Saturday, 29 August 2015

Caribbean Food Week - Menu Two

Dee – For our second and final mix of food and music for Caribbean Food Week, we brought a slight change of focus to the table.
Instead of an evening meal made up of a main course and dessert we chose a lunch consisting of an elegant restaurant style starter, followed by a street food favourite.  More preparation was required for this meal, but it was well worth it.

Island Sweet Potato Vichyssoise
The recipe for this chilled soup starter came from one of our oldest recipe books, ‘Creole Cooking’ by Sue Mullin.  I mentioned in a previous blog entry that it had seen quite a bit of use over the years and had a tatty dog-eared character all of its own: click here for details  Well, it’s still going strong and provided us with this quick and easy recipe which only needed a few ingredients.
We made it the day before serving it, as it needed time to reach the chilled temperature.  First, the sweet potatoes were boiled until tender and then blended with some poached spring onions and seasoned.  Crème Fraiche was stirred into the soup before it went into the fridge to chill.
We served it in small bowls and garnished it with a drizzle of chilli oil and a coriander leaf.  The sweet potatoes retained their flavour in what was quite a delicate tasting soup with a pleasantly smooth, rich texture.  The chilli oil provided the tiniest hint of heat and worked very well in what was a most interesting starter.

I found the recipe for Doubles in the Wikipedia Cookbook click here for details while seeking out recipes from Trinidad and Tobago to match the music which I will cover later.  It didn’t take long to convince me to select them for the menu when I saw the photographs of curried chickpeas topped with various different garnishes sandwiched between two yellow coloured flatbreads.
There were several different parts of the dish to prepare and I started with the distinctive flatbreads, known as ‘bara’ which were made with a wheat dough to which Turmeric was added to give it the distinctive yellow colour.  They were cooked in a pan on the hob rather than baked.
For the chickpea curry, I used a tin of ready-cooked chickpeas for convenience and a curry powder mix from Tan Rosie.  The chickpeas were added to a frying pan in which onions and garlic were softened and then coated with the curry powder.  A little water was then mixed in to stop the mixture from becoming too dry.
Traditionally, Doubles are served with the chickpea curry sandwiched between the two flatbreads, so we decided to keep with this approach.
Several garnishes were suggested for the chickpeas and I opted for hot pepper sauce, chopped coriander and dessicated coconut, which added a delicious sweet taste that held its own alongside the hot and spicy flavours coming out of the curried chickpeas and pepper sauce.
I used a home-made hot pepper sauce from a recipe by Shivi Ramoutar, author of the recently released ‘Caribbean Modern’ recipe book.  It used raw ingredients which were blended together and then rested to allow the flavours of the different ingredients to infuse.  The recipe available here includes scotch bonnet chillies, fruit and vinegar and should come with a warning as it is fiery hot.  Only a small amount is needed but it is as packed with flavour as well as heat.
Both Jay and me loved our doubles, and would happily make them again.

The soundtrack to the meal:  Various Artists – Café Caribbean
The second of our Caribbean albums from Jay’s parents was a compilation of recording artists from Trinidad & Tobago, released in 2003 as part of the ‘Café’ series on the Metro label.
On reading the notes accompanying the album I learned that the different areas of the Caribbean had their own musical as well as culinary traditions, and that of Trinidad and Tobago was presented here as upbeat and rhythm driven with a noticeable African influence.  Electronic bass, synths and percussion were used to great effect and the overall mood of the music was celebratory.
I particularly enjoyed the album’s opening track ‘Controller’ by Square One, and the steel percussion driven instrumental ‘Soca dance’ by the Pamberi Steel Orchestra.
The music provided a good accompaniment to our lunch menu and delivered on its title of sounding like something that I imagine would be played in cafes in Trinidad & Tobago.
Other titles in the series include Café Cubana and Café do Brasil.  In fact, all of them sound interesting.  Have I just talked myself into starting another blogging project?

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Caribbean Food Week – Menu One

Dee – We’ve been planning a couple of Caribbean menus over the last few weeks, following a weekend visit to Jay’s parents when they gave us a couple of CDs to see if we could devise a menu to enjoy while we listened to them.
Our plans shifted up a few gears on Monday, when we found out that Caribbean Food Week was running from Monday 24th August to Monday 31st August.
I had several recipes in mind, and had already cooked one of them, a dish from Trinidad and Tobago called Geera Pork, but hadn’t got round to writing it up.  Luckily there was enough left over to enjoy again, so I used it as the start of the first menu.

