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Three Citrus & Gin Sorbet

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I promised the friendly people at Richmond Towers Communications – a leading PR company in the food and drink world – that I’d come up with a recipe or two with the Beefeater 24 they sent me after the Chivas Brothers’ cocktail and canapé evening at Hixters last month. Having got my act rolling with Jonathan’s G&T on Friday, I continued the ‘cooling off’ theme by making some citrus and gin sorbet yesterday. With the hot and humid weather we’re experiencing at the moment, I thought this would be another great way to cool off in the evening – and get a nice little touch of gin with it too!

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Beefeater 24 comes in a gorgeous bottle. The patterned glass with its bright red base is very art nouveau and is apparently inspired by an early 20th century flask found in the James Burrough Company archive. James Burrough was the founder of the Beefeater distillery in the late 19th century. The ’24′ gin is one of Beefeater’s special gins infused with 12 exotic botanicals for 24 hours prior to distillation. These include rare Japanese sencha tea, Chinese green tea, Seville orange peel, grapefruit peel and lemon peel, as well as – of course – juniper. I thought I’d like to pick up some of these flavours in the sorbet and decided to make it a three citrus base – grapefruit, orange and lemon. I bought a gorgeous red grapefruit.

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Sourcing Seville oranges at this time of year is impossible (they’re in season for a short time around January) but I thought the organic Valencian oranges I found in Waitrose would make a great alternative. I used an unwaxed lemon as I was going to use the peel. First of all I made a sugar syrup base for the sorbet by combining 400ml water with 170g sugar in a pan. I used a vegetable peeler to add the zest of 1 pink or red grapefruit, 1 orange and 1 lemon.  Then you need to gently bring it to the boil, stirring all the while, and then letting it bubble fairly rigorously for about 5 minutes to form a light syrup. Turn the heat off and leave to cool.

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Once it’s cool enough for you to be able to comfortably hold the warm pan on the palm of your hand (take care checking!) add 1 leaf of gelatine and immerse in the syrup. Leave for a little while then stir until the gelatine is absorbed into the syrup. This addition of a little gelatine helps with the texture and keeping of the sorbet. When it’s cool, strain it into a jug to remove the peel. Meanwhile, juice the grapefruit, lemon and orange that you used for the peel, plus one extra orange. This should give you about 300ml of juice.

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When the syrup is completely cold combine it with the juice. Now pour in 35ml Beefeater 24 gin.

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Gin, of course, doesn’t freeze so you have to be a little careful about measurements but this seemed to work OK for me: a good gin flavour but the sorbet held shape. It won’t freeze hard though. Transfer the mixture to an ice-cream maker.

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Churn for about 20 minutes or until you have a good, creamy sorbet. Now put the sorbet into a freezer container and freeze until needed.

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Of course, I couldn’t resist trying some immediately; neither could Jonathan who happened to be around.

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It was wonderful: so gloriously cooling and fresh but with that lovely background flavour of gin combining with the three citruses. I loved the combination of the three citruses too: the sweet orange, the tangy lemon and the bitter-sweet red grapefruit. What a perfect way to cool down on a hot summer’s day – though strictly for adults, of course, with the gin addition!

Jonathan’s Elderflower & Cucumber G&T

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What do you do to cool down when it’s the hottest day of the day of the year and the humidity levels are rising into the 80s (which according to my Google search puts humidity at ‘unbearable’; I don’t think we needed to be told)? Around 6.00pm Jonathan rang; what were my plans for the evening? Lyndsey was out, could he come round? When he arrived – Zeph, their Yorkshire terrier in tow – bearing a gift of a bottle of Fever Tree Elderflower Tonic Water, I knew he wasn’t there just for my Friday night bolognese. He’d remembered the bottle of Beefeater 24 that Richmond Towers Communications had sent me after the Chivas Brothers cocktail and canapé pairing event at Hixters last month.

I have a strange relationship with G&Ts. I never order them in a bar, I never make them, but if someone offers me one then I really enjoy it. And last night, a long cooling drink seemed like a perfect plan. But I had to leave the making of the G&T in expert hands while I stayed with food preparation.

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Two tall glass were found, cucumber brought from the fridge, the ice tray removed from the freezer. The slices of cucumber went in over the ice, followed by the gin – 35ml each. Then the elderflower tonic water was slowly poured in.

