Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Hotel Chocolat Easter Eggs

Sat 17 Mar 2007

In amongst all the munching on the weekend, we found time to fit in some chocolate - this time in the form of a luxury nutty Easter egg from Hotel Chocolat.

I have quite a few friends and colleagues who are fans of Hotel Chocolat, which started life as a mail order enteprise but now has actual shops full of chocolatey goodness. In the past I have used the website as a handy way of ordering gifts when visiting friends, rather than buying chocolates for myself, although I am quite a fan of their drinking chocolate. It consists of real flakes of chocolate and makes an incredibly rich drink. It's a monumental improvement on bog-standard cocoa or powdered drinking chocolate.

The nutty egg I was lucky enough to sample arrived in a smart black box, with the two halves of the egg wrapped in plain bronze coloured foil. The fact that the egg comes in two distinct halves is quite important. Firstly, it means that each half can be different chocolate: in this case, dark and milk with nuts. Secondly it means the chocolate is good and thick. And finally, it means that the halves can be filled with even more chocolate. Yes, each half of the egg is filled with a selection of Hotel Chocolat's nut chocolates. Fortunately, the packaging means you can keep the halves separate and you're not compelled to eat the who 420g of chocolate at once!

In the lottery of 'which half would I open first' I won with the dark chocolate, which happens to be my favourite type. Hotel Chocolat's dark chocolate is very smooth and is less bitter than many - so if you know any doubters about dark chocolate this might be a good place to start them off! The egg's shell is thick, which means that you almost always break off more than you expect. What a shame!

My favourite of the chocolates contained in the egg is the dark chocolate rocher, which is slivers of almonds formed into a dark chocolate rock. It's delicious! There are white and milk versions of these, as well as chocolate coated brazils and macadamias (the macadamias are lovely too), and chocolates based around pistachios and hazelnuts.

This is a very grown up Easter egg (and, at £18, you're probably not going to want to buy one for each of the many small children in your life). You should ensure that you give it to someone special enough that you manage to have to share it with them. Between two of us we ate less than a half on a Saturday night, which has left me with plenty to myself, which I'm working my way through quite steadily.

If nuts aren't quite your prospective recipient's thing then Hotel Chocolat are offering a selection of other luxury eggs. You can read about the fruity truffle one over at Spittoon Extra. And while you're there, you'll probably want to enter the competition!

Hotel Chocolat do deliver world wide (outside the UK it is quite pricey) and they have stores nationwide.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Wedgewood Scones

Sun 18 Mar 2007

After the squash soup it was time to move on to the March/April issue of Tea Time magazine and it was also time for a sweet recipe.

I opted for the Wedgewood scones (taken from an article featuring Lord Wedgewood) because the combination of scone, basil and lemon really intrigued me.

I preheated the oven to 190C and set about making my scone mixture. I used 2 1/2 cups of self raising flour, mixed with 1/2 cup of caster sugar, 2 tsp of baking powder and a pinch of salt combined with 110g of unsalted butter. Once this had been processed to a crumbly mixture I added the zest of one lemon and some finely chopped basil. To bring the mixture together I added just over 2/3 of a cup of cream.

The mixture was very crumbly but it did come together when I kneaded it on the bench. I rolled the mixture out to about half an inch thick before cutting out my scones (using my largest cutter - the recipe specified a 2 1/4 inch cutter).

Place the scones on baking sheets lined with baking paper and glaze with some more cream and a dusting of sugar. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until lightly browned.

The scones didn't really rise at all, and were definitely not scone like (or at least, not what I was expecting!). However, in the picture in the magazine they didn't look like they were ready to be split and filled with jam and cream.

Flavour-wise, I think I may have been a little heavy handed with the basil, but otherwise the combination of basil and lemon was fantastic! The scones turned out more like giant biscuits, and I think in future I'd be tempted to use a different recipe but with the same flavourings. Or maybe make a plain scone and serve with a cream flavoured with basil and lemon.

While I don't think this was as big a hit as the soup, the recipe was certainly interesting and has given me plenty to think about.

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Squash Soup

Sat 17 Mar 2007

Saturday might have been Saint Patrick's day but the closest I got to an Irish flag was the orange of the butternut squash soup that was waiting for me at home when I fled the pub (far too many comedy Guinness hats for me!).

I'd received a couple of copies of Tea Time magazine to review and I'd chosen a curried cream of squash soup from the January/February as experiment number one.

