Monday, 31 October 2016

Marstons Burst Rate and Smoked Paprika Chilli

Marston's have gone and got themselves a nanobrewery set up and their Burst Rate Munich Pale Ale is the outcome. Only 600 pints have been made and they very kindly sent a mini keg in my direction after a call out on their Facebook page. So the logical thing was to develop ourselves a nice recipe that would match nicely with this smooth drinking 6.5%er.

The Munich in the description refers to the use of Munich malts which brings a distinctive but delicate malty flavour to this gentle Pale Ale. The use of, I think, English hops, means that it has less punch than its American IPA cousins, leading to a good bitterness from the hopping but still a laid back complexity that was very pleasant to drink.

As you can see from my photos, the beer was a little cloudy but this was our fault for forgetting to ventilate it in advance even though we had been leaving it to settle for 48 hours. Whoops! I don't think it impaired the flavour though, it was just a little yeasty right at the start of the keg as you would expect.

I was looking to match these different elements in my recipe and so developed a chilli recipe. I think we all have our own favoured method of making chilli and this ended up being a simple tweak on an easy family favourite for us.

Smoked Paprika Chilli
Serves 4

  • 500g minced beef (choose one with a higher fat content as this gives a more unctuous chilli and the higher fat content allows the Pale Ale to cut through and brings out the natural malty flavour)
  • An onion
  • A medium carrot
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp hot smoked paprika (we got ours from Deli in the Square in Leicester, it really packs a punch!)
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds, ground
  • Bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • Pinch of red chilli flakes
  • 1/2 beef stock cube
  • 1/2 dried habanero chilli
  • Tin of chopped tomatoes
  • Tin of kidney beans
  • Cream of balsamic vinegar
  • 2 peppers

Finely chop the carrot, onion and garlic and sweat slowly in a pan with just a drop of oil until it softens. Don't rush this stage, it takes about 10 minutes.

Add your spices and fry off with the sauce base ingredients for a couple of minutes, then add the beef, turn up the heat and brown off the meat.

Add your chopped tomatoes, swill the tin out with a dash of water and I added a good slug of Marstons Burst Rate for balance. Cook out low and slow for as long as possible.

Once the liquid has reduced by about half, add your kidney beans and peppers. Having tasted the sauce I felt it needed a little more sweetness and depth to match the beer so I added a gooey squirt of cream of balsamic vinegar, that wonderful dark shiny wonder-ingredient.

Cook on the lowest heat whilst you make rice using the absorption method.
Serve with sliced avocado and a sprinkling of grated cheese.

I have to say, we proper nailed this one! A slow cooked chilli with layers of complexity - that gorgeous smoked flavour matched with a robust, thick sauce with sweetness, giving way to savouriness and on to a building heat as you ate. This smokey element and sweetness brought out the best in the Pale Ale, matching the character of the malt and bringing out more floral notes in the beer. As the heat built, the bitterness of the hops was there to provide a welcome counter, and finally the fat from the sauce, avocado and cheesy garnish was also a great accompaniment to the beer giving a silky mouth feel and an equal punch of bold flavours from both the beer and the food. A thoroughly enjoyable dining experience!

Have you found some excellent beer pairings recently?

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Organic Wines of Piedmont: La Campore

Be honest, you thought I'd run out of posts from our recent trip to Italy didn't you? We've examined the Via del Gelato, the Terra Madre Salone de Gusto proper and of course, the wonderful delicacies of Turin, but there was one last post that I couldn't resist writing.

We happened upon La Campore right at the end of our visit to Torino, literally an hour before we jumped into our taxi to Milan airport, with our super friendly, but disconcertingly casually racist taxi driver. Which is quite clearly another story.

