Category Archives: drink

Damson de vie jelly and yogurt panna cotta

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I have just strained off my damson de vie that I made earlier in the year at the same time as my sloe de vie and it tastes delicious.  My favourite way to drink it is with a little lemonade or tonic water.  I decided to try and transform this drink into a pudding and came up with this idea.  The pudding incorporates winter flavours in a deliciously light and fruity pudding.

It is a really beautiful looking pudding because of its two layers.  The jelly compliments the sweetness of the panna cotta and the berries add another texture.  I used flat lemonade to make the jelly because I didn’t want any bubbles running through it.  The processes to make this pudding are very straightforward, however you do need to be patient and wait for the jelly to set before adding the panna cotta which means it is not something you can make in an afternoon.  That being said it really is worth the effort as it tastes superb and is a real show stopper when you bring it out.


Damson de vie jelly and yogurt panna cotta

Ingredients: (Serves 6-8)

For the jelly:

  • 50-75ml damson de vie (or damson gin)
  • lemonade (preferably flat)
  • 75-100g sugar
  • 2 gelatine leaves (that have been soaked in water for 10 minutes)
  • 2 handfuls of cranberries
  • 2 handfuls of blackberries

For the panna cotta:

  • 200ml cream
  • 250ml natural yogurt
  • 100g sugar
  • 3-4 drops vanilla essence
  • 2 gelatine leaves (that have been soaked in water for 10 minutes)


Step 1 – make the jelly

  1. Line a loaf tin with cling film.
  2. Evenly distribute the fruit over the bottom of the tin.
  3. Make the jelly by placing the damson de vie in a measuring jug, add the lemonade until it measures ¾ of a pint, taste and add more damson de vie if needed.
  4. Place the liquid in a saucepan with the sugar.  Heat until the sugar is completely dissolved.
  5. Add the gelatine to the saucepan and allow to dissolve into the liquid, stirring occasionally.
  6. Once the gelatine has dissolved pour the jelly into the loaf tin.
  7. Place in the fridge and chill for 2-3 hours until the jelly has set.

Step 2 – make the panna cotta

  • Once the jelly has set make the panna cotta.
  • Place the cream and sugar in a pan and heat until the sugar has completely dissolved.
  • Add the gelatine to the pan, and cook until the gelatine is dissolved.
  • Place the yogurt and vanilla essence in a bowl and stir together.
  • Sieve the cream and sugar mixture into the yogurt (this is to ensure your panna cotta is completely smooth).
  • Stir the mixture together and then carefully pour it over the jelly.
  • Allow to set overnight.
  • Choose the plate you wish to serve the pudding on, place it on top of the loaf tin and then turn it upside down, the pudding should come out easily and remove the cling film.
  • Serve in slices.

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Venison and Black Sheep Ale

I made this meal a couple of weeks ago using some of venison that we were given by the local hunt.  When I was last in England I brought back a selection of ciders and ales that I had wanted to try cooking with in various meals and venison cooked slowly in ale was one of the things I had wanted to try.

The venison became beautifully tender and the ale gave the dish a slightly sweet taste.  The one mistake I made when I cooked this dish was that I cut the pieces of potato and Jerusalem artichokes too small, so they broke up during cooking process – in future I will leave the artichokes whole and cut the potatoes into much larger pieces.


Venison and Black Sheep Ale


  • 700g venison (cut into bite sized chunks)
  • 500ml Black Sheep Ale (or equivalent)
  • 3-4 carrots (peeled and cut into chunks)
  • 2 medium potatoes (peeled and cut into large chunks)
  • 8 small Jerusalem artichokes
  • 3-4 baby onions (quartered)
  • 4-5 shallots
  • 6-7 garlic cloves
  • handful of flour
  • beef stock cube
  • sprig of thyme
  • 2oz butter
  • 1tbsp sugar
  • Seasoning
  • 1-2tbsp redcurrant jelly (as needed)


1.  Place the sugar, butter, thyme, onions, shallots and garlic in a casserole dish – cook on a low heat for 10-15 minutes.

2.  Flour and season the venison, then add to the casserole dish cook for 3-5 minutes on a high heat.


3. Add all the other ingredients, except the redcurrant jelly to the casserole dish, stir well and add a little water if necessary to ensure that the meat and vegetables are covered.

4.  Place in the oven and cook at 160C fan for 2-2½hours.

5.  Once cooked remove from the oven, taste and add a little redcurrant jelly as needed.  Enjoy with vegetables of your choice!

In preparation for Christmas – making and feeding the Christmas cake

This year I have actually got my act together and made my Christmas cake well in advance of Christmas.  I am trying to be very diligent and feed the cake weekly with a local alcohol called Vin de Noix (Walnut Wine) so that the cake is beautifully moist when I eventually cut into it on Christmas Day.