Geera Pork with Buss Up Shut Roti
The recipe we used for the Geera Pork came from the Caribbean Supper Club Recipe Book that we bought when we attended a Jamaican themed supper club hosted by Birmingham based business Tan Rosie. click here for details
The Geera in the name refers to an alternative spelling of Jeera, or Cumin, which is used to marinate the pork along with salt, pepper and thyme overnight before being cooked in the stew the next day.  Water, chillies and peppers are added and the whole lot cooked until the liquid thickens.  It is a simple dish but one that is packed with spice and flavour.
The traditional accompaniment recommended in the book was Hops Bread, but I chose instead to have a go at another bread from Trinidad; the Buss Up Shut Roti.
The rotis were easy to make but rather messy as the preparation involved spreading a butter-oil mixture over the dough before rolling and folding it up to create a flaky texture.  After the dough had rested for a few hours, it was then rolled out and cooked on a flat pan.  The final stage, which gave the buss up shut its characteristic appearance, was to crush it together with two spatulas.  It was then left to cool, during which time it firmed up a little.  I used the Tan Rosie book and the Carribbean Pot web site for reference while making my rotis.
To complete the main course, we served the Pork and Rotis with fried Plantain and Sweet Potato and some simply steamed green beans.  This made for a tasty and filling tea.

It was getting late by the time we’d finished the main course, so instead of running the risk of filling ourselves to bursting, we decided to have dessert for breakfast the next day

Jamaican Ginger Cake and Blue Mountain Coffee
I was inspired to make this ginger cake after trying it at the Tan Rosie Supper Club, but unfortunately had to tweak the recipe slightly as we didn’t have any ground ginger.  I used finely chopped stem ginger instead which, although adding an interesting texture, didn’t deliver as much heat and spice as I wanted.  Still, the cake was a success.  It had a nice dark colour and moist texture, with a rich sweet taste from the dark brown sugar that was used.  We served it with some plain yoghurt, which provided an ideal accompaniment both for its colour and taste.  I will be making it again though, using the ground ginger.
We enjoyed the cake with a mug of Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee.  Its earthy but mellow texture contrasting well with the sweetness of the cake and the lightness of the yoghurt.
It was a great breakfast but one that we should really consider more of a treat than a regular occurrence.

The Soundtrack to the meal: 20th Century Steel Band – Warm Heart, Cold Steel
We based our first meal on this album, which was originally released in 1975.
There are a few notes about the band in the inside of the cd, but surprisingly little is written about them on line.  It took me a while to find out where they were from, but eventually I found an old comment on the album written by a family member of one of the band, who explained that they were originally from the Caribbean but moved to the UK in the early 1970s, securing a record deal after radio airplay from John Peel.  They released two albums, of which this was the first, before splitting up after their label, United Artists, folded.
The album is a mixture of cover versions of soul and motown classics, and original songs written by members of the band.
My favourite track is the fifth, entitled Number 1. This is an instrumental jam credited to band member Michael Oliver, and really showcases the talents of the band as they let fly on their own rather than trying to fit their sound round more conventional pop songs.
The sixth track, ‘Heaven and Hell is on Earth’, released as a single, is the best known due to its being sampled by a number of artists including Lauryn Hill, Salt n Pepa and Jennifer Lopez.  A section of the lyrics; “Children growing, women producing, men go working, some go stealing.  Everyone’s got to make a living” is also quoted on Soul II Soul’s Club Classics Volume 1 album.
Other highlights include a brilliantly haunting version of ‘Papa was a rolling stone’ and their take on ‘Land of a Thousand dances’ which has an infectious groove, but it is their own songs which are the highlights of the album.

Caribbean Food Week continues here, and the second menu, with accompanying music, will be up on the blog in the next few days.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Tasting Jerusalem #20 – Dinner Parties