I'm an enthusiastic soup maker (it's so easy and satisfying), so while I couldn't track down yellow squash I made do with the subtly different butternut squash.

I melted some butter and sweated down one onion, finely chopped. I added in my peeled, chopped squash (about 1 1/2 lbs worth) and cooked it for a little while before adding in a pint of chicken stock. I also added a teaspoon of Keen's curry powder and about a quarter of a pint of cream. I left this mix to simmer until the squash was tender and then blitzed the soup with the stab mixer.

To serve, a spoonful of sour cream, a sprinkling of parsley and a handful of grated parmesan cheese, before adding salt and pepper to taste.
The soup was very tasty, although the addition of the sour cream was a bit superfluous. The original recipe had called for a whole pint of cream, which would have been totally over the top, but I did really enjoy the addition of the parmesan.

We served this with a 2004 Dr Unger Gruner Veltliner, Kremstal, Austria (£6.99). We weren't overly impressed with the wine and it certainly didn't go with the parmesan cheese in the soup. The wine did go better with just the soup, but there was just a bit too much acidity that interfered with cream in the soup. We have had gruner veltliners in the past that we've really enjoyed, so this hasn't put us off!

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Round Up

Mon 19 Mar 2007

I feel like I'm running late with my round up ... I've got a lot to post about so it would have been good to get this out the way last week.

Still, we've had a quick jaunt around a few bars not previously mentioned on Eating Leeds before. First off the blocks is Jake's Bar & Grill on Call Lane. We only stopped in for a beer and I was sufficiently unimpressed when I was given a dirty glass to go with my bottle of Cusquena. It was late afternoon and the bar wasn't very busy but for some reason the few patrons were battered with overly loud music. We only stayed for one drink but, in the name of research, will probably head back and check out the food at some point.

More successful (we were there for longer) was our trip south of the river, to the Cross Keys. I was very happy drinking Black Rose stout from E&S and there's a good selection of draught and bottled beers to keep all types of beer drinkers happy. The menu looked tempting too (though I'm not sure how much respect I have when asparagus appears at the tail end of winter ...) and Sunday lunch will set you back about £15 for three courses. I imagine I'll be sampling the food at the Cross Keys before I make it back to Jake's.

Prize for the most expensive beer in Leeds (previously held by Ha!Ha! charging £3.30 for a pint of Red Stripe) goes to The Waterhole on Great George Street. Newly re-opened, they are charging £3.45 for a pint of Staropramen. I quite liked it in there, but I think the overly loud band was a mistake and the drinks are ridiculously expensive. As my dad said - you don't get stung twice - so I'm not sure I'll be rushing back for the food.

On the food front, I spotted an Organic Cayenne Chocolate from Plamil Foods. Since I'm such a big fan of Montezuma's Chilli Chocolate I had to try it. I was a bit disappointed, as the cayenne is far too overwhelming: at first it tastes like chocolate, and then you get hit with a blast of super hot cayenne. Back to Montezuma's for a while for me!

Following on from my green tea sampling last week, I raided a colleague's drawer and tried Qi (organic, fairtrade) White Tea. White tea is a step up in the goodness factor from gren tea, and I'm pleased to report that it's more than palatable. It tastes very much like green tea - so if you already like green tea but want even more antioxidant goodness give white tea a go!

And finally, a blog of the week. Lucy's Kitchen Notebook is one that I'd tagged ages ago but visit rarely. More beautiful photographs from a French blogger (you'd think I never read these blogs, just look at the pictures!), and more descriptive than recipe focused but you'll still leave hungry!
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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Combinations 11: Roast garlic soup with Gruyere

Thurs 14 Mar 2007

Andrew over at Spittoon has asked me to host this month's Combinations. I'm having quite a busy time of it so I knew I wanted to choose something simple to cook but that was going to be an interesting wine matching challenge.

I was also a bit short on inspiration (the first assignment for the Gastronomy course was due in yesterday!), but fortunately Mark Hix and the Independent came to my rescue: roast garlic soup with Gruyere. Soup is easy to make, I love soup, I love roast garlic ... but, my god, what on earth do you drink with it?! I've been thinking about this for a couple of days and still haven't come up with any good ideas ... I'll have to invest some more time thinking about it!

Anyway, here is the recipe to get you thinking ...

Preheat oven to 180C, halve 2 bulbs of garlic and roast for about 40 minutes.

