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And he used to be such a nice, quiet boy

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Dinner is Sorted

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In my student years cooking meant beans on toast or pot noodle or a kebab if you were flush.  How times change.

The advent of celebrity cooks and the evolution of media along with cheaper, more available products means the Great British culinary tradition is alive and more well than ever.

It was at college that Ben Ebbrell and Barry Taylor first came up with a plan for a student cook book.  It started in the pub (well, naturally) with a few recipes written down on a beer mat.  Post pub cooking experiments followed (always fun) and the prototype  cookbook was drawn up.

It was a far from exclusive club, they invited everybody to join their crew, anybody who could cook, or thought they could, or wanted to learn, or just the curious.  Suddenly dozens of kitchen virgins became budding cooks overnight.  And all this just from a little energy and enthusiasm.

They got together with designers, photographers, writers and media representatives and came up with the beautifully designed Sorted Cookbook.

And their skills don’t stop at main courses, they do mouth watering desserts and vodka jellies too.  In short these guys and girls have some serious skills and they are the future of the British food industry.

Most recently they got a big thumbs up from Raymond Blanc, who was quoted as saying:

“Encouraging young people to enjoy and appreciate food is a personal passion. I am delighted to support this book, it is full of great recipes for students to start their culinary adventure.”

So I had a few questions for Mr Ebbrell and the gang.

What is the secret to your popularity?

It’s difficult to say why people enjoy watching our videos and using our cookbooks so much. But we believe it’s because we strip away any nonsense and just deliver the bits you need without all the fuss. It’s all pretty raw, honest and light-hearted too, dotted with jokes, innuendoes and banter. We have a lot of fun making SORTED and I reckon that comes across on screen and in the images of the book.

Was some of your initial cookery experiments alcohol fuelled?

Cooking for myself as a chef is a profession, so obviously I steer clear of alcohol in proper kitchens. But the beautiful thing about SORTED and when I cook with the rest of the crew is that it is heavily focussed on everyday life and social occasions. It goes without saying that many of these have had the odd beer or two to get things going. Have you seen our chicken quesadilla party food (www.sortedfood.com/chickenquesadilla) or our adult, alcohol-fuelled jellies (www.sortedfood.com/adultjelly)?

Have you entered any cookery contests?

SORTED isn’t really about competing or showing off. Instead we open our arms to all young novice cooks. It’s more about sharing and all getting stuck in to create a lot of fun in the kitchen with mates. Having said that, personally I did enter a competition on the GoodFood Channel’s ‘Market Kitchen’ last year. It was a talent search competition looking to find a new TV chef and after a week of gruelling food based tasks and presenting I came out on top. http://uktv.co.uk/food/chef/aid/613549

Have any of your team gone on to work in any famous restaurants?

What you may have noticed about our recipe videos and profiles on our website is that essentially we’re just a bunch of old school mates. I’m the only chef involved but that is great proof that you don’t need an armoury of skills and dedication to knock up some really tasty grub. What you do need is an enthusiasm to experiment, try stuff out and have a few laughs in the kitchen. The rest is easy. So no, I’m the only one who’s worked in top restaurants, hotels and cooked for the occasional celebrity but that doesn’t mean that as a crew we don’t know how to churn our meal after meal of quick, simple, tasty grub heavily seasoned with banter!

Who are your cooking heroes?

I’m a big fan of chefs who cook from the heart. Using basic, fresh everyday ingredients and not having to do too much with them to create stunningly simple food. Rick Stein, James Martin and Jamie Oliver all do this so well. I can only hope that some of SORTED’s recipe will give them a run for their money too. What do you reckon?

Does cooking improve your chances of getting a hot woman?

