Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Beers of the World Cup - #20 Algeria - Casablanca Lager Beer (Substitute from Morocco)

My #beersoftheworldcup challenge is coming to an end and there have been a few of the competing countries at the FIFA World Cup 2014 that I have really struggled to source beer of lager from. Algeria actually produce quite a number of beers with Tango being the most popular, but once again the lack of an export business has resulted in me having to call up another substitute. When Jack Charlton was manager of the Republic of Ireland he made great use of the 'grandparent rule' in order to clear eligibility rules, I'm using the 'next door neighbour rule' and calling up Morocco' Casablanca Lager Beer to fill the Algerian gap.
Beer was introduced to Morocco by the French in the early 20th century with beer production and distribution in the North African country overseen by Brasseries du Maroc. The most popular beers in Morocco are Speciale Flag, Stork and the premium beer Casablanca which is more expensive than the other two.
The labelling on the Casablanca conjures up memories of Humphrey Bogart and Rick's Bar and I'll admit to being a little excited about cracking open the bottle. The beer pours with a deep amber colour and a slim foamy head. There are pleasing aromas of honey, lemon and sweet malt which also carry into the taste. The Casablanca has a medium carbonation and is fairly easy to drink, although maybe a little too sweet to drink a lot of it. There's nothing about this beer that makes it stand out from other mass produced lagers but it's not offensive either. Pleasant enough to drink but just a touch too sweet for me.
Keep up to date with my progress on Twitter as I try to complete my challenge and you can let me know which Algerian beers you would pick, using the hashtag #beersoftheworldcup

 Written by Gerry HaughianWritten by Gerry Haughian

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.