Saturday&Spirits

IMG_5476I had plans to make sloe gin but my excursions have come up short of berries; there aren’t that much sloes on the bushes because the spring was so cold, and what little is  I’ll leave for the birds. Instead I decided to go all in with the quince liqueur this autumn.

Quinces I bought at the market, I went with a less expensive cognac but not the cheapest because in my experience that’s just nasty. It’s worth spending a little extra on this, especially since I’m thinking about giving some away as Christmas presents.

I’ve made this before with light rum and spices, with cognac and spices and this time it’s just fruit and booze. And a little sugar. The real sweetening however is done in six weeks time, and then it can be adjust to taste. The first recipe I used was from the web, this is a pared down version of that from The wonderful weekend book by Elspeth Thompson.

Quince brandy-based liqueur; yields almost 1 liter in the end

750 ml cognac/brandy (spend as much as you feel you can afford)

1 large quince

4 tablespoons of castersugar

  1. Rinse and dry the fruit. Then spilt it in quarters.
  2. Put the fruit pieces in a clean 1 liter jar, add the sugar and the pour the cognac/brandy over it. Closer the lid.
  3. Let infuse for at least six weeks.
  4. After six weeks; pour through a sieve and add around 2 dl of freshly made sugar syrup to the cognac/brandy, stir so it blends and put into clean bottles.

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This is so easy to make, and such a great thing to have. Impossible to buy something similar in the shops. I’ve made several cocktails with it but just mixed with some champagne it’s wonderful.

-Suss

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Vendredi&Vin chaud

The other morning when I left the house I noticed that it was nippy out, to the point that I should have either worn my winter coat or put on my little down west underneath the coat I was wearing. Luckily I had a big wooly scarf, and my little thermos of coffee, nice and toasty I was, huddled up with my book in the corner of the train. You can make anywhere cosy if you have good books and coffee.

Later that day however I was shivering in a bad way. Someone had lured me out on a walk in the nice autumn sun, and it was nice as long as we were putting one fot in front of the other. The minute I was standing and waiting for the underground I curled up desperatley in my scarf, and at that point the sun was rapidly disappearing and with it any warmth it brought.

So when I got home I was both hungry and cold, and very much in the need for comfort food. I ended up mixing two things (some left over ragu and one small portion of vegetable stew) I had in the freezer which I ate with pressed potatoes which really is one of the best side orders; fluffy carbs and so light compared to mashed potatoes (which I love don’t get me wrong but there is a lot of butter in that one)

While I was waiting for the whole thing to be ready I made myself some Vin chaud and read entries from Life is meals a food lover’s book of days by James and Kay Salter. I’ve mentioned this book before of course, and I will again. At this point I’ve read all the little sections for different days at least twice. It’s such a lovely kitchen companion, just the right amount to read in between, and so so good for my mood, always.

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Vin chaud; serves two

Mix equal amounts of red wine and boiling hot water in a heat proof glasses ,approx. 2 deciliter of each depending on what glasses you are using (so each glass 1 dl wine+1 dl hot water), and then add 1 teaspoon of caster sugar to each glass, stir, and then garnish with a thin slice of lemon on top. Serve and enjoy responsibly!

This is a very nice aperitif during this time of year as it is quite light, not a lot of sugar and spices as the glow later in the season. It’s easy to make too, which is an added bonus. Why more bars in this town don’t serve it is beyond me, French bistros do however, that’s how I learned about it in the first place. If you want a non-alcoholic option I will always think fondly of blackberry cordial and boiling water with some lemon and possibly cinnamon mixed up.

Now if you excuse me I have to get out some extra blankets, socks and locate the hot water flask because winter is coming, soon.

-Suss

 

Wednesday& Witchcraft&The Winter King cocktail

Last week I lost myself in the world of The Bear and the nightingale by Katherine Arden. It made my commute an adventure; the time spent on crowded trains, wrapped in a big scarf and with damp feet, was a pleasure as I had this with me.

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Between the covers there is a story about a girl by the name of Vasilisa, called Vasya, whose mother dies when she is born, and who grows up to be a bit of a wild child. It’s not just circumstance though, part of it is in her blood; she has inherited some of her grandmothers blood, a grandmother that was a witch according to gossip.

