Archive for October, 2009

Sloe gin




Last weekend my sister and I visited my Grandparents in Bournemouth. Food and drink being the leitmotif to my family life I found myself sitting opposite my sister as we determinedly rated meat in order of personal preference. Felicity was easily able to list her holy trinity of beef, pork and lamb in that order. I however struggled because I really like lamb when it’s in season, but pork offers so many options and who doesn’t love a steak? I even quoted Ogden Nash at one stage, The Pig being the only poem I have ever managed to memorise.* Nash didn’t clarify matters because the pigs’ undoubtedly diverse contribution to the world of meat shouldn’t be a factor in the meat top three. Chicken wasn’t in the running at all although I did have a few good words to say about thighs.




As I dithered too long we moved onto vegetables. My top three has been long established as aubergine, fennel and carrot with honourable mentions to celeriac and chicory. Felicity could name her number 1 (courgette) but then the conversation drifted to vegetables we don’t like. I was surprised to discover a lot of ill-feeling towards the leek in my family. Later on in the day, alone on a very slow train from Bournemouth to London, I formulated more top threes in my head including one for spirits.




Whisky I ruled out immediately, it’s like swallowing a match. Tequila invokes memories of 1,000 bad decisions and a strong gag reflex. Coming in at the rear in third place was brandy because you can’t flambé all manner of wonderful things without it. Vodka took second place because it’s indispensable in certain cocktails I like. Furthermore it is an essential form of heating for the denizens of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Number one, and the winner by a country mile, was beautiful juniper-infused, botanical-rich gin. I love gin and I’m pretty sure gin loves me.




After a successful sloe berry picking excursion with Sylvie I spent a few evenings last week bottling some of Asda’s cheapest gin with random mixtures of sloes and sugar. I didn’t use a recipe to make my sloe gin; I plan to taste it around Christmas to see if it needs more sugar and then leave it for another year. To make sloe gin you can wait for the first frost before picking the sloes or else you can do as we did and freeze the berries at home. The benefit I have found in doing this is that they split on defrosting and so it isn’t necessary to individually pierce every sloe.


Once the sloes have been pierced or have burst on defrosting place them in some sort of glass bottle or container then add sugar and gin. Shake, label with the date then turn the bottle every other day for a couple of months. Mature for as long as possible, a three month minimum for alcoholics or 2 years for the temperate.




* The Pig by Ogden Nash

The pig, if I am not mistaken, supplies us sausage ham and bacon,

Let others say his heart is big, I think it stupid of the pig.


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I really wanted to love the Icecreamists, the self-proclaimed agents of cool bringing ice cream, rock and gratuitous nudity to the masses from Selfridges until the 1st  November. On two occasions I lured friends there with the promise of ice cream-themed excitement. Unfortunately on both occasions the experience was a bit of a let down.


For the record the ice cream itself is very good and so surely anything more is just an added extra; the literal cherry on top of the knickerbockerglory. The Icecreamists certainly have added many cherries by marketing the venue as not just an ice cream parlour but also a pop-up, a music venue, plus there are allusions to fashion pretensions on the website. There is a fun punk theme and on the first night I was there a lady stood awkwardly next to an ice cream van clad in nothing but leather underwear and an American style police hat looking as if she had just stepped off the set of a George Michael video. I know some people love a token nude female, a few of the back-packed tourists who had somehow wandered down to this den of iniquity looked thrilled, I however find it really boring and about as modern as a Miss World contest.


Rose ice cream

Rose ice cream


I first visited on the opening night. I had requested tickets on facebook and, through a combination of the fevered message of congratulations I had received on ‘winning’ and my own excitement, I really thought we were in for a treat. Instead we stood in a queue for a while with a bunch of people who seemed as confused as we were. I won’t go into the ins and outs of where it went wrong but basically our names were never taken and a boy of about 15, skinny jeans worn so tight I feared for his fertility, led us nonchalantly to a large communal table. The boy seemed to have as little idea of what was going on as we did and at one point asked us where some other customers had gone. He thought they had left without paying but I explained to him that he had never actually taken their order and after about 15 minutes waiting they had left.


On this evening the alcoholic ice cream cocktails were off the menu as they were still in development so we settled for a rose flavoured ice cream which was an eye watering £5 a scoop. The £5 gets you a generous scoop in a plastic cup. No cream, no biscuit, no plate, not even real cutlery like you get at the Wimpy. With prices as high as they are you need never forget you are in the basement of Selfridges. The music was good but loud which is weird outside of a club.


