Something from the weekend….Foraging, gardening, making and treasure hunting

I had such a lovely weekend! The weather really does help of course, and all the sunshine hours make such a difference!

I spent a lot of the weekend gardening….the front garden has been transformed after many hours of hard work and is benefitting from having been totally dug over and filled with plants! I can’t wait to see it all bloom, although I guess I have to wait til Spring for that. Still, it looks better already and has tidied up the front of the house no end.

We did some great foraging too…..we picked loads of blackberries and elderberries from the local common, as well as some sweet pea pods and honeysuckle berries I’ll be planting for next year. We also raided the back garden, and came back indoors with stacks of apples, more blackberries and greengages too. There is a medlar tree that is also looking rather full, but I think we have to leave those a little longer before harvesting them.

We spent an absolute age rinsing the elderberries, plucking them off their stalks, rinsing them again and then bottling them….I hope it’s going to be worth it! We made one bottle of elderberry schnapps and one bottle of spiced elderberry liqueur….can’t wait to try them! I made jam from the greengages, and it was probably my most successful yet….it tastes yummy and is the perfect consistency so I’ll have to share some tips soon!

As is traditional, we also visited the antiques market on Friday and the car boot sale on Sunday….I picked up some great treasures to use at the wedding and the place was really buzzing in the fine weather. It was also the crafts and  farmers market on Saturday, and we dawdled around there awhile, spotting some great new stalls too.

Other than that, it was a weekend of domesticity, relaxing, cooking endless amounts of marrow, walking the dogs and watching more Buffy. Bliss!

Here are a few photos from the weekend…..

Ems x

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Muddling Through: The Manhattan

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Good evening and welcome to my first proper post in ‘Muddling Through’, a beginners guide to cocktails, written by a beginner.

As my introduction said, I’m going to be focussing on classic cocktails (at least for now) and few are more widely known than the Manhattan. This also seemed a rather apt choice as it’s one of Ems’ all time favourite cocktails.

Invented in The Manhattan Club, New York as early as the 1870’s (though it seems no one can say for sure) the drink has changed very little since then. As with the Martini the only real change seems to be a gradual decline in the amount of Vermouth added! That said, with these kinds of drinks there are a great many variations and the Manhattan in particular is popular with bartenders who enjoy injecting a little of their own style into their drinks. For simplicity though I’m going to stick with the most basic. Don’t however let my use of the word ‘basic’ fool you in any way! The Manhattan is a very sophisticated cocktail and when done well is a truly great drink!

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The Manhattan

Ingredients

  • 2 Measures Rye/Bourbon Whisky
  • 1 Measure Sweet Vermouth
  • 1 Dash Bitters

Depending on how sweet you like your drinks you can simply increase or decrease the amount of Vermouth added (I’d suggest increments of 1/4 measures).

Method

  1. Combine the Whisky, Vermouth and Bitters in a mixing glass/cocktail mixer half filled with ice.
  2. Stir together and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Yep, that’s it! So if you read my introductory post you should see why I told you to treat yourself to the good stuff! With drinks like this you’ve not got much to cover the taste of poor quality alcohol, so best not to risk it!

Rye is the more traditional Whisky for use in the Manhattan, but as I’ve found American Whisky sparsely stocked in UK supermarkets to say the least (there is so much more to life than Jack Daniels and Jim Beam!) you’re unlikely to find a Rye outside of the Internet, or if you’re lucky a very well stocked off-licence! In which case you will be more than fine with a good Bourbon.

As for Vermouth, if you can find yourself a bottle of Vermouth Rosso you can add an extra level of depth to your Manhattan by adding up to half a measure. Again depending on how much Vermouth you want to add in total and how sweet you want it, you’ll either add it or replace some of your sweet Vermouth with it.

Finally feel free to experiment with different Bitters if you can get hold of any. Orange is good, and I’d also recommend Cherry….lots of Manahattan recipes include burnt peel or a cocktail cherry.

