Back in November, Waitrose launched a new cookery school. It’s probably not news to most of you eager cooks as there have been lots of articles and reviews in the last couple of months. I’m going to add another one to the mix!

WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4580

I love Waitrose! We both arrived in my neighbourhood at the same time, Waitrose and I. My local branch opened it’s doors just around the corner from us just a month or two after we moved into our house. Both of us have been here for more than 16 years now and have a mutual love-in going on. I’m loyal to Waitrose; it’s my primary supermarket. And Waitrose is loyal to me too; looking after me by consistently delivering good products, employing friendly staff, showing good customer service and on top of all that, it’s widely regarded as an ethical supermarket too.

WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4572

So, I was quite excited by the idea of Waitrose Cookery School. Luckily for me, I was invited to check out the school, along with a group of fellow bloggers, a few nights before it opened to the public on November 8th.

WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4573 WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4651

Located above the huge John Barnes (Finchley Road) branch in North West London, it’s a beautiful space. Modern white walls and black and white flooring are lifted by the warmth of pale wooden furniture and shelving. Chrome fittings look suitably high tech. Tables are decorated with funky centre pieces made from fresh vegetables. Bookshelves are stacked with a cookery book collection every single one of us lusted after. Bottles of wine and other cooks’ ingredients line other shelves. Pristine cooking equipment is stacked along deep window sills.

WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4575 WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4576
WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4591

At the far end of the room is the cooking space. The tutor’s workspace is set in a long line, faced by stools for the students. Beyond it are workstations for the students.

WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4584

To one side is a bar area – some of the classes include cocktail lessons too.

WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4581

There’s even a state-of-the-art lecture theatre available too.

As impressive than the space are the team Waitrose has assembled to run the school itself:

Gordon McDermott has 17 years experience as a chef, much of it working at some of London’s best restaurants. He was a lecturer at Rick Stein’s Cookery School for four years and he established and ran the Anton Mosimann Academy in London. In his latest role as Waitrose Cookery School’s Course Manager he designs the courses, picks the chef instructors and ensures that courses are delivered to the highest standard, as he did during our taster session.

James Campbell is the school’s Head Chef for Pastry. He became Gary Rhode’s Group Head Pastry Chef at just 24 years old and has over 20 years experience in five different Michelin restaurants. In his role as Head Pastry Chef at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel he ran cookery courses and demonstrations as far afield as Malaysia.

James taught the macaroon-making part of our sample class, with Eleni Tzirki (school sous chef and trainee pastry chef) assisting.

The other part of our sample class was a cocktail making course, taken by Wilson Chung. Wilson, who hails from Australia, is one of the school’s sous chefs. Growing up in a family nearly all of whom work in the food industry, Wilson’s career in restaurants, bars, professional food writing and Australian TV is perhaps inevitable.

Also helping on the night was James Bennington, the school’s Head Chef. James began his career in professional kitchens in 1997 but his big break came in 2005 when he became head chef at La Trompette, which at the time, didn’t have a Michelin star. With James at the helm, it gained one in 2008. James left La Trompette in 2009 to join the cookery school (which may explain why we didn’t enjoy it quite as much on our second visit, last summer).

If these five are representative of the rest of the Waitrose Cookery School team, I am sure each and every class is bound to be very good.

WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4586 WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4621
WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4587WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4588WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4589

Before starting our sample class, we were treated to a range of drinks and canapés, freshly made by the cooking team in the kitchen. (The school offers half day, full day and evening courses; the first two include a sit-down meal in the spacious sitting area.)

WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4579 WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4594
myself and lovely Becca from how to make a mess

Jackets or aprons donned, we first lined up on stools in front of James’ demonstration station and watched him and Eliza take us through our basic macaroon recipe.

WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4596 WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4597 WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4599 WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4600 WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4603 WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4605

The school advocates making meringues using the Italian meringue technique rather than French, which means making a sugar syrup and adding it to the whisked egg whites whilst hot. This partially cooks the meringue mix before baking. This meringue is then folded into a paste made from ground almonds, more sugar and more egg white.

We were encouraged to ask lots of questions and we did! All were answered with patience, consideration and a little humour. We gleaned lots of tips on what to do and what to avoid!

After the demonstration we went back to our own cooking stations (one between two students) to have a go at making our own. The teaching staff were constantly available to give guidance and reminders, as we worked.

WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4608 WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4610

Becca and I had some problems; we were scuppered not once but twice by our mixer grinding to a halt half way through whisking the eggs and hot sugar syrup. Our instructors quickly brought out a replacement mixer from their cupboards but this failed too and we eventually did our whisking at James’ demonstration station.

WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4618 WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4615
WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4613

It meant we fell behind and were still piping our shells when most of the class moved across to the bar area for Wilson’s cocktail lessons.

WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4623 WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4620

It wasn’t a problem, however, as he repeated the lesson three times so that everyone who wanted a hands-on experience had a go.

WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4644

Those of us who didn’t make our own cocktails didn’t miss out on sampling some of Wilson’s delicious concoctions!

WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4625 WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4650
WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4626 WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4646 WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4648

As our sample session was a shortened evening one, we made orange macaroon shells and then filled them with some “here’s some we made earlier” piping bags full of orange marmalade butter cream.

WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4629 WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4636
WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4631 WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4632

We were also given some pretty pink shells (sparkly with edible glitter) and two different fillings which we piped inside – a thicker pink buttercream and a runnier mulled wine reduction that we pooled within a circle of the buttercream.

As we were finishing up, we were given pastry boxes in which to take our creations home with us, which I liked.

Although I’ve made macaroons twice before, I’ve always felt nervous about working with hot sugar syrup, and have used the French meringue technique. After attending the class, I’d feel confident in trying the Italian meringue recipe again, though I’d definitely invest in an electronic kitchen thermometer first.

Here’s the recipe for the macaroons we made during our practical:

Orange Marmalade Macaroons

Ingredients

Meringue
187 grams caster sugar
75 ml water
62 grams egg whites (roughly two egg whites)
5 ml orange food colouring
Paste
187 grams ground almonds
187 grams icing sugar
62 grams egg whites (roughly two egg whites)
Buttercream Filling
180 grams whole milk
80 grams sugar
40 grams egg yolks
300 grams butter, diced
100 grams orange marmalade

Method

  1. For the Italian meringue: In a small saucepan, add the sugar and water and mix until there are no lumps. Add the food colouring and place the saucepan over medium to high heat and place the sugar thermometer inside. The required temperature is 114C.
  2. In the electronic mixing bowl, add the 62g of egg whites with the whisk attachment. This will then be ready for the sugar syrup when the required temperature is reached.
  3. Cut out two sheets of parchment paper, the same size as the baking tray and set aside ready for piping. Then place the correct sized nozzle in a piping bag and set aside.
  4. In a medium sized mixing bowl, add the ground almonds and icing sugar. Continue to check the temperature of the sugar syrup.
  5. Once it has reached 112C, start whisking the egg whites on slow speed. Once the temperature has reached 114C, lift the thermometer out and slowly pour the syrup down the side of the bowl ensuring not to splash yourself! Turn onto full speed and after approximately five minutes, the Italian meringue will become glossy and soft.
  6. Then, we need to make the paste: Add the other 62g of egg whites to the icing sugar and ground almonds and mix with a spatula until a paste has formed.
  7. Once the Italian meringue is ready (soft peaks will form) this is combined with the paste in 2 stages. If it is over mixed the mix will become too liquid and the macaroons will become very flat once cooked. It is important to ensure a nice gentle mixing motion.
  8. The macaroon mix is then ready to be piped. Using a spatula, fill the piping bag with the nozzle half way. Pipe some mix into each corner of the baking trays in order to stick the parchment paper onto the tray. Pipe in straight lines going from left to right leaving a 2cm gap in between each macaroon.
  9. These are now ready to be baked for 12 minutes at 140C.
  10. Once they are cooked, take the trays out of the oven and leave to cool.
  11. For the orange marmalade butter cream: Heat up the milk over medium heat.
  12. Separately, dice the butter and set aside.
  13. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together.
  14. Once the milk comes to the boil, add some of the milk to the egg mix and mix with a spatula, Then, transfer this mix to back into the saucepan with the rest of the milk. Continue to stir over a low heat with the spatula and once the mixture coats the back of the spatula, pour it into the electronic mixer with the paddle attachment on medium to high speed. (you can also use a thermometer and once it reaches 80C, take off the heat)
  15. Once the mix has almost cooled in the electronic mixer, begin to add a third of the diced butter on low speed. After a minute, increase the speed and wait for a further 3 minutes. Add another third of diced butter and repeat this process until all the butter has been added. The butter cream should become thick, smooth and shiny.
  16. Finally, add the orange marmalade to the butter cream and mix on low speed until the marmalade is fully incorporated.
  17. Using a spatula, spoon the mix into a piping bag and set aside ready to pipe on the macaroons once they have been cooked and cooled down.


Pros

  • Beautiful, spacious environment with good quality equipment
  • Demo then practical learning format
  • A strong team of instructors and support staff
  • Clear instruction
  • Encouraged to ask questions


Cons

  • Quite large class sizes
  • Sharing work stations – fine if you book with a friend but may or may not work out if you book a single and end up with someone who monopolises or you don’t get on with
  • Pricey


School Information

The Waitrose Cookery School is located in NW London, just by the Finchley Road tube station. Full day courses cost £175. Half day (morning or evening courses) are priced £105. The school also offers demonstration evenings for £65. For more information, call 020 7372 6108.

 

Last summer we went strawberry picking. I enjoyed it so much I ended up with far too many strawberries. Some we ate fresh, of course – with and without cream. I made a lot into strawberry jam (though it didn’t set so I have several jars of what I’m calling strawberry sauce for ice-cream!). And some went into strawberry ice-cream.

The rest I decided to make into strawberry vodka, having been inspired by friends’ efforts.

ParksideStrawbPicking-2650 ParksideStrawbPicking-2655

First, I weighed my hulled and chopped strawberries. I wanted something sweet and rich so I used an equal weight of fruit and sugar. You can use less, of course – as little as half weight of the fruit. My friend recommended using about 1.25 to 1.5 times spirit to weight of fruit. I chose vodka but you can use gin, if you prefer.

