Saturday, 28 March 2015

Shamrock Restaurant, Bristol Street, Birmingham, 27th March 2015

Shamrock Restaurant, serving Eritrean, Ethiopian and East African food, is located among a row of old terraced buildings on Bristol Street, on the edge of Birmingham City Centre.  We first noticed it while driving past, and the sign attracted my attention straight away.  I’d loved Ethiopian food when I tried out a few recipes back in September 2014 (click here for details), so Shamrock became a destination of choice.

There is no expensive décor, either outside or inside, and the tiled floors, textured wallpaper and anaglypta covered ceiling look decades old.  The walls are decorated with a variety of arts and crafts from the Horn of Africa, and when we entered there was a television on showing Eritrean programmes with the sound muted and pop music from the region playing instead.  There were a few people inside, sitting round tables and chatting among themselves, and the restaurant had a small community centre feel to it.

The menu offers a choice of four starters, all vegetarian friendly, two fish dishes, and a comprehensive selection of beef, lamb or chicken based dishes.  There are plenty of vegetarian options too, with nine main courses, and in addition there are set buffets for either 2 or 4 people which can be either meat based or meat-free.

As this was our first visit, we opted for the vegetarian mini buffet, pictured below;
This was brought to our table covered with a decorative conical shaped basket, which was removed to display the food: a large injera flatbread/pancake, on top of which were arranged dishes selected by the chef from the menu.  In the centre of the picture is the Zigni, an Eritrean sauce made from tomatoes and a selection of spices.  It is one of those recipes that varies from cook to cook and Shamrock appear to be quite proud of theirs as it appears several times on the menu, including the Timtino, also part of the buffet, which was a dish of lentils and beans gently mashed together.  The other three dishes making up the buffet were Hamli (sautéed spinach), Alicha with vegetables ( a stew containing cabbage and carrots which had a slightly sharp taste not dissimilar to sauerkraut but much more chunky in texture) and a simple salad of lettuce and tomatoes.  We were expecting this salad just to be included as a palate cleanser but in fact it was dressed with a delicious oily, spicy dressing. 
There is no metal cutlery involved.  Here, the food is scooped up with rolled up injera which had been provided rolled up in a basket and can be seen in the top right hand corner of the photo.
Once all the toppings were gone, we then ate the large injera which they had been placed on.  During the meal, this had soaked up some of the sauces and was packed with flavour.  I loved this final part of the meal and would perhaps go so far as to say that it was my favourite.

Eritrean cuisine is not noted for its desserts, although the menu does offer a choice of yoghurt and honey or ice cream, but we opted instead for the Coffee with Ceremony and Jebena, pictured below;
The coffee ceremony had been recommended to us by a friend of Jay’s who had visited the restaurant a while ago.  First, the beans are roasted in the restaurant kitchen and brought to the table in the still-smoking pan so that we could see and smell the coffee being prepared.  This was fantastic, and the aroma of roasting coffee beans filled the whole restaurant for a few minutes afterwards.  When ready the coffee is brought to the table in the Jebena, which is a clay jug with a long spout, from which the drink is poured.  It works in a similar way to a caffetiere, with straw being placed at the mouth of the spout to act as a filter.  A large bowl of sugar was provided but neither of us added any as the coffee had a rich earthy and slightly smoky taste.
Accompanying the coffee was a large basket of freshly cooked lightly salted popcorn and a small stone cup containing burning incense.  All of this together made for a great experience and a terrific end to the meal.

The cost of the whole meal including the coffee ceremony was £23, one of the best value meals we’ve had in ages.

For a taste of traditional Eritrean cuisine and casual dining outside of the city centre then the Shamrock Restaurant comes highly recommended.

The restaurant has a web site which can be accessed here:  Shamrock Restaurant web site

Review written by Dee 28th March 2015

Friday, 27 March 2015

From the Archives: The original Twin Peaks evening - 3rd August 2013

For those who enjoyed the write up of the recent Twin Peaks themed evening (click here for details) we are pleased to present the photos from the original event.  

All thanks must go to Jay, who found them again so it's great to be able to share them.  By the looks of it, there's not too much difference from the more recent meal, apart from the sunny balcony setting.  We were living in a rented flat at the time, and it was summer.

Pretty much the same as the more recent menu, but without the bread.  I seem to recall the beer being flavoured with juniper and quite smoky.

Same as last time apart from the beer, which I haven't seen since.

The pastry on the pie looks to have survived better than the more recent version, but the more recent version tasted better.   

