Bringing it all together

Have you ever wondered about the influences that create our culinary culture and styles of dining? I have been creating dinners for the last few years that explore these influences – the places, the people and the moments that have made us who we are as diners and hosts. Since these dinners bring together all the attitudes and skills I've been blogging about (using aperitifs to create a sense of expectation, planning a menu, setting out a stunning visual scene...), a reader has asked me to give an account of some of these dinners and why I think these people, places and times matter.

One of the more colourful dinners we gave explored the social scene of the mid-1930s. In order to create a menu and a social atmosphere that made sense, I tried to imagine what kind of dinner would have been given by the people who lived at my address in 1936. Let's consider who those people were and how their world looked...

For a generation who had survived the horrors of the Great War, the 191…

Low alcohol drinks - an update

I posted early last year about alcohol-free and low-alcohol drinks. At the time, there were very few alcohol-free drinks available in the UK that were intended specifically for aperitif drinking. How things change in a year! What follows is an update of that post, with some new products reviewed.

Our neighbour has commented that, as a non-drinker, she often feels infantilised by the choices offered when she goes out with others. While friends drink wines, spirits and beers to suit the adult palate, more often than not she is offered pop or fruit juice. No wonder she generally drinks water! I made it my mission to find some grown-up drinks that don’t compromise on alcohol.

We start with tonic water. One of the markers of the adult palate is that it tolerates bitterness much more than a child’s does. Tonic may be sweet and fizzy but it’s unmistakably adult. It’s also fresh and stimulates the appetite, so it works well as an aperitif. Try mixing it with grapefruit or orange juice (1/3 j…

New Year Bubbles

There’s something very wonderfully decadent about a Champagne-based cocktail. It can be a perfect way to start an evening and, depending what you want in the mix, can take you in all kinds of directions: deeply romantic, sensual or just plain giddy. Whatever your plans for marking the New Year, there's a fizzy drink to help you on your way.

Hélène de Troie
Pour a measure of rose-flavour liqueur into the bottom of a Champagne glass and top up with pink champagne. Garnish with a rose petal.

This has got to be the most romantic cocktail I know. It’s been a favourite of mine since I first tried it in a Greek restaurant in France. (The name means “Helen of Troy.”) It has a deep pink colour and smells of damask roses.  This is the cocktail to serve if you're planning a New Year's Eve a proposal. I make it with French Crème de Rose liqueur (available online or in specialist cocktail shops). It has a deep colour and very strong flavour of roses. Italian rosolio liqueur is paler and…

Festive cocktails 2019

It's that time of year again when we love to let go, throw frivolous or outrageous parties and bring something special to our table. It's a good time to serve cocktails, so I've been thinking about what I should suggest as my festive selection for 2019. Here are the ones I love to serve and drink. They include a few you could serve together at a cocktail party, some that are particularly suited to aperitif drinking and one that's great for winding down when the guests have gone.

You'll notice a lot of overlap in the ingredients for these cocktails. The main reason for that is my love of certain spirits and liqueurs for their flavour and versatility. It's also so that you can put together a stylish cocktail party without buying a large number of different ingredients. The manufacturers of these ingredients have not sponsored me in any way, save by supplying a couple of photos for the blog.

Three White Ladies
The original White Lady cocktail is a thing of simplic…

Beers as aperitifs

I was asked by my stepson to write about beer, specifically about drinking beer as an aperitif drink, with a few nibbles in the early evening. He asked me to consider what styles of beer might work best in that context, and to make a couple of specific recommendations.

Especially for those coming new to my blog, it's worth reminding ourselves, very briefly, what aperitif culture is. Coming at the end of the working day, and marking its transition to evening, recreation and dining, the aperitif is a social drink with friends and a few light snacks. The word comes from a Latin root that means "an opening," and the drink is a way of opening up the appetite for dinner.

The first thing I did was check to see what had been written before on the subject. Surprisingly little, as it turns out: even the magisterial Pete Brown ( hasn't used the word in his blog since 2011. If the beer internet was not going to help, I decided I needed to consult more …

Spices, St Nicholas and gingerbread men

How St Nicholas became our modern Santa Claus is fairly well known but worth revisiting very briefly. German immigration into the northern USA brought tales of the generous saint, leaving gifts of sweets and other treats in the shoes of good children on the morning of his feast (6th December). In time, these tales were conflated with the English figure of Father Christmas, dressed in green and crowned with holly, ruling over the festivities of the Christmas season. His bishop's mitre has over time been replaced with a hood and his white vestments traded for festive red, some say as a marketing tool for a certain American drinks manufacturer.

The association between St Nicholas and children is particularly strong in the area of west-central Europe that became Lotharingia when the Carolingian Empire was divided in 855. The area stretched from Flanders and Holland in the north to Lorraine in the south. Although the peoples that lived in this territory lacked any kind of linguistic o…

Baking for Christmas

Yes, I've used the 'C' word, and it's not even half way through November! Baking, though, won't wait. Christmas inevitably involves a lot of hospitality for us, so early preparation is key if I'm going to enjoy the festivities.

Many of my favourite recipes have been handed from one friend to another, one generation to the next and are recorded on old envelopes and bits of paper stuffed into the back of an old cookbook. I love the stories and memories that go with them and I'm making a point of collecting them into a book to give to my next generation when they're old enough. They may have to get used to my habit of swinging from metric to imperial measures and back again, though. I'm of that age group who were taught using both, and, although I'm equally comfortable with each, I struggle to convert from one to the other. I just use the version I've been given.

Cakes and Puddings

I always make my own puddings. Once you've had a home-made …