Showing posts from 2019

American Classics

This week marked 243 years since the English-speaking colonists on the American continent declared themselves independent of the British crown and organised themselves into a new nation. Whichever side of the Atlantic we live (or the Pacific, for that matter), whatever our tastes in cinema or music, whatever we think of this or that figure in American politics, culture or history, we still have much to admire in the USA, with its high, founding ideals of individual liberty, just government and responsible citizenship. For those of us with a taste for mixed drinks, July is a time to raise a toast to the United States for the gift of the cocktail.

There is evidence from as far back as 1806 of mixed drinks being called "cocktails," and an answer in a newspaper column to a request for a definition of the word gives a recipe for a spirit mixed with sugar, water and Angostura bitters. That seems to have fallen out of favour for a while, and by the 1860s, bars were selling Dutch ge…

Menu Planning - a summer series (1)

I have given hundreds of dinner parties over the years, and I've come to love the planning stage. In my experience, the planning is the time of exciting fantasies about what you might cook, who you could invite and how your table will look. It's the most creative stage, full of possibilities. It's also the stage, when you start to hone down the ideas into concrete plans, that ensures your event will be a success - an enjoyable time for all.

Have you noticed how often people roll their eyes and sigh in mock exasperation whenever they say the words "dinner party?" For English people in particular, it seems to have become synonymous with social unease, moments of stress and panic in the kitchen, and generalised anxiety about whether you're getting it "right" (whatever that is).

I think that's a pity. There should be few more pleasant experiences than sharing food among friends. It's been said thousands of times, but I'll point it out again…

Summer aperitifs

Summer brings a special character to my dinners. The table erupts with colour as I add edible flowers and specialist herbs like bronze fennel or red oxalis as garnishes. I have a loose-weave tablecloth that shows the colour of green, pink or blue undercloths beneath. Table flowers are chosen for their scent as well as their colour, and freesias are a favourite.

With so much colour on the dining table, I love to serve colourful and frivolous aperitif drinks, too. One such is the Douglas Fairbanks cocktail. As befits a handsome and daring actor, the cocktail is strong, sharp and fruity.

Douglas Fairbanks
60ml dry gin
20ml apricot brandy
10ml fresh lime juice
15ml egg white

Place all the ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake hard until your hand can't stand the cold. Double-strain into a coupe glass and garnish with slices of lime and cocktail cherries.

Pimms & lemonade has become synonymous with the English summer, garnished with heaps of fruit, cucumber and borage. If you…


As I write this, the ever-reliable English weather has just released another shower of rain. The week has been a mix of warm sunshine and cold, wind-driven rain, alternating rapidly. Summer is so often short-lived in Britain that the Beloved and I try to make the most of it when it comes. One of the our  pleasures is to sit outside with an evening aperitif, listening to the screaming of swifts, and blackbirds singing on the chimney pots.

Although I love a gin & tonic or a spritz as much as anyone, when I'm having a quiet moment in the evening sun, my aperitif of choice is an aromatised wine that doesn't even have a real name. I suppose it's the successor to the medieval hypocras or a very simple vermouth. It's made from rosé wine and orange peel and tastes not unlike marmalade. I found the recipe in Jeanne Strang's wonderful Goose Fat and Garlic, a book of recipes and remembrances from the west of France. I've made this lovely drink for a number of years no…

The Restaurant Aperitif Experience

Regular readers of my musings will know by now just how much importance I place on a good aperitif. Indeed, it has become the quickest and easiest way to get the measure of a restaurant for me. Walking into a new establishment for the first time, we wonder "Am I going to love this? Is it for me? Will it be my new favourite or one I'll wish I hadn't bothered with?"

Order an aperitif and see how they respond. It'll tell you almost everything you need to know about the restaurant.

There have been restaurants where the waiter has shown us to our table, handed us a menu and walked away before we could speak. This tells me they're not expecting us to take our time here. They'll come back to take our order, but any drinks we order then will arrive with the starter. Best order a mid-price bottle of white wine and clear off as quickly as every other diner. They're not ready for customers who will lazily make their way through a meal, relishing every taste and…

Spritz and more

About fifteen years ago, the Beloved and I visited Venice on holiday. Every guidebook recommended we try the local aperitif drink. In Venice at the time, spritz was made with still wine and a little soda and flavoured with one of several bitter liquors. Our guidebook noted that, while Campari was generally the preferred flavouring south of the Grand Canal, most bars in the tourist north served spritz with Aperol, then virtually unknown at home. Perhaps the students and celebs on the south islands like the higher alcohol content of Campari! It was served in a straight-sided glass (usually a high-ball), filled with ice, fruit and olives.

How times have changed!

I've just done a quick Google image search, my search-term being simply "spritz." Most of the images show bright orange Aperol spritz in large wine glasses, although there are some old fashioned glasses. Orange slices are frequent, and there are a couple of raspberries and blueberries to be seen, but there is not a…

A family Easter

Easter's a special time for me and my family, and food is a big part of that. As I wrote in my Mothers' Day blog, providing food for those I love is one of life's great pleasures. To celebrate the great feast without guests would simply be unthinkable. Unlike Christmas, with its attendance pressures and expectations, there are no 'rules' to Easter entertaining. It can be a rather relaxed affair, giving you time to simply enjoy the presence of family and friends around the table. I'm lucky to have two stepchildren and two grandchildren who love to come to ours at Easter, and delaying the meal to play with cars on the floor is something we can all enjoy.

This year, I served a mimosa as the aperitif. The orange juice base was lovely and fresh in that warm sun we had. That's not to say it was lacking in alcohol. I fortified the juice with a blood orange liqueur from the Wiltshire Liqueur Company before adding Champagne. It's a cocktail that always goes dow…

Mix up your mixers!

I wrote a few weeks ago about the current gin boom. I follow a number of gin bloggers and try to keep up with the ever-growing array of weird and wonderful gins. One of the things I notice, especially among sponsored content, is the unshakeable assumption that you must want to drink your gin with tonic water. Gin is a fabulously versatile spirit. That's the reason it's the foundation for so many cocktails. Why do we insist on limiting it when we mix it as a long drink?

Ginger ale

Mixing gin with ginger ale is almost as old as mixing it with tonic water. We're back in medicinal territory here, as ginger settles the stomach and is often recommended for seasickness or nausea. Well, a touch of gin won't help the seasickness, but it'll certainly liven up the drink! Try it with one of the fruit flavoured gins - rhubarb's the obvious one - or a good London dry. Fiery ginger beer mixes better with one of the sweeter gins. Try it with Tanqueray Sevilla. I also know of a…

Setting the scene

A good dinner needs to appeal to all five of the senses. We put a lot of effort into making each dish appeal to the eye, as well as the nose and tastebuds. A well-balanced dinner will also feature a variety of textures, too, some of which will stimulate the ear with a crack or a crunch as you bite into them. Before the food arrives, though, before they’ve even taken their first sip of your well-planned aperitif, your guests will have taken in the ‘look’ of your dining room. They will have noticed the delicious aromas of food cooking in the kitchen and perhaps heard the bubble and hiss of pans on the stove. I want to think in this post about how we use that first impression to really set the scene for the dinner that follows.

First things first: decide on your overall look. Does the dinner have a theme? If you’re offering an evening of Spanish foods, sunshine colours and terracotta-ware will fit better than crisp white and cut crystal, but for a wedding anniversary you might decide th…

Tradition - a Mothers' Day post