Oct 272014
 

Married to a drinks blogger, it’s inevitable that I dip my toe into the world of drinks blogging too. One of the first drinks bloggers I met through Pete was Simon Williams, the founder of CAMRGB. I’ll let him tell you more about his mission to get us drinking really good beer in his own words…

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Hello and welcome, plea­se introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.

Hello, I’m Simon and I write about beer and run a small organisation that tries to promote and celebrate beer regardless of particular dispense methods.

Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

I called the blog The Campaign For Really Good Beer purposefully to annoy CAMRA (The Campaign For Real Ale) as the blog started as a rant against that particular organisation’s lack of support for new UK breweries.

The name also works well graphically – Really Good Beer is Red Green and Blue, RGB, the colour breakdown on an image used online.

I expected more people to make the connection straight away, but many still look surprised when I explain, and I still get people saying, “It should be red white and blue,” meaning I then have to explain again that I’m not interested in any weird nationalist agenda.

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Why did you choose to blog about beer?

As I already mentioned, it was a direct result of what CAMRA were (or weren’t) doing. They were not supporting (and still aren’t supporting) new breweries who were making what has started to be termed “Craft” beer and not brewing to CAMRA’s definition of what “Real Ale” is.

Does blogging about drink present any particular challenges?

For me, blogging about anything presents certain challenges as I have a young family and a full time job.

Once a blog becomes more than just a blog (as CAMRGB has) it’s imperative to keep the interest for the group and to grow the group.

Online this means regular new content, and so my days have become a process:

I get up at 5am and publish any beer reviews from the night before, answer emails etc., get the kids up, feed them, get them ready for school, get myself ready and off to work, get home at 5:30pm and pick the kids up from the child-minder, get them home, feed them and get them ready for bed, then I choose a couple of beers to drink and write about, eat and go to bed.

It is, put frankly, a bit boring.

Is there a particular style of beer you seek out most often?

Nope

Which single beer could you not live without?

Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo

Are there beer styles you don’t like or think are overrated?

Not especially.

What are the current trends in the beer scene? How do you feel about them?

The current trends seem to be in ridiculous facial hair more than anything.

To be serious though, you can watch the brewing industry and see where things are going.

A couple of years ago everyone was making Black IPAs, then they were all making Saisons and now everyone is sticking as much beer into as many casks and barrels for ageing as they possibly can, with sometimes amazing and sometimes hideous results.

Tell us about your pet controversy in the beer world.

Ooh, I couldn’t possibly. There would be blushes and finger pointing amongst a certain group of, shall we say, traditional ale drinkers.

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Since you started blogging, has your style and content changed over time, and if so, in what ways?

Not really, it’s about beer and about trying to connect people.

What is the hardest aspect of blogging for you?

Fitting it into everyday life.

What inspires you to keep blogging?

Meeting people and connecting people.

Seeing photos being posted on Twitter last night of people at IMBC 2014 who had struck up conversations because they were all wearing CAMRGB T-shirts is fantastic.

They know that whatever their differences they can agree on beer and share a certain ideology and can have a chat and have a good evening.

I think that that is just brilliant.

Blogging killed the newspaper star. What do you think bloggers bring to the arena that differentiates them from traditional journalists?

Bloggers are the new fanzine writers.

Passionate amateurs writing from the heart.

The downside of that – and I remember from dealing with fanzine writers in the 80s ad 90s – is that lots of people who start blogging do it to get free stuff and the result is they will only ever say things are great as they believe that that will get them more free stuff.

I try to always be honest in my writing and some people don’t like when I say their product isn’t very good, forgetting it’s just my personal opinion, but most take it on the chin and continue to allow me to get things to review.

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What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

I don’t know. The blog gets over 9000 hits a month right now, so I don’t really check to see who is looking at what.

Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?

I still love the two articles I wrote on Greene King: Insurgency Over The Front Line and Greene King Do The Wrong Thing

 

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Blog URL: http://camrgb.org
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/CAMRGB
Twitter handle: https://twitter.com/CAMRGB
Pinterest profile: http://www.pinterest.com/crayolasarandon/

 

You might think it a little strange for me to interview my own husband, since I might reasonably be expected to know most, if not all, of his answers! But of course, Monday Meet The Blogger is about sharing the blogs I love with a wider audience. So please read on to find out more about Pete Drinks, a blog where Pete talks about beer, whisky and coffee.

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Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

Not really; I started out writing guest spots on Kavey Eats and it just seemed the obvious name!

Why did you choose to blog about drink?