The Playlist
I remember the original playlist being a mixture of the Twin Peaks soundtrack and the Julee Cruise album 'Floating into the night'.  I'm pretty sure this was the track listing;

1.  Love theme from Twin Peaks
2.  Falling
3.  Floating
4.  I remember
5.  Rockin' back inside my heart
6.  Questions in a world of blue
7.  Into the night
8.  The nightingale
9.  I float alone
10.  The Swan
11. The world spins
12.  Laura Palmer's Theme
13.  Mysteries of Love
14.  Theme from Twin Peaks
15.  Artificial World

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Tasting Jerusalem #6 – Couscous

Couscous with Tomato and Onion

Dee –At the beginning of the book Yotam and Sami discuss this simple recipe, which is on page 129, and declare it to be one of their favourites as it brings back so many memories for them.  I have chosen it to showcase the featured ingredient from April 2013, couscous, because I too have memories of a similar dish, but as it takes place very far away from Jerusalem, I’ll cover it later.
As mentioned above, this is a simple recipe that not only tastes amazing but looks amazing too. 
Initially the couscous needed to be covered with boiling stock and left to steam, so once that was underway, I turned my attention to the rest of the ingredients.  The onion was slow cooked in a pan until softened, and then tomato puree and sugar were added, followed by chopped fresh tomatoes.  Normally I deseed tomatoes before chopping them but I decided not to for this dish as I wanted the tomato pulp to give the couscous a little extra moistness.  The chopped tomatoes were only cooked briefly before the couscous was ready.  I then mixed it all together, at which point the whole mixture took on a very pleasing rich golden colour with red flecks from the partially cooked tomatoes.
The recipe then mentions frying the mixture to give it a crunchy underside, but I was a bit reluctant to take this extra step; firstly because yes, I was scared of messing it up and didn’t have any spare ingredients for another; secondly my pan would have been too heavy to attempt any kind of inverting; but thirdly I was happy with the dish as it was and didn’t want to risk spoiling it.  The commentary preceding the recipe does say that the fried underside was a recent addition to an older recipe, so I decided to leave it as it was, and felt confident that I had retained the spirit of the original recipe.
I served it with a chopped salad of cherry tomatoes cucumber, red onion, chilli, carrot and coriander.  I also made a small portion of yoghurt and cucumber, using the recipe on page 299 but without the garlic or mint, to counteract the effect of the chillies in the salad as they still packed quite a punch.
This made for a great vegetarian tea, and I will certainly be enjoying the couscous and tomatoes again.

“Tasting Jerusalem is a virtual cooking community exploring the vibrant flavors and cuisine of the Middle East through the lens of Jerusalem by Ottolenghi and Tamimi published by Ebury Press. You can follow along and cook with us by subscribing to  following the hashtag #TastingJrslm on Twitter and Instagram, liking our Facebook Page or joining our Google+ Community and finally checking out all of our groups’ dishes on Pinterest
(Please note: I have listed the UK publisher and have linked to the UK Amazon site.  The US details are provided on the web site)

Bonus Recipe (Not from Jerusalem)

Couscous with Sun Dried Tomato and Mint

My story regarding this recipe began with the sun dried tomatoes.  The first time I tried them, I can’t remember where or when it was but it doesn’t matter, I really enjoyed them, so bought a box of them in a supermarket.  On the back of the box was a recipe for ‘Sun dried tomato couscous’, with ‘A taste of Morocco’ as a sub heading.  Intrigued, I bought the rest of the ingredients, made the dish at home and absolutely loved it.  I’ve made it many times since, refining it and refining it until I finally reached a version which I continue to make to this day.  It must be one of the oldest recipes in my collection.  In fact, I think my love of Eastern Mediterranean and North African cuisines may well have begun with that one little recipe tagged on to the back of a box of sun dried tomatoes.

This is the recipe I used for the dish featured in the picture.  A number of changes have been made to the recipe on the back of the box, so I have changed the name of the dish and completely rewritten the instructions, as the original required the couscous to be made “according to the packet instructions”.  The quantities listed will serve two people and can easily be scaled up or down as required.  Although the original recipe mentioned the dish providing a taste of Morocco, I don’t think my version would be at all out of place as part of a Jerusalem themed menu.

4 sun dried tomato halves, sliced lengthways into thin strips
100g couscous
4 spring onions, halved lengthways, then thinly sliced widthways
2 tsp fresh mint leaves, finely shredded
1 tsp rapeseed oil
lemon Juice (bottled is fine)
olive oil
salt and pepper

1.  Put the couscous and sun dried tomatoes in separate bowls and cover each with boiling water, then cover the bowls and leave for 15 minutes.  (If the sun dried tomatoes are in a jar of olive oil, there is no need to rehydrate them.  They can be sliced up as they are).
2.  Meanwhile, heat the rapeseed oil in a pan and when hot, add the spring onions.  Lower the heat and cook the onions until they soften.  When softened take the pan off the heat and leave it to cool slightly until the end of the 15 minutes mentioned in stage one.
3.  At the end of the 15 minutes, remove the covers from the bowls.  Fluff up the couscous with a fork and take the sliced tomatoes out of the water if applicable.  Add the couscous and tomatoes to the pan containing the spring onions and oil.
4.  Add the shredded mint and stir everything together.
5.  Add salt, pepper, lemon juice and olive oil to taste, stir again and serve.  Can be enjoyed hot or cold.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Opening Night at Amantia, Bennetts Hill, Birmingham 22nd March 2015

Amantia is a brand new restaurant located on Bennett’s Hill in the centre of Birmingham, and we accepted an invitation to attend an opening event on Sunday 22nd March, which had been organised to provide a taste of the restaurant’s offering.  Click here to visit the Restaurant's Web Site

The restaurant describes itself as Spanish and Mediterranean.  A few pasta and crepe dishes are included on the menu but the focus is very much on Spanish cuisine, with a good selection of starters and tapas.  As with the food, the wines are drawn mostly from Spain, and there are also five sherries, three brandies, three beers and one cider on offer, again all Spanish.

