The Encyclopedia of Herbs, Spices, & Flavorings

24 05 2012

Hi Chums,

It has been rather a while since I last recommended a book to the World at large ,that would be you lot by the way.

In the main this is because I have been far too busy working on my own cookery book which will be launching rather soon. Hint Hint…

As such it is rather fitting that the book I am all in a lather about is one that dovetails nicely with my own.
The Encyclopedia of Herbs, Spices, & Flavorings 

The Encyclopedia of Herbs, Spices, & Flavorings

Here is what those nice chaps over at Amazon have to say about it:

“An illustrated sourcebook to these all-important cooking ingredients includes information on more than two hundred herbs, spices, essences, edible flowers and leaves, aromatics, vinegars, oils, teas, and coffees”

I on the other hand will stick to simply issuing an instruction –

IF YOU COOK  AND DON’T OWN A COPY GO AND BUY ONE. NOW.

Not quite Wordsworth but hopefully the point comes across. I very rarely encounter anything that I look at and think wow this is something which everyone should own. However on this occasion I really am that impressed.

Not only are they lots of high quality pictures, excellent descriptions of various herbs, spices and flavourings and their uses but there are also over 200 recipes so you can leap straight in and start applying all this new-found knowledge.





Chimay Bleue – 9% Trappist Ale

25 07 2011

Brewed by Trappist monks in Belgium; Chimay Bleue is for many people the definitive Trappist ale.

At 9% it is the strongest of the three Chimay offerings, four if you manage to get your hands on their Patersbier and the one most frequently seen in pubs and off licences world over.

Like all of the Trappist beers Chimay Bleue is sold solely in order to fund the monastery and to help promote it’s good works….all the more reason to keep drinking!

A quick word of warning, the strength of Bleue is very, very well masked with very little alcoholic taste evident, as such it is quite possible to forget it is 9% and end up really quite drunk 😉

In terms of appearance Bleue is a coppery red/brown with a thinnish off-white head which dissipates quite quickly. It is typically a clear beer but I have had a couple of bottles that were quite cloudy, either way the taste wasn’t affected and that is the main thing!

A lovely sweet and fruity aroma is present upon pouring, it really puts me in mind of Demerara sugar and really plump, juicy raisins or sultanas….mmm heaven

The taste is just great, it really is, for such a strong beer it is surprisingly sweet and well-balanced. Early on you get a malty sweetness with a slight hint of spiciness creeping in, next you get the fruits hinted at in the aroma – again we are looking at dark dried fruits and even a hint of plums or damsons.

There is a nice finish to the beer with just a hint of bitterness beginning to edge in, this isn’t unpleasant in any way and actually serves to perfectly cut through the sweetness and richness of the fruit before it becomes overwhelming or cloying and gives a nice refreshing element which leaves you craving the next sip.

There are very few beers that I really finding myself longing for, sure I have personal favourites or beers that I can’t walk past without drinking but there are literally a handful of beers that I ever find myself craving….Chimay Bleue is one of that handful.

5/5





Cottage Delight – Very Hot Cajun Sauce

22 05 2011

Cottage Delight are a UK-based speciality foods company manufacturing a range of snacks, preserves and sauces including several different hot sauces. Our local supermarket is stocking 4 of their hot sauces at the moment but as I have quite a few sauces on the go and even more on order I decided to limit myself to just one.

The sauce that I have sat in front of me is their Very Hot Cajun Sauce which is a scotch bonnet and habanero based concoction, according to Cottage Delight’s website this is the second hottest sauce that they manufacture; second only to their Seriously Hot Carribean Sauce.

I have never tried any of Cottage Delight’s products before and I will be interested to see what exactly about this sauce makes it in any way Cajun.

The sauce is a really attractive yellow/orange colour with a liberal smattering of bright red flecks of chilli, some chilli seeds and a few specks of spice. There is a really good medium consistency that allows ease of pouring yet is still thick enough to coat food well.

The aroma of the sauce is really appealing, there is a really a great fruity kick from the Habaneros and Scotch Bonnets, there is a slight hint of spice and a nice tartness that just balances everything out…my attention has been well and truly grabbed!

In terms of the level of heat I would have to say it is actually pretty good. Sure for most chile heads it wont be Earth shattering but there is more than enough kick to make you sit up and take notice.

In comparison to most other sauces that you would find in your local supermarket this is a real cracker, great taste and a decent heat level that will leave you wanting more.