La Campore were displaying their wares as part of the Terra Madre Salone de Gusto festival and I feel that they deserve as much showcasing as possible because they embody absolutely the best of everything that the festival represents. Their relatively small, rural vineyard has been in the family since 1974. They create boutique wines of the region, many of which hold organic status. And best of all, they neighbour the La Cascinassa farm, which breeds Piedmontese dairy goats, pigs and cows. As we all know, what grows together goes together and this is what gave us probably the best tasting experience of the whole trip.

Sadly, as we were literally about to leave Turin, I didn't have the time to make any notes about the wines, save to say they were delicious! I did find the time to taste my way through the whole range, however, and to select a glass of the Erbaluce no-sulfite white, an organic specialty of theirs, to drink at rough leisure. By rough leisure, I mean walking through the streets of Turin with a plastic cup. Stay classy.

Their wines have fantastic flavour, with the no sulfite white having a slight haze in colour, as you would expect, but retaining the full punch of a 100% Erbaluce wine. Erbaluce creates a light, crisp apple-tinted wine, but the absence of sulfites gave a notable softening of this wine in comparison to its preserved sibling under the Caluso DOP.

As you might expect for a winery in the Piedmont region, they also make some absolutely spiffing red wines. Their Canavese DOP reds were a blend containing predominantly Barbera (one of my favourite grapes) but they also made a simply stunning Nebbiolo (which is now threatening to overtake Barbera in my list of favourite grapes.)

Naturally, all of these wines went well with the selection of goat cheese we were offered from La Cascinassa. We sampled a range of cheeses - soft cheeses flavoured with curry powder, one rolled in organic hemp seed also grown on the farm, and a selection of their harder cheeses with a variety of months of aging behind them. 

I think the freshness and fullness of the flavour of all of the La Cascinassa cheeses was so apparent because of the obvious passion and care that the farmer puts into his herds. The animals are all reared according to exceptionally high welfare standards, including processing their animal feed themselves using products taken from the farm itself; grain, hay, corn, silage and so forth. This allows for complete traceability on site and total control of the diet the animals receive at different points in their natural cycles throughout the year.

Should I get the opportunity to return to northern Italy, visiting these lovely, affable farmers and winemakers will be high on my list. Their farming is sustainable and their lifestyle deeply enviable. In the meantime, if you get the opportunity to try anything mentioned herein, I encourage you to seize the opportunity!

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Halloween Hijinks

Yep, the Halloween weekend is upon us once again and this year I thought I'd do an adult's only round up of all the finest parties, nicest knees-ups and spookiest shindigs taking place in our fair city this weekend. Get yourself costumed up and get out there!

The Titty Twister
My absolute favourite event of this Halloween is the 1901 (Turkey Cafe) turning into a Dusk Til Dawn inspired Titty Twister for the night! I absolutely adore that film and so this is perfect for me. As I remember, the Titty Twister is a pretty lively joint at the beginning of the film, and then gets a helluva lot more rowdy as the night goes on, and I would very much go in expecting the same on Granby Street this Saturday 29th October.

So far, they've revealed details about fire performers on the night, as well as a snake ice luge to drink your venom of choice from. Keep an eye on their Instagram for more details.

Monster Mass VII
Get your costume on, get on your bike, and head down for the seventh spooky-themed Critical Mass. I cannot believe it's been going so long, but it's still fabulous. We all love a good bike ride in this city so you might as well dress up like an idiot and do it with a big group of other like-minded people.
Friday 28th October, 6pm - starts at Curve.

Halloween Alternative Rock Night
For those of you who prefer your Halloween with a bit more metal, head over to the King's Head. There's a prize for the best costume - and knowing the team down there, the more clever and creative you can be the better. Couple that with a fantastic beer selection, a heady mix of rock, metal, ska, punk and alternative and a really fun bunch of locals it's bound to be a fantastic evening.

All-night spooky filmage at the Phoenix? Well, why not?
From 10pm until dawn on Friday 28th October, head to Phoenix to watch 5 horror films and get a breakfast bap thrown into the deal too. Not bad for £25! The films on offer are a great mixture of classics like The Pit and the Pendulum to modern gore fests like The Descent.