Melt butter and gently saute 2 onions (peeled and finely chopped) until they are softened. Add 1 1/2 tbsp plain flour and stir well before adding 1.5 L of hot stock, continuing with the stirring. Season and simmer for about 20 minutes, before adding the roast garlic (peeled of course!) and simmer for another 30 minutes. Blend until smooth, correct seasoning and serve, sprinkling grated Gruyere on top.

I imagine I'll be serving this with some good bread ... but what wine?

Because I'm posting this quite late I'll make the deadline Monday 2 April - just to allow another weekend to squeeze in the soup making!

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Bahmi Goreng

Sun 11 Mar 2007

Sunday dinners generally have to be pretty foolproof affairs .... after all, you never know when one drink is going to turn into ... well ... more than one, and you never know how late you'll get back from the pub. This means noodles and stirfries (or curries, made earlier in the day) are always a popular choice.

So it was fortuitous that the latest AGT had a whole masterclass section devoted to noodles! Being the carbohydrate junkie that I am I was a bit spoilt for choice (Vietnamese lemongrass beef and rice noodle salad or soba with tempura prawns?) but I couldn't talk Andy into a cold noodle dish so we reached compromise with the recipe for Bahmi Goreng.

This was very easy to put together, but did require a bit of forethought on the shopping front: it contains no fewer than 3 different types of meat!

Firstly, prepare some egg noodles and refresh in cold water.

Beat an egg with a splash of soy sauce and make a little, fine omelette.

For the main part of the dish, heat some oil in a wok and add 2 cloves of finely chopped garlic, some finely sliced chicken (thigh or breast) and finely sliced pork. Allow this to cook for a little before adding 4 raw prawns (shelled, but tails on), some shredded Chinese leaf, some chopped chilli and 2 thickly sliced onions. Cook this until the prawns just change colour.

Now add a quarter of a cup of chicken stock, the same of kecap manis and a splash of soy sauce. As we didn't have any kecap manis to hand (exactly how many types of soy sauce are we supposed to be keeping in the cupboard?!), we just stuck with soy sauce. Andy had a taste and decided we needed to add some sugar, so I guess that was the kecap manis compromise. Add in your noodles, and make sure everything is hot through before serving.

Serve scattered with crispy fried shallots and the egg roll.

Another hit from this month's AGT, I have to say. While we slightly over did it with the chilli (giving us the opportunity for the spat about de-seeding or not de-seeding chillis), it was delicious and very quick to make. Given that you actually require very little meat (we used half a chicken breast and half a pork chop for the two of us), it would be a great way of using up any left overs. Mind you, I'm not sure how many people have green prawns just loitering in the fridge ...

To drink, we also hit the jackpot. We bought a Vin d'Alsace 2005 Riesling from Marks and Spencer for £5.99. The wine is produced by the Cave de Turckheim, which is a well known Alsatian producer. The wine had a lovely floral nose, a complex palate, with just a hint of residual sweetness. It was delicious and while it went very well with the spicy noodles (it wasn't intimidated by the chilli at all) I think it would work equally as well as an aperitif.

It was a great way to round off a very relaxing weekend!

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Lamb and Beetroot

Sat 10 Mar 2007

The latest Australian Gourmet Traveller has arrived so a great flurry of cooking has taken place. The cover features a stunning lemon meringue pie and while Andy would probably have been more than happy to have that emerge from the oven I opted for more savoury dishes.

First off the ranks was chargrilled lamb served with beetroot tzatziki, which came from the article about Melbourne chef George Calombaris. Although this was quite a fiddly dish, with lots of kitchen kit involved, it is a perfect prepare ahead dish, so don't be overwhelmed by what follows!

The recipe called for lamb neck, which we couldn't find in the market, so we used lamb steaks.

Firstly, get started on the beetroot tzatziki. For the two of us we used two small-ish beetroot. I cleaned and topped and tailed the beets, before wrapping each one loosely in tin foil and roasting in an oven preheated to 180C. Depending on size they will need about an hour of roasting. When they're tender, remove from the oven, allow them to cool slightly, and then dice. The recipe in AGT says to cut them into 7mm cubes. If, like me, you think that's vaguely ridiculous (after all, how precise do you have to be?), chop it into whatever size pieces of beet you'd like!

