Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Christmas Leftovers

Christmas Day is my favourite day of the year and Christmas dinner is my favourite meal of the year. My best food-day of the year is Boxing Day, when the piles of leftovers (which we were sickened to look at the day before) become glorious mountains of unlimited joy.

King is the Christmas Leftover Sandwich (I capitilise it because it deserves it). It needs bread, thick slices of turkey, stuffing, a sausage wrapped in bacon, a potato if you have any left and then something sweet and lubricating like a good chutney. That is food perfection. So far I’ve had five of these.

The leftover hash comes second on the hierarchy in my opinion: squishing all the uneaten veg together and then frying it until it’s crispy on the outside. What a delight.

This year I made main and dessert from leftovers.

Christmas Risotto (aka Turkey, Stilton and Cranberry Risotto)

There is always always always turkey and stilton in the fridge in the days after Christmas. This is a good thing. The addition of cranberries is for a festive sweetness which perfectly eases through the richness of the cheese and rice.

This serves 2

  • Chicken or vegetable stock – 1 pint, maybe a little more
  • 1 large white onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • Arborio rice – 150-175g, more if you’re ravishingly hungry
  • White wine – a splosh if you have it, it isn’t essential
  • Turkey – cooked and chopped/torn into small pieces
  • Stilton, or any blue cheese – 100g, or so
  • Dried cranberries – a handful, chopped
  • Peas – a handful per person
  • Butter and olive oil – a knob and a drizzle
  • Sage and/or rosemary leaves, finely chopped (no woody stalk)
  • Sea salt and black pepper
In a deep pan, sweat the onion and garlic in butter and oil until soft, then add the sage and/or rosemary leaves and stir through for a minute. Add the rice and coat in the sweet buttery-oil juices.

In another pan you will want your stock slowly warming. Add the turkey to the stock. When the rice starts to snap, crackle and pop add the wine. If you are not adding wine then go straight to the stock, adding a ladle-full at a time and being careful to keep the turkey from falling onto the rice (we add that later, you see). Keep adding the stock, bit by bit, as the rice sucks it all up. After 10 minutes add the peas and cranberries. Add more stock until the rice is cooked (it should be soft but still have an ever-so-slight nutty ‘bite’ in the middle).

Add the cheese (and some more butter, if you like) and the turkey from the stock and cover the pan, leaving it to rest for a minute or two, in this time the cheese will melt and ooze its wonderfulness throughout. Adjust the seasoning and serve in a deep bowl with more blue cheese crumbled over the top.

I would serve Innis & Gunn Triple Matured with this, like I did with Christmas dinner, as the creaminess in the dish would work well with the buttery oak in the bottle, while the sweet bites of cranberry would compliment the beer’s sweetness. If you want something different then try Cains Fine Raisin Beer for a strong malty backbone with a kick of sweetness, or maybe a bottle of Old Crafty Hen which is oaky, rich, vinous with dried fruit sweetness and a hoppy, palate-cleansing swipe to finish.

Main course done, on to dessert and…

Christmas Pudding Ice-Cream

There’s always pudding left and there’s always cream in the fridge, plus I always keep a few cans of condensed milk ready for whenever I want to make ice cream. This is a joyfully fun recipe and the perfect way to use up any leftover pudding.

An ice-cream maker is one of the best kitchen appliances there is, it goes from nought-to-frozen in just 30 minutes, and those minutes are spent huddled around the mixing bowl, mesmerised by the unending twirls of joy and the gradual thickening of the cream. As the churn finishes, it takes all the willpower in the world not to plunge a spoon straight in and finish off the whole lot, especially as it has that just-beginning-to-soften texture that is simply irresistible. If you haven’t got an ice-cream machine then go and get one in the sales.

This makes about a litre but can easily be increased with more cream and condensed milk.
  • Leftover Christmas pud
  • A pint of double cream
  • A can of condensed milk
  • A splash of brandy (50ml, or so)

This recipe is so easy. Mix the cream and condensed milk, add a slash of brandy and drop in chunks of Christmas Pud and then churn in an ice-cream machine. Done.

Do you want a beer with this?! If you do then you’ll need something big and strong, rich and full of flavour. An Imperial Stout would work, preferably a barrel aged one. Brakspear’s Triple is another possibility or maybe a bottle of Guinness Foreign Extra. Dare I suggest that you’d be better off enjoying the ice-cream and then opening a beer? Some dishes just don’t need a beer to go with them.

