It’s Not Jimmy’s, It’s Mine!

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I will never forget the first Jimmy’s I had. I bought it in a deli behind Ladbroke Grove on one of our first sunny days of the year. Before then I wasn’t necessarily convinced that iced coffee was a drink for me; sticking to piping hot espressos and frothy cappuccinos to perk me up. Well I was wrong. Since this very day in the middle of May, I have never looked back. It was also on this momentous occasion that I posted an alluring shot of my iced coffee on a bright turquoise bench in my friends garden….@jimmyicedcoffee ‘liked’ the picture and the rest is history.

What Jim Cregan has created is something cool,  fun and something so delicious that it is genuinely sad when you reach you the bottom. Iced coffee never tasted so good.

I grabbed Jim for a quick Q&A, to  give us a little insight into his world…

I am going straight in for the kill, which Country do you think produces the best coffee?

I think Costa Rica produces the best coffee.  I’ll put this down to ignorance of not exploring enough countries and their own coffees but when I went to Costa Rica, I distinctly remember having cup after cup of consistently incredible coffee.  That isn’t to say our Honduran coffee isn’t bad, as it’s EPIC.  I guess it’s also down to enjoying it in the place of origin, sat on plastic chairs in a road side cafe, without a care in the world after a great surf. That all adds to making a cup of coffee taste that extra bit better.
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Lying in the grass, on a hot & sunny day, I would reach for an Original Jimmy’s Iced Coffee. What is your ideal coffee-scenario?

My ideal coffee scenario is this; waking up knowing I’ve got enough time to brew an epic Iced Coffee at home using my Aeropress and cook up some scrambled eggs to enjoy with my wife whilst listening to some crazy music on BBC 6 Music. It’s super simple as everything should be, and so fulfilling for my belly and my brain.
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How long has it taken you to grow this wonderful brand from the very first seed of inspiration, to the Iced Coffee Empire it is fast becoming? 

Firstly, thanks for calling it a wonderful brand! The seed was sewn in Australia in 2008 when I first found ready to drink Iced Coffee. It wasn’t ‘watered’ until November 2010 when it turned into a weed and grew like mad. I guess the brand is me and my outlook on stuff which has always been there, it’s just needed to become a tangible object to make it come to life for others to enjoy. Does that even make sense?

Tell us about your involvement with the ‘This is Africa Initiative’? 

‘This is Africa’ is an epic little initiative run by a friend of mine, Lucy Devall.  She runs a heap of school enterprise campaigns here in the UK and in Africa, encouraging young people to actively think about being entrepreneurial.  She asked if we could be involved as a case study for the students as it fits well within their community and their climate. She figured that as Africa produces amazing Coffee and the sun shines a great deal, Iced Coffee could be produced for two reasons. One, the sunshine puts you in the mood for Iced Coffee and two, Solar energy could be used to power fridges, making it a viable business proposition. We proved to be a useful case study and it made the students broaden their ideas on enterprise, which is ace. In the future, I’d love to go out and do more, but for now it seems like we’ve managed to help out in a way that’s different and I like that a lot.
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Do you have a favorite café in the UK and what makes that place so special?

My favourite cafe…that’s a tough one as there are a great deal of them across the length and breadth of the UK. Right now, I would have to go with ‘Boscanova’ in Boscombe, funnily enough. It’s ace. There are some of the UK’s greatest baristas in there who literally love coffee to death.  Their breakfasts are off the chart and the chefs are like mechanical maniacs.  It’s always rammed, always playing the best music and if you get in before 9am, you can do 2-4-1 early bird brekkies. They love messing around with different types of coffee without being all ‘London’ about the whole thing and are so happy to explain all the processes involved without making you feel like a douche.  It’s perfect on a hangover, then a stroll down the beach. Simple.
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Where do you see Jimmy’s Iced Coffee in 5 years time? 

Wow. Big question.  In 5 years, the Jimmy’s brand will have a great presence in at least 5 countries across this fine globe in number of guises from Iced Coffee to the best portable BBQ you’ve ever seen.

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Your view right now… 

My view right now is the length of my office out into the car park at our Industrial Estate named ‘Beaver’ for some ridiculous reason. It’s not all that glam, but it’s amazing what a few plants and some optimism can do to your work space.

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Your next adventure is… 

My next adventure is the birth of my first nipper and man what an adventure it’s going to be. My wife is already experiencing contractions, so it won’t be long now, maybe a week!  It’s made me reflect on my life heaps and how much my folks have looked after me.  What a mission I’ve been on, even at 32.

And finally, what are you listening to in your (perfectly adorned) truck on a Jimmy’s road trip? 

On a perfectly adorned road trip, I’m listening to a mix of Nas, Pearl Jam, Snoop, Black Seeds, Russ Chimes, Beirut, Fat Freddy’s Drop, stuff like that.