While the beetroot is cooking, heat some oil in a casserole and when it's hot sear the lamb until golden brown. Because of space constraints, I did our lamb steaks two at a time, and then removed them to a plate, before adding in one onion coarsely chopped, 2 cloves of sliced garlic and 3 shallots, also coarsely chopped. Once these were all soft I returned the lamb to the pot, and added 100gm of Greek yogurt (original recipe called for natural), a good hearty splash of white wine, a squeeze of honey, a good sprinkling of oregano, the grated rind of half a lemon and a splash of olive oil. Mix this all together, cover the casserole and put it in the oven at 160C. Because my beetroots were still roasting at 180C I made do with that!

The lamb needs to cook for a good hour plus (1 1/2 hours, or until tender). This means you get to put your feet up. I took the opportunity to sample the wine I'd used in the lamb: a Louis Latour Macon-Lugny Les Genievres 2005 (£7.99). Back in January I'd really enjoyed a different Macon-Lugny so I was really looking forward to this one. Unfortunately I was more than a little disappointed. The wine had no clearly definable nose and while it had a bit of butter in the mouth it was also quite high in acid. There was no great complexity or length in the wine and it was totally dominated by the acid.

Wine disappointment over, it was time to put together the tzatziki. This was very simple: once the beetroot are cooked and diced I sprinkled over a little extra virgin olive oil, added about 100 g of Greek yogurt, the grated rind of half a lemon, a shallot finely chopped, a clove of garlic finely chopped and a few sprigs of dill ... also finely chopped. Mix it all together and taste. Be careful with the garlic as raw garlic can be so hot that you don't want to over do it.

At about this point the lamb had finished cooking, so I heated the griddle pan and each of the lamb steaks got a good, final searing before being sliced. I was going to bother with neither of these steps - but Andy insisted and the searing at least was a brilliant finishing touch, adding a bit of extra char-caramel goodness.

The recipe suggests you should remove the solids from the cooking juices before mixing in a shaved bulb of fennel. That sounded like hard work to me, so I set Andy to grating the fennel and we just mixed it in to what was left in the casserole. It worked perfectly.

The lamb was served on top of the beetroot tzatziki, topped with the fennel mix and a couple of sprigs of dill. It was absolutely delicious!

For our meal, we put aside the chardonnay and opened a bottle of Chateau Peymouton St Emilion Grand Cru 2003 (70% merlot, 30% cabernet sauvignon). Since Andy bought this at Frankfurt Airport I don't even know if it's available in the UK. Again, a very soft nose (I'm starting to wonder if I was smelling properly on Saturday night!) with the slightest hint of tobacco. We didn't decant the wine which I think might have been a mistake, as the nose definitely opened up and became more leathery with time.

It was a very dry wine and very very spicy and it went perfectly with the rich lamb and tzatziki - although it wasn't such a flash pairing if you happened upon a piece of the hot garlic! It was a
really lovely wine, and after the disappointment of the Macon-Lugny we were very happy (not to mention somewhat relieved)!

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Round Up

Thurs 8 Mar 2007

A quick round up this week ... my time's being taken up by writing the first assignment for the gastronomy course! I'm looking forward to some cooking this weekend and before I do that I'll have to catch up on the Bradford Beer Festival last weekend.

In the interim, the Akbar's on Eastgate is extending. Bar 88 closed a long time ago (putting on a brave face with the all the signs suggesting it was closed for refurbishment) and Akbar's is taking over the space. Given the enthusiasm with which I've munched my way through so many curries it's quite remiss of me to not have Akbar's in my portfolio - but rest assured, it is on my list!

There's another food writing competition: The Glenfiddich Food and Drink Awards. You've got until 1 April to put together a restaurant review. Though I warn you ... I didn't win last year, so it must be my turn!

On the subject of competitions, you could always nominate Eating Leeds for the BritBlog Awards, hosted by Metro and You've got until 22 March to come up with reasons why this is a great blog!

After the shameless self promotion, let's move on to a blog of the week: 101 Things Every Cook Should Cook. Just check out those Cornish pasties! I hate it when other people cook the things I've been procrastinating about!

And finally ... although I tend to try a lot of new foodstuffs I rarely write about them. I don't know why, but I think I should redress this. I also drink a lot of coffee (of the black, very strong cafetiere type). I really like green tea and have a box at my desk. I use about one a month. Anyway, this morning I tried a Twinings Pineapple and Grapefruit green tea. I have to confess, I'm not a fruit tea person and while this tea actually smelt really good (like hot pineapple juice) it had a weird taste: green tea but not quite right. Twinings are doing a straight green tea as well as a gamut of fruity ones - but I can't see me needing a new box in the immediate future.
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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Fish and Chips

Sat 24 Feb 2007

A bit of a back track in time ... and a slight lie about the menu ... for it wasn't fish and chips but rather fish and potato salad! And most importantly, it was going to be served with the bottle of Cloudy Bay sauvignon blanc.