And that’s how I dealt with the Christmas Day leftovers this year.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Christmas Beer: The Results

The BrewDog Coffee Imperial Stout was one of the very best beers I’ve had this year. Seriously good. Thick and luscious, rich and strong and big on the roasted coffee bitterness. It was the perfect start to the day, and just so happened to work perfectly with milk chocolate pennies.

As billed, the Bad Pixie came next as was the perfect follow-on from the big stout – light, zingy, refreshing. Next was a bottle of Cantillon Kriek 100% Lambic. Electric red with a sharply sour nose of citrus, lemons, leather, cleaning chemicals and just a welcome whiff of cherry. The flavour was just the same, all big and sharp but tongue-smacking and drinkable – perfect for getting the tastebuds going. Curious Brew’s Brut landed just before the starter and it was fantastic: light and delicate, as quaffable as they come; a real treat of a beer.

The headline act - the star with top billing and the best action scene - was Innis & Gunn’s Triple Matured, and it was the perfect partner to the turkey. I was delighted with how well this pairing went. The buttery richness of the oak, the big fruitiness, the slight sharpness, an earthy, spicy quality all combined stunningly well. The food enhanced the beer; the beer enhanced the food. That’s what a good match-up should do.

I finished the afternoon opening more presents, so I decided to open a little package of my own from the beer cupboard: Fuller’s Brewer’s Reserve. Bottle number 11255. A deep russet brown with thick head. Big buttery nose with boozy oranges and sweet candy. Loads of toffee and bready malt inside, then oak comes and adds a woody sweetness. The whisky warms throughout, surrounded by plenty of fruit and a hint of cherry brandy. There’s hops at the end too, more fruits and more orange. Gorgeous and I think it’s going to get better and better over the years.

There was more in the evening, but to tell you the truth I don’t remember exactly what. I know there was a can (shock! A can?!) of Mild in there and I’m pretty sure I met with my old friend Sam Smith… It was a good day.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Beer for Christmas

If ever there was a day when it’s acceptable to open a beer with breakfast and drink through until bedtime, then it’s Christmas Day. A day of infinite giving, kindness and fun. A day of presents, laughter and too much food. A day to indulge in a lot of great beers.

But what beers?!

This year I’ll be drinking some of the beers that I’ve loved in 2008. I’ll have them spread out over the day, leading me up to dinner and then taking me into the night. I want different types of beers at different times. Something special to start the day, something gluggable and quenching while I cook, something light before I eat to get my taste buds tingling, something rich and dark while I settle down after dinner. And sharing is good – don’t be a beer scrooge because you’ll only regret it in the end. Plus, you’ll be able to drink twice the variety, should you want to.

Last year’s Christmas went like this… Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout for breakfast, Fuller’s Discovery pre-dinner and with the starter, Kwak with the turkey and McEwan’s Champion with the pudding. I can’t remember what saw me through the rest of the day.

This year will go something like this…

To start, and to take the blunt edges off of Christmas Eve’s hangover (it’s inevitable) I’m starting with breakfast. Beer Geek’s Breakfast by Mikkeller, BrewDog’s Riptide or their Coffee Imperial Stout. I’m bypassing the coffee and have a dark, strong beer instead. Plus, beer is food.

Something lighter will need to follow or I’ll be sozzled by dinner time. It’ll be another BrewDog I think. I’ve still got some of their prototype beers around and the Bad Pixie will be perfect. Light, biscuity grain finished with a tang of juniper and lemon – an elegant G&T finish to a beer.

I’ll probably be in the kitchen when I start and finish this and it’ll be followed by another light beer, something to have on the side as I baste the bird or chop the veggies. Maybe a lambic to give me a smack of bittersweetness: there’s nothing like a lambic to limber up your taste buds.

I’ll be approaching the table when the next bottle is cracked open. I’m starting the meal with a glass of Curious Brew’s Brut. A champagne-style beer brewed a short drive from my house in Kent. It’s a gorgeous beer, all creamy and light, and it leads perfectly into the turkey.

The main course is the big choice. The one which I’ve had to think hardest about. It’s a tough one as there’s so much flavour on the plate: meat, crispy potatoes, sweetly-earthy veg, salty pig-stuff, herby stuffing, a rich gravy. The beer has to be strong enough to stand up to it all, but not so strong that it overwhelms. You need dark fruits, but not too dark and bitter, and certainly not chocolatey. Some sharpness is very welcome to ease through the richness of it all. My choice will be Innis & Gunn’s Triple Matured. It’s full of flavour, there’s buttery oak and tangy autumn fruits (perfect partners to turkey), there’s also something vegetal about it and even a hint of spice. It’s a deep copper colour and at 7.7% ABV it stands tall. The mouthfeel is smooth, the finish long and the fruit will cut the richness nicely. I think it’ll be a great pairing. Plus it’s a limited edition beer, so something special for the feast.

