Thursday, 31 December 2009

The fine art of mixing drinks

This is the title of one of mixology's reference books, its better known as Embury, after the author.

Embury wasn't involved with the drinks trade in any proffessional way, but he knew what he liked & understood how to make a cocktail. He lived through prohibition & that has influenced the writing, the 50+ yrs of marketing that have taken place have had an influence on what we drink & how it differs from Embury's time.

Tequila is given very short shrift, and the margarita is absent from the 6 basic cocktails with the no longer popular/drunk "Jack rose" taking its place. He's a very opinionated writer, but it doesn't get in the way of enjoying the book but if you like creamy sweet cocktails, don't look for them here. This is all about cold,sharp drinks to stimulate the appetite, and although he is at pains to point out it's not a recipe book, several of the pages will have any civilized person reaching for the shaker & the cocktail cabinet.

Perhaps the most useful thing to take away is his formula for a sour-type cocktail which is 1:2:8 or
1 part sweet
2 parts sour
8 parts base spirit

He is very vocal about what counts as a base spirit, its a high quality, high proof alcohol. There are no generics here, its topshelf all the way (he is quite dissmissive of vodka & other neutral grain alcohols) because as he rightly points out that's the main body of what you are drinking. (the other explanation is that he drank through prohibition and had enough low quality liqour to last several lifetimes).

If you can manage the didactic style(unlike some other authors Embury's opinions tend to be part of his charm) and find a copy(this seems to be the hard part) then if you have the slightest interest in cocktails you will want to read this book.

His musings on "The Old Fashioned" are quite a handy guide to making a good drink, several bar-tenders I've met on my travels could do with reading them and thinking before pushing their concoctions on unwary drinkers.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Corpse riviver (#2 ?)

One of my favourite cocktails is the Corpse reviver. To make things tricky I know of at least 3 completly different recipes for this drink. They are usually marked #1 #2 #3.

Harry craddock in the superb "the Savoy cocktail book" gives the following recipes

#1 2 brandy, 1 calvados, 1 sweet vermouth. Looking at the ingredients (I've never had calvados around to try it) a "cough mixture" type of cocktail springs to mind.

#2 1 gin, 1 lemon, 1 contreau, 1 dry vermouth, dash absinthe. This I'm going to talk about a lot.

he doesn't give a number 3, but there are plenty of variations, the one I've encountered most is this

#3 1 brandy, 1 creme de menthe, 1 fernet branca. Several sources have this as a #1 due to the fernet its a wierd one to come across in the wild, but a well stocked bar reaching for the books may suprise you with this.

The point of corpse revivers is as a "hair of the dog", Harry has this to say about the #2 "4 of these taken in swift succession will unrevive the corpse again" This is it :-

Looks pretty good doesn't it ?

What you don't get from Harry's recipe up there is the delicacy of making it. The dash of absinthe is usually best done as a rinse. Dash absinthe into the glass then swirl it to coat the sides and then dispose of any remaining absinthe how you see fit. All the ingredients then go into a well iced shaker and shake them hard. Depending on taste/provenance of the lemon juice you may want to double strain to get a good looking drink, honestly though a Hawthorne will do the job. Finally fish out a maraschino cherry with you bar spoon (retaining a little of the syrup) and drop it through the drink. You should end up with something like the picture to the left. Drink.

The taste is almost certainly not what you were expecting as this is real cocktail alchemy, which is the drink's weak point, get the mixing wrong and you end up with something at best less palatable, at worst unpalatable.

This time last year I was in Vegas, I'd done a fair bit of web-research on where the good cocktail bars were & what dress codes/door policies they had. I was delighted to find that EyeCandy in the mandalay bay had the corpse reviver #2 as their house drink, they even boasted of using real parisian absinthe (Absinthe has had an intreresting status in the US so its usally swapped for pastis, which isn't bitter enough). That boast is definately questionable in my experience, the whole thing was a sickly sweet mess, not by any means a reviver. In fact I did manage to get a good one, by handing the recipe on a cocktail napkin to a waitress in Aurora @ the Luxor. Thats it in the photograph, the bartender over there knows their chops.

I've also made it with dry ice, to see how it would work (I was going for seriously cold with no dilution) unfortunately I think I was a bit quick and should have let it stand for a couple of mintues. Still it was fun, just not as succesful as I'd have hoped.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

The house of bols

I happened on the house of bols experience by accident whilst looking for a cafe after visiting the Rijksmuseum.

What they offer is a cocktail/genever experience, since bols are one of those companies who have become linked to a product (Blue curacao) I figured it might be interesting to take a look.

It was a pretty quiet day when I visited, which meant I could spend as long as I liked over the exhibits. Most of it is given over to interactive stuff, some in the first room linked to history snippets from lucas bols and the items in the central display case (I missed out on the mixed manhatten in a cocktail shaker product, I don't know how). Just after this come their signature "dutch house" minatures, that are made for KLM, apparently there is quite a collectors market for them.

Much more involving though are the exhibits about the senses, we whiled away a fairly happy time in this bit, trying to guess liquers & generally having a bit of fun. After this they try to sell you their 1820 genever, what do you expect ? It's a distillery experience after all (I've nothing against the 1820 at all, but I make very few genever cocktails, its too sweet to substitute for ordinary (london/dry) gin).

Your ticket includes a cocktail at their bar. This is pretty impressive, they have a set of touch screens that guide you to a cocktail that you might like and then prints out the recipe for you to hand to their bartender. The machines are quite useful since they allow to make as many choices as you want and happily spit out numerous recipes. The bartender however will only make one.

The bartender (at least the one I met) is a pretty knowledgable chap an on a slow thrusday was more than happy to spend time discussing booze (and recommending places to drink). He mixed 2 good cocktails, a holland house and a butterscotch.

Sorry about the lighting, the mirrors somewhat confused the primitive brain in my camera.

I eventually tore myself away from the bar, only to be confronted with the shop. And what a shop, ok there is a lot of branded stuff, but there is also a shelf full of books, including many classics (and a couple of scarily priced originals), of course my wallet only just survived, and was on triage for a while.

My experience was great, I'd happily go back and it represented reasonable Value for Money, but then there were maybe 20 people in the "experience" whilst I was there, it might not stack up so well when its full. I'm also a big cocktail fan, so there was a lot of stuff I found intriguing. I'd recommend it, but remember its all about booze.

Steak & french

Sorry for the famine/feast nature of this blog this month, but there you go. The last post reminded me of this incident in france.

We'd picked up a cheap coach trip to Paris for new year, most of our fellow travellers were content to stay with the coach & guide, minimizing their contact with actual parisians, not me. I found myself at a small bistro on the left bank, there seemed to be a few locals enjoying the food, so I decided to go in.  I suppose here I ought to point out that I was getting by with 5 years of school french (a scraped 'C' at GCE) which was doing fine. I got a nice table for us & was happily decoding the menu when a member of staff appeared, 1 carafe of white vin de table later & we'd decided on our meals, I was voted in as order giver (something to do with the way I'd handled the wine question apparently).

It was all going well, till it came to my steak, I decoded the question & froze the only thing I could remember was "moyen" or medium, there was no way I was going to submit to the indignity of medium steak. The waiter patiently repeated the question for me as my brain raced for anything that would help.
It lit on bleu, that would do. (important aside here the French natrually cook steak rarer than the English, when they say rare, they mean it).

