Showing posts with label food. Show all posts
Showing posts with label food. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Railroad to the Isles

As I mentioned in my previous post, Mrs V and I had planned to climb Ben Nevis the day after completing the West Highland Way. That plan had to be put to one side as my feet were something of a state, and also the weather decided not to cooperate. Minor interesting fact, there is apparently a gale at the summit of Ben Nevis every three days on average! Thankfully, we had a back up plan, a day trip to Mallaig.

I have only ever been to Mallaig a handful of times, usually as an alternative to the Kyle of Lochalsh way to Skye when heading home to Uist. I have a lingering memory of the greatest steak sandwich in all of human civilisation being available from a van on the quayside (shocking that food trucks existed before the urbanites got the notion in their heads, eh?). There were no juliennes of this, coulis of that, or salsas of the other, just perfectly cooked steak between two pieces of buttered bread, delightful.

Bear in mind when I say this that Scotland is one of the most beautiful places on earth, yes I am biased I know, but the railway line from Fort William to Mallaig is one of the most stunning I have travelled. Oh, and we took the steam train.


Although we had this as a back up plan, we hadn't bought tickets for the train, so we took our chances and joined the queue on the platform. Happily we managed to snag the last pair of first class seats, and when the time came duly took our seats in the 6 seater carriage. Our fellow travellers for the trip were an English mother and daughter, and a Swedish couple. The Swedes were over mainly to check on a cask of whisky they owned at a distillery, and doing a few trips to other distilleries. Naturally with a shared interest in the things that can be done with malted barley, we got to chatting. The English folks were very much looking forward to crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct as they were huge fans of Harry Potter.


After a few hours of trundling through the Highlands, with steam billowing alongside the carriages, we pulled into Mallaig itself. With just a couple of hours to wander and grab something to eat, Mrs V and I made a bee line for the Chlachain Inn on account of there being a 10% discount on food in a brochure on the train. Stepping into the public bar my heart almost leapt for joy, not only were there handpulls, but the beer was from the Isle of Skye Brewery. I went straight for the Skye Red, a beer I had thoroughly enjoyed in 2014. In many ways it reminds me of O'Hara's Red, but with the added benefit of being cask conditioned.


With time ticking away, thoughts turned to food, and being in Mallaig means one thing, and one thing only, seafood, plucked from the cold waters of the Scottish west coast. While trying to decide on a main course, Mrs V decided to break out of her usual culinary safe house and try haggis. Mrs V is not a big fan of offal in general, much to my chagrin sometimes, so I was understandably rather shocked when she ordered the tempura battered haggis with a peppercorn brandy sauce. I was even more surprised, and somewhat delighted, when she wondered aloud where haggis had been all her life, she loved it, absolutely loved it, a fact further confirmed a couple of weeks later in Glasgow when we had haggis pakora in an Indian restaurant. When it came to main courses, Mrs V took the seafood platter, which featured a veritable raft of locally caught fish and crustacea, while I went for langoustine and chips....


Drenched in a garlic and herb butter, by the time I got through all 6 of the langoustine and most of the chips, the bottom of the bowl was filled with garlicy, butter, mushy chips that were decadent in the extreme. If we didn't have to head back to the train station, I could happily have had another serving. Fresh seafood, landed that morning on the quayside just yards from the front door simply cannot be matched. That fact may explain why I rarely eat shellfish when I am not at the coast.


The train back to Fort William seemed to go much quicker than the ride out, again we were sat with our Swedish and English friends, and this time we availed ourselves of the bar in the restaurant car with cans of McEwans, a step down from the Skye Red for sure, but still a perfectly good beer, a phrase I once thought I would never say.

If you ever find yourself in the West Highlands, and I thoroughly recommend you go, a trip to Mallaig on the train is something well worth the money, and when there make sure to stop in the Chlachain Inn. Whether just for a pint, the Skye Red was in fine form and excellent both sparkled and unsparkled, yes I am that sad that I asked for a half pint of unsparkled to see the difference and unsparkled didn't shine next to sparkled, or for a meal. It was superb.


Friday, August 17, 2012

Of Pigs and Beer

A random thought occurred to me the other day, that where you have a great appreciation for the virtues of pigs, you also have a strong tradition of making beer. Much of Central European cuisine removes around various cuts and preparations of pork, often served with at least a half litre of lager. Think Wienerschnitzel, think Krkovice, think Schweinshaxe and try to imagine them without a clean, crisp beer to wash it all down with. It simply cannot be countenanced, and neither would I want to change anything. It is surely as truer statement as any, that pigs and beer go hand in hand.