Late Summer Vegetarian Meze

Dee - August 2015’s Tasting Jerusalem theme was all about dinner parties.  The number of dishes on the menu and the numbers of guests involved were limited only by the source of the recipes, yet it turned out to be much more difficult than I imagined.
I’ve written about possible combinations of recipes into themed menus in previous blog entries, but when it came down to organising a dinner party I struggled.  Why? Well, I’ve never hosted one before.  Sure, I’ve organised food and drink for friends after returning from a night out, and I’ve made lunch for visiting family, but there has never been any formality attached to any of it.  Some careful thought and planning was clearly needed.
To cut a long story short, the ‘guests’ at our dinner party ended up being just Jay and me, but we tailored the menu towards what we would have prepared if we’d had guests round.  By doing this we were able to work without time constraints, allowing us to enjoy the meal at our leisure.  That, for me at least, made for an ideal dinner party.
After perusing the book for recipe ideas, we settled on a vegetarian meze affair which was simple to put together without the stress of co-ordinating too many different cooking times.  It was also convenient, as a small menu was suggested in the commentary accompanying one of our chosen recipes.
The menu centred on the Spiced Chickpeas with Fresh Vegetable Salad on page 56, with the Cauliflower with Tahini on page 60, the Hummus on page 114 and thick fresh pita breads being the suggested accompaniments.

Spiced Chickpeas & Fresh Vegetable Salad
The central dish for the menu was also the simplest to prepare.  The chopped salad contained fresh vegetables and herbs with a dressing made from olive oil, lemon juice and sherry vinegar.  It was paired on the plate with the chickpeas which were coated in a spice mix before being fried.  The idea was to marry up the cold, fresh and tangy salad with the warm spiced chickpeas, and this worked well, though the spice mix was a little heavy on the allspice for my taste.  I would have preferred pepper, paprika or cumin in its place.  We added a small amount of yoghurt as a garnish to add another texture.  As well as its great taste, we were very happy with how it appeared on the plate.  The colours of the salad contrasted nicely with the earthy tones of the chickpeas, giving it a particularly photogenic quality.  This was the recipe which contained the suggestions of

Sesame and Za’atar Flatbreads
The recipe for these flatbreads was one that I devised myself as the book does not include a recipe for pitas.  The dough was made from a mix of white and wholemeal flour, with the za’atar added just before I rolled the flatbreads out.  They were cooked on the hob and when done they were coated with olive oil then sprinkled with sesame seeds before being left to cool.  I was very pleased with how they turned out, as they had the soft texture that I was looking for, with the za’atar adding a small amount of spiciness with each bite.

Fried Cauliflower with Tahini
The recipe for this dish called for the cauliflower to be deep fried, but we went for the slightly healthier option and fried it in just a small amount of oil in the frying pan.  This allowed it to retain its crunchy texture, which is how we both prefer it, with pleasantly caramelised edges.  The cauliflower was joined by spring onions which were also fried in the same way, and the mixture was then coated in a sauce made from tahini, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice and herbs, and mixed together.  We would have been quite happy to eat this as it was, but the garnish of additional pomegranate molasses and chopped fresh mint elevated it even further.  We were lucky to be able to use the last of this season’s mint from the garden, and I managed to gather enough leaves before the plants went to flower.
Cauliflower always tastes good with a nice sauce or spicy coating and this dish was certainly no exception.  It was a delicious mix of crunchiness and crispness from the fried cauliflower, creaminess from the tahini and a rich sweetness from the pomegranate molasses which was complimented well with the strong taste of the mint.  After we had eaten the cauliflower and spring onions, there was enough sauce left to dip our bread into.  Lovely.

This was the first time we’d made hummus using the method suggested in the book.  Previously we’d just added all the ingredients to a blender and blitzed them all together, but this method, blending them in stages, produced a fabulously smooth result.  We both loved it and would probably go so far as to say that we preferred it to how we used to make it.  The only straying from the recipe that we did was to use canned chickpeas rather than dried ones, but they still produced a fantastic result.
I have a fabulous set of garnishes for hummus which I will cover in a future post as it really deserves its own write-up, but for this evening’s meal we kept it simple and used a pitted black olive and a drizzle of olive oil.

This is how it all looked when it was served;

What we came up with might have stretched the brief somewhat, and might even be considered overly cautious for a food blog, but we decided to stick with it for several reasons:  First, we didn’t want to risk our evening ending in disaster.  I know these happen from time to time and much can be learned from what goes wrong, but I just preferred to play it safe this time.  Second, it had two key elements which, it could be argued, made it highly suitable for the blog:  It looked great and tasted fabulous.  We were glad we chose it.

“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)

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Dee reviews Afternoon Tea at the Lost and Found, Birmingham 19th August 2015

The Lost and Found is a cocktail bar and bistro located at the top of Bennetts Hill in Central Birmingham. 
We’d walked past it several times and recently noticed a sign outside advertising that they offered afternoon tea, so decided to pay a visit.