And thus Vasya sees more than others. She sees what is there, not just what she wants to see, for better of for worse. She makes friends with the domovoi, the household spirit, but also the Rusalka, a sort of aquatic nymph, that lives in the lake nearby. With out her knowledge The Winter king is keeping an eye on her, as is his brother, and at some point there will be a battle. Add to that mix a sexy priest with a taste for power. I don’t want to spoil it completely so I won’t say more, but think of it as Jane Eyre meets Russian fairytales and you have a fairly good description of what to expect. Katherine Arden has taken liberties with the language, and a tiny bit with historical accuracy, to create a more magical setting but it works for me. I mean really. I started to plan cocktails and outfits pretty much immediately.

In terms of ingredients vodka felt like a natural choice even though no vodka is in fact drunk in the book, that’s a spirit of later invention. They do drink honey wine, sometime called mead, throughout so I decided to include that somehow. It should be noted that there are many kinds of mead around, Systembolaget here in Sweden even has a Russian mead that’s organic and all, but I went with the German Imkergut for practical reasons. Several berries are mentioned and I went with blackberries, again with “replicability” in mind.IMG_4885 Several version that included these ingredients were tried. As it turned out though, less was more, and a little creative license was needed too.

Part of this comes down to the mead, it’s got a honey taste for sure but there is also a fermented aftertaste. Not bad but it must be factored in when mixing. It didn’t work as a sour really so I went down the Martini/Martinez alley. Equal amounts of vodka and mead turned out really well but it needed a little something else. The blackberries were a good garnish. I ended up rinsing the glass in smokey whiskey as a reference to the stove in the kitchen where the domovoi sleep (and everyone else too during winter).

Finally, to balance the whole thing, I ended up using a barspoon of ginger syrup which has no justification in the text but it is the magic that makes the whole in this case. The name? I had a few suggestions and I asked friends and “The winter king cocktail” got most votes, and fair enough. He does have a bit of a feast at his house, with mead and all.

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The Winter king cocktail; makes one cocktail

3 cl vodka

3 cl Imkergut honey wine

1 barspoon ginger syrup (from a jar is fine)

1 dash of Angostura aromatic bitters

for serving;

Smokey whiskey, I used Caol Ila

blackberries

a long slice of fresh ginger

  1. Stir the ingredients in a stirring glass full of ice. Rinse the coupette in the whiskey.
  2. Pour the drink into the coupette, no ice should be included.
  3. Put the berries and the ginger on a cocktail stick (see what I did there in the picture?)
  4. Put the cocktail stick in the drink, serve, enjoy responsibly.

So this cocktail should keep the domovoi of this house happy if there is one. I’m sure it lives off of high-end cocktails, expensive scented candles and pain au chocolate, drops of mead and scraps of bread isn’t good enough for the contemporary household spirit living in a big city I suppose (and there are more dangers to protect the household from so worth the investment, if you want to be superstitious).

-Suss

 

Thursday&The sign of four

Oh god how I love a bit of Sherlock. Having read these as a child, but in Swedish, I’m well aware who has done it for the most part but that takes away none of the reading pleasure I tell you. The dialogue between Holmes and Watson is just brilliant, and so are the descriptions and the intrigues. They are not however entirely politically correct but the are a product of their time and as responsible reader factor that in.

The Baker street irregulars was a term I came across in one chapter and it refers to the homeless children that Holmes employs as spies. The term then is in opposition to the regulars i.e. the police force. “Great name for a cocktail” I thought, and at that my imagination got the best of me.

There were actual drinking  whiskey in a few chapters, and an awful lot of talk of creosote, poison simply put, but smells like tar I guess ergo use a smokey whiskey.
Plenty of references to Pondicherry, and you know I love me a pun, so a cherry had to be in there. It’s the season for old-fashioneds so I was gonna make a twist on that anyways, it was just a question of what kind. With someone smoking a hookah at one point, events in India at another and a lovely lady being a part of the plot I turned to rosewater syrup. It is top of mind, always. Last but not least some Reagans No.6 orange bitters.

However this would not be the cocktail that it is without ice cubes in the shape of diamonds. I really must insist. We are talking about a hidden treasure here people, show some respect!

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The Baker street irregulars; makes one cocktail

1 cl rosewater syrup

5 cl Smokey single malt, I used Talker

2 dashes of Reagans No. 6 Orange bitter

for serving;

Ice cubes shaped like diamonds (or other precious stones, some emerald cut cubes would very nice)

Cocktail cherry.

  1. Add Whiskey, syrup and bitters to a tumbler, then add the ice and start stirring.
  2. Stir until well blended and chilled.
  3. Add cherry.
  4. Serve. Enjoy responsibly.

Maybe not the healthiest thing but a lot better than cocaine as used by Holmes. Not as advanced as a plot that Holmes would relish in solving but the kind of thing to keep Watson in a good mood I guess. And we do need to keep the good doctor happy.