"Bleu monsiuer ?" Came the reply along with a quizically cocked eyebrow. "oui, bleu si vous plait" (I'm nothing if not polite) and away he scurried to the kitchen.

A pleasant few minutes with the vin blanc for company and a rehash of the mornings adventures including a little smugness about taking the stairs on the Eiffel tower (its cheap & there is hardly any queue, south pier). The food started to come out, I should have been alerted by the fact my steak wasn't in the first batch, but hey vin blanc.

I was alerted when it wasn't in the 2nd batch and I was marshalling my forces for an attempt to find out what was going on, but I became aware of some form of commotion over by the kitchen and the complete absence of front of house staff. The kitchen door opened, their was "our waiter" and more importantly "my" food. I somehow missed the complete collection of staff surrounding my steak and spilling out of the kitchen. (I was focussed on my steak).

The plate was put in front of me with some ceremony and the waiter retreated, but no far enough to go & do some more waiting, no. He (and every other member of staff) wanted to see what happened when I started into the steak. To put a quick end to this slightly uncomfortable pause I went straight to the meat (ignoring the potatoes, salad, and veggies). It was lovely, even if a bad vet coulld have got it moving again. No sooner than the first mouthfull had gone down & the waiter was back, "the steak was it suitable ?", "oh yes, it was very good". The kitchen door slammeed shut, barely disguising the chuckles & at least one curse. I suspect somebody had lost a sum of money on my steak consumption.

(I enjoyed that trip, eating and drinking my fill & frightening the coach party with my tales of eating snail and talking to french people)


Just before Xmas I was lucky enough to spot an Onglet at my butcher's.

I first had onglet in a small french restruant in Nottingham, I ordered it because the menu said "This steak will not be served any more cooked than medium rare, if you like a more well done steak please feel free to order something else"(*). Which to a dedicated carnivore was pretty much flashing lights,bells, & whistles, so I ordered it (rare of course). The result was a tender steak, with a good deep flavour & melt in the mouth goodness. It's definately one of the better restaurant steaks I've eaten.

So when I saw it on the slab I had to get a better look, when I saw the price (a ridiculous £8ish a kilo) I had to get out my wallet, I bought the whole thing. I took it with me to my mum & dad's place as a boxing day treat, and had a quick browse of the web for recipes.

Most places on the internet tell you to remove the connecting tissue & then pan fry to no more than medium rare, a bit of onion & garlic, a splash of booze, some salt & fresh pepper, good to go.  Unfortunately I was with several less dedicated carnivores than myself, so I cooked it to rare, and put it in foil to rest. I then sliced it across the length to get several discs of steak, reserving the rarest for me I quickly dashed the rest through the pan with some mushrooms & it was time to serve.

When raw, the steak was quite intimidating, shot through with fat & connective tissue. The fast cook rendered the fat & the connective tissue disappeared. Leaving a really tasty tender steak.

If you can find one (and it is one per cow) and the butcher hasn't kept it for him/herself, give it a go, its probably one of the tastier bits of the cow.

(*) That's how I remember it, the actual wording might be different, but was no less forceful.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Samichlaus bier

Argggghhh gremlins. Let's try again shall we.

I'm fond of strong beers, I have been for many years, for me its about the taste.
Anyway when I saw Samichlaus on the menu at Pi  I had to have it, and fortunately they were happy to sell me a bottle.

Now this is a rare beer, the entire supply is brewed on the 6th of December, Saint Nikolas's day (look him up its quite fun). Then its laagered for 10 months, in what I'm lead to believe is a complex & secretive way. Its then decanted into bottles & sent out into the world. The people at Guinness (thats the book, not the drink) list it as the strongest lager in the world at 14-15% abv. Enough talk here is the bottle.

Looks good doesn't it ?
On popping the top, you are met by a rich malty scent, this gives you a clue to whats coming. The pour confirms it. As an aside I looked round to find out the best serving temperature which seemed to be just below room temp, so I poured it in the kitchen & carried it through (this doesn't do it justice, but I was desperate for a taste)

So what does it taste like ? Well a good barley wine, or a powerful Trappist dobbel. It's a dark lager taste, pretty common on the continental mainland, but pretty rare over here. Its deep & rich and malty sweet with a sharp tangy finish.
Frankly you wouldn't want to drink more than a couple in an evening, its far to rich for that. If you like deep sweet treacley  beer or  a hefty winter  brew and you can find a bottle go for it,  if you like light sharp hoppy beer this really isn't for you.

I'm hoping I can get another bottle or two, and see if it improves being kept for 2-3 years

Sunday, 6 December 2009

About mince pies

 Now its December we can get on with the serious business of troughing mince pies.

 It is of course much better to make your own rather than asking Mr Tesco or one of his confederates. It's one of the few parts where I don't mind following the
Delia get ingredients, assemble,  cook,  eat philosophy.  The mince meat really needs to be made months in advance and is a fiddly job, so I cheated and back in October bought a jar (co-op fairtrade) opened it & added a generous measure of damson brandy, gave it shake and left it till yesterday (actually I gave it a shake every week or two). Of course its a little late for that advice now, but you can easily boost any old mincemeat with some booze & extra spices, it might be a touch harsh, but it is adjustable to your own taste.

 Then comes the pastry, luckily I had leftover pie pastry from the apple pie and I like my minces with a shortcrust. If you are following along at home & don't fancy making pastry you can buy frozen, choosing your favourite style. What I don't have are a pie tray & a pastry cutter. Pastry cutters are easily improvised (pint glass) or if you are the kind of person who can manage a knife freehand, you can do that (which means you can make lidded pies of the fancy kind with a mostly open top & a pastry decoration. The pie tray is a bit more of an issue, but there are ways round it (a muffin tray this time, but the paper cases or the mincemeat pasty would work).

 once out of the oven, serve anyway you like, sprinkle icing sugar over the top, whip cream, make brandy butter or custard or just scoff  them.  My  preferred option is straight from the oven with whipped cream, luxury. (as an added bonus they smell great and make the kitchen a lovely winter warm spot) There is of course no need to tell the filling came from a jar & the pastry from the freezer, just enjoy your mince pies EXACTLY how you like them(*).

(*) There is apparently a mythical being who doesn't like mince pies, you are very unlikely to meet this creature, but if you do, extra mince pies

Thursday, 3 December 2009

An indelicate interlude

"the palace of wisdom is reached by the road of excess"

Never a truer word written. I've been wandering around the Netherlands and the enlightened folk who live there have embraced "le pissoir". Now we men can pee outdoors and we quite enjoy it. Sloshing happily away from the house of Bols (more on that later) I became aware of a pressing need. Fortunately the good folk of Amsterdam have provided a number of convenient metal structures for just this very emergancy.

I wish all city fathers were this enlightened as the sad fact is after excess (quite a small amount in some cases) we of the male gender are happy dispence with decorum. The pissoir is an elegant solution which covers a man's need and yet prevents random befoulings.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, 26 November 2009

The probe Doctor

As I mentioned a recent trip to Ikea saw the purchase of a Fantast meat thermometer which has been a boon in fudge making (more of which will probably happen tonight, using maple syrup as a kind of thanksgivingy treat)

On Sunday I used it for its designed purpose to test how cooked the lamb joint (from half a lamb ) was. Personally I'm a fan of rare, medium rare at a push, but there were other diners to satisfy, so I went to 65 c. It was perfectly done as medium, but like I say I'd have taken it out at 60-62 myself.

