Category Archives: Drinks

Wines, whiskies, liqueurs, spirits, cocktails, etc.

When life gives you lemons… Just add alcohol

Saturday was the official start of winter in New Zealand.  Much like the UK, the weather here doesn’t pay any attention to official seasons.  Winter actually arrived last Tuesday, in all its tempestuous powercut-inducing glory (and really we were fairly lucky – a fair proportion of the rest of the country found themselves covered in snow).  On our first official day of winter, however, I spent the whole morning sitting out on the deck in the glorious sunshine, topping up my vitamin D reserves.

First official day of winter. Blue skies, blue sea, palm trees. Life is good.

Ya, that’s what the official start to winter looked like in Leigh, and we were lucky to be treated to similar weather the entire long weekend.  I sometimes still can’t quite believe that I live here.  Anyway, before you all turn away from your computer screens in disgust or hatred, I’ll reassure you that today we’ve been treated to a good dose of horizontal rain, a severe weather advisory and multiple powercuts.  So I think that this is a suitably winter-like day to share that homemade limoncello recipe that I mentioned in my limoncello cupcakes post.  Lemons brighten everything up, and I like to think of limoncello as liquid sunshine.  Alcoholic liquid sunshine.  Very drinkable alcoholic sunshine that doesn’t taste alcoholic.  Oh dear.

Ooooo hello…

I started making my own limoncello about two and a half years ago.  I wanted to try limoncello, but couldn’t find any to buy, so I looked up some recipes.  I picked the one that only required an overnight maceration instead of two weeks (because I’m impatient like that) and it turned out so scrumptious that I’ve yet to get around to trying out one of the recipes that take a little longer.  I’ll report back on the comparison when I eventually do, but in the meantime, this is a pretty handy sort-of last-minute drinks recipe to have up your sleeve.  I’ve actually never tried “real” limoncello, so I can’t tell you how this measures up to the stuff you’d drink in Italy.  I can, however, tell you that it’s bloody delicious, and super lemony.  Any time I’ve pulled out a bottle for friends, it has disappeared fairly promptly, which can only be a good sign…

When real sunshine is lacking… alcoholic sunshine will do.

Limoncello

Makes about 400ml
Slightly adapted from Waitrose

To sterilise the glass bottle, wash in hot, soapy water and pop in an oven pre-heated to 100°C for about ten mins or so, until dry.  Allow to cool before pouring the limoncello in.  Don’t use your super expensive special edition boutique vodka, but don’t use supermarket own-label vodka either – paint-stripper will always just taste of paint-stripper, no matter how many lemons you add.  I just used standard Smirnoff.  I love limoncello served straight over ice, but you can also serve it as a long drink, topped up with soda water.  Sometimes I’ll store the limoncello in the freezer for a day or so so that it goes a bit slushy.  I recommend trying that, too!  This should keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge, although it’s unlikely to last even close to that long.

Ingredients

7-8 unwaxed lemons
125g caster sugar (granulated works fine, too)
150ml vodka

Directions

1.  Wash the lemons.  Zest and juice them into a large bowl (ideally not plastic – glass, pyrex or ceramic are all good choices if you have them).  Add the sugar, stir, and cover with clingfilm.  Leave to stand for about 12h or overnight, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has all dissolved.

2.  Strain the lemon mixture through either a very fine sieve, a muslin cloth or a normal sieve lined with kitchen roll.  Squeeze as much juice through as possible.  Stir in the vodka and decant into a sterilised glass bottle, ready to serve.

Enjoy!  (Whilst drinking responsibly and all that jazz…)

Since it’s homemade and all, I’m submitting this limoncello recipe to Made with Love Mondays hosted by Javelin Warrior (I’m guessing it’s ok that I haven’t made my own vodka…).

