Happy New Year!

As is always the case over the festive season, I’ve over indulged, food and drink wise, on a scale that could rival King Henry VIII. There have been moments when I’ve felt as though I’m one Malteser away from slipping into a diabetic coma. I’d reached the stage where I was spending most of my time laying on my back on the sofa like a helpless tortoise, whimpering feeble requests for fennel tea and steamed vegetables. I may be exaggerating slightly, but you get the idea. I certainly shouldn’t complain- unlike many unlucky people I know, I’ve managed to survive December without contracting norovirus or a stinking cold.

Now that 2013 has arrived, I can get back to something resembling normality and enjoy a fresh start. While it will be nice to eat some extra healthy food after all the excess, I’d be lying if I said I’d turned over a completely new (lettuce) leaf. As I write this, I can smell the ham that is slow cooking in Coca Cola in my kitchen (the Nigella classic). We also had people over last night to help us welcome in the New Year, and as well as cooking this chilli, I made the chocolate digestive cheesecake from Lorraine Pascale’s Home Cooking Made Easy. Oh. Em. Gee. If a cheesecake-induced coma is a thing that is possible, then I think it nearly happened last night. Not that it wasn’t good- I just should have dished up smaller portions (a word of advice- an eighth per person is TOO MUCH, PEOPLE!) If I made it again, I would consider using a plain digestive base rather than chocolate digestives, as the extra chocolate made it quite tough to cut through. Also, I would probably leave off the melted chocolate topping as I made a bit of a mess of it and, to be honest, the cheesecake is amply rich enough without it.

This is what's left of 'Cheesecake-ageddon'.

This is what’s left of ‘Cheesecake-ageddon’.

Ham in Coca Cola

Ham in Coca Cola – before and after.

Luckily, the weather finally got its act together today after being mostly wet and windy for the last few weeks. So, we made the most of it by enjoying a refreshing walk in the park to assist the recovery from what will henceforth be referred to as ‘Cheesecake-ageddon’.

Anyway, I’d like to wish you all a very Happy New Year. Here’s to a marvellous 2013.

*Eats a fistful of antacid tablets and reaches for the Berocca*

Damson gin and sloe gin

I’ve finally had the opportunity to make damson and sloe gin this year after some unsuccessful foraging attempts previously. I still haven’t managed to find a good spot to pick damsons or sloes, but luckily someone I used to work with did- and my god did she manage to pick a lot of them. Carrier bags full of the bastards. So, the spoils were shared, chilli jam changed hands by way of payment and I once again have the kindness of a colleague to thank for a blog post.

Sloes and damsons- a beautiful shade of inky midnight blue (there I go again with the Nigella-esque poetic food descriptions).

The idea with sloe gin and damson gin is to make them in September-ish so that they’re ready in time for Christmas. I was actually a bit late making mine, so I’m probably going to decant it in the New Year.

You might still be able to pick some sloes and damsons, although it’s likely that they will have already been found by other foragers by now. Alternatively, if you know anyone with a stash of them in their freezer, you could always try to sweet talk them into sharing. Damsons and sloes freeze well- I was given mine just before going on holiday in September so I left them in the freezer until I had time to use them. Freezing them is actually recommended, as it simulates a frost and splits the skins- a less labour-intensive alternative to pricking all the fruit individually.

I’ve tried to outline this recipe using ratios, as I realise not everyone has the same sized jars or the same amounts of fruit.

Ingredients

  • Damsons and/ or sloes- rinsed, dried and either frozen or pricked thoroughly with a skewer or fork.
  • Gin (I used good quality gin in a couple of my jars and cheaper gin in the other to see how different they tasted)
  • Sugar (I used caster)

Start by sterilizing some big sealable jars. I used 1 litre Kilner jars.

Fill the jars about two thirds full with your damsons or sloes. I put mine in straight from the freezer. This worked out as about 600g of fruit in each jar.

Add a third of the amount of sugar to fruit- so 200g per jar in my case.

Top up with gin and seal the jar. Give the jar a gentle shake to help dissolve the sugar and then invert it every couple of days until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Leave for about three months before straining through a muslin and bottling.

My plan is to decant my gin in the New Year, but save most of it until at least next Christmas, as apparently the taste improves with age. I also have plans to try making slider (no, not the tiny burgers) with the leftover sloes, although I think this might involve the use of demijohns and airlocks and what not (which could either be new and exciting or a total disaster).