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Film and TV Recipes

Jonathan Meades – the Plagiarist in the Kitchen

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The tributes to AA Gill who died earlier this year tended to focus on his humour, his famous rudeness, and his ability to write movingly about those on the margins of life. But for me what made him compulsively readable was the sheer certainty of his views. The thrill of his spat with Mary Beard wasn’t saying that he said she was ugly but the audacity of a hack like Gill with no formal education taking to task a Cambridge classics professor on the subject of the Roman Empire with such elan.

Gill’s schtick never really worked on television. He just came across as a bit of an arse. His counterpart as restaurant critic at the Times from 1986 to 2001, Jonathan Meades, however, is an auteur of the medium. In his idiosyncratic programmes, Meades made use of his seemingly bottomless well of opinions not just on food and architecture, his specialities, but also Mussolini, the fate of the Algerian pied-noirs and why Essex is unfairly maligned. Sometimes I struggled to keep up but they make such a refreshing change from the “join me on my journey” school of BBC documentaries.

Now Meades has written a cookbook, The Plagiarist in the Kitchen, the title a knowing rip off of Julian Barnes’ The Pedant in the Kitchen. Its premise is that all cookbooks are attempts to pass off borrowed or stolen recipes as your own work (I know having contributed to one.) “In the kitchen there is nothing new and nor can there be anything new. It’s all theft” as Meades puts it. Part of the joy of the book is the glee with which Meades tramples on foodie (a word I imagine he loathes) shibboleths:

“The olive oil trade is just as rackety and bent as the wine trade. Which is a boon to those who dislike the peppery throat-assault of the echt product. In olive oil, as in life, the impure is more satisfying than the pure.”

Or

“‘Homemade begs one question. Whose home? Have you ever actually seen people’s homes? Why should biscuits made at home be better than those baked in a factory, a factory that specialises in biscuits? I’m thinking of Nairn’s Oatcakes, Rakusen’s Matzo Crackers and Carr’s Water Biscuits. We don’t seek treatment from amataur surgeons.”

The short bibliography is telling because alongside the likes of Simon Hopkinson, Elizabeth David and Fergus Henderson, there’s Inside Mr Enderby by Anthony Burgess and the not to be missed Testicles: Balls in Cooking and Culture by Blandine Vie. As well as recipes there are strange unhelpful illustrations, anecdotes about Jane Grigson and some top pop trivia:

“Hardly surprisingly, Jacques Brel’s favourite dish was mussels and chips. However, he once claimed that the single best meal of his life was a ham sandwich he ate on the train from Paris to Brussels; he had just secured a recording contract.”

But asides aside, The Plagiarist in the Kitchen is actually a very thorough cookbook taking in classic French food as well as Italian, Spanish, North African, Scandinavian, German and British recipes. There’s perhaps more on eels and tripe than you might want but on the whole it’s surprisingly user friendly. His risotto milanese recipe is particularly good “the risotto will take about 30 minutes (many recipes state 20 minutes; they are wrong. . .” and “do not add grated cheese. It fights the flavour the saffron. . .” For all his humour, Meades is deadly serious about food. The books shows a deep understanding of cookery.

In an age of instant internet criticism this sort of rigour is bracing. You get the impression that he has thought everything through from first principles. He doesn’t take the easy option of contrarianism nor does he see things through a political filter ie. environmentalism, soft-left activism or post-colonial theory. With most writers you can guess their views on everything after reading a couple of articles, with Meades it’s not so easy.

Both Meades and Gill are/ were autodidacts. Meades’ writing displays his love of learning and the even greater love of showing off that learning. With food, he clearly know his onions but what about everything else? Does he really have a deeply-held original point of view on Charles de Gaulle or does he sit up all night honing opinions on the matters of the day? I suspect that as with Gill there’s a fair dose of prejudice in there but importantly, they’re his prejudices. The trick that both Meades and Gill mastered is never to explain. In prose and on television, Meades simply states his opinions and moves on. The Plagiarist in the Kitchen is full of gnomic statements such as:

“So far as I can recall I have not eaten guacamole.

or

“I can’t think of any circumstances in which I’d use oregano.”

