Craft beer advent calendar 1: Meantime London Pale Ale

This entry is part 1 of 24 in the series Craft Beer Advent Calendar

So I was given a lovely (and slightly daunting) present for my birthday – a craft beer advent calendar. My aim isn’t to make a big deal with long posts, or I won’t do it, but it was a fun idea and so I’m going to record my thoughts for the blog.

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As a bit of background, I do like craft beer, and I have tried a good few, but I don’t consider myself to be particularly knowledgeable. I like the taste of a decently strong ale, but I don’t consider myself to have been exposed to a lot of variety.

So today’s advent calendar ale is Meantime London Pale Ale. I’ve had this one before (I think in rather trendy bars and restaurants). It describes itself as ‘brewed with Cascade, Centennial and Kentish Golding’, which are apparently hops. I like that the bottle doesn’t do anything else in a self-aggrandising way.img_20161201_200118-copy Read More

Huel vs Subway

Last week I started using Huel for the first time. (It feels a bit odd to say “using” like that but I can’t really think of a better word. Technically I’m drinking it but telling people that I am drinking my meals makes me sound like an alcoholic.) I’m very conscious that I’m only at the start of my Huel journey and there is plenty of opportunity to become bored, frustrated by hunger, or even to have adverse reactions to having Huel instead of some of my meals. When I say adverse reactions, I’m not talking about anything serious, but there is always the possibility that the form of Huel disagrees with me over medium-long term.

I think I need to wait a little longer before making an assessment of its impact on me, but I have a couple of immediate thoughts. Read More

Huel: the sample

A while ago I posted an article named It’s not people, but is it palatable? The article was about Soylent, the powder that you could mix with water and take instead of eating. I expressed interest, scepticism, and ultimately disappointment that I couldn’t try it myself. For a while I checked every so often to see if they had expanded operations to the UK, which they still haven’t.

A year and a half later, I’d forgotten about it, but then happened to come across something else: Huel. It’s a very similar concept (down to the minimalist website with an athletic-looking guy pouring beige liquid into a glass), and it was not just available, but originated in the UK. In fact, the two main players as far as I can see are currently Huel and Joylent, the latter of which not only comes from the Netherlands, but rather daringly posts their last three reviews on the front page of their website, which at the time of writing are not all positive. Read More

New England Food Day 3: Chicken Showdown

This entry is part 5 of 4 in the series New England Food

A lot of people who know me know that I’m partial to the occasional piece of chicken fried in the style of a certain Kentucky colonel. It doesn’t quite form a staple part of my diet, but it’s certainly an easy go-to when I need something satisfying and delicious. I could spend hundreds of words describing why I like it (especially for those of you who are wondering whether I’m really interested in good food after that revelation) but I won’t do so in this post.

The purpose of that meandering introduction?

Today was the day I had KFC in the USA.

Read More

New England Food Day 2: Lobsterday

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series New England Food

I’m not an expert on lobster, but I know I like it. In large part that’s due to the fact that it’s got a great delicate flavour (it’s seafood without being too fishy), in medium part it’s due to the fact that a whole lobster is fun to eat, and in small part it’s due to the fact that it’s not that common to have, so I get excited about eating it.

I was interested to see how I would find it when lobster was in abundance and at a reasonable price. Would I get bored of it? Well, Day 2 was the day we were determined to finally eat some lobster and find out.

But that was getting ahead of ourselves. Unlike Day 1, we actually had three proper meals out on Day 2, which gave us a bit more exposure to New England food. Read More

New England Food Day 1: IHOP!

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series New England Food

So, we’d just spent about 7 hours on a flight, and landed in Boston on a Saturday evening. Due to lightning, we were held on the parkway for 2 hours. I’m sure there was a good reason, but being made to sit inside a metal tube with a fair amount of aviation fuel still in the tanks while lightning played around us was a bit disconcerting.

The next morning, we were sure of two things:

  1. We were very, very tired from what had been a 20 hour day plus 8 hours or so of sleep
  2. We were hungry and wanted to explore Boston

Our source of restaurants was primarily Google maps and TripAdvisor, and where we were staying (in Cambridge, MA) there were some options, but lots that were the wrong direction, or closed (it was Sunday). We were also aware that we wanted to get on and explore, and not spend the whole of our first day sitting around.

A reasonable resolution was to choose IHOP. Those familiar with the US will know that this is a bit of a cheap-and-cheerful pancake and breakfast house chain. It’s not renowned for its quality, but it fit our requirements of being dependable, not expensive, hopefully quick and on our route into Boston.