Amazing. Thank you Jim! 

On that note it is time to sit back with an ice cold glass of the good stuff and enjoy this…

(Stockists include: Waitrose, Selfridges & Co., Whole Foods, Budgens, WHSmith, RoadChef and many more!)

www.jimmysicedcoffee.com 

My Spain…

Back into the swing of things here in London and with Summer finally here, my holiday blues are subsiding. Leaving Spain for me however, is always hard…

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Arcos De La Fronterra is a little Spanish town near Jerez, that I can happily call my second home. If you want to discover typical Andalusian culture then this is a good place to start. It is surrounded by olive groves but towering high above the surprisingly lush landscape are elaborate churches, family run tapas bars and Moorish inspired homes and dwellings built into the rocks. There is a wonderful little vineyard called Bodegas Marascal, right next to Arcos town which is a simple hobby to its owner Marco (& a real treat for those locals who get to taste the wines!) We visited last year and got to see this working vineyard in action, followed by a thorough tasting whilst snacking on cold meats and cheese.

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Just by the reservoir 10 minutes from Arcos is a town called Bornos and this is where I experienced Caraquoles for the first time. ‘Caracoles guisados en caldo’ (snails stewed in broth!) is an apertivo typico for the Province of Cadiz. I spotted the gentleman on the table next to me devouring this peculiar looking delicacy as we sat outside a Tapas bar a couple of weeks ago. My only experience of Snails before now, has been stabbing at big, garlic escargot in piping hot ceramic dishes ‘the French way’. Drinking down the grey liquid then carefully picking at the little caracquoles with my teeth was a new venture. Actually, I was pleasantly surprised and washed down with a chilled glass of Cruz Campo, I can see why this herbacious and well seasoned broth is popular despite its daunting appearance.

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(top tip: avoid the black sack at the base of the snail….!)

On June 23rd, we celebrated Midsummer in honour of San Juan (St. John the Baptist). Led by a group of Spanish friends it was a day of good food and very good wine as well some fantastic ‘Spanglish’ conversation- we were really stuck on the word ‘Host’ and this escalated into a rather hilarious game of language-charades. Needless to say, the Spanish dictionary was coming in handy. At 12am the fireworks started and out came a banquet of sweet treats; traditional Spanish cakes and desserts.

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The sun setting over Arcos de la Fronterra

It is a celebration particularly prominent to some of the coastal towns of Spain (Alicante for instance consider it their most important Fiesta) and they spend their day preparing huge bonfires, which become the focal point of the night when revellers jump over them to “purify and cleanse the soul”. We kept it a little more low key but toasted to the shortest night of year with copious amounts of Cava, whilst releasing lanterns into the sky.

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Cucumber & Mint Salad: Light, fresh salads are essential lunches for scorching hot days

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I take my Cruz Campo with a slice of lemon!

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The train from Jerez to Seville is very simple and well worthwhile. It takes just over an hour and gets you right into Seville about a 15-20 minute walk from the centre. Seville won my heart over the first time I visited on a lone expedition 4 years ago. With very little planning I jumped on a bus from Algerciras on the southern coast (next to Gibraltar) and made a journey with nothing but a map and a camera. I have returned every year since with friends to show them this magical place.

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A visit to the Alcázar is a must when visiting Seville. This Royal Palace, encased by the most enchanting of gardens, is still in use and houses the Spanish Royal Family when they are on trips to the city. Peacocks strut in between cooling water features & ancient foliage whilst tourists stagger around in awe of the Palace’s fine detail, inside and out. Good food and drink isn’t hard to come by down the many cobbled streets surrounding the Alcázar and horse pulled carriages wait patiently at the Cathedral to lead you further afield.

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To really, really experience the true heart & soul of Spanish life however, you must find and witness the passion of its Flamenco. Last year my boyfriend and I were near hypnotised behind the big wooden door of Tablao El Arenal; sweat was flying, heeled boots were clicking and hands were clapping during this deeply emotive performance, that has stayed with me ever since…

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Now, tucked away in the Sierra Morena mountains just outside of Seville, is another little piece of heaven. This year Isaac and I were lucky enough to spend the night in the perfectly rustic ‘Trasierra‘ (owned by Charlotte Scott) which is the ultimate escape.

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We drankRosé by the pool and were treated to a typically Spanish spread for lunch; fresh salads, almond gazpacho, braised sausage & lentils. Homemade cakes & mint tea are served in the afternoon, post siesta and by night, you can enjoy a three course dinner under fairy lit trees in the courtyard of the Cortijo. Sleep was easier here than I have found it to be in years, no doubt the fresh white linen sheets and rare silence of the night had something to do with that. Sounds pretty idyllic doesn’t it…

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The warm breeze is perfumed with Jasmine and around every corner, set against white washed stone are dashes of colour from the lavender and rose bushes. Come here to relax. Be barefoot and carefree. Read. Eat, drink and surrender to this rural way of life.

