Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Sloe Gin

Usually on this blog I'm all for sharing local knowledge, but when it comes to revealing the best sites for sloes you'll find me less than forthcoming I'm afraid!

This year I've managed to scrounge up enough for a batch of gin, but if you're planning on making some you'll need to be quick as unfortunately, this years sloe yield (in my neck of the woods) seems to be low and what there is seems to have ripened very early.

If I'm honest I can't really call this a recipe, more of a guideline. The important thing to emphasise is patience as the longer you're prepared to leave your gin to mature the more complex the flavour will become. Some people view the process of making the gin as laborious but if you approach it in the right way then it becomes a therapeutic autumnal ritual.

The end product is on the sweet and syrupy side and can be a bit overwhelming for some if taken neat. Added to desserts or sauces for meats such as game or pork, it adds a great depth and complexity of flavour. It's also great mixed in a cocktail. I'm a fan of anything that pairs the sweet spicy gin with a hefty citrus kick.

As a rule of thumb:

500g sloes will need 250g of caster sugar and 1 litre of gin.


Prick your sloes with a fork or other similarly pointed implement and drop into a large sturdy jar. (you might like to do this in front of the TV with a beer or glass of wine).
Add the sugar and gin and shake vigorously. Shake everyday until the sugar dissolves. Remove the sloes after around three months and decant into bottles.
Wait for a few months and you'll have a fruity, lively number. If you're prepared to wait years however, you'll be rewarded with something of a much more complex nature.

Here's some I made earlier.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Peaks and Troughs.

It's not really my intention to turn this into a travel blog and for (the) loyal Brummie reader(s) I apologise for my brief flirtation with another county.

The Peak District.
So, a few weeks ago we decided to take a short break in Derbyshire, notably the Peak District. Despite the odd shower, the rolling heather moors, craggy ridges and steep peaks never looked better. As the summer crowds fade away and the rich atumnal colours seep in to the landscape, there isn't a better time to visit.

After a walk around the beautiful Monsal Dale, lunch was long overdue. The Monsal Head Hotel occupies an enviable position over the Dale itself with panoramic views and behind the Hotel is a more rustic bar serving hiker friendly portions of food (including the largest jacket potato I have ever seen, approximately the size of an american football. I can only presume the neighbouring village hosted a giant vegetable growing competition and we were eating one of the competitors).

I was also delighted to find Buxton Brewery's 'Moor Top' ale being served. Buxton are certainly one of the finest breweries around and chronically under represented in Birmingham. Having previously tried 'Axe Edge IPA' and 'American Rye', 'Moor Top' is yet another fine edition to the range. Pouring a pale gold colour, the aroma is packed with citrus. On the palate it's light with a hint of sweetness before being replaced with more lip smacking citrus fruit and plenty of bitterness. Considering the low 3.6% ABV, this beer punches well above its weight in terms of flavour.
Don't get me wrong, I'm all in favour of big, experimental beers, but full flavour, low ABV 'session' ales have always been a strength of British brewers and in recent years they've been taken to the next level. Darkstar's 'Hophead' and Brewdog's 'Dead Pony Club' are but a few examples of modern interpretations of this style.

Not only is autumn best for scenery, it's also best, arguably, for produce. A visit to the Chatsworth Estate farm shop was a delight. Seasonal highlights included game, pumpkins and root veg, cheeses and hedgerow fruits. Don't mention it to anyone from Leicestershire, but the pork pies here are stunning. The meat is coarse and full of flavour and the pastry crisp with just the right amount of jelly in between the two.
We also picked up a bottle of Henderson's Relish. Labelled as 'The Spicy Yorkshire Sauce', we knew that Jarvis Cocker was a fan of this hard to find condiment. So on a whim, and on the recommendation of Jarvis, we purchased a bottle (see recipe below!).

For our evening meals, we wandered a few minutes down the road to the Packhorse Inn. The menu was simple, the products local and of top quality. The wine list was also well chosen and ales were provided by Thornbridge (the local brewer!). Even in the off season, midweek, this place was packed. Many people view the state of the British pub industry to be in deep trouble. Any pub struggling could do a lot worse than follow the Packhorse model.