We got one right. Maybe two.

Here’s an unnecessary shot of the menu:

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It sure looked good. As it happens, both Katherine and I love pancakes, of the American, fluffy style. Our normal way of having them is with bacon and maple syrup (bacon on the side, in my opinion, but Katherine likes to just lump it all together). So we were excited by the prospect of having them in their natural habitat.

Katherine ordered a stack of three, but I went for something a bit more substantial – a ‘big breakfast’ including egg, sausage, hash brown, ham and bacon, and then a side of turkey bacon. Yes, I felt that I had to top-up my bacon quota for the day.

In fact, I wanted to know what turkey bacon was like. Turkey’s a pretty healthy meat, and I guessed that this was the reason for its inclusion on the menu – for those health-conscious types who felt that they still wanted bacon. I was intrigued as to what it would taste like as well as its texture. And would it really be healthier?

Well, here’s what it all looked like:

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On the whole, it was very filling, and pretty reasonable quality.

The egg and pork bacon (I didn’t think I’d ever have to specifically refer to pork bacon) were just as you’d expect. For UK readers unfamiliar with how it works, in the US you don’t really get back bacon like you do in the UK – it’s all ‘streaky’ bacon. Back bacon is available, and is often called ‘Canadian bacon’, though this can be a bit different from what we think of as back bacon. But that aside, there wasn’t anything of note about these items.

The ham was a bit of ham – slightly thicker than our sandwich ham. It was fairly flabby and tasted like I was eating fried, thick sandwich ham. Not sure about the reason for this item, unless you’re worried that sausage, egg and bacon wasn’t sufficient to cover the protein and pork recommended daily amounts. I’d have left this out, no problem.

The hash browns were interesting. Here’s a bit of a close up of the main plate:

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The hash browns (out of focus at the back) were really just grated potatoes fried together. I’ve had them before in this manner, and they can be really flavoursome and good. But in this case they weren’t; they were undercooked and boring. Just carbohydrate filler; I’d probably have preferred toast.

The sausages were surprisingly good. Sarcastic readers will probably say because I’m used to British sausages which don’t contain much meat, but it was more than meat content – it was the interesting flavour. It was stuffed with herbs and some spices, and really well cooked – and as you can see, a bit more like a chipolata. Really good.

Which brings us onto the pancakes.

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All I can really say is that they were fine. As pancakes go, they were about the right consistency, though a bit thinner than I was used to. They had a nice fluffiness, but also a mass-produced feel. They were fine.

And then: TURKEY BACON.

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First off, it looked a lot like real bacon; this helped, and made it appealing to look at. It felt a bit like dry, crumbly bacon when I cut it; just about right but nothing wrong with it. And it tasted like turkey meat with bacon flavour and possibly bacon colouring. If I kind of focussed on something else and ate it quickly, I might have failed to notice it. But realistically, in a blind taste test, 10/10 times you’d pick out the turkey bacon. Still, it felt like I was eating something unhealthy and it was probably comparatively healthy, so there are some pluses.

All in all, the breakfast was filling, pretty tasty, and reasonable value. It wasn’t quite as cheap as I’d expected, and then there was the usual fretting about what to do with the tip. And it was slow. The breakfast took about 45 minutes to come from ordering, probably because everyone in Cambridge goes to IHOP on a Sunday morning. The restaurant was really busy.

We didn’t go to IHOP again, because we found somewhere better the next morning. But if I was there for a while, and I knew I’d want a decent breakfast and I didn’t want to faff around with choosing from various restaurants, I’d probably go there again.

And that turned out to be the only food we bought that day, because we were so filled that we survived until dinner, which we had at a friend’s house that evening. Otherwise, we survived on water as we walked around Boston’s Freedom Trail (recommended). Later in the afternoon we bought a quick bagel snack but I didn’t really eat any of it. So that brings us to the end of Day 1: the day in which I discovered Turkey Bacon and wasn’t entirely sure whether I disapproved or not.

New England food: Introduction

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series New England Food

The summer holiday this year was to the USA – specifically New England. I was excited not only to see the States, but to sample the food. New England is famous for seafood, and I was absolutely determined to enjoy as much as I could, but also try some variety. On my radar in addition was to have some good old fashioned favourites, like pancakes, burgers, fried chicken and pizza.

This series of posts will take each day individually and focus on the meals in the day. As I go through I’ll update this post to keep it like an index. Hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed eating the food, and please do comment on your thoughts!