With my three ingredients measured out, I divided them between five jars (somwhat approximately, since the jars were different sizes), sealed them tightly and left them in the (dark, cool) larder for just over 6 months.

StrawbVodka-2720 StrawbVodka-2721 StrawbVodka-2722

For the first few weeks, I shook and turned them once a week or so. After that, I left them untouched.

StrawbVodka-5617

By the time I went back to them, the colour had leached out of the fruit and into the vodka. The liquid seemed much more viscous than the original vodka.

StrawbVodka-5618

Pete had to help me open the jars; the lids on four of them were jammed on very tight indeed! I strained the contents through muslin straight into a large measuring jug, the easier to then bottle it.

StrawbVodka-5620 StrawbVodka-5621

I deliberately mixed the results of all five jars together as I figured some might be more or less sweet or more or less alcoholic, as I’d not shared the ingredients exactly according to the different jar sizes. I wanted a single finished liqueur.

The results are absolutely fantastic!

I’ve called it a strawberry vodka liqueur rather than just strawberry vodka because it’s really thick and syrupy, very rich and sweet and has a really strong flavour.

We poured it into some saved alcohol bottles to store.

StrawbVodka-5622

I didn’t make much as I didn’t realise how fabulous it would be but my plan is to make lots more next strawberry season so that I can share it as gifts for friends.

P.S. The alcohol soaked fruit wasn’t wasted – we had it alongside some home-made lemon posset that evening!

Homemade Strawberry Vodka Liqueur

Strawberries, chopped, hulled and weighed
Sugar (same weight as strawberries)
Vodka (1.25 times weight/volume of strawberries)

  • Combine ingredients and seal into an airtight glass jar.
  • For the first few weeks, shake and turn regularly, to help the sugar dissolve and flavours mix.
  • Leave to mature for at least 3-4 months; the longer the better.
  • Strain through muslin for a clearer finished result.
  • Bottle and enjoy for as long as it lasts!
Jan 242011
 

ThaT Burger opened on Watford High Street in August 2009.

It’s an odd location for a new burger joint that’s bringing American-style fast food burger culture to the UK, not least because Watford is not renowned for it’s dining scene – the local market for genuinely good fast food is relatively small. I know many burger obsessives willing to travel clear across London for a good burger. I’m not confident the same applies to Watford!

Still, I’d read good things about them and I work just a few minutes walk away, so I finally made my first visit on my first day back at work, in January.

ThaTBurger-5499

Inspiration for ThaT Burger comes from from US chains In N Out, Five Guys, Sonic and others, none of which I’ve visited but all of which I’ve read lots and lots about. The photos in this post on Five Guys, Chicago makes that clear, from decoration alone.

ThaTBurger-5501 ThaTBurger-5503

The interior is very much a regular fast food burger joint with a simple red, white and chrome colour scheme.

The full menu is located on the pillar; the meal deal options on the overhead boards.

A standard burger (with two patties) with a regular soft drink and fries, comes to £4.55. You can down size to a single patty burger meal for £3.80 or pay more for additional toppings (including different types of cheese, bacon, jalapenos) or to substitute onion rings for the fries, or a milkshake or J20 for your regular fizzy drink.

Alternatively you might fancy a chicken burger, a falafel veg burger, an order of buffalo chicken wings or a portion of homemade cheesecake.

We experienced a minor frustration with placing our order, working through the numbered panels on the overhead menu boards: we tried to order a burger meal, then give our chosen toppings, followed by our drink and then our side. Unfortunately, the till software is not set up to match the menu boards and the member of staff who served us insisted on skipping ahead to fries and onion rings, which threw us a little bit. Not a big deal, just a minor detail.

ThaTBurger-5500

Orders made, you will be given a pager to let you know when your order is ready for collection – orders are prepared freshly for each customer. You can choose to grab a seat or pop back out onto the high street, if you prefer, though it’s unlikely you’ll have to wait more than a few minutes.

Our order was ready very quickly and we got stuck in.

ThaTBurger-5504 ThaTBurger-5509
ThaTBurger-5508 ThaTBurger-5512

The burgers were pretty good! Pete went for a standard two-patty burger plus American cheese. I chose the standard plus guacamole and mushrooms.

The patties were fairly thin (to allow for fast cooking, given that orders are cooked fresh) so a double patty is the minimum number I’d want. The beef was good quality, with a pleasant flavour.

Pete’s American cheese was just as you’d expect, with that strangely plastic quality of its kind. My guacamole was rather nice but didn’t go that well with the gherkins, lettuce, onion and tomato also included. I’d ask to skip the gherkins, at the very least, if you go for guacamole yourself. The mushrooms, I’m not sure about – they were actually too strong and reminded me of rehydrated dried ones. I picked most of them out and then my burger was just right.

ThaTBurger-5505 ThaTBurger-5507

Fries are hand cut on site, with the skin left on. They were good.

Onion rings were a thing of beauty and absolutely fantastic. Probably the best that I can remember having, certainly in the span of my working memory. The onion was sweet and cooked just enough to be both soft and have a bite. The batter was very, very light and crispy and only just clung to the onion. A thing of wonder!