And finally as a tribute to Henderson's Relish, here's a recipe for Welsh Rarebit using Henderson's instead of Worcester sauce. The cheese and beer were purchased from Anderson and Hill and the bread from Stirchley Stores (via Loaf).

Henderson's Welsh Rarebit.


(Serves 2)

25g flour.
25g butter.
125ml beer (I used a pale ale, as I find hoppier beers go better with cheese, but it's up to you).
60g Cheddar (Montgomery's, grated).
60g Comte (or any other good melting cheese, grated).
1 tbsp Henderson's Relish.
1 tsp English mustard.
generous pinch of smoked paprika.
generous pinch of pepper.
2 slices of sourdough bread.


Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the flour to form a roux. Cook the roux on a medium heat for a few minutes, stirring often.
Add the beer gradually until a thick, smooth sauce is formed. Add the grated cheese, stir until melted through and thick.
Add the Henderson's, mustard, smoked paprika and pepper.
Lightly toast the bread and generously cover with the mixture, finish under the grill until golden and bubbling.

Welsh Rarebit made with Henderson's Relish.



Sunday, 26 August 2012

Birmingham Street Food (with very poor pictures)

Pay no attention to my shoddy, hastily snapped smartphone pictures. They really don't do the Digbeth Dining Club street food event justice.
Spotlight Bar
Nestled under one of Digbeth's many railway arches, is a venue that I'll admit I've never heard of until now. The Spotlight Bar, no doubt, is frequented by people much cooler than I. This weekend, the venue hosted an intrepid collection of stalls coming together to fly the flag for Birmingham in the name of street food.

Organised by the Digbeth Dining Club, the full line up was as follows:

Goan For Curry
Churros Susanna
Soupreme Soulfoods
Bushman Wood-fire Pizzas
The Original Patty Men

Goan For Curry
Churros Susanna
The Meatshack
Bushman Wood-fire Pizza
The Big Smoke 

For me, this event was proof that Birmingham does have an already healthy street food scene in all but name (and no surprises that this doesn't include the 'German' Christmas Market).

The remains of my pulled pork roll from The Big Smoke stall. You'll just have to imagine what it looked like, sorry.

Friday, 13 July 2012


In anticipation of a visit from some friends from down south, I headed down the road to Stirchley Wines for some refreshments. 
With a strange sense of logic, I filled my basket with some of the latest offerings from the London 'craft beer' scene. 

With a desire to build familiarity and also to show that Birmingham is up to speed in the zeitgeisty world of craft beer, this is what I came back with...

8 Ball.

Brewery: Beavertown (London).
Style: Rye IPA.
ABV: 6.2%.
Notes: The use of rye gives the beer a very rich malty and fruity aroma along with some floral hop characteristics. These characters continue as you taste with a rich fruity backbone complemented by a long, bitter and floral finish from the hops.

Prince Albert.

Brewery: By The Horns Brewing Co. (London).
Style: Dunkel.
ABV: 5.5%.
Notes: A British interpretation of a German classic. Quite complex on the nose with notes of sour cherry, plum and spice backed up with earthy roasted malts. Equally complex on the palate, with more sweet and sour red fruit held up against the roasty malt body. An complex beer that is sure to divide opinions. 


Brewery: The Kernel (London).
Style: Single hop IPA (Galaxy).
ABV: 7.2%.
Notes: Recently, many brewers have been showcasing the wonderful flavours and aromas of a single hop variety. Kernel have been showing off the lush, fruity properties of new world hops for a while now and are experts at doing so. The aromas and flavours of peach, lychee and pineapple are brought to life in a beer with plenty of alcohol and body to match the heady aromatics.


Brewery: The Kernel.
Style: Single Hop IPA (Citra).
ABV: 7.3%.
Notes: Similar in body and ABV to the Galaxy IPA, the Citra hop is much more herbal and pungent in character which brings a zingy refreshing quality to the beer. A fine balance between these herbal characters and the lush new world hop fruitiness make for another great example of a single hop beer.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Sweet Potato, Chipotle and Chorizo Soup

Sweet Potato, Chipotle and Chorizo Soup.