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There is no doubt that I am truly in love with Spain. The culture, food, drink and hospitality. The weather is glorious and it continues to fill my soul with goodness each and every time I visit. It also beholds many more little secrets and adventures which I can only hope to indulge you in on countless other occasions…

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For more information on Trasierra you can LIKE their Facebook page, check out their website or give them a Tweet @trasierra
http://trasierra.eu/
https://www.facebook.com/trasierra?fref=ts

Orange & Basil Cocktail

I am currently in a little town in Spain, just over an hour away from Seville. The temperature is 34 degrees and most of my days are spent lounging around reading, sunbathing and sleeping. The heat seems to intensify around 6 to 7pm, which ties in nicely with what is fast becoming “cocktail hour”…

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My craving for something refreshing and indulgent goes off like an internal timer around this time and yesterday I decided to make something a little different  (my usual tipple would be a Spritzer or Cerveza!) utilising the fresh basil growing in the garden and the abundance of oranges famous to this region of Spain, this drink is bursting with the essence of Summer and perfect for a scorching Spanish evening!

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Orange & Basil Refresco

(makes 4 cocktails)

Peel of 2 Oranges

A handful of fresh Basil

500 ml Vodka

Dash of Soda

Dash of 7UP or Gaseosa (Spanish soft drink)

Ice cubes

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You will firstly need to make an orange and basil infused vodka (which can also be done a couple of days in advance). I put orange peel, basil and vodka into a jug, along with a slice of orange to heighten the flavour. Muddle with a fork (cover in cling film) and pop it into the fridge for a couple of hours at least.

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Get your glass tumblers ready with a small strainer hovering over each as you pour around a shot & a half of the infused Vodka into the glasses, over ice. Add a dash of soda and top up with a very light, sweet soda of sorts (I used Gaseosa, which is a Spanish soft drink and resembles 7UP, so I’d say that would be a good match). Finally one squeeze of fresh orange in each glass.

I garnished our cocktails with an orange spiral and a single basil leaf.

Now sit back under a shady tree and watch the world go by…

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For more information on infusing spirits, check out this blog below-

http://theshiksa.com/2013/02/13/infuse-vodka-flavor/

My Foodie Week: THE Full English, Coconuts & Picklebacks…

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If you want to start the weekend with a bang, then I highly recommend the Full English at The Electric Diner. It is served from 8am All Day long and it hits the spot like nothing else. Get your hangovers down their over the weekend and try it for yourself if you don’t believe me!

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I never got the  ‘Coconut Water’ thing when the artificial looking cartons first starting to hit our newsagents & supermarkets (especially when there is a stall on the Portobello Road with the real stuff). However after much searching I have found a couple of brands that definitely do what it says on the label and i’d say are the next best thing. As Summer seems to be approaching keep rehydrated with Go Coco 100% Coconut Water (pictured above) or the equally refreshing Cocofina, Natural Coconut Water.

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Having made some rather delicious Courgette and Cinnamon Muffins last week, I was left with an abundance of grated Courgette. Making the most of the ingredients I had (1 beaten egg, a chopped green chilli, 1 grated potato, fresh parsley and seasoning) I made these fritters, which were a simple and delicious vegetarian dinner. Make sure that once you have grated your veg, you ring out the excess water (I did this buy using a clean, dry tea towel). I winged this without any recipe however here is a nice and easy one from Nigella.

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I had the rare treat of going to Nobu for dinner with a girlfriend after visiting Ronnie Wood’s latest exhibition at the Castle Fine Art Gallery on Bruton Street. We both indulged in a pre-dinner cocktail and I chose the exquisite ‘English Rose’  which my friend described as “like the breath of an Angel, having just eaten a marshmallow”- I tend to agree!

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My friend Molly had her Birthday at our fave East London hangout, The Hemmingway. The food is absolutely fantastic and this Beef Wellington, has to have been the best I have had. It was a sharing dish and came with perfectly cooked runner beans, salad and thick cut chips served on a big wooden platter. If you are looking for a quirky, cool pub with a great menu and friendly staff then head to Victoria Park Road and check it out.

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Guilt free sweetener…? Yup. You may have already heard of Stevia or Pure Via (the natural sweeteners) but until a recent trip to Holland & Barrett I had never tried Crystallised Coconut Nectar! ‘Tiana‘ is 100% raw, high in nutrients and as I have discovered, a great sugar replacement for tea or coffee.

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And finally… presenting to you The Pickleback. If you have never tried one of these then shame on you! A shot of Whiskey followed by a shot of Pickle brine…enough said!  

HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND!

Off to Camden Town…”Hell Yes!”

Last Thursday morning, I went down to the Camden Town Brewery for a tour and sampling of all their beers! Pretty great way to start the day….

