Category Archives: Ingredients

Stocking the Cocktail Cabinet

Upon being served a pre-dinner White Lady, a young fellow of my acquaintance confessed that whilst he fancied the idea of being able to make cocktails, he had only ever acquired a bottle of vodka and some coke, before being bamboozled by the vast array of recipes and ingredients. But given that all his clothes had fallen off, I think the cocktail was doing its job rather too well. Don’t ask. These things happen. Here’s a quick outline of what every young lady or gentleman ought to keep in their cabinet.

Bourbon. Although originating in the 19th century, cocktails really got going during the Prohibition in the American twenties, when something, anything was needed to disguise the taste of the awful Canadian rye whiskey. We don’t need to go this far for authenticity, but Bourbon is definitely the right thing, and much better value for money than Scotch. Look out for Buffalo Trace, which is cheaper than the well known brand, and much nicer.

Gin. An essential, but don’t feel the need to buy the really premium stuff unless you’re planning on making lots of dry, dry Martinis. Something middle of the road, like Bombay or Tanqueray will do nicely.

White Rum. A less important spirit, but essential for Daiquiris, Mojitos, and other Caribbean loveliness.

Vermouth. Both kinds. The red stuff is sweet and more common in cocktails, the white stuff is dry and not only useful for Martinis, but also for when a splash of white wine is required in a recipe and you can’t be arsed to open a bottle.

Cointreau. This turns up surprisingly often; any sweet orange liquor will do, e.g. Grand Marnier, but not Southern Comfort, which is a little too dry.

Campari. If you think Marmite divides people’s opinions, wait until you get a load of this stuff.

Angostura Bitters. An obscure but handy thing to have. Served by the drop, a bottle will last you a decade.

Sugar Syrup. Make your own if you’re inclined, or spend a few quid at the supermarket.

Lime juice. A squeezy bottle at the back of the fridge for emergencies. Fresh limes are always better.

Mixers. A stash of the little 150mL tins of tonic, soda, and dry ginger ale is always handy. Note that one very popular brand seems to have Aspartane in everything, and some people dislike it immensely. But everybody dislikes a bottle of flat tonic that’s been sitting at the back of the fridge for three months.

Equipment. A cocktail shaker is de rigeur, certainly for appearances. The traditional ones look quite smart on the shelf, although the Boston shaker is probably more useful, but can fly apart in the hands of the unwary. Some muddling spoons, a zester, and a citrus juicer are all good things.

Other spirits. Brandy is sometimes useful, but I rarely use vodka, other than for preserving cherries. If you feel the need for Kahlua, Advocaat, or Malibu, then I don’t think I can help you.

Oh, and I suppose I’d better offer a few cocktail recipes next time.

Righto, on the case.



Caffeine Porn

As mentioned elsewhere, this is a fun background activity. Experimentation suggests this method isn’t much good for a high roast, although an all over tan and “first crack” aren’t that hard to achieve.

The results are a little unpredictable, but always tasty, and a good deal more lively.

Lazy Food

An amusing article at the Beeb this week, with much wringing of hands about the increasing tonnage of convenience foods in supermarkets.

Pfft. I like lazy food: it gives me a chance to cook something when pressed for time, as opposed to throwing in the towel and ordering a pizza. It allows me to claim weeknights as my own. It is often over packaged – which I don’t like – these days the heretic’s garbage day consists of a small bag of organic horror and a huge bloody sack of packaging – the subject of another rant.


Here are some useful things.

Pre prepped sofritto is a life saver. It’s not that much trouble to peel and dice an onion, ditto a carrot or two and half a bunch of celery. Add it all up, and you don’t have much of your weeknight left. And half a bunch of celery, damnit. They don’t sell it by the half bunch, so the other half gets popped into a sealed tupperware in the fridge with the best intentions, and its deliquescent remains are tipped ceremoniously into the rubbish a week later.
Grated Mozzarella
Not the delicate buffalo cheese that you slice and serve as antipasto, but the vigorous chewy cow’s cheese, that is perfect on pizza and in parmigiana di melanzane. Get it pre grated, in a resealable plastic bag, and store it in the freezer.
Marigold Bouillon
Popularised by Nigel Slater, this stuff makes quite good vegetable stock and allows all manner of wonderful things to be attempted when time is of the essence. Don’t leave home without it.
Chopped Pickled Ginger
Peeled, chopped, packed in a jar of white vinegar, and none the worse for wear.


Now, there are some things that don’t make sense.

Chopped Onions
If anyone finds this too hard, please let me know and I will write a short, abundantly illustrated article on how easy this is.
Stoned Olives
The second you take the stone out, they start losing flavour. So buy them with the stone in, even if you are simply going to chop them up finely and throw them into pasta sauce to tantalise the oleaphobes in your life.
Peeled Potatoes
I’m sure this is only an urban myth.
Adulterated Garlic
If it comes in any other form than a whole head, it ain’t garlic. The chop and pickle in vinegar approach – that serves ginger and chilli so well – doesn’t work, and as for turning it into powder, oh dear. (Note: the garlic you see in whole heads is dried. Keep an eye out in the shops right now for fresh Spring Garlic, with its thick stem and wonderful flavour.)
Chopped Meat
Other than mince, I find pre chopped meat vaguely disturbing. This could just be me.

Frozen Parsley

Funny stuff, parsley. Tastes really rather bland, buts adds an indefinable zing to loads of dishes. And totally useless dried.

When I was a kid, Mum would sometimes have way too much parsley, so she’d chop it, mix it with water and pour the resulting goo into an ice-cube tray. Once the cubes were done, she’d shove them into a plastic bag, et voilà, teaspoon sized portions of parsley ready to go. That was the theory. The reality was that getting the springy, bouncy parsley leaves into the ice cube tray was harder than it sounds, no matter how finely chopped they were.

The simple approach is to chop up a bunch of parsley, and simply stuff into a rectangular plastic “sandwich bag”, and put that into the freezer. The trick here is, once the bag is sealed, to squish it around the contents are evenly spread and the bag is almost flat. This way you can easily snap off a corner.

Same thing works for leftover mash, too. The flatter you squish it, the easier it is to stack in the freezer and the quicker it is to defrost. (I try and make my frozen slabs of mash line up with the dish in which I make Shepherds’ Pie…)