We had been invited to the event as part of a group of Birmingham based food bloggers by Alvaro, host of the British Local Food blog (Click here to visit the blog) who had been working with the restaurant to help promote it and raise its profile with local diners.  In exchange, the food and drinks at the event were being provided free of charge.  We were seated at a bloggers’ table, where greetings and introductions were made.  Fellow food bloggers in attendance were Laura (Full to the Brum) and Taylah (Birmingham Student Foodie), who we had met at the recent No Ping No Bling Thai Street Food Lunch, and we were also pleased to meet Helen (Positive Fridays), Roz (The Foodie Couple Blog), Andy (Veggie Foodie) and Andy's wife Ruth for the first time.

The food that we were presented with was drawn mainly from the starter/tapas section of the menu but with a couple of ‘off-menu’ additions.

The appetisers consisted of small plates of Spanish Almonds dressed in olive oil and crunchy, salty and filling habas fritas.  Ideal for snacking on as we waited for the drinks to arrive.

We were offered a choice of red wine, a light and refreshing Spanish Alhambra lager and a rather rich and fruity sangria.  There were of course non-alcoholic alternatives available for the drivers.

Two versions of Gazpacho were served; one in a shot glass and one on a tasting spoon garnished with a sliver of pimento and finely grated cheese.  My preference was for the version in the glass which had a more familiar taste with the vinegar far more in evidence.

Next was a selection of cold tapas including manchego cheese, three different cured meats, green olives and Tortilla de Patata.  All familiar favourites.

These Delicias de Morcilla were one of my favourite dishes of the evening.  Red onion and goats cheese were added to the morcilla, with the whole mixture then being cooked in thin pastry.  They were presented with a dipping sauce made from apples, but I found them to be flavoursome enough on their own.

This plate of mussels sauced and breaded was another ‘off-menu’ dish.

Two different flavoured plates of Croquetas were presented; the first being made from tuna and béchamel sauce, and the second a vegetarian version with blue cheese and truffle.  It was the blue cheese ones that were far and away the best, and I would go so far as to say that they were my favourite dish of the evening. 

Another popular dish, I think a favourite among several in our group, was this plate of almond-stuffed dates, wrapped in thinly sliced jamon.  These don’t appear on the menu, which I think is a shame as I’m sure that they would be popular.  They offered a very pleasing mix of soft and crunchy textures and sweet and salty flavours.

These were only small samples of a few of the dishes on offer, so I think in order to provide a full review of the restaurant we will need to return as paying customers, and based on this selection of tasters we will be happy do that.

Reviewed by Dee 24th March 2015

Gin Club Birmingham – Twisted Nose Gin Tasting Evening at Bar Opus 23rd March 2015

The second Gin Club Birmingham event was hosted at Bar Opus, a modern café/bar/restaurant in the Number One Snow Hill building in Birmingham’s financial district.  It was a similar sized venue to the previous event (click here for review) but was open-plan, allowing for a more intimate setting with all of the tasting tables arranged together rather than in two groups.

Once everyone had arrived, Tom, the Gin Club Birmingham organiser and host for the evening,  introduced Paul Bowler, the Founder and Distiller of Twisted Nose, based in Winchester in Hampshire.  Link to Web Site
The rather unusual business name pays tribute to watercress, which is extensively grown in Hampshire, and forms the key ingredient for the Gin and other beveridges which Paul produces.  The botanical name for watercress is Nasturtium Officinale, part of which is derived from the Latin Nasus Tortus, which translates as ‘Twisted Nose’.
Paul launched the business in June 2014, initially in Winchester but now nationwide, and what began as a hobby has now become a full time business.

Before the first tasting, Paul talked about how the gin was made, and a copper distiller was on display to further illustrate the process.  

A total of ten botanicals, including the watercress, make up the recipe for the gin.  Lavender, cassia, fennel seeds and grapefruit peel all contribute to the final mix.  The gin is classified as a London Dry Gin, with no flavours being added after the second distillation.  The initial aim of this particular combination of botanicals was to create a flavour reminiscent of England, and Hampshire in particular.

The first tasting was of the flagship Winchester Dry Gin in its neat form.  It had a clean and grassy initial aroma, followed by a strong yet smooth flavour with the lavender definitely in evidence. 

Interestingly, the marketing of this gin as Winchester Dry Gin reminded me of the Lakeland Gin produced by Langtons of Skiddaw at the previous tasting event.  Could this be the start of a nationwide movement of regional varieties of a product previously associated only with London?  It’s certainly something that I will be following up on in the future.

The second tasting was of the Winchester Dry again, but this time as a Gin and Tonic with ice and a slice of pink grapefruit.  Paul explained that he would like the grapefruit to represent the classic accompaniment to the Gin and Tonic, but orange slices were also offered as an alternative.  I sampled mine with the grapefruit and as expected, the resulting drink made for quite a different proposition to the neat gin.  The lavender and smooth textures were accentuated, while the grapefruit slice added a slight fruity taste without making the drink too sweet.