For anyone interested, here’s how I’m currently making my Manhattan at home:

  • 1 Measure Pikesville Straight Rye Whisky
  • 1 Measure Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon Whisky
  • 1 Measure Cinzano Vermouth
  • 1/4 Measure Vermouth Rosso
  • 5 Drops Cherry Bitters

In all honesty I’m making it this way as I’m not in love with the Pikesville (it’s also my first Rye), so once that’s gone I plan to try another Rye and if I like it may end up making my Manhattans with just that. You never know, which is why it’s good to experiment to find what you like as the flavours and sweetness in a drink like this differ from person to person!

However you end up making your Manhattan, I hope you enjoy it and let me know about your experiences!

Until next time!

Adam

Muddling Through: Tools of the Trade

Hello again!

Now, before we begin with the recipes I thought it might be pertinent to make a few suggestions as to the little bits of equipment you might need in order to make yourself some tasty cocktails! I’d hate to see anyone get halfway through a recipe before realising they were missing something!

So, on to the fundamentals…..

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A Cocktail Shaker

Unless you were planning on stirring all of your cocktails together in a glass, you won’t get very far without one of these!

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A Jigger

For measuring your liquids. Remember what I said about recipes and chucking in more of this or less of that? It won’t always work, so you’re going to need one of these. They come in various shapes and sizes but in the UK at least you’ll most likely have a 25/50ml one.

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A Bar Spoon

For stirring… Its long, slender design helps maintain a smooth stirring motion rather than a whisking one you might get from a regular spoon. Also used for layering drinks.

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A Strainer

For pouring your drinks into your nicely chilled glasses! The strainer is a bit more versatile than the built in one in the lid of your shaker and offers a bit more control.

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A Muddler

For mashing ingredients such as sugar, lime and mint.

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A Zester

For zesting fruit and cutting twists.

That’s about it for now! That’s almost certainly everything I’ve used so far, with the exception of a knife, but I’m betting you have one of those already!

Next post we’ll aim to include some liquids shall we!

Adam

Guest Post: Muddling Through

Adam

Hello. My name is Adam and Emily has asked me here today to talk to you about cocktails. Now, are you sitting comfortably? Good, then we can begin…

Welcome to a little corner of Ems’ site I’ve titled ‘Muddling Through’, a far from expert series of sporadic posts by me, focussing on alcohol and the wonderful art of making cocktails. The idea is for me to share with you drinks and cocktails I prepare here at home, as I slowly develop my skills in Mixology. We thought it might make a nice change to write from the perspective of the learner (as that is very much what I am!) in the hope of making the recipes seem a little more accessible, so I’ll do my best to explain everything as I learn it. It may be the case that you know a thing or two yourself, in which case I would welcome any input and for anyone interested, perhaps we can all learn and get pleasantly inebriated together!

A little background on the origins of my hobby can be found on my own blog ‘Unfamiliar Ceiling‘ where I have posted about a couple of drinks already. However as Ems has been asking me to do a little Boozy section for her for so long, and as I neglect my own blog enough as it is, I thought it might be nice to contribute to her little bit of the internet! I have quite a different style to Ems which will be clear if you read my blog, so I hope these posts fit in nicely here!

And that’s about it really! I hope it proves useful to anyone wanting to make their own cocktails and offers a little something different to what I’m sure are a large number of other blogs and sites (and of course books!) out there essentially providing the same recipes. I’m going to try to make it as simple and transferrable as possible so hopefully it’ll always be as easy to follow as I found it to make!

In terms of drinks, for the moment I’m most definitely a classics man (you’ll see a lot of Martinis from me for sure)! I’ve found that there are a number of benefits to focussing on these drinks. Firstly they often have very few ingredients so if you want to make them, you don’t have to go hunting for liqueurs or fruit and whatnot. What you’ll need should be easily accessible from your local supermarket. Also they’re classics for a reason, so why not start with the best?! Finally they’re full of alcohol, by which I mean you’ll really get to taste the spirits you’re using and get familiar with them. The downside of course is that they can also be the least forgiving because they don’t have large quantities of mixers etc. to hide any flaws!

