Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The Birmingham Whisky Scene

I had my first taste of whisky at the Future Foodies preview event in Birmingham last summer (I wrote about it here) provided by Amy Seton of the Birmingham Whisky Club.

I was surprised by how enjoyable I found my first whisky - it's the sort of drink that makes you go, 'Hmmm... that's interesting' (in a good way), and of course you don't need a huge amount in order to appreciate it.

Since then, I've tried a couple of whiskies at home. My husband bought me Jura Superstition (which is really rather lovely) for Christmas along with Whisky: A Definitive World Guide by Michael Jackson (no, not that one, apparently). So, I think I am beginning to appreciate whisky more and am definitely learning more about it, although I am perhaps still lacking some of the vocabulary with which to describe it (if it's a peaty and/or smoky whisky then I am fine!), but I am getting there.

Whisky seems to be enjoying something of a renaissance at the moment, and it is becoming more accessible, with more people (myself included) beginning to discover it. In particular, the whisky scene appears to be thriving in Birmingham with the aforementioned Birmingham Whisky Club holding a fabulous-looking whisky festival (Whisky Birmingham 2014) on Saturday 1st March 2014, as well as various events throughout the year, including 'Whisky Women' events to encourage more women to discover and appreciate whisky.

Whisky Birmingham 2014 from the Birmingham Whisky Club

I was also delighted to find out recently that there is a whisky shop in Birmingham. The Whisky Shop have 22 shops throughout the country (including Birmingham), as well as selling their vast array of whiskies online. We visited the Birmingham store at the weekend, and were very impressed by how helpful and knowledgeable the staff were - and I got to try a couple of small measures of whisky before buying, and got a free magazine. Bonus. We came away with a bottle of Talisker 10 year old and a bottle of Aberlour 12 year old. So far I've tried the Talisker - it's quite smoky...

Hurrah for Birmingham and it's various whisky-related things! If only Coventry would follow suit.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Hairy Bikers Bloggers Know Best no. 5: Lean Lamb Hotpot

Jo's Kitchen
I had some diced lamb leg in the fridge as it was on offer on Morrison's (my new online grocery shop of choice!), and thought I'd like to make something like a lamb hotpot. Fortunately, the Hairy Bikers came to the rescue with this scrummy but healthy Lean Lamb Hotpot from their Hairy Dieters book. And also I could finally enter one of Jo's Kitchen's Bloggers Know Best linkies!

This recipe is actually very simple; you just need a couple of hours or so to make it, although most of that is just letting it bubble away in the oven - perfect for a lazy Saturday like today!

I halved the amount of meat, carrots and potatoes (actually I overestimated a bit on the amount of potatoes... oops) as I was only serving two, but stuck with the same amount of stock and flour - the pot I was using doesn't have a very tight lid, so I was expecting it to reduce a fair bit (which it did). I did chuck in a sliced leek though, as I happened to have one in the fridge and it never hurts to up the veg content of a dish!

Anyway, here is the result:
Hairy Biker's Lean Lamb Hotpot - I am not the neatest of potato slicers...
Yummy, right?

We certainly found it so. Everything had cooked wonderfully and was meltingly tender. Even the slices of potato which I had not sliced all that thinly had cooked through ok. It probably could have done with a little longer or a slightly higher temperature towards the end of cooking to brown the potatoes a bit more, but it didn't really affect our enjoyment of the dinner. I do love the addition of Worcestershire sauce to this dish - it really beings out the flavours.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Microwave Challenge: Microwave Mixed Bean Chilli

This is my entry into my Microwave Blog Challenge.

I have taken inspiration from this recipe for vegetable & bean chilli and this recipe for Mexican bean soup - I particularly needed the latter recipe to help me work out timings, as I didn't have a clue how long everything would take to cook in the microwave.

I was surprised by how well this turned out. Apparently, when microwave cooking you're supposed to try and chop everything very evenly so it all cooks evenly. I don't do chopping evenly and it was still fine. I'd say it was probably a bit soggier than if I'd cooked it on the hob, as there's no scope for frying the veg, but the texture wasn't too bad on the whole.

I have put the cumin and paprika as optional, but I do recommend them for a more chilli-like flavour.

This should be about enough for 2 portions - it should be fine to reheat any leftovers. Wait for the leftovers to cool for an hour or so and then store in a sealed container in the fridge. Use within 2 - 3 days and make sure it is piping hot once reheated.

(As an aside, as I've mentioned serving with rice below, I personally wouldn't reheat left-over rice as I worry too much about food poisoning!).

Anyway, on with the recipe!

Microwave Mixed Bean Chilli

Serves 2

1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 red pepper, de-seeded and chopped
1 tsp vegetable or olive oil
1 tsp mild or medium chilli powder (depending on how hot you like your food)
1 tsp ground cumin (optional)
1 tsp paprika (optional)
1 400g can chopped tomatoes
1/2 tbsp tomato puree
1 400g can of mixed beans (or 1 can of red kidney beans), drained and rinsed
a handful of frozen or tinned sweetcorn

1. Place the onion and garlic in a microwaveable bowl and cook on full power for 3 minutes.
2. Add the red pepper, the oil, and the spices to the bowl and stir well. Microwave for 1 minute.
3. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and tomato puree, loosely cover the bowl (I use one of these) and microwave for 15 minutes.
4. Add the beans and sweetcorn to the bowl, cover again, and microwave for 4 minutes.

Serve with rice (instructions on how to microwave basmati rice (or alternatively buy some microwave rice)) or a jacket potato (instructions on how to microwave a jacket potato) or wraps or pitta breads. You could also add grated cheese, sour cream, guacamole, etc. if you wish.