Last year I had a beer with the Christmas pudding, but to be honest I was so full from the food that it was all a bit of a struggle. This year I’ll save the next beer for afterwards, and this’ll be a good one. I’ve got a few bottles of Fuller’s Brewer’s Reserve in the cupboard so that’s on the ‘maybe’ list along with a few vintages or an imperial stout. I want something that I can sip, something big and strong and interesting. Something to perfectly finish off my favourite meal of the year.

Then I’ll need to start chilling the beers for the evening… I’ve got plenty lined up, but have no idea what’ll actually get drunk. It’s inevitable that a big BrewDog IPA will be in there, a Chaos Theory or a Hardcore. And I doubt I’ll last the day without at least one American beer. Maybe santa will even bring me some more, to make my choice even wider and more exciting!

I love Christmas.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Harder, Faster, Bigger, Better… Double my IPA!

Our tastes change and develop. And because taste is subjective, everyone is different. My favourite cheese used to be a mature cheddar, now I want the mouldiest, stinkiest, creamiest blue I can find. A few years ago a sprinkle of curry powder was too much, now I want whole chillis, freshly ground spices and I want my mouth to tingle. I started drinking my coffee with ½ a heap of granules plus two of sugar, now it’s no sugar and three times the coffee. Booze too: Malibu and coke is now bourbon and ice; beer was lager; white wine was mixed with lemonade; Guinness started with a dash of blackcurrant to soften the roast bitterness…

But what is common about all these?!

The more we have them, the more we want them as we ‘acquire’ the taste. These acquired tastes are for those things which are unnatural to our palettes: spicy foods, dark chocolate, salty oysters. To begin we have sweet chilli sauce, milk or white chocolate, fish fingers…

But tastes change.

I got into beer by drinking lager-pop. I’d have bitter shandies. I eased into Guinness, with a shot of blackcurrant cordial. I started on ales by having smoother, sweeter dark beers, and for the last few years it has been these dark beers that I have regularly leaned towards. I love them for their richness, the sweetness, the flavour of the grain, the taste of autumn fruit, dried fruit, caramel, chocolate or coffee. I preferred them for their relative lack of hop bitterness. And I was always searching for bigger and stronger beers, winter warmer’s, barley wines, Belgian triple’s, anything black and imperial. I was a malt monster.

But my taste is changing.

It seems there are two growing divisions in the beer world. These aren’t divisions away from each other, rather two interweaving and developing trends. Both are towards the extremes of flavour; one is for IPAs and the other for stouts. These new imperial or double IPAs are mega-hopped and massively bitter; the imperial stouts are thick, strong beasts, often aged in some-kind-of barrel to impart bourbon/oak characteristics. You just have to look on Beer Advocate at the best rated beers in the world right now to see this, and the trend seems to be growing. It started in America as they brought older styles to modern drinking.

We all know the history of IPA, which was shipped from England to India with added strength and hops to stop it going off on the boat trip. While (imperial) stouts have a similar-ish background, being brewed in London in the 18th century and transported to Russian Czars. For this reason it had to be extra-strong and well-hopped to survive the distance and the extreme cold. The styles have been around ever since, but it’s only in the last years that they have become the phenomenas that they are. Any why? Because tastes change.

In beer, the change has come as drinkers want ‘more’. More booze, more grain, more hops, more character, more flavour, more extremes, more history, more age, more more more. It’s the IPAs which have really piqued my interest of late. IPAs never really did it for me. That was until I tried BrewDog’s Punk IPA (available in Tesco’s – a perfect modern IPA) and their Chaos Theory (simply amazing and currently available on their website, but hurry!). After these the malt monster in me transformed into a hop-headed thrill-seeker.

The bitterness in these beer is high, but that’s what makes them so awesome. They have a supreme drinkability which makes you want to go back for more and more. In the mouth you get the sweet caramel grain then the hops flood in and ambush your palate, making the saliva glands gush, as the tropical fruits, citrus and pine flavours come through. It’s intoxicating what a few extra hops can do to you. For me, they work because the beer develops in layers: massive malt (it has to be massive to attain the extra higher ABVs) followed by the wave of juicy hops. The reason the ‘best beers’ are the ‘best beers’ is because they are so well balanced. It’s easy to go extreme on a beer, but it’s surely much harder to make it good. The same applies to food. Look at the top chefs in the world and their food – it challenges what we think we know about eating and food combinations, but it works because of the chef’s skill and supreme palate make it work.

