Sunday, 27 July 2014

Beers of the World Cup - #19 Russia - Baltika 8 Weizen München

The FIFA World Cup finished two weeks ago but I've still not worked my way through all of the nations on my #beersoftheworldcup challenge. Over the last five weeks I have worked my way through 18 different countries so far and next up is Russia with Baltika 8 Weizen München.
The Baltika Brewery was only founded on 1990, producing a wide range of different Baltika brand beers and as they are now part of Carlsberg Group, the brewery also produces a host of other branded beers for sale across Russia and Eastern Europe.
Wheat beers have been well represented in my challenge so far and when I spotted that Russia's largest brewery offered a German style wheat beer, I added it to my list.
German wheat beers are fantastic and the Russians have created a pretty decent imposter. The Baltika 8 Weizen München pour with a hazy amber colour and a foamy head that reduces to leave a little lacing around the top of the glass. There are noticable aromas of bread yeast and citrusy lemon plus a faint smell of cloves and bananas. Not exactly what I was expecting but not unpleasant either. To taste, there is a sweet banana flavour but not overpowering as clove and cardamom work well to balance the Weizen München.
I really enjoyed Baltika's take on a German wheat beer and would put Baltika 8 Weizen München into my top five so far. Shame that the Russian national team didn't do quite so well.
Keep up to date with my progress on Twitter as I try to complete my challenge and let me know which Russian beers you would pick, using the hashtag #beersoftheworldcup

 