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A drizzly 5 minute walk from Kentish Town tube station found us winding down the back streets of Camden, closely watching our iphone maps to see which way to turn. It seems strange to imagine a brewery existing in this part of town…aren’t they big, industrial factories, usually along the side of the motorways with great big bellowing chimneys? The only notable recollection I have of a Brewery until this day, was on the journey into Edinburgh Old Town as a child exclaiming “it’s marmite mummy!” every single time the yeasty aromas from Caledonian Brewery wafted into the car. Oh and of course Fuller’s Brewery, whose exterior I am all too familiar with as I tiresomely wait in traffic along side it each time I am heading west out of London…

Turning into the Mews in NW5 however took us by surprise- 7 small units underneath the railway station sees the cosy home of Jasper Cuppaidge’s craft beer brewery.

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There is always a risk with a ‘tour’ that it will be boring, overly informative (resulting in loss of concentration) and potentially body achingly long but to our total delight, breezing down the stairs of the reception area was Christine our guide; a perfectly groomed, energetic and knowledgable asset to the Camden Brewery’s family.

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The 4 brand new tanks outside the brewery are a sign of just how popular this brand is becoming and the ever growing demand for the product. Starting with a home brewing kit, Jasper decided to sell his own beers to customers in his pub The Horseshoe, in Hampstead back in 2010. In just 3 years the company has come to supplying hundred’s of pubs and restaurants across the UK (with a couple of accounts in Europe too).

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The brewery is certainly high-tech and I couldn’t even begin to get my head around the computer programs and terminology written up on big white boards, but the system in place is slick to say the least.

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Christine talked us through the brewing process from start to finish, walking us around the building unit by unit and allowing us to see it all happen ‘live’. We talked about, felt and tasted the different malts used at the brewery, our guide ensuring we were engaged around every corner, albeit it with puckered lips; ever tasted a grain of roasted malt?

The guys working there were just getting on with the job in a cool, laid back fashion as we cautiously stepped over pipes and hoses in our protective eye wear (and of course these were in the form of geek chic glasses- true to the quirky style of the place).

Before moving through to the ‘Fermentation’ stage we are led to a chest fridge that looks no different to a one you might find in some dude’s garage, adorned with skateboard stickers and scribblings. At this point we are given an insight into the world of Hops, the key to the bitterness, flavour and aroma of all beers. Until today I never thought there could be a passion for Hops but how wrong I was! Christine is Passionate about Hops. Opening the chest I imagined some sort of angelic chorus would be released along with a bright heavenly light…and I am sure to a beer connoisseur that would be the case. To the untrained eye however, it was a puff of cold freezer mist and the distinctive hum of a generator, unveiling stacks of plastic bags filled with several varieties ready and waiting for their time to come.

I remember there was a time at my Junior school, when I had to do a pencil drawing of the Hops flower in art class using an example in the middle of the table. I must have drawn at least 5 different angles some lightly coloured in green, some just grey and cone like…but that was the first and only time I had ever inspected or seen this plant ‘in person’.  Today, Christine let us feel these sacred hops with their pungent (and sort of illegal smelling) aromas, whilst we talked about where they were from, the difference between USA and UK hops and lingered on the topic of  the ‘Simcoe’, a unique American hybrid Hops used in their Camden Pale Ale.

I would do the plant and the Brewery an injustice to go into detail myself as there is SO MUCH you can learn, so this tour is the perfect place to further your Humulus lupulus’ education.

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After the Fermentation stage, it was through the final unit- where the bottling and packaging happens. This is where they get the barrels ready to send out to the pubs and restaurants too and so the walls were absolutely lined with their kegs, coloured stickers for each brew determining what goes where.

Whilst we were in they were getting the labels on the USA Hell’s Lager Beer, which is back by popular demand and apparently “better than ever”, so keep your eyes peeled for the red, white and blue!

With the tour finished, our increasing thirst for the stuff was at an all time high so like the pied piper, Christine led us back to the water hole….

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Let the tasting commence!

Beer taps line the white brick tiles in the perfectly minimalist bar set up here. They serve popcorn in an original looking tabletop popcorn machine (a lovely touch) and have couple of independent wines and spirits ready to serve but the main attraction is of course, the beer.
We were all accustomed to the Gentleman’s Wit beer (they add roasted lemons into the brewing process, it is very special!), so we started to work through the other guys on offer and discuss the story behind each one.
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1. Hells Lager; so ready to drink this when the sun decides to come out. This is everything I want a lager to be. Refreshing, crisp and interesting pale lager made with a Pilsner malt (4.6% ABV).

2. Pale Ale (USA);  I went into a restaurant that had this beer not long ago and made the insane decision not to order it because I wasn’t sure if Pale Ale was for me…WRONG. This is delicious. Fruity. More, more, more…American and Hop-heavy using that beloved Simcoe Hop varietal. Can’t wait to get back to the brewery to enjoy this with friends. (4.0% ABV).