Recipe inspiration came from the January 2007 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller. The pretty colours of the fish dish in Fare Exchange won me over. The original dish came from Centennial Vineyards in Bowral, New South Wales, and featured barramundi. Amazingly, one of the fish mongers in the market did have barra, but it was frozen and we were on the hunt for fresh fish. I'd left my list of 'ethical fish' behind, so all we could do was avoid those we knew to be bad. This led us to opt for dorade. Dorade is also known as black bream, porgy or sea bream, and fortunately comes in at a 2, so I was able to eat my dinner with a clear conscience!

The fish was to be simply pan fried, so back in the kitchen, the thing to do was to set to making the salsa. For the two of us, I peeled and coarsely chopped two tomatoes. To peel a tomato, make a nick in the top, pour over boiling water and leave it for a while. The skin should come off without too much hassle. Half a sweet potato was peeled, cubed and boiled and added. Four tiger prawns were boiled until they just turned pink, then shelled, coarsely chopped and allowed to cool. Half a courgette was very finely cubed and added to the mix. This was finished off with a very generous handful of chopped dill. The original recipe called for baby spinach, but we couldn't find any and so, went without.

This salsa was to be dressed with vanilla olive oil. This sounds a bit ... different ... but it's very simple to make and tastes delicious. The vanilla in particular goes very well with the prawns. Pour some good oil into a saucepan, add part of a vanilla bean and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and allow to cool. I only added the vanilla oil to the salsa when I was ready to serve.

The potato salad was equally a dish to be prepared ahead. I quartered my potatoes and cooked them until just tender, then set them aside. While the potatoes were cooking, I heated some oil in a pan and cooked a very finely sliced leek until soft, before adding a tablespoon of brown mustard seeds. When the mustard begins to smell, remove the pan from the heat and add in a splash of vinegar and some lemon juice. When ready to serve, mix the leeks with the potatoes and finish with mint and chives.

With the majority of the meal ready in advance, when hungry the only thing left to do is cook the fish. Since the fish monger had filleted the fish, all I had to do was heat some oil in a pan and throw the fish in, skin side down first. I was very careful not to over cook, and when the fish was cooked, I squeezed some lemon juice into the pan to deglaze it and served fish and juices on top of the salsa ... potato salad on the side and Cloudy Bay in glass.

The wine had a very delicate nose with hints of cut grass and gooseberries but had a very complex and long palate. The wine started off smooth, creamy and almost buttery, but there was loads of citrus which kicked in and meant the wine had great length. I would have been quite happy to sit and just drink (sorry, share) the whole bottle, but since I had some food to eat with it I have to say that it went very well indeed. Because the food was not highly spiced it didn't swamp the wine, and the good, citrus-y length of the wine cut through the oil in the salsa.

All in all, the meal was a hit. It would be great for a dinner party because there is so much that can be done in advance, and the food all looks very colourful on the plate. And as for the vanilla olive oil ... well, I might be making use of that in future.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Harvey Nichols - Fourth Floor Restaurant

Fri 2 Mar 2007

Following straight on from the beer and food masterclass, Andy and I stayed put and had our dinner in the Fourth Floor Restaurant. We could have chosen from the very reasonably priced (£17 for 2 courses, £22 for 3) prix fixe menu, which matched food with beer, and while that would have been more in the spirit of the evening, we were rather taken by some dishes from the a la carte menu.

The first thing that impressed was the quality of the bread and the lightly salted French butter. So often you go to a good restaurant and, for some reason, get served rubbish bread. And I, at least, tend to remember this: Cafe 21 in Newcastle being a case in point. But not so at Harvey Nichols: the meal started as it intended to go on.

I started with lamb cooked with a harissa coating and served with a goat's cheese and rocket salad. The lamb was very barely cooked and incredibly tender, and the heat of the harissa cut through the richness of the goat's cheese perfectly. It was a very simple plate of food which worked remarkably well. Unfortunately, in the drinks department I'd veered away from the beer and opted for a glass of Sancerre. While the wine was a lovely, delicate, dry and very apple-y example of a sauvignon blanc it was completely swamped (not unexpectedly) by the harissa.

