Posts

Absinthe - Madness, Murder and Misinformation

Image
Drinks, like most other things in life, have a cycle of fashions. Cocktails have come and gone several times since their 1920s heyday. When I started buying wines, riesling was the white wine of choice for most drinkers. That was replaced by chardonnay, then pinot grigio, and now it's sauvignon blanc, with a suggestion that riesling might be the next big thing. Some drinks become so fashionable that their popularity can be described as a craze. Think of the current wealth of gins available and the almost insatiable appetite for new gin experiences, new flavours, new mixers. Between the 1860s and 1914, that same crazed appetite was seen in much of Europe in relation to absinthe. Absinthe is a high-alcohol, herb-flavoured spirit (anywhere between 55% and 74% ABV). It is usually green in colour, due to it being subject to a second maceration of herbs after distillation. Three herbs in particular are used to give it its characteristic look and taste: green anis, fennel and wormwood. An

Classic Twists

Image
Sazerac - a brandy Old Fashioned with an absinthe twist  I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to cocktails. All mixologists enjoy creating new drinks and playing riffs on the well-known ones, but I get as much enjoyment out of tracing a cocktail back to its origins and serving it as it was first served (as far as possible). There's a lot to be learnt about cocktail-making by learning the classic versions of the recipes. It teaches you how to structure a drink, what effect different methods of mixing have, and the advantages and disadvantages of certain garnishes or glassware. Whenever I visit a new bar, or am introduced to a bartender who describes themself as a cocktail waiter/mixologist, I like to put them to the test a little, by ordering a classic cocktail that isn't on the list, usually a White Lady or a Negroni. If they make it well, I know I'm in good hands. If they look it up, I know they're probably inexperienced but skilled and not full of BS. If they can&#

Matching chocolate with wines (and other drinks)

Image
Chocolate has a reputation for being difficult to match with wine. It is sweet, rich in fat and has a distinctive taste that is hard to pin down exactly - sort of fruity, sort of spicy, a bit toasty, sometimes even vaguely meaty. On top of all that, virtually all chocolate contains a hint of vanilla. However, it has many special qualities that make it a favourite of chefs and diners alike. It melts at a temperature just below that of a healthy human body, for instance, which means you will always taste it at its best if you hold it in your mouth for a few seconds. For me, chocolate's reputation for being hard to match is undeserved; it's just a matter of remembering those features that make you want to eat it in the first place. Let's start with its sweetness. Forget Champagne & chocolate truffles. The chocolate is so sweet that it'll make the Champagne taste drier and more acidic, and battery acid isn't the most romantic of drinks! Whenever you serve a wine wit

Something to fall back on

Image
We all have dishes we return to regularly. Perhaps they are ones you know so well that their preparation is relatively easy to you, or perhaps you simply love the flavour combinations involved. We have a friend who, when I first met him, would always start a formal dinner with a feuilleté of Bavarian ham and Gruyère cheese. It was delicious. He made it so often that he knew all the pitfalls, all the little tricks and techniques to get the texture of the pastry right, the seasoning properly balanced and could change its entire character by simply adjusting the dressing on the salad garnish. He hasn't done it for a while because he feared he was getting boring, which is a shame. While we might sometimes worry about repeating dishes and menus, I think it's good to have a repertoire of dishes that are reliable and familiar; it takes a lot of stress out of feeding guests.  I think the starters that I use most often are soups. They make everything so easy, because they can be prepare

A Mid-Morning Treat

Image
Fans of Jane Austen adaptations, or of the recent BBC production "Bridgerton" will be very familiar with the elegance and opulence of the Regency period in British history. The wealth of a growing empire flowed into Britain, particularly London, Bristol and Liverpool, and the merchant classes found themselves increasingly leisured. Tea and coffee, both fairly recent additions to the repertoire of British drinks, were still relatively expensive. Gin, of course, was hugely popular among the urban working class,  dangerously so. Indeed there was much agitation from business owners for workers to be encouraged to drink beer instead. So what did those fine gentlemen and wealthy ladies drink, while they were fanning themselves coyly or stifling their emotions over the dowry negotiations? For many, the answer would be fortified wines. Fortifying and sweetening wines preserved them, allowing them still to be drunk pleasantly after a long sea journey. We know the wines of Madeira were

Mothers' Day Cocktails

Image
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

Image
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