Made with Love Mondays, hosted by Javelin Warrior

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Chilli crème de cacao

Chilli and chocolate are a match made in heaven.  Fact.  And I don’t even really like chilli all that much usually (spicy food isn’t my favourite).  But I do like chilli with chocolate. Dark chocolate, of course – I’m not convinced that chilli and milk or white chocolate would be all that fabulous…  I’ve done the chilli and chocolate combination a couple of times on Sharky Oven Gloves, first in the form of some rather delicious chilli chai and chocolate cupcakes and then in the form of some equally scrumptious chilli and chocolate icebox cookies (being ladybird-shaped was a total bonus.  The cookies that is, not me.)

A few weeks ago, I had a rather brilliant idea.  As we’ve just established, chilli and chocolate go wonderfully well together.  So why not infused dark crème de cacao with some chilli peppers?  Genius, right?  I don’t know why I’ve never thought of trying it out before…  Rather surprisingly, recipes for chilli-infused crème de cacao appear to be rather scarce, so I made it up as I went along (which I tend to do anyway).  The recipes I found for other chilli-infused alcohols (think tequila, vodka, etc) all specified that the seeds should be removed but the little stringy filaments left in.  No specific explanations were given but I decided to heed the advice – presumably the flavour imparted by the seeds isn’t all that great.

The resulting chilli crème de cacao is rather wonderful.  The length of infusion depends on your preferred level of spiciness.  I’m automatically a fan of anything that requires regular taste-testing and this recipe definitely ticks all the right boxes.  Some of this liqueur is destined for baking, though I haven’t quite decided what I’ll be making with it yet, but you can rest assured that I’ll keep you informed.  Adding a liberal splash of the liqueur to a hot chocolate would also be a great way to jazz it up.  The same goes for cocktails – it could be a great addition to make a cocktail unique (depending on the cocktail, obviously).

Chilli crème de cacao

Makes 250 ml
Recipe from my imagination

This recipe can easily be scaled up without problems – I only made a small quantity since I was experimenting.  The infusion time will depend on the combination of how spicy the chilli pepper that you use is (as chilli peppers go, mine wasn’t too too strong) and how spicy you want to make the liqueur.  Tasting the liqueur regularly is the only way to determine how long you want to let it infuse (what a shame).  Once removed, the infused chilli pepper can be chopped up and used for baking.

Ingredients

1 chilli pepper
250 ml dark crème de cacao

Directions

1.  Wash and dry the chilli pepper.  Halve it and carefully remove the seeds, but making sure to keep the white filaments, then add to a jam jar or preserving jar (depending on how much you are making).  Pour the crème de cacao over the chilli peppers and close the jar.  Store in a dark place (cover in foil if you can’t put it in a cupboard or something).

2.  After about 24 hours, taste the liqueur to check the strength of the chilli.  If not strong enough, return the liqueur to its dark place of hiding and check again in about 24 h (mine took about 48h).  When the liqueur is ready to your taste, strain the crème de cacao through a cheesecloth (kitchen roll also works) and decant into a bottle to store.

Enjoy!  (Moderately, of course…)

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Happy (belated) World Gin Day 2011!

Yes, that’s right, yesterday was World Gin Day!  In case you don’t already know, I’m quite a big gin fan, so I don’t think I don’t have to tell you quite how enthusiastic I was about a whole day dedicated to gin…  (By the way, if you don’t like gin, I wouldn’t really bother with the rest of this post.)

I obviously wasn’t going to let World Gin Day slip away without making something gin-related.  I was originally going to do something in the form of baked goods (for a change), but none of my fellow gin-lovers are currently here in St Andrews, and I feel that eating an entire batch of gin-packed baked goods of whatever description all by myself smacks somewhat of alcoholism and very much of loneliness.  So I’ve had to change my plans a little.  Never fear though, I’ve still got something exciting for you…

I needed to find something that could either be made in an individual portion or could be stored for a while.  I was drawing a blank on something that I could make an individual portion of, which left finding something that I could make and have a little bit of today and then store for a while until everybody gets back.  I decided to make a Gin & Tonic granita, which is basically a Slush Puppie (remember those?  I haven’t one in forever!) but alcoholised.  With the bonus that it can be stored in the freezer, though it might require some vigorous stirring to break up the crystals after a few days.