We in fact make the Vin de Noix each year in mid-June using a combination of green walnuts, eau de vie, red wine, sugar, orange and spices.  The resulting drink is quite delicious and smells like Christmas pudding.  I used it last year to soak the fruit in for my Christmas cake and then used it to feed the cake in the weeks leading up to Christmas. The resultant taste was superb.  However, I appreciate that Vin de Noix is not something that everyone can readily lay their hands on, so I would advise you to use whatever you have to hand for example Sherry, Madeira, Brandy or Whisky.

I have in fact made two Christmas cakes this year, one for my grandmother and one for me.  The cakes are not the same as I used what I could find in the store cupboards of each house, so, as an example my grandmother’s cake was made using white sugar which meant her cake was a golden brown colour after cooking.  By contrast I used dark brown sugar in my cake and so I have a cake that is a deep brown colour as you would expect of a rich fruit cake.  The one thing I ensured about both cakes was they were packed full of dried fruit, essential for any Christmas cake.

So for now, both the cakes are wrapped up tightly in tin foil and have been stored away in some old air-tight sweet tins, keeping them fresh between their weekly feeds.  They will remain this way until they are iced in the week before Christmas.  (See icing the Christmas cake).


My Christmas Cake


  • 1 wine glass Vin de Noix (or ½ wine glass Brandy, Madeira, Sherry or Whisky)
  • 18oz dried mixed fruit
  • 6oz raisins
  • 6oz currants
  • 6oz sultanas
  • 1½oz mixed peel
  •  4oz glacé cherries
  • 4½oz plain flour
  • 4½oz self-raising flour
  •  1tsp salt
  • 2tsp mixed spice
  • 2tsp cinnamon
  • 6oz butter (or hard margarine)
  • 6oz dark brown sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 heaped tbsp black treacle
  • zest 1 orange
  • 2oz hazelnuts
  • 2oz chopped walnuts


1. Place the dried fruit, raisins, sultanas, currants, glacé cherries, mixed peel and Vin de Noix in a bowl, cover with cling film and leave for as long as possible (12hrs minimum, the longer you leave it the better the cake will be).

2. When your fruit is ready make your cake batter.  Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl, then slowly add the eggs being careful that they don’t curdle (if in doubt add a little flour at this stage to stabilise your mixture).

4. Add the flour, spices, salt, zest and treacle to the mix and combine using a large metal spoon.

5. Finally add the nuts and the fruit to the batter and stir well making sure that the fruit is evenly distributed through the batter.

6.  Line a 20cm loose bottomed deep cake tin with baking paper.  Do this by:

  • Cutting out 4 circles the size of the tin, 2 of these will be for the bottom and the other two will be for the top of the cake.  Cut a 1” cross in the centre of the two circles to be used for the top of the cake.
  • Cut a long piece of baking paper big enough to go around the outside of the tin, fold it in half lengthways.   On one edge make a crease (roughly an 1”) then make cuts every inch up to the crease (this will allow the paper to fit far better into the tin).

  • Place the long piece of baking paper in the tin first, so that the cuts in the paper lie smoothly on the bottom of the tin.  Fill the cake tin with the batter, push it down gently, then place the two circles of the baking paper with the cross over the batter.
  • Finally, take a large piece of brown parcel paper, fold it in half lengthways and wrap it around the outside of the tin, tying it in place with a piece of string.

7.  Place the cake in the oven and cook at 150C fan for 3 -3 ½ hours (or until a skewer comes out clean).

8.  Remove the cake from the tin and leave to cool completely, before feeding with 1tbsp of Vin de Noix, then wrap tightly in tin foil and place in an airtight container.

9.  Continue to feed the cake once a week with 1 tbsp of Vin de Noix up until it is iced.


It was an early start yesterday morning to ensure all the animals were fed and watered before we headed off to a nearby hamlet at the top of a steep hill (jokingly referred to locally as the mountain).  We went armed with secateurs ready to help with the grape harvest.  On arrival we were given a ‘petit café’ to steady us for the morning ahead and then it was into the cars for the short drive down a dirt track to the vines.


It was a gloriously cool autumnal morning with a low level mist and as the sun came up it turned into a lovely warm day, perfect for grape picking.  I think there were about 20 of us in total involved in the grape harvest, we were handed large plastic crates to fill as we gradually made our way down the vines.  An aged tractor narrow enough to fit between the vines accompanied us as we slowly worked our way down collecting the filled crates that were then transferred into a small lorry.  It was a slow process, but everyone was in good spirits, nattering as they went catching up on local gossip.


Everyone stopped around 10.30 for another ‘petit café’ and slice of cake.  It was a well-deserved break, allowing everyone the opportunity to stretch their backs and get the feeling back in their legs.  Then it was the last big push before everybody stopped for lunch.  You can set your watch to a Frenchman’s lunch – as soon as the clock strikes 12 everyone downs tools and heads either home or to a local restaurant.  Yesterday, lunch was provided by those who lived on the mountain in return for our help.  A five course meal comprising of: soup, egg salad, pork and bean stew, cheese and last but by no means least poached pear with a chocolate sauce, had been beautifully prepared ready for the arrival of the workers.  Needless to say there was a healthy amount of homebrewed ratafia and vin de peche as well as wine laid out to ‘refresh’ everyone.  Lunch lasted a good 2 hours, giving us all enough time to gear ourselves up for the next stage of the harvest – the crushing of the grapes.