ThaTBurger-5543

On my second and third visits, I opted for the chicken burger instead of beef. Oh, my goodness me! Like the onion rings, this blew me away – easily the best chicken burger I can remember! A generously sized, moist chunk of chicken, evenly bread crumbed and freshly fried and served with the same default gherkins, lettuce, onion and tomato. Really, really excellent!

My only request would be to have homemade coleslaw as an additional topping – my very favourite thing to have with a chicken burger.

Oh and can I say a word about the milkshakes? ThaT Burger use high quality ingredients and stir real fruit into the frozen drink before serving. My banana and chocolate milkshake had a wide straw so I could suck up chunks of soft, fresh banana and broken up pieces of chocolate bar – yes I needed to chew now and then! It was mighty fine, as was the strawberry milkshake Pete had on a later visit and the strawberry banana one I had another time.

ThaTBurger-5514 ThaTBurger-5542

For a regular meal deal, with some additional toppings, you’re looking at about £5. If you go for onion rings, milkshake or more toppings, you’ll hit the £6 mark. Of course, you can make it a blow out by adding chicken wings and cheesecake, if you’ve got the room!

Whilst the prices are a little higher than the main high street fast food burger chains, especially when those chains are running one of their price promotions, I’d say they are very reasonable for what you get. What you get is good.

ThaTBurger-5541

Judging by the Wall Of Fame, some of the regulars haven’t held back from ordering extra patties or competing for the fastest 10-patty burger eating time!

Having had such a great experience on our first visit, I made a quick phone call and arranged to pop in the following week meet and interview one of the owners, Justin.

Justin launched ThaT Burger with his brother Ian, plus a couple of other investor partners. He tells me he and Ian are “partners in everything we do” and work together on their various businesses. Ian runs restaurant businesses The Rotisserie and Delisserie; Justin runs an internet business; they also have a catering business.

How did ThaT Burger come about?

Justin lived in California for 10 years. He tells me “there are quite a few [burger restaurant] concepts over there, In N Out being the oldest one, Five Guys is another, which has been an explosion over the last 8 years…

I love burgers, that’s why I’ve opened this… it’s not just that I lived in California! I love burgers, I’ve eaten burgers every day for the last 25 years, probably more than I should have eaten. I know what a burger is supposed to be…

This genuine love for burgers, together with inspiration from across the pond, lead to Justin and Ian developing their own brand of fast food burgers for the UK.

Their burgers, Justin tells me, are somewhere between In N Out and Five Guys. Their fries are Belgian style, and the decision to keep the skin on came from asking their Facebook fans for input. The onion rings were inspired by those at a well-known chain in South Africa (where they were born and grew up). The milkshakes take a leaf from the fresh fruit ices and smoothies at Sonic. All were refined by the brothers and trialled (with the help of Facebook fans again) to appeal to the local market.

Look, we do very few things here but everything we do we do better than most, especially in a fast food environment, I’m not claiming to have the best burger in the world, I’m claiming to have the best fast food burger in England, without a doubt!

On those I’ve sampled so far, I’d have to agree with him!

The biggest question mark for me is the location.

I mean, this is a concept that needs a sufficiently large audience who appreciate a really good fast food burger and are willing to pay a little more than they might spend at BK and McDs for the privilege. There are certainly some of those punters in Watford, but clearly not enough.

Justin candidly agrees that location is their biggest mistake and that he’s somewhat frustrated. Their very loyal fans visit regularly but the masses are not beating a path to the door.

There’s something about a burger that is cool, for me at least, but Watford is not the right place.

He has confidence in the concept and tells me that they are talking to investors and looking for other sites.

I’m gunning for London, maybe Soho or Camden… I shall keep my fingers crossed.

ThaT Burger is located on The Parade (a continuation of Watford’s High Street, at the East end).

For those coming from out of town, it’s a 10 minute walk from Watford Junction station. Direct trains from Euston take less than 20 minutes. Journeys are charged for zone 8.

ThaT Burger
15/17 The Parade
Watford, Hertfordshire
WD17 1LQ,

ThaT Burger on Facebook

Please note that my first and third visits were made anonymously. I met and chatted to Justin on my second visit.


Sadly, ThaT Burger is closing. Its last day of trading is Sunday 6th February. I shall keep my fingers crossed for a London location in the future.

 

I’ve talked before about the times I spend in Lidköping, Sweden, as a child.

For several years, my dad took a busman’s holiday working as an anaesthetist in the local hospital there. Mum, my sister and I went with him and whiled away our days walking around town and along the river, visiting the local parks, playing in the little sandpits within our apartment complex, spending good times with the local friends we made over the years and generally enjoying our Lidköping home-from-home.

In that post I mentioned my memories of köttbullar (meatballs), punschrulle (little cakes traditionally made using leftover cake and cookie crumbs from the day’s baking, which is why they are also known as dammsugare or “vacuum cleaner”), surströmming (fermented herring) and skogsbär (fruits of the forest) yoghurt.

And I shared a recipe for Swedish Cheese Tart from The Scandinavian Cookbook by Trina Hahnemann. At the time, we didn’t have the Västerbotten cheese listed in the ingredients, so we substituted cheddar. It was still very delicious!

But now I have good news:

Västerbotten cheese has come to town!

It’s a hard cow’s milk cheese with teeny, tiny holes and is firm but with some give. And it’s one of the many things we grew to love in Sweden.

