Tag Archives: gin

Juniper in January

Juniper berries in a bowl

There are many wintry casseroles which are pepped up by these piny purple pearls – I’m thinking venison braised slowly in red wine for starters – but lately I’ve gone a bit juniper mad and seem be slinging it in just about everything. If it carries on like this I might be getting an additional pepper grinder and filling it with juniper berries [hmmm, that’s actually not a bad idea…].

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s partly to blame after he devoted an entire Guardian Weekend article to it in November. I’d be quite happy with any of those dishes but getting the Shopkeeper to eat rabbit is frankly more trouble than it’s worth – he’s seen through my “it’s chicken” ruse before now and is on constant bunny alert – so I’ll save that one for another day. And whilst I was rather taken with the sound of the gratin I decided instead to use the idea of juniper infused cream in a parsnip and potato mash to go with coq au vin, and again as a topping for a red wine rich cottage pie. When I mentioned this on Twitter food writer Fiona Beckett said it sounded ‘totally delicious’ – and I don’t think she was wrong.

Then this week I decided that an onion gravy needed a juniper hit. I’d ended up buying some sausages in Fortnum and Mason’s [long story] and was in the mood for a saucy experiment worthy of my bling bangers. I always use Nigel Slater’s recipe as a base and to the caremelised onions I added crushed juniper and some slivers of sweet black garlic, and replaced the Madeira with a good glug of Hendrick’s gin. I will be doing this again.

But it’s not just a winter thing. Once the sun returns, assuming that it bothers this year, try making a simple vinaigrette and adding a few crushed juniper berries and a bruised garlic clove and allow to steep overnight. The next day make a salad of leaves and sweet little tomatoes, crumble in a mild lactic cheese like Wensleydale, or even a milder fresh goat’s cheese, anoint with the dressing and watch the juniper fall in love with the cheese.

And of course we can’t talk about juniper and not mention gin. Actually I find it difficult to have a conversation of any sort and not mention gin, especially when conversing with bar tenders. There’s more on the subject here if you’re thirsty for it.

Anyone for a G&T?

Gin and Tonic

Pour yourself a large one, and come this way for a moment…

Plum and Damson Crumble

Plums and damsons

Can there be a more beautiful sight in early autumn than a bowl full of juicy ripe plums [no sniggering at the back there!]? Red and purple as a sky bruised by sunset, a fine dusty must misting their taut skins. As the evenings begin to close in around you like the cardigans now emerging from the cupboards these beauties are crying out for a crumble made with warming wintry spice and, in this case, a hint of toffee and vanilla. This recipe is actually the offspring of the marriage of several others and combines the tart with the sweet – the final balance of the two being up to you and your tastes to decide. Regular readers will know that when cooking I often reach for the bottle, and this is no exception including as it does both damson or sloe gin and toffee vodka, but the alcohol here will all cook away so the crumble is quite safe for drivers, children and anyone following the twelve step programme.

For a crumble big enough for four, or six if you’ve already eaten well:

  • 250g damsons
  • 750g plums – you can mix varieties and degrees of ripeness
  • 150ml damson or sloe gin
  • 1 or 2 tbsps toffee vodka
  • 3 cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 50g butter
  • 2 tbsps golden syrup
  • ½ a vanilla pod, split down the middle
  • Caster sugar to taste, probably no more than 4 or 5 tbsps in total

For the crumble topping:

  • 190g plain flour
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 120g butter
  • The zest of a small orange

Start by preparing the damsons. I have seen recipes which ask you to stone the damsons first, but life is frankly too short, so rinse the fruit and place whole into a pan with your chosen gin, the cloves, and a cinnamon stick. Bring to the boil and simmer for around 15 minutes.  Take off the heat and taste, adding sugar to taste but remembering that this should be the tart component of your pudding. When cool fish out the cloves and cinnamon, then you can either pick out the now obvious stones from the damson pulp, or pass the whole lot through a fine sieve.

