Because, Wednesday. 

A cocktail before bed. 

Because it’s Wednesday and my husband worked from home and we had a long evening together playing board games and enjoying each other’s company. 

Because celebrating the little things, like being able to start our evening at 6pm not eight thirty, is one of my favourite things about how we do things. 

And, because tomorrow I have another four hours of revision to tackle and I’m in denial! 

Adulthood

There are times when being an adult can be a real drag. Like when you have to get up for work at 6am everyday, or when those bills come through the letterbox, or you’re cleaning up an ex-mouse from outside the bedroom door that the cat thought you’d appreciate while the aforementioned animal excitedly tries to trip you down the stairs and kill you. 

But to balance those things are the moments, like this afternoon, when you realise that it’s total legit to enjoy a cocktail in the garden at 4pm on a Friday afternoon with some completely inappropriate appetite-for-dinner-destroying carb-y snacks, just because it’s Friday and the sun is shining and you fancy it. 

Cheers everyone! Happy Friday! 

For the night is dark and full of bitters

Whilst in New York last month I had one absolute deal breaker. We had to go to Death & Co. and have a cocktail. I didn’t care how far we had to walk, how long we had to wait, how much a drink cost, I was going to make the pilgrimage.

Then I made the discovery that the apartment we were staying in was only four blocks away, and on our first night in the city, having been off the plane for less than three hours I somehow managed to persuade my ever-suffering husband to “just swing past to check it out.” This inevitably lead to us enquiring about the wait, lingering in the area for the required time, then being ushered through the thick black curtains behind the hefty wooden door. From that moment, as our eyes adjusted to the almost ridiculously dark room and I took in the vast array of bottles, bitters and bar tools, I knew that a dangerous precedent had been set. Before even the slightest sip of spirit had passed my lips I knew I was head over heels in love and would have to spend as much time as possible in this small dark cocktail haven.IMG_3223

As it happened we managed to frequent Death & Co three times during our five night stay, and it meant we were able to experience not only some of their ingenious concoctions, (Their current menu demonstrates just how varied their talents are) but also sample how they approach our favourite classics.  We had Manhattans made by two different bartenders, both delicious, both subtly different. It really demonstrated how nuanced cocktails can be, and how the same drink made by different people can taste so distinct.IMG_3232

Whilst there my husband learned of his love for the Old Fashioned, and I finally grasped why such a simple drink works so well. I’d always been fairly dismissive of the Old Fashioned. I didn’t really understand why anyone would choose it as a cocktail rather than just having a straight glass of Bourbon or Rye. Then I had a sip of one made properly and an epiphany occurred. It was so much more than the sum of it’s parts, far more complex than I imagined a drink with such basic construction could be. As a result I returned home with the resolve to learn how to make one that would meet Mr L’s exacting standards. Below is the result, and despite the warm weather it has continued to be our late-night favourite. I hope you enjoy it too.IMG_3042

Old Fashioned – Makes 1 drink.

To make a rich syrup, heat two parts brown sugar with one part water in a small pan until the sugar dissolves, then cool before using. It will keep well so I always have a small jar in the fridge.

I serve my Old Fashioned on the rocks, using one large piece of ice, but you can use whatever you have or serve it up if that’s your preference.

2oz Bourbon

1 tsp rich syrup

2 dashes orange bitters

1 dash Fee Brothers whiskey barrel aged bitters

Strip of orange peel for garnish.

Place the ingredients (except the peel) in a shaker or mixing glass over ice and stir for a minute to achieve dilution, strain into a large rocks glass and add the orange peel.

I have two variations on this recipe that we also drink, one using maple syrup in place of the rich syrup, the other using Rye instead (which is actually my version of choice).

I’m fed up with all this citrus.

Where do we get the phrase “when life gives you lemons…”? It seems a little unfair to the yellow citrus if you ask me. Sure, they’re sharp and sour, but that makes them perfect for all sorts of delicious things, like lemon drizzle cake, spritzing up a dull sauce or salad that needs a lift and of course the ideal garnish for a martini.