Crucially he’s not on twitter to battle the outraged keyboard warriors. AA Gill too prided himself on not doing “the internet” as he put it.  In an age when even the President of America argues on twitter, this aloofness makes Meades one of the last of a breed.

The Plagiarist in the Kitchen by Jonathan Meades is published this month by Unbound

This article originally appeared in Spectator Life 

 

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Recipes

Wellness is balls and crisps are ace

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The above is a short extract from the two page lunch box rules booklet provided by my daughter’s school. Below is an article I wrote for the Spectator about crisps and biscuits. Also you may have noticed that I have changed the title of the blog. This is to reflect it’s role as a place to access all my writing rather than just my musings about booze.

To alleviate the pain of being sent back to boarding school, my mother would make potato crisps for my brother and me. She’d slice the potatoes carefully with a mandoline, lovingly fry them in sunflower oil, let them drain on kitchen towel and then sprinkle with sea salt. They were nice, but I hate to say this Mum, they weren’t as delicious as salt & vinegar Crunchy Fries, a now defunct snack similar to a Chipstick.  I tried adding vinegar to my mother’s crisps but they just went soggy.

When I’m abroad the thing I miss most about Britain is salt and vinegar crisps. Not any of that faux natural kettle chip nonsense but Golden Wonder (far superior to Walkers.) When it comes to crisps, the nation agrees that the classics are best. Earlier this year Richard Osman from the television game show Pointless ran a Word Cup of Crisps. Over one million votes were placed in a competition conducted on twitter. In the final pickled onion Monster Munch triumphed over Wotsits. Monster Munch aren’t even made from potatoes and they’ve never been near an actual pickled onion. They are cooked up in a laboratory and all the better for it. As a child I imagined crisp factories to be wondrous Willa Wonka-esque places full of mad scientists concocting crazy flavours.

In Britain we aren’t noted for our culinary prowess but we are good at processed food. As the first country to industrialise, we were the first to create food for the machine age. Canning brought good quality healthy food high in vitamins and nutrients to the working classes in industrial cities who had no access to fresh produce. Canning preserves fresh foods but soon scientists were creating entirely new kinds of food. Marmite, for example, is a by product of Burton-on-Trent’s brewing industry. It was in biscuit form, however, that industry and food found their apotheosis. McVities founded in Edinburgh in 1830 had a winning streak that ran from Chocolate Digestive in 1925 to 1985 with the launch of the Hobnob, the last great biscuit. They’re still made in factories in Carlisle, Stockport, Halifax, Harlesden and Glasgow even if Mcvities are now owned by a Turkish company.  It wasn’t all British ingenuity however,  flavoured crisps were invented in Ireland by Tayto’s in 1950s. The Irish food aisle in my local supermarket is a wall of Tayto’s. Their salt & vinegar is particularly fine.

When I was growing up crisps were considered a health food. They were made from potatoes, dammit. Well or maize and flavour enhancers in the case of Monster Munch. Plain digestives were positively ascetic. But now our great British foods are under attack. At my daughter’s school they are specifically forbidden from bringing crisps and biscuits in their lunch boxes. The cult of Wellness stalks the land with its pseudo scientific pronouncements against gluten, sugar and ‘processed food.’ We are told that sugar is as addictive as tobacco. Ella Woodward, the Nigella of Wellness, wrote how she became ‘totally-hooked on sugar laden convenience food.’ Jamie Oliver has campaigned successfully for a tax on sugar.

Wellness recipes substitute maple syrup for refined sugar but don’t explain why it’s healthier or more natural. They’re both sucrose and both come from plant sap. The American food writer Adam Gopnik makes a good point when he says ‘every attempt to say what nature wants us to do turns out to be what someone thinks we ought to.’  Cutting out gluten makes even less sense. In fact, unless you’re a coeliac, it’s probably detrimental to your health. There’s a nasty streak of snobbery in the Wellness movement: cheap foods that people like, biscuits, crisps etc are demonised whereas expensive organic foods are considered healthy.  Maple syrup is much more expensive than sugar. The sugar tax will disproportionately fall on the working class, the main consumers of fizzy drinks. In order to cut out gluten, the Hemsley sisters, currently starring in their own series on Channel 4 recommend substituting plain flour, 30p a kilo, with coconut flour at £5.

