Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Boozy Bakes: Orange & Cinnamon Madeleines

Ahh, madeleines... those stunning little French sponge cakes shaped like shells (try saying that quickly!)

They have that certain je ne sais quoi about them; other than their beautiful scalloped edges, they're pretty plain, yet somehow they still manage to ooze class and that Parisian sophistication we all seem to lust after.

Looks aside, Madeleines taste flippin' amazing too. Pillows of butter, almond and vanilla (and in this case zest and spice); I can just imagine myself nibbling one while sipping a cup of tea in a cafe along the Seine. THE perfect afternoon treat! 

But wait, this is a drinks blog right? "Don't give us a classic recipe", I hear you cry, "Vinspire's all about boozy bakes!"

So, to add a bit of Va Va Voom to these Frenchies, I've gone down the Cointreau route. Madeleines infused with orange zest and cinnamon, brushed with a Cointreau (or any other orange based liqueur) glaze. Yu-um. 

AND like those Cookies 4 Gin that I featured years ago, these make the best accompaniment to a little alcoholic beverage, particularly a Cointreau-based tipple like one of my personal faves - a White Lady

I think madeleines have been given a bit of a bad rep in terms of being tricky to make, but I've found no problem whatsoever with this recipe (adapted from Harry Eastwood's Skinny French Kitchen - like the Kir Royale Macarons).

For those of you who care, it's actually a low calorie version - more calories saved for cocktails, yay - cutting out a lot of the butter you'd find in traditional recipes. By doing this I guess it doesn't give you the crisp crust you'd typically get, but it still gives you the springiest (is that a word?!) sponges.

If you don't have a Madeleine tin - they're not exactly essential kitchen cookware - then you could use a well greased cupcake tin instead. They'll taste the same, just won't have "the look".

Restrain yourself, madeleines are best eaten cooled, and if you've managed to not eat them all at once, they will keep for up to three days in an airtight container. That said, they are at their best on the day they're made, so certainly don't feel guilty for eating more than your fair share!

Now get yourself a Cointreau, read the recipe, and get baking!

Orange & Cinnamon Madeleines recipe
(makes 24)

  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil, for brushing
  • 4 medium free range eggs
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 100g plain flour, sieved
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 80g ground almonds
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon 
  • zest of 1 orange
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract 
  • 50g butter, melted

For the glaze:

  • 2 tbsp Cointreau (or other orange liqueur)
  • 3 tbsp icing sugar, sieved


  1. Preheat the oven to 210 C and brush a little oil inside the madeleine moulds.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, salt and sugar until pale and bubbly. Next, add the remaining ingredients and mix until fully combined. 
  3. Spoon the mixture into the madeleine moulds, filling them only three-quarters of the way up (you'll have to do two batches, so don't use it all!) 
  4. Put the filled madeleine tray in the freezer for 10 minutes (or in the fridge for 30) and refrigerate the remaining mixture for the next batch. It's important to chill the cake mixture at this stage, since it's the contrast between hot and cold that gives you the characteristic little bump. 
  5. Once chilled, cook in the middle of the oven for 10 minutes. 
  6. Remove the cooked madeleines from the oven, unmould and wash the mould before repeating the process of greasing and refilling, freezing and cooking. 
  7. Once cooled, make the glaze by mixing the Cointreau and icing sugar together. Liberally brush onto the top of each madeleine. 
  8. Dust with additional icing sugar if desired. Enjoy! 

Cocktail image taken from Farther Along's photostream under the CCL. 

Monday, 28 August 2017

Cooking with Booze: Vermouth Braised Fennel with Butter & Parmesan

Ah, Monday... So begins another week.

I don’t know about you, but my Monday’s are usually filled with good intentions. Be it hard work, health or housecleaning, having a ‘fresh start’ on a Monday, where you can wipe your slate clean if needs be, gives you enough positivity to see you through to Friday.

Don’t worry; I’m not going all spiritual or preachy on you. Sometimes a good intention could simply be to shake up your weekly routine, to try something new, or to make the effort to cook something completely different for dinner one night. Hell, why not combine the three! (You can see where I’m going with this can’t you?)

We featured Contratto Vermouth ages ago, but I'm still a fan, and I thought that I should attempt to do something other than just drink them. Madness, I know, but being quite a keen cook, I went on the hunt for a vermouth-y recipe to tackle. Now, as it was mid-week, I didn’t want to slave over the stove for hours on end after work, so it had to be something pretty straightforward.

A bit of Googling uncovered a Simon Hopkinson recipe that took my fancy; Vermouth Braised Fennel with Butter and Parmesan. I tweaked it a teeny bit, but although it technically takes just over an hour, it’s easy peasy, and leaving it to do its thing in the oven means you can get on with whatever else you need to do.

So, faaaaabulous fennel! Its aniseed flavour can split opinions, and eating it raw is totally different to eating it cooked. Cooking it transforms it from a crunchy celery-like bulb, to a soft, supple, and liquorice-sweet vegetable. Braising it in vermouth deepens its flavour, and although it adds sweetness, the butter and parmesan make sure there’s a salty savoury stamp on it. It’s delicious.