So if you are in the market for a cooking thermometer & can deal with going to Ikea (it doesn't appear to be available on line) then this is a cheap & reasonable solution.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Apple pie

I've always loved apple pie, prefereably the really tart kind to lurk under sweet custard. My nan usually made it on a blue & white enemal pie plate (just like this) I'm very happy to have one of my own, but due to a packed table I had to use a bigger dish.

Now I never realised that the filling needed a recipe, its just apple & sugar, maybe some spice if you are being fancy, chuck it on a low light & wait till its done. then stuff that on your pastry lined plate and bung a pastry lid on top.

What I needed was a good sweet pastry recipe, Jamie Oliver came up with the goods first so away I went (I made it in a mixing bowl, other wise flour seems to go everywhere). Both him & Heston Blumenthal advocate rolling the pastry out between 2 sheets of greaseproof paper, that's good enough for me (and less flour to go all over). I made the classic mistake of not making the lid quite large enough, so there was an ugly patch .

  This is it just out of the oven, unfortunately the timing of things meant that we couldn't cut & eat it straightaway, so it got served up a la modé. Which although not my favourite way to eat apple pie is good enough. Next time though it's custard for sure, the proper stuff made from powder out of a red,blue, and yellow tin (*)

(*) Yes I'm perfectly aware that this isn't proper custard, thank you, however proper custard isn't pyrophyrric or none newtonian. It's not just a kitchen it's a place for SCIENCE

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Odd things in the globe o booze

I have several quite odd concoctions on the liquor shelf. Several made by me (not in a distilled way as that is both illegal & dangerous) including Earl grey gin, Blueberry vodka, Blackberry gin & Damson brandy.

I also have several manufactured oddities too. St Germain elderflower  liqueur,  very handy in a number of gin & champagne confections. Creme de violette which makes the fabulous "Arsenic & old lace". Maraschino a bit part player in several very good drinks. Qi black tea liqueur a lovely smokey brew. Then there is the small bottle of celery bitters, which is why I'm writing this.

Fentimans  make lovely non-alcoholic drinks, their Curiosity Cola is a favourite. Today though my Fentimans supplier had a groovy little box of tonic waters. Now I fully expected this to be a really full on bitter tonic, I wasn't off the mark, the quinine note is right upfront, a great tonic. Which of course requires a great mix to fully appreciate. I give you the garden tonic.

Large measure of Gin (always a good start)
1/2 measure marschino
dashes of celery bitters (2-3 depending on taste)
top of with tonic

A strong bitter grown up drink, excellent long drink, I heartily recommend it.

Makin' Bacon

A bit of a blow on my trumpet for the bacon infused bourbon.
My molecular mixology friend took some to another cutting edge mixologist, the short story is use organic smoked collar. It infuses powerfully, enough so you can use a 2:1 ratio of bourbon to bacon bourbon.

We played a little more with the stockbrokers breakfast idea & ended up with a nice bacon & orange confection, still needs some tweaking though.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Fudge 2

I grabbed the internet and had a search for peanut butter fudge. Most of the recipes seemed to use marshmallow or the microwave, neither of which were solutions I was interested in.

Time for Harold McGee. As suspected he had a whole chapter about sweets and in it was a nice bit of theory about fudges & fondants. This made me think a straight forward substitution of peanut butter for butter would work, a little more thinking led me to the conclusion a mixture of the 2 would be better, so half & half it was.

Next time it'll be 75% butter 25% peanut butter. There was one big problem, peanut butter doesn't lubricate as well as actual butter & one small problem, the end product is very rich indeed.Still people are enjoying it so not a complete disaster.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009


  I guess most reasonable people are fond of fudge. Its been my culinary bête noir for some time. Every attempt I've made has resulted in some semi-inedible beige sludge. However I saw a cheap digital cooking thermometer the other day, and instantly bought it (C'mon "meat probe" who'd pass that up ?). I've used the soft/hard ball/crack system succesful for treacle toffee (though my gran taught me how to make that) and cinder toffee (Again, pouring soda into boiling sugar what's not to like ?).

The recipe I found was for a butter & milk fudge, with a half carton of double cream getting ever closer to the end of its life I went for the richer option of 1/3rd cream 2/3rds milk. Also because of my previous fudge failings I refused to use a real vanila pod and went with essance.

It turned out as fudge, in colour and in texture which is apretty good start.You'll notice I'm not mentioning flavour in that list, because that's the weakpoint of this fudge. The fudge tastes more custardy than fudgey, not in an unpleasant way but not the rich fudge flavour I like.

Anyway its been a hit with various friends and volunteers, so they've asked about more (Especially with christmas looming). So I'm looking at richer recipes (maple syrup & real vanilla next time)

Monday, 16 November 2009

lemon meringue (with a perfect burger side)

Lemon meringue is one of my favourite desserts, I could rattle on about it for sometime (do remind me though to tell some stories about Paris).

I often watch Something for the weekend usually for recipes or cocktails, they don't have a huge hit rate as I have a peculiar palate, and they like to use feature ingredients, sometimes following trends I have no interest in. Vanilla Vodka gets a fair bit of use and generally I'm not a big fan, but its ubiquitous enough for me to make & keep a small batch of. On of Sunday's recipes included one of my favourite things Lemon curd. I've had a weakness for it for as long as I can remember, so when I saw a cocktail using it, it had to be tried

They called it A lemon butter sour but it tastes like a glass full of lemon meringue, so if you've the ingredients I give it a bash, I skipped the gomme as it was already sweet enough to my taste, but you might want to experiment with the lemon juice & lemon curd.

That was served as a prelude to a perfect burger tea in front of Dr Who with friends. Friends that had just returned from New York, so this was going to be a fair test. One thing I got wrong last time (& didn't quite fix this) was teh temprature of the skillet, it needs to be outrageously hot, I don't think you can have it too hot, so whilst my burgers took more like 6mins to get to 52 deg internally I reckon I can get the cooking time down to the recommended 4. So how did they fair ? Pretty well, being almost as good as the $15 empire burger, given that they were about $2 apeice I'm quite happy. (oh yes, they freeze very well indeed, just wrap them seperately)

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Perfect Burgers ? (pt2)

Time to take the logs of meat from the fridge & turn them into burgers. They ought to be approx the same diametre as the buns and about 2 fingers thick, the cold & the cling film combine to make this step a bit easier. then roughly shape them into burgers

There they are, if you have more burgers than people, wrap them in baking paper and then freeze them, they should be good for 3 months, but I doubt they'll get a chance to last that long.

So to cook them, get a skillet very hot (5-10 mins on full heat) and oil it lightly.
Then put the burgers in.

Now the instructions say turn every 30s, this allows a crust to form on the outside, but keeps the centre moist. I don't think I'd managed to get the pan hot enough, because after 2 mins they were more blue than rare/medium rare, so more flipping and more cooking.

Hot hot hot, flipping every 30s there is almost bound to be a casualty or two, in this case it was light flaking of the burgers.
Since I'd skipped out on doing the whole job, I'd got some buns, cheese & Mr Hienz's ketchup. Instead of going to the chip-shop I made some wedges, the healthy alternative.

That's making me hungry to look at now.

So are they perfect burgers ?
I honestly don't know, they are very good, but this is the first time I've made burgers from scratch, and having traceable meat meant I could eat them much rarer than I would dare with store burgers.
The texture is very good, does aligning the mince make it so ? Probably.
Am I going to do it again ? well not for a while, I've still 10-12 burgers in the freezer, and they are reasonably expensive (Figure about £1:50 per burger, obviously it depends on the cost of the meat though, if you are going to do the whole thing, its going to be closer to £5 per burger.