Being able to throw together an impressive meal for that special someone is always a handy skill to have up your sleeve. And it doesn’t have to be as tricky as the end result may suggest. A few simple ideas cooked up with some personal flair and charisma is all you should need to blow the socks off of your hot date! 😉 How about trying our vanilla panacotta to seal the deal at the end of meal? (www.sortedfood.com/vanillapanacotta)

So if all this has whetted your appetite then check out Ben and his gang at:

www.sortedfood.com

 

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Written by Nick Gilmartin

August 31, 2010 at 10:31 pm

Chase Gin Cocktail Competition

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Well I’ll tell you why I like Mondays, because I tend to end up sampling some gorgeous drinks courtesy of the best Bar tenders in the Midlands.

And this week was no exception.  Williams Chase Gin provided the sponsorship for the latest round of the Midlands Mixology competition.  This month there was a much larger turn-out, with Bartenders turning up from all over Birmingham.  Eleven contestants in total.

Chris Hoy set the running with a blush coloured drink with a fair head of froth.  He was the only one to use a highball glass.

Others were very creative with their drink ware.  One guy used a hollowed out apple.  Bex O Neill used a strange hybrid of cocktail glass and tea cup.  Where she found them I know not.

A rare shot of Ash Lambert smiling

Ash Lambert suffered no disasters this month and produced his drink with ease.  It was a three tone drink with a frothy head and a slightly bitter edge.

Egg white seems to be the ingredient of choice at the minute and was used in several of the cocktails entered.  This was a cause for concern for Rob Wood, the official, who reminded everybody that raw egg can be dangerous and should be emasculated before consumption, by adding sugar.

Contestant continued to enter, even as the competition was going on, the last man producing a slightly ad-hoc pink concoction that, to my surprise, was rather tasty.

But the winner, on his home turf, was Amen Snare Johal.  His amazing drink had caught the taste-buds of the judges with it’s bursts of flavour and colour.  The guy was naturally ecstatic, there was no calming him down for nearly half an hour.

Still it was a good opportunity to network, meet fellow drink enthusiasts, ok alcoholics, and learn new tricks and tips.  Good day had by all.

Check out:

http://www.chasedistillery.co.uk/williamsgin.htm

Written by Nick Gilmartin

August 23, 2010 at 9:19 pm

Bacardi Training

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This drinking on a Monday afternoon business is becoming a bit of a habit.

This week I was off to Nottingham on a quest to improve my cocktail knowledge .  I was directed to a small doorway with a Chinese lantern over it on a side street.  So far so seedy, but who is complaining, right?

Deep in the catacombs of Nottingham town I found myself in a bar that had been turned partly into a film studio.  Gathered in the room were some of my fellow Brummies and one or two luminaries of the Bartending world.

The boss on the day was Laura Samra, account manager for Bacardi.  She introduced the lecturers for the day, none other than Alex Turner and Ben Reed.

Now these two Gentlemen are what you would call Bartending Royalty.  Formerly of the International Playboy Bartenders, they have expanded to set up companies of their own.  They have traveled the world and worked in some of the best bars and clubs on earth.  Lucky sods.

The first hour was dedicated to how to set up the bar to optimize efficiency.  It sounds simple but if you start off with properly prepared equipment you will have an easier night.  That means clean jiggers, proper tools, enough clean glasses, good size pieces of ice, enough garnish and enough change.

Or to use my mnemonic, C-I-G-S-S.  To explain:

Change, Ice and lemon, Glasses, Staff and Stock.  Your five main priorities.

From there Ben Reed took over the lecture.  His topic was the effects of Alcohol on the body.  Frankly it dispelled a lot of the myths of what we view as hangover cures.  Basically there arn’t any.  Your body will absorb the alcohol as slowly as it likes and sod anything else.

We also saw this video explaining why drinking and driving really isn’t a good idea:

He went into detail of which parts of the body are affected by alcohol and exactly how.

After lunch in the impressive Coco Tang cafe it was back to class, and this was the fun bit.

For the next hour and a half we were taught ten of the greatest cocktails from around the world.  Some of the training was done via video screen and the practical demonstrations were done behind the bar in the room.  Each of us had a turn at making a drink with the aid of the country’s best bartenders.