4/5





Make your own Mulled Wine

15 12 2010

What is more festive than a warming glass of hot mulled wine?  With its heady mix of fruit and spices it is quite literally Christmas in a glass.

I know that a lot of people buy those prepared bags of spice mix that you can get in the supermarket and they are all very well and good but once you have made your own mulled wine from scratch you will never even think of going back to the pre-made sachets or bags.

Ingredients:

75 cl bottle cabernet sauvignon red wine

75 cl bottle of port

25 cl apple cider

1 orange

12 cloves

2 clementines

3 lemons

6 tbsp honey

1 cinnamon stick

2 tsp ground ginger

3 fresh bay leaves

1 vanilla pod

2 star anise

1 whole nutmeg

2 measures of brandy/cognac – optional

Method:

This really couldn’t be any easier to make;

Take the orange and stud it with the cloves and chop the clementines and two of the lemons into slices, this can be done in advance

Add the port and the wine to a large saucepan and pour in the honey, cider and brandy, if you are using it, along with 2 pints of water. Give everything a good stir and pop the saucepan over a low heat to simmer.

Zest the remaining lemon and squeeze in half of the juice

Grate approx 1/3 of the nutmeg into the pan

Split the vanilla pod in two and  add to the pan along with the sliced fruit and the rest of the dry ingredients.

Allow to simmer for at least 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Do not let the mulled wine boil or you will cook off all of the alcohol.

Serve warm in 1/2 pint mugs





Spontaneous Combustion Hot Sauce

13 12 2010

I decided to buy an early Christmas present for my uncle who loves chillies and all things chilli related; needless to say he was pleased as punch upon opening the completely over the top packaging and finding a bottle of Spontaneous Combustion Hot Sauce.

So pleased was he with this unexpected gift that he decided to call me up and taste it over the phone, we are a strange strange family. Well I listened to him describe the box and the label to me – they both feature the same set of lips and teeth with a raging inferno on the tongue.

Next up I got to hear him open the seal on the bottle and tell me he was going to have a sniff of it, I heard him take a big big sniff and then proclaim that it smelt vaguely like something Satan had excreted…

Having come this far he couldn’t back out now and decided to try a drop direct onto his tongue, the first thing he said was mmm I can taste fruity peppers and garlic, the next thing he said was OUCH and heard the phone drop whilst he retreated for a stiff drink of milk.

Once he had recovered sufficiently to speak I was informed that too much more of this and he would need to start refrigerating toilet paper.

Boy oh boy did I laugh…

Well that was 3 weeks ago and since that point I have made the arduous journey across the Irish Sea and been to visit said uncle for some much needed R&R. After hearing his amateur dramatics over the phone I had to see for my self just what this bad boy was like….

On looking down the short list of ingredients I see that we are dealing with a predominately Habanero based sauce with some always welcome capsicum extract making an appearance as well, this certainly adds some weight to the advertised Scoville rating of about 400/500,000 – not too shabby.

After having the aroma of this sauce described to me in such a colourful fashion I decided to follow in my uncle’s footsteps and took a honking great snoutfull, you can smell the Habanero, the garlic and a bit of vinegar quite clearly, there is a certain element of heat that you can pick up but nothing to warrant previous histrionics.

Well the time has come to move onto having a taste, now bearing in mind that I heard a grown man reduced to tears I was expecting to have the skin peeled off my face with atomic fury.

I started off by trying a small amount on a teaspoon, much like my uncle I could taste nice fruity habs and some garlic without too much initial heat, after a few seconds I could start to feel some heating coming in and their was a nice kick to it but not really enough to get the blood pumping.

So  I decided to up the ante a little, I made myself one of my favourite treats cheese on toast with chilli sauce, each slice was given a good 7/8 drops of fiery red sauce and I chowed down; the flavour was beautiful, so much so that I will be buying several bottles of this for myself at home. The heat however was still lacklustre, it was there and you could feel it but I just want more bang for my buck.

In terms of an everyday table sauce I think I would be hard pressed to find anything with a better taste; in my opinion this kicks Tabasco straight out of the cupboard and jumps up and down on it in hobnailed boots, it doesn’t just take its place it builds a little fort and sits there looking smug.

Oh and my uncle is a cry baby…





Abbot Ale – 5% English Ale

13 12 2010

Abbot Ale is Greene King’s flagship beer and is also one of the first real ales that I ever had the pleasure of trying back in the day.

As such it is probably a little surprising that it has taken me quite so long to work my way round to writing a review on this particular beer.