Its shown me a couple of bugbears with the book, that I'm more prepared for now. Kitchen organization is an absolute must, because the odds are you are working in a family kitchen, complete with all the things competing for that space. Several of the recipes call for long processes, 6 hours in the fridge is nothing compared to making a pre-ferment 24hrs early (thats if you want to use the HB buns) or the amount of cooking the Chili uses, that said, its not exactly arduous and with a bit of experience I'm sure you can adapt the recipes to be even more usable in an average home.

I don't know if the burgers are served at the "hinds head" in bray, but I'd not be suprised to see them on the menu at around £15 which doesn't seem that unreasonable, especially if they come with triple cooked chips.

I did notice the mincer has a sausage nozzle, the book has a bangers & mash recipe and it appears that Heston & I share a taste in sausages (Pork, a little spicing, no herbs or that kind of nonsense) so I could try that next.

Perfect Burgers ? (pt1)

At some point I made a rash comment I was going to make something  out of one of Heston Blumenthal's cookbooks. A chance encounter with a cut price mincer lead me to his Hamburger recipe. The full thing which includes making buns & cheese slices is a somewhat daunting 30+ hour oddesy. So I chickened out and went for just the burgers, the theory being that when I come to do a full recipe I'll have an idea of the pitfalls.

First set up a workspace, its probably not going to be big enough, because its very unlikely you are a michelin starred chef , even if the perfection recipes are meant for the home cook (A slightly nerdy obsessive one at that).

There we go, ahh the folly of youth. Then meat, specifically beef,more specifically 625g chuck, 625g brisket, 1.2kg short rib.

Short rib is a bit of an odd cut, after much discussion with 3 butchers (including a South African (I mention it as they really seem to know meat))
flat rib was suggested as the correct cut.

First off dice the chuck and then put it in a dish with some salt (a teaspoon full ) and then let it sit in the fridge so the salt can draw out the juices.

Looks good, but no time to admire it as there are 2 more cuts to dice

And then mince, not once, but twice, through a reasonably fine mincer too. My mincer is a hand crank one, this is going to give me lats that some would kill for.

 Lots of mincing happens, fortunately I'm getting 4-5 hours rest whilst the chuck & salt do their thing, unfortunately this meant I was getting rest from the kitchen, there were other chores to do.

 Now I've got a bowl of twice minced beef & a bowl of unminced chuck, that all needs mixing together, this is almost the home straight.

Or so you'd think, however this next mincing has an attention to detail that is a hallmark of molecular gastronomy. Several tests Had Heston thinking about the texture of his burger, he solved it by putting the final mince through a coarse plate, and most importantly keeping the mince aligned as it came out.
The stage is a bit awkward, even with an extra pair of hands. It should be coming out on to cling film, then you can wrap it into a beef log.

You can probably see meat in the bowl behind the log, there was no way the entire amount could go in one log & the fridge, so I separated the mass into two. Logs safely rolled it was time for more chilling. The vaguries of the weekend meant that the actual cooking would be the next day.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Old Fashioned

When it comes to cocktails, there are about a 100 million different theories about the name & origin, most people agree though that the old fashioned was an early contender.

It sounds pretty simple, whiskey, sugar, water (a mere splash) bitters and an orange twist. The devil is however in the details (Some thing the fountain room at the Bellagio would do well to remember). Here is how it ought to be done.

Put a teaspoon of sugar in an Old fashioned glass and add bitters (2-5 dashes), add a drop of water, stir, slowly add whiskey & ice stirring till the sugar is dissolved, it'll take a good 5-10 minutes, add an orange twist. (M.A.S.H. ever the arbiter of cocktail taste give this advice from hotlips "An old fashioned, not a fruit salad). Some how ever insist on a cherry.

When done right it's a great drink, let us not get into what happens when it's done wrong.

In a molecular mixology style there is a great recipe involving bacon infused bourbon, maple syrup & bitters. Here is the finished article

 It tastes wonderful, if you've ever had maple cure bacon or maple syrup bacon pancakes you'll recognize it imeadiately, but it is really subtle. Next time though a touch more bitters & a touch less syrup. 

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Consider the oyster

Whilst fact checking for my edit on oysters I kept comming across the book whose title graces this edit. I'm rather glad I did as it's a splendid little book ranging from the life of an oyster to what to drink whilst eating them. It's studded with recipes too though several will need deep pockets & a measure of gastronomic bravery. The book is well written in a conversational style and the author loves her oysters. I'm not sure I'm ready for oyster stew just yet (it's incredibley rich & none of the ingredients are cheap ) but some of the simpler hot oyster recipes are very tempting indeed. You may be an oyster lover or not, but if food writing interests you in any way you really ought to track down this book. Who knows it may even tempt you into sea food and that oddest of molluscs the oyster.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Pi Chorlton

Pi shop is a studenty cafe bar in chorlton, Serving a range of beers and of course pie.

The atmosphere is reminiscent of a Dutch "brown cafe", that comfortable relaxing buzz with customers coming & going rather than settling by a TV to watch sport. (This was last night, in Manchester, United were playing CSK Moscow, if they were going to show sport, it would have been then). The beer menu is nicely laid out, by country, with spirits, non-alcholoic drinks and so on at the back. Austria and Belgium have the biggest sections, and oddly Holland is not represented at all (This could be due to the Dutch habit of keeping their best stuff to themselves). Since I was driving no beer for me.

The other main event is PIE, these come with a choice of sides and a little jug of gravy. Sides are a small selection, with Mash & Mushy peas leading the pack. The pies themselves are from Pieminister an award winning Pie maker (who it has to be said I normally pass over for Lime tree pantry, but thats mainly to do with size). Pieminster say their pastry is one of the things that makes them special, and they're right. No puff pastry hats here, these are proper crusted pies. Mum and I tried to disect the pastry, but beyond short crust & flakey it wasn't succesful. Inside are the fillings, some of which are quite novel such as the "Heidi" a vegetarian pie in which goats cheese plays a large part. I went for steak & kidney, after all if they can't get that right...

No such worries, its a rich pie with an ale gravy, and just the right amount too, its not going to flood the plate when you cut into it, neither is it going to leave you with dry crust. The mash was smooth (Smoother than I really like) and creamy, the board said it was made with local desiree potatoes, I find it hard to argue that it wasn't. The jug of gravy on the side was a great touch, we are all different in our gravy tastes (I like to add none) and the dished plate allowed for you to swamp everything, if thats the way your tastes run.

Its not the biggest of places and it seems reasonably popular so if you like beer or pies go along and try (quick before the 2010 good beer guide comes out). Oh and the largers ? Well if its in a bottle they'll do you an off-sale, so now I have the record holding Samiclaus beer to try, that though ought to wait till the 6/12/??
But fear not, I'll report on it here

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Ho's bakery

I think I was about 15 the first time I went to Ho's. It hit that magic spot between exotic & familiar. The exotic was pretty much supplied by the Chinese arch that's such a feature of Manchester's china town, the familiar by it being a bakery. A bakery of the kind that has pretty much gone now, replaced by Greggs & the like. The food wasn't too threatening either, OK some of the dumplings looked pretty weird & I really wasn't sure about the amount of seasame seeds around. Then I saw a sight to gladen any heart "roast pork buns" a phrase that has no negatives at all. Next to them nestled egg tarts, they looked a lot like egg custards (sure there didn't appear to be any nutmeg and they were in puff pastry cases but hey).

