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The Robin Hood Beer Festival: On Target For Food!

The Robin Hood Beer Festival is a must for any fan of the fine art of brewing. It takes over the grounds of beautiful Nottingham Castle for a long weekend in early October, usually catching the last of the sunshine before England succumbs to the soft rains of autumn. The Festival has been a lock on the Beeranaut's diary for quite a few years now, and 2014 saw a representative quartet (Super Sam, Rev Sherlock, Charmin' Ciaran and myself, El Conojito) jump on the train and hit the Midlands.

Now, I could spend a long time raving about the quality and choice of beer on offer, and let's be straight up here: The Robin Hood Festival has a larger selection than any other gathering in the country, and that includes the Great British in Olympia. Given the choice, you should be heading here rather than the big shed in London. The surroundings are nicer, the beer is better and, most importantly, the food is amazing. There'll be plenty of bloggers out there talking about the beer. Me, I'm peckish. Let's take a look at the food.

The thing with the Robin Hood Fest is that we're almost more excited about the grub than the beer. We know we're guaranteed a good feed at a reasonable price. We're not talking about duff burgers or a soggy cone of chips here. The scran at Robin Hood is top notch.

It never seems long after we head up the hill to the main marquee before we gravitate to the deli stand. It's lunch-time, after all. This is a shared concern between The Cheese Shop, which is normally based in the Flying Horse Arcade in Nottingham itself, and Melton Mowbray's own Mrs. King's Pies. I dream about the porky goodness encased in a lovely crumbly hot-water crust. A half-pie with a dab of mustard will set you back £2, and set you up for the afternoon. You will note that greedy Conojito had a salami on the side. Dense, meaty and utterly delightful. Rob's top tip: put a whole pie back to pick up for later, along with some choice cheeses. You have to check out the smoked stilton.

Porky bliss

 

While you're picking up treats, head to the Merry Berry stall and snag some chocolate for the significant other. These guys do a roaring trade at the bigger food festivals (they were at Olympia this year) and specialise in creamy buttons and spicy dark chocolate. TLC insists I bring her back the white chocolate with lemongrass. I have a thing for the Scorpion Death Chili Chocolate: absurdly hot, with a burn that just keeps building. Try it, but have a glass of something to hand, because that bad boy is gonna sting.

After an afternoon's connosieuring of fine ales, the hunger struck and we Beeranauts wended our way down the hill to the food stands. Tempted as I was by the maple and beer-glazed bacon, something more substantial was needed. Memsaab, a local curry house of distinction, was serving up good grub for the geezer on the go. A heaped punnet of curry and rice was £6 and it was money wisely invested. Beef Madras or Chicken Tikka Masala, both beautifully spiced and fall-apart tender. If you ask nicely, you can have a bit of both. Don't be embarrassed if you feel the urge to lick your tray clean. Lord knows, I wasn't. Memsaab also did amazing wraps of grilled marinaded meat. I had one of those later in the day. Hey, I was hungry.

As the sun started to ebb and the crowds started to grow, we knew it was time to vacate the site and find a quiet hostelry. For one thing, we'd been on our feet for six hours. But we needed one last snackie to get us on our way. A bowl of duck fat roasties from the appropriately named Duck Fat Roastie company did the trick. Deeply savoury, crispy, crumbly in the middle, intensely addictive. A big bowl was £3, and was enough for 4 greedy boozy blokes. The scraps at the bottom were the best bits, but the whole thing was deliriously good.

Ciaran makes an annexation attempt on the duck fat roasties. He failed.

 

A quiet pint at the Castle Rock Brewery tap by Nottingham's thoughtfully restored train station and we Beeranauts considered the ales of the day. The hits for me were Oakham's Citra (which you can get in M&S, in a slightly rebranded form), Enville's Cherry Blonde, which was the essence of a Cherry Bakewell in a glass, and Nottingham Brewery's own Centurion Porter. But I don't think I had a duff drop all day. Not bad, considering there were over a thousand beers to choose from and I was going purely by instinct.