McVities tried a bit of substitution of their own in 2012 in order to make their digestive lower in saturated fat. Much to the horror of biscuit fans the new ones turned out to be oily and crumbly. There was outcry at teatime across the land and sensibly in 2014 McVities reverted to the old recipe. Classic British biscuits don’t take kindly to improvement. My wife attempted to bake chocolate digestive biscuits using organic  flour and high cocoa fat chocolate. We both took a nibble and agreed that they weren’t a patch on McVities.

The truth is that biscuits taste best when made in a big factory in Harlesden. ‘Processed’ and ‘convenience’ are dirty words nowadays when it comes to food but  I think they should be celebrated. On a sustenance level they have enabled our society to thrive but they can also be something unique and delicious. Bill Bryson referred to the chocolate digestive as “a British masterpiece. “ They’re Britain’s equivalent of Coq au Vin or Linguine Vongole except they’re available in every corner shop in the country. They’re a truly egalitarian delicacy.  So when I pack my daughter off to school with her carrots sticks and sandwiches, I like to smuggle in a couple of digestive biscuits wrapped in tinfoil. It feels like a subversive act and I know they’re good for her.

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Recipes

A not very boozy interview with Lucy Madison

I’ve been reading a delightful book that combines food with memoir called Pen & Palate: Mastering the Art of Adulthood with Recipes by Lucy Madison and Tram Nuguyen. It’s one that has made me smile and laugh more than any food book I’ve read in a long time. It’s written by two childhood friends and it’s about them growing up and growing apart and coming back together with food being the glue that binds the story together. It’s the sort of book that I wish I’d read in my 20s. There’s no melodrama, no Steel Magnolias-style death bed weepathons, instead it sort of crept under my skin and hooked me gently but firmly. What kept me reading was the quality of the writing, the honesty and the deadpan humour. This is Lucy on her attempts to become a reporter:

“The chief activities I fear in life include speaking on the telephone; talking to strangers; giving people a reason to be mad at me; dealing with people who are mad at me; and asking people to do things they don’t want to do. These activities loosely describe the day-to-day activities of being a reporter.”

There’s a chapter where Tram becomes a cartoon animal costume builder which manages to be slapstick and intensely moving at the same time. And the recipes at the end of every chapter, especially the Vietnamese ones, sound delicious. Lucy has very kindly agreed to answer to some questions :

So what’s your problem with Malbec?

To be fair to Malbec, I first experienced it as a broke 20-year-old while studying abroad in Argentina—so I wasn’t exactly tasting the finest examples of the grape. I would love to go back to Argentina and learn more about it, because I know there are so many winemakers making amazing bottles there now. But I’ve often found Malbec to be a bit harsh and acidic for my palate.

What wine do you like?

Right now I’m craving a crisp, minerally white—like a nice, nutty Grüner Veltliner. Maybe it’s because it’s almost summer. I’m also into Falanghina; I discovered it on my honeymoon in Italy and I’ve been seeking it out ever since. Oh, and I’ll never say no to champagne.

What’s your favourite drink to reward yourself after a long day’s writing?

I love a strong Manhattan.

Do you have a favourite bar in New York?

I’m about to move from the West Village to Brooklyn, so I’m feeling especially nostalgic about some of my neighborhood spots right now. The West Village can get a little touristy and overrun, so I feel a lot of fondness for my local dive bar, Automatic Slims, which is never too packed. It’s got cheap wine, great bartenders, and decent bar food. For something more upscale I like Anfora, which has an excellent wine list and the best ricotta toast I’ve ever had.

What’s your ultimate comfort food?

Cacio e pepe. Or an elaborate cheese plate. Basically any iteration of pasta and cheese.

Is there anything that you are terrible at doing in the kitchen?