Friday, 25 July 2014

Pre-Launch Write-Up - Topolabamba, St Vincent Street, Glasgow

Last week a New Mexican restaurant opened in Glasgow City centre and myself & Nicola were invited along to a pre-launch night to try it out.
Topolabamba is housed inside the old 'El Banco De Mexico' building on St Vincent Street, next door to The Drum & Monkey, and owned by the same group behind the popular Di Maggios and Cafe Andaluz restaurants.
Myself and a few other Glasgow food bloggers had been invited along as way of thanks for helping share publicity for the restaurant prior to its opening , with the pre-launch night aimed at putting the staff through their paces as well as to help iron out any problems that might I rise before the doors one properly for business.
We were the first of our group to arrive and were quickly shown to our table. The restaurant is a cool mix of leather, wood and brickwork, interspersed with various nods to the Mexican obsession with death - there are skulls everywhere, including on the custome made wallpaper in the toilets!
After being welcomed into the restaurant, we were advised that we should do our best to order as wide a selection of food and drink from the menu in order to truely test the kitchen, bar and waiting staff - so that's what we did!
As we waited for the rest of our table to arrive, we were served our first of many drinks with me supping back many a bottle of Mexican craft beer Dia de Los Muertes Pale Ale and my designated driver Nicola relaxing with a can of grapefruit Ting.
The menu is a mix of small tapas dishes, sharing platter and a few larger plates with Topolabamba trying to bring the true taste of Mexico to the Glasgow restaurant scene. In fact many of the ingredients used across the menu are imported straight from Mexico. With no shortage of options on the menu, we struggled to decide on what we were going to order. As we took our time to read over the menu, we were served up some of the finest nachos and guacamole that I've tasted - the guacamole had a fantastic punch of chili and lime - I could have eaten them all night.
We ordered an assortment of dishes from across the menu starting with the Barbacoa Beef tacos. The soft corn tortilla were stacked high with beautifully tender pulled beef and topped with peppers, red onion, coriander and soured cream. This was a great introduction to the Topolabamba menu.
Next up was the Shrimp, Butter, Garlic & Paprika tostadas - crispy corn tortillas topped with loads of juicy prawns. The prawns were great but unfortunately this dish lacked any other real flavour.
Nicola and myself love calamari and we weren't let down by the Salt & Pepper Ancho Chilli Squid. The squid was cooked to perfection - the ancho chilli giving a good punch of heat whilst the accompanying chipotle alioli added a cool smokiness to the dish.
The spiciest dish that we had on the night was the Pescado Empapelado, a firm piece of fish baked in a paper bag with a potent chilli red guacamole. We both loved this dish but felt that at £6.95 it was a little overpriced for the portion size.
Our favourite dish was the Tangy Cactus and Marinated Chicken taquitos. Deep fried corn tortilla tubes filled with chunks of tasty chicken and cactus and topped with crumbly cheese (not sure if it was feta, but it certainly tasted like it) and soured cream. The combination of flavour and texture in the taquito was fantastic, definitely one that we would order again.
The last dish to arrive was the Smoky Stuffed Pepper - We both enjoyed the charred poblano pepper that was stuffed with crumbly cheese, potatoes, spicy cactus shallots and chipotle peppers, however we also agreed that there was too much melted cheese over the top of the dish which resulted in the flavours from the stuffed pepper were overpowered a little.
Overall, the food was pretty good although there were maybe a few issues with some dishes needing a heavier hand on the seasoning. In addition to this, with the exception on the fish dish, there wasn't a great amount of chilli heat on show. If I was expecting anything from a Mexican restaurant, it was spicy chilli heat, unfortunately Topolabamba failed to deliver on this level. That said, I have had some feedback from the restaurant to say that a number of the dishes have been tweaked in order to deliver a bigger flavour/heat punch - I suppose that's the benefit of having these dry runs before the actual opening?
As I continued to enjoy the Dia de Los Muertes Pale Ale, my designated driver decided to try a bottle of Lime Jarritos, especially imported from Mexico. For any of you old enough to remember when the Alpine Lorry used to deliver 'pop' to your grannies, the Jarritos tasted exactly the same but without the massive sugar hit!
We were both stuffed by this point but our waitress encouraged us to order desserts so Nicola opted for the Churros, a traditional Spanish/Mexican dessert of deep fried doughnut batte which is usually sprinkled with sugar and served with melted chocolate on the side. We've had churros in Spain on a number of occasions and always loved the crispy strips of light batter, unfortunately the churros at Topolabamba weren't great - no sugar and far too dense. On a plus, the chocolate sauce on the side was wonderfully rich.
My own dessert of Pueblan Flan wasn't great either. Somewhere between a Creme Catalan and a Creme Brûlée, the Pueblan Flan was far too sweet with a noticable fake vanilla taste running through the custard base. To top it of, the burnt sugar crust was about 4mm thick and so chilled that it was almost impossible to break through the solid surface.
In all fairness, there are only four dessert on the menu which leads me to thinking that the primary focus of the kitchen staff isn't serving pudding!
So to sum up, we had a very enjoyable night with some really tasty dishes and some that aren't that far away from hitting the right notes. The management and waiting staff looked after us all night and the kitchen were more than capable of getting a huge number of tapas dishes served up with little fuss.
The whole evening was complimentary and I would like to thank the team at Topolabamba for their hospitality. I would also like to say that my report above is an honest report of our experience on the night and was not influenced in any way by the fact that the meal and drinks were free.
I'm sure that myself and Nicola will return to dine at Topolabamba to see how the little tweaks to the menu change the overall dining experience, however we will be waiting until after the Commonwealth Games have finished as Glasgow is just too busy right now!
Keep up to date with offers or news at Topolabamba on Facebook and Twitter.


Searching Ayrshire, Arran And Argyll For Scotland's Secret Ingredients

Mark Greenaway has teamed up with foodie flagship event of the autumn, Eat Drink Discover Scotland, and they are on a mission – to discover Scotland’s secret ingredients! This week they have been searching Ayrshire, Arran and Argyll for their answers.

It’s no surprise that Ayrshire, Arran and Argyll offer a vast amount of mouthwatering secrets – with over 80 miles of unspoiled coastline, glittering sea lochs, hills and glens to be explored. Divided into different areas, each has a distinctive character and unique treats to be experienced - from freshly caught seafood and succulent meats to mouth-watering cheeses, local beers and whiskies.

