Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Shaken, Stirred and a little bit Crazy...

In the deep, dark recesses of the space under my bed, hides a few deep dark secrets. I am not talking about the entire back catalogue of Railway Lovers magazine, signed photographs of Gareth Malone (they would definitely be framed), or even, a sin to eclipse all others, a pair of bright green Crocs; but rather, about a habit that has been passed down from my mother, encouraged by my father and cemented firmly into place by Kirstie Allsopp and her Vintage Home.

I am talking, as will be no surprise to any of my friends, about my love for charity shops and collecting anything that might be useful (or just downright pretty) in the house that I do not yet even have a glimmer of owning. Still living at home with my parents, I currently own four ever expanding boxes of bowls, jugs and tea sets that I am seriously worried will continue gathering dust under the bed I have slept in since I was 7 for a long time to come. 

As my boyfriend will pay testament to, having watched with bewilderment on the many occasions that I go through these boxes, channelling the ‘Gollum seeking ‘his preccciousss’ look slightly more than I usually aim for, I cannot resist a bargain. Whether it is a set of tumblers decorated with the cutest pixies perched on toadstools, jugs crowned with porcelain strawberries,  or, as is turning out to be quite a collection, vintage cocktail shakers, I am like a magpie with a hoarding problem.

The shakers, unlike the 50s floral handkerchiefs (unused, don’t worry) that I am struggling to find a role for in my parents house, are things that I can actually drag from under the bed, dust off and use now. And use with glee, because cocktails, as I may have mentioned a few times in my last blog, are one of my very favourite things. Partly because of how creative you can be with flavour combinations and mostly because they are so wickedly easy to drink, cocktails are definitely my tipple of choice.

Perfectly at home in both the flawlessly manicured, bejewelled hands of movie stars, and the slightly less adorned mitts of students making the absolute most of happy hour, there is something about a long stemmed cocktail glass, or a tall ice filled creation crowned with a glistening maraschino cherry that is universally and perpetually classy. Although, boys, a word of warning, beware the menace of the accidentally ordered girly cocktail; there is nothing worse than brandishing a pretty pink glass garnished with a floating pansy on a date, as my boyfriend will tell you.

And the really fabulous thing about cocktails is that, with a reasonably stocked drinks cupboard and a bit of imagination, they are so easy to make at home. Just choose your base spirit; be it gin, spiced rum, vanilla vodka, and weave in flavours using juices, cordials, herbs and fresh fruit until you have a drink fit to be supped all night long, whether you are slobbing out in front of Strictly, hobnobbing in a posh frock, or, as in my case, sifting through a box of milk jugs.

Let your imagination go wild, think pear and ginger mojitos, bitter orange and cardamom martinis made with marmalade and fresh spices, blackberry and amaretto sours or, perfect for a party or BBQ when the weather is slightly less brisk, a big, jewel coloured jug of perfectly refreshing sangria.  Imagine of your favourite flavour combinations and go for it; if you love apple pie, maybe a spiced apple martini will fit the bill, if custard tarts are your thing how about some half and half mixed with a dash of amaretto, some vanilla vodka and a sprinkling of nutmeg?

My favourite ever cocktail hour, overlooking the bright lights of NYC with the girls. SATC eat your heart out.
.So whether you are preparing for a big night on the town, or simply fancy something slightly more special than a glass of squash to go with your bangers and mash, step away from that cocktail menu and have a go at making your own.

You may just be converted, even if your New Year’s resolution was to go to the gym more, drink less, eat wheatgerm. Blah, blah, maybe a few martinis will cheer you up as you hide your trainers in the dark recesses of your wardrobe, or put the juicer firmly back in to the box. Not that I am a cynic, if you are a stronger person than myself, and commit to your resolutions past the 3rd of January, I salute you, and suggest you have a few cocktails to reward yourself...

Pear and ginger mojito.

To really ramp up the flavour of this delicious cocktail I usually try to use a delicious, and wonderfully simple, homemade pear puree. While you can buy this at the shops, I reckon that the minimal effort involved in cooking and then blending the pears is totally worth it. Not only do you get the satisfaction of throwing yourself completely into your new bartender persona (don’t forget the white apron but do try to avoid throwing glass bottles around unless you have been given some prior instruction,) but you can also add as many different flavours to this puree as you please. Try adding rosemary or vanilla for a slightly different take on the martini, or adapt the recipe to use any fruit you happen to find in the house. Easy.

Pear and ginger puree.

This will make enough puree for about 6-8 cocktails, so adapt as you please!
4 pears, skinned and chopped.
150g sugar
200ml water
1 piece plus 3 tbsp syrup from a jar of stem ginger.

To mix.
25 fresh mint leaves (or a large bunch if, like me, you think life is too short for counting.)
1 lime, chopped
1tbsp sugar
65ml spiced rum
Ginger beer, to top up.

First, make the sugar syrup, an essential cocktail ingredient that can be used in a wealth of bevies.
Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan and heat until the sugar is completely dissolved, bring to the boil and remove from the heat. The syrup can be kept in the fridge in an airtight bottle for around 6 months, perfect!

Add the pears to the syrup and cook gently until the pears are softened.
Add the ginger and syrup and blend until you have a very smooth puree (you can sieve it to make sure there are no lumps)

Now the fun begins. In a large glass, preferably made from thick glass, muddle the lime, sugar and mint together (I usually use the end of a rolling pin) until the sugar is mixed with the juice from the lime and the mint leaves are sufficiently battered.

Mix in your rum (essential) and a few tablespoons of the puree, and fill the glass to the brim with crushed ice.

Top up with the ginger beer, garnish with a sprig of mint and, as a reward for your hard work, drink.

Plum and almond sours.

Stepping away from tradition, I make my sours sans egg white. More than anything I usually can’t be bothered to separate eggs for the sake of a drink, but also, in my opinion it tastes just as good without. Add in half an egg white before you shake if you disagree, make it your own!

25 ml amaretto
25ml sloe gin
Juice of ½ lime
1tbsp sugar syrup
A dash of Angostura Bitters
1 marachino cherry and a lime wedge, to serve.

In a cocktail shaker (be careful when using glass bottomed ones, I once had a very bad experience that the floor drank more mojito than we did..) mix the good stuff (alcohol of course), the lime and sugar syrup, with a vigorous shake. Be sure to taste and add more lime, syrup or alcohol as your taste buds see fit.

Pour into a short glass, filled with ice, add a splash of bitters, and garnish with a cherry and lime wedge.


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