I’m not super comfortable cooking red meat in a sophisticated way. I was a vegetarian for a long time, so I didn’t get a lot of practice preparing meat-heavy dishes until I was in my mid-20s. I’ve gotten better over the years, but I don’t have that built-in confidence I have with baked goods and starches.

Which food writers are an inspiration to you? (or writers in general)

Nora Ephron’s Heartburn is only tangentially about food, but it’s one of my favorite books of all time. It’s so funny. It has the perfect hilarious-to-heartbreaking ratio. And Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking. I love anything that’s funny and cozy and embraces the idea of imperfection.

And favourite cookbooks?

I love the Cook’s Illustrated books. I like imagining their whole team of professional cooks in the kitchen, testing out a million variations on a recipe so that I don’t have to. I also like to read recipes online and then scour the reviews for comments on what worked and what didn’t, and tailor the recipe accordingly.

How did you get into writing about food?

My best friend Tram Nugyen and I started a food blog, Pen & Palate, a few years ago. We had wanted to collaborate on a project for years, and we both love food and cooking. We’d write about what was going on in our lives and then include a recipe at the end of each post. Tram is an amazing artist, and she illustrates the whole thing.

How did the book come about?

In a lot of ways the book felt like a natural extension of what we were already doing, because the blog was always driven by the stories and the narrative as much as by the recipes. So when someone approached us about the possibility of doing a food memoir, it seemed like a natural fit.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Don’t get too caught up in how terrible you think you are! The first draft is allowed to suck; just put down whatever you can and then edit the shit out of it. Also, try not to take criticism too personally. This is impossible but, I’m told, invaluable.

Are you working on another book?

Not yet! Right now I’m trying to take one thing at a time—the book, a baby that could drop at any moment, and a new apartment. Once that’s all settled, I’m going to try to figure out what’s next.

Thank you Lucy! 

Find out more about the book here: Pen & Palate: Mastering the Art of Adulthood, with Recipes . You can read more about Lucy Madison and Tram Nguyen on their blog: Pen & Palate.  

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Books Recipes Wine articles

Drunken cookery competition

One of my favourite ways of spending a rainy weekend is to cook a time-consuming though not particularly complicated dish whilst slowly getting drunk. Something like a Bouef Bourgignon with one bottle of wine for the dish and one for the chef. I’ll put some jazz on in the kitchen, Hank Mobley or Mose Allison perhaps, and get chopping and drinking. Hopefully there’ll be enough left in the second bottle for my wife and I to have a glass with the finished dish.

In my student days, I did things rather differently. We had blackened saucepan in the kitchen filled with old oil and after a night at the pub, we’d make chips. Not just chips, pretty much anything would go into that vat of boiling oil, onion rings, sausages, parsips, sometimes I’d spit beer into the oil and watch the explosions. It’s a minor miracle that no one got hurt. I did, however, get quite chubby so there was a consequence to my irresponsibility. When I was sent the Drunken Cookbook (sequel to the best-selling Hungover Cookbook) by Milton Crawford, I immediatly looked for the deep-frying section, nothing tastes better when drunk than deep-fried food. Mr Crawford is, however, a lot more responsible than I was, and warns against deep-frying when drunk. Happily there are lots of other great recipes to try when hammered or even just mildly tipsy. In fact the recipes are graded as to how drunk you could be to attempt them. He’s also mixed in some stories from well-known booze enthusiasts such as Kingsley Amis. It’s fun to cook from or would make a great present for the drunkard in your life.

Square Peg, the publishers, have very kindly offered me three copies to giveaway. Simply let me know your favourite thing to cook when under the influence or even a good anecdote about drunken cookery. I will be consulting with the author and anything that makes us laugh or salivate stands a chance of winning. You can answer below or email me at henry g jeffreys at gmail dot com.