We were also offered a bonus exclusive tasting of the first bottle of an aged gin that has not yet been released to the market.  This of course generated a great deal of interest, and Paul was keen to gain feedback.  The gin had been aged in German oak barrels for around six weeks, during which time it had gained a slight golden hue.  It had the same rich texture as the Winchester Dry, but there was a pronounced woodiness to the flavour which had been imparted by the barrel aging.

The final drinks of the evening were two cocktails made using the Twisted Nose Cocktail Gin; a stronger version of the Winchester Dry with a 52% ABV as opposed to the Winchester Dry's 40%.

The first cocktail mixed the Cocktail Gin with Twisted Nose’s Vermouth and Grapefruit Bitters, and was garnished with a slice of grapefruit.  This was devised by Paul, to promote the partnering of the gin with grapefruit, as had been sampled in the Gin and Tonic earlier in the evening.  This cocktail was much drier than I was expecting and the higher alcohol content of the gin made its presence felt straight away.  After the initial hit, the taste did mellow a little and I ended up quite enjoying it.  I think my taste buds were expecting something sweeter and needed to become acquainted with the different taste.

The second cocktail was another bonus drink, devised on the spot by the bar staff, who had also been showing an interest in the presentation.  This cocktail mixed Rose Liqueur with the Gin and an edible rose petal was added as a garnish.  It was much sweeter and closer to what I was initially expecting, and was great for something which had been thought up only minutes earlier.

The evening had been another great success, with Tom and Paul receiving a round of applause from all of the attendees.  We bought a bottle of the Winchester Dry Gin afterwards, and look forward to opening it very soon.

The countdown to the next event has now begun.

Reviewed by Dee, 24th March 2015

The next event will be held in May, at another venue in Birmingham, presenting another gin.  Details will be announced in due course but for now, links to Gin Club Birmingham are provided below;

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Rockin’ Pub Grub from Big Papa’s at the Sunflower Lounge, Birmingham

Dee – “Big Papa’s are a two-man business who started out as mobile street food vendors specialising in soul food, but have recently become the caterers-in-residence at the Sunflower Lounge, Queensway, Birmingham, where their profile and reputation have been steadily gaining momentum.

Their menu is made up of a selection of popular dishes from the Tex Mex fusion and US Deep South cuisines, with a recent addition of jerk ribs.  The recently expanded selection still isn’t huge; There is a choice of four starters, six mains, six side dishes and two desserts.  The whole menu fitted landscape style onto a single side of A4 and was laid out in a manual typewriter style font.  It was clear that a lot of thought had gone into branding, making Big Papa’s a dining experience rather than just a meal in a pub, and the menu included a ‘what we’re about’ section which backed this up nicely.

As far as the décor of the venue is concerned, the Sunflower Lounge is neither sunny nor flowery.  The ground floor bar area is painted in black and charcoal grey, with the walls adorned with photographs of musicians in mid-performance, possibly those who have played live there in the past.  The smaller, raised seating area is painted in red and slightly more brightly lit.  Music was very much a feature in the venue generally, and I recall hearing songs from the Pixies and the Gorillaz while I was there.

After perusing the menu, Jay found the sweet sticky ribs impossible to resist, wheras I wanted to explore the vegetarian options.

For starters we ordered the spicy fried okra and a plate of loaded nachos but without the advertised buttermilk chicken.  The okra was deep fried in a crispy tempura style batter and was served with a spoonful of spicy mayonnaise and a hot, fruity dipping sauce.  The okra, having been quickly fried, had an al-dente texture, quite different from the softer, stickier vegetable that I am used to.  The mayo and the sauce proved ideal accompaniments, providing cleaner, sharper flavours to cut through the fried vegetables.  The nachos were a great big delightful mess of tortilla chips topped with chopped tomatoes, guacamole, cheese, sour cream and red chilli.  Each of the toppings were presented separately rather than on top of each other, which made a nice change.  Considering they were advertised as starters, both portion sizes were very generous and we ended up sharing both dishes between us.

As previously mentioned, Jay ordered the Sweet & Spicy Jerk Ribs, while I went for the Sweet Potato & Black Eyed Pea Chilli.  We chose fire roasted red chillies and Cajun sweet potato fries as side orders.  Both main courses arrived with a portion of the same hot fruity sauce that was served with the okra but, although it was a good sauce, it was a bit of an optional extra as the mains both had plenty of flavour on their own.  The chili was made up of rice, tomato sauce, sweet potatoes, cheese,  chillies, peas and beans and was highly flavoursome with sweet and spicy tastes with occasional bursts of chilli heat.  Jay is fussy about spare ribs but enjoyed these immensely and declined the offer of wearing the blue plastic gloves that were provided for them; part of the joy of spare ribs is getting messy after all.  There was another pleasant balance of sweet and spicy flavours here, with the meat being nicely tender.  The side orders were also noteworthy.  The chillies were softened, with slightly blackened skins and started out tasting similar to chargrilled peppers, but gradually increased in heat up until the tongue tingling final bite.  The fries had a spicy crispness to them and proved a great accompaniment to the chilli and the ribs.

