How to on Tuesday….. Home Made Sloe Gin

My experience of sloe gin has been relatively recent. I used to hear people talking about it but never really knew what it was! Until a few years ago that is….. On a walk with the boyf, his mum and the dogs (not long after we’d started seeing each other), I was made to eat an under-ripe sloe berry off the tree, which I was told was the family initiation! I can’t say the horribly sour taste didn’t put me off sloes for a while, but not *too* long afterwards I tried my first sloe gin….and the love affair began.

We made our first batch of sloe gin last year, keeping a bottle for ourselves and to share at dinner parties, as well as making up some mini bottles to go in the Christmas Hampers we made as gifts for friends. It was so rewarding that I vowed to do it again this year, and so a couple of weeks ago we set about foraging for some berries for this year’s batch.

We were a little worried that there weren’t going to be enough about at first, as we’d not seen very many whilst out and about, and it’s not been a good year for such fruits in general. But, as luck would have it, we stumbled on the mother load of berries ripe for the picking, not too far away on Norton Common….and we came home with a couple of kilos! It’s said that you should wait for the first frost before you pick them, and they were certainly looking invitingly blue and bulgy on the cold day we picked them on!

Having found it rather dull work pricking each berry last year, I took some advice from a friend who said that if you freeze the berries instead, you don’t need to prick them at all! But wanting to check before messing it all up, I did a little research and found that we would still need to slash the frozen berries after all! It seems that if you’re very lucky, the berries will split when they freeze, but otherwise you will at least find it easier to prick or slash them once they are frozen.

Other than that bit of tedium though, it really is jolly easy to make your own sloe gin…..you just have to be patient for it to develop!

What you will need:

  • 1 litre of gin (or vodka….we are going to try this soon!)
  • 500g sloes
  • Cocktail sticks
  • 220g caster sugar
  • Two 2 litre sterilized jars or bottles, with an air-tight lid
  • Funnel
  • Coffee filter (as fine as you can get)

How to make it:

  1. Forage your sloes (or buy them from a farmers market or the supermarket), rinse them and take away any leafy bits or stalks
  2. Freeze them in bags, at least over night
  3. Remove from the freezer and prick EACH berry with a cocktail stick
  4. Pop them all into a sterilized jar
  5. Pour in the sugar, then the gin
  6. Secure the lid and then give it all a gentle shakey swirl
  7. Shake once every other day for a week
  8. Then shake once a week for at least two months (or as long as you can bear to wait!)
  9. Once you’ve had enough of waiting, strain the gin through a coffee filter placed inside a funnel, and into the other bottle or jar….if you have very fine filters, all the better, although it will take a while to get through!
  10. Serve neat, with a good tonic water, or with lemonade as you prefer

You can also use your sloe gin to cook with (it’s great with gamey dishes and for rich gravy) or to bake with (add a little to a fruit pie for added lushness, or try making my baked sloe gin cheesecake!). I personally just like to sip it neat from a pretty little glass, although I am rather keen to try a sloe gin cocktail made from our own too!

Ems x
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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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Something from a pie-filled weekend…..

Good morning and a happy Monday! How was your weekend?

I’m feeling the effects of a weekend filled with pie…that is, I feel a bit like a pie myself! Still, it was fun…..

If you read my post on Friday you’ll know that I was looking forward to a weekend celebrating British Pie Week. On Thursday, we started the weekend early with a trip to Apples and Pears for pie and cocktails. As such, Friday evening was a quiet one…..

After a little early-evening shopping we settled down to watch David Lynch’s Inland Empire, with a pizza and wedges for supper. The film had us both utterly confounded, and we spent much of it staring at the screen in disbelief or laughing nervously. It’s not at all a film with a linear plot, and nor do you get a nice rounded off ending…. but the basic idea behind the film (I think) is that an actress takes on a new role in a film, which is expected to do very well and get her very noticed….. but the screenplay is based on another film, which was started but was never completed because the story was said to be cursed, and the male and female leads were murdered during the filming. Beyond that, I understand very little (although reading some reviews on it since, I don’t think you’re supposed to) but the film certainly kept us entertained (with characters’ heads turning into rabbit heads, and big scary faces all up in the screen). I don’t know that I’ve seen anything more bizarre in my life…. and the whole reason we were so keen to watch it was how much we’d enjoyed the utterly crackers Twin Peaks. But as Adam said, Inland Empire rather makes Twin Peaks look like neighbours!

The flower stall entrance at Liberty

On Saturday morning it was a breakfast of cheese omelette to set us up for a busy day….. we started by giving the flat a quick clean before I headed into town, leaving Adam playing Playstation. I had a very important rendezvous with Siobhan at Liberty….. I was going along for her first wedding dress fitting!!!! Arriving a little early, I got off the bus next to H&M and had a quick look at their Marni collection, before heading over to Liberty to dribble over the Manolo Blahnik window displays.

Marni at H&M

Manolo Blahnik at Liberty

Manolo Blahnik at Liberty

Bursting with excitement to see the dress (and to have the excuse to potter about Liberty) I arrived to the lovely flowery entrance, and we went up to the fitting rooms (oohing and ahhing at lots on our way). Of course everything regarding the dress is top secret, but I will say that Siobhan looks absolutely stunning! We rounded off our visit with a little browsing…. I tried on the lovely new Liberty print lined Barbour jackets (really have my eye on the navy one!)…. and we couldn’t help but linger a while in the handbag department and around the incredible vintage costume jewellery (want it all!).