Absinthe in a drip - if they had actualy injected it into my vein that would have been fun.

Absinthe in a drip - if they had actualy injected it into my vein that would have been fun.


 The following day I saw that the organisers had apologised on facebook for some of the teething issues and so I decided to email them about it. As a result I was offered another opportunity to visit and try two ice cream cocktails on the house. So last week, with a spring in my step and a new-found faith in the power of complaining, I descended into the depths of my third favourite department store. This time the place was dead. There was no band and the staff outnumbered customers. Clearly Tuesday is not the night when the cool kids go for ice cream.


The staff were very helpful and pleasant. We were treated to the Sex Pistol cocktail and something which I think was called the Molatoffee cocktail, £19.99 and £16.99 respectively. I know, my hands are sweating too. These are probably the most expensive cocktails I have ever ordered, and I can only thank the very generous organisers for offering us these. If I were to spend £20 on a cocktail in real life there would be some pretty hefty stipulations including, but not limited to, a crystal glass; inclusion of all the major spirits; some sort of gold leaf flotsam; a side order of nibbles; a very comfy chair and a breath-taking view. So naturally the ice cream cocktails were a little disappointing.


The sex pistol cocktail was two scoops of delicious ‘viagra’ ice cream in a martini glass with a shard of James Martin–style melted sugar on top. The waitress dragged along a medical drip with two bags filled with absinthe attached. She then decanted a shots worth of absinthe from the drip to a glass. This we were instructed to pour over the ice cream. Likewise the Molotoffee ice cream was served in a martini glass with a shot of brandy on the side. The Sex Pistol cocktail was nice enough although we couldn’t help but feel we’d just ruined a £20 portion of ice cream by covering it in medicinal booze. As to the claims that this cocktail was a natural Viagra, let’s just say no insatiable lust was apparent at any stage of the evening. The Molotoffee ice cream was a combination of incredibly sweet and incredibly alcoholic. I’m sorry to say it just didn’t work for me. Neither of these were right as a cocktail but I expect with prices like these they are rarely ordered.


The Sex Pistol cocktail.

The Sex Pistol cocktail.


I think there is a great idea here that, with lower prices, could be brilliantly marketed at teenagers who want to socialise somewhere that isn’t a cinema or a shopping centre. It can be tiring trying to look over 18 and a trendy ice cream parlour with live music could be a great solution. While the high prices and the basement location didn’t do it for me I think maybe I’m not the target audience, there are a lot of teenagers in Selfridges who wouldn’t blink an eye at a £5 scoop of ice cream.

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Plum tart

icing sugar snow storm


Celebrity chefs might be the frequent subject of ridicule and debate amongst food fanatics but there is no escaping the fact that they are our rock stars. The woman sitting opposite me on the train might be day dreaming about a dazzling turn at a karaoke competition leading in quick succession to a pop career to rival Tina Turners, I however am imagining myself clad in a Vivienne Westwood gown seductively licking whipped cream off my fingers for the edification of BBC viewers. Sadly I couldn’t do this in reality on account of the fact that I have an involuntary facial twitch when photographed.


plum tart slice


It may seem as if the idolisation of our culinary Gods is a recent development yet I was pleased to discover a superb piece of hyperbole on the back of Raymond Blanc’s Cooking for Friends, a cookery book published in 1991. Someone from The Times declares Blanc to be no less than ‘the Leonardo da Vinci of cooking’. Now Raymond seems to be a lovely chap beaming affably from the pages of this excellent book but da Vinci, for serious? Being compared to the original Renaissance man should surely imply mastery of more than one skill: say cookery, formula one racing and mime. Raymond Blanc might be an incredibly accomplished chef but let’s just wait for 500 years and see if Dan Brown writes a book about him before we rush in with the comparisons.


plums in tart


The following plum tart doesn’t look like something Nigella or Jamie would make. I suppose if I were being generous I would say it’s more something Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall or maybe on of the Two Fat Ladies might produce. It’s an amazing tart, my favourite of all the tarts, but on the day I made it I used some plums that were very much on the turn. Consequently the plums, despite still being delicious, did pulverise slightly in the baking. Please don’t let this put you off. This tart is one my Aunt has been cooking frequently in recent months; she adores it. It’s a 1978 recipe from an old French magazine apparently. I like it because you get to smother the plums in icing sugar and it looks like a mini snow storm. The recipe below is my Aunt’s version with icing sugar substituted for granulated, a big improvement so she says.


plum tart

This is one Christine made, it looks better than mine!


The recipe follows.


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