If an all-night horror spectacular sounds all a bit involved for you, then go along to Leicester's most beautiful medieval building and watch a screening of the original Ghostbusters in style. Epic film classic on at the Guildhall. It's only a fiver and family tickets are available. A great way to finish your weekend on Sunday 30th October.

And finally...

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Leicester Fashion Week 2016

It's Leicester Fashion Week again, a fantastic event put on by independent designers, producers and models in the city looking to promote their internationally significant work. There have been runway shows in a variety of venues around the city, and the event has also been supporting the good work of LOROS' Frocktober campaign, so if you missed it this year, it's definitely worth getting involved with next year.

I was in attendance with my own style icons, Harinder and Tracey

We were in the stunning surroundings of the Leicester Mercure, The Grand Hotel on Friday. A fittingly opulent location for the wide range of exquisitely designed and produced clothes that we were treated to in a full runway show (with excellent soundtrack).

I was really interested in the range of well structured, angular designs that we were seeing across designers. It felt like texture and almost architectural influence were key trends this year, with a lot of straight lines which were employed to either enhance or even to mask the natural lines of the models, This felt like an ambitious move on the part of the designers to really showcase their skill and to make the clothes the focus.

There were a lot of elements that I can see trickling down into common usage. A strong colour palette complemented the bold structural shapes, with royal blue and metallics still popular. There was also a strong hint of lace - full outfits as well as tasteful accents. It's definitely not just for the older generation anymore! It also felt like a very international affair, with clear inspiration coming from all over the world.

It also clarified the limitations of my £150 camera, as getting decent shots of the models was incredibly difficult, so apologies that they are all rather dark - I found my flash was far too harsh in the dim lighting of the room and then allowing for a longer exposure meant that I didn't have time to capture a still model. Much respect to all the professional photographers in the press pit who took some beautiful shots on the night!

All in, it was a really enjoyable event. It was a little difficult at first to be sure whose collection was being showcased, but after a while they started to announce the collections as they started so this made it easier to know where you were up to. I particularly enjoyed the work of Rosie Billington, which provided a bit of a contrast to the other collections, with their Classical inspired flowing lines. No prizes for guessing that I'd like the Greek and Roman influenced clothes the best! They were much softer in colour and texture, and had an almost dreamlike quality. It is really fabulous to see such bold work from a new graduate.

For me, this is the real strength of Leicester Fashion Week. We have some of the best training in the world available at De Montfort University and it is events like this which encourage our graduates to stay in Leicester and bring those benefits to the city. A whole range of creative industries and communities are building in the city now and it is fabulous to see showcases and celebrations of our young talent growing in strength year on year.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Global Flavours of Leicestershire at the House of Commons

I was invited to a fabulous event at the House of Commons last week. The LLEP (Leicester and Leicestershire's Local Enterprise Partnership) organised the event and it was sponsored by Alberto Costa MP and Andrew Bridgen MP. It showcased the strengths of Leicester and Leicestershire's food and drink manufacturing industries. This included both global brands and SMEs, as well as having a focus on the ethnic diversity of the local offer which gives it such a unique flavour. (Pauses while pun-induced groaning subsides)

Having spent years immersed in the food and drink culture of both city and county writing this blog, writing for other publications and through events organisation for Thirst Media, talking to me about our amazing culinary offer is preaching to the converted. However, I was pleased to find some new companies were being showcased that I had not heard of before, as well as having the opportunity to revisit old favourites.

I was interested to discover that Cofresh (genuinely my favourite brand of crisps - try the chilli and lemon curls if you haven't already) was a Leicester-based brand. They have just developed a new range of more natural products, including hummus and quinoa snacks which I really enjoyed.

