Archive for the ‘drinks’ Category

caveman (after Banksy)

Man discovered alcohol thousands of years ago – without doubt as a result of a fortuitous accident with fermenting fruit.  But as sure as God made little red grapes, that man stumbled upon a hangover the following morning. And he’s been looking for a cure ever since…

As lows follow highs, after a night of alcoholic fun and frolics we inescapably suffer the consequences of our indulgences. A throbbing head that feels as if it has just been removed from the freezer..  sandpapery eyes.. a dry mouth with a despicable taste.. and an overall feeling of nausea..  are some of the ways our body warns us that the alcohol has delivered a toxic blow to our body’s key defence systems and to take things easy for a while.

To be technical about it, alcohol is broken down into a toxin which the liver’s enzymes turn into acetate – hence the horrid taste in your mouth. Secondly, alcohol causes serious dehydration, which is largely responsible for the headaches that form part and parcel of every hangover. Lastly (but not leastly) there are additives in alcohol called congeners that deliver the final blow. These congeners can be natural components (like phenols in grapes for instance) or colourings or flavourings.  But they can also be a by-product of the methods used in creating alcohol (like aldehydes which develop during ageing or distilling processes, or sulphites which are added later).  All of these additives however can produce unpleasant after-effects.

a hangover kind-of feeling...

Generally speaking: the fewer the congeners, the lighter the colour, the purer the drink and the milder the hangover.  Thus it is believed that red wine, brandy and port give worse hangovers than vodka.

Whatever the case, when a hangover hits us we need help.  Most of us have with experience developed a more or less successful way of dealing with it – the preferred method staying in bed all day.  Some of us try taking pledges never to get into such a state again but the problem with this cure is that somewhere in the back of our thumping head, a little voice reminds us that that’s exactly what we said the last time..  So what other options are there?

water and more water...

Best of course is to avoid a hangover either by drinking copious amounts of water or by drinking less alcohol at a slower rate – both methods help the body to keep up with metabolising the consumed alcohol (some say at a rate of about one measure an hour).  We can also try reduce alcohol absorption by lining our stomach walls with fats before a binge.  A generous helping of greasy fish and chips is effective but if that doesn’t appeal, try some Mediterranean fare that has been generously drenched in olive oil.  Honey too is good for boosting the ability to metabolise toxins, as is oxygen – preferably in the form of some vigorous exercise before or during the blowout. (I can think of a few exciting workouts besides a few laps around the block).  Don’t however reach for the coffee jar – while many believe that a few cups of the dark brew is not only sobering but also helps to reduce the feared morning-after symptoms – IT DOES NOT.  Coffee is a powerful diuretic and therefore only adds to the dehydration of an already dried-out body – all of which of course will make the hangover worse.

So much for trying to prevent a hangover.  But what to do when, having ignored the above advice, the hangover has struck?  Many experienced party animals swear by the beneficial effects of a sturdy fry-up (with plenty of strong tea), believing that it can soak-up the alcohol after the event.  Others consider a hamburger and chips with a large bottle of Pepsi a decent morning-after fix.  Plenty of citrus juice has its fans too – it does revitalise but if the hangover is targeting your stomach as accurately as your head, you may want to avoid a high-acid attack on an already delicate body part (in which case opt for milder fruit such as a fresh chunk of watermelon, or banana smoothie).

The fry-up

For many carbohydrates usually do the trick – lots of freshly made toast which (to keep the cellulite happy) should be dripping with melting butter and perhaps a lick of honey and marmite (together of course).  Alternatively, in winter, a big bowl of comfort porridge with a good slug of Baileys, might just do the job.  For ideas on more exotic cures Keith Floyd, a ex-veteran hangover-survivor himself, has lovingly compiled an entire book on potent pick-me-ups. It’s called Floyd on Hangovers and favours among others the ‘Corpse Reviver’ (recipe below) and ‘Lactade’ – a rather drastic solution used by vets to reverse the process of dehydration and depletion of salts and sugars in dogs that suffer from parvovirus (a potentially fatal form of dog-gastroenteritis).