3. Jopa (UK Pale Ale); did anyone see the Food Fight Club program on Channel 4 with Jamie Oliver? Well this beer is Jamie’s creation so to speak and literally stands for ‘Jamie Oliver Pale Ale’.  The brewery had to come up with this name to keep it all secret before it aired back in December. The beer is totally British and true to that style of pale ale, had a much more bitter quality than the previous…(a little more on the ABV too at 5.1%).

“Think of it like walking through a forest – spicy and earthy and fragrant and herbal – while listening to a punk rock cover of the National Anthem. That’s the vibe” – Camden Town Brewery

4. Ryeld; a limited release, Rye Mild beer. Definitively nutty on the nose and to the taste, creamy texture and with a low ABV (3.7%) perhaps the perfect lunch break treat!

5. Camden Ink; I would definitely call this a sexy stout. It is dark and mysterious to look at and surprisingly light to drink. Launched in December and is only available on draught for obvious quality purposes (4.4% ABV).

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6. Dopplebock; another limited beer on tap with an ABV soaring above the rest (6.7%!). Glad we tried this last, because tasting on an empty stomach already had us rosy cheeked and smiley. This is Camden’s version of the German Dopplebock classic, which is typically strong and sweet (and apparently first brewed by Friars around the 17th Century & consumed as a ‘liquid bread’). A number of flavours arise and proved popular among the group. I’m sure we’ll be back for more when we don’t have to go straight to work after!!

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Coming soon to Camden Town Brewery…

‘The Growler’

Yes, the name caused me to giggle into my Pale Ale however a growler is ‘a thing’ in the beer world and not just something crude from the Urban Dictionary!

If a refillable, takeaway beer bottle sounds good to you, then lucks in. Camden Town are just about to launch their own Growler beer bottles, which will enable us to pop in for a big helping of their finest and take home to enjoy with friends or all to ourselves (consumed in a sensible fashion of course).

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The growler dates back to the 19th Century and was a mode of transporting beers from one place to another. Apparently the sound of CO2 when the cap was unscrewed similar to a growl, hence the name… 

Further Information…

Booking a tour at the brewery is easy, just click here and choose the date, but get in there quickly because they get booked up a few weeks in advance.

Open 12pm to 11pm Thursday through Saturday, you can pop in for a lunchtime pint or gather after work to enjoy a beer and some street food. The food calendar for March is below so see what takes your fancy and check the website for future updates.

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Follow @CamdenBrewery on twitter

http://www.camdentownbrewery.com

Be My Guest!

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I love hosting and entertaining, getting friends together and enjoying food & drink in an intimate environment is my ‘happy place’! On Friday night, I held a dinner party for a group of my oldest girlfriends from school to celebrate Valentine’s day.

About a month ago, when I first emailed the gang to get a date in the diary I had just bought Supper Club, which is all about the joys of entertaining in your own home. Kirstin Rodgers however, entertains strangers with her Supper Clubs. She is a skilled cook, with much experience in catering for large groups of people, unlike me! She is also responsible for getting the Underground Restaurant craze fired up in the UK! However much I love to cook and bake, a group of more than 5 can come with it’s complexities and in turn, result in lost sleep leading up to the big day. So I came up with some pointers below, that help make the process a whole lot more efficient and enjoyable from start to finish.

In Advance

  • Invites! I personally email my invites to guests, as that is the most reliable form of communication with a large group of friends. As much as I would adore to use pen and paper at all times, it is not always viable time wise and can be expensive. My mum introduced me to the fabulous ‘Paperless Post’ which is ideal for any occasion. You can also see when the mail has been read and the guest can respond by the click of button. It adds charm & ease right from the start of the organising…
  • Putting your menu together– firstly, I would find out if there are any dietary requirements within your party. No point finding out once it’s too late and throwing you into a panic! When you have confirmation of this, start piecing together your seasonal menu using books, magazine tear outs, Pinterest…Keeping in mind your own level of skill and experience (I should mentioned my first attempt at making fresh ravioli on the day of was daring to say the least and resulted in a few fails, disaster! Read my next blog on pasta to hear ALL about that).

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(For Friday night, I printed out my menu’s and on the back of each one I put a different Love poem. Adding a romantic twist!)
  • Music- make a playlist that last lasts at least 4 hours, so you don’t have to worry about fiddling around with the ipod during the night. Bear in mind that this music is for your guests too and so you have to think about what they would enjoy? Choosing something like ‘Death Metal’ wouldn’t be everyones cup of tea for instance…
  • Shopping lists- a few days before the party I go through all the recipes and make a note of ingredients, I then go through the cupboards and start crossing off anything I might already have. Once I have a list of things to buy, I split the list into 3; ‘Fresh Produce’, ‘Supermarket’ & ‘To Drink’. Doing this keeps it all clear and concise and ensures that nothing is overlooked! 

