COLD Bar Gin Lab Experience

Those who know me well are quite aware that I must bleed gin.  Indeed, those who don’t me at all probably know just two things about me, I like cake and I like gin.  I make no apologies for the fact that I am rather partial to a long glass of Mothers Ruin crashing with ice and a thimbleful of tonic.  So it was with giddy glee I was treated to an afternoon at the City of London Distillery fine tuning my own botanicals and perfecting my own personally blended bottle of Stroud Green Larder gin.

The City of London Distillery is a bar and distillery in the heart of the city, down a cobbled alleyway, a mere ice cube’s throw from St Pauls.  It has been open for just over a year but in that time has rocketed in popularity and no wonder.  It boasts a fantastically stocked bar with a plethora of gins to satisfy even the most snobby of connoisseurs.  Two huge stills loom over the proceedings, backlighted to gain maximum impact and are the real selling point of your martini fuelled evening.  For these ladies are not there for effect but are the backbone behind the bar’s bespoke COLD gin.  It’s a lovely gin, sparkling with citrus notes and if you order a gin and tonic it comes with a large wedge of pink grapefruit squashed into the glass for good measure.

IMG_3637 But I was taken there last week to have a go at their latest venture, which offers us average joes an opportunity of designing and producing our own bespoke bottle.  Forget your bland supermarket brands and middle England favourites, by sniffing, mixing and tasting each botanical before it is added into the still you can ensure you can know and choose exactly what is going into your martini.  Guaranteed, you will not be returning to a bog-standard Gordon’s after you’ve sampled your own gin.

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Last year I treated my husband to a tour around the Sipsmith distillery, which since it is located in a tiny garage in Hammersmith, took about 5 seconds.  Not true, actually, it was one of my London highlights of last year.  We had a brilliant evening learning about the history of gin and exactly how it is distilled from the giant copper sills wedged into their garage.  The sheer fact that they can keep up with the worldwide demand of Sipsmith all from this pocket sized location was both fascinating and incredulous.

So for my birthday I was treated to a different gin experience, this time at the City of London Distillery (COLD) Bar.  We were heartily greeted when we got there and introduced to the baby stills, each named after the seven dwarves and encouraged to pick one.  After a very clever joke from my husband about how I should be Grumpy I contrarily chose Happy.  We were soon introduced to all the different botanicals in the distillery’s exhaustive supply of both the known and unknown, including cinnamon, ginger, lemon, sweet orange, bitter orange, orris root, rowan berries and licorice.

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It was explained that although we should include the three essential ingredients of gin, which are juniper, angelica root and coriander seeds, we could go our own way and throw in exactly what we wanted, although less is more.

We spent a good half hour picking and tweaking our chosen suspects, ending up with only a tablespoon or so of the finished blend.  I am still not over my cardamom obsession and chose to focus on that particular infusion, supported by elder berries, cassia bark and bitter orange.  My gin was not going to be the type to take it lying down; I wanted an aromatic gut punch.

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Our botanicals were poured into the still and little Happy was left to his own devices.  In no time at all, 80% proof gin was pouring forth from his spout into a very scientific beaker.  It was a lot like chemistry at school but I can’t recall back then dipping my finger into a trickle of sulphuric acid in an impatient bid to see if my experiment had worked.  It was soon realised that the cardamom flavour I had so desperately wanted was present in abundance which was incredibly exciting and also intoxicating.

Once Happy had reaped all he could from my sacrificial offering, my beaker of botanical wonder was run through with cleansing water to bring down the alcohol content to just 40%.  The resulting gin was decanted and we were left to seal our stoppers with a glossy red wax.  Perhaps this activity should not have been unsupervised as although the instructions were clear and simple we still managed to mess it up.  Naming no names, aside from the fact my husband and I were the only ones present that afternoon and it wasn’t me, one of the wax seals was considered so appallingly bad that photos were taken to add to their website under ‘disaster’.

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But it was no matter if our presentation left something to be desired as luckily there was enough gin left over for us all to have a gin and tonic made up of our very own gin.  It may not have been the classiest gin ever made and the cardamom was greeted with lots of concerned nods that the flavour would mellow and mature over the next week, it was by far the best damn gin and tonic I have ever tasted.

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City of London Distillery & Bar
22-24 Bride Lane
London EC4 8DT

www.cityoflondondistillery.com

Coconut and Cardamom Rice Pudding

Coconut and Cardamom Rice Pudding

Remember rice pudding at school, chalky rice congealing in tasteless gloop.

Well, this rice pudding is exactly like that.  Enjoy!

Just kidding, of course it’s not, it’s worse.

Just kidding, of course it’s not, it’s amazing!

Chuck any preconceptions you have about rice pudding in the bin as I’ve gone for something a bit different today.  Generally considered a nursery pudding due to the fact most of us ate a version of the congealing gloop at nursery school, it can have the tendency to be a big bowl of stodge.  This recipe is much more delicate and fragrant thanks to baking the rice in coconut milk rather than your normal whole fat and fancying up the whole affair with the warming spice of cardamom.  I’ve also thrown out the rice pudding text book which advocates a simple silky texture and instead scattered a handful of coconut flakes to the top which accentuates the coconut and gives a lovely crunch.