Honestly? It all came about because after a spate of food arriving at the house for Kavey to review; I (jokingly) asked Kavey why she never got offered beer. I was slightly horrified to learn that she had turned down such offers because she didn’t write about beer. She said she’d accept the next offer if I would write the review, and in the meantime invited me to guest post about beers I already had in the house. That sounds bad, because it makes it seem like I was only in it for free beer but actually I very quickly realised I just liked writing about beer and I didn’t care whether it was free or not.

The trouble with only making guest posts on someone else’s blog is that I soon found myself asking for yet another slot and being told that I’d have to wait a month. By that stage, I’d accepted that it wasn’t going to be a short-lived hobby so it seemed time to cut myself adrift and set up my very own blog.

Of course, the downside to that is that I don’t get to enjoy all the lovely traffic that came with being on a popular blog like Kavey Eats! [I didn’t pay him to say that! KF]

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Does blogging about drink present any particular challenges?

I don’t think the challenges are particularly specific to drink – they’re the same whenever you’re reviewing anything. You have to try and form an impartial opinion on something (the easy bit) and then put into words why you’ve reached that conclusion (the hard bit).

The other challenge is vocabulary; describing a beer (or anything else for that matter) is hard if you’re not in the habit of doing so – those first few cringe-worthy posts are filled with useful descriptions like “malty” and “bitter” which is a bit like describing the Antarctic as “a bit cold”; technically correct, but not exactly informative.

One of the joys of blogging is that it forces you to think far more deeply about what you’re tasting, and search for different ways to describe those tastes. I used to laugh at some of the Jilly Goolden-like excesses of tasting notes, but the more I try and understand flavour, the more I understand where she’s coming from.

The downside, of course, is that there’s always a small voice telling me that what I’m writing is unbearably pretentious twaddle when I begin waxing lyrical!

You mainly focus on coffee, whisky and beer. Why?

When I started, I was dedicated to beer, because that was what I knew most about (although not, to be honest, a great deal back then) and beer blogging appeared to be “a thing”.

It was over a year before I branched out into whisky, and that was largely caused by the large Drinks by the Dram parcel I got for my birthday. In many ways, that felt like going back to my initial days of talking about beer, because there was an entirely different palette of flavours to recognise.

Coffee came another year later; I’d tended to be a Nescafe Instant drinker to be honest, until I ended up working in an office where we had a coffee club – any time we bought a coffee we’d not tried before, Phil would demand our marks out of ten and we slowly built up a revealing list of our favourites. They knew I was a drinks blogger, so when they suggested I should add coffee to my repertoire, I took the plunge.

When you are pulling together a new review post, what are the similarities and differences when talking about coffee, whisky and beer?

The vocabularies and flavour palettes are different, but the basic questions you’re asking are the same: how does it smell? how does it taste? do I like it? and above all, why (or why not)?!

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Many of your posts are about your home-brewing experiences. What are your top homebrew tips to share with a) a complete novice b) a kit brewer thinking of branching out?

a) Just go for it. It’s dead easy, it’s cheap to start out and beer comes out the other end. Buy a kit, and get stuck in. Ignore anything you read about water treatment.

I would suggest you resist diving into homebrew forums at all to start with; they are fantastic resources of information and opinion, but they’re also full of people who will insist that if you don’t do everything exactly the way they do, that your beer will be ruined, destined to go down the drain. It will scare you out of doing anything.

Above all, keep in mind that people were brewing beer in mud huts five thousand years ago, and they didn’t have digital thermometers back then. Sure, if you’re a commercial brewer trying to reproduce the same beer day after day you need to be precise, but for the novice home-brewer, you can get away with a lot of errors (trust me!)

b) Stop using kits! “Brewing” with cans of extract is a little bit like baking cakes with packet mixes – sure, it produces something roughly beer-like (or cake-like) at the end of it, but you’ve only been half-involved. This ties a little into the first part of this question, because I’d say that if possible, complete novices should jump straight into ‘real’ brewing from the beginning.

Brewing from grain gives you so much more flexibility, and really doesn’t make things all that more complicated. If you can make a cup of tea, you can make all-grain beer. And it’ll taste better.

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What’s been the homebrew you’ve been most pleased with, and why?

That’s a little like asking a parent to pick their favourite child!

My Coffee Porter is an obvious one, because I got to brew it in a real brewery, sell it in a real pub and see real people paying actual money to drink it.

Have you had any homebrew disasters? What happened?

I’ve made plenty of mistakes – getting mash temperatures wildly out, managing to start a brew day without checking that I actually had all the ingredients and having to re-write the recipe on the fly – but things invariably work out ok. Beer really wants to be made.

