Friday, 26 April 2013

FREE BOOZE - Cocktails in the City Competiton

Next week is the second year running of Cocktails in the City; a glitzy glam event celebrating everything bar-tending and booze related in Manchester.

Based at the Town Hall, Cocktails in the City brings together 18 bars, 150 cocktails and 600 cocktails enthusiasts. The movers and shakers (pun intended) of the Manchester bar scene will be setting up pop-ups throughout the Great Hall, where cocktail lovers (and booze hounds like myself) can sample drinks, chat spirits and party the night away. As a special treat this year, the Lord Mayor's Parlour (posh or what?) will be taken over by Liar's Club, Hula and Keko Moku (with a little help from El Dorado Rums) to re-create a tiki paradise - COME FIND ME THERE!

Booze - always make people this happy (not scientific fact...)

As well as tiki-time, Cocktails in the City has expanded this year to bring you food from chi-chi burger joint, Almost Famous - probably a good thing considering how much booze is going to be consumed.

Think that's great? Those famous source specialists, The Liquorists, will be on hand to give visitors guided spirit sessions AND there's plenty of cocktail demonstrations going on in the main hall.

Come see bartenders getting crazy creative at Cocktails in the City

This year, visitors can choose from a range of tickets (book HERE):

The Taster: £15 including entrance, two cocktails, main stage demonstrations and a cocktail booklet.
·         The Enthusiast: £25 includes three cocktails, a Liquorists tutored tasting session, main stage demonstrations and a cocktail booklet.
·         The Connoisseur: £45 includes champagne cocktail reception, food from Almost Famous, three cocktails and a Liquorists tutored tasting session.

BUT HANG ON - I've bagged two VIP tickets for you to COME JOIN ME at the biggest party of the year! And it's very easy to enter - just comment below to let me know your FAVOURITE cocktail (and why) - or just follow/tweet me if it's easier @northwestnosh - by Tue 30 April 5pm.

And because I love you so much, I've also gone and got you an exclusive cocktail recipe for the El Dorado House Punch - which is super easy to make at home:

1 bottle El Dorado 5 Year Old Rum

1 mug builders tea (i.e strong brew & 1:1 tea:sugar)
1 carton grapefruit juice
1 carton apple juice
1 egg cup absinthe (or Pernod/Ricard/Ouzo)
Bottle of bubbly

Add ingredients to a large bowl. Add lots of sliced, tropical fruit BUT NO ICE>
Ladle into glasses full of ice.
Distribute round the party!
ENJOY - whilst guests lavish praise on you for your ace drinks skills.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Maple Syrup, Bourbon and Candied Bacon Gluten Free Cupcakes - recipes

As much as I go on about cake, I'm not what you'd call a dyed in the wool cake lover. To be perfectly honest with you, I find cakes, especially cupcakes, a sickly sweet disappointment that I wished I had never ordered in the first place. I hate talking cake.

And I'm not one of those, standing in the kitchen every afternoon, rustling up some baked goodness to underline how much I'm fucking perfect wife material; there's more to life right now than conforming to some submissive female blogger stereotype.

Now I'm going to blow all of my postulating rhetoric clear of the cake mix and post a recipe for a) cake b) a cupcake WITH frosting (shudders) and c) a cupcake topped with the sweetest garnish available to humankind. I never claimed to be consistent.

These cakes are neither clever nor particularly original, I've located the currant zeitgeist and slapped it all on a cupcake - artists copy, geniuses steal and I'm so fucking genius that a day in my life hurts. That's why I make such great tasting food and why there's booze in most of the things I make.