I guess the biggest reason is that of choice; there are so many other beers out there and I am so keen to try them all (ambitious I know!) that if I am out in the pub I will drink pretty much anything before I consider heading for an Abbot, likewise if I am in an off-license there are literally hundreds of bottles that would come home with me first.

First things first let me state that this is a cask pint from the Hamilton Hall at Liverpool Street Station. It is NOT – note the capital letters –  from one of these cans with a widget in. I don’t really like most ales in a can and Abbot is no exception.

When poured properly, not like my first pint that was slopped into the glass whilst the barmaid was chatting to her friend, you should see a clear golden/amber pint with a decent white head of about 2 fingers width which slowly fades away to a thin layer which stays throughout.

You can quite clearly make out the smell of malts, some fruity sweetness and a touch of hops but everything is fairly muted with no one aroma standing out from the crowd.

The first flavour that really hits you is a sweet toasted maltiness but before that can start to seem a bit too much you get the hops kicking in, there are some floral notes and a slight Earthiness – some have even said it seems a bit skunky on occasion. After the hops have started to recede a little you get the bitterness of the beer coming through along with a slight hint of citrus/orange  as well.

The flavours in Abbot ale are all quite crisp, strong and well-defined the only slight issue that I have is that everything is a little bit mish-mash and all over the shop, for example there is a fairly distinct cinder toffee note that you get right towards the end of the beer and because there is nothing around to balance it or cut through it you are left with a slightly burnt after taste. Not unpleasant by any standards but possibly a little disconcerting to some.

I have an old friend who always accuses me of being more complementary of Abbot Ale than I should be as a result of it being one of my first real ales. He might have a point but then again sod him,  there is something to be said for flavours or smells that take us back to a certain time or place and if Abbot Ale does that for me then so be it!

When all is said and done I still  have my original problem with Abbot; it is a good beer, there is nothing about it that is unpleasant or even less than pleasing but it isn’t a great beer – I wouldn’t ask for a pint to be bought to me on my death-bed.

If you are looking for a good example of an English Ale than Abbot will see you just fine but there are better beers to be had.

4.0/5





Fuller’s London Porter 5.4%

5 12 2010

Fairly recently I wrote a review on Fuller’s London Pride (here) today I turn my attention to another beer from the London based brewery; Fuller’s London Porter.

I’m not going to prattle on at length about the history and origins of porter – trust me I can if you want 😉 but it is great to see a London brewery still leads the way in producing what I and many others deem to be the gold standard of porters.

Ok so where to begin, well it pours very dark brown, not black close enough, there is a slight ruby sheen to a pint if held up directly to the light. The head is egg-shell white and settles out at around 2 fingers, the head fades away a fair bit but leaves a load of lacing on the glass.

In terms of aroma you can quite clearly make out roasted malt, some bitter coffee notes and a hint of toffee or caramel, there is also a slight nuttiness and a hint of hops.

Taste is where Fuller’s have really won through on this one; everything you can pick up in the aroma of the porter is present and more.  The deep roasted malts come to the fore along with the coffee note and that toffee/caramel sweetness.

The chocolate from the roasted malt comes through in the after taste but in a subtle way, it is very much a supporting character in this porter as is the slightly nutty taste. There is a hint of fruitiness that you just about pick up in the background as well, if I had to try and pin it down I would go with raisins or sultanas with a tiny hit of vanilla creeping in as well.

All in all you come away with a rich complex taste that for me ticks all the right boxes, it is rich and malty, slightly sweet and fruity with an underlying bitterness that is refreshing and cuts through the richness which otherwise might be a tad cloying.

In terms of mouthfeel there is only really one word to describe this porter: smooth. In face we are going beyond smooth we are talking baby’s bottoms or the finest velvet gliding across your tongue  – ok well maybe not baby’s bottoms but you get the picture.

A lot of people far more worthy than I have waxed lyrical about Fuller’s London Porter and have even gone so far as to vote it the World’s best porter on several occasions. I don’t often like to follow crowds or ride along with popular opinion but on this occasion I can’t really disagree with any degree of conviction.

There might be better porters out there but if there are I certainly haven’t found them.

5/5





Mr Naga Hot Pepper Pickle

28 11 2010

 I first came across Mr Naga Hot Pepper Pickle in the UK about 2 years ago.

Now I love hot sauces, pickles and indeed anything that is heavy on the chillies. In particular I am a huge fan of the dreaded Naga which holds the rather awesome title of world’s hottest chilli pepper. So on seeing that they feature as the main star of the show in this pickle I had to have a try.