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Jonathan had been telling me for a while that he’d been using the Fever Tree Elderflower Tonic Water for an extra bright, fresh taste and it made a great G&T; the cucumber adds another dimension of freshness. How much tonic water to ice, this novice G&T maker asked. We worked out he’d used about 125ml in each glass, so roughly 1:3 but he said many people would prefer less tonic – or even more. It’s all a matter of taste. And he tasted it and checked.

I meanwhile had been cooking … as I do. I’d thrown – almost literally – two peppers into a hot oven just after he rang. Fifteen minutes later, or when I could see they were browning, I removed them, put them in a freezer bag for a couple of minutes, then removed. The skins slid off easily. I slit open, removed seeds and lay on a plate. I added some of Waitrose’s wonderful burrata; drizzled over extra virgin olive oil, scattered over torn basil. I also dashed down the road and came back with a still warm ciabatta from Ruben’s Bakehouse. Portions of bolognese ragu were warming on the hob for the main course.

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We left the food waiting and went to sit in the garden. It was time to relax, slow down; cool down.

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The G&T, long, exotic (Beefeater 24 contains 12 exotic botanicals) seemed the perfect drink for an almost tropical night. It’s definitely a drink for slowing down and cooling down on a Friday night when there’s no hurry, but just taking time to talk and reflect on a good ending to the week.

A Carluccio Christmas

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Yes, it is a little early … and it did feel a bit weird setting off to a Christmas party just 24 hours after arriving back from hot and sunny Spain, but in the world of big food business, Christmas necessarily has to start even earlier than at Harrods. The lovely people at Roche Communications sent me an invitation to the Carluccio’s Christmas Press Review and Party and being such a fan of Carluccio’s, I couldn’t resist … even though it’s so hot outside the government are sending out heat warnings. Carluccio’s had tried to put us in a winter mood by spreading fake snow outside.

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Strangely, people were talking about it and saying it seemed to actually have the effect of cooling us down. We were partying at the Carluccio’s in St Christopher’s Place just off Oxford Street and behind Selfridges. I turned up late afternoon after a busy and slightly hectic day and even though it wasn’t much after 4pm decided that it definitely wasn’t too early for prosecco and gratefully accepted a glass – even though there was a non-alcoholic alternative on offer. One of the first things that caught my eye was an enormous panettone.

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Panettone is the star in any Italian Christmas and my family always has one for breakfast on Christmas morning. Last Christmas I did buy one from Carluccio’s in Richmond (my local branch) and very good it was too. Inside the cafe there was lots of lovely food to try: gorgeous hot dishes like lasagne, seafood pasta, stuffed peppers and melanzane parmigiana and some of their excellent focaccia with cherry tomatoes on top.

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There was a wonderful indulgence of sweet treats too: gorgeous little babas soaked in limoncello, panforte and fiche al rhum – chopped Calabrian figs, candied peel and walnuts fed with rum and covered in dark chocolate.

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There were tempting displays of Christmas gifts from the edible to a gift set of coffee cups with a pack of ground coffee; from large hampers to small stocking sized gifts, i.e. something to suit every pocket and any occasion. I often go to Carluccio’s for foodie gifts for friends and family – not to mention the odd foodie gift for myself!

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I buy a lot of my pasta from Carluccio’s – I especially like their orecchiette and trofie. I was therefore intrigued to see a special Christmas pasta – Pasta di Natale – flavoured with spinach and beetroot.

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I’ll definitely have to go back for some of this! There were lots of other great gifts and even chocolate filled crackers and advent calendars; lovely tins of biscotti.

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When it comes to Christmas you’ll find plenty to please any food-loving – especially Italian food-loving – friends and family. But why wait until Christmas? If you haven’t taken a good look in your local Carluccio’s Caffe yet, stop by, because they have some wonderful and very tempting things. Meanwhile, I came home bearing an early Christmas gift of a jar of those wonderful limoncello soaked babas – now who is going to come and share with me?

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Spain: Morning in Altea & Journey Home

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Yesterday morning Linda kindly asked me what I’d like to do on my last day. I didn’t want to venture too far and it was decided to go to Altea (where we’d gone for the paella on Sunday) and find a cafe near the beach for coffee. Even though we were quite early by Spanish standards there was a long queue of traffic heading into the town when we got close; a symptom of the time of year and it now being high season. We were lucky to find a parking spot quite easily though and then cut down a narrow road on foot to the beach with the idea we’d walk along for a bit then have a coffee. However, almost immediately we found a cafe-delicatessen of interest – Paladar. They were only just opening but a very friendly waitress – who we discovered later came from Estonia – encouraged us to look inside and promised she made very good coffee. It was very smart inside with a lovely view out to the sea.

