Showing posts from 2019

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 …

Falling in love again - a weekend in Nice

This time last year, I wrote about living in France as a young man and discovering aperitif culture. ( I wrote how it was something very different from what I was used to at home and that I have tried to make the aperitif pause before dinner a feature of my own life.

In the last few years, I've travelled more regularly in Italy and other countries. I've had a couple of short breaks in Paris, but that's all. With those breaks being so short, I've spoken very little French and not taken time to find really good restaurants, the way I have in other countries.

For much of that same time, it would be also fair to say that French cuisine has taken a break from leading the world. The really exciting restaurants have been over the Pyrenees, in Catalunya and Basque Spain. Restaurants in Scandinavia have been getting better and better, too, delivering exciting flavours by using traditional techniques of preserva…

Exciting Developments for Whisky and Gin

A few months ago, I wrote about our visit to The Lakes Distillery and my fascination with the approach their Whiskymaker takes to maturing and blending whisky. You can read that post here:

I was contacted again by the Lakes Distillery to inform me that their first widely available single malt whisky has been released. The whisky has been named The Whiskymaker's Reserve No1, the first in a series of limited releases showing off the skills of Dhavall Gandhi, the whiskymaker whose approach so fascinated me in the summer. Since the communication from The Lakes also offered a sample for tasting and review, I couldn't resist accepting!

If you follow me on Twitter, you will have read my impressions the evening I opened the bottle. Having said in August that The One was not my style of whisky, preferring as I do a more peaty taste, I was expecting to be a bit underwhelmed. That was not to be the case at all. The Whiskyma…

Wines from Yorkshire

Although the British have been importing wines, off and on, from the time of the Roman Empire, wine drinking has been the preserve of the wealthy for much of that history. From the late 1970s, a number of wine merchants set out to change that, first by introducing sweeter, German wines, then fruity New World wines, until we were drinking so much that the UK is now the biggest importer of wines in the world. It's surprising, too, how quickly we have taken to wine growing. Historians will shout out that those Romans planted vines in the first century, but you wouldn't call it a significant industry, and it was more or less confined to the southern parts of what is now England. Today, more and more land is being cultivated for vines, as the English and Welsh discover what can be achieved with the right grape varieties and careful viticulture. Scotland and Northern Ireland have not yet produced wine on an economically viable scale. I've written about Welsh wines in the past (

Great Game (and an Edwardian revival)

One of the great advantages of living in a town such as Harrogate is having ready access to amazing produce. For a small town, it still boasts plenty specialist grocers and delis, independent fishmongers, butchers and greengrocers. One thing I rarely buy, though, is game birds. The thing is, when you live in a rural area, it doesn't take long to make friends who shoot. I've lost track of the times I've arrived home from work to find something dead hanging off the back door, and I've had to teach myself to pluck, gut and clean various birds and small mammals. Mercifully, I'm not squeamish! If I know someone's going out, I might put a request in, but you never know what's coming back. Pheasants are common, but I've also had mallard, teal, pochard, partridge, rabbit and hare.

In the UK, at least, game cookery has become associated with the upper classes and country houses, and I do think it has suffered from a degree of inverse-snobbery about that. The re…