Booking and a £5 deposit is required for each afternoon tea attendee so we booked a date about five days ahead, which they were able to accommodate.

We arrived before our 2pm booking to find the venue still busy with late lunch time customers, including shoppers, work colleagues and families.  Because of the large sized room and its high ceiling the sound of chatter and low music created an atmosphere reminiscent of a big city bar.  We were shown to our table which was located in a raised dining area which had been decorated to resemble a Mediterranean garden terrace.  We initially chose a table for two people but were offered seats at a larger table which seated four, which was much appreciated.

As we waited for our food and drinks we noticed that the food coming out of the kitchen looked quite impressive and made a note to visit again to try out the lunch menu.

We were offered a choice of two teas, so Jay chose Earl Grey while I chose Breakfast.  The tea was in bagged form and was from the Brew Co. based in Warrington in Cheshire.  We were offered a refill, but the large pots that we were provided with were enough to last us for the whole sitting.

The food arrived on a three-tier stand which included sandwiches on the bottom, cakes in the middle and scones on the top.

The sandwiches consisted of two each of Ham, Smoked Salmon, Tomato and Grated Cheese, and Egg Mayonnaise.  A little negotiation followed as we agreed on who would have what, owing to Jay’s dislike of egg, so I relinquished my Cheese and Tomato in exchange for Jay’s Egg Mayo.  All of the sandwiches were on white bread and cut into the familiar finger shapes with the crusts removed.  All were pleasant.  The egg mayo had a hint of chive and onion while the smoked salmon was accompanied by a small amount of cream cheese.  I would have preferred mustard with my ham sandwich, which was unaccompanied.

The cakes on the middle tier were of a very generous size and were where our attention was drawn when the food first arrived.  There were two portions of three different types of cake:  Flapjack, Chocolate Brownie and Ginger Cake.  There was no fine and dainty patisserie creations on offer here.  These were rich and heavy home-made cakes.  That turned out not to be a bad thing, as while the cakes were not the fanciest or most colourful we’ve ever had, they were well made and tasted good. 
The Ginger cake was more sweet than spicy, with only the faintest hint of ginger, but it had a nice slightly moist texture.
My favourite, and Jay’s too, was the Chocolate Brownie.  This was exceptionally rich in taste and had a smooth texture to it which came close to a chocolate truffle.  Small chocolate buttons were added to the mixture and were pleasant to bite down on alongside the smoother brownie mixture.
I saved the flapjack until last as I am a big fan of them.  This afternoon’s was a large slice which had an unexpected crumbly texture which I hadn’t experienced before.  Before writing this review I would have said that I was very fussy about how a flapjack was made, but I was rather taken with this one.  There weren’t too many ingredients used; No jam, no chocolate, no fruit (all unnecessary additions in my view).  Just the mainstays, and it was all the better for it.

The scones sadly didn’t prove as big a hit as the cakes did.  It was a sensible decision to serve one each instead of two each, and there was not too much jam or clotted cream, but they just lacked a bit of flavour, and the taste of the jam became too prevalent.  Texture-wise they were fine.  They didn’t disintegrate as soon as the jam was spread on them, but a pinch of salt in the dough mixture, a glaze and perhaps some fruit would have improved them no end.

The total bill came to £30 for the two of us, which was very reasonable.  We were happy with the standard of service we received, and left happily full though not over-faced.

In conclusion I would describe the offering from the Lost and Found as a good, hearty, unfussy afternoon tea that won’t break the bank.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Tasting Jerusalem #19 – Zhoug

Dee – I’ve been looking forward to cooking with, and writing about, February 2014s featured ingredient for a while.
Zhoug is a fiery hot green chilli relish from Yemen, which arrived in Jerusalem with Yemenite Jews who had emigrated to Israel.  It is said to have become the Israeli equivalent of ketchup, though I wouldn't use it anywhere near as liberally as I do ketchup.
There are many different recipes for Zhoug; possibly nearly as many as there are people who make it, but for anyone following the recipes in the book there is one on page 301.  I shared a slightly different version in an earlier blog entry covering Yemenite Jewish cuisine: click here for details

It was never my intention to make Zhoug on its own for this blog entry though.  My sights were firmly set on the Sabich on page 91.  I love a classic sandwich recipe and I have to say that this is my favourite of all.  Even though the commentary accompanying the recipe points out that it is Iraqi-Jewish rather than Jerusalemite in origin, it shares many of the characteristics of the food enjoyed throughout the city.

