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Mothers' Day Cocktails

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As a key carer for my parents, I've continued to see them during the lockdown period. I appreciate that is a rare privilege, and many readers are finding it painful to be separated from family. With Mothers' Day coming up, I wondered what I could contribute and have come up with three delicious, classic cocktails that you can make for her, toast her with on a Zoom call or talk her through, so she can make it for herself with ingredients you've sent her. Let's start with the oldest of the three, the Sherry Cobbler. This will appeal to any mum who loves a good sherry. It is the drink for which the paper drinking straw was invented, and it gets a mention in Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit . It's a refreshing mix of sherry and fruit juice. You can use any juice you enjoy, and I've made it with lots of different juices: pineapple, orange, apple and pear all work very well. It doesn't work well with pale sherries, but is great with Amontillado, Oloroso or cream she

Global Scouse Day - a stew worth celebrating

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The Spirit of Liverpool, above the city's Walker Art Gallery 28th February is designated "Global Scouse Day" in celebration of Liverpool and it's most traditional dish. Born 15 miles from the city, I grew up nipping into the city for important shopping, major dentistry, significant religious celebrations, theatre and occasional treats. It became "my" city when I used to skip school in sixth form and jump on the train into town to prowl the museums and galleries. (I was a very cultured truant!) By the time I moved there as a university student, I was already half in love, a process that was swiftly completed as I lived and breathed the atmosphere of living there. As a result of its rich history of immigration, trade, prosperity and poverty, Liverpool has a unique culture that really gets under your skin. The city's culinary tapestry weaves Chinese dishes from Europe's oldest Chinatown with Jamaican produce, Irish stout & oyster bars and West Afric

Romance

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The 14th February approaches, the date on which we’re encouraged to show our love for each other. Although we can't go out to restaurants and pubs for a romantic date, we can still procure cards, flowers, chocolates and a take-away from out favourite restaurant. It’s good to have a day on which we’re reminded we are loved, and I don’t subscribe to the view that the day is all about cynicism and financial exploitation. I know my parents will be delighted to have received cards from their grandchildren, whether shop-bought or home-made, and while my partner and I don’t make a big thing of the day, we’ll certainly be having a drink together and taking time to thank each other for another year’s worth of kindness, support and not complaining about the laundry. St Valentine’s day is at its best when its gestures are already familiar, one of a sequence of days to make someone feel appreciated. What I write here, then, applies to any birthday, anniversary, celebration or moment of difficu

Winter Pickles

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I'm not a big fan of vegetables pickled in vinegar. The taste is far too sharp for me. When I've tried to pickle onions, beetroot or cucumbers at home, my pickle-loving family complain they're too acid for them, too, so I'm guessing that the commercial products they're used to are preserved some other way, using sweetened vinegar for flavour only. What I have found I like - love, even - are vegetables preserved in brine, with just a little vinegar to give them a lift. I first came across this method of preserving veg as a student, in a book of mezze cookery by Rosamond Man. She recommends pickling small turnips, layered between beetroot slices, in a mixture of brine and vinegar with celery leaves, garlic and dates as flavourings. It makes for a spectacular splash of colour on a winter table, and the unusual flavourings bring out something very special in turnips. You can preserve any vegetables in this manner. If you only want a mild flavour, you can "quick pic

Amari - the dark and mysterious side of Italian drinking

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I wrote a piece in October about digestifs: the strong, often sweet drinks some countries produce for after-dinner drinking¹. Brandies and liqueurs are very well known, but it's worth exploring the Italian amari further, as they're so much less well-known. Until the last ten years or so, very few amari have been known outside Italy at all, but north American mixologists, ever on the look-out for an interesting edge, have started to use them more and more in bespoke cocktails. The word amaro means bitter, and that's exactly what these drinks are. Be under no illusion: they are drinks for grown-ups. The level of bitterness will vary from one brand to the next, but they all carry that same trait. Originally, these drinks were herbal tinctures, tonics created by apothecaries and herbalists, but as access to medicine improved, people continued to drink them for their enjoyable flavours and reputed ability to settle the stomach after a decent meal. So there we have their principa

Adding Umami (gifted)

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I am pleased to be a brand ambassador for Geo Watkins sauces. I've been using their Anchovy Sauce since the days when it was called Anchovy Essence, and the Mushroom Ketchup for almost as long. When the opportunity came along, I jumped at it, because I really enjoy using their products. Full disclosure here: Geo Watkins have gifted me several bottles of each sauce, but my enthusiasm for them came first. Both mushrooms and anchovies are high in umami - that mysterious savoury experience that makes so many things taste better. Other things that are high in umami are parmesan, veal stock (when made from real veal bones), miso and yeast. It's not surprising that chefs have been using these things for centuries to enhance their dishes. The labelling on the Geo Watkins sauces pays tribute to their origin in the reign of William IV. That doesn't mean, of course, that they're only useful for traditional dishes. A few months ago I tried a little experiment with modern, Japanese-

Pain d'Epices - a taste of Medieval baking

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If you listen to my podcast¹, you will have heard last week how much I love to celebrate the winter festivals of St Nicholas, Advent and Christmas, and how I associate them with baking. I published my recipes for Dutch Sinterklaas biscuits last year, so I thought I'd treat you to my French recipe this year. Although sugar cane was cultivated in Europe in the middle ages, it was very expensive to produce and limited in its geographical spread, confined mainly to the island of Sicily and, later, Madeira. Sugar-based sweetmeats were luxury goods, even for the wealthy, and honey was the most commonly used sweetener. Rye was a popular grain for bread-making throughout central Europe, due to it being hardier than wheat and able to tolerate a wider variety of soil conditions. Finally, there are the spices that give pain d'épices its name (literally, 'spice-bread'): cinnamon, aniseed and nutmeg or mace. Aniseed is the predominant flavour, which is hardly surprising: it grows n