Friday, 30 December 2016

Tasting Jerusalem #42 – Holiday Menu

written by Dee 

December’s Tasting Jerusalem theme gave us free reign to design a menu for the Holiday Season which was convenient for Jay and me, as it was something that we were going to do anyway.  It was a nice way to round off the year and we had fun choosing the recipes that made up the final menu.

In the end we divided our menu over two meals as there was too much delicious food to get through in one sitting.

Ruth’s Romano Peppers
The main dish in the first sitting called for the romano peppers to be stuffed with a mixture of minced lamb, rice, herbs and spices and then cooked in a pan, but we had to modify the recipe slightly by cooking the peppers in the oven rather than on the hob, as we didn’t have a pan that was large enough to fit them all in.
It doesn’t happen often for us when cooking recipes from the Jerusalem book, but we found these stuffed peppers looked better than they tasted.  They were just a bit on the bland side.  It felt as though the water that the peppers were cooked in had diluted the flavour.  The water was of course needed to cook the rice, but I wonder if cooking the rice before adding the stuffing could have allowed the peppers to be roasted without so much water.

Spicy Carrot Salad
For the second dish in the first sitting, we took on the spicy carrot salad as we wanted plenty of colour to brighten up the dark winter evenings (and days too over here in England), and the orange carrots, green rocket/arugula and red dressing certainly delivered on that score.
This was another recipe that we had to tweak as we didn’t set enough time aside to make the Pilpelchuma that was needed for the salad dressing, but we had some very good Harissa from Belazu which we used instead.
The salad itself was simple to make and was packed with flavour, principally from the dressing; a potent mixture of vinegar, harissa and spices.  We didn’t cook the carrots for too long as we wanted them to retain a crunchy texture.  The rocket/arugula leaves added an interesting freshness and peppery taste, making this a great salad.  We would happily make it again.

Tomato and Pomegranate Salad
We returned to an old favourite for the third dish in the first sitting.  The Tomato and Pomegranate Salad that was featured in the Ottolenghi Mediterranean Feast television series.  We’ve written about this salad before, the last time being when it was included in another showcasing menu for our first anniversary (click here for details) .  As with the carrot salad, this was another colourful addition to the menu, and its sweet, sharp dressing ensured that it was a delight for the taste buds as well as the eyes.

All three dishes worked very well together and the big flavours that the two salads delivered more than compensated for what we found to be lacking in the peppers.
After we finished the meal, there were plenty of leftovers.  The peppers fed us twice but there were still enough of both salads to keep going for another couple of meals, so we used them as the basis of an expanded menu.  The new recipes were not taken from the Jerusalem book but each has its own story which is worth sharing here.

Brussels Sprouts with Feta
We had some leftover sprouts from our Christmas dinner so decided to use them to make one of the first recipes we spotted when we bought the Zahav book by Michael Solomonov.
I’m a recent convert to sprouts, while Jay has always loved them, and to see them featured in a recipe that we could feature as part of our Tasting Jerusalem project was too good an opportunity to pass up.
We were completely blown away by this dish.  We both agreed that these were the best Brussels Sprouts that we had ever tried.  They were first blackened in a frying pan, and then mixed with onions which had been softened and flavoured with a wine vinaigrette, and finally garnished with crumbled feta.  The sprouts took on a toasted, almost nutty flavour and lost all of the bitterness which puts many people off them.  The onions and dressing add a little acidity and the feta finishes the dish off with salty freshness.  There were so many flavours and textures contained in a pretty simple meze dish but it has to be sampled to appreciate how great it is.  We will certainly be making it again.

Rose, Cardamom and Pistachio Snowballs
We finished off the menu with a dessert recipe and another one which we had made before, though in a slightly different form (read about it here)
The recipe for these shortbread-like biscuits was designed by Beth from the Tasting Jerusalem group, and reached the final five entries in the 2016 LA Times Holiday Cookie Bake-Off, so well done to Beth.
These were a nice way to finish off the meal.  They were sweet, crumbly and full of flavour, mostly from the rosewater, though that is probably due more to our ground cardamom being past its peak than any failing in the recipe.  We kept the pistachio chunks quite large, and they added a nice crunchy texture, though at the expense of the cookies’ appearance, which was not as roundly uniform as they might otherwise have been.

