Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Kiwi Beer Lover's Cookbook Review

The following is a cookbook review I wrote for Critic:

The Kiwi Beer Lover’s Cookbook
Recipes by Sam Cook
Publisher: Hurricane Press Ltd, 2009
Chicken Paella

Frankly, I had no idea there were quite so many ways to use beer in cooking. I knew about beer battered fish and chips but this book contains beer incorporated recipes for dips, stews, sauces, casseroles, boil ups, pies, burgers, cakes, waffles and even ice cream. According to the foreword, beer is great for tenderising meats, leavening bread and batters, as well as maintaining the moisture during baking. I had originally intended to attempt at least one recipe from each of the nine chapters in this cookbook but as time and pecuniary constraints would have it, over three weekends, the obliging cooks that I recruited for this mission and I managed to execute eight recipes from five chapters – a respectable effort nonetheless.

Shepherd's Pie

The first recipe we tried was disappointing. The Chicken Paella (cooked with Monteith’s Original Ale) turned out flat and plain and tasted just like rice cooked with store bought marinara sauce. Bleagh. Then we tried the Shepherd’s Pie recipe (incorporating a dark beer - we used Black Mac) which produced a juicy, tasty, hearty meal. Since the Shepherd’s Pie recipe was one of the ones with a photograph of the dish, I decided that we would only try the recipes that had pictures from then on. For the most part, this system worked well. The Avocado Wedges and Sesame Green Beans were made with a lager (Carlsberg) batter and fried. The results were firm avocado wedges and tender green beans that were encased in beautifully light, crispy, tasty coatings. Absolutely delicious. The dipping sauce that went with the tempura-like green beans complemented the dish perfectly and I swear, if you didn’t know the wedges were avocados, you’d think you were eating Cajun-style potato wedges *wipes drool covered keyboard*.

Sesame Green Beans

Avocado Wedges

The next recipe involved sticking a can of Carlsberg up a whole chicken’s butt and sitting it upright on the roasting pan, which of course, was the entire reason we chose that recipe. Here I feel I must give credit to the chicken which sat upright, sans props, throughout the entire process without complaining even once. Having the beer steam the insides of the chicken while it was roasting produced a most delectable, moist and tender bird. Burp.

Beer Can Chicken

From the ‘Sweet As’ chapter, we made the Triple Choc Brownie (with a Black Mac) for a pot luck party. As if the divine aroma of chocolate wasn’t torture enough, fresh from the oven, scattered throughout this decadently rich, dense and moist brownie were the most fascinating little pockets that oozed warm liquid chocolate! I think it’s a good sign when the guests ask if they can take some home and the hosts ask for the leftovers.

Triple Choc Brownie

The only other two recipes that we tried that we weren’t crazy about were the Fish in Beer & Vodka Batter and the Afghan Biscuits with Beer Icing. The beer & vodka batter, while airy and crunchy, had a bitter aftertaste. We suspect that if we had cooked the batter a little longer, the bitterness of the vodka might have dissipated, but we had no reason to do that because (at that point) the fish was cooked perfectly. The Afghan biscuits, I am sad to report, had no redeeming qualities and was completely uninteresting. The biscuit was oddly powdery and the beer icing was too squishy.

On the whole, the recipes were simple, easy to follow and flexible, which is great for people like me who prefer the ‘no fuss’ approach to cooking. Most of the recipes turned out well so try the ones you think will work best and leave or tweak the ones that look iffy.

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