We planned to order the two desserts on offer; Mississippi Mud Pie and Lemon Meringue Pie, but were a bit on the full side by the end of the main course, so decided to visit the Sunflower Lounge again, ordering main and dessert rather than starter and main.
By 7pm, when we finished our meal, the venue was beginning to fill up and there was an all-hands-on-deck feel to the service.  We had no complaints in this regard though, as it had been polite and friendly throughout our visit.  The staff checked with us to make sure that we were happy with our meals, and talked to us about how the Big Papa’s and Sunflower Lounge partnership had come about.

Fine dining this is not, but if you want good grub and lots of tunes then kick back and let the Sunflower Lounge and Big Papa’s deliver, because they certainly do”.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Tasting Jerusalem #5 – Barberries

Bean Kuku
Dee –Barberries were the featured ingredient back in March 2013, and to showcase them I chose the Broad Bean Kuku on pages 38 and 39.  I had to make a couple of compromises with the published recipe, as my frying pan is not oven proof, and I was only able to get hold of green beans rather than the specified broad beans.  For the beans I just cut them up into thirds and hoped for the best, but the pan presented more of a challenge.  Initially, I tried cooking the dish in the same way as a Spanish tortilla, but after inverting it and cooking it on the other side, it didn’t colour evenly and I wasn’t happy with the finish, so I put it into a hot oven to see if it would colour up.  This made a slight improvement, but still didn’t look good enough to photograph.  Fortunately, I kept half of the mixture back in case of any disasters, so was able to have another go right away.
The second attempt, which is shown in the photo, turned out a lot better than the first, with a far more even finish.  This time, I cooked one side in the pan on the hob, and then turned the whole thing out onto a pyrex plate, uncooked side face-up, and put it in the oven to finish it.
The best way that I could describe the taste would be multi-faceted.  There are some strong flavours going on here:  The first one I noticed was the saffron, with its unmistakeably rich grassiness.  I must admit I’m not keen on huge amounts of saffron, and it was quite dominant here.  The dill was a contender for centre stage though, and I was glad it was there as it provided a nice counterbalance to the saffron.  The beans and cooked egg, provided an interesting mixture of crunchiness from the beans and softness from the egg, while the barberries, served up occasional bursts of sharp fruitiness.  There was a slight added sweetness to their usual sour taste, which came from them having been soaked in sugar syrup prior to cooking.  They certainly gave the dish an interesting extra dimension.
The finished dish was a complex tapestry of big flavours and contrasting textures, and was versatile enough to be enjoyed hot or at room temperature.  If I was to make it again I would probably cut down on the amount of saffron, but that’s only a personal preference.  It’s certainly something I’d like to revisit.

“Tasting Jerusalem is a virtual cooking community exploring the vibrant flavors and cuisine of the Middle East through the lens of Jerusalem by Ottolenghi and Tamimi published by Ebury Press. You can follow along and cook with us by subscribing to  following the hashtag #TastingJrslm on Twitter and Instagram, liking our Facebook Page or joining our Google+ Community and finally checking out all of our groups’ dishes on Pinterest
(Please note: I have listed the UK publisher and have linked to the UK Amazon site.  The US details are provided on the web site)

Tasting Jerusalem #4 – Mint

Hot Yoghurt and Barley Soup
Dee – For the March 2015 featured ingredient, mint, I chose the Armenian influenced Hot Yoghurt and Barley Soup on Page 134.  This recipe had the advantage of featuring mint in both fresh and dried forms, so fit the bill well.
Before I started preparing the dish, I had to overcome my fear of the yoghurt splitting while it was heating, so I took the precaution of using full-fat yoghurt instead of the fat-free variety that I normally buy.  The soup needed to be assembled in stages and the tempering of the yoghurt required a degree of care to prevent the dreaded splitting, but luckily it turned out fine.
The inclusion of the barley gave the soup a hearty feel, and it proved to be a meal in its own right, without any accompaniments.

Upon tasting the soup, my first impression was that it was more about texture than flavour, and I mean that in a good way.  In fact, I would even go so far as to say that it was a new taste experience.  The yoghurt provided lightness of colour and creaminess of texture, while the barley offered a comforting and filling feel, together with its characteristic chewiness.  The mint, which I initially assumed would be the predominant flavour, was only quite subtle.  The soup would work nicely as a winter warmer.  It made great comfort food and I am pleased to say that there is plenty left over.

“Tasting Jerusalem is a virtual cooking community exploring the vibrant flavors and cuisine of the Middle East through the lens of Jerusalem by Ottolenghi and Tamimi published by Ebury Press. You can follow along and cook with us by subscribing to  following the hashtag #TastingJrslm on Twitter and Instagram, liking our Facebook Page or joining our Google+ Community and finally checking out all of our groups’ dishes on Pinterest
(Please note: I have listed the UK publisher and have linked to the UK Amazon site.  The US details are provided on the web site)

Monday, 9 March 2015

Twin Peaks Night 8th March 2015

Dee - This is our second Twin Peaks themed meal.  The first was in August 2013, long before we’d started blogging.  It was great fun, both in terms of the meal itself, and also in selecting the courses and planning the evening.

We devised a three course meal, with each course centring around a dish which had featured in the television series.  There was a huge variety of food to choose from; some dishes being mentioned only in passing, while others appeared in almost every episode.  We also included a beer to go along with each course, and a playlist made up of music from the soundtrack.

