My new summer cocktail

A couple of years ago, for once ahead of the curve, Big G and I spent the summer drinking Aperol Spritz. Our then-neighbour, who was Italian, saw us in the garden one evening and roundly mocked us for drinking what he called “an old man’s drink”.

Well, he was wrong, and Aperol got cool.

And now we have a new Italian spirit. And it is tipped to be the next big thing, so remember you heard it here first.

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Rosolio is an Italian liqueur dating back to the 15th century and made with rose petals. The new version, Italicus, blends bergamot, citrus, chamomile and lavender, among others, to create something that tastes like a boozy Earl Grey tea. It smells gorgeous, all citrusy and herby, and taste quite sweet but with a bitter note at the end.

If you like interesting gin, then you’ll like this, I think.

The official way to drink it is half Italicus, half prosecco over ice with olives – like the love child of a gin and tonic and a martini. I have done this. It’s delicious. But I’ve also seen 2 parts Italicus with 1 part fino sherry and two drops of orange bitters, served over ice, which I might try this weekend. Or you could use it in a Negroni Bianco.

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May all the kids go to bed on time. Chin chin!

What are you drinking this summer?

Things my kids happily ate this month 12

I’m squeezing in one more post before the new year. I missed November as we were renovating the house and decamped to my lovely parents-in-law most weekends. So for November, things my kids happily ate were mostly cooked by Big G’s mum. But the renovations are done, the dust has cleared and I am again responsible for at least two meals a week that counter the advent calendar chocolate and Christmas pudding. Here are some of them.

Tuscan chicken

I don’t know what makes this particularly Tuscan, but I’ve seen several versions of this recently. This is mine.

Fry chicken breasts in a splash of olive oil then remove from the pan.

Add a little more oil and some crushed garlic and cook until soft.

Tip in half a tin of chopped tomatoes, several handfuls of baby spinach and a good slug of cream and cook until the spinach has wilted.

Return the chicken breasts to the pan and heat through.

Serve over pasta


Orange mash

I make this quite a lot. It feels more virtuous than regular mash, and I usually have a bit of each of the veg that needs using up. It tastes great with sausages or white fish. You can also freeze this if you have some left over, or use it as an alternative filling in these croquettes.

Peel and dice a sweet potato, half a butternut squash and two carrots.

Cook until soft – I used a microwave steamer, but you could boil or slow roast them instead.

Mash with a big knob of butter, a handful of Parmesan and a tiny sprinkle of paprika


Dauphinois bubble and squeak

This was a bit of post-Christmas decadence. No sprouts but I added other veg. This wasn’t the prettiest of suppers but it was delicious.

Smoosh up the left over dauphinois.

Add some chopped meat – I used chicken but ham or turkey would also work and certainly would be more appropriate to the season.

Add finely sliced veg. I didn’t have sprouts so threw in some braised red cabbage, some frozen peas and some sliced mushrooms.

Put the mixture into a fry pan and push down so it is packed into the bottom of the pan. Cook until it starts to get a bit crispy on the bottom, then flip and repeat.


Chocolate-orange bread and butter pudding

This was another Christmas leftover recipe, of course. I used day-old French baguette, Nutella, Cointreau and ready-made custard; feel free to make yours from scratch. 

Butter a baking dish.

Take slices of old bread and butter one side then spread the other side with chocolate spread.

Layer into the baking dish, and splash over something boozy.

Pour over the custard (I loosened mine a little with milk) and leave to sit in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Bake at 180C for 20-25 minutes. Serve with more custard, cream and/or ice cream.

Things to talk about instead of the referendum

I was at a dinner party on Saturday and the conversation turned to Thursday’s referendum.

A little wine had been drunk and everyone concerned likes a bit of a barney (not me, you’ll be amazed to hear), plus the participants genuinely felt strongly about the issues. Which is great to see – I’d much rather witness an impassioned dinner party tirade than dull apathy.

But it did get a bit lairy. It seems people are getting properly worked up about this. Fancy that.

So if you’re trying to avoid this most divisive of topics, here’s a helpful list of ten things that might generate less of a reaction among your dinner party guests than Brexit, and result in fewer uncomfortable silences.