So I dipped my toe into another world & ordered. The pork bun was a revelation. Firstly where was the pork ? Sealed inside the bun, of course it was red char-sui rather than slices of roast pork, and the bun was much sweeter than expected. It was worlds away from stuffing & apple sauce, yet it wasn't, it was a lovely roast pork bun. That dispatched it was time for the egg tart, the puff pastry  was well just not what I was used to, the custard though was rich,sweet, and warm. Lovely.

Ever since if I've had chance I've popped into Ho's and had a pork bun & egg tart. Guess what I had for lunch :-)

-- Posted from my iPhone

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Molecular mixology

On Friday my barmonkey was experimenting with bacon bourbon & maple syrup. The final version (that I'm keeping under wraps for now) needs a bit more work.

The bacon infusion though pricked my curiosity. Time to get to the kitchen & bust out some science. Well after a conversation with the butcher, who provided some lovely smoked collar.

First job a slow fry to render out some fat

Next up some Bourbon

Ok I know it's not bourbon, but the charcoal filtering gives a usable flavour profile. Time to get infusing.

This looks pretty grotty I have to say but it's going to be worth it.

After several hours this goes into the freezer. The whiskey won't freeze but the fat will, this looks even worse.

Next job scoop out the fat using a slotted spoon, best to dispose of that. Mind you with the winter coming on you could use it to make fat balls for the birds.
Then strain for errant BCBs and bottle.

Preliminary tasting went well, next up cocktail ideas & balancing.

-- Posted from my iPhone

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Half a lamb

You may have noticed I'm a dedicated carnivore. At the farm shop today they had autumn lambs. £ 65 for half or £ 120 for an entire lamb.

What I hadn't realised and I have no idea why not was that the lamb would be butchered there & then. I'd assumed they'd have halves in the meat locker ready. If I'd known better I'd have consulted the textbooks to see what I could best use. As it was I had to go with what I know. (at this point I ought to say the half is being shared out, I was just charged with buying). Anyway I've got one of my favourite joints, a whole shoulder. That'll get roasted a party, it'll take several hours but it'll be rather fine. I quite fancy one of the leg joints & the belly, I'm happy to let most of the chops go though.

Anyway I must go and sort through the cuts & refridgerate/freeze as appropriate.

-- Posted from my iPhone

Sunday, 18 October 2009


 Sometimes seen as the ultimate luxury food (along with caviar & truffles). It's practically the job of a sybarite to like them. Disappointingly I found I couldn't choke a single one down. Until I went to Vegas, where a dozen were order without a moments hesitation by a dear friend. With some trepidation I awaited their arrival.

 What was this, they were delicious, a splash of lemon juice, or a drop (5 in reality) of Tobasco and wow, so this is what the fuss is about, but why are these so different from the ones before ?

 Experiment & reading threw up something unsuspected, Oysters in the us are usually rinsed, where as here in the uk they are just shucked (opened) and swallowed. The problem was the highly saline liquor, which was really causing all the vileness. With simply pouring the liquor away I could scoff oysters to my hearts content.

 Having made that simple discovery, I've been eating oysters at the slightest excuse since.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Free Food

   In my youth summer and autumn usually meant free food on offer. It started at the end of June early July with Pick Your Own (PYO) whilst somebody had to pay for the full baskets, the rule as a child was generally 1 for me, 1 for the basket. This haul would then be turned into fresh strawberry cake & pots of jam.

  Next up came blackberries, this frequently meant a bike ride down the canal or out into Cheshire or some other spot where particularly overgrown bramble tangles were known to be. On arrival there would be a small picnic before the devastation commenced (I used to wonder how these patches survived). Again it was a case of 1 for me, 1 for the bag. Meeting other blackberryers was fairly common, and had its own etiquette. What usually followed was apple & blackberry pie and Bramble jam.

  About the same time it was apples, these we didn't have to forage far for, as we had a couple of trees & the old lady nextdoor had a small orchard (about 10 trees).

  Then it was time for sweet chestnuts, getting these was a real joy, you had to wear gloves, due to the spines, and it always involved launching bits of stick up into the tree to dislodge more.

  On Sunday evening, the weather was glorious, so I blew off my chores and went to the forest. There was a group of people by the entrance having a good go at a large sweet chestnut. About 50m from the carpark we were all alone as usual. Having come out on pretty much a whim, we had 1 bag and no gloves. Still it was fun.

Its not the greatest haul, but for 15 minutes work, wasn't too bad, especially as I have a large plate more ripening on the window sill. Since I now have an open fire

It was time to roast, Normally I do chestnuts in the oven, gas 5-6 for half an hour, job done. I'd forgotten to make allowance for the rather ferocious heat of the fire, so was a little shocked when the first one popped after about 5 minutes. Jolly tasty they were too. I suspect that Saturday might include a more organized raid on the sweet chestnuts of Sherwood forest

Sunday, 11 October 2009


      In a change to Friday's usual schedule, I went to the beer festival.
My taste in beer tends towards the chunkier brews, I don't really like the taste of hops, so that rules out most bitters, and I tend to drink larger on the mainland.

Last year they had my all time favourite beer. J.W.Lees' Moonraker, a brutal barley wine that is best described as vodka infused molasses. It was a hard job to go sample other beers.This year in a bid to make my life easier they only appeared to have Hydes in. Also I had a spy in the camp, my compadre had worked the Thursday evening opening shift & spied out some good stuff.

First up was a damson stout, a very palatable number, with sweetness up front and a damson ending. Unfortunately our next target a blueberry ale had just run out, and I fell for the old trick of a punny name. It was fortunately a very tasty mild, thick dark & sweet. After that I found a strong stout, nice enough, but not very memorable.

Moving down to the second tent, a wheat beer evangelist cornered me. After serving me several tasters and finding my stance somewhat unassailable he launched a coup de gras with an orange wheat beer, which was bloody lovely.

The band started up and they were very much pub rock, until a BSL interpreter joined them at which point they suddenly became RAWK. As the orange wheat beer was fading fast I ventured back in to find a strong imperial stout. Another pun turned up in the shape of "raisin to live". I think it was the evening's strongest brew (at a disappointing 7.9%) but had a great chocolate finish.

Beedhams the butcher (see Iberico) provided some lovely catering, in the shape of sausages & steak baps, ok not haute cuisine but ideal with a mug of beer on a gusty October eve.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009


I'm a big fan of floral flavours. I suspect that this is due to believing that Fry's chocolate & particularly their Turkish Delight were the summit of available chocolate. The turkish delight with it's rose flavour being an unbelievably exotic treat.
As time marched on  I found other turkish delights, with better rose flavours, but that small purple wrapped rectangle, still holds a place. Rose however much I love the flower & the flavour has been displaced by violet.
The ultimate being Heston Blumenthal's violet tartlets, that though is a story for a different time. As is my long list of violet creams (Charbonnel et Walker's dark enrobed are up at the top). I'm going to talk about drink (I know) as I have amongst my odd alcohols creme de violette, its a beautiful colour and a fine taste.
There are a number of cafe pousse that use it with cream, and whilst they look stunning & are quite tricky to make. It seems to play very nicely with pastis, which I usually use paraisian absinthe, only occasionally swapping out for Pernod as I prefer the formers dryness.