This was a great way to round off the year and we were happy with the menu we chose.  I think we will be able to work with the recipe for the peppers to make them more to our liking, and those sprouts are definitely too good to wait until Christmas.

January 2017 will be a vegan month, and February will see us celebrating our second Tasting Jerusalem anniversary, so there is plenty to look ahead to.

“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)

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Twelve Beers of Christmas 2016: The final four and the winners

Shameless Santa
Purchased from:  Cotteridge Wines
Brewery:  To ├śl
Tasting Notes said:  A Belgian strong Red Ale, playing and using all the cheap tricks of the trade. Caramel malts, sugars, highly attenuated yeast profile, fruity novel hops as Mandarina Bavaria and Calypso. This is one greasy balanced beer that suits any situation involving Christmas, New Years Eve and any other event that involves roasted marshmallows.
Dee said:  Deep Copper in colour with a light beige head.  I was not expecting the aroma of summer fruits.  A rich malty taste, and far lighter than its ten per cent strength led me to expect.  Overall, this was a beer of surprises, the last one being the especially warming finish.
Jay said:  Christmassy, malty?  Surprisingly light taste for the powerful ten per cent.  Fruity and frighteningly drinkable.  Cheers!

Nefarious Ten Pin
Purchased from:  Cotteridge Wines
Brewery:  Ska Brewing
Tasting Notes said:  King of the alley; This Imperial Porter reigns supreme. Creamy, chocolaty sweet, with hints of coffee, the Nefarious is wickedly outrageous.
Dee said:  We weren’t sure if this was marketed as a Christmas beer or not, but the skeleton clad in Santa style robes qualified it for us.  Black coloured, with a pleasantly chocolatey, coffee-like aroma.  Earthy, bitter and slightly smoky tasting.  Big on flavour.
Jay said:  Darkest dark porter.  Coffee and burnt sugar on the nose.  Very thin mouth feel but a definite fizz.  Coffee and burnt sugar taste but not a great deal of aftertaste.

Tsjesses 2015
Purchased from:  Cotteridge Wines
Brewery:  De Struise Brouwers
Tasting Notes said:  Tsjesses is a jolly, blond winter ale with a fluffy white cap.  Its aroma is elegant, with hints of fruit, spices, refreshing herbs and noble hops.  The taste is robust, very complex and quite dry for its style.  This warming ale is our gift to you for the holidays.  Enjoy!
Dee said:  Attractive reddish copper colour.  Aroma of strong bitter hops.  The bitterness was carried through to the taste, which also included malt and yeast.  This one lingered so is one to be sipped slowly.
Jay said:  A very festive chestnut colour with lots of fruit and malt on the nose.  A fizzy and again fruity taste.  Quite a light beer considering its strength.

Most Wonderful Time for a Beer
Purchased from:  Cotteridge Wines
Brewery:  Uiltje Craft Beer
Tasting Notes said:  A mixture of spices with juniper berries, bog myrtle, liquorice root and more.
Dee said:  Winner of the best packaging this year.  This beer was labelled as a Gruit; a term I hadn’t heard before, but which turned out to be an old fashioned method for flavouring beer before the widespread use of hops.
This beer had a reddish brown colour and a strongly spiced aroma which reminded me of nutmeg, allspice and predominantly pepper.  It was quite thickly textured and smooth to taste, with an interesting slightly herbed flavour.  A burnt caramel aftertaste completed this beer’s multi-faceted profile.
Jay said:  Another porter looking ale.  Herbal, almost medicinal smell.  Tangy and herbal taste which developed into a lingering burnt sugar.  One of the most unusual beers of the twelve and you know, one of my favourites.