As ever, The Robin Hood Beer Festival was the best of all possible worlds for the discerning Beeranaut: good beer, great food and a fantastic atmosphere in lovely surroundings. It's probably the highlight of my beer year, and its growing popularity shows that I'm not alone. Maybe see some of you there next October?

 

Your Beeranauts: El Conojito, Rev Sherlock, Super Sam, Charmin' Ciaran. Blue skies, great beer.

 

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Hit The North

The Northumberland Coast. Border country. North of here, and you're dealing with rebellious Scots. It is a place where the air and light are pure, where the skies are a riot of stars at night. The people are warm and generous. The food has the tang of the sea air, and the richness of the fertile land from which it has been harvested. And the sights… well, I'll let you judge for yourselves.

Seahouses harbour, Northumberland
On watch, Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland
The Keep, Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland

 
Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland

 

Andrew Burton, Light Vessel, Cragside, Northumberland.

 

Imogen Cloët, Illumine, The Dinig Room, Cragside House, Northumberland

 

Imogen Cloët, Illumine (detail), The Dining Room, Cragside House, Northumberland
Green Man, Cragside, Northumberland

 

Cragside Through The Trees
Owl Spirit, Cragside, Northumberland
Bridge, Berwick, Northumberland

 

The King In The North, Cragside, Northumberland

We are in The North, and in this point in proceedings, I don't wanna go back.

 

soundtracks1 texted

The August Soundtrack Special!

Eat My Crescendo!

This month on The Speakeasy, Rob and Clive are joined by actual honest-to-heck film composer Neil Myers. Along with adagio and strings from the mighty Keith Eyles, we highlight composers we think are unfairly overlooked, and pick out a soundtrack each that’s a bit of a hidden gem.

First movement and opening titles, everyone…

Here’s a Spotify playlist with a lot of what we’re talking about…

 

and a few that Spotify couldn’t help us out with.

Cobra by Sylvester Levay

The Haunting Of Julia by Colin Towns

Perfume by Johnny Klimek, Tom Twyker, Reinhold Hell

To find out more about our very special guest, check out http://www.neilmyers.com.

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The American Burger

The chunk of time between sixth form and college was tough for me. I didn't get the grades I needed for university, so I had to stay behind while a lot of my friends, the best and brightest of my year, went off to study. My girlfriend was one of those that left. She went to Cambridge, and she found someone else. Someone who was, you know, there. I read the Dear Rob letter on a busy Victoria Line train into work. I burst into tears in a packed tube carriage.

Like I said, tough times.

Family life was equally interesting. Mum and Dad had split up while I was studying for 'A' Levels, and as I studied for retakes, I realised I needed to take some time away from the tumult of life with my mum and brothers. I had become one of those sensitive teenagers who wrote poetry and moped constantly. With a broken family home and my romantic life in tatters, I suffered as no young man ever had before or would after.

Christ, I was insufferable.

Dad, at the time, was living in a small house in Wanstead, and I moved in over that summer of 1985 to get my head together and sort out enough of an improvement in my grades to get the heck out of Essex. It was a peaceful time. I looked after Dad's shop (he was even good enough to call me the manager) to earn my rent and a little beer money, wrote and studied.

And Dad started to teach me how to cook. It was, he said, an essential skill for when I set off on my own. Also, he'd had to bloody learn when mum kicked him out, so he was going to pass the pain on. He had a limited repertoire, gleaned mostly from the two cookbooks on his shelf, but one treat was always his American Burgers, a recipe he'd found in a newspaper and carefully noted down in his round, solid cursive.

Common knowledge now is that burgers are at their best treated simply, with care taken as to the mix of fatty and lean meat used. Back then, Dad used what he had, knowing that the flavours and spices that went into the burger would give it the right taste. They became a weekly treat for us, one that we would often cook together, with the tape player blasting out Bruce Springsteen.

The other week, TLC and I drove up to Essex to visit the 'rents. Time has been kind. Mum and Dad got back together during my first year at college, buying a new house and making things right with each other. I had done enough to get a place at the Dorset Institute Of Higher Education (now Bournemouth University) and packed my bags for the south coast in the autumn of 1986. In one of those bags was the notebook in which I had cribbed my favourite recipes from my time with Dad. The American Burger was in there, of course. It was a connection to home, and to a peaceful, healing time.