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There was a great view from our outdoor seats too!

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They sold wine and all the kind of things you’d expect in a good delicatessen. We could also see they sometimes made paella.

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There was an appealing list of tapas, salads and other things to eat which made us think another time it would be a great place for lunch. Meanwhile, it was only coffee time. We ordered our coffees and sat outside. When the friendly waitress came with the coffees she also brought us a little slice of their homemade lime cheesecake to share. It was delicious.

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Altea is quite an upmarket coastal town which has long been a popular destination for artists. In fact a friend and favourite artist who now lives in Cornwall, Alan Furneaux, has prints and paintings of Altea and other Spanish towns on his website (see www.alanfurneaux.com). We looked round a few arty shops and walked through a square full of wonderful and very old olive trees.

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Back home we had a quiet afternoon. Linda cooked a gorgeous supper for my last evening and we opened a bottle of Cordorniu Anna cava, which is one of the nicest cavas and much cheaper there than in London supermarkets!

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It was a beautiful evening. It had been one of the hottest days since my arrival and was still hot as the sun set and darkness fell.

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This morning we were up early. I watched the light of the sun come up across the wonderful view from the naya.

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Then it was time for the journey to Alicante airport – about an hour away. Linda like the great friend she is gave me a lift all the way. Once through security I had time for a last taste of Spain in a bar – Canas y Tapas – with a typical Spanish breakfast of coffee, tostada and fresh orange juice.

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Note:. The lovely Mimi at Chef Mimi Blog alerted me yesterday to the fact that she was unable to leave a comment on my last post. When I checked I found Comments turned off for all the Spanish holiday (I thought it had been a bit quiet!) There was obviously a hiccup with the WordPress Mobile App I use on my iPad when away. I’ve sorted it out now and opened Comments on all the posts but many apologies to anyone who had wanted to say something. Your comments are always welcomed and I love to hear from readers!

Spain: Tapas & Cuban Music

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After a nice, lazy, gentle day – on my part! – things livened up for the evening with a drive down to Moraira on the coast for a supper of tapas in a chiringuito and some live music. Chiringuitos are traditional beach bars and this one was perched on the edge of a cliff with wonderful views as the evening sun went down leaving a faint tint of pink colouring the sky.

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Linda warned me it was all very simple – the cafe, only there for the high summer season and closed most of the year, is a simple shack. The food likewise would be simple and far from gourmet but the setting was lovely and live music would be fun.

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The music was due to begin at 9.30 so we arrived at 9.00 and managed to get drinks and a selection of tapas ordered before the cafe filled up. A timbale of aubergine, peppers and onions was particularly tasty; the aubergine has a nice smokey flavour.

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We had bread and alioli, chips with chilli sauce, tortilla and a plate of Spanish ham and cheese.

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The red wine was served very chilled, which was perfect in the warm air. It’s quite common for red wine to be served cold in hot countries or even in the Loire in France and with the right grape and wine, I like it.

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We were surrounded by many nationalities – Spanish of course, Germans and Dutch – and our waitress was from Bolivia. When the two Cuban musicians started playing I was momentarily transported to fabulous Havana – one of the most exciting places I’ve been to. George, the musician amongst us, was impressed by their skills. The music was great.

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There were some inevitable well known tracks from the infamous Buena Vista album but plenty of other popular Latin numbers. As the evening wore on they encouraged people to get up and dance and played some salsa music. It was all great fun; a party atmosphere and a really good evening. It was getting on for midnight when we left. Luckily for Linda and George, this is a regular event on Saturdays and Mondays in the summer; sometimes the music is jazz. If I lived here I’d be down to the little chiringuito every week!

Spain: Moving into the Slow Lane

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Anyone who has been in a car with me knows I rarely move into the slow lane; I drive as fast as I can get away with – i.e. avoid speeding tickets! I blame this on my lovely Dad who was car mad and encouraged this love in his daughter. I even did a car maintenance course when I bought my first car at 19. One of my earliest memories is coming downstairs on Christmas morning, aged about 4, to see Santa had brought the bright red pedal car I’d asked for. I can still see it! I drive a fairly modest Peugeot now but if my Lottery number ever comes up, watch this space!