Meat and booze on a cupcake - I rule

If you're a lady trying to stereotypically win the heart of a manly man and his bunch of nethanderal men friends, these cakes are for you. Likewise, they're pretty damn hipster, so you can take them over to your post-ironic loft parties and be all 'saaarrriousleee, you like so put meat on a cake, OMG that's so hot right now, let's all got to Famous and queue for hours like douches and Instagram dogs ironically on the way.' Or if you just want an excuse to pour booze in everything, like I do, then these are for you - and so are AA meetings; you/I have a problem

Some words of warning:
1. These cakes are not for vegetarians or kids. You'll have to omit the booze and bacon and there's really no point in that. Go get a recipe for vanilla cupcakes if you have bacon/booze beef.

2. I've taken out quite a bit of the sugar (see above for rant on sweet cakes), but you can add this back in if you have a sweet tooth/are angling to develop diabetes (try adding another 30 grams).

3. This is a gluten free recipe - but works just as well with regular self-raising flour.

4. I lied - I actually made these with Pine (Tar) Syrup from Finland - it's nowhere near as sweet as maple syrup, it has a smokey/piney finish that fits brilliantly with the bacon and the whiskey and I'm addicted to it. Substitute maple if you can't source it (or click here if you want to).

5. This is a bit of a long recipe, but it's well worth it and these will go down like THE BOMB wherever you take them. I can make you THAT COOL.

Maple/Tar Syrup, Bourbon and Candied Bacon Gluten Free Cupcakes


(Makes 16 small cupcakes or about 8 muffins)
125g butter at room temp, diced
100g caster sugar
2 eggs (free range please) (and at room temperature too)
3 tblsp Tar Syrup or Maple Syrup
1 tsp vanilla essence
Pinch of salt
175g Glutafin all purpose flour (you can use Dove's Farm SR gluten free flour or regular SR flour)
1 1/4 tsp gluten free baking powder (Dove's Farm does one) (or just a pinch of baking powder if using SR flour)
1 tblsp milk

For the frosting

90g unsalted butter
150g icing sugar
3 tblsp Woodford Reserve (or any other high quality bourbon)

For the garnish

2 tblsp soft light brown sugar
2 tblsp Woodford bourbon (or any other high quality bourbon)
6 rashers of smoked, streaky bacon (good quality, not that full of water shite)


1. Set the oven to 190c/gas 5 and pop the cake cases in a cupcake tin.

2. Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and mix with an electric mixer till pale and fluffy.

3. Add the eggs one by one, adding a tblsp of the flour with each egg to help prevent curdling. Mix in well and then add in the syrup, vanilla and salt and give a quick whisk to combine.

4. Fold in the flour in two lots (it's easier and helps keep some air in there). If the mix is a little sticky (you want it a little wet, at dropping consistency) - add in the milk and mix again. Add more if needed.

5. Spoon the mix into the paper cases so they are about two-thirds full. I'm not going to be a pedant and make you level them all off, just max sure they are mostly level and not slopped all over or with way more mix on one side than the other.

6. Pop in the oven for 12-15 mins and take out when they are golden on top and a skewer inserted into the middle of a cake comes out clean. Take out of the tin and cool on a wire rack whilst you prep the frosting and bacon.

7. Whilst the cakes cool, fry up the bacon. I only have a small frying pan so fried two pieces at a time - DON'T overcrowd the pan, because then then bacon won't crisp up. Fry the bacon in batches till golden on each side, but NOT over-crisp. Put the bacon on a plate to cool and pour the bacon fat from the pan into a ramekin. The bacon should have cooled sufficiently for you to cut each piece into small strips - enough for each one of your cakes - do some maths/counting.

8. Wipe out the frying pan with a piece of kitchen paper, then add the light brown sugar and place on a medium heat. Add the bourbon and the bacon fat from the ramekin - but make sure you don't pour in any of the sediment from the ramekin. Don't stir the caramel and DON'T touch it as it's fucking boiling - just swirl the pan a few times to stop it sticking.

9. Once the caramel is bubbling, chuck in the bacon strips and bubble away in there until the caramel is really reduced and all the bacon is covered. Using tongs (not burnable fingers, we don't want a trip to A+E) take out the bacon and place on a greased plate (you can just use the plate that the bacon cooled on as that will be pretty greasy). If you want them to dry in a certain shape, bend them in to that now.