Naturally, cheese, Indian cuisine and pork pies all made an appearance. I was particularly taken by the passion with which Stephen Hallam of Dickinson and Morris described his Melton Mowbray pork pie as I tasted a sample. He is not wrong about the quality of the pork filling, the unique mouthfeel created by the hot water pastry, jelly and meat, and then the finale of the white pepper flavour developing in the mouth. There's a lot more to tasting pies than I had realised, and I definitely feel like I should put in more practice.

The cheeses from Long Clawson Dairy were absolutely delicious and it was fantastic to hear that such a big name promotes sustainability for their farmers and animal welfare. This is definitely the sort of thing that makes the difference when I make a purchase. And I got lots of great new ideas for which cheeses would pair well with local Leicestershire wine!

Happily, the drinks sector was also well represented. Given that the event started at 11am and I went straight in having travelled down from Leicester, Shelton's Coffee was a welcome place to start. Their Leicestershire based company produces single variety Columbian coffee in instant form - compressed into cute heart shapes which I just about managed to preserve on my way home in order to take a quick photo! I loved the earthiness of their coffee, it had a deep element that I couldn't put my finger on and was informed that the coffee grows near a volcano and that special something is probably a note added from the volcanic ash that settles over the plantation.

As things progressed though, it was time to move on to something stronger. And there were strong showings from both Everards, featuring their new look Tiger labels, and the Langton Brewery. This was a great opportunity for me to have a taste of their Fox Lager, which I have seen around quite a lot of late but not had a sample of. I really liked its punchy flavour - much gutsier than other craft lagers around!

After that it was time to sidle over to Two Birds distillery. I have waxed lyrical about them at length in the past - most notably the use of their passionfruit vodka in the Needle and Pin's German Filmstar cocktail. Delightful and delicious. This time round I tried their specially formulated cocktail gin which has a bigger punch of botanical flavour. Suits me down to a tee straight up, but I can see how that extra flavour element works wonderfully in a cocktail when competing with other ingredients.

There was plenty more besides, but I think you get the idea! I cannot emphasise enough how great it is to see this sort of showcase for local producers, although I hope that next time we get to share even more of the really small, sustainable micro-businesses that really make up the backbone of our city and county's gastronomic excellence! Those are the producers that drive tourism and investment into our local economy as well as providing economic benefits to the country as a whole.

Obligatory selfie. If you didn't selfie, you weren't there.

Friday, 14 October 2016

You can bank on Middletons

We were invited to road test the new Middleton's Steakhouse in Leicester this week. Set in the cosy surroundings of St Martin's, the former NatWest bank building, which has stood empty throughout my time in Leicester, has been transformed into a chic dining venue. The monumental architecture, with dim lighting and high contrast decor pitching the impressive white cupola against dark wood and clean lines makes for a venue with real impact that is not really paralleled anywhere else in the city.

Despite the high ceilings, the acoustics are really well managed, making the hubbub of other diners feel warm and relaxed - not cold and informal, or annoyingly buzzy. This is a restaurant with just the right amount of smarts, without any pretension. We found it to be pleasantly upbeat and fun.

They have an open kitchen, which is always something I like to see and apparently this is the sixth venue in the small chain, with the owner still living above the first site. It is quite a meteoric rise in fairness, given that the chain only began in 2011.

The menu is broad and varied, naturally centred around a high-quality meat offer, but with plenty of other choice to hold the attention. For me, the starters were where it's at. There are no big surprises on the starter menu, but the dishes were just so well done and satisfying that I think I would be very happy to return for lunch and just have a starter!

I kicked off with plump, sweet mussels, farmed in Scotland. I was pleasantly surprised at the quality, portion size and the balance of the white wine and cream sauce - with just the right amount of garlic. It was served up with chunky slices of farmhouse bread, with a deliciously soft centre and chewy crust, which was perfect with the generous dollop of parsley butter. All in all, it was a dish you just dive right into - dip those shells in the sauce, and throw your inhibitions away with the empties. There's always a napkin to clean yourself up with after. Maybe not first-date food.