I find it fascinating how our taste buds change, especially with stronger flavours. Blue cheese, slippery-salty oysters and coffee are foods which take some getting used to. The same applies to stronger, bigger beers. And the limits are always being pushed. Sam Adams’ Utopia is brewed at around 27% (it’s a beer!). Your ‘standard’ imperial stout now comes in at around 10% and if it isn’t aged in a bourbon barrel for extra complexity then why bother? And where a mass-produced lager may have 5-20 IBUs (International Bitterness Units – the scale of measuring a beer’s bitterness) and English bitter 20-40 IBUs, there are some double IPAs which measure in at 120 IBUs and beyond! That’s enough to make your taste buds explode!!

Barrel-aged stouts are incredibly exciting and complex and they are brilliant to sit down with on a cold night, swirl around a snifter and sip for while. It’s sophisticated, it’s smooth, rich in flavour, it’ll make you think about the world, think about the barrel it came from, the history that it has. But a double IPA is like a rollercoaster ride with ups and downs and twists and turns. It’s fresh, fun, intoxicating and exciting. It makes you want more and more as your taste for it develops. Who knows where it’ll go from here!

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Fish Finger Sandwich

I love sandwiches, they are maybe my favourite food group. And this is perhaps the best sandwich in the world. Although I do love peanut butter and jam, or a hot sausage sandwich, Christmas dinner leftover sandwich, ice cream sandwich…

Did you know that over 1 million fish fingers are eaten daily in Britain? And over 100 packs are sold in the UK each minute? In a poll in 1993, Captain Bird’s Eye came second in a list of the most recognised captains. Captain Cook was first. I don’t know which captain I would name first, but I know which one is my favourite, for without him we wouldn’t have fish fingers, potato waffles and chicken dippers, plus some other captain would’ve found the rest of the world eventually anyway.

Whether it is day or night, if I am happy or sad, alone or with friends, drunk or sober – these are when I want a fish finger sandwich. It is just the simplest thing to make, but the combination in textures between the fluffy bread, crunchy golden crumb and soft, hot fish is unbeatable.

A fish finger sandwich technically only needs bread and the fingers (at least 4 per 2 slices of bread) to qualify it as such. The bread can, of course, be brown or white, freshly baked or shop bought. The fish finger can be any brand you like, and you could even make your own but this feels completely frivilous. At university, my housemate and I used to marvel at the supermarket value options because each finger cost just 2p, although the actual ‘fish’ content is a little hazy and the texture a little cardboardy, so look towards the big name brands – don’t spare any expense here! The choice of condiment is yours too: Red, brown, spicy, sweet, creamy, anything you like. And the addition of some ‘green stuff’ is discretionary (adding cucumber would be a crime, but some crisp iceberg lettuce is fine). And a slice of plastic cheese is often very welcome.

My perfect fish finger sandwich goes a little something like this…

· 2 thick slices of white bread
· 4 fish fingers, at least
· Butter, for the bread
· Ketchup, mayonnaise and sweet chilli sauce, a little of each
· Optional extras, depending on how I/you feel – crisp iceberg lettuce and a slice of cheese (burger cheese of course)

Grill the fish fingers until crispy and golden and the sweet juices begin to leak through the crumbed shell. Butter the bread and spread with as much of whatever condiment-combo you want. When the fingers are cooked, and still piping hot, place them lovingly on the bread, but be careful not to burn your fingers in greedy anticipation. Lay the other slice of bread on top, and press it together. This press is almost essential and I would state (without scientific backing) that it makes everything taste better – incidentally, this 'pressing rule' applies to any and all sandwiches. Cut in half and eat immediately, so that the butter melts and mixes with the sauce, driping out naughtily.

Should you want dessert, I suggest a Twix or 3 or 4 Jaffa Cakes.

With food that is eaten with the fingers, you need beer from the bottle. Your favourite bottled variety is best, something light and crisp. There really is no ‘ideal’ beer to go with a fish finger sandwich and to be honest it may be a little unnecessary drinking booze with a child-like dinner, but I would expressly suggest Anchor’s Liberty Ale or their Steam Beer. Or look towards some British beers, Meantime’s Pilsner is a winner, as is Whitstable Bay’s Pilsner or BrewDog's Physics. A glass of orange squash might be the most appropriate drink.