Tales Of The Beeranauts: Very Merry Men

The Beeranauts have been pretty quiet this year. The Great British Beer Festival had to manage without us, and it was a minor contingent that made it to the London Drinker gathering back in the spring. Apart from that, nish since Battersea. A bit of a poor show, frankly.

We made up for that on Friday, with a trip up to Nottingham for the Robin Hood Festival. Held in the grounds of lovely Nottingham Castle, it’s perhaps the biggest British Beer Festival after the Earl’s Court spectacular. And it’s far and away the best.

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TLC’s Cauliflower Cheese

My beloved doesn’t cook that much. I am a kitchen hog, and will happily usher her out of the room while I create culinary masterpieces. She’ll happily be ushered. Let the goon do all the work. But just because she doesn’t, don’t mean she can’t. When TLC picks a saucepan up, the results are always delicious. Last night, after I returned bone deep weary from a working weekend, she put together the best cauliflower cheese I have ever tasted.

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Getting A Rise: Why X&HT Didn’t See Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes

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I was going to see it. Really, I was. I had the day all mapped out. Chores in the morning, then an amble into town to catch an early afternoon screening. I was quite looking forward to it.

But as the day wore on, my enthusiasm began to dwindle. By the time I got the doors of the Reading Vue, all I could manage was the feeling that there really were better things that I could do with my time. So I went into the Hobgoblin on Broad Street, and over a pint of Mr. Chubb’s Lunchtime Bitter, mused on the reasons why I’d suddenly lost all interest.

First of all, I considered, taking a sip while settling into a cosy snug at the back of the pub, Rise is a blatant attempt at starting a new franchise. Fox have of course been left without a cash cow as the Harry Potter films have finally finished, and have to be hunting around for a new series to start taking up the shortfall. Now, in my exceedingly humble opinion, franchises have turned the summer blockbuster market into an artistic void. Sequelitis has infected Hollywood like a bad case of knobrot, and the movies coming out of that policy are about as palatable. With 32 movies in the next year either based on existing properties, or reboots and remakes, the marketplace is choking on old fumes. Why should I encourage that behaviour? While I accept that my approach to these films is akin to The Pirate Code, I try to steer clear of them. There are many other better films out there that deserve my patronage.

One of them, I mused while enjoying the bright, hoppy fizz of the Lunchtime Bitter on my tongue, is the original Planet Of The Apes. A masterpiece of clever social commentary and solid storytelling, with one of the all-time killer twists. It spawned a raft of sequels, of course. All of which told the story of the fall and rise of apedom in a twisty, timeloopy fashion that made sense and, more importantly, ended in a satisfying way. Hence my concern about a new Ape franchise. The original films pretty much invented the concept in the form that modern audiences would understand, so in some ways it’s natural for Fox to glom onto the property as a moneyspinner. But the new story adds nothing to the canon. Which means, to my mind that there’s a good chance that any sequels will forge a different path. One that leads straight back to the Tim Burton version of events, and the monkey statue in Washington. Now, I could be wrong, but I’d rather not take the risk of encouraging that kind of behaviour.

Speaking of which, I reflected as I tilted the last mouthful of Lunchtime to my lips, it’s about time we stopped enabling Andy Serkis. Now, I mean this in a good way. He is a fine, thoughtful and innovative actor. But he’s been stereotyped. It used to be that when Hollywood needed a clever monkey, they went to effects wizard Rick Baker. Now, it’s all Andy Serkis crawling around a capture volume in a leotard covered in ping-pong balls. To all the smartypants yelling about Lord Of The Rings, I will simply respond with this algorithm: Gollum = shaved orang-utan.

Andy deserves better than this, Readership. It’s disrespectful of his art and talent. A boycott of his mo-cap monkeying is, I feel a harsh but fair measure. I’d rather see the man than a digitised performance any day.

I stepped out of the Hobgob into sunshine, the beer warm in my belly. A walk home along the Kennet beckoned, with perhaps a little visit to a book shop on the way. That somehow seemed like a much more pleasurable way to spend the day.

I love movies as much as anyone. But sometimes a pint of good English beer and a book are all you need to make your day.