-Suss

 

7 things for your bar cart

I have gotten to the lowest possible point when it comes to items on the bar cart. There is a bottle of absinth, some Fernet, Cointreau, that Amarelle bourbon I made and an array of bitters. That’s it. So the time has come to give it a proper cleaning and then start to restock. So what should I reasonably have on there? What are the priorities and best options for a small but useful set of bottles to make good cocktails? These are my seven suggestions.

  1. Good London dry gin. I know some people love their Bombay Sapphire but keep that for your G&T’s if you insist on that blue bottle. For cocktails a simpler, more citrus-y gin is preferable. I suggest a Beefeater,Gilbey’s or Gordon’s. I love Tanqueray which works well too, that it has that tinge of cardamom suits me and my cocktail making just fine.
  2. Blended whiskey. Scottish or Irish doesn’t matter. Jameson is nothing to scoff at, it works really well in whiskey sours and that sort of thing.
  3. Light rum for the summer bar, dark rum for the winter bar. Mojitos, or in my case Rosa Cubanas, is a fave with many in summer and there is no reason not to indulge. For winter you might want to get a nice bottle of dark rum and experiment with making an old-fashioned with rum (very good) and other twists on classic cocktails.
  4. Cointreau. To be sure Cointreau has its flaws. Triple sec might be an option. I famously make my own orange liqueur nowadays. But Cointreau is a bar staple and it’s in so many classic cocktails. With Cointreau you know what you are getting and can adjust accordingly. Triple sec can be both heaven and hell as there are many versions/brands on the market.
  5. Campari. Because you want to make Negronis. There was no realistic substitute (unless you want the very hard to get Nardini bitter or something similar).
  6. Single malt whiskey. Using single malt instead of blended whiskey or bourbon in classic drinks is entry level “twist on cocktail” and very often a great one. Also good for sipping and in cooking.
  7. Angostura Aromatic. The most classic of cocktail bitters, with its iconic bottle that is to small for the label, is a must have. It cannot be replaced. It’s also the case that one bottle will last you a lifetime.

So there is an absence of vermouth on the list and that’s because those should be kept in the fridge. They are based on wine and once you open them they will deteriorate in taste if kept in room temperature. Not overnight but still. For dry vermouth Noilly Prat is great, readily available and affordable. Sweet vermouth is a trickier proposition. Antica Formula is the golden standard but it has a ridiculous price tag in this country so I’ve started to make my own. The important thing is to avoid Martini Rosso like your life depended on it.

A bottle of Maraschino is good to have on hand but not essential; if you invest in proper cocktail cherries (NB: this is not a suggestion. Those bright cherries of cellulose that are sometimes sold are not OK, get the real deal) you can use a bit of the syrup they come in for Hemingway Daqiuries, Aviations and the odd Martinez. The cherries should also be kept in the fridge but as a bonus in emergencies they can be served with ice cream as a dessert.

Then on occasions you will have to stock up on fresh herbs, citrus fruit, a few other fruits and berries for a seasonal touch, tonic and maybe champagne. But those are all complements.

When it comes to kit then a barspoon to stir drinks, a measuring jigger, a nice shaker is pleasant to look at and easy to use but I’ve shaken up cocktails in jars and thermos flasks too. I like stirring glasses as they are often very decorative but you can use any old pitcher. Glasses to drink from obviously; I really like rummaging  flea markets and antique shops for old glasses as they used to be a bit smaller with nicer proportions. When it comes to the accessories for the bar cart you can have fun in an inexpensive way with napkins, coasters and straws, feel free to get silly. I predict that cocktails with a little umbrella will be huge again in 2018.

-Suss

Thursday & Two cherry things

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Luckily for me, I have friends that give me berries and fruit on occasion. I like to forage for sure but I’m not above a bit of store-bought produce now and again if time is tight. And I’m even happier at being given stuff when I don’t have time to even browse the frozen section at the corner shop.

So I found myself with a couple of punnets of sour cherries. The are called Klarbär in Swedish and Amarelle in Italian (which I think we can agree is a superior name). They are, as the name implies, not as sweet as regular cherries. To be fair, it’s rarely enough sun and warmth for even the regular ones to be as sweet as they can be up here. But these are rather tart even when they are ripe. So what to do?