Perhaps the closest to ‘disaster’ was the time I realised (at the end of the boil) that I’d forgotten to fit the hop filter inside the boiler. The hop filter is essentially a strainer that keeps the hops back in the boiler, and stops them from clogging up the tap when you’re trying to get all your lovely beer out.

After realising that just trying to carry on wasn’t going to work (the tap was so plugged up by hops that nothing was coming out) I eventually had to plunge my (thoroughly washed!) arm into still-rather-hot wort and fit the damn filter with the boiler still full.

Again, the beer came out fine at the end of it all.

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For those who don’t have an understanding of the brewing process, can you give us a brief explanation of the process; a short dummies guide?

Beer only (normally) has four ingredients; malted grain, hops, water and yeast. It also has four basic steps:

  1. Soak the malted grain in hot water (65degrees, give or take) for an hour. This extracts the sugar from the malt, and gives you a sweet liquid (called wort).
  2. Boil the wort for an hour (after straining out the malt grain), adding hops along the way. Hops added at the start of the boil mainly contribute bitterness to the beer, while hops added later in the process (especially in the last 15 minutes) are more about flavour and aroma.
  3. Once the wort has cooled down (and you’ve strained out the hops), add the yeast. This is the bit that turns all those sugars into alcohol.
  4. Drink!

If you can make a cup of tea and boil and egg, you’ve already mastered the fundamental techniques.

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As you also feature in many of the cooking posts on Kavey Eats, we must surely squeeze in some cooking questions…

What are your earliest memories of cooking? Who or what inspired you to cook?

Growing up, my cooking was limited to making cakes with my mum. It’s fair to say that we weren’t an adventurous family, food-wise so those cakes were limited to what was in Mrs. Beeton – Victoria sponges and butterfly cakes.

I’m not sure I could claim to be “inspired” to cook; at University it was more of a necessity than a passion, but over time being married to a foodie changes your perspective!

What recipe are you fondest / proudest of?

I’m not sure I’d describe myself as *proud* of any of my recipes; I mean I can produce tasty enough food, but I don’t see myself signing up to MasterChef any time soon.

The recipe that’s been most widely (and positively!) enjoyed is probably my Chocolate Porter Cake. I somehow agreed to take part in a Great Chocolate Cake-Off at Chocolate Unwrapped, and ended up creating a Devil’s Food Cake-based affair, liberally laced with Fuller’s excellent London Porter, in the sponge and the filling. And the cream on top.

It’s not the prettiest cake in the world – I still have the same design skills as I had when I was 8 years old – but it’s damn tasty.

I also had fun making up a paprika ginger beer recipe for a mixer challenge!

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Is there a particular style of beer you seek out most often?

Short answer, no. The slightly longer answer is, I’ll usually seek out something different to the beer I’ve just finished!

Which single beer could you not live without?

Honestly, I’m not sure there is one. There are about a million different beers out there, and while I’d be sad if, say, Bristol Beer Factory’s Southville Hop was suddenly discontinued, I’m sure I’d find something to take its place in my affections!

Are there beer styles you don’t like or think are overrated?

I don’t get Pilsners. It’s not that I don’t like them; I just don’t see why they seem to be so revered among beer “experts”.

What are the current trends in the beer scene? How do you feel about them?

Cans seem to be very trendy right now; as with so many things, British breweries are starting to import the US concept of putting their beer into cans rather than bottles. Of course, beer in cans is hardly revolutionary – Special Brew has been in cans for decades – it’s something new for “premium” beers.

In theory, it’s a superior package – light-proof, more robust and far lighter than glass bottles. In practice… I’m unconvinced. I generally find them over-carbonated and while I’ll happily drink from a bottle sometimes, I just don’t enjoy drinking beer straight from the can.

I probably need to do more research.

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What are your top three criteria for a great pub? Do you have a favourite pub? Why?

  1. Decent beer – by which I mean, (a) well kept, (b) not too damn cold, and (c) a decent – and changing – selection.
  2. Peace – going to the pub is a social experience; I want to be able to hear the people I’m with, not loud music or a blaring TV
  3. Food – having decent food means there’s a better chance of me being able to persuade my food-loving, beer-hating beloved to go to the pub with me!

Happily, our local – The Bohemia – ticks all those boxes quite nicely, and happens to be a brewery too!

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What are the biggest turn offs for you, in the pubs you don’t like?

TV. I HATE pub TV. I loathe it. There are few things more likely to stop me from even going into a pub. I’d rather – MUCH rather – be in a smoke-filled pub than a Sky Sports-filled one.