Andy stuck with beer (more specifically, the Schneider Weisse) and started with what was basically a glorified potato dauphinoise. It was absolutely delicious: laden with good butter, cream and cheese, and the potatoes still with some bite and shape. A really simple dish, executed well and not served in an overwhelming portion.

For main course I chose grilled pork with a potato and beetroot hash and a kind of apple salsa. While I did feel my pork was a little overcooked, I was inclined to overlook this because the potato and beetroot combination was fantastic (for some reason, it would never have occurred to me that the earthiness of beetroot would go so well with potato - obvious, when it's pointed out though!), and the apple salsa (tiny cubes of apple dressed in olive oil, lemon juice and lashings of parsley - I think) was stunning. Everything on my plate worked very well together and, when matched with my green apple Sancerre, it was even better.

Andy opted for venison, which was beautifully tender and juicy - and must have been good because I didn't get very much of it!

We finished off with coffees, even though parts of the dessert menu were very tempting.

Now, this all sounds like rather unqualified praise - and given that the Fourth Floor won Best Restaurant in last year's Let's Eat Leeds awards, that is what you might expect. But, there is one huge drawback. And that is the service. The waiter we had was, in a word, atrocious. He leaned across the table and us, didn't so much carry plates as wave them around in the air, and when he asked us if we were enjoying our meal he didn't look at us and wandered off before we gave an answer! I actually caught the eye of someone at another table who was also 'enjoying' this unique style of service, and almost collapsed in giggles as this diner rolled his eyes!

The final bill was around the £75 mark (this included the 10% service charge Harvey Nicks add), which I didn't think was over the top - or at least, it wouldn't have been, if the quality of service had matched the lovely food.

1. Harvey Nichols Fourth Floor Restaurant, 107-111 Briggate, Leeds, LS1 6AZ, phone 0113 204 8000

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Beer and Food

Fri 2 Mar 2007

Harvey Nicks is perhaps not the first place you'd think of heading for a beer and food matching masterclass. Indeed, when I mentioned this concept to various friends the response was that I'd be given a packet of nuts to go with real ale and a packet of pork scratchings to go with lager. Ho, ho, ho.

The class was hosted by Richard Fox and covered a bit of beer history and some principles of food and beer matching, before moving on to four specific examples.

The tables were all set with four glasses, tasting mats and pencils and paper for our tasting notes. Initially, I was quite disappointed to see that we would be tasting four beers with which I am quite familiar (as Andy pointed out, I'm not the average beer drinker), but in hindsight, I am actually quite glad they were beers with which I was familiar, as this gave me more of an opportunity to concentrate on the food matching aspect.

Richard began the evening with an overview of the history of beer. He is clearly a man who is both passionate and knowledgeable about his subject. His presentation was well prepared, coherent, informative and entertaining, and I was quite disappointed that I'd made the decision not to take notes. That aside, I did make notes when we moved on to the beer and food matching part of the evening. Richard made a quick overview of the principles of food and beer matching before moving on to the specific examples.

The first beer was Schneider Weisse from Germany (the handout said it's Austrian, but a good explore of the English language section of the website suggests Germany). We had the dark wheat beer (hefeweizen), which apparently undergoes secondary fermentation in the bottle, so it has a good yeast sediment. This was paired with an Asian prawn noodle dish. The citrus on the palate of the beer was really picked up and accentuated by the food and we both thought this was a great combination. It's also quite a novel one - after all, German food is not known for its lightweight and spicy, citrus flavours! Richard made the point that the beer goes very well with laksa and I can imagine it would (and it's a combination I'm keen to try out soon).

Our next combination was a little more intuitive: Sam Smiths Organic Best Ale with a cheese tart. The cheese tart contained stilton and was topped with some caramelised onions, so the combination was basically a posh ploughman's lunch! Being an ale, the beer had fewer bubbles than the Schneider Weisse, but still enough to cut through the rich pastry/egg/cheese mix of the tart. It was a very hoppy beer and this went well with the onions.

The third beer was, for me, the winning one. Disclaimer: it would be because I love Belgian beer. This was Orval, served with pork collar rillettes, on crostini, with a pineapple pickle. This is another relatively intuitive match: pork with Belgian beer. However, with a rich but delicate dish like rillettes I think most of us would reach for a bottle of wine before we'd consider a beer. I didn't think this was the best food and beer match of the evening, but I think a large part of that was coloured by the fact that I would so readily head for wine. The combination did make me think that beer and pork products are a combination that is seriously under represented. I think you could do all sorts of wonderful things with sausages, redolent with fennel and juniper, and served with Belgian wheat beers.