The Day Before

  • Start Shopping– Head to the Supermarket with that list you have made and buy your condiments, juices, dairy produce etc. 
  • Got Everything? Do a count of all your crockery, glassware and cutlery to make sure you have enough. I realised the day before that I was short of one set, so lucky I checked! Phew!

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  • Your table- get your table ready and arrange your seating plan. Name places are lovely ‘extra detail’. Think about who should be next to who, things in common, any newcomers to the group? It is important to give this some thought so that you get the dynamic right.

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  • Drinks– Go on a booze run to your off license with your ‘Drinks’ list; having decided on your menu at this point, go for wine’s that compliment the meal. I asked the lady in the shop near me to recommend good wines having told her my menu and she was unbelievably helpful. We got the task done in under 15 minutes! A bottle of prosecco or champagne as an apreratif is a good starting point, 1 glass each as people are arriving is a nice gesture. 3 bottles of red & 3 white’s for the table for a group of 9/10 people (it is roughly 5 glasses per bottle by the way!) and there is nearly always at least 1 beer drinker in the group, so I like to have a 6 pack in the fridge just in case.

On The Day

  • Get cooking! Anything you can cook in advance and put in the fridge, then do it! I made the fresh ravilioli & filling, chocolate puddings and herb crust for the lamb as early as I could, that way I had an organised mise en place and was ready to go once guests have arrived.
  • Flower arrangements- do it yourself! It is a really nice touch to have fresh flowers on the table and I like to buy a few bunches from the market and put little posies together myself. I think 3 different flowers, with some sort of greenery works perfectly. Old jam jars are the perfect vase for a small arrangement and add a rustic flavour…buy flowers on the morning of, otherwise they will start to look a little sad.

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(I used Anenomies, Hyacinths and Roses brought together with Solidago. It’s colour theme was romance but that hint of yellow remind us that spring is on its way!)
  • Fresh produce-Your 3rd and final list. It is so much more cost effective to buy all your fresh fruit and vegetables from either a green grocer, or if you are lucky… a fresh fruit & vegetable stall in a local market or farmers market. On the day, I wake up at 7am and get straight to my local to pick out the best before it goes. You can sleep tomorrow… so an early rise is definitely necessary to get everything done.
  • Hoover! I am a messy cook, so once everything is set, it is essential that I hoover the kitchen/living area and make sure the kitchen is looking acceptable (especially as my kitchen and living room are all in the same space). Get rid of any bin bags and dirty tea towels too, very off putting.
  • Atmosphere. Just before the guests arrive and once you are dressed and ready, it is time to get everything just right. Music on, not too loud. Turn the lights down a bit and get  some candles going (just be careful not to put them in any precarious places).

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Now It’s Showtime!

We Ate…

Starter

Beetroot Ravioli with Ricotta & Sage Butter

Main Course

Herb Crusted Lamb with roast potatoes, Kale & Beetroot Top

Dessert

Molten Chocolate Pudding with Amaretto Cream

&

Cheese Board with Chilli Jam

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We Drank…

Moet & Chandon Rose Imperial

Glorioso, Reserva 2006 & Cosme Palacio, Rioja 2008

Pazo Do Mar, Ribeiro Blanco 2010

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We Listened…

My love-themed playlist starting with 1940’s early blues, moving onto 1950’s (Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone…), then the swinging 60’s with Elvis & Ray Charles. The tempo progressively became more energetic, which coincided perfectly with the gradual volume increase and liveliness of my guests.

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We Played…

‘Apples to Apples’ provided by my friend Parker, the Games Master. A hilarious game, especially when tipsy.

P.S. It definitely helps to know your opponents in this one!

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And One For The Road…

Mmmm, Amaretto Sours

(Made by me but special thanks to my friend & colleague Chris who kindly text me the recipe, on demand, at 01:00 a.m. Gotta love him!)

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Why don’t you let us into some of your dinner party secrets….

Thank you Molly, Emily, Parker, Charlotte, Simon, Rupert, Lara & Skippy for being wonderful guests.

(Readers, I apologise for the lack of quality and of photographs but I was having far too much fun to snap!)

Excellent Choice, Madam.

Two of my favourite wines from a selection tried in January. Enjoy!

A Gulp of Spanish Red…

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Bodegas Palacio, Glorioso Reserva 2006

Region: Rioja, Spain.  