Why am I thinking of all this? Because yet again life has hefted me a whole load of citrus. For the second time in two years I’ve been made redundant from the day job and am back to re-vamping the CV and casting my eyes about for something new. Not the news I was hoping to kick start the month with. However, it has inspired me to get out the cake pans and martini glasses and to make something positive from the news, if only in booze and food form!

It’s fine to have cake and a martini for lunch, right?IMG_3113

Gin Martini – Makes one.

2.5 oz gin

.5 oz dry vermouth

2 dashes orange bitters

one olive.

Curl of lemon peel, preferable organic, always unwaxed.

In a shaker or large glass add several large ice cubes. Then add the gin, vermouth and bitters. Still for at least 30seconds. Pour into a coupe glass, and garnish with an olive and strip of lemon peel Drink and repeat.

Kir perfection


We’ve drunk a lot of Kir whilst in France, and our recent trip to Paris was no exception.The mixture of low-alcohol fruit liqueur and light white wine (we rarely opt for the posher Royal which uses Champagne) Is our go-to aperitif during our trips across the channel (whereas in Italy it is the Spritz Aperol or Negroni). We find it the ideal drink to sip whilst people watching from the comfort of your prime street-facing cafe table.

However, much as we will order a Kir in whichever bar we happen to be passing at “apero” hour, finding somewhere that does the right ratio of syrup to wine has been difficult. Fortunately, being the troupers we are, we’ve done extensive research and think we’ve discovered just the balance that works for us, and I wanted to share it with you in the hope of making your next Kir as good as it can possibly be.

IMG_2871We tend to visit France, and therefore drink Kir, in the autumn and winter months, and as a result find that the slightly spicier richer flavours of Kir Mures (blackberry) are to our taste, but we’re also partial to a summery Kir Peche (peach) and I think the formula for the perfect balance works for either.

They key, (at least for us) is two-fold. Firstly you need the right wine. What I’ve found works best is a light wine, that is not overly acidic or mineral. If it has too much sharpness or minerality there is a mis-match between the wine and the sweetness of the fruit; you want to off-set some of the sweetness without losing it completely. A Sauvignan Blanc such as Sancerre works well. If you don’t mind pushing the boat out a little further an aged Chablis that has a richer mouthfeel, but with the acidity softened by ageing is really rather special.

Of course once you’ve picked the wine type, you need to pick your liqueur. As I’ve touched on we tend to lean towards blackberry in the winter months and peach in the summer, but you can get many different types (I’m rather fond of grapefruit in summer too) and the most common in France is Cassis, or blackcurrant. In any case, it’s not the fruit that is the most pressing issue, but how much you use of it. We’ve found that the secret to Kir perfection is in the merest dash of syrup. Just enough to ever-so-slightly colour the wine to indicate you’ve got a cocktail in front of you.

IMG_2872Why is so little fruit the answer? Because of the way the drink works in your mouth. I’ve found that with the ideal Kir you should get the fruit flavour at the front, but still allow for the wine to take the finish, otherwise you end up with cloying sweetness and completely miss anything from the wine. I like to have fruit, then fruity-wine, then wine in my mouth, which leaves me wanting the next sip to repeat the process.

And finally, now you have the perfect aperatif, what do you serve alongside it? I find something as simple as lightly salted popcorn is all you need. Nothing too brine-y (olives) or spicy (nuts/crisps), just something to round out the flavours in your mouth and soak up the afternoon booze!

How to travel like a Mixologist

I’ve become one of those people who simply cannot pack lightly. Gone are the days of throwing a few pairs of pants and a t-shirt in a bag and heading out of the door to wherever adventure takes me. Now I am more likely to have a separate suitcase for the “essentials” I cannot leave behind; knives and spare knitting needles, stashes of favourite herbs and salt, six different lip balms and two hand creams, enough hair grips to hold together the Eiffel tower and don’t forget the cast iron griddle pan. Want a perfectly cooked steak on the move, I’m your gal. Just don’t ask to brush your teeth afterwards as I’m still capable of leaving the house, travelling thousands of miles and only then realising I haven’t packed the toothpaste.

Which brings me to this little collection of things that has recently been added to my weekend-getaway repertoire. My mixology kit.

