Posts

Something to fall back on

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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

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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

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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