Ordinarily at this time of year I would be urging you to stuff and deep fry a courgette flower. How about throwing together a broad bean, mint and goats cheese salad or even going out to forage for some elderflowers to make a pungent cordial? But, it's started to rain again, so until it clears up, make a brew and have a biscuit.
You could even have a go at this hearty and warming soup. The addition of smoky Chipotle chillies gives it some added depth. There are a few shops around brum stocking these Mexican delicacies such as Anderson & Hill or Lewis's of MoseleyAncho chillies would also work really well.


(Serves four)

1 medium sized sweet potato, peeled and sliced fairly thinly
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 stick of celery, roughly chopped
1 medium carrot, roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1 chipotle chilli, finely chopped
150g chorizo, sliced
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tbsp thyme (ideally fresh)
750 ml stock


First, season and roast your sliced sweet potato with a little vegetable oil. Remove from the oven when it's soft and the edges have begun to caramelise. 

Over a medium heat, fry the chorizo until there's a good coating of orange oil on the bottom of the pan. Add the onions, celery, carrot, garlic and chilli and fry for around 10 minutes until tender, add some more oil to the pan if required. 

Once the vegetables are soft, add a tablespoon of sherry vinegar and allow it to evaporate for a few minutes. Then, add the thyme and stock and simmer for around 10 minutes, season to taste. Blend the soup to a smooth consistency and serve.


Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Gazpacho Soup

Perhaps a little optimistic for the current UK conditions, but once the sun makes a rare appearance, make sure you dash out to your local greengrocers (Leverton & Hall's or local community market)and find the best ingredients you can.
The addition of some crusty, stale bread also helps to give the soup some extra body.
Finish the soup with the garnish of your choice. Some chopped olives, pepper and red onion would do nicely. I've gone for some feta cheese, cucumber and borage from the garden which helps to bring out the refreshing quality of the cucumber.


(Serves 4)

100g stale, crusty white bread
1kg ripe tomatoes, roughly diced
1 ripe red pepper, roughly diced
1 green pepper, roughly diced
1 medium cucumber, roughly diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
150 ml of extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp sherry vinegar


Soak your bread in a little cold water for around 20 minutes.
Chop up all your vegetables and garlic, add the bread with any excess liquid squeezed out.
Place all the ingredients into a suitable vessel for blending along with the sherry vinegar and salt to taste. Blend until smooth, chill for around an hour before finishing with a garnish of your choice.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Slow Cooked Chilli Con Carne

The use of shin of beef instead of beef mince along with a few extra, well chosen, spices really transforms this old favourite. Some chorizo also adds more depth of flavour. I've loosely followed the recipe from 'Mexican Food Made Simple' by Thomasina Miers.
The beef I used is from Rossiter's organic butchers in Bournville.


(Serves 4-5)

300g beef shin, cubed
50g chorizo cut into chunks
1 medium onion, sliced
1 stick of celery, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 red chillies of medium heat, sliced
1 red pepper, roughly chopped
1 small tin kidney/borlotti beans
1 400g tin chopped tomtoes
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tsp dark brown sugar
a 'slosh' of red wine (around half a small glass)
1.5 heaped tbsp whole coriander seeds, ground
2 heaped tbsp whole cumin seeds, ground
1 star anise (optional, helps boost meaty flavours)
half a cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf, torn in half
1 tbsp fresh/dried oregano
fresh coriander and sour cream to serve

Start by toasting your cumin and coriander seeds in a large casserole dish. Grind into a fine powder using a pestle and mortar.

On a high heat with a little oil, brown the beef in small batches and set to one side. Add your chorizo and star anise to the pan and turn down the heat to medium. Once the chorizo has taken on some colour add the onion, garlic, celery, red pepper and chillies.

After 10 minutes or so, remove the star anise, add the ground spices and cook for another 5 minutes roughly. Add the tomato puree, cook for another 5 minutes then add the sherry vinegar. After another few minutes, add the red wine and cook for another 10 minutes or until the volume of wine has decreased by around half.

Return the beef to the pan along with the beans, cinnamon stick, bay leaf, oregano and dark brown sugar.

Season if required, cover the pan and place in a preheated oven at around 150C°/Gas Mark 2 for approximately 3 hrs until the meat is very tender and falling apart. Stir the pot occasionally during the cooking time.

Serve with fresh coriander and some sour cream.