Supermarket Sushi

I love sushi. It’s such a fantastic way of serving fish and a pretty good way of serving other tasty things too. It’s bite size, so you can try lots of different things in a meal. And I could probably also argue that it’s fairly healthy too, as you’re eating small bites rather than big ones, thereby making it slightly less likely that you would eat too much.

Ten or fifteen years ago sushi really caught on in supermarkets. You started being able to get little packs of sushi of different flavours, with soy sauce, ginger and wasabi included, and the British public welcomed it. So it became a Thing.

I remember trying my first supermarket sushi. It was from Sainsbury’s, and it was awful. The rice was cold and hard, the toppings were flavourless, and the price was wrong. It was terrible, not just as sushi but as food, and I felt sad that people around the UK were going to taste supermarket sushi and think this was reasonable sushi.

There is one aspect of sushi which isn’t ever going to work in supermarket sushi – raw fish. A trip to a good sushi restaurant really must include some tuna, perhaps some squid, some roe and other fish, sliced carefully and served on rice. And I understand that you can’t do this in supermarket sushi. But there are other options – tamago (omelette); king prawn; and some ‘california roll’ types of sushi with fairly authentic Japanese flavours. And you can do vegetarian rolls (maki) as well.

So back whenever I first tried supermarket sushi, I concluded that this was an experiment that wasn’t going to work in Britain. I was surprised that it kept going as long as it did, but people seem to like eating cold, hard rice with cold, rubbery smoked salmon on it.

Today I was shopping for food and I needed something small to add to my lunch. And so a little tray of sushi turned out to be just right in terms of size, so I thought I’d try it, without really looking at what was in it. But here it is.

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Reading the label carefully I was a little suspicious: the types of sushi included were

  • Hoisin duck
  • Chilli and ginger
  • Red cabbage
  • Sweet chilli chicken
  • Smoked salmon

None of these are something you’d find in a sushi restaurant.

Studying the components of my tray of sushi made me realise another reason why you don’t get that much sushi in the UK: the flavours aren’t strong enough. This is probably a controversial topic and the subject for another post.

Anyway, settling down to try my sushi, I must say I was actually pleasantly surprised – which is not to say that it was good sushi. On the whole, I would still recommend that people avoid these packs, because the flavours are just not that great, and a sandwich would probably taste better (and be cheaper). But they are not as bad as they used to be.

The main thing I noticed was that the rice was no longer cold and hard. This could be because it had been bought about half an hour beforehand, but I suspect that actually it was just cooked better than previously; this in turn helped the flavour.

The hoisin duck was very much like a hoisin duck wrap in rice. It was pretty sweet, and tasted okay, but the combination was a bit odd.

The red cabbage and sweet chilli chicken were similar. It felt like the rice was a vessel to eat those things, which made it a bit strange to eat. The flavours were fairly standard – nothing special. The chilli and ginger roll was mostly ginger, and this was probably the strangest one – why put plain ginger with a bit of chilli into a piece of sushi? Why not go a little more traditional and put cucumber, red pepper or egg?

The smoked salmon sushi was probably the best one. They used to put wafer thin smoked salmon on sushi, but this was a proper chunk of salmon. It would have been even better were it raw, but smoked was a pretty good alternative, and the salmon was tender and pretty tasty.

The pickled ginger on the side was quite good too, full of flavour though a bit too wet.

So my conclusion? The sushi tray was surprisingly reasonable, but still not great. It was nothing like real sushi, and the flavours they put in were quite arbitrary; it felt like a bit of an asian hodge-podge, which is a real shame, because you’re missing out on so many potentially interesting flavours. So while there has been improvement, it hasn’t come to the stage yet where I feel I would deliberately choose it.

Your move, supermarkets.

BBQ champ – the introduction

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series BBQ Champ

Well, lots of you know that I am a huge fan of grilling. Recently I got into it through visiting some North American relatives who had a book which put grilling beyond the open fire blackening of sausages and meats.

I’ve been taking it seriously for a couple of years now, and am a proud owner of a Weber MasterTouch 57cm and a Weber Smokey Mountain 47cm. I’ve also been frequent viewer of YouTube videos of barbecue and smoking technique, and a member of the British Barbecue Society forum. In fact, there I saw a form inviting applications to this new show revolving around barbecuing, and I briefly considered it before deciding that I didn’t have time this summer. Plus, I had no idea what it would be like!

But I can’t resist commenting on it as I watch it, so starting tonight, I’m going to be watching it, watching it on repeat, and then giving my thoughts.

Happy grilling!