I guess in many ways I am pretty much an unreconstructed peasant when it comes to food. I like it simple, I like it good. I am not a fan of fancy juliennes of this or gastriques of that, give me a nice, thick pork chop, a selection of garden vegetables and a slice or two of rye bread, you can call it "Jewish" if you wish, but it is common to all of Central Europe. I am fairly sure I am one of the few people that thinks proper British food deserves to be placed up with the "finest" cuisines on the planet, of course it needs to be cooked properly, like any cuisine, but there are few treats better than a pork roast on a Sunday with plenty of crackling.

What does any of this have to do with beer though? Not a lot really I guess, except that I often find myself rolling my eyes at the seemingly endless attempts to turn the drink of the everyman into something antithetical to its very nature, something fancy. We often read and hear about beer "achieving the status of wine", as though middle class respectability with its chunky knit sweaters, Volvos and wine and cheese parties is something worth aping. 

Do we as some kind of "beer community" not have the confidence in our libation of choice to let it stand on its own two feet rather than being compared with wine? Do we do beer a disservice by wanting people to "take it as seriously as wine"? Traditionally there is nothing aspirational about beer, it has been drunk by peasants and workers, industrialists, nobles and monarchs since time immemorial. To try and seek an "elevated" status for it is in fact to relegate it as something not fit for everyone, and is that not on the of the joys of beer, it is inclusive?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Cider Pork Roast

It was about this time in 2009 that Mrs Velkyal and I made our first attempt at making cider. I say "first" although in reality to date it is our only attempt at cider making, but it most certainly will not be the last. One thing we will remember to do next time is to prime the cider at bottling. I know there is a school of opinion out there that likes still cider, but I am most assuredly not a member of that particular persuasion. I like a little sparkle, not fizzy, but gently carbonated, the French would call it "pétillant", the Czechs have the wonderful phrase "jemně perlivá". My maple mead is lightly carbonated, and at nearly 10% abv all the better for it, but the cider is flat.


We have toyed with idea of what to do with the remaining couple of gallons of cider and not done anything with it other than leave it in the cellar, a quick note for my American friends and readers, cider with no alcohol is not cider, it is apple juice, thus the term "hard cider" is pointless. Suggestions have included making cider vinegar and then using it in chutneys and the like, Mrs V and I both love to cook, so it would be nice not to have to buy vinegar in chutney making season. It was in one of my cooking moods that I decided to make a stab at using a bottle up, with my Sunday roast.


Growing up, almost every Sunday had as the heart of the day a roast dinner. Most often chicken, but also beef, lamb, pork and occasionally venison or mutton. Whatever we had was served with at least roast potatoes, veggies and onion gravy. Yesterday I cooked a roast pork lunch, served with roast potatoes, braised leeks and onion gravy, and to top it all, it was the first time I had made that most delectable of foods, crackling.


Usually the leeks are braised in white wine, but I ditched that (well alright then I didn't have any white wine) and used cider. The rest of my bottle went into the onion gravy to give it a nice tart apple bite to balance the sweetness of the caramelised onions, I roasted the pork on top of the sliced onions, to the pork fat, as well as keeping the meat moist, also cooked the onions.


To make the gravy, I chucked the onions and juices from the roasting dish into a saucepan, added some flour for thickening and then poured in good half pint of cider with a quarter pint of water from boiling the potatoes and let it boil away to reduce. Eventually Mrs V and I had plates looking like this:


Paired with this delight of pork and veggies was a high ball glass of 7 UP with a liberal dose of brandy in the top - lately I've been on something of a spirits and soft drinks kick, which is most disturbing, though thankfully the sanctity of my single malts is still intact.

A minor diversion from beer, to be sure, but a tasty one I can assure you - and yes, the crackling crackled and was cracking.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Blue Ridge Brewing Company

Friends of Mrs Velkyal and I are getting married in April and have asked me to "consult" on the beer selection to be available for the reception. Thus it was, yesterday, that we found ourselves sat in the most convivial surroundings of the the Blue Ridge Brewing Company in Greenville, South Carolina. Unfortunately we didn't have our camera with us, so to get an idea of what the place looks like, see the Photos section of the their website.

Before I start on about the beer, just a quick word about the food - delicious. That's enough of a digression methinks.

On to the beer, I ordered a flight and in return received 6 decent sized samples of:
  • Kurli Blonde Ale
  • Colonel Paris Pale Ale
  • Rainbow Trout ESB
  • Total Eclipse Stout
  • Santa's Little Helper Porter
  • Little Wille Barley Wine
I have to admit that I have grave misgivings about blonde ales, I usually find them boring - perhaps that is because they are generally thought of as a crossover beer to introduce drinkers of regular beers to craft beer. Kurli Blonde really didn't change my opinion, sure it's well enough made, but just unexciting for me, but then I doubt I would be the target market for these kind of beers any more. The Colonel Paris Pale Ale on the other hand did make an impression, largely because it wasn't as in your face hoppy like some American Pale Ales and all the better for it.