My first effort was the classic Bloody Mary.  Traditionally made with vodka and tomato juice, I blend it with cracked black pepper, salt, and a variety of sauces.  Some shake it, some just stick in in the glass and stir.  I like to shake it.

The Louisiana Jam really caught the attention of my tastebuds.  This is a potent meeting of Southern Comfort, mint, apricot jam, lemon and sugar mix.  You mix them up in a jam jar with ice and serve with more crushed ice.  And, oh boy, is it good?  It’s good.

The Negroni was a cocktail I didn’t instantly fall in love with.  It is made from Campari, an exceptionally bitter Italian liquor, originally made as a health tonic.  Into it you add soda and sweet red vermouth.  Add ice and a good slice of orange.

The Mojito is one of my favourite cocktails to drink, but my least favourite to make, as it is such a faffy affair.  But the end result is a crisp clean drink that slips down just a little too easily.

The Paloma came next.  I could tell you what was in it, but I won’t.  Instead I will hand you over to an expert:

After class we took a break and had a look around Nottingham town, and explored a few of it’s bars.  Brass Monkey was the first on our tour, a small, very cocktail orientated bar managed by Christian Tyrel.  In 2008 he was chosen as Nottingham’s best bartender, in it’s best bar, no less.  Go see him, his drinks are amazing.

The last place we saw was truly an experience.  Bad Juju bar is a real, honest to goodness Tiki lounge, complete with shelves full of strange exotic rums, strange exotic bar staff, and Carribean themed decor.  The drinks they made there were strange and amazing, with flaming oranges sitting on top of the drink served in a pint glass.

It was while drinking a Zombie that I finally sat down with Ben Reed for a quick chat:

At that point I had to leave, which was a terrible shame, but my parking fee was now upwards of £20.  But hey, what a way to spend the day.  Cocktail training with the Jedi masters of the trade, getting to taste their drinks, and going for drinks after.

I am starting to remember why I like this bartending lark.

Written by Nick Gilmartin

August 4, 2010 at 1:41 am

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Chase Cocktail competition

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It isn’t often you catch me getting stuck into the cocktails in the middle of a Monday lunch time, but for a certain group of people I made an exception.

Chase Vodka has recently been voted the Best Vodka in the world and now it was hosting this Vodka cocktail competition.

The competition took place at the Crystal Rivers bar in the Mailbox, one of the most high class retail centres in the city.  The bar itself is a plush, high class number frequented by the high-rollers of Birmingham city.  Their new cocktail list starts in a few weeks, but more on that later.

The competitors were mostly local bartenders  from the Kenilworth, the Malmaison, the Victoria, and other cocktail bars dotted around the city.  Young guns with a love of their job and a real talent for mixing flavours.  Underpaid, overworked, retaining pride in their profession and there to represent their bar.

Watching them prepare was Caroline Clarke, there to represent Chase Vodka.  It was down to these young bucks to get her product into her customer’s glasses.  Could they do it?

The winner was Darren Thrower, he explained his drink even as he made it, in some detail  while he produced an amazing foamy drink.

Chris Hoy came next, his drink came with it’s own appetizers and was served in silver goblets.

Bex O’Neill was the only girl entrant, and her apple loaded drink was a wonder.

Ash Lambert, the host, didn’t have a good day out.  He started well, flambé-ing  fruit, then a faulty stopper drowned his drink in Vodka.  But he persevered to pull off a respectable fourth place.

Christian and Rob produced potato martinis and other drinks but sadly didn’t make the running.  Not that it stopped me trying them, and they were rather good.  And rather strong!

So if you want to try the winning cocktail yourself go catch up with Darren Thrower at the Kenilworth Hotel.