We rounded the evening off with Liefmans Kriekbier matched with a chocolate ganache truffle. The truffle was STUNNING (it was like chocolate flavoured butter ... mmm). Unfortunately, I just cannot get into lambic/gueuze beers, especially not fruit ones. The beer was overwhelmingly sweet and tasted not dissimilar to cough medicine. My tasting notes read 'yucky' and indicate that the truffle was 'totally spoilt by the nasty beer'. Again, I suspect some preconceptions were at the table with me - I apologise for not being able to bring an objective assessment of this beer!

Both Andy and I thought that the Schneider Weisse and noodle combination was the star of the evening. This is definitely an area where I'll be doing some experimenting. When choosing our worst combination I insisted we not include the chocolate/kriekbier. This left Andy with the Sam Smith's and cheese and onion tart (I think this might have something to do with the fact he doesn't like ale!) and my choice was the Orval and pork.

One big shame was that the evening started rather late and it meant that Richard Fox really had to rush his presentation. He started off at a really good, relaxed and chatty pace, but really had to put his foot down as we went through the tasting. This was a shame as I, at least, would have welcomed some more time and the opportunity for discussion. It also meant that there wasn't really any time for questions. Richard did make the time to walk around and chat to everyone afterwards, which was great - but a more open question and answer session would have been a good addition to the evening.

If you get the opportunity to hear Richard Fox speak, I recommend it - you will almost certainly learn something and have a few preconceptions challenged.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Round Up

Thurs 1 Mar 2007

March already!

I guess the big news of this week is that the Gastronomy course at Adelaide Uni has kicked off. At this stage the on-line content is mostly introductions (everyone is being terribly correct and suitably gushy about how excited they are and how frightening and intimidating the reading list is).

'Discourse' is probably the word of the week on the bulletin boards, which I find rather ironic. Here we are, enrolled in an on-line programme which focusses on the written word ... and yet there's no RSS feeds, no avatars, no emoticons, no profiles ... all a bit mid 1990s. Which is sad on several counts. Firstly, there are 32 students enrolled at $AU5100 a throw - that's $AU163, 200. On the one hand that's a considerable personal investment for most of us and, as so many of the current and emerging web technologies have free APIs, some money probably could have been thrown at the university's computer science graduate students who might have produced something reliable, exciting and new - not to mention cheap! I'd hate to think that any part of my fees was being spent on implementing some old technologies and lining the pockets of consultants ...

Geeky rant over!

But seguing from geekdom to food, blog of the week has to be What Geeks Eat. These geeks take good photos of food (maybe it will happen to me one day) and also sound a bit like hippies (that's a compliment, by the way).

There's a new post (by me) on Paper Palate which reviews Cooking Japanese, the source of inspiration for our Japanese style meal.

Leeds based news ... Hakuna Matata on Swinegate has closed down. The interior looks almost totally gutted - I wonder what will emerge? Don't quite know when that happened, but also can't pretend I'm devastated. Last time I was there (which was only the second time I'd been - not exactly a regular) it was during happy hour, and even though the group I was with bought some drinks that were under promotion the bar staff didn't bother to tell us.

And while I'm on slightly dodgy service this afternoon I went over to the Royal Armouries with some people from work. The man who served us was bad tempered and abrupt, verging on rude. Actually, not so much 'verging on' as 'crossing the line'. One of the guys ordered a gammon steak for lunch. It was only after the rude man asked how he wanted it cooked that I twigged that his order had been messed up. It was someone else who came, refunded some money and apologised profusely so perhaps his work mates appreciated his lack of people skills?

While not lacking on people skills, some of the staff at my beloved North seem not quite to be as up on their beer knowledge as they should be. This is a terrible shame and the bar manager should try to redress this.

We've got a big, beer focussed weekend coming up: Friday night is a beer and food masterclass at Harvey Nicks, with Richard Fox. We're following that with dinner in the restaurant - and since it won Best Restaurant in Leeds last year the meal is being anticipated with some big expectations.

And then on Saturday we're off to the Bradford Beer Festival!

As if that's not enough to write about, the latest Australian Gourmet Traveller arrived today!
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