Tag Archives: cocktail

Slices of Quince

In Edward Lear’s famous poem The Owl and the Pussycat the protagonists chose to dine on mince and slices of quince. Whether or not this was a delicious combination (and as the owner/servant of two cats, I doubt that the quince was the highlight of that meal for the feline), there are better things to do with quince. Like today’s little idea – take those slices of quince, but skip the mince and steep them in alcohol, add a little sugar, and then leave the fruit to infuse the mixture. Incredibly simple!

quincevodka

Quince really is one of the strangest of fruits. They are nigh on impossible to eat when raw (but there are some varieties out there which will ripen into something soft and sweet), but cook the things and they change completely. The flesh will turn from yellowish-white to a pretty pink colour and you will be rewarded with rich, aromatic fruit. The simplest option is to poach some quince and enjoy with yoghurt, or add a slice or two to an apple pie for flavour. It’s also very happy in jams and jellies, or can be transformed into Spanish membrillo for the cheeseboard.

The particular quince that I got hold of was a handsome golden specimen. It had that distinctive aromatic quality to it, but it was, as expected, rock-hard. I bought mine at Borough Market, at what seemed to be an eye-popping price. I remembered seeing them at many of the Turkish shops in Stoke Newington, where they seemed to be cheap as chips. Ah well, we all pay for convenience, and I was not prepared to journey half-way across London on a weekend when various tube lines were suspended just to buy a quince. I just sat in the train on the way back home thinking to myself: This had better be worth it…

As for making this concoction, it’s really a breeze. However, this is something that will be hanging around the house for the next couple of months, and I was keen to check out the options to make it and have something that would look pretty. Things like damson or sloe gin look quite attractive as the fruit either floats (damsons) or sinks (sloes) in the steeping alcohol, the colour developing day by day. For quince, there seemed to be two main techniques. One suggested peeling the quince, then chopping it, mixing with sugar and leaving the lot for a month, then using the resulting syrup as the base for the liqueur. While this might have worked, this sounded like a bit of a faff, and I know that quince goes rather brown rather quickly…a jar of anonymous “brown” on the shelf was not too appealing. Another suggested just grating the whole quince – skin, pips and all – and then infusing that with vodka, plus a little sugar. This seemed more like it, but having grated quince in the past, it tends to be rather unattractive (mushy, tendency to go brown). And so, I had a brainwave. Rather than grating, I just sliced the quince very thinly, taking a few slices at a time and dropping them into the bottle and covering with alcohol. This stopped the quince going brown, and the resulting mixture also looked rather attractive.

So, I have added another jar to my collection of winter drinks. While I should say that I don’t know how this will be until I try it, I must confess that I did sneak an early taste after three days, and the flavour is coming along nicely. It is not too sweet as the proportion of sugar is fairly low, but the aromatic and honey-like quince flavour is developing.

To make quince vodka:

• 1 large quince (normally 400-500g)
• caster sugar (half the weight of the quince)
• 500ml vodka

1. Wash a 1 litre glass jar in hot, soapy water. Rinse well, and dry in the oven at around 100 degrees for 15 minutes. Leave to cool.

2. Slice the quince thinly. After cutting 4-5 slices, drop into the jar, and cover with vodka. Repeat until all the quince is sliced and the fruit is covered. Add as much of the sugar as you can, and then seal the jar (if you can’t add all the sugar, don’t worry – you can add more when the liqueur is ready in a few months).

3. Store the jars in a cool, dark place (the back of a cupboard is ideal). Shake the jars gently each morning and each evening for a week until the sugar is dissolved, then shake them twice per week for the next three weeks. Store for around three months. When ready, strain the liquer decant into a sterile bottle. At this point, you can add a little more sugar if needed.

Worth making? As with all of these “steep fruit in alcohol” recipes, only time will tell…but first indications are rather tasty!