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How did you get into whisky?

Unlike beer, I haven’t always loved whisky. I put this down to my initial taste, in my teens, when I somehow acquired a small bottle of Teachers and decided that whisky was icky. To be fair to Teachers, I don’t think my teenage palate would have fallen in love with the finest single malt but the experience formed a firm belief that whisky was some sort of grain-flavoured sink cleaner.

Fast forward many years to the time we went up to Aberdeen to visit one of my wife’s friends. I’m sure we chatted and had a very pleasant time on the way in from the airport, but in my memory I’m convinced the first words this formidable Scots lady said to me were: “So, I hear you don’t like whisky, Pete. We’ll see about that!” – whereupon she opened a huge cupboard filled with an alarming number of bottles. A few were selected and pulled out onto the table; she is (and therefore, I am) a big Islay fan and decided that Lagavulin was an excellent distillery with which to start my education.

The rest of that evening is something of a haze. I do remember calling a halt to proceedings, having not yet even ventured past Islay, on the basis that I could no longer feel my face. Despite this, I was converted and have been on a voyage of discovery on the sea of whisky ever since.

What is your favourite style of whisky?

With that kind of start, I’ve always had a love of the big, powerful, smoky whiskies of Islay, and many of the other Scottish Island whiskies are the same.

That said, I’m developing an appreciation of bourbon too.

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You’ve visited Japan twice in the last two years and enjoyed trying Japanese whisky. How does Japanese whisky compare to Scotch and what might be a good bottle to buy for someone who’s not tried any before?

It’s probably closer to Scotch than whisky from other countries, although they’re not generally big on peat. The biggest difference is that they tend to benefit a lot more from a drop of water being added to them – I suspect that’s largely because the Japanese largely drink whisky with water, rather than straight up as we do.

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You’re a keen coffee drinker but have steered clear of the more pretentious side of coffeephilia. Tell us your thoughts on enjoying coffee as a regular coffee drinker.

There’s a lot of snobbery around coffee; as with everything I think it’s best to ignore what “the right way” is. For example, when I taste and review coffee I make it the same way as I drink it – in a big mug, with milk.

Now a coffeephile will tell you that a straight espresso is “the right way” to taste coffee and in a sense they’re right – diluting it with water and milk alters the flavour, but I don’t drink it that way normally. What’s the point in reviewing coffee in a form I never normally drink it?

What’s your top tip for an affordable tasty coffee to drink at home?

Buy an Aeropress; it’s the neatest, simplest device for brewing ground coffee. Then start working your way through the coffee in your local supermarket – there’s a huge range and something for everybody’s taste, and none of it very expensive.

For my money, you can’t go wrong with Taylor’s, and it’s often on special offer. Their After Dark remains one of my “go-to” coffees.

What are your thoughts on the increasing popularity of pod coffee machines?

Bemusement. Why buy a machine that restricts you to only drinking a limited range of (very expensively packaged) coffees? I genuinely do not get the point of them.

That said, I’ve never actually lived with one so maybe I’m missing something AMAZING about them.

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Since I’m a travel addict, you get dragged around the world regularly…

What’s been your favourite destination thus far, from a drinker’s perspective? Can you share a favourite memory from the trip?

Whenever I travel I’ve always got my eye open for the local beer; I don’t see the point of going to another country and heading for the nearest Englishe Pubbe for an overpriced half-litre of John Smiths.

Amsterdam was an impressive beer experience (largely thanks to some excellent pre-trip research not done by me!), although it’s hardly an exotic destination!

What’s the very first trip you remember taking?

Hayling Island, as a child. I don’t remember there being much beer, but I do remember an arcade machine that you could win bubble gum out of.

Where are you going next?

Washington DC. I’ve heard Americans can make quite good beer these days…

What three things can you never travel without? 

Camera, Kindle and Kavey :)

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Since you started blogging, has your style and content changed over time, and if so, in what ways?

I write more better.

Ahem. I write longer and more conversationally (sometimes to the frustration of my editor). I’ve become way better at self-editing. I’m even getting over my (incorrect) use of the possessive apostrophe in “it’s”.

Mostly, though, I just suck less than I used to. Writing, like everything else, is something you just have to do a lot – badly – before you learn how to do it properly.

What is the hardest aspect of blogging for you?

Getting around to it. Once I actually sit down and start typing it’s pretty painless, but I’m very bad at the starting part.

What inspires you to keep blogging?

I just enjoy writing, and blogging about drink gives me the focus to actually put some words down, and the freedom to keep it pretty short.

