Mums Limoncello from the Last Milennium

We were clearing up the house after taking down all the Christmas decorations and we came across this mysterious bottle.


Okay okay… I say “mysterious” but actually, as soon as I saw it I knew exactly what it was.

Sometime in the last few years mum made some limoncello with vodka and lemon rind then left it to season. Obviously we forgot about it and it even managed to accompany us undetected through a house-move. I’m not quite sure how this happened but there you go.


So obviously I wanted to (a) taste it and (b) use it in martini form somehow.


A few years back a man in Beirut told me he liked to add a teaspoon or two of limoncello to his martinis to give them a nice, citrusy note.

So that’s what I did.


I chucked the limoncello into the freezer for a few hours, although note that some limoncellos might freeze. Mum’s was suitably alcoholic that it did not.


Add one teaspoon to a normal martini (the standard recipe is here) and stir it with your piece of lemon peel. Serve.


It adds a nice lemon aftertaste but is a little sweet, so consider using less vermouth than normal if you want to try this out.


It’s also worth noting that this makes an excellent substitute if you find yourself without any fresh lemons. Remember – these are crucial for making a standard martini (unless you’re having it dirty or you’ve got a very good or distinctive gin to taste). A teaspoon of limoncello might be a nicer to impart a lemon flavour than using a dab of lemon oil which I sometimes resort to.


The limoncello also goes very nicely added to a gin and tonic (with a 50:50 gin:limoncello ratio).


So act now: buy some limoncello, make your own, or give your house a spring clean. You never know what alcoholic delights might be gathering dust in a corner.


If you’re moving house be especially sure to check for rogue bottles. You wouldn’t want the next occupants to enjoy it at your expense.

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More martini snacks and canapes

I’m just going to leave this here…

  

What could be easier than olives and cheese-stuffed peppers that you picked up at the shops on the way home? I particularly like the colour contrast of these two. Oh and the taste.

You can’t go wrong with the lemony-buttery taste of Nocellara olive flesh, while the soft creamy cheese paired very indulgently with the sweet piccante crunch of the pepper.

  
This one was also a little bit last minute. I threw together some Bombay mix, prosciutto and olives when a friend popped round unexpectedly. The Bombay mix didn’t really go with the other two, but it’s definitely very nice on its own.

  

Here are some nuts, arranged mindlessly while I stared into space sipping my first drink of the night. Salted pistachio nuts are my favourite, although some nice big fat macadamia nuts would go well with a martini too.

  
Simple, easy, light, savoury, Twiglets are an underrated canapé snack. They are the flavour and texture opposite of the martini. Where a martini is cold, smooth, heady, citrusy and ever so slightly sweet, these are light, crunchy, salty and savoury. They don’t look particularly elegant but the flavour contrast really works. They’re a guaranteed winner for marmite fans.

  
This one is a bit more fancy. Asparagus skewers, blini with taramasalata, maki rolls, sigeumchi-namul, crisps, a martini and candles…

  
A simple but slightly more edgy snack, here are some wasabi peas with a simple classic.

  
Extremely simple, but very tasty, here is some lightly pickled baby beetroot. I’m sure we could create some kind of pink-coloured beetroot Gibson Martini, perhaps similar to the Beet Up Vesper Martini at the Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town bar in central London. 


Sea Aster is a seasonal coastal plant that flowers in the summer but is edible in the spring. Wash and eat raw or lightly boil for a minute or two. I got mine at a fish monger’s in Borough Market.


Mum bought these langoustines from Tobermory Main Street while I picked up the samphire on Oban pier on a trip back from London.


There’s a whole world of tapas-style ingredients and food types you could use. Above you can see chorizo, cold roast pork slices, feta cheese, olives, bread, houmous, oil  and duqqah.


You can turn the nibbles into your whole meal and really take your time with the martini. Above you can see crab open sandwiches, nuts, wood ear mushrooms, Korean-style spinach, roasted vegetables, seaweed, manchego cheese, Bombay mix, olives, bread, oil and houmous all to be slowly munched while you sip your cold gin.


Houmous is a relaxed martini accompaniment to have at home with informal company over a drink.


Here it is served with sliced pitta bread and a variety of mostly Mediterranean snacks.


