Reasons to be Cheerful

Book Review, Reasons to be Cheerful, the works – Cooking with Beer

If ever there was a reason to be cheerful, it’s a good beer.  A pint of something lovingly crafted, served at the right temperature.  Something Belgian, perhaps…  I got into brewing at University when it was  far cheaper to brew my own than to  buy it from the supermarket or the student bar.  After a brief hiatus in Kent (where the water’s not good for brewing unless you’re Shepherd Neame) we started brewing again here in Shetland.  Bitters, ciders, wheat beers, barkshack gingermeads, experimental pale ales, the list goes on.  Right now we’ve a couple of kits bottled, they’ll be ready to drink round about the end of March.  Life is good.

But something that I’d not done very much of was cooking with beer.  I’d cooked the odd rabbit in ale, a delightful dish that’s a real winter warmer, but that was about it.  And then one day my wife brought home a present from town.  This:

It’s an Australian book, by an Australian chef, but I knew I’d get on with him from the sub-title: “If there’s liquid in a recipe, it might as well be beer.” Noble sentiments indeed.  In fact the book’s full of advice like that – “If there’s any left over, drink it” being one that crops up time and again.  Granted, the last time I did that it was a little like Baldrick’s short holiday in Blackadder.  1 fluid ounce of beer was left.  So I drank it and enjoyed it but it did leave me wanting to open another bottle.

Paul starts off with an overview of beer and a wonderful rant about how the mass-produced stuff isn’t really beer at all.  As someone who was a member of CAMRA and likes Real Ale in general, I salute this 100%.  He then eases you gently into the swing of things with a chapter on recipes that work well with beer but don’t actually contain it.  All well and good.  Moving through the book he takes us from nibbles, through the stove, into the oven, onto the grill and finally to dessert and baking.  There doesn’t look to be a bad recipe in the book, although some of the ingredients might be hard to get hold of here in the wilds of Shetland – once you’ve worked out what the English for flathead tails is (some kind of fish, apparently).

The range of recipes is amazing, running the gauntlet from American ribs (as pictured on the cover), through assorted curries – both Indian and Thai, on into risottos, pastas, paellas and chilli.  He cooks fish, goat, octopus, quail, rabbit, lamb (in Guinness, no less, along with a superb Moroccan tagine) and more.  He gives us ice creams, soups, birramisu, beer breads, and more.

Each recipe includes notes as to which beers work best.  You can tell he’s done his homework, long hours spent testing each one with the ranges of beers at his disposal.  For the UK, there’s plenty of Belgian and German beers in play and even I can get hold of those on this rock.  And if I don’t have the right one, I’ll substitute something from my own cellar.

Right now, I’m halfway through cooking this:

Spanish lentils with chorizo in Belgian ale

  • A pinch of saffron threads
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
  • 1 red pepper, roughly chopped
  • 300g chorizo sausages (cured, rather than fresh), cut in half lengthways then sliced on the diagonal 1cm thick
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 4 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • two 330ml bottles of high-alcohol Belgian ale
    • Beer Notes:  Try Westmalle Tripel (9.5%), Hoegaarden Grand Cru (8.5%) , Chimay Blue (9%) or Rochefort 8 (9.2%).  We’re using the Tripel today
  • 500ml good quality chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 375g green lentils
  • 125g small button mushrooms, quartered
  • 200g courgettes, finely diced

Steep the saffron threads in 60ml boiling water for 15 minutes

Meanwhile, heath the olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat.  When the oil is smoking, add the onion and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes.  Stir in the garlic, pepper and chorizo and cook for another 5 minutes.

Stir in the paprika, then add the saffron and its soaking liquid and stir it through.  Add the bay leaves, thyme, tomato and sea salt to taste.  Stir to combine then cook for several minutes.

Pour in the beer and stock and bring to the boil.  Season with freshly ground black pepper, add the sherry vinegar and stir to allow the flavours to combine.  Add the lentils and mix them through while the liquid comes back to the boil.  Turn the heat to low, cover with a lid and simmer for 1 hour.

Stir in the mushrooms and courgette, put the lid back on and simmer for another 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the lentils are tender but still have a little bite.  If you have too much liquid, take the lid off and simmer over a higher heat to reduce it.