The public is being invited to reveal its favourite Scottish ‘secret ingredients’ by detailing what they are and where they’re purchased. The criteria range from herbs to condiments, alcohol to meats and even vegetables, providing they are either grown or produced in Scotland. Applicants are being encouraged to be as unpredictable, creative and unusual as possible. Mark and the Eat Drink Discover team will draw up a shortlist of the best entrants who will be invited to join him in a ‘cook off’ at the event, where the winner will be chosen. The producer or retailer who supplied the winner with their ‘secret ingredient’ will be given a free exhibition stand at next year’s event.

The Eat Drink Discover Scotland team discovered that this week's region is a highlight for traditional Scottish ingredients, such as Ayrshire Potatoes, which are currently applying for Protected Geographical Indication status (PGI). It is also famed for its haggis, which is always a popular addition to menus across the region. A firm favourite is haggis from Barbreck Farm, with their secret spice-mix ingredient!

With freshly caught langoustines, crabs, lobsters, hand-dived scallops, oysters and a range of white fish, perhaps seafood from this area is the perfect secret ingredient for a tasty fish pie?

The Island Cheese Company on Arran stocks award-winning cheeses due to the rich farmland and soft climate of the area. Taste of Arran stock a fantastic range of locally produced oatcakes, mustards, chocolate, and preserves. Alastair Dobson from the company said that its Arran Ice Cream is used by chefs all over the country and even as far afield as Dubai’s 7 star Burj Al Arab hotel, whose Executive Chef, Chef Maxime, commented that the last time he had tasted something similar was in Switzerland, comparing the subtle tastes of dairy and wild mountain flowers.

Eat Drink Discover Scotland, which is taking place at the Royal Highland Centre between 12th and 14th September, will bring to life the rich diversity of Scotland’s brimming larder by featuring exhibitors from the length and breadth of the country. One for the foodies, it will be offering something for every palate, plate and price range and, with a regional focus, it will be providing opportunities for smaller rural food producers to share centre stage with more established brands. The weekend will also include demonstrations and master classes such as chocolate workshops, cocktail making, game butchery and craft bakery.

Mark Greenaway said: "It’s all too easy to keep using the same ingredients for the same dishes, so this competition is all about discovering new ingredients and new ways of using them. I’ll be sharing my favourite products from the length and breadth of Scotland on my website’s blog, suggesting ways to make the most of them. But I want others to follow suit and share their favourites with me. This is what food and cooking should be about and, with Scotland’s truly amazing larder, I’m sure I’ll find it extremely difficult to choose a winner."

To read the Ayrshire, Arran and Argyll blog please visit www.markgreenaway.com/news

For more information on the competition visit www.eatdrinkdiscoverscotland.co.uk

 

 

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Product Review - Stivy's The Original Cider

A few weeks ago I was kindly sent a couple of bottle of flavoured cider from the people behind Stivy's Vodka Liqueur to sample. Although I have heard of the Stivy's brand, I have never tasted their flavoured vodka liqueur to date. With cider popularity continuing to rise, the flavoured ciders give Stivy's something to offer their target market of 18-25 year olds. (Which I am definitely not part of these days)
The 500ml bottles carry distinctive labelling and the Stivy's logo in clear sight, making sure to capitalise on a brand that is well known in the target market age groups. The ciders are currently available in Asda stores across Scotland with plans to roll out the new products quickly to other retails in the on and off licence trades.
Stivy's flavoured ciders are designed to be enjoyed over ice on a hot summers day and as we see to be having a bit of a heat wave just now, I decided to crack open the Kola Fruits flavour cider when I got home from work tonight.
I assumed that this cider would bring back memories of Kola Kubes from my childhood and I wasn't disappointed as the playground smells of Kola Kubes were easy to identify. Unfortunately, that's where my enjoyment ended as the cider was ridiculously sweet to taste with a bitter aftertaste. I know that I don't fall into the target market of the Stivy's brand but I can't imagine the Kola Fruits cider being a huge hit with the intended younger demographic.
On a plus note though, Nicola had the Cherry Berry flavour cider a couple of weeks ago and thoroughly enjoyed it! (she doesn't fall into the target market age group either) The cider had a very clear cherry tang, with notes of berries in the background. We both love cherry flavoured drinks and the Stivy's Cherry Berry certainly delivers the goods here.
So there to you have it, one good - one not so good. I don't image that the good people at Stivy's will shed too many tears at my lack of endorsement as I'm sure that there are plenty of new younger drinkers out there that will have found a new refreshing drink for the summer months.
Keep up to date with Stivy's on Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

