Brussel sprouts with leeks and bacon

28 12 2010

When it comes to enjoying brussel sprouts I am normally in the minority,

There is something about sprouts that just seems to put people off; now personally I think a lot of it comes down to two things – how fresh they are and how they are prepared.

There is a huge difference in taste between wonderfully fresh sprouts still on the stalk and those little wizened ones you buy in those nets or even worse frozen.

When really fresh sprouts have a wonderful sweet nuttiness to them that I would defy most people to find unpleasant.

Of course it doesn’t matter how fresh the sprouts are if you are just going to boil the life out of them and serve up a big dish full of soggy, mushy balls with all the taste and goodness boiled out of them.

I like to go off on a bit of a tangent with my brussel sprouts, especially if I am going to be serving them to people that claim not to like them I prepared this dish of sprouts with leeks and bacon to go along with Christmas dinner this year and it was  a huge success, even with non sprout eaters – you know who you are 😉

*If you want to make a vegetarian version of this dish you can leave out the bacon and crumble in a little bit of stilton about a minute  before serving*

Ingredients:

250g fresh Brussel Sprouts

150g Leeks

4/5 rashers of bacon

1/2 of a small onion

garlic salt

black pepper

olive oil

unsalted butter

Method:

Remove the outer leaves from the sprouts and make a small cross shaped incision on the base, this will allow for faster more even cooking

Clean the leeks and split down the centre before chopping into thin slices,peel and finely dice half an onion

Cook the sprouts in boiling water for about 3 1/2 – 4 minutes before refreshing by plunging into cold water. Now cook the leeks for just long enough for them to start to soften before draining and setting to one side.

Chop the bacon into small pieces and place to one side, now take the sprouts and slice them into quarters, if any of the sprouts are particularly large you may want to chop them into more pieces.

Fry the bacon in a little olive oil until it has just started to crisp at this point add in the chopped sprouts and a good knob of butter.

Cook the bacon and sprouts for around 3 minutes stirring regularly, add in the leeks, black pepper and garlic salt, stir through well and continue to heat for another 2 minutes or so until the leeks have warmed through.

Serve immediately.

 

 

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Butterbeer

23 12 2010

 I have messed around with the idea of making butterbeer quite a few times in the past, it has always seemed like quite a nice idea for a festive drink, particularly as I have more than a passing interest in historical English foods and beers.

 I have tried out several variations but in the end I settled pretty much on Heston Blumenthal’s recipe from one of his TV shows – Heston’s Christmas Feast if my memory serves.

I have made a couple of tiny little changes to the recipe but they are purely down to personal tastes. For starters Heston recommends using Old Speckled Hen; now whilst I have nothing against Old Speckled Hen I just find that it doesn’t sit right with me for this particular application.

My reasons for this are two-fold; firstly I would rather use something closer to what our Elizabethan ancestors would have had available and secondly and most importantly I don’t think it tastes quite right when mixed with the other ingredients.

Seeing as Heston’s recipe is pretty damn authentic I reckon the clash could come about because the other ingredients were supposed to work with a certain style of beer, I have seen other recipes make the suggestion that Fuller’s London Pride would work well but I am also not convinced that this would be the case, a pale ale just seems far too modern somehow.

Instead I have opted for an old ale, in this particular instance I am going to use Theakstons Old Peculier but feel free to go with whatever you want to use – I have in the past used Greene King Strong Suffolk to good effect.

One quick warning to any parents out there this is NOT a recipe for the drink of the same name in the Harry Potter series, there is very clearly alcohol in this recipe and as such is NOT intended for children to quaff whilst pretending to play quidditch.

That said you could always increase the heat in the early stages in order to cook off most of the alcohol, but where is the fun in that?

Ingredients

3 pints of “old Ale”

1 tsp ground ginger

½ tsp ground cloves

1 tsp ground nutmeg

120g caster sugar

5 egg yolks

20g unsalted butter

Method:

Pour the ale into a saucepan and stir in the ground ginger, cloves and nutmeg. Gently heat the mixture until it is warm, do not let it boil.

Cream together the egg yolks and caster sugar.

Once the ale is warm, add the egg yolk and sugar mixture, stirring constantly, until the liquid has started to thicken slightly. Be careful not to let the saucepan get too hot or the eggs will scramble.