Simon Hopkinson tells us that this dish is a perfect partner to roast lamb, yes please, but it is also a great veggie dish on its own. In which case, I’d put some carbs with it, some lentils or pearl barley cooked in stock (that’s what I did, with a nice salad), pasta tossed in olive oil and parmesan, or even some polenta. Alternatively, fennel is often paired with fish, so a chunky piece of white fish – modestly seasoned with salt, pepper and lemon – would probably do it too.

And what to drink with it? Well, if you’re going down the lamb route, then maybe re-read Laura’s Easter post on what to drink with roast lamb, and probably plump for Chianti. For everything else, it really depends on what you’re putting with the fennel, whether it will be the main attraction or not. You could keep it Italian with a dry white, perhaps a Soave, or even venture to Riesling and Chardonnay territories...

Whatever you choose, just make sure your good intention this week is to bloody enjoy it!

Vermouth Braised Fennel with Butter & Parmesan

(serves 2 as a side dish)


  • 1 large fennel bulb (approx 350-400g) trimmed, halved, trimmings reserved
  • 25g butter
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 tbsp dry vermouth
  • a generous splash pastis (optional, alternatively add more dry vermouth)
  • 30g parmesan (or similar vegetarian hard cheese), grated, plus extra for serving

  1. Preheat the oven to 170C.
  2. Melt the butter in a casserole dish over a low heat (or use any ovenproof pan with a lid). Place the fennel into the butter cut-side down, and scatter around the trimmings. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and crank up the heat.
  3. Add the vermouth and pastis (or more vermouth). Cover with a sheet of foil loosely pressed down on the vegetables, and put the lid on top. Place into the oven to cook for 30 minutes.
  4. Remove the dish from the oven and turn the fennel halves over. Add a splash of water if it’s looking a little dry. Re-cover and return to the oven to cook for a further 30 minutes, or until very tender when poked with a knife.
  5. Preheat the grill to high. Remove the fennel from the dish, place in a shallow oven-proof dish cut-side up, cover with foil and place in the bottom of the oven while you make the sauce.
  6. Pour the trimmings and cooking juices through a fine sieve suspended over a small pan. Warm through and add two thirds of the parmesan. Blend with a hand blender until it’s a smooth and creamy consistency.
  7. Spoon the mixture over the fennel, sprinkle with the remaining cheese, and place under the grill. Cook until the surface is pale golden-brown, the parmesan should be just bubbling around the edges.
  8. Serve with an extra grating of parmesan if you wish.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Productos del Marco: Bringing the best produce from Jerez, Spain, to the UK

One of my favourite things about going on holiday is being able to pick up food, and of course alcohol, that I know I’d never be able to find anywhere in the UK.

I usually bring things home in my suitcase, and then hold on to them for ages as I know it’ll be highly unlikely that I’ll get my hands on the products again.

However, a new online business, Productos del Marco, set up by Cardiffian Graeme Hooper, could change that, at least if you’re looking for products from El Marco del Jerez, Spain.

Graeme first visited Jerez de la Frontera in Spain around a decade ago. He saw a Lipizzaner horse display in Cardiff, and traced it back to the pure-bred Andalucian horse. This led him to Jerez, which is home to the Real Escuela de Arte Equestrian (Royal School for Equestrian Art), and he fell in love with the place. He now visits four or five times a year.

During his many visits over the years, he met plenty of local people, and discovered more about the amazing food and drink culture in Jerez. Of course, that included sherry.

“I didn’t know Jerez existed ten years ago, and now I don’t really go anywhere else. It’s a very undiscovered area,” Graeme said.

Having wanted to start an e-commerce business for a while, and now having a new passion, the mix seemed obvious. Graeme met with two friends in Jerez – Antonio and Joanna – who had previously owned a boutique hotel in the town, and they were keen to get on board, along with his friend David Mitchell back in Cardiff.

“I bumped into Antonio and told him I’d had a few ideas about importing products into the UK… next thing he’s parked outside my door and we’re driving around the countryside finding amazing products,” Graeme said.

Graeme speaks candidly about the products he is selling, and the potential difficulties. “While sherry is fairly well developed in London now, I think it’ll take a while to get into the provinces.”

Productos del Marco

All the products sold on Productos del Marco come from the sherry triangle called El Marco de Jerez, between Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa Maria. The company currently sells sherry, brandy, sherry vinegar, wines, oils, charcuterie, cured cheeses, cured fish products from Barbate, chocolates from Cadiz, salt (which comes from a hole in the ground and is used by many of Spain’s top restaurants), and hand crafted Andalucian pottery.

And they’re not stopping there. Graeme is looking to expand Productos del Marco’s offering in the next few months with rare breed Retinto beef, Iberian pork, organic honey, and orange dessert wines. “It’s slightly further west of the area, but they make wine from oranges. It’s very unusual.”

The business in purely online, and sells to the public, and to delis and restaurants across the UK.

Sherry – so much more than Harvey’s Bristol Cream

If you have no idea where to start with sherry, our post takes you through each of the different types of sherry, and how it's produced.

I’ve asked a few people recently whether they like sherry, and most people referenced their grandmas at some point in the conversation.

Graeme said, “With sherry, it’s almost trying to get people to ignore what their brain is telling them. They think it’s super creamy and sweet, and are surprised when it’s bone dry. Unless it’s Pedro Ximenez of course.

“If people get through that first sip, and stick with it, within two or three glasses, their whole opinion will change.

“It’s an extremely good value product when you think about the work that goes into it. If you’re buying three bottles of wine for a tenner, you’re basically getting the wine for free and all you’re paying is duty and taxes… what are you drinking when it’s £3.20 a bottle?”

For someone that hasn’t got into sherry before, Graeme recommends starting with Manzanilla. “The lightest, coldest one you can get your hands on. Bowl of olives. Summer evening. Ease yourself in.”

Graeme changes his sherries with the seasons: Fino and Manzanilla in summer, Amontillado in autumn, and Oloroso in winter. “Those flavours and conditions go with what you’re tasting.” I would add that you have to add a Pedro Ximenez to your Christmas booze list, as it tastes like the best Christmas pudding ever!

And if you’re looking for an ideal sherry and food pairing, keep it simple. “On a sunny evening, you can’t beat sitting there with a glass of Fino eating some cured pork,” Graeme suggested.

The products

Graeme sent me a range of his products to try from Productos del Marco. Fortunately we had some nice weather in which to enjoy them too. Just like being in Jerez right? 

Unfortunately I don’t currently have a garden (the joys of renting down south), so took the Alhocen Chardonnay down to the park like the classy girl I am. The wine is fermented and aged for four months in French oak barrels, and a further four months in the bottle before being sold. I thought it was perfect for summer. You get a bit of the oak on the nose, along with grapefruit and apricot, and that stays in the mouth, too. Some people seem to still be a bit funny about Chardonnay at the moment (after it had its big moment a few years ago), but I think it’s completely rubbish and they’d likely really love this.
And of course, the sherry. I got into sherry a good few years ago, but like Graeme said, it took me a few attempts.

I roasted some almonds with sea salt and smoked paprika, and fried some padron peppers with sea salt, and drizzled with olive oil. I had these alongside the anchovy fillets, and tuna Graeme had sent, and the delicious cheese. Graeme said the majority of the region makes cured goats’ cheese, which is a slightly acquired taste. I loved it, and my friend who hates goats’ cheese tucked in (it might have been that I said it was sheep cheese... sorry). It’s very tangy, but neither the cheese or the sherry struggles to stand up to the other. The Fino went especially well with the queso semicurado pasteurizado, and the spicier one (which is coated with pimento) with the Amontillado.

And I finished all that off with a snifter of Fernando de Castilla solera gran reserva brandy de Jerez. It's a very, very good quality Spanish brandy made using the traditional method. It's matured in oak barrels previously used to make sherry, too. You get that hint of oak on the nose, but it's also very clean and elegant. It's not harsh at all, very fruity, and elegant, with a long finish.

Unless I get myself over to Jerez, or to one of a handful of very good Spanish restaurants in London, I know I won't be able to get hold of products like these, so it's great to see that Graeme has got my back. Although after trying all this, and reading about Tim's recent trip to the sherry triangle, I'm already looking at flights...

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Exploring the Sherry Triangle with Genuine Andalusia

If you've been following my posts for a while, you may have picked up that I have developed a passion for all-things sherry. I freely admit that up until a couple of years ago, I would have been a little bit sniffy about the idea of sherry - it was something that older people drank, wasn't it? I am not afraid to admit when I am wrong, and when it comes to sherry I was very wrong. Fortunately I have been able to put this right over the last couple of years; in particular through going to a couple of sherry-tasting masterclasses by Beltran Domecq at the annual Wines of Spain tasting, but also through visiting the sherry-producing area as I am lucky to have a sister-in-law who lives in the area.

At the end of June we paid a visit to this sister-in-law and had an absolutely splendid time (including visiting a 2* restaurant in the area which you can read about here), in particular spending a day with a travel-company that she works with called "Genuine Andalusia", who specialise in bespoke tours for people with a focus on uncovering hidden gems and putting you in contact with real Andalusian people and businesses. One of Genuine Andalusia's areas of particular expertise is their sherry tours, so we were very keen to get along and check out what they had to offer.

Visiting small-scale producers

We started our trip with a real treat, we visited a small-scale producer by the name of Domingo whose vineyards are in the Macharnudo Pago (think sub-appellations) of Jerez. Domingo's family own a relatively sizeable set of vineyards, most of which produces grapes that go in to a local co-operative who produce sherries on their behalf (thus sharing the cost of production between a larger group of people). In recent times Domingo has started keeping some of his grapes for his own production and has started his own small-batch solera system, which allows him to produce  a little of his own sherry as a project. Now, you can't buy Domingo's products as he doesn't sell any bottles, this is purely for his own enjoyment.  

We started our visit with a walk through Domingo's vineyards. He took us around the site and explained how the different vineyards are laid out differently according to the topography of the particular site - for instance the best sites are laid out in what is termed the "royal layout" with a vertical orientation (perpendicular to the hill) with a wide-enough gap between the vines to allow horses to go through; manual intervention is preferred on Domingo's sites to mechanical (even though hand-picking costs five times as much as mechanical). The abundance of grapes on the vines as you explored really served to show how well these vines were being tended to, even in the punishing Andalusian summer sun and it was very evident that Domingo was exceedingly proud of these vines.

After the vineyards we were taken to Domingo's small bodega on the site, which contained his solera systems producing sherries and sherry vinegar. Domingo explained to us a little bit of the solera system and how we used it to make his wines, then we got into the important business of the day - tasting his wines! We tried several Fino-style sherries along with a couple of darker, oloroso-style sherries. The Finos were unlike any sherry that I had tried before, the second a young Palo Cortado style sherry had juicy Amalfi lemon notes; if you served this to my blind I would have sworn that it was a Mosel Riesling! After this we tried another Fino that was slightly cloudier, but again had surprising floral and tropical fruit notes on the nose; this one had more "heat" on the palate, reminding you that it was a sherry and hence had a decent whack of alcohol to it. The Olorosos were similarly interesting with the second of these being my favourite, it was a light caramel colour, with a pleasingly exotic nose; on the palate it was beautifully sweet with touches of caramel and dried fruits to it, but there was also an intriguing savoury side to the wine which added balance on the long finish. Very impressive!

Along with these beautiful wines, Domingo (or more accurately Domingo's mother) prepared a delicious lunch, which was certainly needed as Domingo is a generous pourer and there were no spittoons! We had some local beans, a tuna and potato salad (slathered with local olive oil) and, of course, those fantastic Spanish tomatoes - which every time I taste them make a more and more convincing case of the need to move to Spain.

Domingo only takes visitors that have been organised through Genuine Andalusia, but this was a really fantastic opportunity to meet a producer (especially a small-scale one who is basically having to do everything himself) and learn about the realities of sherry production.

You can see that this is a real passion for Domingo and this really comes through in everything that he does.

From small-scale to LARGE-SCALE!

After visiting a small-scale, local producer it was time to check out one of the big boys - we headed to Jerez de la Frontera to go to Bodegas Tradicion, one of the most famous sherry producers in the Triangle. We were treated to a private tour by Genuine Andalusia's Diana who took us around the Bodegas starting with their very impressive art gallery, which featured some very interesting art works (the family who own Bodegas Tradicion made a lot of their money in dealing in art), including a lot of middle-age and early modern European religious paintings and artifacts. My favourite was this picture of a bullfighter by J. Jimenez Aranda (below left) - this guy just oozes attitude. We also saw some small pieces by a very young (I think he was 10 or so) Pablo Picasso depicting that favourite Andalusian activity of bull-fighting (below right).

After the gallery we started exploring the Bodegas' cellars, which were vast and labyrinthine and really served to illustrate the scale of their production versus a small producer like Domingo. I am always reminded of a cathedral when I visit Bodegas, the buildings are so tall but there is a stillness and a sense of timeless tranquility within. Perhaps this translates itself to the reverence that wine-lovers treat their beloved wines with (or maybe I'm taking this analogy a bit far...!).

The Wines

After exploring the Bodegas for a little while, it was time for the main event - to taste their wines! We made our way to a tastefully decorated and rather comfortable study, where Diana led us on a tasting (as you can see below).

We started with the Fino Tradicion which had a properly sherry nose with a slight salinity to it. On tasting it was fresh with again a slight saltiness to it. There was some citrus fruit acidity (lemon), which gave it a pleasing elegance and brightness.

Next up was a VORS Amontillado. Most of the sherries from Bodegas Tradicion that we tasted fall into the "VORS" categorisation, which means "Very Old and Rare Sherries", i.e. the wine has received at least 30 years of ageing on average (I say on average because of the nature of the solera system). This wine had a very interesting nose which I noted smelled like "glue and pineapple"...! On tasting, however, this wine came into its own - it had tremendous breadth to it with a touch of woodiness, combined with a juiciness and had a tremendous complexity to it.

We continued our tasting with a VORS Palo Cortado which had a slight sweetness to it, which reminded me of butterscotch. On tasting it had a taste that reminded me of salted cashews - that's got to be a good thing, right?! This was a beautiful wine, which I bought a bottle of because it was so good (although it wasn't cheap at €70 a bottle).

Moving on up (as Heather Small from "M People" would say), we next tried a VORS Oloroso which had a more perfumed (but less complex) nose than the previous wine. I found this to be an interesting wine, but didn't quite hit the heights of the previous wine in terms of complexity or profundity.

Time to move on to the sweet stuff! First up we tried their VOS Cream (which is made from 70% Oloroso and 30% PX), which was full of delicious butterscotch and hazelnut aromas. On the palate the texture was very full-bodied, the wine really coats your mouth nicely. The tasting notes are of bright, tropical fruits, with a decently long finish. It wasn't overly complex, but it was certainly a pleasing tasting experience.

Last up on our tasting flight was the VOS PX. This went even deeper on the nose with rich coffee, burnt caramel and some herbal notes. Once more on the mouth there was a luxuriating mouth feel to the wine with some delicious chocolate and coffee notes that went deeper than the previous wine. The last wine was more of a crowd-pleaser, but this was a real purists wine - it  showed the depth and complexity that a good PX can have. A beautiful way to finish a lovely tasting.


As you can probably tell we had an absolutely brilliant day with Genuine Andalusia - I can certainly recommend their services if you are looking to organise a trip to the Sherry Triangle. They can adapt their tours to your particular requirements and would be happy to discuss these with you. You can contact the team by emailing them at: hola@genuineandalusia.com

I must say a huge gracias to Ivan and Diana from Genuine Andalusia for organising a wonderful day for my wife and I - we had a great time.

Disclaimer: I did not pay for this tour as it was gifted to me. Nonetheless, the opinions contained within this article are my true opinions and were not swayed by the hospitality offered.  

Monday, 14 August 2017

The Mixologist's Garden: a botanically-brilliant cocktail infographic from Bloom&Wild

Floral cocktails are all over the place at the moment. Whether it's frozen orchids in ice balls, pretty edible accompaniments floating on the top of your G+T, or any number of 'English Garden'-esque drinks, you'll struggle to avoid them in a cocktail bar.

My most recent experience of flowers in cocktails was at The Gibson - an amazing cocktail bar/experience in London - and the first drink I had came with a mysterious Electric Daisy I was told to eat first. I don't know if any of you have experienced Szechuan peppercorns before, but this was like that, in flower form. It's quite hard to describe, but your entire mouth and lips go tingly and numb at the same time. It's not painful, it's just a very weird thing to experience. I'm probably not selling it well here am I? Try it once. It's not like anything else.

Anyway, Bloom&Wild,  the lovely postal flower company, have been busy making a floral cocktail infographic for all your floral cocktail needs. You can find it below featuring tips and tricks to make a floral cocktail, ten flowers you can use for cocktails, and four cocktail recipes to try. 

Your path to botanical brilliance starts right here. 

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Amazing Flavoured Cocktail Glass Rimmers

Okay, stop sniggering at the back. I know I said rimmers, but there's no need to... okay, it is quite funny.

Cocktails look great when the rim of the glass is coated in delicious sugars or salt. They also add to the flavour, and when they're colourful it's even better!

But have you ever bought flavoured sugars to add the perfect extra hint of something delicious to your finished cocktail? They're out there, people, and I am all over them. You would not BELIEVE the number of show-off points you get at parties for these bad boys.

A good place to start is Steenberg's who make lovely organic sugars. They have their own website which sells the sugars a few pence cheaper, but if you factor in delivery they're actually cheaper on Amazon. That said - at £3.50 per 200g plus £3.99 delivery - they're still not exactly inexpensive, but for special occasions they really are the best.

Imagine using rose sugar with a Turkish delight martini? Or adding lavender sugar to the rim of a champagne cocktail? Heaven. Then there's cinnamon sugar (Christmas, yay!), lemon sugar (oh hi, lemon drop!) and vanilla, which will really pimp up a pornstar martini.

And there's an absolute gem from the States: Chicago-based Deli Cove Spices from my beloved Etsy. They do a huge range of flavours and colours, but here are a few favourites:

Coconut flavoured sugar. Oh boy.

Honey flavoured sugar. It'll have you buzzing. Sorry.

Toasted marshmallow flavoured sugar. HEAVEN.

Sugar with pink and red hearts! Think of the Valentine's Day points, lads!

More seasonal now: wedding cake flavour. I have no idea whether this will be amazing or a bit gross, but I still want some.

Pumpkin pie spice flavour. I know we don't have Thanksgiving in the UK, but HALLOWEEN cocktails, anyone?

Lastly, and possibly my personal fave: candy cane flavoured sugar! All minty and sweet and making me want to drink bright red cocktails and sing jingle bells RIGHT NOW. In the middle of summer. Yeah, well.

They're all £5.14 with £10.82 shipping (crikey, I know!), but I'm treating myself...

Which flavour would you pick?

Monday, 31 July 2017

Wedding Cocktails: Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue

Picking the perfect cocktails for your wedding can be tricky, but I love the idea of picking four to suit a variety of tastes and to add an extra special touch: something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue cocktails!

The four below (plus other suggestions) all use really accessible ingredients, so it should be easy for your wedding planning team or bar staff to create, and the cocktails can keep flowing all day and all night.

Just a tip - make sure you try all of your wedding cocktails in advance. Buy all of the ingredients so you can have a lovely little cocktail night with your nearest and dearest (basically, the main wedding party) and sample all the ideas first. You want to make sure you really love them, after all.

Something Old

There are tons of options here. An old-fashioned? If you're a bit of a vintage/Gatsby fan you might enjoy a gin rickey or a julep. Or you can plump for something serious old but super refreshing: the Tom Collins.
Photo: Evan Mackay (CCL)

It's supposed to date back to the mid-1800s, and it's also speculated that it has something to do with the Tom Collins Hoax in 1874, where people would convince their friends a phantom bloke called Tom Collins was lurking around and talking about them behind their back.

It's a pretty easy one to make so your bar staff won't struggle - and if you want more inspiration, have a look at this Classic Cocktails book (£10.99, Foyles)

Tom Collins recipe (serves one, multiply as necessary)


  • 40ml gin
  • 20ml lemon juice
  • 10ml simple syrup
  • Soda water, to top up

Shake it!

1. Build the gin, lemon juice and simple syrup in a highball (or Collins) glass over plenty of ice. Give it a good stir.
2. Top up with soda water and stir again.
3. Garnish with lemon or orange slices.

Something New

This is my favourite of the four, because you get a chance to be really creative. If you want to be uber-trendy, find a cocktail with the season's hottest new ingredients (right now it's good quality vermouth, mezcal and cacacha, or vegetables like celery and cucumber) or you can come up with your own creation based on what you like best.

That's what I've done with this cocktail, and it's ridiculously simple and tasty, plus one of the prettiest I've ever, ever created. Feel free to steal it for your big day (just raise a glass to Vinspire!):

The Bouquet Bloom and the Bouquet Blush recipe
(serves one, multiply to suit)


  • 100ml sparkling wine
  • 20ml elderflower liqueur (I can't recommend Chase Elderflower Liqueur enough - and it's only £19 at Waitrose!)
  • 1/4 tsp rose water
  • To make the blush: either 1/4 tsp grenadine (which adds a touch of sweetness) or use pink fizz.
  • Edible petals, to garnish

Shake it!

1. Add the elderflower liqueur and rose water to a champagne flute. Give it a stir.
2. Top up with the sparkling wine.
3. If required, add a quarter of a teaspoon of grenadine to create the pink effect. Plop it right in the centre of the glass and it should sink to the bottom and create a slightly layered pink effect.
4. Pop the petal on top.

Something Borrowed

The best advice I can give on this front is to give a classic cocktail a personalised twist. There's plenty of options - a 'Just Married' Julep, a Bridal Bellini, a Groom Gimlet etc. I've gone with a newlywed negroni because it's a nice contrast to the other flavours I've used for these four.

The recipe is actually known by another name - the Negroni Sbagliato - and is a popular new twist on this classic cocktail. It was created when a waiter mistakenly picked up a bottle of fizz rather than gin (sbagliato means 'mistake' in Italian) when making a negroni. I chose it because wedding = bubbles.

Photo: Jeremy Brooks (CCL)
Newlywed Negroni (Negron Sbagliato) recipe 
(serves one, multiply to suit)


  • 50ml sparkling wine
  • 25ml campari (currently only £15.50 at Tesco)
  • 25ml martini rosso

Shake it!

1. Fill an old-fashioned glass or tumbler with ice (crushed or small cubes, depending on your preference.)
2. Top with the campari, martini and sparkling wine, and stir gently.
3. Garnish with lemon or lime.

Something Blue

There are a few options when it comes to blue cocktails - the violet liqueur we used recently creates a delicious, easy one with lime and soda - but blue curacao is coming back into fashion with a bang.

I always find it works best with tropical flavours, but I'd keep the glass dainty and small, both to keep it looking pretty and also because this can be quite sickly, and your guests might only want a glass or two.
Photo: Innisfree Hotels (CCL)

Something Blue cocktail recipe
(serves one)


  • 30ml blue curacao (currently only £8 at Sainsbury's)
  • 30ml Malibu or coconut vodka
  • 50ml pineapple juice
  • 10ml lemon juice

Shake it!

1. Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice.
2. Shake it like the bride on the dancefloor.
3. Strain into a champagne saucer or small wine glass.
4. Garnish with a straw - maraschino cherry optional!

What would your four wedding cocktails be? Tell us in the comments!

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Cooking with booze: Kir Royale Macarons

There's nothing I like more than cake and cocktails: separately, together, any kind of combination, and I'm sold. A fancy afternoon tea is all well and good, but the addition of a chilled glass of champagne.. Now you're talking.

I know that macarons are not strictly cake, but those bite-sized beauties are so splendid that even the most stubborn "I'm not into sweets" person would find it hard to resist. If you're not acquainted with the macaron, they're light as a feather almond-y meringues that are so Parisian chic - delicate shiny shells, still chewy in the middle, sandwiched together with buttercream or something similar. They can be bloody tricky buggers to make though (they've brought me to tears once before), but get them right, and your friends will think they've come straight from a patisserie.
Anyway, my love of cake and cocktails led me to this idea; a macaron filled with a Crème de Cassis buttercream filling, paired with a glass of your favourite fizz, and you have yourself an interesting take on a Kir Royale! Its the perfect recipe for a late afternoon or night time soiree - one of those gatherings that doesn't require you to make a feast-for-all, just a few nibbles - but something a bit special nonetheless.

I'd suggest your chosen fizz be dry - champagne, cava, Franciacorta, or even English sparkling wine - prosecco could be a bit too sweet when accompanied with the treats.

This recipe, adapted from Harry Eastwood's Skinny French Kitchen (available on Amazon for £18.95), is the easiest I've come across, and the one that's had the least failures. My tips are: to use food colouring that is in paste/gel form as they're the best for keeping their colour (natural food colourings don't tend to work well); red/pink/purple are most suited to this flavour. Go off piste if you like; a colourless shell with a vivid centre would look equally as fancy as what I've suggested.

Unfilled shells fare well in the freezer, so you can whip a batch up and freeze some for future use. You can also freeze the buttercream, but it will need a good mix, and possibly more icing sugar, to get back to the right consistency once defrosted. Oh, and you're definitely going to need an electric hand whisk; you might have guns like Popeye, but you'll struggle with this one.

Kir Royale Macarons
Makes approx. 40 macaron shells (20 whole macarons)

For the shells:
  • 200g icing sugar
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 3 medium egg whites
  • a pinch of salt
  • 40g caster sugar
  • food colouring (paste)
For the buttercream:
  •  75g unsalted butter
  • 150g icing sugar, sifted
  • 2 tsp Crème de Cassis (I used Tesco Finest, £9.00) 
  • food colouring (paste)
Champagne or equivalent.

  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C. Line a baking sheet with baking paper.
  2. Using a food processor, whizz up the icing sugar and ground almonds until you have a fine dust that resembles flour.
  3. Whisk the egg whites with the salt until you reach stiff peaks. Add the caster sugar in a steady stream, still whisking the whole time until the whites are stiff and glassy. Add the food colouring and whisk so that the colour is evenly distributed throughout the whites.
  4. Using a metal spoon, gently fold the almond and icing sugar mixture into the egg whites until the texture is uniform. Don't be heavy-handed here, you want to keep it as voluminous as possible.
  5. Spoon the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a medium nozzle, or alternatively, use a disposable one. Standing the bag in a tumbler helps, as this can get a bit messy.
  6. Pipe circles of the mixture on to the baking sheet, roughly 3cm wide. Leave space in between each one, as they tend to spread out a little, and puff up during cooking.
  7. Bang your baking sheet on the kitchen work surface a couple of times to get rid of any large air bubbles, then set aside for 30 minutes to dry out the shells. They're ready when you can touch the surface without leaving a fingerprint.
  8. Cook for 12 minutes in the middle of the oven, and leave to cool on the tray.
  9. To make the filling, whisk the butter until soft and fluffy. Add half of the sifted icing sugar and beat until mixed.
  10. Add the remaining sugar, crème de cassis, and food colouring. Beat until smooth.
  11. Use the mixture to sandwich the macarons together - piping it is best.
  12. Pop the champagne and serve.
Good luck!
 Champagne image taken from Lachlan Hardy's photostream under the Creative Commons License.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Mint Junip: Wild Island gin cocktail recipe with Juliettes Interiors

Got a space in your lounge, or dining room, or maybe even your designated bar room that’s just crying out for a new drinks trolley?

But you don’t just want any drinks trolley… it has to be special. Fit all your gin. Be luxurious.

Well, let me introduce this beauty – Juniper – by Juliettes Interiors. I mean, just look at it. It’s got a built-in ventilated cabinet and mini fridge, a walnut garnish board, and polished stainless steel drip tray for starters. I think I am in love and I'm going to buy several Lottery tickets for this weekend.

To celebrate Juniper, the lovely people at Juliettes were looking for a gin cocktail recipe, made with either Wild Island, or Pickering’s 1947 gin, that is worthy of being served at their events over summer, including Salon Privé.

I got busy in my lab (tiny kitchen), and after several recipes, tweaks, start-overs and more, I’m happy with this, the Mint Junip. I was immediately drawn to the Wild Island gin (probably due to the packaging, doesn’t it look great?). I haven’t tried it before, and I like the story behind it. It’s distilled on the Isle of Colonsay, which is one of Scotland’s Southern Hebridean Islands.

The copper still is infused with six native hand-foraged botanicals growing wild on the island: lemon balm, wild water mint, meadowsweet, sea buckthorn, heather flowers, and bog myrtle. And ten further botanicals are used as the base. While there’s quite a lot going on with it, in terms of a floral, citrus character, it can also stand up to complementary flavours, which is why I think it works in my cocktail.

It makes a cracking G+T though, too, with a slice of lemon and a sprig of mint for a garnish.

Mint Junip
Wild Island gin 50ml
St Germain elderflower liqueur 15ml
Cucumber and mint presse 40ml
Apple green tea syrup 15ml
Mint leaves x4

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice.
Add the gin, St Germain, presse, green tea syrup, and mint leaves.
Strain into a martini glass and garnish with a mint leaf.

To make the apple green tea syrup… Boil 150ml of water on the hob. Take the hob off the boil. Add your green teabag. Once infused (five minutes), put the water back on the heat and add 150g sugar. Stir until dissolved and allow to cool.

Vinspire is involved in this competition with Juliettes Interiors, who sent us a bottle of Wild Island and Pickering’s gin in order to come up with a recipe, and asked us to include several links within the post, to the Juniper trolley, the gin, and the interiors homepage. All opinions are still Vinspire’s.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Learning about Cava with Juvé & Camps

I was lucky enough to attend a press trip last week to visit Juvé & Camps, one of Cavas premier producers. This proved to be an absolutely fascinating trip and confirmed my suspicions that well made Cava represents one of the best value wines, particularly in relation to the world of sparkling wine.

The family and the vineyard

One of the nice things about Cava is that most of the businesses are owned and run by families with a tie to the region. Juvé & Camps is no exception with the current joint CEOs being Meritxell Juvé Vaello (see photo left) and Laia Rosal Juvé who are the fourth generation from the Juvé family having recently taken over from the inimitable Joan Juvé Santacana who ran the business for many years. We were fortunate enough to meet and spend time with both Meritxell and Joan during our trip and I was struck by both their passion for their wines and the esteem that the family are held in by the people who work with them. I must also say that given the slightly fusty and patriarchal feel that wine can sometimes have, it is very refreshing to see young, female CEOs leading a prestige wine brand.

One of the other features about a family run business is that they are even more aware of the need to create a sustainable business and one that they will be able to hand-on in good health to their own progeny. Nowhere was this more apparent than when Meritxell spoke about the effects of climate change on their business; one generation ago they tended to pick most of their Chardonnay grapes at the end of August, whereas now they tend to pick them at the beginning of August. Meritxell is aware of the challenges that the vineyard will face and is looking to see what she can do to counteract this, for instance, since 2015 the vineyards have been certified organic.

The family have 400 hectares of land in the Penedès area, of which about 280 are currently planted with vines. They produce the traditional Cava grapes of Xarel-lo, Macabeo and Parellada as well as other grapes such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Muscat, Gewürztraminer, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. 85% of their production is focussed on the production of their Cavas, with the remaining 15% being for an interesting selection of still wines that they make.

The vineyards themselves are set in the beautiful rolling hills of the Penedès region (as illustrated by the photo above, taken from a viewing platform within their vineyard), which is only 30 - 40 minutes drive outside of Barcelona. I was struck by how immaculately all of the vineyards were kept as we drove around them, they all look to be extremely tidily maintained and are harvested by hand in order to ensure that only the best grapes make the selection.

As well as visiting the vineyards, we also visited their premises in the small village of Sant Sadurní d'Anoia which was absolutely fascinating. They possess two buildings in the village across the road from each other which on the surface look aesthetically pleasing, but there is no hint of the treasures that they contain within...! Each building has six floors underground which are used for storing the 10 million or so bottles that are being aged in these caves (in fact the word cava itself comes from the Catalan word which means cave or cellar.) The underground floors connect between the two buildings to produce a labyrinth of racks of bottles as evidenced by the photo on the left.

The wines

We were taken through a tasting of the wines of Juvé & Camps by their chief oenologist Antonio Cantos (proudly clutching one of his bottles on the right), who actually came back from his holiday early just to lead this tasting - what service!

We tasted a number of different wines, focussing on their collection of Cavas. I will pick out five that I particularly enjoyed:

NV Brut Rosé (100% Pinot Noir), which had a very intriguing nose of light strawberry notes. On the mouth this was surprisingly complex with a nice red cherry profile add some refreshing freshness from the acidity. It was remarked by our group that often rosado cavas are not particularly refined, but this one was and at a great price level too.

2012 Blanc de Noirs (100% Pinot Noir), this wine is a Reserva level having had an average of 25 months of bottle ageing before release. The nose was very classy with ripe cherry notes coming through, along with that pleasingly warm brioche profile that you tend to get from wines that have been aged in the so-called Methode Champenoise. On tasting the wine was bright and zingy, with plenty of acidity and juicy strawberry notes. This wine once again showed how refined for their price-point a good Cava can be; you would have to pay a lot more in Champagne for this kind of elegance.

Now we start to move on to some of the really big hitters...!

NV Reserva de la Familia (55% Xarel-lo, 35% Macabeo, 10% Parellada). This is one of Juvé & Camps' premier wines and is one of their most famous labels. We tried a limited edition bottle, which had a slightly sweet nose featuring honey notes and some light, warm citrus fruits. On the mouth it was once more class personified, with a nice level of complexity, but overall it just represented an extremely enjoyable drinking experience.

2012 Juvé & Camps Gran Reserva (40% Xarel-lo, 25% Macabeo, 25% Chardonnay and 10% Parellada). The nose here was even more exotic than the previous wine, a lot richer and more toasty; I even detected a bit of a peppery note on it (although I'm not sure I picked that right!) On the palate it oozed class and elegance, with a rich, broad profile that developed nicely. What was also noticeable was was a really nice mouth-feel to the wine, with fine and delicate bubbles. A beautiful wine.

They saved the best for last with their exceptional 2006 Juvé & Camps La Capella (100% Xarel-lo). This wine is made from grapes all from a single vineyard where the team from Juvé & Camps noticed that they continually harvested their best grapes from. Apparently this area of Cava is going to be awarded its own sub-appellation called a Cava de Paraje Calificado in the very near future as the Spanish wine authorities have noted its exceptional characteristics. The wine itself is aged for about 108 (!) months on average, hence we were drinking the '06. The nose was phenomenal, it had so much going on; honeysuckle, lychee, as well as warm brioche. The taste was just as good with a huge flavour profile, that evolved and developed over the three minutes or so that it lingered on the palate. There was also an interesting slight waxiness to the wine which is quite typical of Xarel-lo. Apparently they only produced 3,000 bottles of this wine so we were very lucky to try it!

If you want to find Juvé & Camps' wines in the UK, their official distributor is Ehrmanns and you can find out what wines they possess by following this LINK.

A lunch to remember to finish it all off

After this phenomenal tasting, we were treated to a beautiful lunch in one of the family's gorgeous properties on their estate. We started with a selection of appetisers, including (of course) some rich and decadent jamon served with some aged parmesan (see left), some earthy yet classy blood sausage, some fresh and delicious seafood (prawns and salmon); all served with some of those delicious Cavas as well as a selection of their still wines.

The highlight of the lunch, however, was the grand unveiling of a magnificent wild sea bass that had been salt-baked. The chef broke into the casing with great precision and great theatre and revealed its treasured contents. The result was a fish that was delicate, succulent, fresh and delicious. It was served with those glorious Spanish tomatoes that you get and a fluffy potato. The lunch was also a great opportunity for our group to get to know the family a little better and we continued to be taken by their pride, passion and sense of purpose for the future.


Below is a photo of our intrepid group along with our very generous hosts. This is after the lunch so we were all in very good spirits at this point...!

Thanks (Gracias)....

This was a really wonderful trip as I'm sure you can tell from the effusiveness of my write up. As I stated in the beginning, I already considered myself a fan of Cava, but I felt like I still had something to learn of its heart and soul. I now feel that I understand it a little better and I owe that to the generosity and kindness of the people from Juvé & Camps. I must also extend my thanks to Bryony Wright for doing so much hard work in organising this trip.