Blogging killed the newspaper star. What do you think bloggers bring to the arena that differentiates you from traditional journalists?

A lack of professionalism. And I mean that in a good way.

Journalists are, ultimately, bound by the person paying the bills – the publisher, the client, or whoever. Bloggers aren’t (or rather, shouldn’t be) so we can follow our hearts more easily.

The line is blurred because there’s such a wide spectrum of bloggers, from those who are just in it for fun – like me – to those who are looking for the book deal, the sponsorship deal, or the “real” journalism job.

The kind of blogging I do isn’t, in my mind, journalism. It’s standing on a box at Speaker’s Corner. I’m just talking about stuff I want to talk about – if someone stops and listens, that’s great but at the end of the day I’m not doing it for them. I’m doing it for me.

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You grow fruit, vegetables, wheat and hops in your garden and allotment…

What do you love about doing that?

I like seeing stuff grow. I like how the garden and the allotment changes every day, even if it is just weeds half the time. I enjoy the tidiness of a freshly weeded bed (although that rarely happens!) and the peace of being out in the fresh air watching the robins watch me dig up worms for them.

Obviously it’s great to get real edible stuff out at the other end, but it’s the journey more than the destination that matters. If I was only in it for the crop, it would be cheaper and easier to go to Aldi.

What’s the hardest aspect?

Getting around to it. Once I’m there I’m happy to do the work, but I’m rubbish at taking that first step (I’m starting to see a pattern in these answers….)

What’s new on your list to grow next year?

Barley. I already grow hops, so the next logical step is to grow some barley, figure out how the hell to malt it, and make beer genuinely from scratch.

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What are you absolutely loving cooking/ eating/ drinking right now?

I recently found a case of my homebrew Coffee Stout lurking forgotten at the back of the cupboard. That was a very happy discovery!

What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

By a considerable margin, my Alcoholic Ginger Beer tasting. I should probably do more things like that!

 

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Blog URL: petedrinks.com/
Facebook page: facebook.com/petedrinks
Twitter handle: twitter.com/petedrinks/

 

I don’t order bottled water in restaurants. We are fortunate enough to live in a country with safe, clean and reasonably plentiful drinking water. It strikes me as crazy to pay (financially and environmentally) to drink bottled water instead.

There’s an argument for those who prefer carbonated, in which case buying fizzy bottled water is no different to buying any other soft drink. But personally, I prefer still, so I always ask for tap. Often, it’s the lower end restaurants that get sniffy about it, never the posh ones.

I have occasionally bought bottled water when out and about. It’s a rare thing, as I’m conscious of the cost not to mention the litter.

We live in such a disposable culture. Now that a lot more packaging is labelled recyclable, people seem think there’s no environmental impact to throwing it away. But of course, even when something can be recycled, there’s a huge energy and resource cost to create the original item, to collect and sort the used item and to recycle it into something else. And, for various reasons, probably not least of which is that our recycling efforts are still rather half-hearted, 75% of post-consumer plastic waste in the UK is sent to landfill.

Pink Hydros Bottle

Recently I came across the Hydros Filtering Water Bottle. Instead of buying water, carry a Hydros bottle with you. You can either fill it at home, or if you’d rather not carry the weight around, fill it on the go. More and more restaurants and cafes are willing to fill reusable water bottles for free.

Made from Tritan plastic (BPA free) it has a filter embedded with an anti-microbial, to stop the build-up of bacteria which can be a problem when reusing some bottles. The filters are replaceable and last for about 150 uses. Oh and, best of all, it’s dishwasher friendly.

I like that you can fill from the top or through the side opening, which allows you to fill from a low or awkward tap – it’s a little slower but it works fine. The water passes through the filter into the bottle fairly quickly. Just make sure you close the bottle properly though, as a leaking bottle in your bag definitely won’t put a smile on your face!

The bottles aren’t cheap at £24.95 each. Replacement filters cost £7.94 each or £19.94 for three. However, given the price of bottled water, this doesn’t represent all that many bottles. When you factor in the environmental benefits, it makes the decision easier.

Another pleasing aspect to buying a Hydros bottle is that the company contribute about 60 pence / $1 from each bottle sale to “sustainable water infastructure projects”. They remind us that one in seven people around the world – that’s over a billion people – don’t have access to clean, safe water. They currently partner with Engineers Without Borders to fund rural water projects such as Project Gundom in Cameroon. Visit their website to read their mission statement, criteria for choosing projects and Project Gundom.