After 2/3 minutes, remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the butter until it melts. Stir vigorously to make sure it is well incorporated with the other ingredients.

Serve immediately in 1/2 pints, if you want to get a frothy head you might want to use a small capuccino frother





Santa’s Sack Christmas Ale

16 12 2010

I had this recently as part of Wetherspoon’s selection of festive beers.

It is the last of Thwaites  “Signature Range” for 2010 and  having enjoyed several of the earlier offerings I was looking forward to an enjoyable pint.

My first impressions were pleasing as the pints that were set in front of me a really dark ruby red with a nice  thick foamy white head on them.

There was a fairly distinct aroma coming off  the beer which was a mixture between chocolate and what smelt like ovaltine, suggesting to me that there should be a really malty depth to the beer.

Well it turns out that looks can be deceiving, I led to believe I was going to be spirited away to a magical Dickensian Christmas  full of luxury and richness. Instead I was dragged on a 3 hour bus ride to Weston-Super-Mare, in the rain, with the windows open and the heater broken.

The predominant taste was that of cheap sugar and burnt toffee, none of the rich fruits, spices or chocolate notes that I would expect to get from a Christmas ale or winter warmer.

The body was so light as to be non-existent and if there was one that sticks out in my mind most about this pint it is wet.

I know that a number of people online have been raving about this beer but I just couldn’t bring myself to enjoy it. So much that I took my pint back unfinished as did my mate.

1/5





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





Mini Chicken & Beef Satay with Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce

29 11 2010

Continuing on with my selection of top party foods for the festive season I have decided to post my recipe for delicious mini chicken satay.

Obviously the satay marinade can be used with whatever you want but in this case I have chosen bite size pieces of chicken and beef so as to make the skewers easier to hold and eat.

These chicken and beef satay sticks are particularly good served with a spicy peanut dipping sauce for which I have also included my recipe.

I know that a lot of people like to include peanuts or peanut butter in the marinade itself but I prefer not to. Not only is this recipe better in my opinion but it is also safer for people with nut allergies as they can still enjoy the marinated skewers and can avoid the dipping sauce.

Satay:

12 skinless chicken thighs  or breasts cut into bite size cubes

1kg  flank steak cut into bite size cubes or thin strips

 Marinade:

250g lemongrass

2 shallots or 2 small onions

6 cloves garlic

4/5  fresh red chilies

4 inch piece of fresh ginger

2 tsp turmeric

4 Tbsp ground coriander

4 tsp cumin seeds

6 Tbsp dark soy sauce

8 Tbsp fish sauce

4 Tbsp sunflower or rapeseed oil

10  Tbsp brown sugar

Method:

Soak the wooden skewers in water over night so that they don’t burn, if using metal skewers this step is not needed.

Cut the chicken and beef into pieces and place into 2 separate bowls

Peel the onion/shallots,the garlic cloves and remove the woody section from the lemongrass.

Place all of the ingredients for the marinade into a food processor and blitz until everything is combined together and you have a suitable consistency for a marinade.

Try a little of the marinade to make sure that it tastes ok,  the main tastes you are looking for are salty and sweet with the chilli in the background. Adjust accordingly.

Pour equal amounts of the marinade over both the chicken and beef ensuring that all of the pieces are well coated.  Cover the bowls and leave to marinate for at least 1 hour ideally a whole day.

When you are ready to cook thread the meat onto the skewers ensuring that you leave space at the bottom of the skewer for them to be picked up.

Cook the meat under a hot grill or ideally on a BBQ.  Depending on the thickness of the meat used you will need to cook for between 10 and 20 minutes turning every 5 minutes or so.

If you have any left over marinade at the bottom of the bowls you can baste the skewers each time you turn them.

Serve immediately with the spicy peanut dipping sauce.

Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce:

225g sugar free smooth peanut butter

60ml rice wine vinegar

2 tbsp ponzu sauce / lime juice

1 1/2 tsp dark soy sauce

1 clove garlic

2 tbsp hot chilli sauce (or to taste)

1 1/2 tbsp brown sugar

1 tsp salt

60ml sesame oil

2tbsp water

Handful of peanuts to garnish

Method:

Place all ingredients into a food processor and blitz for a few seconds until you a sauce with a nice thick consistency.