I’d been thinking about giving it a rerun for a while, so that I could get it documented on the blog, but never managed to get round to it because other projects kept cropping up.  Then, one evening, I was chatting with fellow food blogger All About Eats (Link to Blog) who, I found out, was also a big Twin Peaks fan.  I mentioned the meal I’d done and that I wanted to redo it for the blog.  That proved the final push that I needed.

I was quite happy with the food choices in the original menu so didn’t change anything there, but I selected three different beers this time around that I felt would be better matched with the food.

The music accompanying the meal was also an important part to the first meal and I wanted it to feature in this version too.  I was thinking about including a wide variety of artists and songs with a general Twin Peaks theme or feel, but in the end I stuck with selections from the soundtracks of the television series and the ‘Fire walk with me’ film.

With the menu sorted, drinks selected and playlist assembled, we were ready to go.  This is how it panned out;

“Did they scoff the whole damn smorgasbord?  I’m hungry”
Starter:  Norwegian Koldtbord
Koldtbord is the Norwegian version of the Swedish Smorgasbord, and was inspired by the party of Norwegians who are staying at the Great Northern Hotel at the start of the series.
This starter platter, made up of a number of small portions of cold dishes, took by far the longest to prepare.  It included sourdough rye bread, two types of pickled cucumber, pickled beetroots, asparagus marinated in lemon juice and dressed with oil and toasted pine nuts and finally a salad made up of cooked new potatoes, gherkins, spring onions, yoghurt and seasoning.  First, I had to reinvigorate my rye sourdough starter, and then make the bread over about two days.  It wasn’t perfect but  it was edible and helped to soak up some of the vinegar that was used to pickle the vegetables.  Then, the day before the meal, I had to marinate and pickle the vegetables that needed it.  There was quite a bit of work to do but I enjoyed it so didn’t mind at all.
We were both very pleased with the finished platter, and had made enough to enjoy for lunch the next day, which is always a bonus.
Beer:  Tindved
Brewery:  Nøgne Ø
Tasting Notes said:  “Tindved is a sour Norwegian ale brewed with Norwegian malted barley and raw wheat. We added juice from pressed sea buck-thorn fruits to obtain the brash sourness”.
Jay said:  Reminded me of cider.
Dee said:  A distinctly sour but also slightly fruity aroma and taste.  It proved an ideal match for the Koldtbord, which needed something that was going to stand up to the pickled vegetables and their sharp acidic tastes, and it certainly met this challenge head on.  It was expensive though, and there are plenty of sour beers around which are just as good which don’t cost as much”.

“This is the best damn sandwich I ever ate;  It's a baguette, with brie and butter.  I had four of these damn things every day I was there.  You gotta try this”.
Main:  Brie and Butter baguette, with Provencal style salad
One of the most blatantly food-centric scenes in the whole series, in which the quality of a certain brie and butter baguette is lauded, inspired this main course.  I made the baguettes, but bought in the brie and butter.  I used some of the sourdough starter mixture that I’d used for the rye bread, which added texture and flavour to the wheat dough.  I was quite pleased with how they turned out, and the whole sandwich tasted great.  I added a little salt to enhance the flavours, but Jay was happy with it just as it was. 
We made up a simple Provencal inspired salad of tomatoes, cooked green beans, black olives, cucumber, capers and a vinaigrette dressing to serve alongside the baguettes.  It didn’t appear in the scene in question, but was a nice accompaniment.
Beer:  Leisure Time Lager
Brewery:  Jacks Abby Brewing
Tasting Notes said:  “Leisure Time uses locally sourced ingredients to create a beer worth kicking your feet up with. Leisure Time is brewed with wheat and a blend of spices including lemongrass, coriander, orange peel, and chamomile. A subtle spiciness balances the citrusy and floral hops added to the whirl and hopback. Hop in your comfy armchair and enjoy!”
Dee said:  “A lively, tasty lager with plenty of character.  Mid gold in colour, and naturally cloudy.  Taste was slightly sweet with delicate floral notes.  The meal that it accompanied was quite subtly flavoured, so this lager proved another great match for the food that accompanied it”.

“This must be where pies go when they die”.
Dessert:  Cherry Pie
Cherry Pie is probably the dish most associated with Twin Peaks, so pretty much chose itself as the dessert.  The quote turned out to be quite apt for the finished pie, which didn’t exactly turn out as planned, but while it wasn’t ever going to win any prizes for presentation, it certainly tasted amazing.  The pastry was short, buttery and not too sweet, while the fresh cherries and morello cherry conserve made for a great filling.  We served it with a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream to add a little sweetness and creaminess. 
Beer:  Kriek
Brewery:  Delerium/Floris
Tasting Notes said:  “Deep red colour, slightly cloudy because of the wheat.  The flavour of wild sour cherries and cherry stones.  Soft and sweet fruity beer with a touch of nuts (cherry stones) and a sourish aftertaste, coming from the sour cherries. Excellent balance between the wheat beer and the wild sour cherries”.
Jay said:  “Always like these fruit beers”.
Dee said:  “A great dessert beer with its characteristic deep red colour and smooth rich texture.  Taste wise it was sweet and powerful, with the expected hit of the fruit;  It quite quickly overwhelmed the taste of the pie, so I ended up drinking it after I’d finished the pie.  Still a great drink though”.