To make it, I started with the backbone of the recipe, which was the aubergine.  The recipe stated that it should be sliced, but the photograph of the finished dish in the book appeared to show it cut into chunks.  We went with the latter option, and cooked them slowly in a large frying pan in a little oil.
Once the aubergines were cooked to a nicely charred finish, I made the flatbreads.  I was very pleased with how they turned out.  They had just the soft and chewy texture that I was hoping for and they made a perfect base for the toppings.  
The aubergines and the bread were the only elements that needed to be cooked or baked.  I’d made the Zhoug and the Tahini sauce on page 298 in advance, so it was just a matter of assembly.
Jay incorporated the chopped salad into the whole dish but I preferred to keep mine separate and ate it in alternate mouthfuls with the bread and toppings, where it acted as a sort of palate cleanser.  The freshness of the salad made for a great counterbalance to the much richer and heavily favoured ingredients topping the bread.
We enjoyed this as an evening meal at home, so both added our ingredients on top of the bread rather than splitting it and putting them inside, as would be done in the street food version.

I love the amazing tapestry of ingredients that go into the Sabich.  The soft chewy bread, creamy Tahini sauce, rich boiled egg, fiery Zhoug and Salty Mango Pickle all go so well together, and make for a supremely tasty and filling snack.

We made the full quantities stated in the recipe so will be happily enjoying it again for lunch tomorrow.

“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)

Getting to know us: A survey of Food Bloggers

Dee:  A survey was set up recently by Loriley Sessions, host of the Food Bloggers Twitter community, to help participants in the regular Thursday evening chats get to know each other a little better.  A number of questions were drawn up and sent to three nominated bloggers.  Each person answering them then nominated two or three others to answer.
We were very pleased when we received a nomination from Katy over at My Rumbling Tum, so below are our responses which we hope will provide a bit more of an insight into our blog.

What was your reason for starting a blog?
Jay: Sharing ideas and keeping a record of what we’ve tried
Dee:  It was originally only going to cover a 26 week project, covering meals from 26 cuisines that we hadn’t tried before; one from each letter of the alphabet, starting with Angola and ending with Zimbabwe.  However, it quickly grew to incorporate restaurant and recipe book reviews, records of visits to food and drink festivals, themed menus and ongoing projects, and there’s plenty more to come yet.

What’s the dish you’re most proud of?
Dee:  Jay and me combined two recipes for baked jacket potatoes.  Mine was for the crispy skin and Jay’s was for the savoury filling.  It’s only simple comfort food, and we don’t make use the recipe all that often but it has a special place in my repertoire.
Jay: my pancakes. Nothing fancy about them, they just make a great breakfast. And they always work out, even the first one.
We also both feel rather proud of our Courtesans au Chocolat, which was an intense but ultimately rewarding foray into the art of patisserie: click here for details

What one kitchen utensil could you not live without?
Dee:  My silicon spatula.  It must have saved me from more kitchen disasters that I can remember.
Jay: Our stock pot. I thought Dee was nuts bringing one back from the supermarket once but now I totally get it!

You’re stranded on a desert island. What three ingredients do you take with you?
Dee:  I could obtain salt from sea water and I’m hoping that there would be fresh water inland so…Flour to use for making bread, some really good olive oil to dip the bread in and/or to use in the dough, and yoghurt for dessert.  I’d be quite happy with those.
Jay: I’d want to take flour too. I’ve been trying to decide on a spice to take and have been tooing and froing between chip spice, black pepper, smoked paprika or caraway and have (temporarily) settled on the pepper corns. Last one would be sugar.

Who do you take inspiration from?
Jay: Anyone! Have found great food inspiration from twitter, blogs, recipe books, food mags, TV programmes…
Dee:  Same as Jay’s choices;  Chefs, fellow Food Bloggers, Food Writers

What’s your favourite social media platform?
Dee:  Twitter is the platform that first took the blog to a wider audience and the one I use the most, so that would have to count as my favourite.
Jay:  I would have to say twitter too.. Not only has it been a source of advice and inspiration, we have found out about so many events and places to visit through it.

Biggest disaster in the kitchen?
Jay: A mince concoction from uni days.. didn’t realise at the time that mince really needed a sauce and a slow cook.. whoopsie! Or the time we forgot that our tamarind was concentrated and used the full amount..
Dee:  I am the biggest disaster in the kitchen, but as far as cooking disasters are concerned, I once tried making a cherry pie that ended up as a pile of cherries in red liquid with insufficient pastry on top.  What’s more is that it was for a themed menu so I had to photograph it and include it in the write-up.  Oh well.