An old manual grape crusher was brought out, dusted off and placed on the top of a huge container (that could hold roughly 100 litres) that had been filled with a layer of fresh juniper branches to act as a primary sieve.   Over the course of an hour, crate upon crate of the grapes were passed through the crusher until 3 containers were filled to the brim.  Then the juice of the grapes (known locally as ‘mout’ – meaning the juice from the first pressing of the grape) was drained off and taken away to be made into a regional drink – Ratafia.



We were lucky enough to be given some of the mout so that we could make some Ratafia ourselves.  It is a very simple drink to make requiring only two ingredients, eau de vie and mout.  Yesterday I watched and listened as a great debate arose about what is the perfect mix as it would seem that everyone has their own theory about this.  All I could deduced was too little eau de vie and you run the risk that the Ratafia ferments and becomes undrinkable, too much eau de vie the drink is too alcoholic and is like drinking paint stripper.  What I concluded as we drove home is that making Ratafia is more of an art than a science.  So with that in mind, the Old Man got out his 25l demijohn  and measured out what he felt was best and I guess we will find out the end result when we get to try it in mid-December.



  • c. 6.5 litres eau de vie
  • c. 18.5 litres mout

(Working on the principal of 3 parts mout: 1 part eau de vie)


  1. Combine ingredients in a large barrel.
  2. Allow the demijohn to breath for a week (so don’t seal it straight away).
  3. Turn the demijohn as often as you remember (if possible once a day).
  4. After about 2-3 months, transfer the liquid into bottles and store ready for drinking.

Sloe de Vie…

Earlier this summer my brothers and I were talking about what we could do with the eau de vie stocks that we have at home.  Eau de vie is an acquired taste – I personally don’t mind the apricot variety that we have a bottle of, but I am not the biggest fan of plum of which we have literally litres upon litres in the barn.  As a result, my brothers and I have been thinking of ways to mask the raw taste of the plum by adding a variety of other fruits and herbs.

My eldest brother introduced me a couple of years ago to the delights of Sloe Gin when we were out on a shoot.  A sip of the drink was given to everyone to warm them up on a bitterly cold and wet winter’s day.  The sloe gin had a syrupy consistency which warmed your throat as you drank it and ever since I had it I have wanted to try and make it though I have struggled to come to terms of wasting perfectly good gin if it didn’t work out.  A solution presented itself this summer – substitute the gin with eau de vie and if it doesn’t work out it I won’t feel as though I am wasting anything other than some sugar, given that the sloes are free and we have so much eau de vie we just don’t know what to do with it.

Some other ‘infusions’ that are being tried out by my brothers and I include: Raspberry de Vie which my younger brother is giving a go in a 1.5 litre water bottle in London(doubtless to be shared amongst his friends at a house party later this year regardless as to whether it tastes nice or not); Damson de Vie which my eldest brother is trying out this time in a fancy 5 litre glass demijohn; and lastly Rosemary de Vie (as this is going to be used for cooking with in stews during the winter months I have not added any sugar).

 After a lot of research on the internet looking at recipes for Sloe Gin I decided that perhaps precision was not the best approach for Sloe de Vie. Subsequently, I settled on the idea of a bit of guess work and using rough estimation for the ingredients, concluding that I can always add more sugar in 2 months’ time when I try it for the first time.  I made 4 bottles in total, three 75cl bottles for the boys and one  1 litre bottle for me, all using the same principles.  After 14 days of maturing my Sloe de Vie looks like this:

Sloe de Vie

Ingredients needed to make 1 bottle:

  • Sloes (enough to fill half of the bottle you are using to mature the Sloe de Vie in – c.350-500g)
  • Sugar (a small tumblers worth of sugar – c.175-200g)
  • 3 Juniper berries
  • Eau de Vie (enough to fill the bottle after the fruit and sugar have been added – c.300-400ml)


  1. Wash the sloes thoroughly then, using a sterilized needle, pierce each sloe through to the stone.
  2. Place the 3 juniper berries and the sloes in the bottle that you are using to store the sloe de vie in until the bottle is roughly ½ full.
  3. Measure out your sugar in a tumbler then using a funnel – pour the sugar into the bottle.

  4. Finally pour the eau de vie into the bottle until it is full (i.e stop when the liquid reaches just below the neck of the bottle).
  5. Tightly screw on the lid and shake vigorously.  For the next couple of days shake the bottles every so often until the sugar has dissolved.
  6. Leave for 2 months turning/shaking occasionally, before straining and tasting.

Note: I have added juniper berries on the basis that they should add a slight gin flavour to the mix – however this could turn out to be a rookie error.  As I mentioned before, this drink is usually made using gin. Therefore, if you prefer to try that instead simply don’t add the juniper berries (the same goes for vodka).