We’d miss it so much when we returned home that we’d insist mum tracked it down; the nearest she could find in the UK back then was Danish Havarti, which has similar little holes but an altogether softer texture and not quite the same flavour.

Vasterbottensost-5549

So, I was very happy to be sent some Västerbottensost (ost means cheese) for review, along with a packet of Leksands Knäckebröd (crispbread) and a jar of Felix lingonberry jam.

Vasterbottensost-5553

The cheese transported me immediately back to childhood. The appearance, the smell and above all, the taste created such a strong sense of happy nostalgia and familiarity, I almost launched into a rousing rendition of Dr Seuss (“You have brains in your head, You have feet in your shoes…”) but instead, concentrated on enjoying my cheese.

Incidentally, those Leksands crispbreads are rather good too; I’d forgotten how much I like this style of crispbread – the plain variety with a wonderful crunch and mild flavour.

I did wonder, for a moment, whether I was enjoying the cheese so much because of those childhood associations. But Pete said he really liked the cheese too.

It’s not just the cheese I like, but the story of how it came to be.

According to legend, it was accidentally created by cheese maker Eleonora Lindstrom who lived in Burtrask in the far north of Sweden. She was left alone to stir the curd of a traditional Swedish cheese but found herself becoming ‘distracted’ on several occasions by visits from her lover. As the fire went out each time Eleonora became side-tracked, the curd cooled, meaning it had to be reheated and then stirred again when her attention returned to it. Due to this unorthodox method of constant heating, cooling and stirring, the cheese didn’t make the usual grade so was placed on a shelf and left there for 12 months. When the cheese was eventually tested, the taste and texture was so unusual and delicious that Eleonora’s technique was replicated and Västerbotten cheese was born.

These days, it is aged for 14 months, known as Sweden’s King of Cheeses and emblazoned with the title, “By appointment to his Majesty the King of Sweden”.

Västerbottensost is currently celebrating it’s 100th year anniversary.

As part of a collaboration between Swedish Trade Council and John Lewis/ Waitrose the cheese is featuring in a 7 week celebration of Swedish food and drink at John Lewis Oxford Street and Waitrose Bluewater. The celebration runs to the end of February. Also available to try and buy at the celebration are the crispbread and lingonberry jam above plus a range of Swedish food and drink including breads, dairy products, condiments and meats.

You can also buy västerbottensost at Scandinavian Kitchen and Totally Swedish (both in London) or from their online shops.

 

all

One of the many things on my beer-drinking to-do list is to sample everything that London brewers have to offer, so when I find myself in Borough Market one Saturday I take the opportunity to head down the road to The Kernel Brewery. Tucked away under the railway arches not far from London Bridge station, this tiny brewery produces an astoundingly wide range of exciting brews (as you can see from the struggle I had fitting them all into the picture).

The beers on offer are constantly changing; I buy one of everything they had and stagger back to the tube with a large box of beer. When I get home, I have to concede that even though most of the bottles are small 330ml ones, there’s no way I can try everything in a single session, which is why this particular Tour-At-Home is split across two evenings.

pale-ale-centennial
Pale Ale Centennial

Starting at the lighter end of the range, we have Pale Ale Centennial, at 5.1%. Given the label of a pale ale, a surprisingly rich amber colour; little or no head but with some fine rising bubbles in the glass. Orange blossom nose. Flat but not watery in the mouth; big strong hops floral and green – it’s rather like eating the raw hops, with a strong bitter tail. No real malt hints; very very drinkable though.

white-ale
White Ale?

Next up, the wonderfully labelled White Ale ?, 4.7%. At first I assume the question mark in the name suggests that Kernel found a box of unlabelled bottles and guessed it was a white ale but a quick question via twitter results in their first response that it’s a question to the drinker and their second one, that it tries to express how the beer escaped their control! It’s a pale gold in colour, and was very clear until I managed to catch a small amount of sediment in it. It’s a wheat beer, so a little murkiness is no bad thing! Another beer with little or no head, but filled with very fine rising bubbles. Another green fruity smell, sweeter than the Pale Ale Centennial. Tastes lighter, with much less in the way of green hops although still good lingering bitterness. The sweetness is still there, although subtle, and there’s an almost lemony undertone. Tasty, although slightly confusing; it’s half way between a traditional wheat beer and a pale ale. I have to admit that, having drunk it, the question mark sort of makes sense!

a-london-porter
A London Porter

Moving to the darker side of life, A London Porter is next, at 5.5% (although I have another bottle in the cupboard labelled at 5.2%). Black, with the slim head and fine bubbles that seem to be characteristic of Kernel. Burnt sugar and treacle nose, but the flavour doesn’t have the sweetness you might expect. The treacle taste is there, but it’s the sharp bitterness of burnt sugar rather than the sweetness. A little watery, considering, and there’s an almost chemical smell to it.

export-stout-london-1890
Export Stout London 1890

On, then, to the Export Stout London 1890, a much stronger beer at 7.8%. It pours thickly, with a deep dark brown colour and even a dark but slender head. A smell almost of molasses and dark fruits. A wonderfully thick and syrupy feel in the mouth, sweet and fruity and bitter with a liquorice tang, and you can really taste the strength of the beer. A real heavy hitting beer this, comfortably my favourite so far – but after such a big beer, I need to resume this test tomorrow!