Meaty, Beaty, Big And Bouncy

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On a weekend when I’m not working, I love to spend time in the kitchen coming up with a slow-cooked stew or casserole. Something with a bit of improv behind it. Jazz cooking. If it uses up some bits and bobs that are looking a bit sad in the fridge, then so much the better. Yesterday’s pot of love was a fine example of the form, so I thought I should share.

Start off with some chunked-up chorizo and lamb mince in a hot pan. I always use my deep saute pan for this sort of thing. It’s got a lid, and the all-metal build means it’ll happily go in the oven. We bought it with some of our wedding money, and it shows no signs of tiredness. Unlike it’s owner. I digress.

The chorizo and lamb will exude their own oil, so once they’re hot and sizzling, decant them to a warm bowl and use that paprika-spiked bounty to cook the veg. In this case, the cajun trinity of onion, celery and green pepper. I usually add some carrots to this as well. Give it five minutes. If you don’t have a beer or a glass of wine in hand by now, go pour yourself one. You’ve done some chopping. You deserve it.

Once the veg have softened a bit and taken on some colour, throw the meat back in, along with a couple of cloves of garlic and the slightly over-done sausage that was left over from breakfast. Let everything get acquainted. Now add a can of mixed beans (usually called three-bean salad or something like that) that’s been drained. After that, tomatoes. A good and lazy tip is to use a posh tomatoey pasta sauce instead. Most of the TV chefs do them, and they’re a good storecupboard standby. The supermarket/ Finest/Best/Taste The Difference ranges are all worth exploring too. I used one with cherry tomatoes and a hint of chilli. It was a very subtle hint. Too subtle for my liking, so I threw in a couple of my dried chilis, pierced but otherwise left whole so I could fish them out when everything was singing from the same hymn sheet.

The mix is smelling great, but it’s pretty dry, so I let it down with some chicken stock. I make my own, but a stock cube is fine. Just watch the salt. About half a pint, I reckon. Hard to tell. It was in a ziploc bag. Enough to cover the meat and veg, anyway.

Let that bubble gently for half an hour with the lid on, then half an hour with the lid off until the stew has thickened to your liking. Taste a few times along the way, and season as you feel the need. Keep an eye on those chilis. Crank up the music. Have another glass. If the weather’s anything like it was yesterday, watch the rain hammering the roof of the conservatory, and listen to the thunder.

When your stew is thick and glossy and delicious looking, fish out the chilis and serve over rice, and a freezer-burned peshwari naan if one happens to be kicking around. TLC thinks they’d be nice with some fruit and yoghurt, and who am I to argue with a girl that’s officially twice as smart as I am? I should have garnished it with some lovage from the herb patch, but buggered if I was going out in that weather.

If you’re lucky, clever and not too greedy, there’s enough stew left over for your dinner tomorrow too. Sometimes, improv is the way to go.

The soundtrack for the meal should really be the OST to season one of Treme. Lots of groovy N’Awlins jazziness. Perfect when you’re cooking up a storm. Or in a storm.

The Green Stuff

Many people extol the virtues of red sauce. Others prefer their sauces brown. I’ve always been partial to a spot of green.

This is the stuff that you can’t get in bottles. The best name for it is the Spanish shorthand – salsa verde. Unlike your red or brown condiments, this sauce doesn’t have a secret recipe handed down from father to son, locked in a safe somewhere. It’s an open source, open to interpretation kind of a deal. It also doesn’t last that long – certainly never long enough to form a crust round the top of the bottle. But as it takes so little time to whip up, that’s not such a big deal.

In basic terms, salsa verde is a herb and oil suspension, livened up with lemon juice and salt. You need a blender or mixer with a bit of grunt to it, unless you’re feeling prehistoric and prefer pounding your food into submission in a mortar and pestle. Which’ll work fine, but you know, 21st century and all that, the machines are our friends.

Green, leafy herbs are the order of the day. My preference is for lots of parsley, mint, basil and fennel or dill. My salsas are heavy on the fennel nowadays as I have a monster of a plant in the herb patch and I have to tame the bugger somehow.

