Sunday, April 27, 2008

Roasted Butternut Squash and Red Onion Soup

...Preheat your oven to 200-220c...take one halved butternut squash, a red onion, and a pound of tomatoes (halved) and arrange on a roasting tray...add 6 unpeeled cloves of garlic...drizzle with olive oil, fresh Rosemary and Thyme and roast for 35 (ish) minutes, turning the tomatoes and red onion occasionally.

When roasted and soft, stick all the vegetables in a blender, and squeeze the mushy garlic from their shells. Add this garlicky mess to your veg, along with two pints of chicken stock, and blend until pureed. Transfer to a large pan and bring to the boil; then simmer until ready to eat.

Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche and black pepper to taste.

It's not often I get excited about soup but this one, made by my long-suffering girlfriend this week, really took me by surprise. Thick, hearty and with a real depth of flavour. My old mate John waxed lyrical about simple soups here and I totally know where he's coming from. If there is one theme with this blog it is this: when it comes to good food and good beer, keep it simple.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Zak Avery: Without Beer Ritz, This Blog Wouldn't Exist

As you can read here, I've been an advocate of Beer Ritz in Leeds for some time. In fact, 99% of the beers you read about on this blog are from there; my monthly trip over, returning with a large box full of goodies, really is one of life's pleasures.

A chance meeting over on Beer Advocate with a knowledgable chap called Zak, and then seeing the name again (funny how life works, innit...) in Beers of The World Magazine led to the dawning realisation that Zak actually manages Beer Ritz, and he's up for doing a little interview for TGS

Not only that, but he hosts beer-tasting evenings on his site The Beer Boy (Link over there on the right) which also contains some snippets of his top-notch beer writing. We enjoyed a virtual pint:

Leigh: How's things?
Zak :
Very good, thanks. Busy with the shop, the beer tastings, the video blog, and quite a bit of freelance writing at the moment.
You've met Garret Oliver - how was that?
It was great! He's such a passionate, eloquent and intelligent chap that it would be hard not to enjoy meeting him. I met him at a beer & food lunch at Anthony's in Leeds, and then he was good enough to show me round the brewery in Brooklyn a year or so later.
Off the top of your head, whats popular Beeritz at the moment?
Well, our best selling bottled ales are Copper Dragon Golden Pippin and Saltaire Cascade, so it's nice to be doing our bit for local producers. We also stock the hard-to-find Sam Smith's beers, which go well, and generally, the American "craft" beers are doing well. We get through about a pallet of specialist bottled beer a week, so happily the response to "what's popular?" is "good beer!"
...Any beers you still haven't been able to get your hands on?
Not really, we will try to source anything,a nd are pretty good at it too. We've just sourced Kasteel Cru, the "champagne lager", and we sell Deus, the "champagne beer". We get asked for the rare Trappist beer Westvleteren sometimes, but that is really pushing it - by which I mean, I have some at home, and it's mine!
What's coming up for Beer Ritz in the next few months?
It sounds very geeky, but we're going to re-arrange the British beers by colour (light to dark, left to right) and strength (strong to weak, top to bottom). That way, beers near each other will be broadly in the same style, and hopefully will give people confidence to try something next to their favourite beer. Now I've written it down, I have to admit that it looks mad, but I'm sure it will encourage people to try soemthing a little different.
We both espouse beer and food matching - whats your all-time perfect matchup? I'm not really a fruit beer person, but I think that Belgian kriek (cherry beer) and chocolate torte is pretty hard to beat - actually, on the local front, Sam Smith have just starting doing fruit beers, and their cherry beer is pretty good too. Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout and vanilla ice cream is mind-blowing. Vintage Lincolnshire Poacher cheese and a good strong, hoppy ale is pretty high up there too.
Where do you drink?
I run a specialist beer shop selling about 600 bottled beers, so mostly at home! But when I do haul myself off the couch, The Rosebud in Carlton (I live in Rothwell) is a fifteen minute walk - it's a good, traditional public house, in the old sense of the phrase, that always has a good range of ales on. In Leeds, North Bar, the Cross Keys, the Palace, the Scarborough Taps. I like the fact that you can still walk into North and they'll have something new and exciting on tap.
Running a beer specialist supplier seems to many like a dream job - is it? Have you noticed any trends in trade of late?
I always say to people that apart from the hours and the pay, it's the best job in the world. Trends - hmm, people generally seem to be getting more interested in the idea of good quality bottled beers, and maybe drinking less but better quality, stronger and more flavoursome beers, although that might be wishful thinking on my part.
Ever tried brewing yourself?
It's very close to the top of my "To Do" list. I'm going all out for a full-grain mash rather than using an extract kit - I guess that's the foodie in me - so I want to make sure that I've researched everything carefully.
Go on then - Favourite beer of all time?
No chance! And my top ten has about fifty beers in it!