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Spiced Pear Liqueur

I’ve managed to get myself a new hobby. It started oh-so-innocently when I made a batch of sloe gin two years ago with berries that I got hold of from the local park. The result? Quite simply stunning. It is just so ridiculously easy to leave fruit soaking in some sort of spirit, and come back months later to something magical.

Roll forward two years, and now I have not only two jars of sloe gin maturing in the cupboard, but various other concoctions steeping at the back of a cupboard. I promise that these will appear over time, but today’s little feature is one that I am particularly looking forward to.

First off, I have to ’fess up to the fact that this is a complete lift-and-shift from a recent cookbook acquisition of mine, the fantastic Salt Sugar Smoke by Diana Henry. If you’re into preserving things at home, this is definitely a book for you! It has wonderful photography that takes you through the world of jams and jellies, pickles, smoking, salt preserving and how to make a range of fruit liqueurs.

This autumnal recipe in particular really caught my eye – you just take a whole pear, pop it into a large jar, add a few spices and some orange peel, and leave the lot to steep for a few months.

pear_liquer

Now, I was a little unsure about this “whole pear” approach (surely I should be slicing the thing to get all the flavour out?) but sure enough after a few days, the pear skin splits and I’m imagining all the flavour mixing with the spirit. The mixture has already taken on a slightly orange hue, but the hard part is waiting for nature to take its course. The pear and spices need to sit for a month before the sugar goes in, and then the whole lot needs to site for another four months to mature. All this means that some time in February 2014 I should be able to enjoy this liqueur. That, or I might just sneak the stuff out from the cellar in time for Christmas….we’ll just have to wait and see how patient I can be!

To make spiced pear liqueur (from Diana Henry’s “Salt Sugar Smoke”)

• 1 ripe pear (an aromatic variety, like Williams)
• 1 cinnamon stick
• ½ whole nutmeg
• 1 piece orange zest (no white pith)
• 800ml vodka
• 225g white sugar

1. Pop the pear (unpeeled) into a large jar with the cinnamon, nutmeg and orange zest. Add the vodka. Seal the jar, and leave on a kitchen window for a month. Admire it from time to time as the alcohol takes on the colours (and hopefully flavours) of the fruit and spices.

2. Add the sugar and re-seal the jar. Shake lightly, then store somewhere dark. Shake every day for a week until the sugar is dissolved. Leave for at least four months before tasting.

3. Drink!

Worth making? We’ll find out in a few months…

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Farewell to Summer

It’s the last day of August. Forget the technicalities, I always think of this day as the last day of summer. The British weather has that odd habit at this time of year of offering tantalising glimpses of warmth (typically in the middle of the working week), only to dash those hopes with a sharp, fresh breeze and the first falling leaves drifting past your window (usually at the weekend). You fancy that you can still sit outside in the evening for dinner, but it’s just a little bit too nippy to manage that in complete comfort (although at such times, wine and deep-fried Camembert provide a rather good form of rapid insulation). Change is in the air.

However, to mark the passing of what has been an amazing summer in London, I thought I would post about the drink that we’ve been using to cheer ourselves through the Jubilee, the Olympics and now into the Paralympics. It’s called the Aperol Spritz.

In terms of appearance, this drink is not subtle. It really is that luminous orange colour. It is made with Aperol, an Italian aperitif infused with bitters and citrus, topped up with Prosecco, then served on ice with a wedge of orange. It it light, fizzy, perfectly chilled and the orange-and-bitter combination has a nice sweet yet bitter flavour to stimulate the appetite. That, and the bright orange colour makes it look just so, so cool.

I’ve actually had a bottle of Aperol in my drinks cabinet for a while. I first came across Aperol Spritz when I was visiting Milan a couple of years ago. I saw it in a bar during aperitivo time, and it really seemed like the perfect summer drink. The only downside was that it was rather too easy to drink, and in that lay hidden dangers when endeavouring to catch an early train to Switzerland the next day…although I did manage to swing by a wine shop and pick up a bottle to bring home with me.