Get yourself a decent handful of fennel and flat-leaf parsley, and about half as much basil and mint. Blitz, along with a few cloves of garlic, then pour in olive oil until you have something with a decently sloppy but spoonable consistency. Add the juice of a lemon, and some salt. You’ll probably need more than you think of each. I’ve taken to throwing in a couple of preserved lemons instead, which do the job in one hit. Taste, and taste again. You want something loud, tart and green, sharp and bright and grassy as the first sip of a gin and tonic on a hot summer day.

Fish and chicken are perfect for this stuff, although I’ve dolloped it on a burger with good effect. In fact, most barbecued meats will snuggle up happily to the salsa. It’ll keep in the fridge for a few days, although it will thicken up. Once it’s at that stage, stir it into mayo, yoghurt or sour cream to keep the salsa useful as a chippy dip, or a creamy side for lamb chops. In short, this is my go-to accompaniment for the warm months, and one of my principal reasons for growing herbs. A spoonful of summer.

The Friday Fotos: What’s your pleasure?

This board is by the bar of the Eagle and Child in Oxford. There are better pubs in the town, but few with such impeccable geek credentials. Snag one of the snugs at the front, and you’ll be sorted.

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This is the display over the bar at The Harp near Charing Cross, which recently won the coveted Camra Best Pub award. Their selection is always impeccably chosen, and swiftly served. But boy, does it get busy on a Friday night. I recommend Dark Star’s Hophead for these warm summer evenings, and they do a great pint (or two) of it at the Harp.

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And this is the ceiling of the Hobgoblin in Reading. This is a gem, with a tiny bar that opens out into a labyrinth of woody snugs, scarred with decades of graffiti, love poetry and dirty jokes. Some of the best beer in the Ding can be found right here.

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Cheers!

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The Food Feeds You Should Be Watching On Youtube

The Internet is an unending fount of goodness for the curious chef. Although I have certain favourite cookery books I go back to again and again, I will often dive onto the web if I simply need a recipe for blueberry muffins or a decent quick flatbread. My netback has become as essential as good knives and pans in my kitchen.

On my travels I’ve found several YouTube feeds that balance instructability and deliciousosity in a most entertainifying fashion. I would like to share those feeds with you.

First up, Epic Meal Time. The brainchild of a group of extremely hungry Canadians, the aim of the site is to create the most calorific food on the planet, and then eat it so we don’t have to. Bacon features heavily. Very heavily.

For something a little lighter, perhaps you should try My Drunk Kitchen. Hannah Hart teaches you the basics of late night cookery while blasted on red wine. This is an essential for those of you, like me, who were heavily influenced by Keith Floyd at a formative stage of their kitchen lives.

A new addition to the oeuvre, and the prizewinner for doing exactly what you’d expect in a four word title, is Vegan Black Metal Chef. His detail-oriented approach, coupled with a crushing riff and death grunt or two make the show the ideal place to help you polish your vegan pad Thai-fu. Just the one ep so far, but I’m eager for more.

You can see how healthy the internet cooking scene is. Any favourites I should know about, Readership?

A Flavour Of Spring

As the weather becomes kinder, I’m finding more excuses to get out into the garden. An unfocused potter, pulling weeds, listening to birdsong, can be useful to clear the head. And, more importantly, to stimulate thoughts of dinner.
The new early spuds are sprouting nicely, which should start to reward us in a month or so. The cauliflower I planted has succumbed to the evil that slugs do, but some of the Italian lettuce I sowed in its stead is ready for picking and eating. Garlic and shallots are waving their flags bravely.
Our herb patch looks magnificent. I mean look at it.

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The furry stuff is fennel. We’re both big fans of the sweet aniseed flavour. I love the purple of the seed heads on the chives. Underneath, a lowgrowing oregano, which looked very sickly last winter, has carpeted the ground keeping those darn weeds at bay.

There seem to be a lot of bees around this spring too. Next door have a nest in their roofspace, and every so often they’ll spill out of an air brick and swarm. They sound like a B52 going overhead. That’s a bit unnerving, but in small doses the little fellers are charming. They’re welcome in our herb patch any time.

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Five Signs That You Cook Like A Grown-Up

You’re going to disagree with some of these. That’s fine. The joy of cooking is that you do things differently to the way I’d do them, and the results will be equally delicious. I might think that the way you throw spaghetti at the wall to see if it’s done is a bit silly, but hey, if your spaghetti is al dente, then I won’t complain.

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