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Books Recipes

The Breakfast Bible

9781408804810In 2005 a meeting was held somewhere in Kentish Town or perhaps Peckham that would reverberate down the ages. The meeting was chaired by a shadowy figure known only as Malcolm Eggs. His aim was to fight mediocre breakfasts within the capital. He brought together a crack team of writers, gardeners, students and out-of-work musicians. Everyone dropped their legal names and adopted nommes de guerre such as Ed Benedict, H. P. Seuss and Dr Sigmund Fried. Thus the London Review of Breakfasts was born. Amazingly it was a great success, inspired a legion of imitators and quickly became a target of the powerful breakfast lobby.

Now there is a book and rather than limit themselves to London, Malcolm Eggs and the LRB team have taken on the massive task of defining and describing breakfast itself. So along with a history of coffee, recipes for sausages and how to boil the perfect egg, there are essays on breakfasts in literature, breakfast and class, and Freud’s breakfast dream. It’s a book to cook from and to savour in bed. As a contributor to the book and the website, I can with all disinterest say that it’s timeless masterpiece. Please buy many copies.

The Breakfast Bible by Seb Emina & Malcolm Eggs is published by Bloomsbury 11th Februrary £16.99. You can read an extract here.

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Books Recipes Wine articles

Pass me the cooking Barolo

My wife* is reading a book called Angelina’s Bachelors by Brian O’ Reilly. It’s billed as ‘a novel with food’ because it contains recipes by his wife or maybe mother, Virginia O’ Reilly. One in particular caught my eye, ‘Gorgonzola Beef Tenderloin in a Barolo Reduction’. The author not only suggests some Barolo producers but also recommends vintages. . . to cook with! Apparently the Pio Cesare 2004 is ideal for this recipe though, by implication, the 03 isn’t – too warm a vintage perhaps. This is clearly madness. Once you’ve reduced your wine and you’re tasting it through a mouthful of beef and blue cheese, the difference between vintages will be moot. Call me greedy but I’d keep the Barolo to drink and use a decent Nebbiolo (the Barolo grape) in the recipe. The Malvira Langhe 08 has a lot of the tannin and perfume though not the grace of its big brother. It’s £11.99. Pio Cesare 04 will be about £30.

It made me think about how good a wine should be to cook with. Received opinion in the wine world is that you should only cook with a wine that you would drink though I keep a bottle of slightly oxidised red by the hob for putting a slug in pasta sauces and it seems to work fine. I suppose it all depends on how long you’re going to cook the wine for and what role it plays in the dish. If it’s a major component or you’re not cooking it for long then you’ll need something decent. I made a disappointingly thin Bouef Bourguignon with a bottle of Romanian Pinot Noir last year. It would be fun (though not much) to make a dozen Bouef Bourguignons with wines ranging from a Chilean Pinot Noir to a decent Volnay. Which would taste best? I’ve made the dish many times and find that a good French country red such as a Cotes-du-Rhone works very well indeed. To be avoided are wines that might not taste sweet but have a lot of sugar in them, e.g. certain commercial New World reds. Some of them also have strange confected fruit which can strike an incongruous note in gravies and reductions.

The other wine-based dish I make often is a family concoction my wife calls swarthy chicken. We invented it during those happy days when we had lots of good Terre Arse (stop sniggering at the back) marsala in the house. When the marsala ran out I replaced it with a sherry, Botaina Amontillado, which was different but also delicious. I then got complacent and tried cheaper fortified wines: supermarket own-label finos, cooking marsala, white port. The results were a little sad. You really need an intense old wine to make the dish. So perhaps I’m being too hard on Brian and Virginia O’ Reilly. Perhaps they did try a wide variety of wines to make their dish and found that the most suitable were the Barolos mentioned in the recipes: Sordo 2007, Pio Cesare 2004 and Renato Ratti 2004. Or perhaps they’re just showing off.

*Apparently as a novel it’s not a success though there are lots of recipes she wants to cook.

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Swarthy Chicken for Magical Realists

World of Booze is branching out into food. Man cannot live on booze alone; I know cos I’ve tried. This week we have guest writer Misti Traya cooking with Marsala. She is using Florio’s Terre Arse which is really too good for this but you only need a splash and then you can finish off the bottle with a nice aged Pecorino.