Obviously, there are as many hangover cures as there are alcoholic drinks on this earth – many of them as obscure as they are outrageous and many boasting the common denominator that they may not always stand up to rigorous scrutiny.  For who would voluntarily try the Puerto Rican favourite way of dealing with the after effects of alcohol excess – calling for a lengthy rub of a citrus fruit into both armpits?  Argentinian cow-hands apparently like nothing better than a plate of fried bull’s testicles to vanquish the demons after a hard night, whilst some Haitians recommend sticking thirteen black-headed pins into the bottle(s) from which you’ve been drinking (the concentration required to manipulate twenty-six pins if you’ve drunk 2 bottles, may take your mind temporarily off your suffering).  The Fins are perhaps the most determined in their hangover treatment (first a sauna to make the body sweat and thus rid the system of toxins, followed by a roll in the snow to shake off any residual tiredness) while the Russians tend to be the most resigned about their situation – feeling no need to restore themselves to a state of grace – they simply go on drinking..  The Japanese however who show the most scientific approach – they simply top-up on complex vitamin B supplements (the vitamins most depleted after a night of boozy merriment) in the form of calves’ liver – chopped, spooned out of a glass, and exceedingly raw.

Milk Thistle extract

The simple truth is that there are thousands of ‘cures’ some more worthy than others and it’s a matter of experimenting to find out what works best for you – being kind to your liver being the essence.  Medical studies have shown over and over again that the herb milk-thistle (available from health shops) efficiently helps your liver to survive an alcohol battering – few drops taken with water before you go to sleep and then again the following morning is probably the soundest method to fix a hangover.  Tea made from dandelion root also helps the liver to recuperate and has been used for centuries in France to treat overdoses of alcohol and rich food.

Having said this, there is still another popular way of dealing with a hangover.  Rather than fighting it, you’re advised to ‘go with it’ (the so-called hair-of-the-dog) – the main objective being to get you back on that horse before you spend too much time reflecting on your early morning pledge.  These will either easy your suffering instantly, or send you back to sleep…

Further Effective Hints to help with Hangovers

A sensual massage (neck and temples) may soothe a pounding head, especially if executed with a few drops of aromatherapy oil of lavender, clary sage or rosemary.  Or drizzle a few drops of thyme oil in cold water and dab gently on your thumping temples with a face cloth.  Then there’s the old reliable Alka Selzer or Solpadene…

Clarins’ Beauty Flash Balm – the ultimate miracle worker – can always be relied upon to lift bags that look baggier when you least need it. Use as a 10-minute mask to rejuvenate or under make-up.  Or for morning-after puffy eyes keep a supply of stainless steel teaspoons in the fridge and apply as needed. Alternatively Clinique eye gel is refreshing and ‘de-puffs’.

Make sure you own some Cesaria Evora music – her sensual Sodade rendition on the Miss Perfumado CD is one of life’s great soothers.

From DIY stores – a total black-out blind.

Tuck a few ready-bought smoothies into the fridge for emergencies.


First served during the 1920s in Paris at Harry’s Bar, its variations are legion, using anything from clam juice, beef stock, horseradish and garlic, to cumin, celery salt, fresh herbs and even soy sauce. Very popular nowadays to ‘infuse’ the vodka with fresh chillies. I’ve used a stick of celery as a ‘stirrer’ but the McIlhenny family (of Tabasco fame) serve it with Zydeco Green Beans (see recipe below). You may want to adjust the seasoning, depending on your liking of spices.  Just keep tasting!

To make 1 drink you need:

  • 50ml vodka
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • good dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2-3 dashes of Tabasco sauce
  • 3-4 dashes of lemon or lime juice
  • 200ml tomato juice
  • pinch of salt

Enough for 6.

  • 300 ml vodka
  • ½ to 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1-2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • ½  tsp Tabasco sauce (or to taste)
  • juice of 1-2 lemons or 3 limes
  • 1.2 litre tomato juice
  • 1 tsp salt

Combine all of the ingredients, stir well and serve in tall, ice-filled glasses. Garnish with a celery stick.


The remedy favoured by P Wodehouse’s butler Jeeves, to revive the young Bertram Wooster after his regular beanos at his club the Drones.  Not for the faint-hearted but the kind of cure you have to try at least once!  For 1.

  •  few drops of olive oil
  • 1 egg yolk
  • large dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • large dash of Tabasco
  • pinch of salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp vinegar

Rinse a cocktail glass with olive oil and without breaking, slide in the egg yolk. Sprinkle on the seasoning and serve. This cocktail is best drunk quickly in one – for obvious reasons! Alternatively, serve it on a large spoon.


Enough for 1 corpse.

  •  25ml brandy
  • 25ml Fernet Branca (or vermouth rosso)
  • 25ml calvados

Shake the ingredients over ice and strain into a frosted martini glass. If you think your corpse will be cheered up by this, garnish with a slice or twist of orange.


Serves 1.

  •  25ml Fernet Branca
  • 25ml dry white vermouth
  • large dash of crème de menthe
  • sprig of mint

Shake all ingredients over ice and strain into an ice-filled glass. Garnish with a sprig of mint then serve.


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white-flowering BLACKthorn

Ireland, Inishmore, Aran Islands.  Very early spring 1992.

And so that white-flowering bush that’s everywhere… is what they call WHITE thorn?

‘No’ Olwen said. ‘That’s BLACK thorn. It’ll produce sloes later on…’

Blackthorn blossom

Wrong time of the year of course (I must be getting old if memories are making me post a Sloe Gin recipe in spring…!!)

Sloes - early autumn


  • 300 freshly picked sloes
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 1 litre of gin

With a needle or skewer prick the sloes all over and put into a clean bottle or jar.  Add the sugar, then pour in the gin.  Shake well and put aside.  For the next week, shake the bottle/jar well at least twice a day, then store in a cool, dark place and shake occasionally (one every two weeks) for a few months.  Make in autumn, and the beautiful dark red liquor is ready to drink at Christmas.

Variations: you can use blackberries or raspberries in the same way (they don’t need pricking)… You can also use vodka in stead of gin…  You can serve it poured over icecreams and desserts…

Sloe Gin

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strawberry smoothie

We often make smoothies instead of just serving orange juice on its own… I tend not to add yoghurt as we offer that separately with a compote of fresh fruit.

My smoothie base is orange juice and a banana (to thicken it a little) and then I add whatever seasonal fruit we have on hand… perhaps strawberries (as here) or raspberries… Or when peaches and apricots are in season, I use them.  Kiwis also make a delicious vitamin-loaded wake-up drink and don’t forget fragrant melons…  A smoothie is an experiment that hardly ever goes wrong…

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Party time!

party time!

December equals party time and party time equals December. Only perhaps this year we might be a little more cautious when it comes to lavish entertaining…

So what if we have a list of people to invite – either because we’ve enjoyed their hospitality once (or more often), or because we want various friends to meet or simply because it’s Christmas and a party is a wonderful excuse to gather?

Well, rather than inviting small groups for individual dinner parties, the easiest and least expensive way to ‘catch up’ on outstanding invitations is to throw a drinks party. And it doesn’t have to cost the earth.



  • Make lists and more lists… of guests, of the foods you want to serve, of shopping to do and of jobs to do…
  • Engage help from friends to prepare and serve as well as clean-up afterwards – make sure to brief them if they’ve never done this kind of work before
  • Clear the kitchen and living room as much as possible, leaving only a few chairs for people to sit down and a few tables to leave food and glasses – the bedroom is the place for coats.

cocktail bites

Use large platters or trays to hand around food – wrap in foil if they’re not pretty enough

Allow for extra glasses – people always ‘lose’ them during the party

Most people will bring a bottle – even so, allowing for non-drinking drivers you should count on 4 glasses per person (there are 5 in a bottle)

To cool beer and wine line dustbins or toy boxes with a large, heavyweight rubbish bag, then put in enough ice to cover the bottom, place bottles on top and cover with more ice


smoked salmon

  • Count on at least 10 bites per person.  Parties do not need hours of work in the kitchen – easy readymade party foods include:
  • Crusty bread or potato wedges with ready-bought hummous, garlic mayo, pesto or salsas. You can also serve dips with vegetables such as cauliflower and broccoli florets, sticks of carrot, courgette, pepper and cucumber, button mushrooms or radishes…
  • Bowls of marinated olives from foodmarket stalls, mixed with cubes of feta cheese and cherry tomatoes (serve with cocktail sticks)
  • Grilled cocktail sausages with a grainy mustard or relish (remember the cocktail sticks)
  • Stonebaked pizzas, cut into bite-size pieces
  • Bowls of nuts, crisps and other ready-bought cocktail snacks
  • Frozen, ready-to-throw-in-the-oven sausage rolls
  • Crostini (thin slices of baguette which have been dried and crisped in a low oven beforehand and kept in an airtight tin) topped with things like salami with slices of gherkins, goatscheese with onion jam, brie with halved grapes, tapenade with pieces of hardboiled egg, small slices of cooked black pudding with a blob of chutney etc.



  • Bubbly puts everyone immediately in a good mood so it’s nice to give a glass on arrival. It doesn’t have to be champagne: cheaper alternatives are Spanish Cava, Italian Prosecco or French Blanquette de Limoux.
  • If it’s very cold outside you might want to welcome people with a glass of gluewein (red wine simmered with a little sugar, an orange, a stick of cinnamon and some cloves) or even a small shotglass of a delicious hot soup!
  • To keep the drivers happy, Shloer sparkling wine juice or Ame are good alternatives. And don’t forget still and sparkling mineral water!



Delicious, cheap and really easy. Can be made a day ahead and baked at the last minute. You can also add chopped anchovies, sundried tomatoes or fresh herbs to the basic recipe. Makes about 80 bites.

  • 1 loaf of pre-sliced toast pan
  • 300g cheddar cheese, grated
  • 2-3 large onions, chopped
  • few tbsp of mayonnaise

In a bowl mix cheddar and onions together with just enough mayonnaise to bind it all together. Remove crusts from bread and cut each slice into 4 equal squares. Spread mixture thickly onto each piece of bread, place on baking trays, cover with clingfilm and refrigerate until needed. When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 220’C and bake for 10 minutes or until the bread is crisp and the topping a bubbling, golden brown.

cucumber boats


  • 2 cucumbers
  • 1 vacuum pack of smoked mackerel fillets
  • 5-6 tbsp of Greek yoghurt
  • 1 tbsp horseradish sauce
  • (optional garnishes : finely chopped chilli, fresh tarragon or dill etc)

Halve the cucumbers lengthways and with a small spoon remove the centre. Lightly salt and set aside till most of the liquid is drained off. Remove the skin from the mackerel and place in a food processor. Add yoghurt and horseradish and whiz until you have a nice thick paste. Wipe the cucumbers dry with kitchenpaper then fill with mackerel paste and refrigerate. Cut into bite-size pieces before serving.


chicken sate

There’s no need for a peanut dip with this recipe as it has been added to the marinade.

  • 1kg chicken breasts, cut in bite-size pieces
  • for the marinade:
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 6 tbsp crunchy peanut butter
  • 2 tbsp ground cumin
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 5 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • salt and pepper

Mix all the marinade ingredients in a bowl. Add the chicken and refrigerate overnight. Thread two chicken pieces onto each cocktail stick and place on a baking tray. Preheat the oven to 220’C and bake for 15-20 minutes or until cooked, then allow to cool and refrigerate till needed. When ready to serve, reheat in a hot oven for 5-8 minutes.


Great recipe that doesn’t lose its colour, unlike the real thing. Besides, little sweet frozen peas are easier to find than ripe avocados! If you don’t like chillies, use finely chopped tomato.

  • 1 kg frozen petit pois
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons fresh limejuice
  • salt ,pepper and a pinch of sugar
  • 1 red serrano chilli, chopped
  • 1 pck fresh coriander, chopped
  • 2 bags of tortilla chips

Simmer the peas in boiling water for 4 minutes then refresh under cold water and drain. Transfer to a foodprocessor and whiz with the olive oil, limejuice and onion, then season with sugar, salt and pepper to your liking. Stir in the chilli (or tomato) and coriander and serve with corn chips.

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