  1. A gross medical issue 
    Got something fungal? Show it round!
  2. Ear piercing on small children 
    Don’t make any exceptions for cultural or religious tradition
  3. Your salary 
    Especially if it’s the highest. Level up by asking outright how much your hosts’s house is worth
  4. The poor behaviour of someone else’s kid
    Be sure your fellow guests know what a poor job they are doing at parenting
  5. The Palestinian right to self-determination
    Pick a side! No, not that one! Use the word ‘terrorist’ a lot
  6. Breastfeeding/bottle feeding 
    Just be sure to judge whatever your fellow guests did. Bonus points for sexualising breasts, referencing obesity or intelligence, or using the word ‘attachment’
  7. Religion
    Wind up any evangelicals with your support for gay marriage and a woman’s right to choose. Or tell the athiests they are going to hell.
  8. The Royal family
    Beloved institution or outdated system which perpetuates the class divide? Viva la republic!
  9. Sex
    Try to include specifics. Comparisons between your current partner and past partners are also welcome.
  10. Homeopathy
    Pour a glass of water for any true believers and warn them not to overdose

Happy voting, everyone!

 

Easy Easter baskets

Do you have a big extended family? I’m one of only two, with no nieces or nephews, so I only have to consider my brother and mother for birthdays and Christmas and so on.

Big G is one of three, and all have children, so at full strength we’re 15 for high days and holidays. I know it’s tiny compared to some families, but it still seems like a LOT of people.

It also means a lot of chocolate at Easter. So this year we’re giving a basket of assorted chocs per household, rather than individual eggs for each person.

And because family is usually willing to indulge a three-year-old, I got G Major to help me make some baskets. I did the cutting and fine assembly; she did the decorating and supplied a non-stop commentary. I’ll spare you the commentary and just tell you how to make the baskets, shall I?

What you’ll need

2 sheets of paper or card per basket
Glue and scissors
Something to use as a circular template
Decorations. (I went to Poundland, spent a fiver, and came away with pompom chicks, ribbon, shredded paper and two packs of self-adhesive stickers. Bargain. You can buy some of these online)

What you do

From one sheet of card, cut a circle and a long strip to use as a handle.

Fold the other sheet of card in half lengthways and cut along the fold to make two wide strips. Mark a line on both and make small snips up to
the line (much as you would to line a cake tin with greaseproof paper).

Glue the two strips together and trim to just a little longer than the circumference of the circle you’ve already cut out. Attach one end of the handle at the join.

 

We decorated the basket at this point, as it was easier than trying to attach things to the upright sides of the basket.

 

 


Brush a wide strip of glue around the edge of the circle of card. Fold the cut edges of your basket sides flat to the circle of card and shape the sides to fit around the circle. Glue the edges together and attach the other end of the handle at the join.

Once dry, fill with shredded paper and eggs.Or, leave it out for the Easter Bunny to fill.

Father Christmas gets a wee snifter on Christmas Eve. Having made these baskets, I’m thinking perhaps the Easter Bunny deserves the same. What do you think?

Three quick ideas for tortillas

Lunchtimes with small kids are just the worst. Just eat a salad, already. I love cooking, and dinners are fine, but I find lunches are a real chore.

While G Major would eat her weight in cheese and ham if permitted to, I need to think of her colon and include some veg. My kids are the only ones in history that won’t eat cucumber sticks dipped in hummus. I want to avoid endless sandwiches, but I don’t want to have to cook too much. So if you discount soup, quiches and vegetable muffins, what’s left?

Tortillas. Terrific tortillas. Less bulky than bread, and my kids will eat whole wheat and granary versions more readily than the same in bread. They cook really quickly and are easy for little hands to manage.

So here are three ideas for speedy lunches that will help you out of a sandwich rut.

Baked pinwheels
Spread a tortilla with your favourite fillings, roll up tightly and slice into discs. Bake at 180 for around 12 minutes. Try ham, cheese and mushrooms; salmon, cream cheese and avocado; leftover bolognese; chicken or turkey with cranberry sauce and spinach. A light dusting of cheddar rarely goes astray and helps bind everything together.

Quesadillas
Spread a tortilla with avocado, some salsa or chopped tomatoes, some tinned sweetcorn, chopped mushrooms and peppers (blast them in the microwave for a minute to soften) and some grated cheese. Top with another tortilla and dry fry on both sides until the cheese is melted. Slice into wedges as you would a pizza.

Tortilla cups
Use a pastry cutter to cut small circles from a  tortilla, and use these to line a muffin tin. You can either bake them straight away then fill with cold ingredients (try lettuce, tuna mayo and tinned sweetcorn) or fill them and then bake, again at 180 for about 12 minutes. Try huevos rancheros (tomatoes, peppers, beans and some mild spices with  a egg cracked on top) or use your favourite pizza toppings (tomato, cheese, ham, peppers, mushrooms and – forgive me but it’s for the kids – tinned pineapple).

What are your favourite easy lunches for kids?