Dad doesn't cook very often anymore, but when he does the grub is always good. We had a sort of indoor barbecue on the Saturday night, and he pulled out the big guns. The American Burger was on the menu. He still has the notebook in which he wrote the recipe, stained and brown from decades of use. The Burger tasted just as delicious as it always had. I had no Proustian moment connecting me to the tumultuous past, no great epiphany. But I have fond memories of cooking with my Dad in that summer, as he and Mum gently negotiated a truce, then the rebudding of a romance.

I'd like to share that recipe–as best I can, anyway. You can't get the Knorr onion soup mix it recommends any more, so you'll have to manage with what you can find. Dad uses an Ainsley Harriott mix, if that's any help. If you do have a fatty mince blend, then you can probably get away without the egg. But try it as is, just to give you an idea of the flavours of my bumpy adolescence.

 

AMERICAN BURGERS

  • 1lb minced beef
  • half-package Knorr dried onion soup mix
  • one raw egg
  • seven squirts, Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce
  • three squirts of Tabasco
  • one tablespoon of Daddie's Sauce
  • four shakes of garlic salt
  • half a chopped onion

 

Mix together. Makes 3

Cook in hot frying pan, cover, 2-3 minutes each side.

Extras:

  • white sesame-seed bun
  • iceberg lettuce
  • Kraft cheese slices

 

A Quick Summer Traybake

Those working weekday dinners are such a bind. The clock's ticking from the moment you get in the door to the second that food hits the plate. You want something that's nutritious, tasty and above all quick. Is it any surprise that, as the hardest-working nation in Europe, we've fallen back on ready meals, pasta or pizza? When you've done a full day's work, gathering up the energy to sort out dinner is tough.

But there are ways and means. Although I'm the first to admit that I sometimes fall back on rigatoni with sauce from a bottle, there are other alternatives for that dull Wednesday evening when the tempation is high to roll past M&S or the chippy. How about this summer traybake–really easy and full of the flavours of this golden season?

As you walk in the door, get the oven on and preheating to 200C, and put a pan of water on to boil. I have been known to do this before I take my jacket and shoes off. Now you may kiss the partner and tickle the cat.

Once the water's bubbling, throw in some salt, then a handful per person of new potatoes. They'll need ten minutes to parboil. Now grab a sturdy roasting tray. Chuck in some chicken thighs or breasts, cut into slightly bigger than bitesize pieces, a thickly sliced red onion, and cherry tomatoes. Leave them whole. If you don't have cherries, normal size ons are fine, but quarter them.

Once the spuds have had their ten minutes, drain them and throw 'em in with the rest of the meat and veg. Mix everything up and give it a generous seasoning and a good glug of olive or rapeseed oil. Fresh herbs would be nice here too: robust thyme or fragrant rosemary. Oregano works as well.

Then just pop the whole lot into your hot oven, and set a timer for twenty minutes. Time for a beer, perhaps.

After twenty minutes, check the tray, and give everything a stir around. The potatoes should be golden at the edges, the onion soft, the chicken a bit sticky. If it's all looking a bit pale, just give it another ten minutes. Bear in mind that the spuds won't go as crispy as roasties, but they will go fudgy and soft. Half an hour in total is all this dish'll need at absolute maximum.

Once time's up, just mix everything up a bit, squirt over a little lemon juice, sprinkle on some parsley and serve. Looks good, eh?

Now, this dish is really tweakable. You could use little pork chops or thick fish fillets to replace the chicken (if you're using fish, no more than twenty minutes in the oven). If you're feeling bold a whole fish would work beautifully. You could add mushrooms, peppers, some whole garlic cloves, maybe parsnips or steamed sweet potatoes as the weather cools. Have a play, put in the flavours that you love and make it your own.

That's better than an M&S curry, isn't it?

 

 

Bespoke wordsmithery for all ages, tastes and budgets. Est. 1966. No refunds. Owned and operated by Rob Wickings.

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