Favourite spot for coffee?
Jay: In the dining room looking down the garden
Dee:  I agree with Jay.  There’s nothing like a nice cup of coffee in the morning at home.

Favourite food photo you’ve taken?
Jay: This shot of ice cream on the beach is my current favourite
Dee:  I’m a terrible photographer.  Everything is either too dark, spoiled by excessive shadows, or grey, but I’m quite proud of this photograph of some Palestinian Ka’ak bread that I made;

What would you say was your most successful blog post and why?
Jay: I don’t know about the most successful one, but my favourite one has been the fish finger sandwiches: click here for details
Dee:  I think it would have to be the sampling of Ethiopian cuisine which was one of our earliest blog entries: click here for details   It was the first to attract a comment (thanks Lucy) and so was the first indication we received that people were showing an interest in what we were doing.

Our nominations for completing the survey next were; Sheila of There She' Goes and Sam the Food Fan

Friday, 7 August 2015

Dee reviews the En Place Pop up Restaurant at 6/8 Kafé, Birmingham 6th August 2015

Jay and me were introduced to En Place for the first time last night when we attended their pop-up restaurant event at the new 6/8 Kafé in Millenium Point.
The business, run by chefs Mike Crew and Josh Porter, has been running for about a year now, and provides a private catering service as well as the pop-up restaurants in Birmingham and the surrounding area.  Their aim, with the pop-ups at least, is to provide a fine dining experience at an affordable price.  In order to do this they carefully manage costs by organising, designing, cooking and serving each meal themselves.  This approach firstly enables the chefs to maintain a tight control on quality and vision, and secondly enables diners to enjoy a (to the best of my knowledge) unique dining experience in which they can talk to the chefs and find out about the items on the menu from the very people who created it.
While the menu had been designed before the day of the event, the purchase of the supplies and cooking all took place on the day.
The menu began with snacks, followed by starter, fish course, main, dessert and ended with sweet treats, and each party of diners was served individually rather than all at the same time.

There were three distinct snacks, served one by one.

The first was an interpretation of ravioli, with a tomato water jelly representing the pasta, a filling of beef tartare and the whole topped with caviar.  It was highly photogenic; a quality which would continue throughout the evening.  I’m not a fan of beef tartare and sadly my stance didn’t change this evening, but the real star of this dish was the tomato jelly ‘pasta’ which was packed with the taste of tomato.  The caviar garnish was also a nice touch and provided just enough saltiness to compliment the jelly.

The second was an interesting twist on cheese on toast, made from cheese on toast flavoured ice cream, tomato and strawberry sauce and garnished with a tiny portion of sourdough toast.  Jay was particularly fond of this one, and I very much enjoyed my first taste of savoury ice cream.  The experience was slightly bittersweet however, as it needed to be eaten up quickly before the ice cream melted.  I was initially a little nervous about the inclusion of strawberries in the sauce but they contributed fruitiness rather than misplaced sweetness.

The final snack was introduced as a palate cleanser, and was a shot of elderflower based drink with strong mint and lime flavours and a more subtle one of apple.

The starter course was a smooth and vividly coloured pea velouté with goats curd, garnished with wasabi peas and mint.  It was served chilled, and Jay commented that the taste was akin to peas picked straight from the pod on a summers day from Nanna’s allotment.  I liked the combination of the hot and crunchy wasabi peas, soft goats curd and sweetness from the peas.

The fish course was a delicate mackerel ceviche garnished with cress and surrounded by pickled cucumber, a dressing made from smoked vodka and lemon sherbet and a sprinkling of red amaranth.  The pickled cucumber was the most strongly flavoured element of the dish, though I also enjoyed the slightly floral taste of the red amaranth, which I hadn’t tried before.  The fish provided more texture than taste, but it all set us up nicely for the main course.

For the main course, the star of the evening for me, we were served with a fabulous dish of belly pork on top of toasted lentils, with carrots cooked three ways; puréed pickled and roasted.  Small dots of puréed apples and smooth piccalilli completed the dish.  The belly pork was delicious, with a moist texture and surprisingly little fat.  The chefs explained that it had been slow roasted for about 5 hours then pressed.  The pureed carrot was a bit too much like a mousse for my taste but the roasted and pickled variants were excellent.  The lentils too had a pleasant spiciness to them, and it was clear that as much thought had gone into their preparation as the other items on the plate.

