Thursday, 11 November 2010

Drink more Gin

Its no secret, I love drinking Gin in every form. From the simple and classic Gin and Tonic with ice and  a slice to high grade martini's in some of the best cocktail bars in the capital, my current favorite bar been 69 Colebrooke Row in Islington. I love the stuff, the refreshing botanical flavors that hit you in a thirst quenching moment, the decadence of a Gin cocktail in a great bar that transports you back to the roaring twenties or understated fifties  and of course the ceremony of making a great G n T.

A month ago or so I became kind of obsessed by making Sloe Gin and sent out a plea on the best way to make your own Sloe Gin to the Twitter Ether. The flurry and amount of tweets I got in return was astounding. Sagely advice on the topic ranged from don't do anything yet as its to early in the year to start making Sloe Gin as there hasn't been any frosts yet , don't bother pricking them all with a pin just bash them with a rolling pin. Thankfully, the best tweet of the day was from a dear friend in Dorset.

 "Don't worry there are shedloads down here, I will pick them and send them up to you"

True to his word, within three days a courier dropped off a small box with a kilo and half of the beautiful deep dark berries carefully wrapped up in bubble wrap for me. I must admit when I opened the box, I squealed with delight like a small child discovering a new toy.

 Apparently the key to a good Sloe Gin is to put the Sloe berries in the freezer, as this simulates the berries  been left out until the first frost, something that is apparently key to making Sloe gin according to English folklore. So as soon as they arrived I popped them in the freezer for a day or two, until I was ready to make the Gin

Sloe Gin
Makes 2 1/2 litres roughly 

Ingredients & Equipment

3 sterilized bottles or jars
2 litres of Gin - there is no point buying really expensive gin for this recipe as it s a waste of money
1 Kg of Sloe Berries
600g of Caster Sugar


First of all I took the Sloe berries out of the freezer and let them slightly defrost for a hour and a bit

Normal advice is when making Sloe Gin is that every berry should be pricked with a pin or needle, and after reading about the process some folklore says that the berries should be pricked with a thorn off the very same bush the berries were picked from. Now those that know me will know, I neither have the patience or the time for any of this malarkey. So on the advice of @lickedspoon , I bashed the hell out of them with a rolling pin.

Fill the jars a third full of the berries and then add about 200g of Caster Sugar to each of the bottles. The sugar draws out the juice from the berries and thus in turn color the gin.

Then fill the bottles/Jars up with Gin, don't make the fatal mistake that I did and not buy enough Gin  - i had to do a mad dash to the local off license for another litre bottle of Gin (the shopkeeper, bless him asked me if  i was alright after buying my second litre bottle of the evening from him an hour after buying the first one).

Once filled with gin, the hard part comes. Place the bottles in a dark cupboard somewhere and then remember to shake or turn the bottles once a day for a week and then shake once a week there after for at least two months. Two months seems like a long time, bit the key is to wait for even longer so that the gin takes on more of the flavor of the berries. I know some one who has had theirs proving for four years !!!
So I'll let you know how it tastes in a couple of months time, thats if I can last that long !

Friday, 5 November 2010

Black Pudding Delight

Cooking for large number's of people sometimes has it's benefits. It normally mean's that there are plenty of leftovers after cooking at events, whether it be actual leftovers or surplus ingredients, there is always something left over. The struggle is sometimes what to do with the leftovers. So after a hectic week of secret suppers at The Nursery Festival and with a lovely group of women containing a soon to be bride, I was left with a load of Black Pudding and Salsa Verde. Rather than adding to the ever growing food waste mountain, it only seemed right to try and conjure up a magnificent meal from the leftovers of others.
Now I love a bit of black pudding every now and again, but find that I mainly use it for weekend lazy breakfasts, especially my favourite, Breakfast of champions. After rediscovering Andrew Pern's book Black Pudding and Foie Gras in a recent clean up, I thought it was time to be a bit more adventurous with the black pudding and use it in a Monday night Supper for me and the flatmate.