So when I spotted "Arsenic & Old Lace" I had to dive right in. It looks stunning too as you can see.

Here is the recipe as usual the numbers represent parts
6 Gin
2 Pastis (as I said I use la Fee parisian)
2 Creme de violette
1 vermouth
Stir with ice and serve straight up.

It's a very complex taste, with huge anise notes up front, then softening through the herbals into the florals at the end. Its not going to be a drink for everyone, but its a strong drink with complex flavours, if you can track down the violette its worth a go.

Monday, 5 October 2009


I had some sorry looking pears that needed eating, they looked a bit too battered for poaching, then I found this.

Butterscotch pears.

Melt soft brown sugar in a non-stick frying man with a couple of tbsp of cream.
once its melted chuck in the pears & cook for 5 mins, put in a large nob of butter and once its stirred in, add brandy & flambe for 30s (watch out, that can get VERY INTERESTING in an A&E kind of way(*)) remove from the heat & stir in cream.

I poured it over ice cream & smashed up ginger biscuits.

I still have a half jug of butterscotch, I might get some more ice-cream on the way home.

* Molten sugar is hot (very hot) and sticky, you do not want it on you in any way at all. Some years ago I bought a Christmas gingerbread house in holland. At the top of every page (and the bottom too) was soemthing like

Let op ! gesmotlen zuicker ist hel hett

Which a mad stab at european language suggests

Watch OUT ! Molten sugar is very hot.
It is, they weren't kidding. Hopefully I'll be building another house this year, there ought to be photos & step by steps

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Street food

Most chefs when abroad wax lyrical about street-food, but not here at home, why ?
Is it because we are too rich & our street food is just junk, a bunch of calories smothered in cheap sauce with onions. Or is it the regulation that food vendors have to deal with ?

It's goose fair time here in Nottingham, the origins of which are all about food, Christmas geese and cheese mainly, of course this century has seen it change to mainly rides and attractions, with the usual burger vans, chips and candy floss. However it still retains some interesting food foibles.

First off is the tradition of coconuts & pomegranates. My guess is that this is just the generation before mine's main exposure to such exotic fruits. There also seems to be a much wider selection of dishes than normally found at such events, including Chinese,Indian,Carribean(*),German and some new sensation (this year it seemed to be a spiral crisp made from half a potato). However there are a couple of things that seem to be unique to the Goose fair.

First off is mushy peas, at least one stall cooks them in a giant bubbling vat over a coal fire, giving a mesmerizing smell as the warm coal notes cut through the usually chilly October air. They are served in cups mostly splattered with a generous helping of mint sauce. It isn't a hand food I've come across elsewhere.

Then there is the Cock on a stick. This is a boiled sugar confection, that has been pulled into a kind of S-shape and then turned into a reasonable resembelance of a rooster, of course they are sold by the double entendre, they come in 3 sizes small, medium & large, though the small ones are a bit less popular. Fortunately the BBC interviewed their maker and he can explain it better than me. 

My weakness is for pig in a bun, preferably with a bit of crackling and both stuffing & apple sauce, this year I was spoilt by a man with an entire pig on a spit which seemed to have been cooked very slowly, it was a pleasure to sit on the bank above the fair, sauce dribbling down my chin the cacophony of the rides drifting upto me. It may sound like a humble, dodgy van snack, but it was the very essence of enjoyable food & drink.

(*) The jerk chicken though is better at the Carribean carnival, that takes place in July.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Peach Melba

So it's Friday, cocktails. James Joyce as well as being a top notch author is also a very well balanced whiskey cocktail. The edge is taken off the lemon juice with a good amount triple sec. We followed it up with consolation cocktails at the neighbours since Marcus came off his bike. Peach Melbas a fantastic double cream concoction it even looks peach coloured. It might be possible to swap the cream out for ice cream to make an interesting dessert. I'll have to give it a go next time fresh peaches come around.

-- Posted from my iPhone

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

A touch of controversy

Victoria sponge/sandwich.

This is the easiest recipe for cake I know of

you need equal weights of

So far no difference of opinion, that comes with the filling
I always thought it was strawberry jam & whipped cream, however the WI disagree. So here is the question internet, that we need an answer too

Just jam ? yes or no ?

this is the cake in question,as you can see its just jam & jolly tasty

Monday, 28 September 2009

Inspiration is odd like that

I had an altercation with a bramble bush on sunday morning, I decided to take revenge by grabbing all the blackberries.

The water bottle was the only container I had with me but the blackberries (from a random sampling you understand) were very sweet & needed to be claimed. Fairness demanded it. So what was I going to do with them, there weren't enough for pie or crumble. Then it dawned on me, time to make a spin on the classic Bloodhound (if you don't fancy the link its a perfect martini with strawberries). Get the black berries into your mixer with "some" gin.

The depth of colour is due to the rough ride that the blcakberries had on the way home. Muddle (I'll go into detail about muddling later) add the 2 vermouths and the ice, shake hard. You are going to need both the hawthorne strainer and a fine strainer to get this in to the glass (as a lot of the blackberry pulp is very fine you'll probablay have to "encourage" it with a bar spoon).

Its a bit drier than a Bloodhound (natrually) but its a great taste & a stunning looking drink (a shame the photo doesn't do it justice, but I wanted to get on and drink it rather than document). Unfortunately Blackberry season is coming to an end. You could always swap in a blackberry liquer or if the DIY mood is on you make blackberry gin.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Flame fondue

I believe that in the area of BBQ desserts are sadly neglected. I've tried to redress this several times, usually ending up with some variation on the caramelized fruit theme. Thursday's adventures in fire eating & the chance purchase of some Wray & nephew over proof rum, led me to a BBQ Dessert spectacle.

First slice several slightly under ripe bananas,into 4-5cm slices.
Grate 30g of good dark chocolate into one bowl
Put a similar amount of brown sugar (the treaclier the better) in a second bowl
Arrange Banana, bowls & wood skewers on a serving tray.

In a Fireproof bowl put 50ml of overproof rum & 20 ml of falernum (preferably the alcoholic version).

Serve the bananas, then light the rum.

To eat, skewer a banana chunk, dip into the chocolate or the sugar, then dip into the flaming rum & stir, bring the now flaming banana to the mouth & eat.
You can if you like extinguish the banana before eating or if you are a flaming Sambucca fan, just go for it. The rum mix will probably burn out in 5 or so minutes. At this point mix the remaining liquor, chocolate, sugar & banana in a foil parcel & place amongst the hot BBQ coals for 5 minutes. Enjoy.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Le délice gastronomique


The salamander's dessert

A bit off the beaten track here (ok further than normal). This is something fire eaters used to present, usually in one of 3 different ways. The one involving petrol we are going to brush right past, because ingesting petrol as well as being dangerous is foul.

The other 2 are more interesting to us, at least from the point of view of a blog such as this. Both require high/over proof alcohol. My favourite being a mix of Kirsch (preferably Kirschwasser) and brandy (I suppose an asbach would be proper, but I'll go with a VSOP cognac myself). Any over proof will do, infact 151 rum would have been ideal if I'd had any left. Since I was testing & not aiming for the perfect taste a shot of le fee parisian formed the alcohol component.

Thats it lit there in a fireproof (in this case pyrex) bowl. Some took this as far enough, stuck in a soup spoon (preferably one of those Chinese ones, it'll look good and being pottery can withstand the abuse).