DSC_0134

This weekend we’re off to a boutique hotel nearby for a bit of respite from the everyday thanks to friends of ours who rather than choose a conventional wedding gift guessed rightly that the thing we would need most in the first winter of our marriage would be a break from housework and the mundane. Now I’m pretty sure that this hotel has lots of luxury built in, and I know there is a pub with excellent food within staggering distance, and yet tomorrow night whilst getting ready nothing will go down better than a perfectly mixed Manhattan (and we all know how I feel about those!)

As a result I’ve devised a kit to guarantee an impeccable aperitif. Not pictured is my house-blend vermouth (which I’ll talk about another time), or the rye whiskey. However, I have decanted a small amount of brandied cherries, made sure we have bitters, glass stirrers – because frankly if you’re going to pack a cocktail kit you might as well go the whole hog – and the ounce measure. Even I drew the line at popping the digital scales in. I may live to regret that of course.

So, we’re set up for the perfect weekend away.

It’s just occurred to me that it’s quite possible that despite my careful preparations we could be sipping our libations from little plastic hotel cups. A posh hotel wouldn’t do that to a girl would they?

….

I’m just going to grab those glasses…

When life gives you lemons…

…ignore them and make Manhattans. That’s my motto. At least it is now.

The gift of the wonderful Death and Co. book for Christmas has definitely made the brutal onslaught of January easier to deal with. Well, okay, it may not have actually made it easier, but it’s made it seem easier. This, coupled with the discovery that some exceptionally good bourbon is much easier to come by than perhaps it should be, has led to a stint of cocktail hours, and more than a few fuzzy heads the following day.

IMG_1992

I’ve long been a classic cocktail lover, and my test of a new bar is always to have a Manhattan. For me its the quintessential cocktail, deceptively simple, and yet one element out of balance and you have a drink that is either too boozy and harsh, or too bitter. It’s also a drink where the quality of the ingredients shine. I’ve always made versions at home using whatever rye and vermouth are available at the local shops. Until now. Upon returning home one day to discover we were out of rye I texted Mr L with something along the lines of “if some rye were to fall into your bag on the way home it wouldn’t turn into the worst evening.” As ever my husband not only took my hint, but delivered over and above my wildest expectations, coming through the door with a bottle of small batch Bulliet Rye. IMG_1971My Manhattan making will never be the same again, and I shall never be able to return to the cheap stuff. The addition of such special malt into our Manhattans lifted the drink to such a level that even Mr L, who is usually a Negroni fanatic, asked for a second round.

There was one other thing that made our new Manhattan tradition complete and exalted above all previous attempts, and for that I have my father to thank (or perhaps to blame?). The garnish on my standard Manhattan would be an out of the jar maraschino cherry. However, upon reading the Death and Co recipe I discovered that they recommend a brandied cherry. It must have been fate as on a trip to my parents back in November my father introduced me to his homemade brandied cherries and the resulting cherry brandy. He’d made them to use with his signature dessert of chocolate fondant. When pressed he divulged his “recipe” and off I popped on the train home vowing to start a batch in the hope of having them ready for Christmas.

Oh how pleased I am that I did, as when making that first batch of Death and Co. Manhattans I suddenly remembered the jar I’d started off the evening I’d returned. It was fate and we’ve never looked back.

And so, I heartily recommend that you get a batch of these cherries in the making, and in six weeks you’ll be imbibing the best Manhattans you’ve ever tasted, or just dipping into the boozy jar of fruit for the hell of it.

Pater’s Brandied Cherries

500ml cheap brandy (no really, but the stuff in the plastic bottle that says “essential” or “value” on it)

250g dried sour cherries.

Method:

In a large kilner or mason jar place the sour cherries. Pour the brandy over the top, making sure there is room for the cherries to swell and fill with brandy. Seal and leave in a cool dark place for six weeks (or as long as you can wait).

After six weeks, make a Manhattan and drop one of these in it. Then enjoy all the way to the bottom before tipping the delicious swollen brandied slightly tart cherry into your mouth and chewing smugly.  IMG_1991