10. Whilst the bacon sets, bung all the frosting ingredients in a bowl and mix with the electric mixer. Add more icing sugar/bourbon as required. Load said frosting in to a piping bag (you can just put dollops on top with a spoon if you prefer) and pipe the frosting on to the cakes. Then top with the bacon, pour yourself a large measure (over ice) and congratulate yourself like all your fucking mates are going to when they see how clever you've been. No need to thank me, I drink so much that I'll have forgotten your name before you've even finished introducing yourself, let alone said thanks (however you CAN comment below for posterity).

NB - As I had said before, I enjoy booze in my food as it prolongs the haze in which life is bearable and other people almost acceptable. Because the booze isn't cooked off here, you want to use the best quality you can afford as you're going to taste it. I'm not going wax lyrical about Woodford as I've done that before - but seriously it's an amazing bourbon and it gives these cupcakes a caramel/vanilla/toffee/spicy touch that you don't get elsewhere.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Ten @ The Violet Lounge - West Didsbury, Manchester

Seasonality and locality are BIG THINGS right now; we're encouraged from many sides to pop down to the local  greengrocer and forego air-freighted beans wrapped in 72 layers of polythene and I think that's all good (just don't ask me about my tomatoes...).

Sensing a trend, many restaurants have jumped on the seasonal/local bandwagon and started touting how local and in season their veg is, despite whacking on a side of asparagus in December and counting local as sourcing their produce from Smithfields and not checking where the actual stuff itself is from (I'm not going to name you, you know who you are).

Ok I'm badmouthing, there are true stalwarts such as Gabriel's Kitchen/Whitworth Gallery Cafe, et al getting it right, there's just a lot of hot air and foreign raspberries on menus these days.

Another place getting it right is The Violet Hour; an opulent drinking den located on West Didsbury's trendy Burton Road, who have just started serving food - to kick off all their food based offerings and going so far as to positively celebrate seasonality, they have started Ten, their pop-up menu.

The menu - a seasonal celebration and super scrummy

Ten is the concept of owner Dan Pollard and chef Phil Cook (oh what a wonderfully apt name!); the menu takes inspiration from the ten best seasonal ingredients and from this they create an innovative exploration through the tastes of the season. Oh and for a twist, they pair the menu with cocktails - because that's what they do so well at The Violet Hour.

After a quick relax in The Violet Hour's comfortable and muted surroundings, we were ushered upstairs to an explanation of the menu and our first course - a native oyster with vodka granita and blood orange pebble; cue much discussion as to how that pebble was made - looked like the forgotten grey sponge in a student's bathroom, but tasted divine - like a chewy, sweetly perfumed, citrus foam. The oyster was spanking fresh - I'm going to be picky and say why waste a native with a vodka granita (no matter how delish) and they could have got away with a plain  old rock oyster - but that wasn't the aim of the menu, which was an incredibly opulent celebration of the amazing produce we get in the UK at this time of the year (ok, blood oranges are from the Med, but they're in season at the mo, so don't go leaving me arsey comments).

Next a pretty, rustic tart topped with lashings of Burt's Blue, cauliflower and edible flowers - pungent, salty and superb - but it was the accompanying cider broth that we rated most; deeply savoury with a hint of sharpness that matched brilliantly with the cheese. This course was paired with the Cuban Beekeeper (white rum, honey, lime, grape, apple, black pepper) - a honey based cocktail that softened out the sharpness in the cheese and the broth, but which was a little too sweet for me (please remember that I'm a booze and ice kind of girl, so many cocktails are super sweet in my opinion).

Cuban Beekeeper - with cute cocktail cards to remind you of your drink

The fish course was the best of the evening - a sliver of salmon cooked sous vide to 40 degrees was firm yet wobbly and jelly-like, I loved the yielding texture. This was sat atop salsify and the most savoury chicken broth in the world; the rich, deep, satisfying flavours a true testament to the skill in the kitchen.