Carrot and Coriander Soup

If it's possible for a soup to underachieve in life then carrot and coriander may need to pull its socks up. On paper the combination of sweet, earthy carrot and the buttery citrus spice of coriander is an absolute winner. In reality, many examples simply lack enough of this wonderful spice. In this recipe, I'm using both whole coriander seed and the fresh leaf form to bring it up to scratch.


(Serves 4)

3 large carrots, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large stick of celery, chopped
1 heaped tsp fresh ginger, chopped
1 heaped tsp chilli flakes
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
2 tbsp ground whole coriander seed
1 tbsp ground whole cumin seed
1 tsp turmeric powder
750ml veg stock
fresh coriander and creme fraiche to serve


In a large, dry pan on a medium heat toast the the cumin and coriander seeds for around 10 minutes taking care not to burn them. Once toasted, grind to a fine powder in a pestle and mortar.

Melt a generous knob of butter over a medium heat and sweat the chopped carrots, onion, celery, garlic, and ginger for aproximately 10 minutes. Add the sherry vinegar, ground spices and chilli and sweat for another 5-10 minutes.

Add the stock and simmer until the carrots are tender. Blend to a smooth consistency and serve with a spoonful of creme fraiche or yoghurt along with some fresh coriander.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The Meatshack

I and many others were eagerly awaiting the debut of the latest addition to the street food scene in Birmingham. I'm sure I'm not alone in saying that our curiosities were in part motivated by a desire to see an improvement in the street food scene (and to try what was promised to be a fine burger!)

I try to attend the Stirchley Community Market at each of its monthly dates. Once word got out that The Meatshack would be there, the date was sealed.
I walked to the market from work at a brisk pace. Once closing in on the market, catching the odd waft of grilled beef, I homed in on my destination.

Having ordered, I was pleased to find that the burgers are made from 28 day aged beef from a farm a few miles from Redditch. I ordered the 'Hellshack' which came with pickles, ketchup, american mustard, shredded iceberg lettuce, onion , cheese and a few slices of fresh Jalapeno chilli.

This was the best burger I've had in a long time (despite them being let down by their bread supplier). The beef was full of flavour and well seasoned, all the accompaniments (including the chillies) added to the whole without overwhelming.

I hope they'll be making many more appearences about town and that this convinces certain people that there is a demand for high quality street food in Birmingham.

You can follow The Meatshack on Twitter: @themeatshack

Market Meals. Rabbit, Cider and Mustard

Every once in a while I hope to promote the wonderful resource that is the Birmingham indoor food market.
I'll do this by cooking a dish with as many ingredients bought from the market as possible. Look out for the 'Market Meals' title in any future posts.

You can find more information about the markets here: http://www.indoorbullringmarket.co.uk/index.html

I thought about giving the details of the stalls that I bought the ingredients from, but I thought it best to let you explore for yourselves.

By Kate Hindley.


(Serves 2)

1 Rabbit (jointed, innards removed).
100g smoked pancetta/smoked streaky bacon, cubed.
1 medium onion, roughly chopped.
1 large carrot, roughly chopped.
1 large celery stick.
2 cloves garlic, chopped.
2 large sprigs of thyme.
250ml medium dry cider.
250ml stock (chicken or veg.)
1 heaped tsp grain mustard.
2 heaped tbsp creme fraiche.


Prep. your rabbit pieces by making sure no fragments of bone remain around the jointed ends, and wash off any remaining bits of fur under the tap.

Dust the rabbit pieces in seasoned flour and brown in a heavy casserole dish with a little oil on a high heat. Once done set the rabbit aside.

Reduce the heat to a medium setting, add the pancetta and cook until browned. Add the diced veg, garlic and thyme. Sweat for aprox. 10 minutes.

Return the rabbit pieces to the pan, add the cider, simmer for 5 minutes then add the stock.

Reduce the heat to a low setting, cover the pan and simmer for aprox one and a half hours or when the meat begins to come away from the bone easily.

Once cooked, remove the rabbit from the pan, add the mustard and creme fraiche (season if required). Increase the heat and thicken the sauce for aprox. 5-10 minutes.

Plate up the rabbit and spoon over the sauce.

Have a butchers, you never know what you might find.