 

I look better with a tan.  I don’t care how gauche you think I am to say it.  My best friend is a dermatologist.  I know about the dangers of sun exposure.  My healthy fear of melanoma aside, I am also a Vanity Smurf.  I realize too much sun is bad and can render you a blotchy, freckly, ginger hag who has been living in the Canary Islands sans SPF* for twenty plus years (I have given this alter ego the name of Mrs. Rathbone).  No woman wants a face like a moccasin.  Nor do I believe does any man.  This is why I always slather myself with sunscreen.  Still, the fact remains.  I look better with a tan.  For me, a tawny complexion is tantamount to instantly losing five pounds.  It also makes one’s teeth look whiter.  Who in Britain wouldn’t want that?

The first time I met the man I had no idea would be my husband, I was so swarthy he thought I was Brazilian.  I wasn’t.  I’m not.  Though I had just spent two weeks in the Caribbean drinking caipirinhas with my family, building sandcastles with my baby sister, and soaking up the sun.

Ah, the sun.  The glorious sun.

Under the Sicilian sun, my husband and I had our beginnings.  For me, this heat will always be romanticized.  When life in London gets too cold and dreary or I‘ve gone as sallow as a Dickensian orphan, this Sicilian ideal is where I go in my mind.  One of the things that helps me get there is a dish we’ve dubbed Swarthy Chicken.  For us, it’s evocative of that glowing tan I had the first time I noticed how much I loved my future husband’s nose in profile.  It reminds us of the day we sat reading next to each other poolside, ignorant to what was written in the stars, under a sea of bougainvillea on the grounds of a 17th century mansion overlooking the Mediterranean.  Swarthy Chicken is for magical realists because one serving of this dish can transport you to our sultry jasmine-scented Sicily.  But only if you believe.

The recipe is as follows:

Preheat your oven to 225 Celsius.  You want it to have all the heat of Mount Etna when she roars.

Next, slice a large yellow onion into thin rounds.  Lay these rounds at the bottom of an earthenware casserole.  Be sure to use some sort of enameled ceramic dish.  Only philistines use glass or tin.  My favorites are either a Le Creuset lasagne dish or a pretty Italian Majolica piece.  Both are built in fire and can handle fire.  Add two thinly sliced red, yellow or orange bell peppers.  Make them thin, but do not julienne.  Now smash four garlic cloves and scatter them amongst the other vegetable ruins.

Take 8-10 chicken thighs.  Thighs are inexpensive, moist, full of flavor and most importantly, they can withstand long cooking at high heat.  Rub the chicken pieces with butter.  Be generous.  Use the butter as if it were the chicken’s sunscreen.  Add a light drizzle of olive oil then liberally salt, pepper, and sprinkle with spicy smoked paprika.  This will add a fiery oaky flavor to the dish that will hearken back to the Aragonese invasion of Sicily.

Bake for 20-30 minutes.  The skin should be crisp and brown.  The onions should be caramelized with a few charred bits as if seared to seal in deliciousness by Etna herself.  Every so often roll the chicken pieces in the savory drippings to keep moist.

Turn down the oven to 175 Celsius and bake for another 15 minutes.

Roll the chicken thighs in their juices and add a splash of good Marsala wine.  Bake for another 15 minutes so the alcohol cooks off but the flavor remains.  Terre Arse is the brand we use in our house.  My husband swears it tastes of Sicily’s past.  Perhaps he fought against the French during the War of Vespers in another life?  I have no idea.  But I take most of what he says, especially about wine, to heart. The oranges, cinnamon and pistachios that the Arabs brought to Sicily 1,000 years ago are very present in this fortified wine’s flavor notes and you will definitely be able to taste them in your gravy.  Let us not forget Marsala is Arabic for Port of Allah.  And it is from Allah (or at least his port) that Marsala must come as it really is the most otherworldly emulsifier.  It pulls together all the elements of this dish—the smoke and the spice of the paprika, the oak of the casks that aged the wine, the sweetness of the caramelized onions and peppers—to create the richest, most fragrant gravy.