Best dish of the night - 40c salmon

Closing the savoury courses was a just cooked dish of venison and celeriac - unfortunately ours had been left on the pass for slightly too long and was pretty cold by the time it reached it, however this didn't take away from the obvious quality of both the cooking and meat. Could have done with a bigger portion and some carbs! To pair with the venison, we were served a Thyme is of the Essence (gin, peche liqueur, lemon, thyme) - a fluffy, perfumed thyme infused cloud of herby sweet sharpness accenting the wild nature of the meat, which was the best of all the drinks in my opinion.

Cue a long wait for pudding, a little too long, in which we were served the matching cocktail - a Deerstalker Old Fashioned (bourbon, chocolate, sage, blood orange). Now, here's where I'm going to have a little moan.... I love an Old Fashioned, it's one of my very favourite cocktails and one that I've actually learnt to make at home. I even make a cake in homage to this drink. As many of my friends will tell you, I'll wax lyrical about it and bore the balls off you - so in my eyes no one should fuck with this cocktail. A Deerstalker contains chocolate and it was awful - that's my opinion, everyone else in the room raved about this drink, but I found it a travesty of a mighty cocktail.

So after that rant, the pudding was a very rich chocolate ganache (beautiful) and a pineapple upside down cake with spiced rum - loved it, but again, needed it to be bigger as my tummy was still rumbling after five courses.

Pudding - that ganache is out of this world - I need the recipe!

Ten is a wonderful concept, bringing together top quality ingredients with exceptional cooking skills and a good deal of creative flair. There's the small issue of needing to work on their timings and maybe throwing in some carbs or sides of veg for gluttons like me, but they're just little things and you know I like to be picky/have something to moan about.

Just a shame it's only once every two months, the next one's already in the diary!

Ps The Violet Hour are also rolling out a weekly food menu - it's gourmet bar snacks and Pieminister pies in the week and then Sunday club - roasts and Bloody Mary's on a Sunday. And of course, they'll be serving their very well made cocktails as per usual. Get down there and get your belly filled!

Cost for five courses and three cocktails - £35pp

Food - 8/10 (one off for being a bit cold)
Service - 8/10
Atmosphere - 8/10
Value for money -  9/10 (really, five AMAZING courses AND booze for £35, it's a steal!)

Total - 33/40

The Violet Hour - Burton Road, West Didsbury, Manchester - Twitter - Facebook - - 0161 434 9521

Please note, I was given my place at Ten for free as Dan knows how much I like to eat - as you know I don't say nice things unless I actually want to and from my nit-picking above you know I'm telling the truth about EVERYTHING.

The Violet Hour on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Fire and Salt BBQ @ The Gaslamp - Manchester

Do you ever have that thing where you find somewhere you really like, think it's brilliant and then never go because there's one major flaw?

The Gas Lamp, I like to go here - photo with thanks to Drinking Aloud

It's like this at the Gas Lamp - one of the few pubs in Manchester that I like to go and hang out. Mainly because there's a great selection of beers and spirits, a bit because the staff are very knowledgeable, quite a lot because you don't get too many knob heads/beer nerds looking down on you there and 75% because there are sexy men who drink there. I like sexy men. With beards. And glasses. Foreign accents are a plus...
Here's lots of people and some sexy men in the Gas Lamp - with thanks again to Drinking Aloud

So how come I don't drink there too often? It's because I think with my damn stomach ALL THE TIME. The Gas Lamp has an amazing array of drinks, but the local eating choices are:

a) Mark Addy - would be great if it didn't stink of toilets and they didn't fuck up my food EVERY time I go there.

b) Australaisa - Really? People think the food is good? And they want to pay that much for it?

c) Oast House - too full of suits trying to have a dress down Friday on a Tuesday. And I have to share tables with other people. Other people are a drawback.

D) Neighbourhood - expensive and I wasn't impressed (bitchy blog post coming soon).