As I was looking up G&T granita recipes, a rather genius idea hit me: I could add some of the cucumber liqueur that I’ve not really sure what to do with.  It goes wonderfully with regular G&Ts, so there’s no particular reason why it wouldn’t work in a granita.  This turned out to be a rather inspired idea, if I do say so myself…  I thoroughly enjoyed my portion of the granita, and the rest is currently sitting quite contently in the freezer, waiting for Kat and Craig to drop by, or anybody else with a penchant for gin.  I only ran into one issue whilst making this: it took forever.  The recipe that I adapted stated that it required 2 hours of total freezing time.  However, the extra alcohol in the liqueur in addition to the increased quantity of gin that I used meant that the first ice crystals started forming in the granita about 4 hours after going into the freezer.  I totally forgot to take the higher alcohol content into account, and in total, the granita required a stint of about 9 hours in the freezer.  Nine hours.  Which is why this post is going up today rather than yesterday (I didn’t have time to sort the photos out last night).  Woops.  On the plus side, at least that means that you can just pop in the freezer and go about your daily business and just check on it from time to time when you’re home, without worrying about it.

Gin & Tonic granita

Makes about 1 litre
Adapted from delicious. online

The granita takes a while to freeze, so it would probably be a good idea to make it the day before you’re planning on serving it and then just stir it up enthusiastically just before serving up.  Although I’ve suggested serving it as a dessert in martini glasses or tumblers, the granita would also work perfectly served as an amuse-bouche in shot glasses.  It’s also quite yummy to drink when it melts.  Obviously, make sure you use a good quality gin because you’ll definitely be able to taste it – I chose Bombay Sapphire because it’s very aromatic.

Ingredients

100ml water
200g caster sugar
175ml gin (I used Bombay Sapphire)
75ml cucumber liqueur
500ml tonic water (without saccharin)
Cucumber slices, to garnish

Directions

1.  Heat the water and sugar together in a large saucepan for about 5 mins until all the sugar has dissolved.  Remove from the heat and mix in the gin, cucumber liqueur and tonic.  Allow to cool a little before pouring into a freezer-proof container and allowing to cool fully to room temperature before freezing.

2.  After about 4 hours, remove and break up any ice crystals that have formed using a fork, before returning to the freezer.  After about 1 ½ hours, remove the granita and once again break up any ice crystals up with a fork before returning to the freezer.  Repeat after 1 ½ hours, and once again after a further 1 ½ hours.  Just before serving, break the ice crystals up to Slush Puppie consistency, and serve in martini glasses or tumblers, each garnished with a slice of cucumber.

Enjoy!  (And just pretend it’s still World Gin Day!)

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Patience is a virtue: Blueberry gin

Not to conform to the St Andrews student stereotype or anything, but I have a lot of love for gin.  I have a friend who once made Gin & Tonic in a Thermos and brought it to the library for us to share because we were both craving G&Ts but had too much work to go to the pub.  Now that’s true gin love (some might describe it as alcoholism, however, I am rather inclined to disagree).  Oh and in case you were wondering, we both got our work done and met the deadline.

I came across a recipe for blueberry gin in December.  As soon as I saw it, I knew that I just had to try it – the only question was when?  It takes two weeks to brew, and the Christmas holidays rather inconveniently got in the way, so this little experiment had to wait until I got back to university at the beginning of January.

Now, I’m not a particularly patient person, and two weeks is a long time to have to look at something every day knowing you can’t taste it yet, but this was well worth the wait.  And the resulting pink gin is just so pretty!  It was finally ready at the end of last week, so I had an inaugural tasting with a couple of gin-loving friends.  We made Blueberry G&Ts, and they were rather amazing – fruity and slightly sweet.  We used the blueberries (“ginberries” might be a more appropriate description) to make cupcakes – I’ll blog about those soon.