Fitting rooms at Liberty

Next, it was back on the bus to head over to Spitalfields and meet the boys. The market was hosting a Women’s Fair to celebrate International Women’s Day, and we enjoyed a root about the lovely stalls of jewellery and gifts etc. Favourite though was the East London Women’s Institute stand, from which we purchased several delicious slices of cake! By the time we’d eaten those though, we needed a rest before heading over the road to Poppies for our supper, and so we tootled back to the flat for a sit down.

Adam and I have been experimenting with lots of different home-flavoured vodkas, and with a new rose vodka to try, we had Siobhan and Matthew as guinea pigs. This flavour is probably one of our favourites now….it goes incredibly well with lemonade (I garnished with a slice of lemon and a dried rose bud) and was well-recieved all round. Next up, we sampled our cardamom vodka with lemonade, bitters and lime (another favourite of mine) and then our jasmine tea vodka with lemonade and lime. I think I’ll post a bit more about our vodka flavouring soon.

Rose vodka with lemonade all round

Suitably rested, we went back over to Spitalfields to have supper at one of our local favourites, Poppies Fish and Chips. It was the first time Matthew and Siobhan had been, and we were a little bothered to have to wait a while for a table (I didn’t know before, but you can book!)…. still, we chatted away the wait and it wasn’t long before they’d made up a table for us and we were yumming up our supper. It being pie week, I opted for the veggie pie…. Poppies take great pride in where their ingredients come from (the sustainable fish is from Billingsgate, the potatoes from Turnips in Borough Market, the chicken is free range…) and I was delighted to see on a previous visit that their pies are supplied by non other than Wrights Pies of my home town Stoke on Trent! In Stoke, we have pie shops dedicated to their wonderful products and I really do miss them! With Poppies chips, mushy peas and gravy though it was a real treat and I devoured the lot along with my pot of tea! The others enjoyed the lemon sole and rock, as well as some of the wonderful Meantime beer they stock. And so we practically rolled out of Poppies and back to the flat for a flavoured vodka night cap, before Siobhan and Matthew headed home.

Hot chocolate with marshmallows (photo courtesy of Adam)

By Sunday morning we were in much need of a lie in, and so it was a lazy start to the day we enjoyed. For breakfast, Adam made amazing hot chocolates from especially thick Jersey milk, with little marshmallows on top. Then after a bit more faffing about, we popped to Waitrose for groceries (and Duchy Originals hot cross buns for tea!). When home, we completed the crossword as tradition dictates, before we began preparing an early dinner…. We couldn’t end pie week with anything other than pie, and I’ve been meaning to make my (Savoury) Sweet Potato Pie for Adam for ages. And so Adam grated the potatoes whilst I made the almond-rich pastry….and an hour later it was ready to serve up warm with a yummy fresh slaw (grated carrot, thinly sliced onion and red cabbage, mixed with olive oil and lemon juice, then sprinkles of sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds) and a dollop of creme fraiche. Lush!

My sweet potato pie with slaw and creme fraiche

We finished up a relatively restful day slobbing out in front of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World…. I’ve not seen it since the cinema although we’ve had it on Bluray for ages, and I’d forgotten how truly awesome it is. If you’ve not seen it I would really highly recommend it to any Edgar Wright fans, comic book fans, computer gamers and musos. I still can’t decide if I want to be Ramona or Knives more!

Anyway, hope you had a great weekend….do share any pie-based adventures!

Ems x

Bloody Mary Tomatoes on Toast

Well I promised to post a lovely Saturday lunch recipe yesterday, but I got so carried away with the sunny day that I clear forgot! Here it follows though…..good for a Sunday supper or a mid-week quick snack!….

Ems’ Bloody Mary Tomatoes on Toast

Ems' Bloody Mary Tomatoes on Toast

Ingredients (1 serving):

  • 6(ish) cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 dessert spoon olive oil
  • 1 dessert spoon worcestershire sauce
  • 2 dessert spoons vodka
  • 1 pinch vanilla salt (or rock salt if you can’t get the vanilla kind)
  • 2 pinches black pepper
  • a few sprigs fresh thyme or basil (dried herbs if you don’t have fresh are fine), chopped
  • 1 slice granary bread / ciabatta, toasted
  • 1 small clove of garlic, peeled

To make:

  1. Mix together the oil, worcestershire sauce and vodka to make a sort of marinade for the tomatoes.
  2. Mix the tomatoes in with the marinade and pop in the fridge for at least half an hour (or overnight if you can).
  3. Toast your bread of choice on both sides.
  4. Remove the tomatoes from the marinade (but keep it), place on a baking sheet and sprinkle over the salt, pepper and herbs.
  5. Grill the tomatoes.
  6. Rub the garlic over the toasted bread on one side.
  7. Remove the tomatoes when nicely toasted and pop them onto your toast…..you can also drizzle over the marinade if you like too. Done!

Hope you enjoy!

Ems x