Luckily, those chaps at the Gas Lamp have gone some way to rectify this serious matter and to appease my ever hungry belly. From now till sometime in the future, the Gas Lamp will be playing host to the magnificent Fire and Salt BBQ.

If you have missed the phenomenon that is the wonderfully juicy, tasty, life changing food from Fire and Salt, then you have obviously been dead or living under a stone, so let me explain:

Fire and Salt set up their company in order to bring the taste of the American South (as in rednecks, not Mexicalis) to Manchester. Firstly they ate a lot of sub-standard BBQ in the UK. Then they went to the roots of BBQ and journeyed round some overly conservative areas of the USA, eating much better BBQ, but keeping any liberal views they may hold firmly under their hats. Then they came home and built a bloody big smoke pit in their garden. Out of bricks. With their hands. Now they smoke whole pigs in their backyard (whole pigs! For hours! They don't sleep! And there's basting to be done!), then they feed said pigs (and other meats) to lucky, lucky people.

Brisket from Fire and Salt BBQ - I didn't take pictures as I was wolfing food, so here's one I stole

I popped along to the Gas Lamp last week to see what they had going - and boy, I wasn't disappointed. Paying a tenner at the bar, I sat back with a good quality rum (it would have been whiskey, but I was in a rum mood - bah boom...) and waited for my food to come out. A plate plied high with chicken fried ribs (not chickens' ribs, they would be TINY, but ribs chucked American Triple D stylee in the deep fat fryer. And fried. Like a chicken), oozy mac and cheese and some spicy okra corn tomato concoction that probably has a proper name, but I was concentrating on the food and not the names at that point.

Ribs - I could have eaten twice as many. Mac - the best in Manchester I'd say, as you could actually taste the cheese and the mac wasn't flabby; it all oozed properly in only the way a mac chock full of cheese can. It was nearly as good as mine. And that's saying something because mine is probably the best in the world. Actually, rephrase, it is the best in the world.

So bar coming round to my house, because you're not invited, go to the Gas Lamp and ingest the best food you will probably have all year, instead of some tasteless, churned out shite from around the corner.

Fire and Salt BBQ will be there from 6pm on Thursdays and it'll only cost you a tenner. Get there quick before all the food sells out.

The Gas Lamp, 50 Bridge Street, Manchester M3 3BW - Gas Lamp Twitter - Fire and Salt Twitter

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Ceylon Arrack with The Liquorists - Manchester

As readers will be aware of late, I’ve been a little sluggish about posting on the blog – on one level it’s fine, as I don’t have an editor screaming in my ear and no one pays me to write moany/smug descriptions of the shit I endlessly put in my mouth; but this diminished creativity niggles at me everyday, pointing out my laziness/crapness/uncreative-ness.

I offer my apologies and can only say that when you suddenly find that most food you put in your mouth now makes you sick (a rather ironic affliction for an amateur glutton, you have to agree) coupled with finding out that people you value can actually be TOTAL cunts (cue sudden loss of innocence/naivety/trust/friends) – suddenly the urge to write is waylaid and it’s much more important to lock yourself in a dark room for eight hours a day getting lost in imaginary worlds on your playstation.

When you hate people you can pretend that all the baddies in the game you are playing are them

Having trimmed my life of both sick-making foods and people, having read my way through endless blogs and articles to inspire myself and having completed the new Tomb Raider COMPLETELY with all the extras and secret levels and EVERYTHING (and refusing to buy myself another game for a while), I’m finally going to post a blog post today. Wow, can hear the cheers of joy from here...

I have to apologise that this post is from an event that must have taken place about three or four weeks ago – however the self-validating paragraphs above are what I’m going to use for my sorry excuse and you’re not my Mum, so there.

The night in question was another Liquorists Spirit Trail – unusually for a trail we were neither treated to a night of varied brands a la the Tequila Trail or different expressions of the same spirit, such as the Belvedere night – this trail concentrated on a single spirit; but the usual Liquorist's template of 5 x bars/cocktails/shots/food pairings still stood (although many of us wouldn't be able to afterwards).