ipa-citra
IPA Citra

The following day starts on the IPA mountain. Firstly, India Pale Ale Citra, at 6.2%. Golden syrup colour with another slim but lingering head and fine bubbles; the smell is overpoweringly floral, of hops and sweetness and honeysuckle. In the mouth a wonderful frothiness from the bubbles, not at all watery; sweet with a distinct malt edge to it and a green, leafy hoppiness without being heavily bitter – and it certainly doesn’t taste anything close to 6.2%. There’s some soft of light fruity edge to it and every mouthful you get that powerful wave of fresh, floral aroma hitting you. It’s light and fresh and frankly delicious.

ipa-scans
IPA SCANS

I’m almost nervous to move on, as the Citra will be hard to measure up to; still, next is the India Pale Ale SCANS, stronger at 7.7% and one of the more widely raved-about Kernel offerings. It looks very similar to the Citra in the glass, and that similarity is there on the nose too; however, there’s a darker edge to the smell, and the sweetness isn’t as pronounced – if Citra is springtime, SCANS is summer. It’s a different beer to taste too; the frothiness is there, the malt is deeper, darker and while the hops are still there by the bucket it’s less green and leafy, and more berries and honey while retaining that hefty but not overpowering bitter kick at the end. The strength is much more obvious but it’s still way more drinkable by the pint than a 7.7% beer should be. Easily the equal of the Citra; possibly more so.

pale-ale-south
Pale Ale South

Pale Ale South is next, at 5.6%. This is the first of two 500ml bottles, which can only be a good thing! Another golden ale with a fine but lingering head; on the nose again there’s buckets of fresh, sweet, honey hops. It’s not quite as “in your face” as the last two, but it’s still green and floral and tempting in the extreme. In the mouth it has that fantastic body, but the hop bitterness seems more pronounced. It’s nice, but it’s not quite as drinkable as the previous two.

baltic-porter
Baltic Porter

The second 500ml bottle is the Baltic Porter at 7.3%. Dark and rich looking, with a more substantial head on it, it certainly looks the part. It smells it too, with lots of coffee and an undercurrent of treacle. Those coffee notes carry over into the taste, and manages to be sweet without getting syrupy. Once again it hides its strength well; Kernel beers are turning out to be dangerous things! It’s a delicious porter, which is just on the right side of being too dark for me, and it grows on you mouth after mouth. Great stuff.

imperial-stout

The last bottle I have is back to the 330ml format, and is the powerful sounding Imperial Stout at an alarming 12.5%. It’s even blacker than the Porter, with a fleeting brown head; on the nose we have treacle, molasses and burnt black sugar aplenty. In the mouth – oh my goodness, it’s like they’ve taken some black treacle and blended it roughly 50/50 with vodka. It is strong enough to be almost entirely unbeer-like, and for the first time it’s a Kernel beer that wears it’s strength proudly on it’s sleeve. It’s big, scary and frankly amazing; I’m deeply grateful that there’s only 330ml of it because I’m currently downstairs and if I had a full half litre, I’m not sure I’d make it upstairs to bed tonight. It’s delicious and fantastic and a perfect special occasion beer; I need to get some more ordered!

After all that positive feedback, I have to say something about sediment. I’m a big believer in the importance of bottle conditioning beer, and I cheerfully accept some sludge in the bottom of the bottle. However, I’ve found more sediment in these bottles than I have encountered from any other brewery; as they’re relatively small (for real ale) 330ml bottles, I’ve been losing an appreciable proportion of each beer – often as much as a full centimetre of beer has to stay in the bottle in order to avoid pouring lots of sediment into the glass.

Overall, this is a spectacular range with some genuinely great beers. Kernel’s IPAs are outstanding, and the Imperial Stout is something truly special. Although there were a couple of bottles which didn’t thrill me, I have to say that there are two or three in this batch which have jumped right to the top of my “favourite beers” list. Of course, the downside to Kernel’s experimental nature is that not all of those favourites will necessarily appear again, but the Citra, at least, still seems widely available.

Buying direct from the brewery, I paid £26 for a dozen bottles (the Imperial Stout, entirely reasonably, was extra!).

Their website lists a number of suppliers, both in London and outside, as well as online outlets.

Jan 192011
 

We enjoyed our first crop of 2011 this weekend – purple sprouting broccoli; a very early variety that came free with seed packs for other vegetables grown during the last year.

FirstPSB-5519

There’s something very wonderful about opening the back door and harvesting something colourful and delicious, under grey cloudy skies.

FirstPSB-5521 FirstPSB-5523

We served it very simply – steamed and with melted butter and Maldon sea salt.

It was delicious! I am not a fan of normal broccoli but have discovered only very recently that I rather like this purple sprouting stuff. I’m looking forward to subsequent pickings over the next month or two.

 

Do you know Fire & Knives?

FireAndKnives1

No? Well, why not? Didn’t you see my list of fabulous gifts for food lovers? Didn’t you subscribe straight away?