As for the style of my posts, you’ll find that I probably won’t provide actual quantities for a lot of drinks. I will instead list ingredients in terms of ‘measures’ and the reason for this is twofold. Firstly, there are different size jiggers so you might have a 25/50ml jigger, whereas the next person might have a 1/1.5 fl oz jigger. The other is so that you can easily scale the drinks up to make more by simply scaling up the size of your ‘measure’.

Some advice before we begin (sorry for anyone expecting a recipe from this first post! Patience, young grasshopper! Patience!)….

  • You will need lots of ice. Ice is very much your friend in this endeavour. Love the ice.
  • Freezer space for chilling glasses is also important. If you’re not using ice in the glass, chances are you’ll be serving into a chilled one.
  • Treat yourself to the good stuff. I’m not saying go and buy the most expensive booze out there, not at all and I certainly don’t. Check out what’s well rated (e.g. on the International Spirits Challenge 2013 Awards you’ll see one of ASDA’s own gins is a gold award winner!), or buy yourself that bottle of Vodka/Rum/Bourbon/Gin you tried ages ago and really loved but always thought it was a bit too much and what difference does it really make when it’s with coke/tonic/lemonade anyway? Well, you’re not drinking it with coke any more! Think of it this way: That really nice bottle of gin, from which you will get over a dozen good strong drinks, is the same price as buying less than half as many Gordon’s and tonic at the pub.
  • Enjoy it, but do take it seriously. There’s a reason a Long Island Iced Tea from the American bar at The Savoy is better than one from Cucamara. It’s because the guys at The Savoy really know their shit and don’t have a bottle with ‘Long Island Mix’ on their shelf that they just pour into a glass and top up with coke. Yes you pay for the difference, but the difference is worth it. So at the risk of sounding like a bit of a tosser: if you treat the drinks right, you’ll taste the difference. Mostly my point here is that you really are dealing with recipes, and recipes have precise quantities. You don’t tend to make cakes better by chucking in extra flour or eggs, and the same applies here.

That really is it! I’ll hopefully be back with you very soon with a drink for you all to try! In the mean time I think I’d better start swotting up!

Adam

How-To Tuesday…… home flavoured vodkas

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You may have heard me go on about some of the flavoured vodkas we’ve been making at home in my other posts. Since our success with our first ever home made Sloe Gin last Autumn (we foraged for the sloes and then made up lots of little bottles to go into our Christmas Hamper gifts) we have really gotten into making our own boozes. Adam had the cunning idea of making up some flavoured vodkas with various ingredients, and for the last few months we’ve been trying them out!

It’s so incredibly easy, inexpensive, and rewarding….we have created some very special drinks with our vodkas, and just like the sloe gin they make excellent gifts. So I thought I’d share our experiences with you….how to go about making them, things we learned along the way, and the flavours that turned out the best!

What you will need:

  • Vodka….. we have been experiementing with small amounts (like 250 ml) and then making up to 1l when we know we like it…. it is still worth buying a decent brand for flavouring, as a lot of the flavour does come from the vodka itself, especially with the lighter flavourings
  • Something to put it in….. we have used whatever is around, but kilner jars are good to steep larger ingredients in so you can get them out easily, and swing top bottles work similarly well for small ingredients but have the same good seal…. make sure there is enough room for all the vodka and a bit to spare, so you can swirl it around
  • Something to flavour with….. you can use practically anything here (although we’ve been trying to be a little more sophisticated than the traditional Skittles)…… more on this later
  • A large enough jug to fit the lot
  • A funnel
  • A coffee filter paper to fit the funnel
How to make it:
  •  Measure out your vodka into your bottle or jar….nothing is precise about this really, but it’s good to have an idea of quantities if you’re experimenting
  • Carefully tip in your flavouring
  • Close the bottle or jar tightly, and then give it a really good shake and swirl about
  • Leave it to stand for 24 hours,in a cool dark place
  • After that, you can start testing it….. open up the bottle and pour a little onto a tea spoon to taste, but ensure you don’t get any of the flavouring in with the sample so you’re only tasting the vodka
  • Sometimes you’ll want to leave it up to a week, but keep testing each day to ensure it’s taking the flavour, and isn’t getting over-powering
  • Once you’re pleased with the taste, take your jug, and place the funnel on top with the coffee filter inside….then simply empty the contents of the bottle slowly into the filter paper…. depending on the flavouring it may take a while to filter into the jug, so don’t just tip it all out at once (there’s a picture of this bit below)
  • Once the vodka has been filtered, discard the flavouring left behind in the filter, and give your bottle a quick rinse (just to get rid of any left over bits of flavouring) before pouring the vodka back into it
  • You should now have a crystal clear, beautifully flavoured vodka, ready to drink! The colour will vary depending on the flavouring, but we are finding that most come out a shade or other of golden yellow.

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So….flavouring ideas….. We have found that we can use almost anything to flavour our vodkas, but of course some have worked better than others….

Rose was our first triumph…. into a litre of vodka tip a handful of dried rose petals (we got ours in an ethnic food shop, they sit with the teas) and leave for about 5 days. As you’ll see in the pictures, we have enjoyed these with ice and lemonade (it reminds me of Turkish Delight!), and garnished with a slice of lemon and a rose petal. I thought that pink lemonade would be a great idea, so that we could call the drink ‘Turkish Delight’, but because of the raspberry in it, the flavour just wasn’t as good…. the lemon perfectly balances the flowery vodka, and I think it’s fine just to leave it that simple.

Cardamom was one of the flavours to develop fastest… it only needed a day to get a nice delicate flavour, and after two days is just wonderful. To a litre of vodka, chuck in about a dozen cardamom pods, having crushed them gently with the side of a knife. This goes really well with lemonade too, but we loved it with ice, tonic water, a squidge of lime cordial or fresh juice, and a dash of Angostura bitters. It’s so refreshing!

Coffee is lots nicer than you might imagine! We used a handful of beans to a litre of vodka (steeped for just a couple of days)…. as with the vodka, it’s worth using really good beans. I swear by Monmouth‘s amazing roasted beans which we use day to day and gave a very smooth and rich flavour to the vodka (although I’m afraid I can’t remember exactly which ones!). This one is brilliant chilled and neat, although it did rather surprisingly taste devine mixed with coca cola!

Jasmine Green Tea is rather lush too. We used a couple of tea bags for half a litre and left it for about three days. It’s great chilled on its own, and lovely with lemonade or tonic water, although you can taste it really well alongside soda water as a mixer.

Ginger was actually a bit of a disappointment…. we sliced up about a 3cm cube to mix with a half litre, but the vodka never really took the flavour that well, and didn’t really work with the taste of the vodka.

Lavender is our latest experiment…. we just put in a few tea spoons of dried lavender (we got a little jar of Bart‘s from the spice rack at Waitrose, but if I had a garden I would use home grown!) and then left it for about a week. I just filtered it yesterday, and it tastes incredible! I’m yet to try it with anything else, but I’m envisaging it tasting wonderful with cream soda and garnished with marshmallow….watch this space!

We’re planning on trying out some more flavoured vodkas (I picked up a tin of Kusmi Violet tea in Paris which I want to try as a flavouring, and I have a stack of cinnamon sticks to use too!), so any ideas you have, do share! We are also looking forward to the end of summer so that we can forage for sloes again, and perhaps even get hold of some quinces to make liquer with, and elderflowers to make Champagne!

Enjoy!

Ems x

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