Classification: DOCa Rioja

Grape Variety: Tempranillo

ABV: 13.5%

Vintage: 2006

Initially discovered at Christmas thanks to my dad, Glorioso Reserva really was the wine of the festive period for me. Quaffing it along with cheese platters, foie gras and red meats but really very perfect on its own too. From the Bodegas Palacio in Northern Spain (not far from Pamplona- famous for the running of the bulls!) it is aged in Bordeaux style barrels of French Oak. I stopped to pick a bottle of it up last week on my way to a friends for dinner and she was a huge fan. It is so easy to drink, silky smooth and really coats the whole mouth with a welcomed warmth. Dark, fruity and delicious.

Bodegas Palacio, Glorioso Crianza 2007 is also worth a try and in my opinion, a wine best enjoyed with food. Also medium bodied, fruity and elegant with a touch more tanin about it than the last.

Interesting Fact: Spanish Wine

Spain’s strict wine laws ensure cultivation, production, ageing and quality of wine is maintained in the ever growing industry. There are two categories that Spanish wine’s may fall under; ‘Table Wine’ or ‘Quality Wine’, the latter generally being held in the higher regard.

DOCa stands for Denominación de Origen Calificada and is the credit given to wines that have achieved the highest quality over a long period of time. The only two regions to be considered worthy of this status are Rioja and Priorat in South West Spain.

…and a Splash of French White!

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Domaine La Condamine L’Evêque

Region:  Languedoc, France. 

Classification: IGP Côtes de Thongue

Grape Variety: Viognier 

ABV: 12.5%

Vintage: 2010

Produced by a family run vineyard in a village called Nezignan L’Eveque in the Rhone Valley, Southern France, this Viognier was recommended to me in my local wine shop. I was really looking for a dry white to go with fish and this full bodied, aromatic wine did fit the bill.  If you aren’t keen on rich, heady wines that are more yellow in colour, then this is probably not for you and my boyfriend and I both agreed that while this is a wine we loved with food, perhaps we wouldn’t necessarily chose it as an aperitif.

Having never heard of it before, only a few days later I found it again on the wine list in my local Pan-Asian restaurant and I felt very confident in choosing it with this meal. Turned out it was an absolutely perfect match for spicy tuna, seabass sashimi and  fragrant chicken curry.

Interesting Fact: The Viognier Grape

Pronounced ‘Vee-ohn-yay’, this varietal is a real challenge to grow! It is susceptible to disease and unpredictable so the producers work hard to get it right and this can be an expensive & timely process. It is because of this that it is considered one of the most prized varietals. 30 years ago,  this wine was almost extinct but in the last few years has become a more fashionable, popular choice.

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I bought both the Rioja Reserve (£13.00) and the Vin de Pays/ Viognier (£9.50) from Oddbins

http://www.oddbins.com

Juicy Business


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Post Christmas and New Year many people desire to shed a few pounds and having one or two ‘juicing days’ is a great way to kick start this, without needing to cut down too much during the whole week.

I have worshipped my Le Duo Magimix juicer, ever since I got it a couple of Summer’s ago. It was a really hot June and I was juicing for my life; beetroot, lemon, carrots, apples, ginger and raspberries to garnish… trying out loads of different refreshing and healthy drinks. I reckon a lot of people think you need lots of time to do it, but really it can be quick and effortless, although cleaning up the equipment can be a bit of a bore. Best thing I find is to make a big batch and decant into several bottles, which will keep me going for a few days makes the whole process all the more worthwhile. If you share a fridge with others, then labelling the juices with ingredients and a date too might be a good idea.

In the beginning I was desperately trying to get a simple green apple juice but kept on battling with the ‘oxidation reaction’ i.e. it was going brown within 2 minutes. Although there is no harm in that it totally changes the flavour, the sharpness and appearance and adding lemon was not cutting it. One day, I was talking about this to a friend of mine when she emerged from a cupboard with a little tub of Vitamin C powder (scientifically called, ascorbic acid). “This is the trick” she said and so it was….

Adding even the smallest pinch to your juice right at the beginning will preserve the freshest taste and keeps your apple juice bright green, it also gives your body an extra boost!

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I store my juices in a glass bottles and they keep for a couple of days. You can get yourself a ‘Korken‘ bottle with stopper from Ikea or the swing top glass bottles from Butlers. They also do a very cool looking ‘Refill‘ one which I have my eye on for a next purchase! My only advice would be that if you are planning to put these in the dishwasher, the swing top will loosen a little and might fall out eventually. Hand washing is advisable, especially with the easy cleaning methods mentioned in this post.

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Health Benefits

I asked my mum (a Dietician), to help me summarise the health benefits of juicing and they seem pretty endless so i’ll keep it short and sweet.

Juices are great for keeping you hydrated! In winter months in particular we tend to be in and out of rooms and transport with central heating, wearing layers of clothes leading to perspiration and therefore loss of fluid. It is important to keep our levels topped up for healthy skin and essential bodily functions as well as for keeping the viruses at bay!