 Just to give you an idea of what we are dealnig with here is the list of ingredients that those crazy Bangladeshis have blended together:

Hot Pepper – Naga Morich 70%, Salt, Vinegar, Vegetable Oil, Paprika, Mixed Spices.

Yup that’s right 70% Naga Morich that’s a lot of heat however you look at it!

Whilst this is very obviously not a beer I have decided to treat it the same way as my drink of choice and will be looking at roughly the same qualities of aroma, appearance, taste and mouthfeel.

So let’s get started on the aroma that you get upon opening the jar; you could be forgiven for opening this jar at arms length with a grimace on your face expecting to have the full atomic nature of the Naga Morich melt your nose clean off your face. Luckily you would be wrong.

You can certainly notice that the Nagas are lurking in there somewhere but the most prominent smell is that of a slightly sweet curry well rounded curry with a hint of fruitiness. Rather enticing really.

In terms of looks Mr Naga is not going to be winning any beauty pagents, it has a brown sludgy colour to it but the large amount of seeds on view should hint at some form of chilli being present (just in case you hadn’t guessed from the name and label). In terms of texture it is not dissimilar to homemade harissa if you were to leave the seeds in the chillies (I always leave the seeds in).  All in all not that attractive but at the sametime we are eating it not marrying it.

In terms of taste and flavour this stuff is the mutts nutts. The spicing isn’t overwhelming and the strong vingear taste you get in a lot of pickles doesn’t really come through until the finish. The star of the show is exactly what it should be – the chillies, you really get the fruitiness of the Naga Morich shining through strong.

Ok and now for the fun part; the heat.

This pickle is pretty damn hot, but surprisingly isn’t completely overwhelming. You know it is there and you can feel the burn at the back of your mouth and on your lips but you need to have quite a bit before you find yourself sobbing like a baby.

I really enjoyed this pickle a lot, it is hot but not so crazy as to mean that you can’t enjoy it with food. I found this pickle to be pretty much my favourite accompaniment to cheese of all things!

If you like fire and flavour pick this up, two jars if you can!





Greene King Harvest Ale

24 11 2010

Harvest ale was one of several seasonal ales released by Greene King.

I say was as unfortunately Harvest Ale is now “retired” and is increasingly difficult to find.

The aroma is rather pleasant with predominately malty tones and a hint of dried fruit creeping in.

In terms of appearance Harvest pours to a very dark brown – imagine coca cola almost with a thin beige head which lasts reasonably well.

Harvest is quite sweet but it isn’t sickly there is a nice dark malty taste with elements of raisins and a nice hint of red berries which carries through to the finish adding a slight element of sharpness which helps to cut through the sweetness.

Considering that Harvest is a mere 3% ABV it is surprising that there is as much body as there is, it is nicely rounded  with a fairly soft carbonation.

All in all I always found Harvest Ale to be a really good example of a brown ale and thought it was a damn shame when GK decided to retire it, especially when you compare it to some of their recent offerings!

4.2/5





Make your own chili powder

23 11 2010

A number of years ago I found myself getting increasingly fed up with shop bought chili powder.

Unless you go to a specialist shop it is just not a particularly good product; some chili powders have no heat what so ever even if they are labelled as being hot, some have no flavour to them at all and many of them are adulterated with colourants and additives which are just unneccessary.

So I started making my own, now I am able to have different blends or mixes made up ready for certain recipes and have complete control over what goes into my chili powders, their flavours and levels of heat.

You can also make rubs and seasoning blends in advance by mixing in the required herbs and seeds.

Because I tend to get through quite a lot of chili powder I make fairly large batches at any one point but you can make as much or as little as you wish.

You will need to ensure that you are using dried chilies or if not you are going to end up with a paste as opposed to a powder.

If you aren’t able to find the variety of chili that you want in a dried form you can but them fresh and dry them yourself, or even better grow your own chilies.

In order to dry your chilies you will need to remove the stems and the seeds from the chili and flatten out the pieces.

Place these onto a dry baking sheet and bake in the oven for about 5 or 6 minutes before checking them. Smaller less fleshy pieces will dry out quicker and can be removed before returning the larger pieces to the oven for a further 5 minutes.

Once all of the pieces of chili are nice and crisp break them into  smaller section and pop them in a blender or better yet a spice grinder, pulse the chilies for afew seconds until you are left with a powder.

Hopefully you will notice that the colour of your chili powder is far deeper and that the aroma and flavour are far stronger and less artificial.

Store your chili powder  out of direct sunlight in a glass jar with a tight fitting lid.








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