 

Other reusable bottles on the market include Give Me Tap (£12 for a metal bottle, no filter), LifeBottle (£12 for a BPA-free stainless steel bottle, no filter), Camelbak Groove (Approx £25 for a plastic bottle with integrated filter), Ohyo (£4.99 for a collapsible plastic bottle, no filter), Brita Fill & Go (£14.99 for a BPA-free plastic bottle with integrated filter), H2Onya Bottle (£8.50-£10.50 depending on size for a stainless steel bottle, no filter), Bobble Bottles (£8.99-£12.99 depending on size, for a BPA-free plastic bottle with integrated filter), Klean Kanteen Wide (£13.50-£26 for a BPA-free stainless steel bottle, no filter included, but compatible with standard filters), Aladdin Papillon (Approx £10 for a plastic bottle, made from recycled material, no filter), Aladdin Aveo (£9for a BPA-free plastic bottle, no filter). Contigo Autoseal Madison (£Approx £15 for a BPA-free plastic bottle, no filter), Kor Delta Hydration Vessel (Approx £20 for a plastic bottle, no filter) and Nalgene On The Fly (£Approx £13 for a BPA-free plastic bottle, no filter).

 

Kavey Eats received a review sample Hydros Filtering Water Bottle.

 

Billy Law will already be familiar to those of you who follow his very popular food blog, A Table For Two. He also made it into the top 7 on Aussie Masterchef 2011. Born in Malaysia, he moved to Australia in the mid ‘90s to further his studies and has lived there ever since. On his blog, he explains that it was only when he moved, and missed the home-cooked dishes of Malaysia, that he took up cooking himself. These days, he cooks not only the cuisine of his native country but a wide range of Eastern and Western treats and there are plenty of both in his first cookbook, Have You Eaten?

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My book has the cover on the left, I think the other may be an Australian edition

The book is named for the common Malaysian greeting – not “How are you?” but “Have you eaten yet?”, which shows a commendable focus on the importance of food in the culture. This appeals to me!

One of the things I’ve long enjoyed about Billy’s blog is the beautiful food photography, which really shows off all his dishes so temptingly so it’s great news that he did the styling and photography for his book himself, bringing his trademark rich and warm style to the book. Recipes are easy to read and the whole book is a true feast for the eyes.

Dishes are divided into sections called Snack Attack, On The Side, Easy Peasy, Over The Top, Rice & Noodles Sugar Hit and Dress For Success, most of which I found self-explanatory except for the last one, which was obvious once I looked – it covers dressings, of course!

There are lots of recipes which appeal, from Guinness battered prawns to Pandan chicken, from Deep-fried salt and pepper tofu to Watermelon, baby tomato, chevre and candied walnut salad, from Breakfast pie to Ayam pongteh (braised potato chicken, from Beef Cheeks Bourgignon (using my favourite, Pedro Ximinez) to Burnt butter lobster tail with apple and salmon roe, from Claypot chicken and mushroom rice to Curry laksa, from Popcorn and salted caramel macarons to Gingerbread ice cream, from Wasabi mayonnaise to Chilli onion jam. And that’s just two from each section, there are many, many more that sound delicious.

The recipe we decided to make first was Billy’s Cola Chilli Chicken, as I’ve been reading about savoury recipes featuring Coca Cola for such a long time.

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We skipped the cashews, as Pete’s not a fan, but otherwise followed the recipe as it was. We did find it needed quite a bit longer for the liquid to reduce down, but that may also be a factor of the size and shape of our wok and the heat we cooked over. Otherwise, it was very straightforward.

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The finished dish was absolutely delicious. The sauce wasn’t sickly sweet but beautifully balanced. Given how easy it was to cook, this is likely to be something we make again.

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And it makes me even more excited to try many of the other recipes in the book.

 

Billy Law’s Have You Eaten? is currently available from Amazon UK for £16 (RRP £25).

Kavey Eats received a review copy from Hardie Grant Books.

 

Setting booze as a theme for December’s BSFIC seemed a no brainer! Tis the season to be merry, after all. Or perhaps full on tipsy verging on drunk!

Booze certainly brought out the best in you, with some wonderfully creative and delicious entries:

Monica

Both Monica from Smarter Fitter and I made our entries this month during a shared weekend of laughter, friendship, cooking, eating and relaxing. The Brown bread & Guinness Ice Cream she made from The Icecreamists book was wonderful, and she made extra caramelised brown bread to scatter over the top. We had this with home made treacle tart by Chef Legs! Delicious!