Crush the whole peanuts and scatter over the sauce as a garnish along with a few red chilli flakes





Devilled Eggs

25 11 2010

Love it or hate  it the festive season is fast approaching.

One of the biggest headaches in the run up to Christmas and New Year (I refuse to say “The Holidays”) is what foods to serve guests, particularly if you are hosting a party.

Big heavy sit down dinners are all very well and good on Christmas day itself but for more laid back occasions it is often nicer to serve a selection of delicious finger foods – not to mention easier! As such over the coming days I am going to be publishing a selection of my favourite recipes for easy and delicious party food that everyone is going to love.

Devilled Eggs are surprisingly simple to make and cost very little money, not only that you don’t need cutlery to eat them and your vegetarian guests can enjoy them too (vegans not so much)

To make 24 servings you will need the following:

12 medium or large eggs

4 tbsp mayonnaise

4tbsp dijon mustard

1 spring onion

2 tsp cayenne pepper

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

Paprika

Some chives

Method:

First you need to hard boil your eggs,  when boiling eggs make sure that you take the eggs out of the fridge in advance and let them reach room temperature before adding them to the water.

Once the eggs are hard boiled and cool enough to handle you need to peel off the shell and cut the eggs in half lengthways.

Using a teaspoon remove the egg yolks and place to one side in a bowl.

Add the mayonnaise and dijon mustard to the egg yolks and mix until you have reached a smooth creamy consistency.

Very finely chop you spring onion and mix into your egg yolk mixture along with the cayenne pepper ensuring that it is well distributed throughout your mixture.

Season your mixture with salt and pepper to taste.

At this point you need to add your mixture to the egg whites; to do this you can either use a piping bag or you can fill them with a spoon.

To stop your eggs from sliding around on the plate you can place them on some fresh crisp lettuce leaves.

Using a sugar sifter sprinkle over a little of the paprika and finely chop some chives and scatter over as a garnish





Bah Humbug! 6.0% Christmas Ale

19 11 2010

 

As with many real ale breweries Wychwood have a range of seasonal beers that are released at different times of the year only to be spirited away again ready for the next in line.

As you can probably guess from the name and the rather Dickensian label Bah Humbug! is their Christmas Ale.

As usual top marks for the whimsical nature of the label, who better to feature on a beer called Bah Humbug! then Scrooge himself assailed by spirits.

Whilst on the subject of the label I am going to point out that this is the 6.0% version, it is my understanding that the bottles of Bah Humbug! on sale in the USA, Canada and elsewhere are a rather more ordinary 5.0% as such there might be some differences between my review and those of some of  my colonial cousins.

Disappointingly there is very little of an aroma from this beer, it does improve as it warms but even so there is just a generic spiciness a bit of malty sweetness and the slightest hint of fruit, I wasn’t expecting to have my nose blown off of my face but I would have liked a bit more oomph.

Bah Humbug! certainly looks the part when poured, it settles to a deep coppery amber colour that suggests a nice richness to the pint, the head is an off white colour and fades away rather quickly leaving very little if any lacing.

The taste of BH is pretty good, certainly a lot better than the previous seasonal ale I reviews – Rocking Rudolph, which tasted mostly of nothing.

There is a lot of sweet rich maltiness that is prevalent in the beer with a slight hint of honey coming from the maris otter malt that is used, there is a certain spiciness to it but you wouldn’t necessarily pin it down as being Cinnamon from the offset, it doesn’t really come through clearly until the finish. There are hints of butterscotch but in a nice way, certainly not in the sense of diacetyl.

You can pick up the note of banana in there as advertised but I couldn’t really get any of the fruity Christmas cake of mince pie flavours that I would have been expecting.

The finish to BH is surprisingly bitter with a slight hint of alcohol to it this balances out nicely with the sweet maltiness of the beer and works really well.

The one let down that I do have with Bah Humbug is that it is doesn’t really have as much body as I would look for in a winter warmer, it is a little thin and I would imagine that at the lower 5.0% ABV might be a bit wet.

Overall I think that Bah Humbug is a perfectly drinkable beer that has the right sort of flavours for this time of year but lacks the depth and body to really make it stand out as a Christmas Ale. Sure I will probably have one or two of these each year but it certainly won’t be at the top of my list to Father Christmas.

3.8/5








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