I was also reminded of this drink again on a visit to the Gilbert Scott bar near work. We were not taken with anything on the menu (it was all lovely, but we were in the mood for something more celebratory). The idea of the Aperol Spritz popped back into my head, and yes, the waiter told us that they had Aperol behind the bar. Two of these, and we were enthusiastically toasting Team GB’s success that day at the Games. Any excuse…

I’ve also noticed that as I’ve been drinking the Aperol Spritz all summer long, it has also been popping up in magazines and on the web rather a lot. I’ve seen some discussion about what you should add to the liqueur to add the fizzy spritz element. Prosecco is the classic, but some people seem enamoured with the idea of using champagne. Surely better, yes? Well, I tend to disagree. While I would normally say each to their own, first off, this is a waste of good champagne. Second, I find Prosecco is lighter and lends itself to this cocktail rather well, and I am not sure the brioché or fleur d’amandier notes of Champagne come out as delicately when you mix them with an orange liqueur, add a slice of citrus and serve on the rocks. Just a hunch!

So do as the Italians do, and stick with Prosecco. Designer shades optional. And if you see it on holiday, pick up a bottle. You’ll be glad you did. Basta!

To make Aperol spritz:

• 1 part (50ml) Aperol
• 2 parts(100ml) Prosecco
• dash of soda water (optional)
• orange slice
• ice

Mix the Aperol and Prosecco plus soda water (if using), pour over lots of ice and serve with a wedge of orange.

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Atholl Brose for a Happy Hogmanay!

That’s it! 2011 is coming to a close, measured now not in weeks or days, but hours and minutes.

The excesses of Christmas are over, now replaced with plans for more excess on New Year’s Eve. This year I have the good fortune to have been invited to friends, so no need for me to do much other than pitch up on time and with a few drinks.

I’ve got champagne for sure, but I’ve also got a few fun things to take along. The sloe gin is ready, and I have discovered that it lends itself very well to what has been christened the Sloe Gin Fizz Royale – a dash of sloe gin in the bottom of the glass, and top up with quality sparkling wine (forgive me for being a snob…but I prefer champagne straight up!). It works perfectly as a apéritif.

The other trick up the sleeve is a nod to the very Scottish nature of New Year’s Eve. Try calling it that in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile of Glasgow’s George Square. You might just be met with icy stares, but chances are a local will put their arm around you and explain that “we dinnae call it that here – it’s Hogmanay, laddie!”.

Hogmanay is a big thing in Scotland. There are lots of fireworks, lots of drinking, lots of singing Auld Lang Syne. And the festivities go on to such an extent that the delicate Scottish people need not just one holiday – 2 January is also a public holiday north of the Border, and to this day, I still find the idea of going back to work on 2 January to be something of a liberty.

So, in honour of this very Scottish night, the mystery drink I am making is…Atholl Brose!

Just a wee word of warning – don’t dare call this a cocktail. It has an ancient pedigree (stories claim it originates back in the late 1400s) so those 1920s gin joint pretenders are but mere latecomers to the party.

It you like this, you’ll be in royal company – it is said to have been a favourite tipple of Queen Victoria when she encountered it on one her visits to Scotland. It’s a mixture of oat milk, whisky, cream and honey. Now really…could a drink actually use any more typically Scottish ingredients?

The process for making Atholl Brose is quite easy, and the great thing is that it can be made ahead of time – indeed, many sources recommend making it several days ahead of time and allowing it to sit. However, I’ve come up with a version that can be made a few hours before, and so still have enough time to whip up a batch before the magic hour.