That however doesn't really deserve the title, that comes about when fruit is added, usually some form of dried grape (for brandy mixtures) or cherry (if Kirsch was included). Being in a frenzy of curiosity I made do with banana, which would go really well with the 151 rum (and maybe a splash of falernum). This ends up kind of like a fondue, but the consequences of not keeping your morsel on the fork are well a bit more serious.

I'm very tempted to make this into an actual dessert for Saturday's BBQ. A little brown sugar or cocoa powder to dip the banana slices into, before plunging them into the flame, would make an interesting taste and the squeamish could always extinguish before eating.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Bacon cake

I'm not talking about this kind of vileness, no I'm talking about something you might want to eat.

Rather it's a two fat ladies recipe, probably one of Jennifer's. Anyway its basically a (boiled bacon) pie. So how to make it ?

First you'll need a bacon joint (gammon works well), either cooked already or you can cook it yourself, its up to you.

Once you've cold cooked bacon, slice it, shred it,pull it off the bone. What you are after is a big pile of bacon slivers. These form the stuffing of the Bacon cake.

Then you'll need some pastry, The recipe calls for a short scone type pastry, due to a bit of a kitchen mistake, mine ended up half lard, half butter. Of course pastry making can be hassle, so feel free to use store bought (but not puff pastry, that would be so wrong).

Halve the pastry & roll out a 20cm disk. Load it up with your bacon slices, making it taller in the middle and leaving a 2-3cm gap round the edges. Roll out a second identical disk from the remaining pastry & drop it over the top. Get any trapped air out and crimp the edges of the two disks together.

If it's anything like mine you should be looking at a giant round Cornish pasty. Prick or slash the top disk after all we don't want it to burst in the oven. Put in a medium slow oven (gas 4ish) for 25-30 mins or till the pastry is golden brown.

You can now cut & serve it, but my preference is to let it go cold & then slice (as best you can) into portions.


Sunday, 20 September 2009

Cocktails at the Ritz

Every now & then I go and treat myself to cocktails at the Ritz

The surroundings are great (especially in the Rivoli bar) and the cocktails are very good indeed I've not yet managed to order of menu, to give them a proper test, but the menu is fairly extensive and the drinks are very well made.

The main thing though is the ambience, how you can't feel a least a little bit James Bond leaning back in one of the huge comfortable chairs & drink a large very cold martini I don't know, of course you should really be drinking a vesper, but who cares (also vespers are very trendy at the moment, I'd be happy ordering one at the Ritz & 1 or 2 other places).

So cocktails at the Ritz, check the dress code, it is enforced, take along a reasonable amount of money (the prices last time were about 10 pounds a drink which for a well made cocktail in central London is not too bad). It helps if you know what you like to drink, order and wait whilst a man in a white jacket brings you a marvelous drink sit back with it & make up stories about the other people in the room.

Friday, 18 September 2009

A little gardening

I have a garden, it is quite small. If I had my way, it'd be quite large, part of it would be for the growing of roses, part would be for sitting out (BBQing & the like), and part would be for fruit & veg.

I don't have that though, so I have to creatively squeeze things into the space I do have, this means herbs in pots, strawberries & tomatoes in hanging baskets and a couple of multi-purpose plants around the roses(*).

The multi-purpose plants are currently nasturtiums and lavender. Nasturtiums are quite cool, they grow like blazes, the flowers are both cheerful & edible, and the leaves make a spicy addition to a salad (think rocket/cilantro). The lavender is a shade odder. Of course you can harvest the flowers to use in bath salts, herb sachets, pillows and other asstd smelly/aromatherapy uses, but you can cook with them too.

The first trial was a lavender syrup (simple syrup, 2 sugar, 1 water plus a couple of tsp lavender flowers). This added to a standard gin martini, makes a really relaxing summer drink. An attempt at lavender shortcake followed, andwhilst it was ok wasn't quite right.

The internet provided a recipe for lavender loaf cake, a bit of reading around & jiggling quantities & ingredients, making a lavendar infused honey drizzle (2 tsp honey, 4 tsp water, 3 dashes lavender syrup. Heat till free flowing drizzle of loaf as soon as it comes out of the oven). Its a winner, the cake is moist enough to withstand the loaf form and the flavour of lavender is not overpowering.

Now what to do with the abundance of Sage ?

(*)The roses are non-negotiable.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Iberico- world tapas

Iberico is an upscale tapas restaurant in Nottingham. They offer Spanish tapas and world tapas. They won awards and are part of the well regarded "world service" group.

One thing they make a song & dance about is their cheese & charcuterie menu. Now I'm not a cheese lover, so I can't comment on that part, ham & pork however I do know. They have a fabulous selection, right at the top (at a heftyish 13 pounds) is the ibreico black foot jamon. Its aged air dried ham from spain, using free range pigs fed on acorns, it is very tasty & always worth having as a treat, so I planned to order it. That was before I saw a new addition to the menu. Beedham's pork shoulder. Beedham's is a multi-award winning butcher nearby, I don't go there often as I have a different butcher, who has his own cows. I like to meet my steak before I eat it (I'm sentimental like that), this however seemed to good to miss. The ham was served in translucent slivers on a large wooden plater, it was sweet, light, wonderful  ham.  Not  quite the  pinnacle the iberico is but very good value indeed.

As its tapas I tend to stay to the Spanish  side of the menu  as the squid  (with  lime  salt  &  a  garlic aoli) is a must ,  some  crunchy  patas  bravas,  the  slow  roast  pork  belly  and a swordfish  carpaccio  rounded  out the  rest.  The  pork  had a proper crunchy crackle and then melted in the mouth. The swordfish carpaccio was another newcomer, paper thin slices of swordfish served in a vinegared oil dressing, with a light spicing (corriander & red peppercorns were there).

Dessert was a fabulous chilled ginger syrup cake with buttermilk ice cream. The acidity of the ice cream taking the edge of the syrup and bits of crystalized ginger livening up the sweet cake.

All in all a great night and at 50 pounds for two including drinks & service a mostly affordable(*) treat.

* they do a ten pound set lunch, which has been voted the cities best, against some stiff competition.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Masterclass review

Off I went to the cocktail masterclass. Whilst I tried to limit my expectations, masterclass was stretching it a little. There was the usual flakey history of cocktails (prohibition blah blah blah) a quick rundown of equipment and then we sailed into mixing. We were making a house/signature cocktail of the venue, the "Basil grandé".

Basically it's 2 grand marnier 1 chambord 1cranberry, muddled with fresh strawberries & basil. Not hugely complicated but covering the basics of muddling, shaking. It's not a bad cocktail but to sweet for me (a fruity girly drink TBH).

Unfortunately the guy's presenting wasn't upto much, the music in the bar needed turning down & the organization needed to be improved. As far as I was concerned I got very little out of it, other than making a cocktail that wasn't particularly to my taste. However I did get to make it from behind the bar which was an interesting experience.

Overall for a free event you got a reasonable bargin, a free cocktail and a personable bar-tender to guide you through. Cocktail masterclass ? No, but a simple introduction to modern cocktails.

-- Posted from my iPhone

Sunday, 13 September 2009


It should come as no suprise that I enjoy the Observer Food Monthly (OFM). However I am deeply irritated by Polly Vernon's "Cocktail girl" column. This month she is claiming she can't drink tequila because it tastes of anise. Sorry there but what the hell has she been drinking ?