Keeping on the 'not for first-date' menu choices, The Boy opted for the half rack of ribs - again incredible in terms of quality of cooking, quality of meat and portion size. The ribs were tender to the point that you would try to pick one up only for the meat to fall right off the bone! The sticky, sweet sauce was finger licking and punctuated nicely by the intense heat of the chopped red chilli garnish. Again, eating it don't look pretty, but who cares?

The only area for improvement I really noticed at this point was that the plate used  as a lid to keep my mussels warm was whipped away from the table by super-keen staff as soon as I removed it - leaving me with nowhere to put my empty shells! But I think these sort of teething issues in service are exactly the reason why a soft launch is so important for a new restaurant as the team learn their environment.

Galloping on to the mains, and while the quality was still very consistent, I must confess I was not as enamoured with them as I was with the starters. I think it might be as simple as requiring 2 sides to accompany each dish, rather than just the standard choice of one - I always feel a bit cheated when I don't get a sniff of vegetable or salad along with a main meal. The Boy, for example, ordered the rib eye steak, which was brilliantly cooked to order - rare in the middle and good flavour from the char on the outside, and a great cut of meat which was juicy and full of flavour. But as you can see from the picture above, it felt a little sparse on the plate. The chips were also nice and crispy but the tomato was barely grilled - so swings and roundabouts on that one.

I treated myself to a half lobster with dauphinoise potatoes for my side, and also an additional side of seasonal greens to add that balance to the dish. It arrived and smelled delicious, but then I had to wait a while before digging in as we had not been given cutlery for our main course! A little frustrating, but it was clear that the restaurant was extremely busy and waiting times were a little up as the team settled in.

The lobster was sweet and luxurious and the Thermidor sauce complimented it very well, although there was not a lot of sauce. The dauphinoise was not quite a rich and creamy as I was hoping for, but it was full of beautiful oven baked sweet garlic flavour and had a lovely crisp top which added some good texture to the dish. The vegetables, sugar snap peas and wilted spinach were served plain, but the peas had good bite and the spinach was very tasty so I was pleased I had ordered them as an extra.

Accompanying our meal, we selected the Vina Edmara Pinot Noir 2015. I took so long to choose the wine I wanted that I totally forgot I was ordering two fish courses, but I was very keen to try this Pinot Noir so I decided to take the hit in terms of the food matching. As it turned out, the wine had good raspberry flavours tempered with floral notes and an interesting touch of bitterness which helped to cut through the rich, creaminess of the dishes I'd ordered so it actually worked out quite nicely!

As you'd expect, on such a busy pre-launch night, there were plenty of familiar faces around at Middletons. I spotted a few local foodies and bloggers around the place and then all of a sudden fabulous theatre and arts blogger Carpe Diem Emmie was seated at the table next to us, so that livened things up no end with her typical whirlwind dervish of quick humour and plentiful smiles.

Many thanks again to Middletons for inviting us along to review the food. It was a thoroughly enjoyable meal although I am inclined to leave it a couple of weeks before returning while the staff properly find their feet. I think once they nail that then it will be a really fabulous place to spend an evening - stylish enough to impress your nan, but friendly enough to take your bestie for lunch at the same time. In that respect, they are showing signs of being all things to an impressive range of people.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Dining at Dhaka Deli

Sometimes a friend gives a recommendation that is so compelling that it cannot be ignored. Particularly when that recommendation happens over Twitter and the restaurant then invite you down to try their food for yourself.

This happened to me with Dhaka Deli, one of Leicester's fine Indian restaurants based down the Narborough Road. I must confess I had not even heard of it before - I think with so many Indian restaurants to choose from we're all guilty of finding a couple that we like and then sticking with them and perhaps not trying new places as much as we should do.

The restaurant is beautifully presented with crisp white table clothes, clean lines and pleasant, inobtrusive music which sets an excellent scene for an enjoyable meal, without having any of the twee decoration that so many Indian restaurants in this country seem to cling to.