You start with soaking oats in water, then mashing and straining them to make an oat “brose” or broth – something like an oat milk. You could just cheat and buy oat milk if you’re in a hurry, but many Scottish matrons would be aghast at this idea…

Now…the whisky. Note the spelling, and more specifically, lack of an “e” in there. Scots don’t use the “e” and everyone else does. Yes, there are battles about who came up with it, who produces the best whisky/whiskey and how it should be spelled, but let’s just call a truce and say different people produce different drinks, and everyone has their own preferences. But regardless of whether you are using whisky, whiskey or bourbon, I would recommend a decent-ish drink, but not the fine rare malt that someone else was given as a Christmas present. The delicate flavours and aromas can get lost in the cream, oats and honey – the fine drinks should be enjoyed just as they are.

The honey, in my view, should be heather honey. It is a rich, thick honey with lots of flavour rather than just providing sweetness. However, I leave the choice completely up to you as the mixologist, but just be careful not to use something that has an overly-strong flavour (such as chestnut or thyme). These types of honey are lovely, but can overpower everything else.

The traditional ratios when making Atholl Brose are 7-7-5-1 (oat milk, whisky, cream, honey), and then these should be stirred with a silver spoon (if such a things is available). However, I’ve found that using a cocktail shaker or large jar gets a good result, but it’s still nice to pour out and stir each with a small silver teaspoon, more for drama than necessity. But it’s Hogmanay, and it’s all about show!

Once you’d added all this, plus single cream, you get a drink that is a little like Bailey’s, but in my view with more interesting flavours, one which is stronger and also lighter. It’s unusual and rather more-ish.

So, that’s it! I hope you’ve enjoyed the posts of 2011 – the quince, the Ecclefechan Butter Tart, the Chelsea Buns, the Royal Wedding special, the Mallorcan Pomada drink, the rockin’ Rock Buns, the luscious Summer Pudding, the visit to the Royal Gardens at Clarence House, the trip to Helsinki, the Scottish Macaroon Bars, the sloe gin and the sheer madness of Twelve Days of Christmas Baking!

Wishing you a Happy Hogmanay and all the very best for 2012!

To make Atholl Brose (serves 8):

Step 1: the oat milk

• 1 cup oats (rolled, pinhead…your choice!)
• 2 cups lukewarm water

Mix the oats and the water. Leave to sit for at least 30 minutes (longer doesn’t hurt). Put into a blender, pulverise, then pass through a cheesecloth. Towards the end, squeeze to get a much liquid from the mixture as possible.

Step 2: making the Atholl Brose

• 7 parts oat milk
• 7 parts whisky
• 5 parts good single cream
• 1 part honey

Mix the honey with the oat milk. Put everything into a cocktail shaker or large jar. Shake until mixed. Taste the Brose, then adjust according to taste (more honey, more cream, more whisky…). Serve chilled or over ice.

Worth making? For sure! It’s a nice traditional Scottish drink and very well-suited as a post dinner drink on Hogmanay. It’s very easy, and it’s pretty much guaranteed that your guests have never had a drink made from raw oats before!

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On location: Zetter bar (Clerkenwell, London)

All good meals start with an apero, so here is my first cocktail bar feature – Zetter in Clerkenwell.

I went with three friends (including Fashpolitico) to Zetter a couple of weeks ago for the cocktail happy hour. We all went for the a sloe gin and blackberry champagne cocktail. This was a great apero – the flavours were there but not too pronounced, and a real appetite stimulant, and a combination I recommend you try (muddle one blackberry with a small amount of sloe gin, strain, and top up with champagne or prosecco).  The rest of the cocktail list looked pretty good too (mai tai was also a hit) and I liked that they had a good mixture of  innovative drinks as well as classic cocktails with a British twist (using gin, elderflower, cucumber…). Fashpolitico was less enamoured of the decor, but I loved it. Sort of like being in a funky ski lodge.

To keep a track on the places on this blog I have set up a Googlemap. I don’t pretend this will direct you to the most hip places in London right now, but at least you’ll see places that someone has been to and written up. If you agree or think I could not be more wrong, let me know! It’s a work in progress but it should be presentable by Sunday.

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