All the tables are reserved and the drinks are already waiting - that's what makes a trail so ace!

Let me introduce Ceylon Arrack, a little known spirit from Sri Lanka, which is made from the nectar of the coconut tree. Even me with all my gastronomic amazingness and exceptional palate etc (er yeah... - Ed), I had never heard of Ceylon Arrack before the trail, so let me reiterate all the facts that Jody Monteith expertly imparted to us and therefore make me sound like I know what I’m talking about.

Ceylon Arrack and its pretty bottle

Arrack is the oldest known spirit and was first documented in the 13th century, the term arrack denoting any spirit, not just this coconut flower delight. Think that’s poetic, you haven’t heard the whole bloody story yet…

Skip forward A LOT, to the roaring 20s and the building of the Ceylon Arrack distillery on Sri Lanka. Local men (I like to think of them as young, lithe and athletic) named 'toddy tappers' scaled the vast coconut trees in the plantation surrounding the distillery; once at the top they would remove the beautiful coconut flower, place a pot underneath where the flower had grown and then tapped along the branch to stimulate nectar production, down the chap shimmied and then returned the next day to replace the pot. And guess what, it’s still done like this today. In the same place. On the same trees.
Starting the night in true Liquorists fashion we all met up at 22 Redbank, their funky headquarters/office/events space; for food, facts and the first of the cocktails – an 'i have no idea what it's called because I forgot' (arrack, ginger beer, orange juice and bitters) (that's not it's real name, I actually have forgotten). The cocktail's fruity, light simplicity pairing deliciously well with the aromatic Sri Lankan curry that we were thoughtfully served to soak up our hangovers. We also tried the spirit neat and I was shocked, not much coconut came through (thank god, I HATE coconut); rather a greenish, vegetal, slightly sweet spirit and with the merest perfume on the nose.

Here is a bad picture of the cocktail with the name I forgot at 22 Redbank

From 22 Redbank our chariots (taxis) were summoned and we were whisked through the night to the Northern Quarter, where we spent the next few hours meandering through the (pre-booked) bars and tasting each establishment's interpretation of Ceylon Arrack. My favourite was the Saz-arrack in Hula, taking the traditional bourbon based Sazerac and giving it a make-over/cheesy pun name. Hula's Sazarrack stood out as they'd skipped the fuck loads of fruit that other bars went with and just poured in a load of alcohol and clove spirits – strong, perfumed, medicine tasting; how I like my booze. Other than just straight booze and ice. I’m a straight booze and ice kind of girl.

Along the way we tasted a coconut/fruity thing in Apotheca, which everyone LOVED, but apparently my face gave the game away about my obvious distaste (cue much laughter); the aforementioned delights at 22 Redbank and Hula; an IPA beer concoction at The Whiskey Jar (good if you like beer, lots of citrus) and a champagne punch at Eperney served in the most outlandishly lavish punch bowl and accompanied by a whole smorgasbord of meats and cheese, which they placed in front of me. Which I ate most of. I'm not going to apologise.


Considering the night was constructed around only one spirit, it was interesting to see it interpreted in such a myriad of different ways, underlining the true versatility of this spirit and the creativity of the Manchester bar scene – this, coupled with Jody’s dry Scottish wit and his tall tales (apparently his surname is from the French and is derived from his family's mercenary past. See Jody, was TOTALLY listening most of the time) made the night one of the best so far. Slainte!

The Liquorists,, Twitter,

Book you night HERE.

Please note I was given my place on the trail for free, but was in no way pressured/bribed/beaten up to give the night a good review. As you are aware I’m a particularly grumpy cunt and am in no fear of speaking my mind (as I did here), even if Jody is from Glasgow and is much harder than me – the night was fab and so are The Liquorists – raise your glass to the next one.