BBQs and Anniversary Brews…

For our 1st anniversary, I gave The Runner a BBQ and Beer Cooking Class at the BBQ School in Willougby.

It was a 2 part class led by two chefs, Ben, an Aussie Chef who previously worked with Marco Pierre White in London, and Seamus, an Irish Chef who we later learned makes chocolate goodies for one of our favorite patisseries, The Sweet Spot, in Randwick.

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We were welcomed with a beer which was brewed with a WilliamsWarn brewing kit and then we were talked through exactly how the device worked.  It seemed pretty idiot proof to be honest and Ben was sure to tell us just how simple it was to use.  It makes 21L of beer which sounds like a lot but after a night in Munich at the beer halls, I’m not so sure.

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The first hour of the class was a bit of a sales pitch for WilliamsWarn and I can see how handy and useful a contraption like that would be.  (Un)fortunately for us, The Runner’s man cave is taken up with triathlon gear and we don’t have a lazy $7500 to spend on a home brewing machine. (Especially since someone just bought a fancy new bike…)  It did seem foolproof, but not as fool proof as just buying 6 packs from Dan Murphy’s.

I remember going to Cascade Brewery in Tasmania about 10 or 12 years ago and being told that winemaking is an art but beer making is a science.  Winemakers can get away with variations in their product from year to year and vintage to vintage. There’s no one perfect Shiraz or Chardonnay or any wine really—they’re characteristics that they all share but even the same bottle of the same winery’s wine won’t taste exactly alike year after year.  Beer is totally different.  If you buy a Guinness, you want it to taste like Guinness.  Heineken tastes like Heineken everywhere in the world- to get that sort of consistency, you have to use (and follow) a formula or a recipe.  I’ve never made my own beer or my own wine but having listened to the explanation today, it sounds like beer is like baking (you have to follow directions, measurements, and temperatures) and wine is like cooking a stir fry (season and taste as you go!).  I’m no expert but that’s just my impression.

In the second hour we got to cook!  Caramelized onions, venison sausages, carrots, potatoes and finally tomahawk steaks.

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Being a BBQ class, it was one of the few cooking classes I’ve been to that have been mostly men.  The cooking was pretty simple and the recipes easy to follow—and all cooked on the BBQ.  The only place where things got a bit complicated was the Sausage stuffing.  It’s not the easiest thing to do in general, and we had some bad luck with the casing.  The Runner was front and center at the time, but I’m sure the malfunction was not his fault….

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The steaks were amongst the biggest I’ve ever cooked.  Massive Grass fed tomahawk steaks from Cape Grim.  Apparently, you choose grass fed beef for flavour and grain fed beef for tenderness.

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We had a great time cooking (and eating them) and finished off with a Beer Spider- white chocolate and beer ice cream within an English ale!

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For the second class, we focussed on the cooking- there was still in beer but it was it was already made so we focussed on the cooking!  Crispy skin cod with bacon and cabbage slaw, Jerk Spatchcock (or Cornish Hens or baby chickens depending on where you’re from!)  We also made sweet potato, a mango salsa, and rice and beans to go with it.  We also made bacon (made bacon!) and candied it to serve with beer ice cream and little caramel chocolate pudding cakes (cooked on the BBQ).  It was all delicious!  And filled with lots of tips and tricks.

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For example, did you know that you can make beer vinaigrette salad dressing?  We reduced beer by heating it and combined it with wine wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper.  The reduced beer replaces the olive oil in the dressing- and is delicious.  It’s definitely not a combination I would ever think about but it was absolutely delicious on the cabbage slaw.

The most exciting portion of the class was making candied bacon.  First of all, we made it using bacon we had started to cure in the first class.  Secondly, it was such a decadent process involving LOTS of brown sugar, maple syrup, and a bit of beer (it was a BBQ and BEER class after all!)  It was delicious smelling and the syrup looked like it would be amazing poured over ice cream once all the bacon was glazed and re-glazed.  If I’m honest, I preferred the small pieces of candied bacon over the big ones but it was still pretty tasty.

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The most useful part of the course was learning how to spatchcock a baby chicken.  Useful but also challenging for someone as squeamish as me.   I’m not good at dealing with whole animals- I don’t eat whole fish, I don’t like eating chicken with bones, and in science class I left the room during dissections.  So needless to say I’m never one to search out whole beasts in my cooking adventures.   My number one fear the first time I made Thanksgiving dinner in Australia was buying the turkey—and what might be “in” the turkey.  And by “in” the turkey, I mean “in” the turkey.   The things that would keep the turkey alive, but that are not at all necessary once the turkey is dead.  I was told that in the US, those things are still “in” the turkey but in a bag or something like that.  Luckily, in Australia turkeys are empty when you get them—thank goodness!  So I’ve never had to deal with reaching in and pulling anything out.  ICK!    I was slightly challenged by parts of the spatchcock- like pulling out the neck to cut it off.  I was even more afraid of what I would find, when someone else’s little bird had a heart and liver (or stomach or something) inside.  I think I would have fainted if I had cut mine open to find that!  Thankfully mine was empty (and well spitchcocked in the end).  The Runner had no such fear about what he would find inside and attacked his with none of the squeamishness that I had.  I was quite impressed by his butchering skills…and may put them to work more in the future!

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The course was great- I definitely want to do another one soon.  We don’t have a big, fancy BBQ so I’m not sure that I would trust our Weber Q to bake little cakes or rice pilaf or do some of the things that we were able to do in class.

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I mean, I’m sure we could but we also have an oven and a stove that we could use for things like baking and sauteing.  It was cool to see how it CAN be done on a BBQ, but just because something CAN be done, doesn’t mean it should be!  However, those tomahawk steaks are a definite SHOULD be done!