“Diane, I'm holding in my hand a box of small chocolate bunnies”.
To Finish:  Chocolate Bunnies, with a cup of coffee “Black as midnight on a moonless night”.
This was included as a bit of fun just to round off the meal and fit a cup of coffee, undoubtedly the beverage most commonly associated with Twin Peaks, into the evening. 

The Playlist
As with the food, music played a significant role in creating the atmosphere of Twin Peaks, and it was always going to be an important part of the evening.  The playlist I created was expanded from that used for the original evening, and I much prefer this one, as it includes a wider selection of moods and atmospheres than before.

1.  The black dog runs at night
2.  Twin Peaks Theme
3.  Laura Palmer’s Theme
4.  Audrey’s Dance
5.  The Nightingale
6.  Questions in a world of blue
7.  The Pink Room
8.  Into the Night
9.  Dance of the Dream Man
10.  Montage from Twin Peaks
11.  Love Theme from Twin Peaks
12.  Falling

So that was the evening.  There are still one or two possibilities for smaller projects, so maybe one day we will return to Twin Peaks...

Whisky Birmingham – The Bond, Digbeth 7th March 2015

When Jay and I first saw Whisky Birmingham advertised on Twitter we decided to give it a try, as we’d enjoyed beer festivals, gin tasting, wine tasting and tea tasting events, but had next to no experience of whisky.  We’d made an effort to try some unfamiliar brands late last year, but it was a bit like feeling our way around in the dark as we completely unfamiliar with the myriad varieties of whisky now on the market, so when this event was advertised we booked our tickets.  In addition to the main event, we were also pleased to see an introductory tasting workshop scheduled to begin a half hour before the doors opened, so booked in for that too.

The weather was certainly on our side.  It was a bright sunny spring day, which suited the canal side venue perfectly, and there was also a pleasant courtyard separating the two rooms where the tastings were taking place.

We arrived quite early, so enjoyed a coffee in the Bond Café before heading off to register and join the workshop.  Upon registering we were given a programme, whisky glass, a dream dram token to pay for a rare, expensive whisky, and bottle of water to drink in between the separate whisky tastings.
The programme was colourful and professionally put together, with a floor plan showing which exhibitors were located where, but as newcomers, we would have found tasting notes and details of each distillery helpful.  What I did like though were the notes on Birmingham’s whisky heroes.  This was a very nice touch.
We would have loved a branded glass as a memento of our first whisky festival, but that’s only a very minor quibble, and we still have a nice whisky glass each.

The workshop was very busy, and I think all of the places had been filled.  We found this session extremely useful and we glad that we’d booked onto it.  We would certainly recommend it to other whisky novices.  Subjects covered, in a packed half hour, included how whisky is made, how it is classified, and the significance and effects of colour, consistency, aroma, taste and finish.  We also learned about the whisky producing regions of Scotland, and found out that there are roughly 5-6000 different types of whiskies produced across 31 countries.
A key aspect of the workshop was the chance to put our newly acquired knowledge into practice by sampling two well-known whiskies:  The Glenlivet 12 and Jura 10.  It was at this point that we noticed the difference in styles.  The Glenlivet had a familiar delicate yet fiery taste while the Jura was smoother and a little sweeter but with a slightly earthy finish.
With the first two whiskies tasted and distinctions identified, we moved into the tasting rooms.

I’ll write our whisky selections up in the order that we sampled them, with links to each distillery..One thing I have noticed about whiskies is that the tasting notes are quite comprehensive so I’ll just include my own summaries, and if these spark any interest, the full tasting notes can be accessed via the web sites. The other thing to mention is that measures were tasting sample sized rather than usual ‘singles’ or ‘doubles’..

Dee’s Choices
*Dream Dram*  Balblair ‘83
Distillery:  Balblair
Dee said:  Mid gold colour, medium fruity aroma, strong and fruity taste with a lingering warmth.

1:  Navigator
Distillery:  Old Pulteney
Dee said:  Very dry aroma and taste.  Didn’t linger.

2:  Torfa
Distillery:  Glenglassaugh
Dee said:  Very light gold in colour, lovely earthy and smoky aroma.  Strong tasting, very upfront drink without an aftertaste.  Liked this very much

3:  Amber
Distillery:  Macallan
Dee said:  Amber coloured, as the name would suggest.  Dry and slightly smoky aroma, but less so than the Torfa.  Smooth textured with a slightly earthy aftertaste

4:  1792 Ridgmont Reserve
Distillery:  Barton 1792
Dee said:  A bourbon with a coppery colour and sharp, almost malty aroma and taste.  Lingered long on the palate.

5:  The Corriemhor
Distillery:  Fox Fitzgerald
Dee said:  Burnished gold in colour, strong and quite bitter aroma.  Intense tasting but no discernable flavours.  Said to be a good pairing for a Cuban cigar.

6:  Paul John Peated
Distillery:  Paul John
Dee said:  A single malt from India.  Amber in colour with a strong heady aroma and the slightest hint of smokiness.  Rich, fruity flavours up front with a real kick.  A bit of an earthier, smoky aftertaste.  Very good.