In Conclusion
Jay’s Favourite:  Penguin
Dee’s Favourite:  Anchor Christmas Ale
Dee – As with 2014s selection, all twelve beers were enjoyable and we appreciated the variety of colours, textures and flavours that were delivered.  I chose the Anchor ale as my favourite because of its success in balancing such big flavours in a way that captured the essence of Christmas in a glass.
Jay was most impressed with the seemingly disparate elements all coming together to make the Penguin beer a seasonal beer that was easy to drink and defied the dark, dense and heavy Christmas beer stereotype.

We hope this has been an interesting project to follow.  We certainly enjoyed putting it together and, assuming that we can source twelve more Christmas beers, we look forward to next year’s selection.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Twelve Beers of Christmas 2016: five, six, seven and eight

Black Christmas
Purchased from:  Cotteridge Wines
Tasting Notes said:  Subtle roast character plays perfectly with fruity and slightly tart notes from the cranberry, which we have combined with our most favourite hops, Sorachi Ace, to bring hints of vanilla and coconut to the party.  And because we know you are not going to want to just have the one, we’ve made this beer a very sessionable 4.5%.
Dee said:  Wins the prize for the most macabre label design.  A stout, so was black in colour.  The promise of cranberries was delivered in the aroma where it was mixed with dark chocolate and malt.
Bitter tasting but cranberry and dark chocolate were still very much in evidence.  The cranberry also stayed around long enough to provide a pleasant after-taste.
Jay said:  Didn’t get cranberries!  Did get a properly bitter stout.  Another one with a lingering after-taste.  At 4.5% it’s a Christmassy, heady session ale, and there aren’t so many of them around.

Red & White Christmas
Purchased from:  Stirchley Wines
Brewery:  Mikkeller
Tasting Notes said:  Holiday Ale brewed with Spices.
Dee said:  Mid bronze coloured with a white head.  Masses of fruit and hops on the nose, with a hint of sourness.  These same characteristics could also be found in the taste which also contained some mixed spice.  A recommended Christmas beer for the hop heads.
Jay said:  Goodness this is lively!  Massive fruitiness on the nose and first taste, which quickly fades.  Frighteningly easily drinkable for its strength.

Christmas Ale
Purchased from:  Stirchley Wines
Brewery:  Anchor Brewing
Tasting Notes said:  The 2016 Christmas Ale is a deep mahogany brown with a creamy, tan head and boasts aromas of fruitcake, molasses, and fresh cut wood. The beer tastes of a roasted caramel malt, with notes of spiced chocolate and nuts. And it has a rich, smooth, and velvety mouthfeel. Every year the Anchor brewers look forward to formulating a new Christmas Ale recipe and tasting the fruits of their labors. We are always excited to please beer fans with its ever-changing recipe and label. Cheers from the Anchor brewers!
Dee said:  Very dark brown with beige head.  Lots of dark fruits making up the heady aroma: black cherry, blackcurrants and mince pies.  This was followed by a complex taste profile which included vanilla, marzipan, banana and buttery shortbread.  If I was asked to define a ‘traditional’ Christmas beer, I would choose this one.
Jay said:  Sour, lingering coffee.  This is an end of night, roaring fire, wingbacked chair beer.  Big, luscious and feisty.  Love it.

Speciale Noel
Purchased from:  Cotteridge Wines
Brewery:  Abbaye des Rocs
Tasting Notes said:  Triple fermentation.  Natural beer with yeast, pure malt and hop.
Dee said:  Dark Chestnut coloured with a strong, treacly, spicy aroma.  Bitter tasting.  Reminded me of Marmite and Twiglets.  Much more lightly textured than I was expecting, though still strong.
Jay said:  Lively on opening, even after a week out in the cold.  Smooth and fruity fall-over juice this one.  Couldn’t place what it reminded me of until Dee mentioned Twiglets.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Jay and Dee’s Twelve Beers of Christmas 2016, the first four

Dee:  We last reviewed twelve Christmas themed beers back in 2014 (click here for details) and decided that we would quite like to sample twelve more this year.