Then there is her usual drink, vodka & tonic. This isn't a cocktail at the very best it's a mixed drink requiring little or no skill to prepare. Cold vodka, reasonable sized glass, tonic on the side job done.

So please Observer either get somebody who knows their cocktail onions or introduce Polly to actual cocktails made in actual cocktail bars, rather than the usual celeb ligger hangouts she bores us with on a monthly basis.

-- Posted from my iPhone

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Eton mess

One of my favourite desserts, combining as it does strawberries, cream, and merangue. It's also pretty easy to make. First get a good heavy/double cream. Jersey/Guernsey if you can.

Then whip it till it keeps it's shape ( I could & no doubt will go on at length about whipping cream). Anyway here it is whipped.

At this point you can add a touch of liquer if you like fold it into the cream. Hull & quarter strawberries

Spot the two reserved, all will be revealed. Roughly crush some merangue, you don't want either huge chunks or dust.

Fold in the cream making sure everything gets coated and well mixed. You'll end up with a mess.

Now come the two hardest parts of making mess, serving and washing up. Actually you can get help with the washing up.

(I'll point out she wasn't in the kitchen till afterwards & the bowl got thoroughly washed)

Remember those two strawberries ? Well we need the now. Spoon the mess into glasses try to get a creamier bit to the top. Perch those reserved strawberries on top et voilà a quick & lovely dessert.

-- Posted from my iPhone

Friday, 11 September 2009

Friday = Cocktails

Friday cocktails at an extremely good cocktail bar have become a tradition. I've built a reasonably good rapport with the guys. Today they had a range of new bitters, apparently the celery one is excellent. Unfortunately I have real issues with the taste of celery. Fortunately they had several others including rhubarb a firm favourite.

Center frame is a vesper, the James Bond martini, a fantastic drink this one spiked wonderfully with the rhubarb. The other is a dry-perfect manhatten. At this point I need to explain sweet, dry & perfect. In martini type drinks involving vermouth you usualy have a choice of French (dry) or Italian (sweet) generaly a dry drink will use French and less of it than in other formulations. Perfect uses equal parts sweet & dry. Perfect-dry uses slightly less sweet & in the case of the manhattan a drier bourbon. The second round included a new drink "the Comunist"

That's it on the left. On the right is my favourite cocktail the corpse reviver #2 which for various reasons needs an edit all of it's own.

-- Posted from my iPhone

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Microwave chocolate cake

First off, I know  microwave  cake is  hardly in keeping with  the theme of this blog, but  really  how can you live a sybaritic life without chocolate cake ?

Any way the recipe has been whizzing round the internet, so following a friends attempt I thought I'd give it a stab.

Anyway the ingredient list is pretty simple.

  • 4 tbsp flour
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp cocoa
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tbsp milk
  • 3 tbsp oil
     a dash vanilla essence

Combine the dry ingredients in your mug
then break in the egg and beat smooth
add the milk & oil and mix well
add the dash of vanilla & microwave.
The original recipe calls for 3 minutes on full power in a 1000w oven
Apparently 3 mins in an 850w at full power over cooks it
3mins medium full in a 750w isn't quite enough. I guess the power needs juggling a bit.
Mug cake
Melting some chocolate whilst waiting for the cake to cool is probably a good plan. The cooking time adjustments left a slightly rubbery cake. Its edible especially as its 5 minutes from the collection of ingredients to the plate. Getting the timing right & jazzing up the serving (a chocolate sauce, some ice cream 
or some cream) would make a reasonable little pudding. I think a little more experimentation might be required.
I'm going to do a little reading to see how it all works & try to get a better cake out of it 
It should come as no surprise the internet is full of microwave mug cake recipes.
And a couple of interesting gift ideas. I'm now a bit more taken with the idea and have a few thoughts about odd desserts.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009


As part of the Nottingham food & drink festival I've signed up to a cocktail masterclass. There will of course be a report as soon as I'm capable (which might be the next day depending on what they let me make). I'll also go to other bits of the festival and report on those for you.

Why go to all that trouble ?

It is a lot of hassle for 2 meals, making your own steak & kidney pie.

After all it takes about 2 hours (ok you aren't slaving away all that time), pastry is a notoriously fickle product, and there ends up being a fair bit of washing up (not just from the gore-fest that is coring kidneys). I'll admit I could have bought "jus-roll"(*) or similar and made my life at least a bit more washing up free. I could have just bought a pie.

Buying steak & kidney pie is fraught with difficulty. You see as far as I'm concerned a pie has three layers.

1:- Pastry base, no base, its not a pie (at best its a liddy)
2:- Filling, the most obvious one
3:- Lid, made of pastry (miss this off & its a tart or maybe a flan)

Most of the recipes I found where for steak & kidney liddies (yes even Gordon Ramsey, and more shockingly the 2 fat ladies). I had to fettle together about 4 recipes & my own knowledge of cooking meat to get where I wanted to be. Which was a proper pie, baked in a dish and put on the plate as a quadrant of lovliness.

So yes worth the hassle. If it was only to have the kidneys cooked right (ie not overdone shrivelled rubbery things that you end up with from store bought pie(**)). Since the autumn seems to be trying to arrive I forsee more offal & more pie in the future, I might even go for 2 day hot pot.

(*) I think there is half a pack in the freezer left over from custard tarts
(**) I understand that the way frozen/ready meals are sold it means the kidney has to be cooked through before they leave for the shops, doesn''t mean I have to like it though

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Steak & Kidney

After a successful apple pie last weekend, it was time to step up to savoury pie.
A bit of a look around suggested a short crust pastry, which for added taste I decided to go 50/50 lard & margarine, which made rubbing a bit 
but the breadcrumb stage happened along in good time. I was always told before making pastry to put a glass of water in the fridge so that when  it came to mixing in you had ice water to hand. The result is a nice ball of pastry ready to be cling filmed & chilled.
Whilst thats happening we can ready the filling. I do like lambs kidney & have a very good butcher, so a good 500g of stewing steak & 250g of lambs kidney were to hand.
Melt butter in a frying pan & season (salt,pepper,garden herb) and then sweat down some onion. Then toss in the steak & seal it off, whilst the heat is still high (& the steak not quite sealed) add some bourbon & flame off.

Once the flames have died down, add a generous measure  of red wine or red vermouth (I prefer the latter, the herbal flavour goes towards a very rich gravy) turn down & allow to simmer.
Time to make the bottom of the pie, which ought to be baked blind, since I'm lacking on the baking bean front I had to improvise with lentils, it didn't look quite right coming out of the oven.
Next time I'll double check the time & temperature
a little more throughly. As if there isn't enough to be going on with, its the ideal time to core,dice and flour the kidneys, I'd some mixed mushrooms left over so they went in too.

This was a Gordon Ramsey tip of adding the kidneys to your beef stew bit right near the end of cooking, so they go into the pie very rare and cook in the pie, that way the kidney stays tender. Into the pie they go
then its time to put on the lid, as always there are pastry scraps over, you can use these to decorate the lid (remember there need to be steam holes), a quick milk wash and its oven time.
Cooking, about 20 minutes in a pre-heated oven at gas mark 6, time to have a quick glass of red wine.
Lets hope its not a premature celebration, maybe it'd be better to do the washing up ? Anyway pass 20 minutes doing what ever you want to do, then Check on the pie.

The gravy worked out well being thick enough to coat the meat & not soak through  the pie. There could have done with being a bit more gravy but thats a minor niggle in what ended up being quite a tasty pie.