Sunday, 20 July 2014

5 Questions - Coole Swan Irish Cream Liqueur

A few weeks ago, myself and Nicola had an enjoyable afternoon at The Royal Highland Show where the highlight for me was the Food and Drink village. Whilst walking around, sampling the wares of independent producers from all over the UK and Ireland, I took time to chat with the producers and gave them the opportunity to have their story told on Gerry's Kitchen.
The first people to get back to me with answers to their '5 Questions' were the team at Coole Swan, the producers of a wonderfully rich Irish Cream Liqueur. Coole Swan takes it's name from a WB Yeats poem - 'The Wild Swans at Coole' and is produced on the same family farm in County Meath where the dairy cows live and breathe.
Here's their story;
How did you get started?
That is a good question. We are farmers in County Meath in Ireland (about 1 nour north of Dublin) and love producing quality produce and we also love cream liqueurs.... So a 100% natural cream liquor seemed like a no brainer. It took over 18 months and 100's of tastings of whiskey, chocolate and cream to get it right....hard life I know!!!!
What’s the best piece of business advice you could give?
Ideas are the easier bit. Execution is the key. To execute an idea or plan you need humour, friendship, determination and flexibility. Also, you must never compromise. Ever.
Where would you like to see your business in 5 years time?
Going from strength to strength but maintaining the same level of contact and friendship with our customers and partners.
If you could only enjoy Coole Swan just one way, what would it be & why?
Coole Swan in a glass neat or over ice. That is the most perfect drink. If I were to add anything it would be a bowl of fresh seasonal berries (strawberries / raspberries / blueberries) along with good conversation and warm summer evening. Bliss!
You can invite one person (living or dead) to your last meal – Who would it be and why?
That's a tough one but anyone who has given life a real go and achieved something from it - that something could be real success (Olympic Gold Medal) or simply a better understanding of their own strengths and weakness. The human spirit is a greatly unvalued resource. We can do anything and are limited only by the horizons of our own imagination.
To dine with people who have tested that would be exhilarating. What’s on the menu? Fresh seasonal food - starting with prawns or lobster followed by a good steak with a strong, full bodied red wine and fresh garden salad. For dessert we would tuck into a Coole Swan Lime and Chocolate Mousse before finishing off dinner with Irish cheese with homemade biscuits and a Coole Swan coffee.

In addition to sending back their answers to '5 Questions' in a prompt fashion, Mary at Coole Swan very kindly sent me a box containing my very own bottle of Coole Swan Irish Cream Liqueur and a few other bits and pieces including recipe books, chocolates and Coole hot chocolate pots. At this point I would like to thank Mary and the rest of the team at Coole Swan for their generosity in sending these samples to myself.
So after a busy Sunday of wandering around garden centres before doing a little work in the garden later in the day, it was good to settle down on the sofa with glass of chilled Coole Swan in hand. There are a number of well known Irish cream liqueurs on the market and I'm a big fan of most of them but as a non whisky drinker sometimes the whisky can be a little stronger than I like. The great thing about the Coole Swan Irish Cream Liqueur is that the whisky is balanced perfectly with Belgian white chocolate to give a rich rounded flavour. Perfect over ice but I'm already looking forward to trying some of the recipes from the Coole Swan recipe books.
I would like to say that although I was given my samples of Coole Swan free of charge, my view above is an honest opinion on how much I enjoyed the product. Rest assured, I would happily add Coole Swan Irish Cream Liqueur to my drinks cabinet in the future.
Keep up to date with Coole Swan Irish Cream Liqueur on Facebook and Twitter.