Enjoy with a glass of the ale you cooked the lentils with.

Serves 4.  Allegedly, but I reckon we’ll feed all 7 of us happily tonight with this.  But then 5 of them aren’t adults yet.

I did the lamb tagine from this book last week and it was superb.



Reasons to be Cheerful

Reasons to be Cheerful – Nexus, Family and Stuff

A good week with fantastic reasons to be cheerful up here on the Rock.

Firstly, the snow hasn’t arrived yet. Rain, wind, a bit of sleet perhaps, but no snow.  Having said that I’ll probably be up to my knees in the stuff by the time you read this. If so, sledges on standby!

Secondly, an early birthday present. Samsung/Google Galaxy Nexus. Ice Cream Sandwich. I love my new phone!

Thirdly, my mother-in-law (responsible for reason #2, no less). One amazing woman.

Fourthly, my daughter. We have a bit of an up-and-down relationship at the moment. She’s 11, she’s practically a teenager, and we get the moods to go with it. Last night, though… I was on the phone to my wife, talking her through setting up an mp3 ringtone on my mother-in-law’s Nexus. Yes, Google have done well from us. Android-tastic!  Normally at the time I was doing this, I’d be making dinner.  We plan the meals for the week, Thursday’s been coleslaw for a while now and Thing 1 has been helping out, on and off, and has obviously been paying attention because whilst I was on the phone, she made dinner. End to end, very little prompting/help required. And she washed up. And both her and Thing 2 did their music practice (yesterday and today) without any prompting.  I’m fighting my brain with it’s automatic “Alright, what do they want?” response and concentrating on the fact they’re being brilliant.  Right now, she’s reading through her cookery book and checking out the chicken curry recipe I’m going to be helping her with tonight.  Long may this continue.

Lastly, there’s a school disco tonight so I get a good chunk of time to myself tonight to work on Secret Project 2012.

I’ll leave you with my favourite Slashdot news story of the week…

Hacked Syrian Officials Used ‘12345’ As Email Password

Spaceballs, anyone?

Now follow the linky and find out what other people are feeling cheerful about this week. I guarantee at least one reason will be snow!

Reasons to be Cheerful

Reasons to be Cheerful – 48 Weeks until Christmas!

As the ever-helpful AndrewB pointed out to all and sundry (well, all and sundry who follow him on Twitter), there’s only 48 weeks to go until Christmas.  And here I am without a single present wrapped, card written or mince pie made.  I told him this.  His reply:

well you’re just going to suffer the consequences of poor planning, aren’t you?

Gee.  Thanks.  Well, I just hope he’s better prepared than me!

So that’s reason #1 – For the moment, I’ve got enough time to prepare for Christmas and get everything sorted.  And speaking of Christmas, a fantastic late Christmas present arrived this week – a “Nostromo” crew T-shirt! The geek in me is very, very, happy.

Reason #2.  My wife’s birthday is coming up.  This means that the diet takes a 1-day holiday and we get to eat like Kings and Queens!  Birthday food has become something of a big thing in our house.  You can eat what you want for your breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Current favourite for birthday dinner is The Curry Guy‘s Goan Sorpatel.  I’ve made this before, it takes 3 days from start to finish but it’s very front-loaded (all the work is on day 1. Day 2 you bring it up to heat, check the seasoning.  Day 3, bring it to heat, check seasoning and serve).  It’ll go very well with some pakoras and dips.

Reason #3. TV and Film.  Being Human is close to returning.  The previews for series 4 have started to appear over on the BBC website for the show.  The news there is that there are some big (not entirely unexpected) cast changes this year.  Even better, one of the cast has moved across to the forthcoming Dirk Gently series, taking on the role he had in the 1-shot they’re bound to repeat sooner or later.  Sherlock has been excellent.  Basically, the BBC has done an excellent job of keeping me entertained this year so far.  And if anyone knows how I can get hold of the American re-imagining (how I hate that word) of Being Human on Region 2 DVD or UK-playable Blu-Ray, please let me know.  Finally, I read today that the back-catalogue of Hammer movies  are getting the Blu-Ray remastering treatment.  Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter, please!

Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter

Reason #4.  My wife and kids.  I need say no more.

Now follow the linky over on the right and find out everyone else’s reasons to be cheerful this week!