Yes? Well then, you’ll already be familiar with the wonderfully diverse and high quality content of this print quarterly, founded and edited by Tim Hayward, food writer, photographer, experimenter with food and acerbic wit. He’s a masterly skipper, bringing aboard well known names and undiscovered talent; the publication is full to the gunnels with the erudite, informative, amusing, or just plain weird.

F&K_MIXED_GRILL-2small

Now you can enjoy Fire & Knives in the flesh!

The Fire & Knives Mixed Grill offers a “day of talks, lectures, rants, performances, debates, panels, presentations and party pieces on the endlessly fascinating subject of… food”. Come together with fellow food enthusiasts as we gather to share a mutual preoccupation with cooking, eating, writing, dreaming food. And drink.

Many of us will be stepping onto the stage to inform, lecture or flat out rant about our particular obsessions – feel free to clap, cheer or heckle.

Yes, that little “us” does indeed mean I’ll be stepping up to the microphone too, sharing a little rant about price supplements in a fixed price menu.

They. Make. Me. Cross.

February is surely the most miserable month of all so why not brighten yours by coming along?

Volunteer to participate or buy tickets for just £20.

Mixed Grill will be held in Conway Hall, near Holborn in Central London.

 

Back in November, I enjoyed a convivial brunch date with a bunch of fellow food blogging ladies, at Village East. We girls chatted, laughed and ate and had a marvellous time!

I wanted to take along some food-related gifts but they had to be small and lightweight, as Pete and I were staying in a Central London hotel overnight and then spending a couple of hours walking around Borough Market, before the gathering. Whatever I chose, I needed to be able to carry it with me, and I’m not much of a packhorse!

My local Tiger shop came to the rescue with it’s huge selection of unusual spice and herb packs by Danish company, Hedebogård.

I picked a selection of different packs and wrapped them up in tissue paper, inserting a little note into each one, inviting my friends to create a recipe using their randomly assigned ingredient.

Here’s what the gang came up with; I am impressed!

spice challenge meeta

Meeta made pretty Lemon Pepper Hazelnut Macarons with Lemon Curd & Goat Cheese Cream

spice challenge jeanne

Jeanne cooked up this unctuous Prawn & Lemon Pepper Risotto

spice challenge michele

Michele’s dish didn’t work out but she bravely blogged On Things Not Going According to Plan anyway

spice challenge sarah

Sarah’s Rapid Ragu looks like a quick supper winter warmer

spice challenge jamie

Jamie made unusual Salty Savory Sweet Vegetable Macarons with Chili Chocolate Ganache

As you can see, not all of us got our act together in time for my suggested mid-January deadline, so I’ll post again soon to add the rest of the blog posts (including my own)!

 

This Christmas, I decided to buy whole, raw foie gras and prepare it at home.

FoieGrasMiCuit-5438

I’m going to skip the foie gras ethical debate because anyone who wants to has already informed themselves about the issue and because there are already plenty of resources on the ‘net. I’ve read those resources too and, yes, I’m still choosing to buy and eat foie gras. Yes, I do my best to buy British meat and produce from farms with good welfare records and yes this is a contradiction to that, but I never claimed to be consistent or rational!

So, on to the foie gras!

Terminology

Given that this is an English-language blog, I figured it might be handy to explain the various French terms commonly used to describe foie gras.

  • foie gras – literally translates as fat or fatty liver; poultry liver that has been fattened up especially, usually by extra feeding; the flavour and texture is richer and more buttery than unfattened poultry liver
  • de canard – from a duck; a rich and intense flavour; handles heat better than goose foie gras
  • d’oie – from a goose; compared to duck foie gras it has a more delicate flavour; loses more fat when subjected to heat, is produced in smaller quantities and is more expensive
  • foie gras entier cru entier means whole, cru means raw; most commonly both lobes or a single lobe but can also refer to a piece cut from the whole, provided it hasn’t been chopped or mixed with anything else; buying raw usually means the liver is unprepared so will need deveining before being cooked or cured
  • foie gras entier frais – fresh whole liver
  • foie gras mi-cuit – literally translates as half cooked; on a menu, this most commonly refers to fresh liver, lightly cooked (as opposed to being boiled for a couple of hours in its container as with preserved versions) and usually pressed and chilled before serving
  • foie gras entier – (in jars/ tins); whole liver (or parts of it), seasoned with salt, pepper and Cognac and then cooked in a jar or tin to preserve; usually cooked for about 2 hours but you do find mi-cuit versions where the liver has been poached in its container for a shorter 30-40 minutes
  • bloc de foie gras avec morceauxmorceaux means bits; this is a pâté made from minced foie gras, with small bits of intact liver within; it is cooked in its container; the percentage of morceaux is usually specified
  • bloc de foie gras – a pâté made from minced and seasoned foie gras cooked in its container; this can vary greatly in texture, taste and quality between industrially produced versions and home-made or fermier (farm) ones
  • pâté de foie gras ground, minced or pureed foie gras in a spreadable form; must contain 50% or more foie gras
  • mousse de foie gras – a mousse is usually finer and lighter than pâté, as the preparation has been whipped to incorporate air; must contain 50% or more foie gras
  • parfait de foie grasvery similar to mousse de foie gras but must contain at least 75% foie gras
  • foie gras au torchonau torchon means in a towel; a whole lobe of liver is gently rolled into shape, wrapped in cloth and slow-cooked in a bain-marie; these days the liver is most commonly shaped and wrapped in cling film and cooked in a temperature-controlled water bath; it is served cold, in slices
  • foie gras cru au sel – liver, usually whole, cured in salt and served chilled
  • foie gras poêlépoêléis usually translated as pan-fried or seared; slices of whole foie gras are fried briefly in a hot pan and served immediately


Buying Foie Gras

FoieGrasMiCuit-5417

I bought our whole foie gras de canard from a stall at Borough Market several weeks before Christmas. Because it was best before dated for the 12th December, I popped it into the freezer until Christmas. The brand is Profuma, produced in Belgium and I paid £20 for 0.6 kilograms which is a very good price for extra (highest) quality, I believe.

