Elena and I go to her parents house on a Thursday evening for dinner. Over the past few months I’ve picked up the responsibility for providing the dessert. Baking is not one of my strong points. If I need to use more than one pan in the kitchen, things tend to go wrong rather fast. I started off by pushing myself a little too hard, a little too fast. A pastry induced mental breakdown tops my list of not-so-fine moments in the kitchen. I’ve had some successes though! A Jamie Oliver inspired Apple Pie and the long, drawn out bake of his Jaffa Cake.
I needed to take a step back after the stress of having no idea what I was doing. I recently baked rock cakes and cleaned up without Elena even noticing. Having rediscovered my comfort zone the time had come to push the boundaries. I received an exciting gift for Christmas last year that I haven’t been able to test out yet. Tamsin and Jag bought me a copy of Cooking with Beer by Paul Mercurio. When I say haven’t been able to test it out, what I mean is I haven’t had the courage to pick it up and go for it. Until now.
Remaining stationary for a period of time has allowed me to focus on some of my interests beyond the realm of travel. The impression GABS left on me, combined with my new pleasure of being in the kitchen, and a handy little cookbook. I felt ready to combine my current favourite hobbies: cooking and beer.
My sister, Lisa, and Elena are both famous, at least in my eyes, for their brownie recipes. I wanted to challenge their regime. Mercurio has a recipe for stout chocolate brownies. I wet out and picked up a four pack of Mountain Goat’s Surefoot Stout. A seasonal, local release. It fits the bill. Having four also gives me the opportunity to try a couple of things.
I felt calm, composed and had full control over everything except the mess. The recipe only called for 60ml of the stout, which meant I could enjoy a full glass while I got stuck into the chocolatey goodness. I mixed, made, baked and cleaned up all within half an hour. No stress, no mix-master induced tantrums. Everything went rather well. All I had to was complete a taste test. How would they stand up to the competition?
Dense, gooey, chocolatey and just a hint of malt and even a touch of spice from the stout. Divine. I baked them not once but twice in the space of a week. I have my contender. At least I would if only I could refrain from eating the whole thing in one sitting.
Alright, so I had plenty of left over beer. What next? Beer can chicken has been on my radar for a while. It is only a matter of time before I stuff a whole chicken with a beer can. I decided to take a more gentle approach and cooked sweet marinated chook with ale and coriander. I mixed up a marinade, which should have been sweet and sticky, and let the chicken have it. This recipe also gave me an excellent excuse to use my barbecue again before I go back to the UK. Cooking the chicken wasn’t quite as much of a pleasure as the brownies though. The marinade required the whole can of stout. There would be no sneaky beers for me.
Once things got warmed up I started to wonder if something had gone wrong. The marinade was too wet, it washed anything already on the chicken straight off. By the time it was ready it had caramelised a little, but most of the flavour had baked on to the barbecue. Elena thought it tasted like I’d spread Vegemite over it. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t worth writing home about.
There was a time where this level of disappointment would put me off. Instead I found myself inspired. Mercurio believes that if there’s a liquid in a recipe, it might as well be beer. I’m keen on the idea, but I don’t know enough about complimentary flavours. In fact, I’m not sure I know enough about cooking in general to know what’s going to work together. I needed to learn more. All I have done is mark the beginning of a new journey, at least this time I can use Cooking with Beer as a map.