Saturday, 13 December 2014

Cocktail of the month: Christmas cocktails

I'm not going to lie to you. There is some effort involved this month. But once you've put in a bit of work making a versatile syrup, it's all easy. I have three (yes three!) cocktails for you based on the same syrup. You will be flouncing around looking fabulous and drinking cocktails in no time.

The syrup that ties this cocktails together is made from pomegranate and fresh orange juice. I decided it was a step too far to juice pomegranates myself so I bought pomegranate juice with no added sugar from the health food shop. The exact instructions are in the recipe below. Once reduced, the pomegranate syrup is the most fantastic deep purple colour and has an intriguing sweet but bitter, slightly spiced fragrance.

The first cocktail is based on my classic sour recipe. I hope you've memorized the formula by now. 4 parts alcohol: 2 parts sour: 1 part sweet. I spiced up the gin I'm using here by adding a cinnamon stick, a vanilla pod, a star anise and a cardamom pod to the gin bottle and leaving it to infuse for a week or two. The spices are still in there, infusing away until Christmas. The recipe below serves one but simply multiply the proportions and make in a jug if you have lots of cocktail drinking guests.

The second is a fizz based cocktail, extremely simple and perfect for when visitors call in. It's not too alcoholic either so you could have a good few of these without getting too messy.

The last cocktail is non-alcoholic. Perfect for children or anyone who has to drive. In fact it is also excellent when recovering from a Christmas hangover. It is extremely refreshing due to that slightly bitter tang from the pomegranate combined with the sweetness and the fresh citrus. It is actually quite addictive. This could also be made in a large jug ready to pour out.

In addition to the recipes given below you can find other Christmas cocktail recipes on my older blog: a Christmas pudding vodka cocktail, a Christmas apple punch and a spicy rosehip, rhubarb combination.

pomegranate and orange simple syrup

pomegranate juice (no added sugar) 500mL
freshly squeezed orange juice 500mL
sugar 500g
zest of one orange 

Combine all of the ingredients in a large saucepan. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and then simmer until reduced by approximately half the volume. Allow to cool and then strain through a muslin (or clean J-cloth) lined sieve into a jug. Decant into a sterilized bottle and store in the fridge if not using immediately. I put mine in a conical flask for show because I have one and I'm a big chemistry nerd.

spiced pomegranate sour (serves one)
spiced Christmas gin (see above) 60mL
freshly squeezed lime juice 30mL
pomegranate and orange simple syrup  15mL
3-4 drops cranberry bitters (if you have them)

Combine all of the ingredients in a large glass or cocktail shaker. Add plenty of ice. Stir until chilled. Strain into a prepared cocktail glass. Garnish with lime zest.

pomegranate fizz (serves one)

pomegranate and orange simple syrup  20mL
pomegranate seeds and orange twist to garnish

Add the syrup to a champagne flute. Carefully top up with your choice of sparkling wine. Add pomegranate seeds and a piece of orange zest to garnish.

pomegranate refresher (serves one)

pomegranate and orange simple syrup  40mL
juice of 1/2 a lime
sparkling water
pomegranate seeds and orange slices to garnish

Add the syrup and the fresh lime juice to a large glass. Fill the glass 3/4 full with ice. Add the pomegranate seeds and orange slices before filling with sparkling water. 

You can hear me talking about these Christmas cocktail on the Flavour programme (Cambridge 105) at 12 noon today (Saturday 13th December).

Friday, 12 December 2014

Christmas presents: eat, drink, read

Advent calendars containing chocolate, non-charity Christmas cards, fake Christmas trees. I have a long list of "Things I Don't Approve Of" and many of these are Christmas related. Top of the list are useless and unwanted presents. It can be next to impossible to know what your loved ones would like without asking them outright. A present that can be read, eaten or drunk is the most likely to be useful.
I'm a book obsessive and I believe a present involving books is somehow more morally upright than any other (I have very funny notions, see non-approval list above). Books can and do change lives.

A subscription to Books Ireland is a must for book lovers in Ireland (and abroad). Buy it for yourself or as a gift subscription. Published every two months, every time it arrives on the mat during the year it will remind the lucky recipient what a wonderfully thoughtful person you are. Bonus! I'm a subscriber and occasional contributor (don't let that put you off) and I still get very excited when it arrives. It's great for keeping up to date with all the books being published in Ireland including children's books and reading it informs my book buying every time. 
I wrote a piece for Books Ireland on Irish food and drink books and can recommend the following new books that have come out this year:

Slรกinte by Kristin Jensen and Caroline Hennessy
A Simply Delicious Christmas by Darina Allen (new edition)
The Ballymaloe Cookbook by Myrtle Allen (new edition)
Gubeen by Giana Ferguson

We are still working our way through the blackcurrant jam mountain of 2013 (not to mention the green tomato chutney lake of 2011) so several people this year will be receiving homemade goodies. Whether it's Christmas puddings, biscuits, jams or chutneys they always go down very well.

I think you all know that I am a big fan of drinking. More importantly I'm very keen on drinking nice things out of nice glasses. It's easy to go and buy a bottle of champagne or a bottle of a spirit as a present but much better is the drink related present that keeps on giving: bitters! They add so much to a cocktail and last forever. While Angostura Bitters are a classic and widely available consider giving a bottle of a less well known bitters. I would highly recommend the following:
Fee Brothers Rhubarb Bitters
Any of the range from Dr Adam Elmegirab

Cambridge Wine Merchants on Cherry Hinton Road often have Rhubarb Bitters. In Dublin the Celtic Whiskey Shop on Dawson St have a great range and I LOVE the website for all alcohol related purchases.

If you have time, consider looking through charity shops and antique shops for cocktail glasses. This is where I get most of my stash. If you don't have the time for the search (and it is getting a bit late now) John Lewis have a delightful and affordable own brand range including these bad boys.