The dessert was a banana parfait sprinkled with Nutella powder and served with candied almonds, cherry sauce and sweetened sourdough.  This certainly hit my sweet spot and the use of the sourdough, another experiment that I was nervous about trying, worked nicely.  It had been toasted, which was definitely the right way to go with it, and it went down very well topped with a slice of the parfait.
I also enjoyed a second helping of the parfait, owing to Jay’s aversion to banana.

A trio of treats completed the meal.  These were served together on one plate and consisted of a soft and tasty homemade marshmallow, a chunk of apple poached in thyme on a caramel base, and a toffee and pecan biscuit topped with icing and candied walnuts. 
I was pleasantly surprised with the apple and thyme combination, as I really didn’t expect this to work.  The quantity of thyme used was just about right to ensure that it didn’t overpower either the sweetness of the caramel or the fruity tang of the apple.
The toffee and pecan biscuit was gone in a mouthful, dare I say too quickly to comment on it?

At the end of the meal, Mike and Josh came out of the kitchen and sat and chatted with the diners, keen to hear feedback and discuss the evening.  A ‘black book’ of recipes was mentioned during the conversation but I didn’t ask for any of them.  Home cooking this was not.  It was formal dining in a more informal setting.

At £35 a head, the price was very reasonable for a four course meal prepared by experienced chefs who had worked in the kitchens of Michelin starred restaurants.  The pop-up arrangement and ‘bring your own drinks’ policy certainly helped keep costs down, but most importantly, En Place had achieved their aim of bringing fine dining to a wider audience.

As to the future of En Place, Josh and Mike expressed a desire to set up a permanent restaurant in time, but for now the pop-ups will continue.  Venues are likely to vary, but this can only expand their profile, experience and versatility, so that when the time comes to open the restaurant, there will be an established customer base.

We both enjoyed our evening with En Place very much and look forward to hearing more from them in the future.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Afternoon Tea: Beer and Food session with Pure Bar & Kitchen at Birmingham Beer Bash 2015

Dee - The ‘Afternoon Tea’ beer and food pairing session was a fringe event organised by Pure Bar and Kitchen as part of the 2015 Birmingham Beer Bash.  I decided to write about it separately as it was a self-contained event.  A write up of the main event can be found here.

I’m quite fond of these food and drink pairing events, and covered a similar one focusing on sherry at the Foodies Festival back in May click here for details.

There were around ten attendees to the event, which was hosted by two of the staff from the Pure Bar and Kitchen, which is located in the centre of Birmingham. click here to visit their web site  We were offered five different beers to sample, together with suggestions as to food which could be enjoyed alongside them.  Each beer was introduced and facts and statistics displayed via Powerpoint.

By the way, I must apologise for the lack of photos to accompany this article.  We were too keen to get stuck into the food and the beer.

Beer 1:  Lawless Lager
Brewery:  Purity Brewing
Food Pairing:  Wye Forest Chorizo
Dee said:  This lager had a pronounced hoppiness to it, and much more taste than more common lagers.  A key selling point of this lager is its 40 day conditioning period, as opposed to 36 hours for the more familiar brands.  It was a good match for the chorizo, which wasn’t as spicy as the Spanish variety, though I think the lager could cope perfectly well with either.

Beer 2:  Longhorn IPA
Brewery:  Purity Brewing
Food Pairing:  Single Gloucester Cheese
Dee said:  I had tasted this beer before at the Foodies Festival linked to above, so was ready for the afternoon’s second hit of hops.  The presenters explained that this was Purity’s first beer to be canned, and used to be their most popular keg beer prior to the launch of Lawless Lager.  They also described it as less hoppy than other IPAs, though the flavour was still very much in evidence to me.  A mixture of rye and cara malts gave the beer an orange hue and slight sweetness.
The Purity web site recommends spicy foods and burgers as additional food matches for this IPA, but I was, and I think would still be, happier with the cheese board, as we enjoyed here.

Beer 3:  Rauchbier Märzen
Brewery:  Schlenkerla
Food Pairing:  Cheese
Dee said:  The German Rauchbiers, a specialty of the town of Bamberg, have something of a marmite effect in the beer world.  They are the smokiest of the smoky beers, with an additional rich, dense texture.  This one had a distinct aroma of smoked bacon, achieved by exposing the malts to smoke from burning beechwood logs.
I wasn’t able to sample it with the cheese as I’d eaten it all with the Longhorn IPA, so I had to experiment a little.  I first tried it alongside piccalilli which was a horrendous pairing, but it went rather well with dry roasted peanuts.