Before serving, throw in a handful of roughly chopped green Italian olives.  My favorite are the giant meaty ones from Puglia that are so sweet and fruity, one could mistake them for cherries.

Serve atop basmati rice, turn on the Nino Rota and you’re there.  Swarthy in Sicily that is.

*Editor’s note – SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and is being used as an abbreviation for suncream despite having more syllables.

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A Confederate confection

In anticipation of what will hopefully be a long weekend of sunshine, we have a guest writer, Misti Traya, with her take on a classic drink from the Southern States of America:

Several years ago, I suffered from back-to-back incidents of strep throat.  When I saw Dr. Sugerman, he asked what I had been doing about the pain.  “Mint juleps,” I said.  To which he replied, “Honey, I don’t believe that’s been an actual prescription since 1865.  But if it gives you relief and these antibiotics continue to fail, keep on it.  Granddaddy always said juleps were his Sunday penicillin.”  Truer words were never spoken.

Despite their slightly medicinal reputation, mint juleps are delicious.  They are traditionally made with spearmint, bourbon, sugar and water and served in frosty silver cups that stir up romantic images of the American South.  The mint julep is a cocktail from another time. A time of steamboats and petticoats and gallant men who knew to wear seersucker only during the summer months between May and September.   Even the Northern poet dandy, Edgar Allan Poe, had a weakness for this boozy smasher.

The thing about drinking juleps is that it’s not all like drinking cocktails made from other spirits.  Sure, you can get drunk off them, but you don’t feel dark and dirty like you do with gin.  Juleps make you feel light-hearted.  And possibly like you want to jump in the pool with all your clothes on. Or maybe that’s just me.

Personally, I like to try and avoid diabetic coma by cutting the sweetness of my juleps with lemon. I also use sparkling water as opposed to flat.  My reason being that most things in life are better when effervescent. I am also fond of using Bushmills Irish whiskey as it’s a little smoother and fruitier than a single malt but not as sweet as  bourbon. Not that I have anything against a traditional julep, but Bushmills is my favourite.

To make mint juleps, one must first make a simple syrup. Add equal parts of finely granulated sugar and water along with a handful of mint to a small saucepan and boil. Gradually, the liquid will thicken and tinge with green. When it is quite viscous, remove from the heat and cool. Next, add two sprigs of mint to two frosted glasses. If you haven’t got sterling cups, classic highballs will do. Add 2 shots of Bushmills, a shot and a half of freshly squeezed lemon juice, and a shot of syrup.  Muddle all the ingredients then fill the glasses with ice. Finally top off with your favorite fizzy water and enjoy.

This post was originally published on the Food Network Blog.

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Spiced buttered cider – an American winter warmer

I don’t like mulled wine. I think it goes back to the time when I stored some precious wine in my parents’ garage and my mother mulled my 1995 Condado de Haza. I was bloody furious especially as I never got to taste what was probably the best mulled wine ever made. Most is made from the filthiest red. My wife, Misti, made this for Hallowe’en instead. I liked it so much, I am going to take a thermos of it with me to sip whilst watching the fireworks in Victoria Park on Guy Fawkes night. It’s delicious, not at all cloying and powerfully boozy. In America, where my wife is from, cider is non-alcoholic. In England  just use the most expensive fresh cloudy apple juice available though it might be fun to experiment with proper cider. The booze comes from the whisky.

Ingredients:

3.5 litres of apple juice

Juice of 3 lemons

Juice of 3 oranges

1 tbsp orange zest

1/2 tbsp lemon zest

1 tbsp butter

Whisky or bourbon at least 250ml (we used Maker’s Mark and little Whyte & McKay)

6 cloves

3 cinnamon sticks or bark

Put all the ingredients apart from the alcohol in a pan. Simmer gently for 30 minutes. Do not boil. Add a few slugs of whisky to taste.

Serve in small cups with an extra shot of bourbon in each.

Maker’s Mark and Whyte & Mackay are widely available.

Condado de Haza, always excellent especially hot with lots of cloves and sugar, Oddbins has the 2006 for £20.99