To purchase your own bottle of Chase Vodka, made in Britain and officially the best Vodka in the world, check out this site:

http://shop.chasedistillery.co.uk/

If you want to try Darren’s winning cocktail you will find him here:

http://www.thekenilworth.co.uk/  (Just don’t ask him if he is really busy, it takes a while to make)

If you want a new place to take your friends for amazing drinks try Crystal Rivers

http://www.crystalrivers.co.uk

Written by Nick Gilmartin

July 27, 2010 at 12:14 pm

Posted in Food and Drink

Nick get’s a Taste of Birmingham

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It was a kind of a spur of the moment thing when I decided that even though I could not really afford it, I would go to the Taste of Birmingham show taking place in Cannon Park on Saturday last.  After all what did I have to lose apart from some stomach tissue?

And I am certainly glad I did, as it was an experience that any food lover would enjoy, a real carnival for the taste-buds.

Being new to the area, I knew virtually nothing about the culinary traditions of Birmingham, except that it has a lot of curry houses.  In fact it has a lot of everything, and on this one day, they had all set up their stalls like one big picnic.

The first stall I visited was a Cider vendor, and it had a fair old few to offer.  Thistly Cross Cider, was in fact Scottish, and they had a good variety on show.  Normally I love Cider, it just doesn’t love me and seeks to give me the worst hangovers imaginable.  But it would be bad form not to sample their wares.  The strawberry flavour was sickly sweet and more one for the teens.  The ginger one just tasted weird (but this winter, try it heated with a cinnamon stick).  But my outright favourite was the Thistly Cross Gold, which is matured in Whisky barrels, which gives it this lovely mellow flavour.  You really should try it.

Next door was something I had not seen since my childhood.  Soda Stream was there to make it’s big Elvis-style comeback.  In these recession hit times it provided an alternative to supermarket brand fizzy drinks.  Did it taste exactly as I remembered?  Yes it sure did.

I moved on to look further around the drink section.  San Miguel had a stall going on, as did Havana Club.  But since I was driving I could not make a nuisance of myself, which was a shame.  But I did spot a familiar face on one stall.

John Tipton was a man as happy as a puppy with two tails, and he was eager to tell me why.  He was there to promote Chase Vodka, a product from Herefordshire that had just been voted (wait for it) Best Vodka in the World by the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.  A British product had indeed trampled the hopes of Russia, Poland, Finland and France to produce a Vodka that was indeed, a world champion.  For Bartenders, this is like watching your team win the world cup from behind the gold post.  Chase Vodka is indeed a rather tasty specimen, with a smooth taste, it doesn’t make you cringe like some better known brands of Vodka.  It is made from two types of potatoes from a farm in Herefordshire.

John works for the Jeckyll and Hyde pub, but we will hear more of them another time.

I had a look around the foodie stalls and browsed a few oils that looked lovely and burnt my mouth to hell.  I have David’s Chilli Oil to thank for that.  But as a guy who is pretty handy in the kitchen I tend to collect this kind of thing.

Next over from him was a cookie stand.  Taste of the Moorlands has been producing biscuits since 2004.  It’s owner, Sarah Gayton, herself of a family of bakers, set the business up after spending four years working in Kosovo in environmental protection.  Her ginger biscuits are the work of the devil, especially after my tongue was still recovering from David’s Chilli oil.

One sign really caught my eye, Brockleby’s, advertising Wild Beaver Pies no less.  Well what man can resist a bit of Beaver?  Don’t answer that.  Apparently it was lamb, but personally I found it a little too subtle for my taste (maybe I had just burned out my taste-buds).  I did however take to their Chicken and Asparagus pies which blended the flavours so well.  And you didn’t get that stodginess that you get with some pastries.

I was having a look round when one young lady, whom I had seen on TV the previous day, approached me with a claim that her restaurant does the best Fish and Chips in the UK.  Now us Yorkshire men are pretty fussy about our Fish and Chips, particularly in the middle of Chicken Tikka country. But she went on to describe in detail how their Icelandic Cod was cooked in beer batter and dipped in proper dripping to give it a unique flavour.  Yes, she sure knew how to make a man weak at the knees.  I promised to pay The Great British Eatery a visit.  More on that when I do.