Next come the plums, which should be de-stoned and quartered. Heat the butter in a heavy bottomed pan and when foaming tip in the plums. Add the golden syrup, the toffee vodka, the other cinnamon stick and the vanilla pod and allow to bubble merrily away for five to ten minutes so that the plums begin to break down, but don’t collapse completely. Taste again for sweetness and add sugar if needed, but with the golden syrup in there you may not need any – much will depend on the sweetness of your plums. Remove from the heat and allow to cool before removing the cinnamon and vanilla. Add the damson puree and combine the two then give a final taste to check the overall balance of tart to sweet – not sweet enough, add more sugar, not tart enough, a squeeze of lemon juice.

To make the topping mix the flour and sugar with the grated orange zest, then cut the butter into cubes and rub into the flour and sugar mix with the tips of your fingers until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Pile this onto your fruity base. Place the dish on a tray [there is likely to be some spillage] and bake in a 200˚C oven for 25 to 30 minutes. The top should be golden and crunchy – a quick flash under a hot grill may help to finish it off – with slight eruptions of sticky sauce from within. My last attempt, made around the time of the Christchurch earthquake, and possibly in sympathy with it, experienced a little more seismic activity from beneath the crust than the ideal, but such is the way of crumbles. I was going to serve this with some homemade custard but there was a rare outbreak of clotted cream in the local store, so the custard recipe will have to wait for another day.

[recipe entered in the ‘Simple and In Season’ event over at Fablicious Food!]

Tomato Soup In A Flash


The other day I watched James Martin make this soup in five minutes, so – stopwatch at the ready –  I’m attempting the same.  I’m doing no pre-prep other than to line the ingredients up on the kitchen counter, possibly in nice little dishes and ramekins just like they do on the telly, and setting up equipment like plugging in the food processor [I’ll just have to manage without the lights and cameras]. In fact I’m sure James had his pan warming before he set off so I’m giving myself the same advantage. Other than that it’ll be a tomato soup time trial from a standing start.

I have made a couple of tiny tweaks to James’ recipe. My tomato to stock ratio is a little more tomato heavy, and there’s the addition of my secret ingredient for any tomato soup – gin! I’m not sure my mother would approve of this as a tin of Heinz tomato soup was always her restorative food of choice for an ailing infant, but tomato and gin soup has long been a favourite, and was my first course at the ‘everything must contain booze’ dinner I cooked for friends in Singapore some thirteen years ago. The same dinner, incidentally, where I flambéed eight fillet steaks all at once for the first time, producing a tremendous fireball which briefly engulfed my head, taking with it my fringe, eyebrows and lashes. I was told by the waiting guests who could see into the kitchen through a large hatch from the dining room that the pyrotechnics  rivalled the harbour fireworks display at the Singapore National Day celebrations, but it’s not a trick I’ve been keen to repeat since, and I most certainly would not recommend that you try it at home!

Anyhow I digress. For four dainty or two hefty portions of the soup you will need:

  • 1.2kg tomatoes
  • 4 fat garlic cloves
  • 1 small handful fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • A good glug of olive oil
  • 500ml hot vegetable  or chicken stock [vegetarians and vegans will clearly want the former]
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tsp caster sugar [or to taste]
  • 60ml double cream, plus extra to serve [this can be omitted for a vegan version]
  • 50ml gin, plus a dash to serve [optional]

So then, we’re under starters orders – and we’re off!

Pan’s on the heat, in with the oil and start to quarter the tomatoes. Tomatoes into the hot oil and as they fizz and spit chop the garlic. Garlic in, and tear the basil. Add tomato puree, stir, and gin. Salt, pepper, sugar. Basil in. Back to the simmer then pour in the hot stock, and back to simmering point again. Now into the blender or food processor. Whizz, adding the cream as you go. Ready a sieve over a waiting pan [I used the one where the stock had been warming], and pass through the blended soup. Return to a simmer for the final time, taste and adjust seasoning and sugar, and add a splash more gin.

Stop the clock!

My time? A not very respectable 15:00.2. This is not boding well for the three egg omelette challenge, but I’ll post any new personal bests here as and when. Do add comments with your own times. But even at 15 minutes, it’s hardly a huge investment of time for a fresh and tasty soup to beat any can.

Tomato Soup