Sunday, June 29, 2008

Beers of The Year - Six Months In...

Ok, the year is halfway through and I've found myself in a reflective mood this morning. Here's what I've enjoyed this year, out of all those pints of sweet (and some not so) sweet ale....

1. Leeds Brewery: Midnight Bell. Looks like there's not only me who has been astounded by these guy's ascent in 2008 - A Swift One is also a big fan and so it seems, is the rest of Yorkshire. Midnight Bell is, in my opinion, their best - a sweet, light, malty mild in the true sense of the word.
2. Purple Moose's Dark Side of The Moose - seems everyone likes this, too! Again, another flavoursome and seriously moreish dark mild, in excellent nick at the Camra Leeds Beer Festival.
3. Kelham Island Brooklyn Smoked Porter - I think I said it all here.
4. Brasserie Lefebvre Blanche De Bruxelles - It's not all been dark for 2008! I thought this fresh, citrus-loaded Wit was in excellent form at North's Belgian Fest.
5. ...And bottled - well, Cain's Raisin Beer. A bit of a surprise, maybe, but i really do like this stuff. It's not one to drink a lot of, but the fruitiness of it makes for an intruiging pint that has grown on me in 2008.
Let me know what's been going down well in 2008 for you - what should be looking out for?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Postcard from Bulgaria # 1 - Crepes At Any Time

Our first morning in Sozopol, Bulgaria. An almighty thunderstorm woke us early, and there was nothing to do but lay in bed in the darkness and wait for the next inevitable blue flash to illuminate the room and jar us from our interrupted sleep.
When the storm moved upwards along the coast and left us with a blue sky again, the people of Sozopol emerged from their houses and opened their businesses. Newspaper stands are brought out onto freshly-swept and rapidly drying pavement, those early-morning cigarettes dangling from downturned mouths, the fruit stands stock up, the displays and menus for the tavernas placed in windows.
Then the crepe-lady appeared.
Her tiny crepe stall sat directly opposite our hotel. No seating, just a serving hatch straight onto the street. Upfront, two oiled crepe-pans smoked, and jars of preserves and toppings were placed on the sill, every colour you could imagine.
I took a seat on the balcony with a coffee and watched the first customer appear – a smartly-dressed man, on his way to work no doubt. A few words, then the show begins. The pan is oiled. A dollop of batter dropped onto the middle, and spread effortlessly out in ever-increasing circles until its paper-thin edge runs out. A little while, then with a deft flick of a pallet-knife the crepe is on its back; a new, crisp bullseye adorning the cooked side. Then, another movement of the long knife, the crepe is flipped onto a traditionally-painted dish to be spread with whatever topping the customer wanted. Cheese, ham, chocolate, sugar, honey, preserves... We opted for Chocolate or Fig preserve – the Fig preserve seemed to be very popular.
More customers arrived, some queuing patiently, other walking past, then back, and then ordering. It’s hard to pass a crepe stand without ordering, isn’t it? The stand opened before 8am, and often didn’t close until after 22.00. Everyone, it seems, loves crepes. The town didn’t seem awake until it had scoffed its morning pancake.

And yes, they tasted as good as they looked.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Kelham Island Brewery

A few weeks back, I posted this article waxing lyrical about The Hunter's Inn, a pub that truly made my day. More particularly, a certain beer that I enjoyed there made my day.
Kelham Island's Brooklyn Smoked Porter really knocked me for six. I have tasted beers with the word 'smoked' in the title before and found the majority of them to be shocking. If you're going to accentuate a smoked aspect of a beer, then it's got to be balanced; I find this small, yet vital, point is missed all too often,. There's nothing worse than a pint that tastes likes a packet of Bacon Fries.
But this is balanced. Wonderfully so, in fact. The smoke comes through the initial bone-dry coffee and bitter chocolate hit - not on top of it. As you would expect form a porter, it packs a hefty 6.5 abv - although you would never know from the taste. Give me a pint of this and a slice of Chocolate Brownie on a cold day ( a strange thought to have on a summer's day but bear with me) and I'm laughing.
I know taste is subjective, but this truly was a gorgeous pint - and surely a flagship for this well-known Sheffield Brewery. Seek it out.

* By the way, any brewery that has a couple of beers named after Springsteen songs are OK with me. Whoops, just outed myself as a fan of The Boss.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Easy Calzone

Calzones, contrary to popular belief, are easy to make (with a little forward planning), and don't have to be the bloated, over-filled monstrosities you often get from restaurants that require the next day off work simply to digest. At their best they can be filled with anything, slammed in the oven and, when drizzled with some catch-all tomato sauce, an easy dinner. So here's what to do:

First, make your tomato sauce. I prefer mine as garlicky as possible: Simply drop some tomatoes with their tops scored (about a pound of small ones, or four or five large ones) into some boiling water and leave for five minutes. The skin will then peel off easily. Split, take out the seeds, and then dice. Chop five large garlic cloves and dice an onion. Put the tomatoes and onion into some warm olive oil in a pan, and gently simmer. When broken down, add the garlic, along with loads of black pepper, a good pinch of salt, sugar and some fresh herbs - I like Oregano, Thyme and Basil. Rosemary works well too. Simmer gently, and then leave for a as long as you like. This sauce is just my basic one - you can add chilli, roasted vegetables or anything you like. I make this a day in advance - trust me, it's worth it. You can leave it chunky or blend it to make it a little smoother - the latter works best for this dish.

Right, onto the Calzones: To start, a pizza dough can be made by sifting 500g of strong plain flour, 2 teaspoons of easy-blend yeast and 1 teaspoon of salt into a bowl. add about 300g of lukewarm water and a good glug of olive oil - about 3 teaspoons. Using your hands, mix it up gently, then turn onto a floured surface and knead for about five minutes. Once its looking good, return the the bowl (greased with olive oil) and leave somewhere warm to rise for about an hour.

I made two, with different fillings in each - one had some sauteed Squid and Anchovies with Mozzarella cheese, the other with Prosciutto, Parma Ham, Salami and a little smoked cheese along with the mozzarella. I actually find that most cheeses work here - just match the flavours with what you like. To assemble, just roll your dough into any shape you like (Don't worry about that classic half-moon shape - as long as it tastes good, that's all that counts. Life's too short.)

Pre-heat the oven to pizza-blasting temperature, about 200-220c, and, using a spatula, slide your Calzones onto a greased baking tray (I've started using Polenta instead of oil on baking trays - it's great - give it a whirl), and bake until golden.

To serve, warm through some of that tomato sauce and drizzle over those awesome, split Calzones.
I washed the good stuff down with a bottle of Eggenberg's HopfenKonig Pils - a sweet, light Austrian Pils that refreshed after the powerful garlic and smoked meat flavours of my Calzone. Nothing spectacular, but a good alternative to the slew of Italian lagers one might find to accompany Italian.