7:  Strathisla
Distillery:  Chivas Regal
Dee said:  Mid gold in colour and a strong, fruity aroma with a hint of blackcurrant.  Lovely smooth texture that glided down.  Dry, subtle aftertaste.

8:  Port Charlotte
Distillery:  Bruicladdich
Dee said:  Light gold in colour, with a rich, peaty aroma.  Dry and slightly smoky with a feint sweetness.

At this point, I visited the stand run by the Living Room Whisky bloggers (Click here to visit their blog), and asked for a recommendation of a smoky tasting whisky, which I had quickly found to be my preference.  It wasn't Jay’s, but more on that later.  The smoky whisky that was recommended to me was;

9:  Great King Street Glasgow Blend
Distillery:  Compass Box Whisky
Dee said:  Light gold colour with a fainter smoky aroma than I was expecting.  Taste though was dry, intense and slightly peppery.

10:  Madeira
Distillery:  Penderyn
Dee said:  Wheat-like in colour, with a distinctly spicy aroma.  Pronounced fruity taste up front, followed by a much drier, earthy aftertaste.  A very good Welsh wysgi.

Jay’s choices
1:  Classic Laddie
Distillery:  Bruicladdich
Jay said:  “Recommended by the bloggers as a good entry level whisky.  Had a slightly grassy, herbal taste”.

2:  Legend
Distillery: Penderyn
Jay said:  “Blast of fruit cake on the nose.  Spicy.  Really liked this”.

*Dream Dram*:  Tullibardine
Distillery:  Malts of Scotland
Jay said:  “Fruity, smooth, rich caramel aftertaste. Definitely worth handing that token over for”.

3:  Ben Nevis
Jay said:  “Seriously fruity aroma.  Rich tasting”.

4:  The One
Distillery:  Lakes Distillery
Jay said:  “Dry & peaty aroma and taste.  Slightly smoky aftertaste.  I’m not one for peaty or smoky whiskies, so I enlisted Dee to help me with this one”.

5:  Few Rye Whiskey
Distillery:  Few
Jay said:  “I think it was the rye whiskey that I tried (I only wrote ‘Few’ in my notes)  It had a floral nose and taste, and a smooth texture”.

6:  Eagle Rare
Distillery:  Buffalo Trace
Jay said:  “I liked it.  Fresh tasting”.

7:  Monkey Shoulder
Distillery:  Monkey Shoulder
Jay said:  “Sweet taste.  Plenty of heat, but quite smooth”.

8:  Hedonism
Distillery:  Compass Box Whisky
Jay said:  “Vanilla and Coconut.  Sweet first taste. Would love to try their Spice Tree whisky”.

9:  The Glenlivet 18 Year Old
Distillery:  Glenlivet
Jay said:  “Sweet, slightly floral aroma.  Smooth texture with a hint of almonds in the taste”.

10:  Whisky Barrel Aged Spiced Orange Saison Beer
Brewery:  Green Duck Beer Co.
Jay said:  “I was given a raw sample of this beer to try first, which was a bit rough around the edges.  The aged product was smooth and lush.  Definite orange.  Really interesting”.

The food stalls were all busy and it’s worth giving a mention to our chosen food vendor, the Soul Food Project, who served up a great Brazilian style Moqueca stew of vegetables in coconut milk, with a generous slice of great bread to mop up the sauce.  We followed this with a big portion of bread pudding and all of this proved ideal for lining our stomachs to prepare us for the whisky tasting.

By 2.30pm, the venue was heaving, with queues at all the stands.  With the beautiful sun and blue sky, there was still enough room to either stand or sit outside.
By about 3pm, supplies were starting to run a little low, with some of the stalls starting to pack up, so we decided that, after having sampled ten drinks each, plus the dream drams, that it would be a good time to select our favourites from the day.
For me it was the Torfa, with its pronounced smokiness and peaty taste.  I’ll certainly be seeking out a bottle soon.  
Jay’s favourite was the Penderyn Legend.
The picture below features our favourite whiskies: the Torfa on the left and the Legend on the right.

The Aftershock
As we sat outside taking in the afternoon sun, we had a quick chat and decided that we weren’t done after all, so decided to have another sample or two.
My first was the Buffalo Trace Stagg Jr: An explosion of fruit in both aroma and taste.  It was all upfront with no aftertaste but was a truly great whiskey. 
Jay went for the Buffalo Trace own-named whiskey, which had a sweeter, smoother and slightly earthier feel. 
My last was the Smooth Ambler Old Scout Rye (Link to web site):  Another rich, fruity drink with a strong, fiery aftertaste
Jay went for Smooth Ambler too, but the Old Scout Single Barrel, which was a bit more bitter tasting, with less aftertaste.
Our favourite whiskies of the day remained as they were , but we were glad we’d stayed that little bit longer.

We both enjoyed a great day’s introduction to the world of whisky.  We’ve found our preferences from the different styles on offer, but still look forward to further explorations.  In fact, we’ve already pencilled in the Stoke on Trent Whisky Festival in July.

Our closing words are to thank Birmingham Whisky Club for organising this great event.  You now have two happy converts.

Reviewed by Dee, 8th March 2015