Further down, we had the Kinnaree Thai restaurant, which was the most impressive of all the stands.  Their fruit carvings were highly intricate (coming from a guy who can barely peel an orange), melons cut into the shapes of flowers, and their food was a riot of colour and flavour rarely seen outside London.  The girls running the stall looked like they had stepped from the pages of FHM Asia, and were dressed to the nines.

I could have stayed there all day and looked around but sadly I had to roll, so I made one last port of call, and it is one I am very glad I made.

Ben Ebbrell is a young whipper-snapper fresh out of college who had just written his own cookery guide especially for students.  As someone who has done a fair bit of food writing I was very pleased for him.  His guide ‘Sorted – a Rookie’s Guide to Practical Cooking’, is now available via their website, listed below.

More news on Ben and his associates will follow.

So it was with some regret that I had to leave this on-going food fest, but I had met some very interesting, and inspirational people and tasted some food that was out of this world.  Yes I think I am going to be very happy in the Midlands.

For further details on anybody I mentioned above please check out their websites:

http://www.thistlycrosscider.co.uk/

http://www.sodastream.com

http://www.chasedistillery.co.uk/

http://www.thejekyllandhyde.co.uk/

http://www.davidschillioil.com/

http://www.brocklebys.co.uk

http://www.tasteofthemoorlands.co.uk/

http://www.kinaree.co.uk

http://www.greatbritisheatery.co.uk/

http://www.sortedfood.com


Please check them out, support these great British cooks and innovators.  We need them

Written by Nick Gilmartin

July 20, 2010 at 9:02 am

Posted in Food and Drink

Corned Beef Hash

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This is a recipe for those of us really feeling the pinch of the recession.  Even if you take out a few of the ingredients you don’t lose that much flavour.  But it is a good stodgy winter’s night’s supper.

You will need the following:

One tin of good quality corned beef.

Five or six decent potatoes.

One onion

Half a pack of decent sized closed cap mushrooms.  Or about eight.

Two peppers, any colour (I use red and green for contrast)

One ball of Mozarella

One small jar of hot salsa sauce (alternatively you can make your own)

Worcestershire sauce

Paprika

Ground black pepper

You need one boiling pan and one large frying pan or wok, and two baking tins.

Firstly chop your potatoes into quarters and boil in a pan of water until soft.  Don’t peel them, the skin is the best bit.  Chop your onions, peppers and mushrooms finely or coarsely, as you prefer and fry in a pan until the onions are brown and everything is soft.

Open the corned beef (taking caution not to cut yourself) and add to the wok.  Using a spatula hack it down to small chunks.  Stir it into the vegetables.

Set your oven at 180 c and allow it five minutes or longer to heat up.

By now the potatoes should be just soft enough so drain the water through a colander and add the potatoes to the wok.  Again use the spatula to hack them down to small pieces and stir or ‘fold’ the mixture.

Add two heaped tablespoons of salsa sauce and one of worcestershire sauce.  Continue to stir and taste occasionally.  Add black pepper if you feel it needs it.  Reduce heat of the cooking ring.

Then use a serving spoon to transfer the mix to two thick single-serve oven dishes.

Open the Mozarella, drain the water  and slice as thinly as possible.  Place the slices (about three each) over the mix and sprinkle with a little paprika.

Place in the oven and cook for 7-10 minutes.

remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.

Enjoy!

Written by Nick Gilmartin

February 20, 2010 at 9:14 pm

Winter Cider Punch

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Time for a drink I think, and make something very hot and alcoholic.

An old family recipe is hot cider punch, simple and effective.

Empty a pint bottle of cider into a sauce pan.  I recommend Green Goblin from Wychwood or Magners.

Add the juice of one lemon.

Add two large tablespoons of honey.

Add four sticks of Cinnamon and simmer for five minutes.

Taste with a spoon, allow to cool a little and serve in a thick latte glass.

Written by Nick Gilmartin

February 11, 2010 at 9:42 pm

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