Posts

Darker drinks to warm your winter nights

Image
There is a definite seasonality to my drinking habits. I have commented on it before: how I enjoy sharp and light drinks in the summer months, fino sherry in the sunshine or rosé wine with salads. By the same token, as the temperature drops and the nights grow longer, I naturally incline to darker, more full-bodied drinks in the autumn and winter. It's not just because winter foods tend to be deeper in flavour, although that certainly plays a part, but somehow the mood of the season calls for darker drinks. Even if I'm not drinking with food, I wouldn't think of opening a bottle of lager, dry white wine or crisp sherry. Even gin and tonic are less common for me come November. Shiraz, Malbec and Rioja People will tell you I'm not a fan of rich, heavily-oaked red wines. I think it would be more accurate to say I struggle to match them with food. In the winter months, I'm more likely to open a bottle after supper, or to open one early in the week and take a glass out o

Ghoulish Cocktails & Bonfire Sparklers

Image
Although Covid-19 has put put paid to a lot of the conventional activities of Hallowe'en, Mischief Night and 5th November, we still have plenty scope for making fun at home. Indeed, home is the best place to rediscover the joyful spirit of those celebrations, as they were family celebrations before they became bigger ones. If you have children, this might be a great time to introduce them to the cultural roots behind the festivals. Hallowe'en in the UK has its origins in the Celtic festival of Samhain, a "thin time," when the world of the living and that of the dead were brought close together. Among the festivities were simple games, playing tricks & practical jokes, and dressing up. Like many Pagan festivals, the beliefs and activities of Samhain were given a Christian gloss by the fifth and sixth century missionaries as a way of explaining and promoting their faith. The "thin time" sits comfortably with the theology behind All Saints' and All Soul

After Dinner Drinking

Image
You know how it is: you've had a lovely dinner and a fine selection of wines; you're not ready to finish just yet as you're enjoying the company and want to relax a little before everyone's on their way, but you're not sure more wine has the right feel about it. Just as the aperitif developed to "open up" the appetite to the dinner that follows, so many countries have created "digestive" drinks to relax the body and aid digestion, so that diners aren't waddling home uncomfortably full. One for the road needs to be a small one, and small ones are often strong ones. A friend coined the term "sippy-sippy drinks," which I think gleefully captures the style of these strong, sometimes very sweet drinks that are not to be approached lightly. Many cultures serve neat spirit at the end of the evening. It's certainly true that brandy, whiskey and such have a warming, relaxing effect on the way down. Whether they make any difference to you

Oysters

Image
 " He was a bold man that first ate an oyster." Jonathan Swift I wrote last week about preparing octopus for the table. I'm quite convinced that more people would eat cephalopods like octopus and squid if they knew how to prepare and cook them. I'm less sure that's the case with oysters. For all their aphrodisiac reputation, they're not the prettiest thing; not the sort of thing you would look on and assume to be delicious. I suspect the first person to eat an oyster was not so much bold as hungry, and willing to try anything for the sake of filling their belly. Oysters were once so plentiful in British waters that they were eaten only by the poor, having little or no value. It is only with over-fishing and habitat destruction that they have become rare enough to entice the rich. One mistake people make when they first try oysters is they imagine they must be served raw. We all know this is the popular way to serve them, but there are many delicious recipes fo

Help! What do I do with an octopus???

Image
Octopus dishes are delicious. The meat is sweet and delicate and, if properly cooked, it ranges from firm to tender, but should not be tough or rubbery. It is usually boiled to tenderise it and can then be grilled, barbecued, served simply in salad or pickled as part of a meze table. It is relatively plentiful in British waters and not uncommon in restaurants, but home cooks tend to shy away from it. The main reason seems to be squeamishness about preparing it, or nervousness about getting it wrong. Any good fishmonger (including the in-store ones in the supermarket) will clean and gut it for you if asked. I tend not to ask, as it's not a difficult task and allows you to get the 'feel' of your octopus before you cook it. Your first task is to give it a really good rinse in cold water. There's every chance the fish has released ink as it was caught, and you're going to need several changes of water to get that off. Octopus ink isn't harmful in any way, but it'

Autumn in the orchard

Image
Image: Avallen Spirits I love this time of year. I love the colours on the trees and the way the wind sweeps leaves around you while you're out walking. I love sitting quietly, watching the sunsets and saying my goodbyes to swifts and pipistrelles. Maybe it's the romantic in me, but the elegiac mood of early autumn makes me feel rather thankful for my life. There's something of the Harvest Festival in every moment - the culmination of spring and summer activity before nature goes dormant for the winter. "All is safely gathered in." It's the time when all my favourite foods become available, all of a sudden: wild mushrooms, oysters, game birds and orchard fruits. The apple is the king of the orchard, and European cultures have found myriad uses for them. Obviously, we can eat them as they are; we also cook them in hundreds of dishes. We ferment them into cider, convert the cider to vinegar or distil it into brandy. We preserve foods with smoke from the prunings

Italian ideas for Ferragosto

Image
Italy marks 15th August with a holiday. Strictly speaking, it's the feast of the Assumption, an important religious festival for Catholics. However, you'd be hard pushed to find an Italian who uses that name for it. Throughout the country it's known as Ferragosto - the feasts of Augustus. Romans have been enjoying a summer break since the very first emperor provided games and other entertainments at this time of year to maintain his popularity. Nowadays the word applies to both the Assumption day holiday and the fortnight's break that most locals take following it. The Beloved and I love visiting Italy. Being lovers of good food and wine, it’s natural that much of our holidays (and cash) are spent enjoying the local cuisine. Over the years, I’ve started to notice something in the Italian approach to food that you don’t spot at first. Every good cook knows that you’re supposed to take quality ingredients and let them shine, but nobody really tells you what that means. O