The ESB was, well, an ESB, full of all the goodness of Kentish hops and with a nice malty body, very nice beer, so I had a pint of it once the flight was done, whilst wistfully wondering how much better it would be served from cask at cellar temperature rather than a tad too cold. They describe the stout as "Guinness without the acidity", which is certainly is, an excellent stout which belies its 6.7%ABV to be very drinkable.

Santa's Little Helper is their Christmas oatmeal porter, hopped with Galena apparently, and again a very nice beer, by this point my pulled pork sandwich had arrived, see previous comment about food. Last up on the beer front was Little Willie Barley Wine, a total treat and proof that an 11.5%ABV beer need not feel like drinking paint stripper, lots of seville orange flavours and a beautifully smooth body, simply a wonderful beer.

Overall I was very impressed with the Blue Ridge Brewing Company and will certainly be recommending at least one of their brews to our friends for their wedding. Just another quick digression into food, they make thier own tomato ketchup and it is delicious, it actually tastes like tomatoes instead of red coloured sugar.

Fantastic stuff.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Peasant Pairings

Pairing beer and food seems to be the big thing these days, even hotels in Prague are getting in on the act. From what I read over on Relentless Thirst, Richmond has regular beer dinners pairing up different beers with each course. To my mind though there is something about these things which bugs my head.

Beer is the everyman drink, transcending class and status; and the pub is the ultimate social leveller. To my mind then, beer is best "paired" with everyman foods - perhaps this is my inner peasant speaking, but I have no time for juliennes of this with coulis of that. The everyman drink should never lose its place, paired with everyman food. Here then are some of my favourite foods, all of which are British naturally, and the beers I would drink with them:
  • Steak and kidney pudding (it should be in a suet crust not a pastry pie thing!) - good traditional British fare deserves the classic British beer, a pint of best bitter. Anything darker would add an extra layer of richness making it cloying, anything lighter would be lost.
  • Fish pie, not the insipid offerings of the supermarket but my mum's made with trout, cockles, mussels, salmon and whatever other fish we got from the fishermen, topped with mashed potato and grated mature cheddar demands something with backbone, so it has to be a good stout. Stout and oysters is of course a classic, and with fish pie an absolute delight.
  • For me the highlight of the culinary year is Christmas, in particular mince pies (again ditch the shop bought stuff, my mum still makes her own mincemeat, with beef in it). Served warmed with a dollop of philadelphia cheese under the lid, what would work better than a lightly hopped 80/- Scottish ale?

I guess I am just old-fashioned in many ways, and I am quite happy to trumpet loud the superb nature of traditional British food, made properly and served with well made traditional beer. For me the ongoing growth in the craft beer scene is part of something bigger, it is part of a rebellion against industrial food and drink plied with chemicals and junk in order to cut costs.

In pairing food with beer, follow the peasant inside and go traditional - whatever that means to you in your world. Moules frites with a Flanders red ale? Currywurst with weizen? Burger with an American IPA? Yes, please! Sure cross-cultural pairings may work, but lets not turn our backs on beer's place as the everyman drink.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Not quite home brewing....

But home cooking.

Mrs Velkyal and I are both avid foodies - there is a reason for the "velky" in Velkyal, it is the Czech word for "big", and at 6'4" and 240lbs, I am certainly never going to audition well for the role of Tinkerbell.

In the past few weeks we have been playing around with all manner of recipes and dishes; being from the South of the US, Mrs Velkyal loves making southern foods, in particular biscuits. Last weekend I made my first foray in the world of goulash - a nice spicy beef stew which we polished off even though I had sworn blind I was going to take the remains for my lunch the next day. Also recent additions to the Velkyal household larder, also known as the windowsill, have been various chutneys, quite a few cakes and lots of plans.

Not wanting to be outdone by the ever graceful and talented Mrs Velkyal I put my thinking hat on and decided it was time to find out what I can do with Czech beers in food. Most of plans involve using the beers from Primator, but I will be keeping an eye on the taps at Pivovarsky Klub and pondering what options they give me. One thing I will be doing this week is a variation on Beef Guinness using instead the wonderful 19° porter from the Perstejn brewery in Pardubice, also on the drawing board will be a steak and ale pie using - assuming Mrs Velkyal hasn't drunk the entire national reserve.

Of course the scope for using beer in food is limited only to your imagination and how well you can match the flavours of the food with the flavours in the beer, for example I have just discovered a recipe for an ale chutney, for which I will bring a bottle or two of ale back from the UK when I am there in October.

Old Friends: Joseph's Brau PLZNR

I have to admit that there really are not that many things that I miss as a result of this pandemic. I am sure that comes as something of a ...

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