My kind neighbour made me some lovely Middle Eastern sweets which I included in the meal.

The Arabic element of the food was especially good at soaking up some of the alcohol!


Dim sum was a surprisingly good – if slightly unconventional accompaniment.


Oysters are my favourite.


I also love creamy manchego cheese.


Finally though, the most classical martini snack will always remain the pitted green olive. If it’s all you have, you’ll be fine. And you won’t spoil your appetite for dinner.

A Bombay Martini


I was picking up some supplies in the supermarket when this gin caught my eye. Bombay London Dry Gin: more muted in appearance than its bright blue Sapphire  sister, it has a simple, almost stringently-coloured branding.

I am not a fan of floral or overly botanical gins in my martini so I though that this one with only 8 botanicals (to Sapphire’s 10) might provide a basic, clean, high street option so I took it home and chucked it in the freezer to find out.


A day later when the gin was thoroughly chilled, I made a simple martini, garnished with lemon peel and accompanied by the obvious snack of Bombay Mix.


The gin was less citrusy and floral than Bombay Sapphire. I love citrus notes, but I prefer them firstly in the aroma of the drink, ideally from the lemon peel I’ve just squeezed into it, then finally as a slow melting aftertaste which follows what I prefer to be a strong, leading juniper flavour. The Bombay Dry leads with juniper which was a nice surprise. It was overall less citrusy than I like, but this gives you the option of squeezing extra lemon peel into the drink if you want it, or leaving it out if you don’t. I know several martini fans who prefer less lemon in their martini so this one would make a good option. Otherwise, the botanicals were understated, much like the branding of the bottle.


There was a heat in the aftertaste of the gin which I don’t particularly welcome, especially in a martini which should be ice cold and ideally smooth. It reminded me somewhat of the warmth of the Botanist gin, a sensation which I think is more suited to a whisky than a gin. Nonetheless, for a high street brand I thought it was good value for money with a suitable clean and juniper taste.


As chance would have it my flatmate brought back a bottle of Bombay Sapphire the very next day. Absolutely perfect for a bare-faced comparison test. As you can see, the branding is far more exuberant. The blue-coloured glass is iconic, while the black and gold detail is positively regal, enhanced not least by the image of HM Queen Victoria.


I threw it in the freezer next to the Bombay Dry and whipped up another quick classic the next day.


Bombay Sapphire is lovely for a gin and tonic, especially for people who are otherwise put off by the strong juniper taste of standard gins. It has a smooth taste with complex spicy notes that dominate, followed by an almost sweet citrus aftertaste.


As expected, for me, Bombay Sapphire is not my gin of choice because I expect a strong, leading juniper flavour in my martini. It bolsters the almost surgical cleanliness of the drink while adding a sharp freshness evocative of a cold, winter pine forest.


However, the bold and admirable botanicals of the Bombay Sapphire were nonetheless pleasant and interesting. I love coriander and cardamom and while they might dominate my coveted martinis they were more like a temporary house guest. It’s a slight inconvenience and not as quiet as normal but it’s interesting to catch up. Furthermore, if gin isn’t normally your thing, or if you’re not especially keen on juniper, give this one a try in a gin and tonic or a martini. It has been described as a ‘gateway gin’ luring innocents into the sophisticated but Hogarthian danger of the gin world so for that I must salute it!


In summary, Bombay Dry is largely juniper, with a slight heat in the aftertaste, but good value for money. Bombay Sapphire is sweet and spicy and a good choice if you’re new to gin or not overly keen on juniper.

A Dirty Martini with lemon olives

This is a very tasty variation on a classic.
  
It’s just a normal dirty martini but with an extra sour-silken touch of citrus.

 
I’ve mentioned previously that Fragata kindly sent me a box of goodies to try out.

I usually eat their olives stuffed with anchovies but now I’m trying out their olives stuffed with lemon.

While I still prefer to eat their anchovy olives on their own, these lemon ones really enhance a martini. 

If you can’t decide if you would prefer your martini with an olive or a twist of lemon then this olive combo is for you.

  
Slightly open the can and pour the brine into a glass. 

 
Open the can more fully and decant the olives into a dish.

 
Take a chilled martini glass and squeeze a freshly peeled strip of lemon rind into it. Rub the peel around the inside of the glass to transfer as much of the lemon oil into it as possible. Keep the strip when finished.

 
Add olive brine to the glass. I recommend between 2-6 teaspoons depending on your preference (I use 4 teaspoons).

 
Take a bamboo skewer and thread on some olives. I think convention dictates that it should be an odd number of olives but it doesn’t make that much of a difference. If you only have toothpicks to hand just thread on one or two olives.

 

Add vermouth to taste (1tsp – 25ml) then top up with gin or vodka (100-120ml). Stir with the strip of lemon (then suck the lemon, just for the joy of it) before discarding it.

Garnish with the olives.

  
You can serve more olives on the side as well, depending on your appetite. It’s especially good for sharing and will stave off your hunger before dinner.

Bar Arabica, Borough Market, 2/5

A relatively pleasant martini was let down by bad service and poor value for money.

 

It wouldn’t take much to perfect their martini but some of the fundamentally poor elements of the restaurant will be more difficult to rectify.

  
Nestled under a railway arch in Borough Market, I had high hopes for this Levantine restaurant. However, the service wasn’t particularly attentive, the portions were small and the martini didn’t do it for me.

  
I was looking forward to a tasty za’tar man’oushe, even though I have regularly been warned that you just can’t get good Lebanese food in London. Sadly it didn’t match my Beiruti experiences. It was a little dry and lacking in fresh ingredients.

  
Other portions were small and not cheap, although we did like boregi (essentially the same as börek – a spinach and feta pastry) which was crunchy and satisfying.

  
The atmosphere was pleasant, with the rumble of trains and nice lighting, but some of our dishes were forgotten. Indeed we felt somewhat forgotten on occasion.

When I asked about the gin used in their martini I was told it was a home-made compound gin, but the waiter couldn’t tell me anymore about it.

  
It arrived chilled but not especially cold, in a coupe glass, with a strip of lemon peel. As always, I feel the need to urge London restaurants serving martinis to keep their gin and glasses (martini glasses, not coupe glasses!) in the freezer.

However, this martini was redeemed by its particular lemon flavour – it was especially citrusy which I like. The gin did not seem especially dry, which was perhaps a blessing considering its temperature, but all in all it wasn’t unpleasant.

 
So what to do? Larger portions would be nice. If you’ve ever eaten in the Middle East you will realise that it’s rare to leave a meal without feeling utterly stuffed and potentially in pain from your host’s kind and generous hospitality. This was not the feeling I had at this Levantine restaurant.  More generous portions and attentive service would be in order. Then keep the homemade gin in the freezer and serve it in a proper martini glass.

The Sri Lankan Arrack Martini – the Serendipitini

  
I have been working on this concept for a long time. It’s not a true martini, but it aims to serve a similar purpose, especially for those in Sri Lanka, perhaps without access to gin or vermouth.

I resisted pressure to name it the Tamil Tiger Martini (it’s fiery, complex and deadly) as this would feel wholly inappropriate after Sri Lanka’s bitter internal tragedy. Instead I have opted for the Serendipitini.

Serendib was the old Arabic word for Sri Lanka. It means ‘lucky surprise’ and is where the word Serendipity comes from. Sri Lanka is full of lucky surprises, not least its alcoholic delights.

 
Having previously lived in Sri Lanka I developed a strong taste for their national spirit: Arrack.

  
The drink is very distinctive, but then so is its production method.

Very early in the morning, toddy-tappers climb up coconut trees in certain parts of Sri Lanka. They are there to harvest a very special type of sap.

If you cut the flowers in a certain way they produce a light, sweet liquid which the British colloquially referred to as ‘toddy’. With its high sugar content this liquid starts to ferment almost immediately and has become alcoholic by breakfast time.

It can be drunk straight from the bottle, although you might have to scrape ants off the top layer – I’m afraid I’m not kidding.

  
It is totally organic, fresh and tastes heavenly. However, given its cheapness, some Sri Lankans might not approve of foreigners consuming it, depending on who you talk to. It is sometimes seen as a poor-mans drink (because it literally grows on trees) so you might be expected to try something more refined (i.e. produced in a brewery or distillery). However, you must persist and obtain some! It’s a delight to drink at the beach after breakfast. Spend the morning happily sipping it in the sun. However, note that the liquid will start to ferment to unhealthy levels by about 11am. If you drink it after this time, or consume any of the sediment that builds up in your bottle, you could end up with an upset stomach. You should also avoid sealing any containers which carry toddy. As it ferments, the pressure can build up and the container can burst. Don’t shake the liquid either!
So that’s toddy, the wonder drink that has been gifted to mankind.

But what if you don’t want to drink in the morning?

Large quantities of the liquid are extracted each morning and allowed to ferment naturally. This liquid is then distilled to create Arrack.

The beverage has been compared to whisky or rum in flavouring. It can be fiery, but with strong notes of caramel to mellow out the flavour.
During my time in Sri Lanka we would mix it with coca cola, ginger beer (very refreshing), fresh lime juice (with limes gathered from the garden) or we would drink it neat (sometimes referred to as ‘raw’ on the island). Trendy cocktail bars in Colombo (and even London) often pair it with a range of flavours such as mango juice or cinnamon.

However, I always felt that these flavours masked the arrack. I like to channel Marcel Proust; the aroma sniffed from a bottle alone is enough to transport me back to the lush green Hill Country or the transcendent beaches of Trimcomalee.

As such, I wanted to create a drink that enhanced the rich, syrupy arrack character rather than smothering it in a pot pouri other flavours. I also wanted to create a drink that contained elements of the classic martini, such as temperature and powerful subtlety. 

A cold drink is extremely welcome after a hot day in Sri Lanka so I keep the arrack in the freezer for a day before serving. If it’s good quality it shouldn’t freeze solid.

I also wanted to embrace the martini concept of simplicity so I decided to pair the arrack with only one other flavour.

A classic gin martini is very much enhanced by the citrus flavouring of lemon oil, squeezed from a strip of peel. Arrack is also enhanced by citrus so I decided to play around with the concept of lime-cello. This is essentially limoncello but made with limes instead.

  
Limes, known in Sinhala as ‘dehi’ are widely available and consumed in Sri Lanka. A Sri Lankan garden can often resemble an overgrown forest from a distance, but upon closer inspection you will find that most contain a veritable cacophony of consumable fruits. If you can harvest your own for this recipe I’m sure it will taste much better.
  

  • Wash and zest 6 limes
  • Put the peel in a jar and add 400ml vodka

  

  • Seal the jar and leave it to infuse for 3 weeks
  • Give it a shake every couple of days

  

  • Strain the vodka and discard the zest (squeeze it out as much as you can first)
  • Dissolve 4 tablespoons of sugar in 100ml freshly boiled water
  • Not all of it will dissolve but don’t worry. Once the mixture has cooled down give it a shake  and add it to the infused vodka.
  • That’s it. It’s very easy, you just have to wait a few weeks for it to infuse.
  • Like the arrack, I like to keep it in the freezer for at least 24 hours before serving.
  • When it’s time to pour, take a strip of lime peel and squeeze it into a chilled martini glass, then rub it around the glass to transfer as much of the citrus oil as possible.
  • Add the lime-cello to taste (around 40ml) then top up with arrack (around 110ml)
  • Stir well using the lime peel (which you can then use as a garnish).
  • Serve

Be warned, it’s slightly bitter and very strong. Nonetheless, it’s definitely a nice way to end a day of working in Colombo, going on Safari in the country’s many beautiful nature reserves, hiking around the country’s rich architectural heritage or just spending the day at the beach.

In terms of selecting arrack I usually drank Very Special mark in Sri Lanka but i would generally get just what I could get my hands on.

A very good friend from Colombo brought me back some Ceylon Arrack. In a beautiful bottle and probably the most commonly seen in a cocktail bar I would describe the arrack as light, smooth and pure – a really refined taste and certainly the best one I’ve encountered for an Arrack-Virgin. Otherwise you may find some of the others to be a bit more viscous and/or fiery.
  
Note that in Sri Lankan drinking culture it’s almost sacrilegious to drink without eating something at the same time. There is an array of bites you could serve with this. Devilled prawns or cuttlefish spring to mind, or a simple bite mix    (usually referred to internationally as Bombay Mix).

  

It may not be Kandy, but this is as close as I will get to the island of Serendipity. Otherwise try Sekara in Victoria for authentic Sinhalese cooking, and a range of restaurants in Tooting and Croydon for good Tamil food.

Even More Martini Snacks

Here is some more food to go with your martini. I like to go with things that are simple to make (or that you can make in advance), easy to eat and either carbohydrate or protein based, especially on the savoury side of things.

 
Let’s start with some simple pretzels. 

  

And move on to some sliced chorizo, here rolled and skewered to make ‘dragonfly’ type bites.

  

Or to keep it simple, just slice the chorizo and serve it with on its own or as I did here, with miniature oatcakes.
  
Here is some sliced, cold roast pork, left over from the previous night’s dinner. Leftovers can make some surprisingly appropriate accompaniments for martinis sometimes, even though they might not always look very glamorous. 

  

Slightly more indulgent, here are some pork gyoza (dumplings) served with chives and a soy/vinegar/mirin dipping sauce. You can make them yourself, buy them ready-prepared and steam them or you could even have them delivered as takeaway food (the author might have done that on this occasion).

 
Pickled gherkins, Bombay mix and Japanese rice snacks combine three completely different cuisines. They don’t go together spectacularly well but it doesn’t matter too much once you’re on martini number two. It’s also useful if ou have several guests with different preferences.

  
This is a very simple tapas-inspired appetiser of cheese and tomatoe purée roasted in the oven for a few minutes.

  
Even something as simple as sausages go nicely. I prefer gamier types of sausage to go with juniper-strong gins.

  
Here are some Pringles. Everyone likes them so just get over yourself. I also like the argument that Pringles are the only crisp manufacturers that don’t sell you lots of air in their packaging. 

  
More crisps, here served with a classic martini containing a Rosemary garnish.

  
Nachos. Go well with dips and pair nicely with a coriander martini.

 

Here is some beetroot and salmon ceviche with leche de tigre, Korean-style wilted spinach, tsukemono and green tea. I didn’t actually serve this dish with a martini but its constituent parts make good accompaniments.

You can see more about the Ceviche and Leche de Tigre and it’s possible combination with a martini here (this is a personal favourite of mine).

You can see my thoughts on green tea and martinis here.

My Korean spinach recipe is here.

And my tsukemono recipe is here.

  
If you don’t want to prepare anything, Bombay mix is a handy and traditional drink snack.

  
Here are some Nocellara olives served with a Japanese pickled ginger martini.

 
Here are some roasted soy beans and black bamboo charcoal peanuts.

  
Here are some peanuts, “pork floss” / Rousong (I didn’t know what it was at first either but it’s tasty) and my own carrot San Bai Zu.

 
Fish floss also exists but it won’t be to everyone’s taste. I thought it tasted like fish food but it goes quite nicely sprinkled over thick tofu slices in miso soup.

  
Otherwise, I prefer to keep it simple. Here are some salted pistachio nuts in their shells.

 
Sun-dried tomatoes and olives stuffed with anchovies.

  
I’ve previously mentioned that martinis go very well with seafood. Here are some locally caught mussels served in a cream and onion sauce in the garden.

  
Here are some scallops and prosciutto.

  

Let’s go back to mystery pork products. There is quite a lot of pork in this entry even though I don’t actually eat a lot of it. These are honey roasted pork pieces. Given the unknown ingredients they could even be kosher/halal, we just don’t know.

 
However, I must admit, they were quite tasty.

  
Here I served the pork with walnuts and olives.

   
It kept us going for at least one round of martinis.

  
Here is some of Mum’s homemade herb butter to be slathered on some tasty rare steaks.

 
I guess it’s less of a snack and more of a meal…

But it certainly went well with a martini.

  
Barbecue and steaks in general go very nicely with or immediately after a martini.

  
Bruschetta… Not my most artistic photo but it was tasty.


Here is some salmon carpaccio, with lemon juice, grated lemon and orange rind, herbs, capers and juniper berries. I evidently still need to work on my presentation but it tasted nice enough and nobody died.

  
If you prefer your salmon cooked with heat I marinated some in a little rice vinegar for 30 minutes then grilled it for 16 minutes on a high heat.
And I think that’s quite enough for one blog post…

Until the next one!