We’ve sourced all of them from local businesses; namely Cotteridge Wines and Stirchley Wines though of course they should all be available from good beer retailers anywhere.

What is a Christmas Beer?  Generally, they are thought of as being dark in colour, heavily flavoured with fruit and spice, with a high alcohol content, but this is not always the case.  We have in our selection for this year beers which are lighter in colour, taste and strength and we could go so far as to say that the only uniting factor in Christmas beers is the imagery used on the label.

We’ve used the same layout as previous beer reviews, providing links to the brewers’ web sites, tasting notes where they are available, and our own experiences of each drink.

We would be interested to hear if anyone reading this has tried any of these beers and if they were enjoyed or not.

Let’s get started then with the first four;

Purchased from:  Stirchley Wines
Brewery:  Animal Brewing Co.
Tasting Notes said:  Canoodle together under the mistletoe with this special pale ale - single hopped with New Zealand Motueka adding tropical fruit flavours and lightly spiced to give a seasonal twist.
Dee said:  Light Gold in colour, with a subtle and slightly fruity aroma.  Taste was malty, slightly buttery but also had a hint of toasted coconut.  It had a nice lingering finish and was much more flavoursome than I was expecting.  Also at 4.6% it was easily drinkable.
Jay said:  Spicing is subtle but gives a really interesting and lingering after taste.  Hints of coconut perhaps?  Very drinkable and a great start to the project.

Purchased from:  Stirchley Wines
Brewery:  Two Towers Brewery
Tasting Notes said:  A dark rich porter, deep and long, with hints of Christmas pudding. Seasonal special - only available at Christmas.  Sleighed is  a very dark, rich, spicy stout, packed full of hazelnut, cinnamon, vanilla flavours, tinged with coco and chocolate notes.  The name is a 'nod' in the direction of the band whose singer 'sang': "It's Chriiiiisssstmaaas!" 
Dee said:  Coffee black in colour without any head on it.  Treacle and dark chocolate were the predominant aromas, followed by a flat and light texture and complex flavour profile which included tobacco smoke and black cherry.  This won’t be to everyone’s tastes but I was a big fan of it.
Jay said: Porters are awesome and one from a cool local brewery? It’s a decent ale but I guess I was expecting something a bit more.  There’s coffee, cocoa and tobacco.  Perhaps it was the hint of banana that threw me, although that appears to be my tastebuds as Dee didn’t find it.

Purchased from:  Cotteridge Wines
Tasting Notes said:  This years edition of Bristletoe uses rolled oats and traditional brown porter malt to produce a rich bodied and full flavoured beer that punches well above its modest Christmas ABV, allowing you to enjoy more!
Dee said:  Very dark brown, almost black coloured porter with a bitter, earthy aroma which also had a hint of espresso coffee.  The taste was subtler than the aroma suggested, but the coffee was carried through into the taste.  A nice easy drink.
Jay said:  Our second porter and it’s a juicy one.  Nice bit of fizz in this one and a lingering coffee aftertaste.

Red Nose Reinbeer
Purchased from:  Stirchley Wines
Brewery:  Cotleigh Brewery
Tasting Notes said:  A richly flavoured deep copper coloured seasonal beer and Gold Medal Winner. A smooth long lasting finish with chocolate, toffee and nuts. Brewed using Pale, Crystal and Chocolate malt with Goldings, Fuggles and Northdown hops.
Dee said:  Deep Mahogany colour and an aroma of strong spices including pepper and nutmeg, with hops in the background.  The taste was of bitter toffee at first, followed by raisins, sultanas and prunes.  With all of this going on in one drink it is definitely one to be drunk slowly to appreciate everything it has to offer.
Jay said:  Molasses, burnt sugar and a hint of spice on the nose, which delivered on first taste before being washed away and lost.