I guess I live my life pretty much in the fast lane too – as most people do in these busy lives we lead. But in the final days of my Spanish holiday, I am slowing down; I’ve moved into the slow lane. I sleep far later than I do at home and emerge into morning sunshine and swim in Linda and George’s beautiful pool and admire each time the glorious view.

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Life is lived outside here from morning till night. In all the years I’ve been visiting, sometime between June and October, I can remember only once when we had to eat the evening meal inside. Much of life takes place in the naya – the covered terrace with arches – from breakfast to supper.

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Sometimes in the day I sit there to read out of the sun. At night it’s lit up for life to continue outside until bedtime.

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Outdoor living is so much part of Spanish life that people have outdoor kitchens too. Linda used this on Saturday when she’d invited friends over for supper.

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And of course we ate outside – this time at the big table near the outdoor kitchen rather than in the naya.

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This is all so different to my usual city life in London, where eating any meal outside in the summer is a bit of a rare treat, that it’s part of the slowing down. I think even the fact that everything happens later here encourages this too. The Spanish don’t eat lunch until about 2.00. In restaurants in the evening arriving to eat at 10.30 or later is fairly normal, even with children. So I’ve slowed right down. All I wanted to do this morning was to head down to nearby Moraira on the coast with Linda for a late coffee in a cafe by the sea and talk for a while as good friends do about life and things important to us.

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Linda and George, of course, do have to get on with their own busy lives to some extent, although Linda kindly says when I’m here it’s a bit of a holiday for her too as we go off on excursions. Today I’ve swum in the pool, sunbathed, slept a little in the shade, finished one book and moved on to another, which probably amounts to pulling into a lay-by! However, tonight it’s a cafe by the sea for supper and some live music so I rather think I’ll be moving into the fast lane again – but in a wonderful way!

Spain: Sunday Lunch in Altea

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It’s been a glorious day: the sun high in a clear blue sky, its heat made more comfortable by the strong breeze whipping up the water in the pool so there were almost waves at times; the large leaves of the Canary Island Date Palms – more commonly known as Pineapple palms as they look like huge pineapples – growing on the terrace, swaying heavily. It was decided we’d have a very Spanish Sunday lunch: paella. The Spanish only eat rice dishes – paella, arroz – at lunchtime as they believe they’re more difficult to digest in the evening. Linda and George suggested we went to Altea where there is a restaurant – more like huge beach shack – that specialises in paella. I remembered going once before, a few years ago and pre-blogging days. It gets very busy, especially at this time of year, so Linda rang them and booked a table for 1.30. This is early for the Spanish but we hoped it would give us a head start before the mad rush after 2.00-3.00.

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It’s about half an hour away by car. We parked in the restaurant car park and went for a short walk along the promenade before eating. The sea was the most beautiful deep azure to turquoise colour. The promenade quite elegant with marble tiling marking out the walkway. When we went back to the restaurant it was still fairly empty. However nearly all the tables had reservation notes on them and it took a little time to find our name, even with help!

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By the time we were leaving the place was full with queues outside. Our waiter told us the restaurant seated 900 diners! However, size didn’t affect cooking or service – both were excellent. Toast, fresh tomato and alioli came quickly, with a dish of grilled sweet peppers and onion.

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George, driver for the outing, didn’t want alcohol. Linda and I asked for wine by the glass. The waiter explained he’d put a bottle of red for Linda, rose for me, on the table and we’d pay for what we drank. If we drank more than half we’d have to pay for the whole bottle. This seemed an excellent idea; you could take exactly what you wanted. There was only house wine, no choice, but it was good.

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We ordered a couple of starters to share: a mixed salad (which came with tuna) and grilled mixed vegetables.

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They were huge portions.

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It was all delicious; very good. Then it was time for the paella. We’d ordered a seafood one with calamari, prawns, mussels and other fish.

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It was really excellent. A wonderful flavour and not too dry – as sometimes paella are. We tucked into the large pan put before us and in the end couldn’t quite finish it, it was such a generous portion.

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I could see their homemade desserts from where I sat and ordered what I thought was a Crema Catalana. They brought something that looked more like creme caramel; apparently what I’d thought was the crema was something else. I stuck with what they’d brought me; it looked good and it tasted delicious. We had coffee too.

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It was a really great lunch and the atmosphere was great too. It was quite noisy by the end of our meal with large parties of families sitting round huge tables, a birthday party and a loud singing of Happy Birthday. But that made it all the more fun.

Back home it was still very hot; it was time to slow down, a siesta, a gentle swim, a few pages of a book read. A perfect Sunday.

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