Terrine de Foie Gras Mi-Cuit

Method

  • Separate the two lobes and remove all the veins. Ideally, you want to keep the lobes intact as much as possible, but I ended up breaking mine into large pieces to reach the veins. I allowed the liver to reach room temperature first, as I’d read that this makes the veins come out more easily.

FoieGrasMiCuit-5419

  • As you’re deveining, drop each clean piece of liver into a bowl of salted ice-cold water.
  • Leave the deveined liver in the cold water for 30-60 minutes.

FoieGrasMiCuit-5420

  • Drain the liver well and then marinate for several hours (see below for marinade recipe). I popped mine into the fridge for this.
  • Preheat the oven to 90 °C.
  • Drain the liver (though there’s no need to wipe off any remaining marinade) and place into a non-stick baking pan.
  • Cook in the oven for 20 minutes.

FoieGrasMiCuit-5421

  • Pick out the cooked pieces of liver, allowing as much of the melted fat to drip off as possible, and transfer them into your terrine dish, packing them down firmly.As far more of the liver melted away into fat than I’d anticipated we switched to a much smaller dish. Ideally we needed one a touch smaller still, as there wasn’t quite enough liver to reach to the rim and allow for the weight on top to properly press down.
  • Once the terrine is filled, cover and place in the fridge with a heavy object on top to pack the liver more tightly into the container. Place a plate beneath the container to catch any additional fat that is pressed out.
  • Leave the terrine in the fridge for 4 days before turning out and enjoying.

FoieGrasMiCuit-5434 FoieGrasMiCuit-5438

Extra Instructions

I based my cooking method very much on the steps and advice provided by CulinoTests here (in French), which take you through a recipe from Eric Léautey.

I was hugely nervous about deveining foie gras as I’d heard a fair few anecdotes about how difficult this is and how it’s very easy to leave lots of veins behind in the liver.

I was directed by a friend to this instructions video (in French) which helped me devein successfully, though my liver was broken into more pieces than the instructor’s when I’d finished! I’ve since found these helpful video instructions (also in French). The second video also goes on to cover how to make foie gras au torchon.

To my delight, I seem to have been successful in removing the vast majority of the veins; both Pete and I found just a single very tiny thread each in what we ate.

Marinade Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons brandy
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar (I used cider wine vinegar)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • a generous pinch of all spice

Thoughts

The end result was fantastic! That familiar, fantastically rich flavour, the rich and silky mouthfeel…

I’d already been advised that freezing shouldn’t affect foie gras. Although I’ve never cooked it before, I’ve eaten a lot of it and the taste and texture seemed absolutely spot on to me. I’d freeze again in the future, though I’d probably devein first so I could divide and freeze in two or three portions.

I was disappointed with how very much of the initial liver weight and volume melted away into fat during the brief cooking. Apparently this isn’t down to the quality of the foie gras and can’t easily be predicted. I don’t think I overcooked it since the pieces of liver still retained a pink colour inside.

The loss to fat means it’s difficult to predict the volume of solid liver you’ll end up with and therefore hard to pick the right terrine dish. I’m not sure how best to resolve that.

The silver lining is that I had a huge amount of foie gras fat left over, half of which has already been used for the most delicious roast potatoes we’ve enjoyed in a long while!

FoieGrasRoasties-5444

Jan 122011
 

dragon-stout

Name: Dragon Stout

ABV: 7.5%

Bottled/ Draft: Bottled, non conditioned

Price: £1.49, 284ml bottle

Colour: Dark

Head: Fine bubbled, thin but lingering brown foam.

Mouthfeel: A little over fizzed, but surprisingly light bodied for such a dark, sweet beer.

Taste: Wonderfully deep malt, burnt sugar.

Comment: A rich, strong tasting stout from the Jamaican brewers of Red Stripe. My tasting notes include the rather cryptic “not very beer-like”; it’s a peculiar (but very nice!) blending of stout flavours with a somehow “lagery” feel.

The smell has buckets of molasses, treacle, raisins; and that carries through to the taste – sweet, rich but without being sludgy, refreshing and yet dangerously strong. It has that warming alcohol kick lurking underneath and is an all round wonderful beer!

This was one of those random beer finds; I stumbled on the bottle gathering dust on the shelf in the little convenience store at the top of our road and, being a sucker for both beer and dragons, picked a bottle up. Needless to say, I’ll be going back to empty the shelf :-)

dragon-stout

© 2006 - 2014 Kavita Favelle Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha