Tag Archives: booze

Simple Stew


Sorry about the slightly murky photo, but it’s that kind of a dish: essentially one pound beef, one pound veg, and a pint of porter.

In this case the beef was just some generic stewing steak, and the veg were some baby charlottes, a large carrot, and a leek. The beer was Guinness’ West Indies Porter, which is a strong, fruity brew, with undercurrents of bitter chocolate. The meat was tossed in seasoned flour before browning in oil and butter, the beer added, followed by some vigorous scraping and stirring to dislodge the fond and then the veg added after that. I had a small bunch of thyme handy, so that and a bay leaf were popped in for good measure. (You could use dried thyme and maybe also add a few peeled cloves of garlic.)

Brought to the boil, and then reduced to a firm simmer. It can’t just gloop gently, or the collagen in the meat won’t break down; it needs to be bubbling gently. Around two hours, but it’s one of those things that’s done when it’s done.

Serves two; obviously with more of the porter to wash it down.


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.


Poached Pears

A ridiculously easy procedure that defies the standard approach for recipe writing, as it all depends on the size and consistency of your pears.

First, catch your pears. They may be big ones, in which case you want one per person, or tiddlers, in which case, two per person is better. Peel them, but leave the stalk intact if you’re being fancy. You needn’t worry about them discolouring for reasons that will become obvious.

Put them in a pot so they fit in one layer, and then pour over enough red wine to cover them. Ideally the wine should be something soft, like a Merlot. Six average sized pears will probably need an entire bottle of red; maybe more. You can always drink the rest. Now, for each 750mL of wine you’ve used, add 250g of caster sugar to the pot.

Add some spices. I’d go for a vanilla pod, split down the middle, plus half a bashed up cinnamon stick. You could go the whole hog and use ginger, cloves and nutmeg, but that might be over-egging your pudding.

Bring the pot to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and then reduce to a mere simmer. The pears are done when they’re done, and not before. In practical terms, this means waiting for about half an hour, and then sliding a metal skewer through the thickest part of a test pear. Repeat every five minutes until you’re met with no resistance. Small, really ripe pears will probably be done in half an hour or less, artillery grade fruit may require the best part of an hour.

Remove the pears with a slotted spoon, and then turn up the heat, reducing the liquid as much as you dare, stirring frequently so it doesn’t burn on the bottom. After a while the liquid will thicken, and a spoon drawn through it will leave an obvious furrow, that hesitates before closing up. Don’t leave it unattended at this stage.

Pour the hot syrup over the barely warm pears and serve. Vanilla ice cream or custard is not out of the question. You can also let them go cold and serve later, but do pour the syrup over the pears first, so it doesn’t solidify in the pot!

Vodka Cherries

Remember the leftover cherries from the clafoutis? Six months in a jar with cheap vodka has transformed them into terribly decadent party snacks. Four out of five punters loved ’em, but the other 20% said they were disgusting.

I used around 400g of stoned cherries, 25g flaked almonds, and 4 tablespoons of caster sugar, plus enough vodka to cover. Needs at least a week, but can probably keep indefinitely.

Serve chilled, with the almond flakes. People like to nibble them.

Onion Marmalade

It’s fashionable to refer to this stuff as “onion marmalade” or “onion jam”. “Relish”, “chutney”, or “goop” might be closer. This is great for serving with pâté, cheese or sausages.

In a decent sized frypan, melt 25g butter, and add 1 tbsp mustard seeds. You can also add a pinch of chilli flakes, and/or a whole clove of garlic, peeled and squished but not chopped, which you remove after five mins. Fry gently for about a minute, and then add 500g brown onions, peeled, halved and sliced, well, not finely, but not roughly either. Red onions are good for this as well. Oh, and a pinch of salt.

Fry on a medium heat, moving the onion around until it’s soft and starting to colour. This will take around five minutes. Easier to manipulate the onion with a pair of barbecue tongs.

Once that’s done, add 75mL water and 50g muscovado sugar. This will start boiling almost immediately – reduce the heat so it’s gently burbling to itself, and cover. Leave for 20 mins, stirring occasionally. Be vigilant – if all the water evaporates the sugar will burn.

Now, add 150ml red wine, and 75ml wine or cider vinegar. Bring this  back to the boil, then reduce to a simmer. It’ll probably take twenty minutes for the liquid to reduce by half. To test whether it’s done, stick a wooden spoon or spatula into the pan, and drag it along the bottom, to create a trench. Does the liquid immediately rush in to fill the gap? Not done. Does the liquid hesitate slightly, before rushing in? Better. Is the liquid a little reluctant? Done!

Pop this into a clean jar, seal, and leave in the cupboard for about 24 hours before serving. This gives it chance to mellow and mature, as it doesn’t taste very nice the second it has been made. If your jar has been vigorously sterilised, as per jam making, then it will keep for months.

Ginger Beer

This is cloudy, fiery, and a teensy bit alcoholic. But oh, so good for a Summer’s day, even one where it’s cold, rainy, and with a maximum of 18ºC.

The quantities used produce 2L of finished product, allowing for spillage and avoidance of sediment.

Peel a piece of root ginger, with the aim of ending up with 50g of the stuff. (Wrap and put the excess in the freezer for later.) You could grate the ginger, or just chop it up into pieces and give them a going over with a rolling pin.

Get the kettle going.

Plop the ginger in a 3L capacity bowl, along with 250g caster sugar and the juice of two lemons, around 50mL, if you’re in a tight squeeze and using stuff from a bottle.

Pour the contents of the kettle on top, you’re going to need 2.5L boiling water, so you may need to boil and pour again.

Leave this to cool until it’s below 45ºC – use a thermometer or your little finger if you trust it. Add a level teaspoon of yeast, a level teaspoon of cream of tartar, and stir. (If it’s too hot, it will kill the yeast, so don’t skip the cooling phase.)

Cover and leave overnight (i.e. around twelve hours) somewhere cool, but not in the fridge.

Now, for the bottling. Always use PET drink bottles, preferably ones that have been used to store fizzy drinks, as you know they will be able to stand the pressure. Never, ever, ever use glass bottles. Make sure they’re clean. You now need to get the ginger beer into the bottles, without any stray bits of ginger or sediment from the bottom of the pot. So pour carefully and gently, using a fine mesh sieve (or a coarse one lined with muslin) and a funnel.

Fill the bottles to within about an inch of the top. Screw the caps on tight enough so that when you squeeze the bottle, the air escapes. Keep squeezing until all the air has escaped, and then tighten the caps.

It will need 2 days before it’s ready. Store the bottles at room temperature, but somewhere cool, and out of direct sunlight. There is a risk that the bottles may explode, so make the necessary arrangements. I put mine in a plastic tub, with a garbage bag tied over the top. From time to time, inspect the bottles, and if they’re bulging, loosen the caps momentarily to let out the excess gas.

Oh, the glamour!

Chill, and drink within a few days. There will also be sediment in the bottles, so pour carefully.


  • use different kinds of sugar, and/or a blend of sugars
  • vary the sugar:water ratio – 100g:1L seems the norm but you could try 80g:1L if you wanted something a little sterner
  • the sugar I used previously shared a jar with a vanilla pod, which added a nice aroma and mellowed the fire of the ginger
  • another lemon won’t hurt, but you’ll end up with gingery lemon squash
  • play with the quantity of cream of tartar to vary the amount of fizz – I think my one level teasp is probably at the upper limit
  • pop in a couple of cloves
  • include the zest from the lemons, if they’re unwaxed
  • Nigel Slater suggests a bashed up lemongrass stalk
  • some sources recommend the yeast you use for beer or winemaking, breadmaking yeast is bred for speed and aggression, but doesn’t stay the course


I’m wondering what possessed me to make some marmalade, other than the undeniable onset of middle age. Not really my area of expertise, so I’ve had to consult the Cookery Pantheon. Pomiane is reticent and defers to the English housewife, and Eliza Acton intriguingly calls it “Scotch” marmalade. (This will also be “scotch” marmalade, but for a different reason.)

The pot. Some people probably have jam pans. I don’t, so am just using my second largest stockpot. What you want is a wide pan, so the liquid will reduce easily, with a heavy base, so the heat is evenly distributed, and nothing burns. (The inside of mine is also discretely marked with a number and an arrow for each litre.)

Safety first, kids. You will be working with liquid that is not only hotter than boiling water, but will retain its heat and stick to your skin. Make sure the pot is reasonably deep to avoid the possibility of boiling over.

Grim warnings aside, here’s what I used to make just over two litres of finished product.

  • 1kg Seville oranges – the bitter nâranj of Persian cooking (sweet oranges don’t turn up until the 16th century, brought back from China by the Portuguese) – these are in the shops from mid Jan to early Feb – the Iranian shops at the fat west end of Kensington High St may have them later
  • 1.5kg sugar (I’m using 1.4kg of preserving sugar plus 100g Muscovado, preserving sugar should dissolve more easily and result in less scum – that’s the theory anyway) – have an extra half a kilo on standby
  • 2.5 litres water
  • 2 lemons (I used a single giant one)

Wash the fruit thoroughly – Blessed Eliza suggests rasping it but I don’t think this is necessary.

Peel the oranges, retaining the peel – easiest way is to score them from top to bottom as though you were going to cut them into four segments.

Balance a metal sieve/strainer on top of the pot and spread a square of muslin into/over it. Squeeze each orange over this, so the juices go into the pot, and the seeds get caught in the muslin. Screech when the juice squirts in your eye. Drop the grisly remains of each orange into the muslin when you’re done.

The lemon is there for the acid – so you just need its juice.

Tie the muslin into a bag, and give it a good squeeze over the pot to get the remaining juice out. You’ll notice that it oozes a bit of slime. This is pectin, and will help the stuff to set.

Whilst the pot’s coming to the boil, finely slice the orange peel, and add to the pot. Quickest way to do this is to stack the quarters of peel four deep and slice laterally. Add these, and the muslin bag to the pot.

Once the pot finally comes to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for two hours. This is a good opportunity to wash your jam jars.

(This is a rather marvellous part of the process: the kitchen, and then the house, will start to smell of Summer. Which on a cold rainy day can only be a Good Thing.)

Once the two hours are up, the peel should be translucent, and easily crushed between your thumb and forefinger, and the liquid may have reduced by half. (Obviously if the liquid is reducing too fast, top up.) At this point I have 1.5 litres, top it up if you have less. (The gradations on the inside of the pot are indispensible.)

Remove the muslin bag to a bowl. When cooled enough to handle, squeeze all the juice and goo out of this and into the pot. The two hours’ simmering will have encouraged a lot of the pectin to dissolve out of the pith and seeds, so don’t be surprised at how much comes out. If this feels like wrestling a treacherous slimy alien monster, you’re doing it right.

Turn the heat up to medium, start stirring in the sugar, and keep stirring until it has dissolved. Have a taste – careful! it’s hot! – and see what you think. If the oranges are particularly savage you may need your reserve half kilo. A fruit:sugar ratio of 1:2 is quite respectable – if you were making this using normal oranges you’d want a 1:1 ratio.

Pop some china saucers in the freezer. Also, get the oven going at about 120ºC, and put the jam jars in it to sterilise them. (Alternatively, if you have a dishwasher, do them on the hot cycle.)

Bring the pot to as murderous a boil as you can manage, occasionally skimming scum if it surfaces. After fifteen minutes, remove a teaspoon of the mix, place it on one of your chilled saucers, and return to the freezer. It should form a skin in a couple of minutes. To test, run your fingernail lightly over the top. If the skin wrinkles, you’re done. If not, keep performing the test every five minutes until it does.

Turn off the heat and allow to cool for about fifteen minutes. Turn the oven off, but leave the jars in it.

Stir the pot to distribute the peel and then pour into the jars. Easier said than done, and I’d recommend spending a few quid on a metal jam funnel. (The marmalade will still be hot enough to melt a plastic funnel at this point.)

A wee dram? No, not you. The marmalade. I bottled half of it, and then stirred in three tablespoons (45mL) of whiskey, before the bottling the remainder. A small amount into a bowl and straight into the fridge for – ahem! – testing.

Label and enjoy.

The whiskey and muscovado sugar are optional, of course. Some people put grated ginger in the muslin bag, and others add spices. Neither sounds appealing to me, but good luck if it floats yer boat.

Mince Pies

No major secrets to making mince pies, but you will need to do some calculating and engineering to get the pastry circles the right size. I use muffin tins (in which I’ve made all sorts of things, but never muffins) and aim for a pie about a half an inch deep.

This will use up about half of the mincemeat in the previous recipe, and produce 24 small pies. (I don’t hold with huge deep pies, as they will go soggy.)

My parents used to get very worked up about making pastry from scratch. I don’t think there’s any major secret, other than not letting the fat melt. It helps if you’re the sort of person about whose cold hands people complain.

  • 350g plain flour (you could substitute 25g of ground almonds for 25g of the flour if you fancied)
  • a pinch of salt
  • 75g butter
  • 75g lard (you could use all butter but the pastry would not be as crisp nor as light)
  • 25g caster sugar (about 2 tablespoons)
  • mincemeat (around 500g)

Start by filling a small bowl or large teacup with cold water and putting it in the freezer.

Roughly chop up the fat, and then pop all the ingredients into a large bowl and rub the flour into the fat with the tips of your fingers until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes. Some recipes tell you to do this stage in the blender, which I reckon just creates unnecessary washing up. (If it’s a hot day, or the room in which you’re working has a blazing oven or fire, then there is a slight risk the mix may go slimy, that is, the fat will start to melt. If this happens, wrap in cling film, and pop it into the fridge for ten minutes to recover.)

Retrieve the now icy water from the freezer, and mix it in with your hands, one tablespoon at a time, until the pastry comes together in a ball. There’s enough fat for it not to stick to the bowl. You’ll probably need 5 – 6 tablespoons, i.e. 75 – 90mL, maybe one or two more. Tightly cover the ball in cling wrap, and put it into the fridge for at least 30 minutes to rest. (This is vital, otherwise it will not behave. At all.)

Once the pastry has rested, flour a work surface, and divide the ball into four roughly equal pieces. A single heroic sheet will be too much trouble to roll. Roll the pastry as thin as it will go, without tearing: probably 2-3 millimetres thick.

Now, you’ll need to cut the pastry into large and small circles, for the bases and lids, respectively. You could use a pastry cutter, I tend to use a large tumbler and a small tumbler. Press bases and lids in alternation, so you don’t run out of pastry and find you don’t have enough lids. Using the quantities above, I got enough pastry for about 16 pies on the first attempt. Squish all the off-cuts of pastry into a ball and roll out again to do the rest. I needed to re-roll a second time for the final four.

Get the oven going. I crank my fan-forced up to 200ºC.

Put the large discs into the muffin moulds. Doesn’t matter too much if there are wrinkles etc as these will smooth out during baking. Put about a tablespoon of mincemeat in each pie. Try not to overstuff. Less is more. Pop the lids on. If you moisten the edges, the lids stand a chance of sticking to the bases. (In the photo above you can see that the lids look like they’re about to escape, but are in fact firmly glued in place by the mincemeat: I should have made both bases and lids a whisker larger.)

Twenty minutes in the oven should do the trick. Whip the pies out of the moulds and onto a cooling rack, and dust with icing sugar. (This is purely for visual effect.)


I my old age I have become reconciled to Christmas and am partial to pudding and mince pies, at least of the homemade variety. This particular concoction is of the right consistency to either fill mince pies or form the basis of a pudding. I initially used Microsoft Excel to do a side-by-side comparison of St Delia, Blessed Eliza, and the hysterical Empire Pudding, converting everything to metric and the same quantities to try and identify the quintessential components and ratios. In the end, old fashioned trial and error worked better.

You’ll need:

  • 500g in total of sultanas, raisins, currants, peel (nothing wrong with buying a pre-mixed bag)
  • 300g of apples (that’s probably three small or two large ones, aiming to end up with 200g grated apple)
  • 100g suet
  • two lemons: zest and juice
  • 125g muscovado sugar
  • 125mL booze (dark spiced rum, e.g. Sailor Jerry)
  • 25g almonds (flaked and bashed)
  • a solitary clove, 1tsp cinnamon, 1tsp nutmeg
  • 1tsp ground ginger

Day One. Mix the dried fruit, peel and nuts with the booze, cover with cling wrap and leave over night. I think you should use dark spiced rum for this, although some people say brandy, and some whiskey. Also, pour yourself a very small glass of rum, and when nobody is looking, down it and go, “Arrrr!!!” to commune with your Inner Pirate. If you’re feeling fancy, slip half a vanilla pod under the rum.

Day Two. Zest the lemons, and put the zest, juice, sugar and suet in a saucepan on a low heat, until the suet melts and you get a sloshy goop. Do not try and boil, melt or caramelise: fat, water and sugar on a high temperature is lethal. Add the spices. Don’t bother peeling the apples, just wash, grate coarsely and add. Now all you need do is stir this into the rest, and combine well. If you’re going to store and “mature” it then you’ll need sterilised jars etc. – I’ve only ever “matured” it for about four weeks. Otherwise, if you’re going to use it immediately, cover at let it at least sit overnight.

Day Three. Ready for action. Mince pie recipe in the following post. To transform into pudding, add one egg, 25g SR flour, and 25g breadcrumbs per 225g of finished mincemeat. The mix needs to be sloppy, so you may need to loosen it up with a splash of Guinness. (Same procedure works on the author.)

About the suet. I’ve only ever used Atora dried suet. If you can get the Real Thing from your butcher, then good luck. Melting the suet and then mixing it in means everything gets a light coating, which helps preserve things.

Beef Stew

Saturday morning has commenced with a headache, a mound of unwashed dishes, and a bunch of bills in the letterbox. I climb into the remaining three items of clean clothing on the premises and visit the bakery for an emergency lattè. Thence the posh supermarket for a plastic bag of ready-to-go casserole vegetables and a plastic bag of braising beef. After ten minutes’ work, they are merrily burbling away in the oven, in my grandest casserole. The flat fills with heavenly smells, which make the morning’s laundering, washing and hoovering pass with less than the expected trauma.

This dish requires one pot and one spoon. Here’s what you need.

  • 500g root vegetables, washed, peeled and chopped, or a bag of same from the supermarket – mine contained swede, onion, carrot and leek
  • 500g stewing steak, chopped into rough cubes
  • a glass of red wine
  • four cloves of garlic, peeled
  • thyme (dried is alright) and a few bay leaves

Fry the meat in a mixture of butter and oil, until browned on the outside, seasoning with salt and pepper as you go. Set aside, and then fry the veg, adding more fat if necessary. Return the meat, sprinkle with about a tablespoon (15g) of plain flour, and stir like mad. (You could toss the meat in the flour to begin with, but I don’t think it makes much difference.)

Add the wine, and stir like mad, incorporating any flour that’s stuck to the bottom of the pot into the liquid. Cover with boiling water from the jug, and some posh powdered stock, e.g. Marigold Bouillon. Add the garlic, a bay leaf or two, and the thyme. Maybe a tablespoon of tomato paste; more for colour than anything else. On this occasion, I popped in a large dried chilli (not chopped) which I fished out before serving: added a pleasant zing to the proceedings.

In my case, I then pop the lid on and consign the pot to the oven (140ºC, fan forced) for the next two hours. If you have a gas ring you trust, you could instead leave it on the hob, turned down nice and low. The aim is for a gentle simmer, with the occasional bubble lazily erupting on the surface.

After two hours, check the seasoning. The meat should have collapsed by this point, if not, another hour won’t hurt.


Use Guinness instead of wine.

Use lots of wine – Pomiane mentions a litre – and no stock. (Sans doute un litron de la gros rouge qui tache et pousse au crime.)

Whole baby onions, if you can be motivated to peel them.

Beware of spuds. Baby Charlottes work well, floury potatoes will collapse and turn the whole thing into starchy beef concrete.

Do it with lamb shanks; one per guest. The bones will ooze wonderful things into your stew. (Browning the lamb shanks first is harder work.)