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I went for a super quick and easy ice cream using ready made chocolate custard and biscuits and a bottle from the booze custard. My Chocolate, Amaretto and Amaretti Ice Cream was a simple but perfect combination and needed only as long as the ice cream machine took to churn it! I’ll be making this one again!

Cognac and Raisins Ice-Cream

When I saw Michael’s Cognac and Raisin Ice Cream on his blog Me, My Food and I, I asked him whether he’d consider entering it into this month’s BSFIC as it’s such a super fit. As well as macerating the raisins with the cognac, Michael adds cinnamon, orange zest and vanilla to pack flavour into the custard.

malibu ice cream

Jo from Comfort Bites confesses that she’s previously been a bit too heavy handed adding alcohol to her ice creams and the result has been a sloppy watery mess. This time, she reined herself in and was much happier with the results! Her Malibu Ice Cream sounds like a taste of tropical summer!

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As has been the case more than once, Alicia from FoodyCat used the same core ingredient as I did to create a completely different treat! Her Amaretto Nougat Glacé features amaretto, Spanish turrón and dried apricots folded into a Swiss meringue base. Like the condensed milk ice cream I made a while back, this works well served in slices, cut straight from the frozen block.

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Claire from Under The Blue Gum Tree combined plump medjool dates (which she had leftover from a delicious sticky toffee run cake) and the zesty taste of oranges in her Cointreau & Date Ice Cream. I love how she’s made generously filled ice cream sandwiches to serve.

Zabaglione Tiramisu close up

Laura definitely knows How To Cook Good Food, as is evidenced by the appeal of her Frozen Zabaglione Tiramisu. She based her tiramisu ice cream cake on a recipe by Bill Granger but substituted the vanilla ice cream he suggests for a more decadent zabaglione ice cream recipe from Epicurious, flavoured with marsala wine. I think tiramisu is a great Christmas day dessert; even more so Laura’s frozen version!

whisky-mac-icecream-22

Pete was keen to take part in this month’s BSFIC, given how well the theme fits into Pete Drinks. Having played around with the perfect proportions for a whisky mac earlier in the year, he decided to make a Whisky Mac Ice Cream, substituting bourbon instead of whisky. For the ginger, he used chopped stem ginger and some of the syrup it came in. These were mixed into a no-churn whipped cream base. Having tried it, I can confirm how delicious it was!

Vanesther from Bangers and Mash shared the perfect recipe for using up some of your Christmas leftovers with her Christmas Pudding Ice Cream. All you’ll need is the leftover pudding, some brandy and a pot of vanilla custard! I made something similar a few years ago, and loved it and have made it again since, using ready made custard, as Vanesther does here.

rumraisin

Donna from Beating Limitations has been making wonderful home made frozen treats all year, inspired by BSFIC not to bother with the shop-bought stuff any more. This month, she made her mum’s favourite flavour, Rum Raisin Ice Cream. She used an adapted David Lebovitz recipe and Elements 8 Spiced Rum, which she recommends for it’s spicy and citrus notes.

chocolate-baileys-ice-cream-with-spiced-pecans

I love the way Christina from Little Red Courgette echoes her “year of excess” with her very indulgent Chocolate-Baileys Ice Cream with Spiced Pecans. Definitely not a diet recipe, she uses “two different types of chocolate, crunchy smokey-sweet pecans coated in a mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon and smoked paprika, and enough Baileys to fell a horse.” I don’t know about the horse, but I definitely want a taste!

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And that’s it for our boozy BSFIC! Thanks, folks!

You can find January’s challenge here.

 

I love chocolate. I love amaretto liqueur. And I love amaretti (macaroon biscuits).

This month, I combined all three to make a very simple, very quick and very delicious ice cream for December’s BSFIC booze challenge.

Incidentally, whilst amaretti biscuits are traditionally made from almonds, amaretto liqueur, which has a similar almond flavour, is commonly made from apricot pits, with or without almonds included.

In the UK, amaretto has become almost synonymous with Disaronno.

I have found the gradual rebranding of Disaronno amusing. It’s been so successful that many people now don’t even realise that Disaronno is simply one brand of amaretto liqueur amongst others. When I was a teenager in the 1980s (and getting into such drinks), the brand was still called Amaretto di Saronno Originale, which simply translated as ‘original amaretto from Saronno’, a town in Lombardy, Italy. Sometime in late eighties or early nineties, owners ILLVA changed the name to Amaretto Disaronno Originale, changing Disaronno from a geographical indication into the brand. And around the turn of the century, they dropped the word amaretto from the bottles completely and rebranded to Disaronno Originale.