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The recipe was developed on the back of my current obsession with cardamom – at the moment I am looking to add it to everything and this past week I have been road testing the spice with all sorts of desserts and savouries.  If I see a recipe on pinterest that’s using cardamom then I’ve pinned it to my board quicker than a puppy chasing cheese.  This particular use here is my favourite so far as I love the softness of the coconut balancing with the burst of fragrant cardamom you get every other mouthful.  It makes for a very grown up interpretation of a kitchen classic.

The use of coconut milk also means that the recipe is delightfully dairy free.  I would thoroughly recommend Pride coconut milk as well which is easily obtainable in Sainsburys.  The only reason I mention it rather than allowing you to make up your own adult minds is that it’s half the price of other brands – about 80p, including supermarket’s own and has a very thick consistency.  So often I have been gipped by other brands which are too thin and have ruined recipes by making them bland and watery.

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I had a very definite idea of what I wanted from this rice pudding and after an hour or so of researching quantities in my oven baked coconut milk rice pudding I pleasingly found Hugh Fearnely-Whittingstall’s recipe in the Guardian online.  I have nothing to prove and his recipe followed nicely the direction I had hoped to take.  So I swapped a few ingredients around and produced the below.  Now, I do have to apologise, mainly to Felicity Cloake from the Guardian, who berated writers for not using pudding rice in their recipes, asking us to stand up for our great national puddings.  However, since I’m not a writer, I’m a home cook and bearing in mind I have already tinkered about with the classic dish so much I didn’t bother going to the shops to get the pudding rice when I had plenty of arborio to hand.  It worked a treat.

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Coconut and Cardamom Rice Pudding

Serves 4

Butter for greasing
80g pudding rice / arborio rice
65g caster sugar
400ml tin coconut milk
½ vanilla pod, cut in two, seeds removed
4 green cardamom pods, seeds removed
25g coconut flakes, toasted

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 150°C.
  2. Grease a shallow baking dish which holds about 1.5 litres.
  3. In a large bowl mix together the rice, sugar, coconut milk, vanilla seeds and cardamom seeds. Fill the empty tin of coconut milk with water and mix in as well.
  4. Pour into the greased dish and bake for 1¾ hrs, making sure to stir well 3 or 4 times during the cooking time.
  5. Scatter over the coconut flakes and serve.

Fragrant Cauliflower Rice

Fragrant Cauliflower Rice

I love rice. I could live on it forever. For breakfast, for lunch, for dinner. You can have rice with curries, with stir fries, with stews. It’s my desert island carb. However, I occasionally do have to pull myself back. It’s not that rice is bad for you, but it’s not really giving much back either besides filling a hole.

Recently I have been substituting in cauliflower rice for my beloved carb staple, in particular with my curries or in my salads. Cauliflower loves a bit of spice to pep it up so it marries beautifully with a hot spicy curry and to be honest you just don’t notice the difference. I know that it sounds like cauliflower rice is a bit of a faddy thing but prepared this way it really doesn’t feel like you are eating a vegetable dish and means you can add naughty little knobs of butter at the end without the slightest bit of guilt. Not that I have any guilt when adding butter to things, but then I think my food guilt switch is permanently switched off.

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CardamomThe key to achieving the perfect consistency is to keep some bite and texture to the cauliflower so just ensure that it doesn’t touch any water in the process. I will either wash the cauliflower the day before and leave to dry overnight or if it’s not too dirty just brush over with a kitchen bristle brush, the same way you would with mushrooms.
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But to treat cauliflower rice as just a couscous or rice substitute is doing it a disservice. This fragrant cauliflower rice recipe is excellent with grilled chicken or lamb or as a meal on its own.

I have also used coconut oil in this recipe which is such a lovely ingredient. It imbues your kitchen with a wonderful fragrance and of course is a natural flavour enhancer to this dish. It’s not a strong taste but just sits in the background.

Fragrant Cauliflower Rice

Fragrant Cauliflower Rice

1 tbsp coconut oil
1 large onion, sliced
1 large head of cauliflower
1 tsp cardamom pods, de-shelled
¼ tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp flaked almonds, toasted
knob of butter

  1. Heat the coconut oil in a large frying pan. Add the onion and cook on a very low heat until the onion has caramelised. This might take about 20 mins.
  2. Meanwhile snap the florets off your head of cauliflower and blitz in a food processor until it is in very fine flakes.
  3. Once the onion is ready, remove from the pan and set aside. Add the cauliflower rice, the cardamom seeds and the cinnamon to the pan and continue to cook on a very low heat until the cauliflower starts to brown, which should take about half an hour.
  4. Stir in the almonds, the onion, a knob of butter and serve.