While we looked over the extensive menu, we munched on a poppadum with a great pickle tray. I must confess that I am not the world's biggest pickle fan. Far from it in fact, I tend to just stick to the raita. However, excepting the lime pickle (which was a little hot for my tastes) I got to enjoy everything on the tray this time - mango, tamarind, onion and mint. Delicious!

Along with the pickle tray, the wine list must get a special mention too. The wines are all incredibly reasonably priced - nothing is over £15 a bottle. At those sort of prices in a restaurant I think we'd all agree that not too much hope would be pinned on the quality, however this is incredibly far removed from the reality of the situation. As I did not require a whole bottle of wine to myself, I tentatively ordered a glass of their house wine - a Merlot - and you cannot believe how happy I was with it!

Their house red is a Chilean merlot from Valle Central, produced by San Andres. It has a great mouth feel and enough tannin to give interest without detracting from the blackberry flavours. It is smooth to drink with no overbalance of acidity and has enough punch to stand up well to the robust spicing of the food at Dhaka Deli. An excellent choice for the price and an impressive 3.4 out of 5 average score on Vivino confirming that I'm not alone in being impressed with it.

On to the starters and in our excitment, we accidentally double tikka'd. Still, can't complain because anything with crisp edges and that deep, pink, flavoursome marinade gets my mouth watering. The chilli garlic chicken tikka did exactly what it said on the tin with plenty of heat, but not so much that it drowned out the spicy marinade. Succulent and juicy it was cooked to perfection and the fresh salad it was served with was just right to take the punch out of the chilli and make the whole thing extremely enjoyable.

We also tried the paneer tikka shashlik, which is a similar marinaded and charred affair with plump, soft paneer, but served on a sizzling tray with onions, peppers and a sweet and spicy sauce. Although they do not make their own paneer inhouse, it was carefully handled and had not dried out even on the sizzling serving dish. I think I would be inclined to over this over the chicken in future because it was so full of flavour.

Main courses are go with a new dish for me, the Baigan Bhuna from the Chef's Recommendation menu. You want to be listening to their chef because that dish was amazing. Tender, good sized chunks of lamb with not a speck of chewy fat, in a medium strength sauce with slow cooked aubergine. The aubergine was absolutely melt in the mouth and because it had been treated so carefully it gave out a real feeling of buttery luxuriousness in the mouth. I could probably eat this dish all day. And then have it for leftovers the next day.

We also had a go at the Chicken Karahi. Karahi curries are named for the thick pan they are cooked in and this one had a delicious thick sauce, made with lentils for extra texture, as well as peppers and onions all with a delicate but reasonably punchy level of spice. Again the chicken was perfectly cooked and plentiful. No complaints here!

For a side we paired up a Tarka Daal, our go-to dish and benchmark for good Indian food (since The Boy makes such an excellent one). Here again I can only be gushingly complimentary - beautifully smooth and rich daal, with ramped up levels of garlic and butter and just the right amount of fresh coriander chopped over the top.

We added a serving of jeera rice and a paratha to this, knowing that we would certainly not need a rice and bread each with this amount of food! We were proved correct, we still needed to get some of it boxed up at the end! They have a phenomenal selection of breads on offer, by the way - not just a wide variety of flavoured naan, but also paratha, roti and more besides. Truly something for every taste.

What better way to finish the meal than with a delicious liqueur coffee? It's be rude not to, right? And after so much food I always think that a coffee is the only thing that I can possibly squeeze in! We went Calypso Coffee with the cream floating on the surface, rich and delicious and very indulgent. It paired nicely with the complimentary chocolates and was an excellent full stop to a very impressive meal.

I can only encourage you to pop down Narborough Road to Dhaka Deli. The prices are very reasonable for the quality and if you don't fancy making the trip you can order online via their website (powered by Hungry Horse) or through Just Eat to save you having to leave the comfort of your sofa. I can see it falling into my regular rotation simply because I haven't got a single point of criticism or improvement to level at the place!
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