Zak can be contacted via The Beer Boy.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Bistro Classics: Scallops wrapped in Ham with Alhambra Reserva 1925

I've been really getting into 'Bistro' style food recently, which for me means a really hot pan or griddle, some unadulterated meat and lots of Garlic. Maximum flavour, minimum effort. For the ham, I have opted for Serrano - Prosciutto seems to be the 'classic' but I sometimes find it a little salty. Smoked, streaky bacon would also give a new variant on this.

Pan-Fried Scallops wrapped in Ham (Serves two)
You will need:
6 Fresh Scallops
50/60g of Parma or Serrano ham
6 Cocktail sticks

1. Heat your pan, with a little olive oil and if you want, some crushed garlic.
2. Carefully wrap each scallop in the ham and secure with the cocktail stick. This is often harder than it looks but persevere!
3. If you have put garlic in the pan , scoop it out (it would have burned off by now) and throw in the scallops. They'll need about 4-5 minutes on each side. Season with a grind or three of black pepper.
4. Serve with some crusty bread rubbed with garlic and oil.

I had a few large prawns in reserve, so I simply chucked them into the hot pan and dolloped on a spoonful of chili jam - after spitting furiously at me for a couple of seconds the prawns took on that coating really well - sticky sweet with a lethal chilli aftertaste!
A great tapas-style supper, and you can instantly see why this is a Bistro classic. The creamy, firm scallops don't need much other that the sweet, slightly salty ham to set them off.

With this in mind, my beer choice was Alhambra's Reserva 1925 - a lofty title for possibly the most complex 'lager' I have ever tasted. In fact, to call it a lager doesn't really do it justice; below the dry, super-resiny hoppy tang lies a much darker, boiled-sweet body that disguises its hefty abv (6.4) well. Really moreish and thirst-quenching, I'll be reaching for this great beer again this year, and I recommend you do the same if you're serious about having a home beer cellar.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Midweek - Dunham's White Amarillo

...This week's midweek pint is a real thirstquencher; served in Arcadia in Headingley, Leeds.

When you get a beer named after the hop it contains you know what you're going to get, and Dunham's White Amarillo is no exception; not a lot of head, pale straw colour and as for flavour - citrus, citrus, citrus. At 4.1abv it mixed the floral, orangey flavours of an IPA without anwhere near the strength. The only downside disappeared in about ten minutes. This is dangerously easy-drinking beer; however, another was soon ordered to restore balance to this idyllic scene. One I'll be keeping an eye out for in the Summer.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Belgian Bier Fest @ North, Leeds

Regular TGS loafers will know that North is one of my favoured beer-palaces, and it simply wouldn't be right to let one of thier famous Belgian bier-fests slip by without dropping in. North do this sort of thing very well indeed; over 100 different beers to try, most of them bottled, with a few exceptions on tap - whilst keeping thier standbys such as Sierra Nevada Pale and Roosters YPA (possibly one of my favourite brews of all time) in case the Belgians got too much for you...
So, we kicked back and worked our way through the menu. First up was Blanche De Bruxelles (draft, 4.5abv), which I enjoyed immensely; pale straw colour, a familiar witbier aroma but a very light, long taste with a massive citrus kick. Lemons and Oranges cut through this one and result in one of the most refreshing beers I've had in a long time, and I'll be seeking out again.
Picking purely by name now, the Zinnebir (bottled, 5.5abv) by the Brasserie De La Senne caught my eye. Much darker in colour but another good choice - woody, piney aromas with a spicy yet hoppy flavour initially; although after a few sips that Belgian frutiness popped up again. This would be great with some formidable cheeses! I've picked up a bottle of thier stout for the beer-cellar.
Finally, for balance, it was the turn of Bacchus' Frambozenbier (draft, 5.0abv). I'm partial to a Frambozen or Kriek on occasion, but this one left me a little flat. The beer looked amazing - deep purple-red colour with a massive strawberry jam/redberry nose - but for me, lacked a little body. If you're looking for a thirst-quenching summer frambozen then this is for you - but I prefer a little more depth.
It was then time for some food. Another excellent, different evening from North, who should keep these festivals coming. What about an American/Canadian Beer Fest next, boys?

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Midweek: Titanic Lifeboat

When office work is your bread and butter, 'The Midweek Pint' is what keeps you going. So, I'm going to start letting you know about any gems that serve as a midweek lifter and reminder that life is not all spreadsheets and deadlines.

Titanic's Lifeboat (4.0abv) impressed this week; served in great condition from Foley's Cask Ale House. I've sampled Titanic's Mild before and been a little underwhelmed; but the Lifeboat i liked a lot - an amazing ruby colour, with a dry but sweet finish. Very bitter, but very satisfying indeed. The barman recommended Iceberg, which apprently will be on in the next couple of days. I'll be there.