Black Pudding and Chilli Pasta 
Serves 2

Brown onion finely diced
3 cloves of garlic finely diced 
1 red chilli 
Half a ring of Black pudding thickly sliced
About 5 good tablespoons of Salsa Verde 
200-250g of Spaghetti  (depends how hungry you are feeling, and to be honest I never weigh pasta out I just do it by judgement)
Maldon Sea Salt
Freshly Ground Pepper
Olive oil

1. First start by heating up some olive oil in a heavy based saucepan, once hot add onions and then garlic and let them soften slowly
2. Put another pan on full of salted water and bring to the boil for the pasta 
3. Add finely diced Chilli to the onions and garlic and sweat for a few moments.
4. Place spaghetti into the pan of boiling salted water and cook as directed on the packet, preferably until al dente
5. Once Spaghetti is pan of simmering water, crumble the black pudding in to the onion, garlic and chilli mix and gently fry, until the pasta is cooked .
6. Drain the cooked pasta and return to the pan.
7. Add the pasta to the  black pudding and onion mix  and then combine together.
8. Then spoon in the salsa verde into the pasta, mix thoroughly once again and serve

It was a joy to discover that the dish contain the right balance of heat from the chilli, herby goodness from the Salsa Verde and earthiness from the Black Pudding. We enjoyed the pasta with a bottle of young Portuguese Vino Verde which proved to be the perfect accompaniment for this unusual offally pasta dish

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Illicit luxury lone dining

So apparently we are in a double dip recession, to be honest I have no idea what this means. I just know that most people are pretty skint and graphs showing the country's descent into an even deeper economic downturn looks like a reversed sign for a humped back bridge. Dining out and eating fancy foods have been somewhat curbed recently due to moving into a new ex council flat near Broadway Market in Hackney. My life's been a bit hectic in the past months what with the move, deposits, flaky landlords and of course the first weekend of Hidden Dining at Shacklewell Nights, so a treat of the culinary nature was defiantly order of the day.

Once moved into the new flat the first thing I unpacked was my collection of cookbooks (I have already filled up one bookcase with them all in), while I was unpacking them I found a copy of Trina Hahnemann 's Scandinavian Cookbook that had been sent to me by the lovely people at Quadrille Publishing before the move out of the old flat. Since the boy wonder disappeared to Sweden six months ago, I have become somewhat intrigued about Scandinavian cooking. Tales of the best tasting  fish and kelp's that taste of the sea and tins of exploding fermented herrings in the dry store, have fuelled me to learn more about the Scandinavian cuisine.

Finding my copy of the Hahnemann's Scandinavian Cookbook, got me thinking about  and craving one of my most favourite foods - Gravalax. Gravalax is Salmon cured in a mixture of sugar, salt and dill, and is left for a few days (if you can bear the wait) for the fish to take on the cure. The Swedish use to and probably still do, bury the salmon in the ground for the curing process, as the word gravalax in Swedish means buried salmon.
The recipe is adapted from a number of sources, mainly my lovely Swedish work mate who first turned me on to the wonders of gravalax and of curing your own salmon at home and  Hugh Fernly Whittingstall through a programme of his that I had seen a few years ago.

Beetroot Gravalax

a whole salmon halved, with skin
2 bunches of fresh dill
6 raw beetroot's grated
200g sea salt
200g caster sugar, sometimes I use a half and half mixture of caster sugar and soft dark brown sugar for a more stronger tasting cure
tsp peppercorns, crushed
4 tbsp vodka

Pick out any small bones left in the salmon with tweezers. Wash, dry and roughly chop the dill. Peel and grate the raw beetroot

Mix the dill, beetroot, sea salt, sugar, pepper and vodka in a bowl  thoroughly.

Place a length of cling film on a chopping board and place on side of the salmon skin down on the length of cling film
Place  the curing mixture one one top of the salmon,  then place the other side of the salmon on top of the cure mixture with the skin side facing upwards.

Wrap the whole of the salmon with clingfilm (you will probably need more clingfilm to wrap the salmon  and refrigerate for 24 hours, turn the salmon over  and refrigerate for a further 12 to 24 hours.

Remove the fish, rinse most of the excess cure and pat dry. Finely slice and serve.

The best accompaniment  for the Gravalax is a mustard dressing made from mustard, sugar, salt, white wine vinegar and dill and a good rye crisp bread. I can thoroughly recommend Peters Yard's Swedish crispbreads, which come in big disc's perfect for sharing or if like me perfect for indulging in some indulgent illicit luxury lone dining.