Blueberry gin

Makes about 500ml
Adapted from Island Vittles

You can use fresh or frozen blueberries – the only frozen blueberries I could find were part of a frozen summer fruit mix so I used fresh ones (in January, I know).  Once the gin is done, use the leftover blueberries instead of normal blueberries to make muffins or cupcakes (or anything really).  For the gin, I used Bombay Sapphire because I happened to have Tesco vouchers for a discounted bottle, but any decent gin (so not supermarket brand) would work.

Ingredients

175g blueberries
60g sugar
500ml gin

Directions

1.  Mix the blueberries, sugar and gin in a glass preserving jar or similar container, seal and shake well.

2.  Store in a cool, dark place for at least two weeks and up to two months, making sure to shake every few days (or, out of sheer enthusiasm, every day in my case).

3.  Once the gin has turned a lovely dark pink colour, strain it through cheesecloth (or kitchen roll) into clean glass bottles.  Serve cold over ice with tonic for G&Ts with a difference!

Enjoy!  (Responsibly, of course…  Ahem)

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Six things to do with… Empty Champagne Bottles

My friends and I get through a fair amount of champagne (not conforming to the St Andrews’ student stereotype at all), mostly because I happen to know the manager of the local bottle shop fairly well, and he happens to know that I have a serious penchant for champagne…  It works out quite well for us!

But once all the champagne has been enjoyed…  What to do with the empty bottles?  (All of these ideas work equally well with normal wine bottles by the way!)

1. Water pitcher – Get some decorative bottle-stops, and use the bottles instead of water pitchers to put on the table for dinner parties.

2. Gifts – Decant some home-made drink (such as home-made limoncello) into the bottles, re-label them, top it off with a pretty bottle-stopper, tie some ribbon around the neck if you’re feeling particularly enthusiastic, and give it as a gift.

3. Candle holders – Get some of those tall, tapered candles, and voilà, amazing dinner table centre-pieces.

4. Vases – Use a few stems of real or fake flowers.  You might have to put a bit of sand in the bottom, just to stabilise the bottle.

5. Door-stop­ – Fill the bottle with sand and re-cork it, and use it (or several) to prop a door open.  Obviously this won’t work if the door is ridiculously heavy or if the floor is really slippery.  I should add that I’ve never actually tried this, but I think it could work…  Maybe…

6. Christmas tree – Thread fairy lights through the tops of the bottles, pile them up (you’ll need to make cardboard circles to rest the various tiers on) and stick a star in the top one and you’ve got a fabulously decadent Christmas tree, with the added bonus of not having needles everywhere and not having to deal with a dead tree in January.  I’m planning on leaving mine up all year round, and just changing the star to a cardboard shark fin when it’s not Christmas anymore.

Champagne Christmas tree

Amazing?  I think so!  Merry Christmas!!!

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The prize for the weirdest wine cork goes to…

Olivier Leflaive – Les Sétilles 2008 (Bourgogne)

Now, I’m hardly a wine expert, but I’ve uncorked quite a few bottles of wine…  However, uncorking this bottle was a whole new experience.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  The cork turned out to be a bizarre concoction of fake cork (which I have a personal dislike of in the first place) with a ring of black plastic, and then more fake cork in the middle, presumably to be able to insert the corkscrew.  And then a strange plastic cap on the bottom part of the cork.  Which meant that re-corking the bottle was a bit of a fight.  I uncorked it last night and am still perplexed by it!  I’m not sure how well the photos below show it, but hopefully you get the idea.


At this point it would make sense to add my thoughts on the wine itself, but I’ve been ill the last few days and my taste buds have been rather off (and still are a bit!), so that’s probably not a good idea…!  However, I will say that sans fully functioning taste buds it’s a very drinkable wine.  I guess I’ll just have to try it again once I’m fully recovered (if I can get over the cork).

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