If you were looking to lose or control your weight, it is not a bad idea to supplement a meal now and again with a nutritional juice. If you are serious about it then it would be great at this point to get yourself a recipe book to aid you along, show you different options and diversify your diet. The book I use is called Smooth and Juicy by Joanna Farrow.

Fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables provide the vitamins & minerals for general health. In the summer there is an abundance of produce, making ‘being healthy’ readily available, which I believe we take for granted. It is however, during these Winter months, when we still need the same nutrients (if not more) so juicing using seasonal root vegetables, citrus fruits & tree fruits is a good base to work on. I get my fruit and veg from my local market, where it is always seasonal and very well priced.

To find out what fruits and vegetables are in season, I found a fun chart on the Eat Seasonably website.

Recipes from Friends!

My boyfriend Isaac loves any juice with ginger in, as it give things a kick.

“My favourite is beetroot, apple and ginger. I drink it in the mornings for a fresh start to the day”

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India is a bit of a domestic goddess, she told me about her juice of the moment which she makes daily in her Breville Juicer!

“Really good for fighting a cold! It is kale, spinach, romaine, parsley, cucumber, celery, apple, lemon, ginger. I like it with a dash of olive oil at the end and sometimes I will add other tinctures like aloe or flax seed oil…”

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My friend Tilly and I share the same favourite. This yummy juice is cucumber, celery, apples, lime and ginger (pictured). The crispy, zingy green apples really wake you up, so this is the perfect energising drink for an early morning.

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More than a juice…

Susie wakes up to a breakfast smoothie.

Soya milk, mixed berries and low fat natural yogurt. My inspiration for it was Jamba Juice’s ‘Bright Eyed & Blueberry’”

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…and Fearne (who is about to become a yummy mummy!) is craving this delicious combo!

“I first put some crushed ice in the blender, then add a handful of blueberries, half an avocado, a skinned kiwi, some kale, and sometimes a bit of papaya too. Them some chia seeds which are so good for you! Top all of this off with a big splash of almond milk. I drink this every morning before breakfast so even if I have an unhealthy day I’ve had a load of vitamins in one go in the morning!”

Tips for the clean up!

  • Milton (used for cleaning babies bottles), in liquid or tablet form. Follow instructions on the label in terms of dosage and pop it in the bottle once you have finished with your juice.
  • Dishwasher tablet broken up, with boiling water and shake shake shake!
  • It is probably worthwhile investing in some bottle brushes, the ones you might use for a baby’s bottle.
  • A spatula is a good tool for scraping out the bits of fruit from the juicer after use. With the Le Duo, MagicMix juicer, they provide something very like a spatula for this (seen here), which makes all the difference.
  • Lastly, clean the juicer straight away otherwise it really is harder to get the dried fruit and veg out. In the Summer especially that would be a breeding ground for fruit flies, so stick it straight in the washbowl before sitting back to enjoy!

Thank you to all of my lovely friends who shared their recipes, I hope everyone enjoys trying them out.

Please feel free to comment below & tell us what you like?

Fancy A Drink?

I adore wine. Red or White and sometimes Rose (but did some damage with cheap bottles & sunshine as a teenager so it’s no longer my first choice!) I can’t say I have a favourite bottle at the moment but definitely have my ‘go to’ options. That is getting a little boring though and I am now at the point of wanting to move on from the norm.

My dad has great taste in wine, so I have always been around the good stuff. It wasn’t until recently that I wished to explore the different grape varieties and viticulture to get to know what I love, appreciate and dislike in some rare cases. I long to confidently recommend a bottle when at a restaurant with friends or pair the perfect glass when I am cooking a meal. I started the year planning a wine course and am currently looking into options for tastings around London as well doing my own research and I have come to realise that you can really learn a lot from simply stepping into a nice wine merchants and asking a few questions. Tell them what you are eating? What you like? What you don’t? If they are working there for the passion of it all then most likely they will be keen to offer advice and this will definitely help to get you off the usual suspects and try something new.

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In my local off licence just yesterday I picked up a nice bottle of Rioja and as I was talking to the very informative chap at the counter I spotted this book, ‘DRINK ME!’ by Matt Walls. It was immediately appealing, not only because of the recycled-look, cool cover and graphics or reasonable price but because Matt states in the first paragraph that it is “a guide for people who drink a bit and know a little but would like to know more.” – simply put, that’s me!

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I can already recommend grabbing a copy from a local book shop or on Amazon, especially if you are a newcomer to all of this and petrified at the thought of tucking into the heavier read that is the ‘Wine Encyclopeda’ which believe me, I have attempted.

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Matt's blog is also a good platform to start picking up helpful hints and recommendations without much effort involved on your part. He keeps it concise and leaves out the gumpf.

Hopefully this is the start of a wonderful (& potentially boozy!) journey and I look forward to sharing some of the treasures I find along the way.

Find out more about the book, the blog and the expert here-

http://www.mattwalls.co.uk
@mattwallswine