I did two things. First I tried a thing that I found on Martha Stewart, find the original here, which is basically equal amounts of cherries and bourbon that gets to sit in a jar with an orange zest for a few days and then is used for for an Old-fashioned. Mine has now infused for almost week; very nice and fruity but with warmth from all the spices in the bitters giving it a nice balance once blended into a cocktail. It’s giving me ideas I tell you. And this is such an easy thing to do. Just make sure the berries are in good knick (no mold or damaged berries) and always clean the jar properly. The bourbon of choice, if I’m gonna have it at home, is Bulleit bourbon. I have made scathing comments in the past about bourbon in general as I don’t find it a necessity but it is very nice on occasion. My main bourbon-peeve is people’s tendency to get their knickers in a twist about Maker’s mark which I find to be overly sweet and too expensive (does anyone else have a bourbon-peeve of any kind?).

The other thing was also drink related; I made a syrup/cordial with sour cherries. As I’m making this using something that has a stone it’s easier to boil them in water first and then let that filter through a clean cloth, and then mix the juices with sugar and bring it to the boil. As I plan to use this in the next couple of weeks I didn’t add any citric acid or anything else as a preservative. You can google recipes to get in measurements that you are used to. Basically I will use this instead of grenadine (i.e. pomegranate syrup) in some cases and I’m likely to experiment with using it as a replacement for regular syrup in a few classics. Will make the drink nice and pink, and it really is an interesting twist taste wise.

-Suss

Monday & Mermaid & Mixology

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As the season, and I will point this out many times more, has taken a turn for the colder and more colorful my mood turns to meatier reads and stiffer cocktails.

This is the perfect time of year for historical fiction, Dickens, Balzac and a few horror stories. Then in November when the mornings are frost nipped and there is a possibility of snow we’ll turn towards the Russians and possibly fairytale interpretations. Then for spring the taste is for the new and contemprary fiction is where it’s at. Or so this seasonal reader lives anyways. I don’t know about you.

But back to the season at hand, which is off to a flying start with The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar. Let me first point out the obvious; this is a stunning cover. It has been remarked upon by many people this week as I’ve been carrying it around everywhere (with no thoughts to my back). Kudos to the publisher that they let this debutante be presented to society in such fine and eye-catching attire. It can only improve its reputation and increase the general interest.

But you should never judge a book by its cover, it’s always (always!) about the story.

If I’m going to try to sum it up it sounds like this; Mr Hancock, a trader, one day finds himself in the possession of a mermaid. It has procured by one of his captains, without authorization, in exchange for one of Mr. Hancock’s ships. In order to recoup his losses he puts it on display and by doing so enters into a part of society of which he has known but never taken part; the courtesans of London. His life is forever altered as is the lives of those he comes in contact with. Maybe some of those things would have happened anyways, maybe not. As readers we are following a chain of events both likely and unlikely. I don’t want to give too much away but I was surprised more than once. And I did get attached to Mr. Hancock, his niece Sukie, the infamous Angelica Neal and to some degree the cat that lives in Mr. Hancock’s house. This is a story of obsession, passion, fear and the stories we tell ourselves to justify our actions.

What I will say is that I was a much darker novel then I expected, it doesn’t  view the Regency era with rose-tinted glasses and is brutally honest about the life of courtesans. I have A harlot high and low by Balzac in fresh memory and thought about it more than once; Old Honoré was always very observant and honest about human nature in his books and that’s why I love him. That I even make the connection, and mention the two in the same review,  should be interpreted as the highest of compliments.

So the idea is a fabulous one in many ways but how does it do on the page? It is told in a rather detached way which reminded me of The Essex Serpentt. The language however is much more colorful and of that time I guess, which is both entertaining and mood setting. I also love the attention paid to details of interior and clothing, little vignettes that set the scene.

Are there flaws? Yes, but this is a debut novel so I have a very forgiving eye. And the fact that I like all my storylines tidied up in the end, which I didn’t get, might be more a reflection on me then the book.

I did thoroughly enjoy this book despite it giving me a knot in the stomach at times, and I don’t hesitate to recommend it. This was as ARC given to me by Vintage Books but I probably would have bought it/lent it at the library when it came out anyways. The book is published February 8th 2018. Make a note in your calendars people.

Also; about the stiffer drinks I must warn you that Old-fashioneds will feature heavily in the next few weeks. To sip on whilst reading the last few pages of this I made one with bourbon, plum syrup and plum bitters from Fee Brother’s. The bitters, inspired by the spices in plum pudding, seemed to tie in nicely with the book as plum pudding is actually mentioned (it is historical fiction in the Regency Period. I assume the law demands that plum pudding is mentioned). The flavours worked really well together. Just an idea.

-Suss