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That means it’s now far more common for drinkers to ask the barman for a Disaronno than for a generic amaretto, pushing competitors firmly to the side-lines. Clever marketing! Other well-established brands I’ve come across include Galliano, Lazzaroni (who dispute ILLVA’s claim to the story of the origins of amaretto) and Zuidam, though there are many others.

If you like Disaronno, as I do, it’s definitely worth seeking out and trying other brands.

You can also find many less expensive own-label amaretto liqueurs including Arino Amaretto from Morrison’s, Armilar Amaretto from Lidl, Belluci Amaretto from Aldi (which seems to be the cheapest), Soiree Amaretto from Asda and Sainsbury’s and Bella Veroni Amaretto from Tesco, which is available in standard and espresso versions.

If you’re worried how to use up the rest of a bottle, it’s lovely served after dinner over ice and it’s also a superb liqueur to use for making tiramisu.

 

Quick & Easy Chocolate, Amaretto & Amaretti Ice Cream

Ingredients:
500 grams fresh chocolate custard (I used Waitrose Seriously Creamy Belgian Chocolate Custard)
4-5 amaretti biscuits, crushed
3-4 tablespoons amaretto liqueur (I used Tesco’s Bella Veroni espresso version)
To serve:
1-2 amaretti biscuits, crushed

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Method:

  • Pour the custard directly into your ice cream machine and add the amaretto liqueur immediately.

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  • When the ice cream is nearly frozen, add 4-5 crushed amaretti biscuits.

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  • To serve, sprinkle additional crushed amaretti biscuits over the top.

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As you can see, this recipe is so quick that it really takes only as long as your ice cream machine takes to churn and freeze it!

The flavours and textures work very well. The crushed biscuits within the ice cream soften a little on exposure to the liquid, whereas the ones sprinkled over the top before serving give more crunch.

Try other variations by combining your favourite liqueurs with either a chocolate or vanilla custard base. I like using fresh, but long life custards do work too, and have the advantage of allowing you to make a stock cupboard ice cream dessert at very short notice – as long as you keep a few cartons of custard in your cupboard!

IceCreamChallenge

This is my entry for December’s BSFIC.

 

Earlier this year, Valrhona released what they’re calling the fourth chocolate (after dark, milk and white) and that is blond chocolate.

They’ve named it Dulcey, though I can’t tell you how that’s pronounced. At the London-based launch event, some Valrhona staff pronounced it with a soft “s” and others with a hard “ch“. “Dulsey” or “Dulchi“, take your pick.

Dulcey-1951

Although home cooks and dessert chefs have been caramelising white chocolate for many years, Valrhona seem to be taking credit for inventing it, and even trot out the unlikely story of it being an accidental discovery on the part of a Valrhona chocolatier who forgot some white chocolate in an oven for a few hours. Who knows for certain, but came over as pure marketing story-weaving!

Regardless of the true origins, it’s definitely a fascinating product.

The sweet, butterscotch fudge flavours are reminiscent of childhood confectionery Caramac, though a side by side comparison by a friend makes it abundantly clear that the two products are nothing alike. As we all agreed, Caramac tastes of sugar and cheap fat, with a slightly grainy texture. Dulcey is silky smooth, with a far richer, more complex and delicious flavour.

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You could eat it on its own, if you have a sweet tooth. It’ll probably appeal more to fans of white chocolate than dark, of course. However, where it comes into its own is as an ingredient for desserts. At the launch, we tried a range of dainty treats such as panna cottas, tarts and chocolate truffles, all showcasing the Dulcey and all very good.

Leaving the launch, we were given a small sample to take home. Going through ideas for recipes, I considered making Cookies of Dreams, chocolate ice cream or a chocolate fondue, all of which I think would work very well.

In the end, I decided to make some quick and simple hot chocolate.

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Caramelised White Hot Chocolate

Serves 2

Ingredients
40 grams of caramelised white chocolate
500 ml milk, whole, semi or skimmed as you prefer

Note: If you can’t readily find Valrhona Dulcey, you can caramelise white chocolate at home. Here’s a handy YouTube tutorial.

Method

  • Heat the milk to just below boiling point. I used a microwave, but you could also use a small saucepan over a medium heat.
  • Whilst the milk is heating, break the chocolate into small pieces.
  • Remove the milk from the heat, add the chocolate and stir until all the chocolate is melted and completely combined.
  • Pour into mugs and serve.

Of course, this is the same way I make dark hot chocolate too, and you can ring the changes by making this with the many great flavoured chocolates available such as Green & Black’s Maya Gold, which works really well.

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