Beer 4:  Imperial Brown Ale
Brewery:  Nøgne ø / Nørrebro Bryghus
Food Pairing:  Chocolate Brownie
Dee said:  I’ve tried about three beers now from Nøgne ø and have enjoyed all of them.  This one was brewed in collaboration with the Danish brewery Nørrebro Bryghus.  It was a strong one, with a 7.5% strength, but was deceptively drinkable.  Based on English ales, it had a pleasantly rich and fruity taste.  Another very good drink.
We were recommended at the event to try it with the chocolate brownie, and Jay loved this pairing.  I was less keen as I felt there was too much sweetness with the two together.  On the other hand I found it to be a great match for the piccalilli, though my fellow diners disagreed with me.  The web site recommends almost any type of cheese as the ideal pairing.

Beer 5:  Marc’s Chocolate Bock
Brewery:  Maisel & Friends
Food Pairing:  Chocolate Brownie
Dee said:  Now this went perfectly with the chocolate brownie, and was probably my favourite match of the session, with the Rauchbier and roasted peanuts a close second. 
There was a rich texture and taste to this beer, which was described as a German take on an Irish stout.  Another strong beer, at 7.5%, the maltiness and coffee flavours were both there, and the fruits were much subtler than the brown ale, allowing the sweetness from the chocolate brownie to compliment, rather than clash with the taste of the beer.

In conclusion, this was an informal and fun session to attend, with everyone feeling comfortable in discussing their tasting preferences.  Pure Bar and Kitchen were good hosts, and we look forward to more visits to their bar in Birmingham

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Beer and Burgers at the Rockstone, Southampton 31st July 2015

The Rockstone is a fairly small pub located in the Bevois Valley district of Southampton, where it serves a broad range of wines, beers, spirits, soft drinks and food to the local community.  Its customer base has been expanding steadily though, and now also includes people from further afield who travel there to sample its amazing burgers which have gained in reputation since the pub launched in 2011.

We stopped off there on our way to Bournemouth and were lucky to find a table which had not been pre-booked.  There were only a handful of customers inside when we arrived but not long after we sat down, numbers started to increase steadily.

The menu is well known by regular visitors for its pun-laden food choices.  For example, starters include; Oops I squid it again and Dirty Pretty Wings, while Burgers on offer include; Black n Blue, Girth n Turf and Stack Bauer. 
Sadly, my favourite from previous visits, Captain Jerk Sparrow, wasn’t on, but there was a Rum Festival launching, and the specials board had been populated with West Indies themed dishes to compliment it.  Sir Francis Steak and A Jerk of Art were two, but I chose a Black Bart, which was an 11oz beef burger topped with fried plantain, Monterey Jack cheese, and a deliciously rich, sticky and sweet barbeque sauce made with Kraken Black Rum.
Jay went for a Ranch Burger, a menu regular made from an 11oz beef patty, with barbeque sauce, mature cheddar and beer battered onion rings.

Both of our burgers were served with a generous portion of chips and a side salad with olive oil and balsamic dressing.  At £15 and £13 respectively, they’re not the cheapest burgers available, but the difference in quality more than reflects the difference in price.  You may pay more here but you certainly get more.  It was obvious just by looking at the burger patties that they were made from excellent quality beef, and the buns, so often overlooked, were sourced from local bakers, with gluten free and brioche variants available if desired.
The burger patties were expertly cooked, with a crispy charred outside and moist centre, and the buns in turn were ever so slightly toasted on the outside while retaining a soft crumb.

For my beer, I chose a Dark Star Festival full bodied Sussex ale, which was one of the five or so real ales on the pumps and was served in an old style pint pot with a handle. I'd call it a quaffing beer even though it boasted a strength of 5%.  To be honest, it was probably a bit rich and strong for the burger, and especially the sauce, but I still enjoyed it. Jay was driving so enjoyed a bottle of Fentimans Dandelion and Burdock.

We were tempted by dessert, in particular the ‘Alice leaves the Kitchenland’ multi-coloured/layered cheesecake with pink biscuit base, but sadly we were both too full to even share it between us. 

It was good to find the Rockstone in as good a shape as it was when we last visited and look forward to visiting again.