and tidy up.  However, that can wait, as we have an important review to get typed up.

The Birmingham Beer & Cider Festival 2014 was held at the New Bingley Hall, on the outskirts of Birmingham City Centre.  It was a large venue with plenty of seating and various bars situated around the edges and centre of the main hall.  A second room hosted music, games, catering and more beers.  The layout was good and the venue had enough capacity for more people than were there on the Friday afternoon that we were there.  A special mention must go to Johnsons of Henley, who ran a shuttle bus service to and from the venue, which was probably just that bit too far to walk to from the city centre.

At over 300 beers to choose from, not to mention the bottled beers and the cider and perry bar (no pun intended), we were never going to get to sample everything, but we tried to include as wide a variety of different beers as possible; lights, darks, smokies, hoppies, stouts and porters.  Apologies to the Cider and Perry people, and any breweries who wanted to be included here.  Maybe next year."

Off we go then…

Hank Schrader’s Coconut & Cardamom Porter
Guide said:  Lovely, dark porter, brewed with sorachi ace and cardamoms.  Finished off with bags of toasted coconut.  Beautiful
Dee said:  Smooth, intense porter flavoured with toasted coconut.  A new taste sensation for me.  An early contender for best beer of the festival.

Reverend Earl Simcoe
Guide said:  High class brew using the fantastic Simcoe hop.  Hints of bergamot from the Earl Grey give this beer a real twist.  Brewers especially for this festival.
Jay said:  Very citrusy on the nose and first taste, then very hoppy and astringent, a bit like strong Earl Grey.

Hooky Mild
Guide said:  A dark chestnut coloured ale, full of roast malt flavours and complimented with superb dry hop aromas from East Kent Goldings
Dee said:  A light refrain after the gloopy, smoky assault of previous samples.  Hops weren’t too strong, which I liked, and there was a slight maltiness to the end taste.

Smoke Bomb
Guide said:  Unfined and unfiltered bitter with a light smoky nose and Bavarian smoked ham and citrus flavours matched with dark smooth toffee malts.
Dee said:  Got the smoked ham flavour straight away.  Didn’t get the citrus or toffee but that was ok.  The smokiness won through for me.

Guide said:  A big punchy character of grapefruit and in particular, fresh crushed gooseberries.  This is a big hitting beer.
Jay said:  Yum!  BIG hit of grapefruit

Autumn Twist
Guide said:  An amber beer with a bubbly white head with an aroma (of) light sour cherry fruit.
Dee said:  Nice one to start with.  Not too strong but decent flavour.

Autumn Mist
Guide said:  A green hopped pale ale with fruity aroma and sweet taste.
Jay said:  Quaffing beer.  Perfect for a summer’s day in a beer garden.

Guide said:  A pale hopped session beer with hints of sweetness.  A subtle elderflower aroma balances the hops.
Jay said:  Cor! Nice dry finish.  Elderflower was indeed subtle.  Another sunny day ale.

Gollop with a Zest
Guide said:  A blonde beer with a floral start and a citric finish
Dee said:  I can't put it better than the guide with regard to taste.  The brewery is local to us, so I hope some of their beers arrive in some of the nearby pubs.

Full Bore
Guide said:  Lovely malt flavours, made with Devon honey.
Dee said:  Lived up to its name.  Pronounced malty flavour with a slight sweetness from the honey.

Factory Steam
Guide said:  Copper, with biscuity notes and a firm bitterness, with fruity, woody and minty notes.
Jay said:  Bleuch! Not for me this one..
Dee said:  Jay gave me this as I liked it.  Very earthy taste which reminded me of nettle tea.

Urban Fox
Guide said:  A black London porter.  Blended from five different malts and four varieties of traditional English hops – including First Gold and Golding.  With layered bitter sweet malt flavours of chocolate, treacle and toffee, and hints of citrus and orange notes from the hops.
Dee said:  A rich coffee flavoured porter but with some very subtle fruity flavours.  One of the best beers of the festival for me.  

Papa Jangles Stout
Guide said:  Dark and chocolatey with complex malt flavours.  Cookies and Cream.  Rum and Raisin.
Jay Said:  A good juicy stout.  Got coffee but not cookies, cream, rum or raisin.

Guide said:  A dark wheat beer which uses a mixtureof wheat and caramelised barley malts.  This beer has all the characteristics of a wheat beer.
Dee said:  A sharp citrusy tang to this one.  Great continental style wheat beer.

Hazelnut Mild
Guide said:  Hazelnut mild, malty, nutty with dried fruit
Jay said:  A revelation, nutty gorgeousness.  Yum! My beer of the festival.

Russian Imperial Stout
Guide said:  The floral character of the centennial hops in this beer is enhanced by the inclusion of rose buds, lending a hint of Turkish Delight flavour to the beer.
Dee said:  The strongest beer on tap at this year’s festival, but it was the guide that enticed me to it.  Like drinking molasses.  Didn’t get the rose flavour but it was a super-rich, elegant drink which would be best enjoyed on its own on a cold winter’s evening.
Jay said:  Still no Turkish Delight but a very smooth, decadent drink. Drawing room, wood fire…

Guide said:  Pale ale with US hops, giving a floral grassy aroma and citus flavours combined with malty character.
Dee said:  Light, hoppy taste which was not too overpowering.  I had this at tea time as an accompaniment to Jerk Chicken and Rice and Peas, and they went really well together.

Pumpkin Ale
Guide said:  Amber ale brewed with real pumpkins.
Dee said:  We had to try at least one pumpkin ale as it was Halloween.  This was ok, but I would have preferred a bit more spiciness.

Ghost Town
Guide said:  Cherry oatmeal stout brewed for Halloween
Jay said:  Woo hoo! I was the first taker for this beer after waiting for it to come on all night J  Lively but no cherries.  Very appropriate for Halloween.

In order to arrive at our beer of the festival, we both sampled each other's beers, so, after much deliberation, our top 3 beers were;

3.  Fuller's Russian Imperial Stout
2.  Slightly Foxed Urban Fox
and the winner:  Brass Castle Hazelnut Mild.  A terrific beer.  We should have had another celebratory pint of it really, but we were too full by home time. 

Now for the food;

Dee:  We wouldn’t have been able to sample all those beers without some food inside us, so the caterers also deserve a special mention.  All of the food we sampled was of very high quality.  I enjoyed Barbequed Jerk chicken with rice and peas from Jamrock Catering.  The chicken was spiced just right, with the heat coming in small bites from the pickled chillies which were optional.  The rice and peas were a lot lighter than I was used to, and certainly more so than when I cook it.  There was a lot of rice but that was ok.  I went for all the trimmings which in addition to the pickled chillies included a fresh salad of lettuce, red onion and tomato, and a creamy spicy coleslaw.
Other sustenance included a scotch egg and a very good quality pork pie from Pickles of Harborne.  Oh, and a bag of T&Js pork scratchings.
It may sound like a lot but we needed it to soak up all the beer.  Well, that’s our justification and we’re sticking with it. 

All in all then, a great festival and we’re already looking forward to next year’s.