Friday, 29 November 2013

Eye of the Skython

A few years ago, Rob was invited to officiate a PhD viva in Tromso, Norway. Intrigued, I wangled my way along. I'd never been that far north before - and it was boggling.

I particularly loved the old museum on the harbour, with photos and artefacts relating to the mad explorers who sailed from Tromso to Spitsbergen. I have a sneaking feeling that Philip Pullman, author of the Dark Materials trilogy, visited the same place. Polar bears, northern lights, hot air balloons ... sound familiar?

Anyway, not to be outdone, I came up with my own adventure - Ice Trekker. Monsters, myths and mayhem. 

The first strange creature the young hero Mitch encounters is a skython.

What a good name for a cocktail! To celebrate the launch, I came up with this: The Eye of the Skython, in all its purple glory.

Teaspoon of crème de mûres (or cassis)
Teaspoon of blue curação
Sliver of black grape (for effect!)

Mix the two liqueurs until you have a concentrated purple. Top up with Prosecco and float the grape. Off you go.

Hope you enjoy it.
By Pamela Kelt

Saturday, 23 November 2013

DIY Angostura Orange Bitters

I'm working on a Dexter-meets the Borgias style murder mystery. It's basically an excuse to do lots of research into things botanical. I've just about finished book one, Machiavelli's Acolyte, and I'm limbering up to do the final proof. The second is already bubbling in my brain - with the wicked title of More Villain Thou. I can't wait.

Well, I got sidetracked this afternoon by the creation of a character with hiccups. How did you cure hiccups in the 17th century? Well, had they known, Angostura bitters can work.

Suitably inspired, I’ve simplified an existing recipe for Angostura-style orange bitters. Allow three weeks, which sounds a lot, but it’s basically bunging stuff together and then leaving it for a weeks at a time. If you start at the beginning of December, it’ll be ready by Christmas.

A note for UK users: so many online recipes call for Everclear, not available in the UK. Cheap schnapps is fine!

500 ml alcohol
225g dried orange peel
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
1 teaspoon cordiander seeds
walf teaspoon caraway or star anise
225g white sugar

  • Place the spices in a Kilner jar and cover with alcohol.
  • Seal the jar and let the mixture stand in a cool, dark place for three weeks, giving the jar a shake once a day, or when passing.
  • Strain the alcohol through a cheesecloth to separate the liquid from the dry ingredients.

(Some recipes get fussy here, and fiddle about with more liquid, squeezing and so on. I skipped it, and it worked fine.)

  • Place the sugar in a small pan over medium to high heat. Stirring, heat through until it becomes liquid and dark brown (caramelising). Don’t do this too quickly, or you’ll end up with toffee!
  • Remove from heat and allow to cool, but not too much, or it gets too sticky.
  • Add the melted sugar to the mixture. The sugar will solidify for a minute and look like a giant golden iceberg, but don’t panic! It will dissolve in a few hours.
  • Reseal the jar and allow the mix to sit for five days or so.
  • If you want a really clear liquid, strain again and pour into a bottle from which you can pour small amounts. I recycled a Grand Marnier bottle and made my own label.

These bitters can be stored for up to 12 months.

As for the orange peel, grab a regular orange, peel it and remove as much pith as you can. I use a grapefruit knife, in fact.

Cut the peel into ½-inch strips using scissors and lay them out on a cutting board so they can air dry for a few days (three is usually enough in a warm kitchen). If the oven’s on, you could place on a non-stick sheet and bake at 65 C. This takes up to four hours, so it’s up to you. Still, if you’re going to make a batch, it might be worth it, as you can store the peel in a sealed container. I haven’t tested how long it keeps, yet!

If you think this is fiddly, it really isn’t, once you get going. The jar looks fantastic in the cupboard as the spices infuse. And how about this for incentive? A 100ml of orange bitters will cost around £10, not including postage. Ouch.

Did you know? Bitters were originally used as medicine to treat all manner of ailments, but usually relating to digestion. You can actually added a drop of Angostura bitters to soda or ginger ale to help settle an upset stomach? I haven’t but I’m assured it works.

What is fascinating is that bitters were usually taken by themselves. It took until the late 1700s for folks to add them to spirits, and hence the cocktail was born. Although they are strong, they are applied by the drop and should not make the drink ‘bitter’.

Your expert bitter merchant is aware of three components:

  • the bittering agent: gentian, quassia or even wormwood (famous as an ingredient in absinthe). These are a bit esoteric, but I plan to have a poke around
  • the flavour: it can be orange, as above, but you could consider, vanilla, lemongrass or ginger.
  • the solution: normally alcohol, vodka, gin, rum, whiskey or brandy (the last three are good for darker bitters, I understand).
Of course, different ingredients release their flavours at different speeds, but to keep things simple, the recipe above is fine.

I intend to experiment with having two mixes on the go for different ingredients to see if I can tell the difference. I like cooking, but this might be the limit. I shall report back.

By Pamela Kelt

Here are some photos of the caramelisation process. Such fun.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Dark Interlude

Dark Interlude is a sepia-inspired cocktail I devised for the book, a historical adventure set in Scotland in the winter of 1918/1919. As its coming up to St Andrews Day, it seems appropriate.

It was a fascinating period, as the nation struggled to come to terms with the aftermath of war. Thousands of demobbed soldiers poured back, but there were few jobs to go round. Rationing was still in force and times were hard. In Glasgow, the dockworkers decided to vote for a shorter week so every man could have a job. The government didn't like this at all, fearing a Bolshevik uprising.

They nearly got one. They called it 'the revolution that never was'. There's more background on the companion website. You'll find the book on Amazon and Smashwords.

So, here we are: Dark Interlude, the cocktail. I did a video at the time. Just a bit of fun. Here's the link.

Half a measure of Scotch
Teaspoon of cassis
One measure of sweet red vermouth
Dash Angostura bitters
Dash cranberry bitters
Juice of half a lime
Juice of half a lemon.

Shake over ice. It's quite strong, so use plenty.

Did you know that when they first designed the label for Angostura bitters, they got the size wrong? However, they liked the effect of the over-wrapped bottle, so kept it as distinguishing feature.

I plan to make my own cranberry bitters shortly. Watch this space ...

Friday, 15 November 2013

Berlini: a new Aperol ‘martini'

Of course, the definition of a martini is a cocktail featuring gin and dry vermouth.

If you’ll forgive the expression, I’m going to twist the rules for a new creation, a Berlin-inspired martini, with Aperol. Rob (my husband and co-author) and I took a trip there for research, partly computational chemistry, partly for the sequel of Half Life. Our characters are sent on a tricky mission to the heart of the Nazi power base. So, off we went - and I made myself busy making mixology notes, too.

The darling of Italy, Aperol is now more widely available. It’s all over Berlin bars, too, its tangerine-coloured contents lighting up many a dark shelf. We tried it first in Venice, so it will be forever associated with luxury.

One part Aperol
One part gin
One part sweet white vermouth
Dash of grapefruit
Juice of half a lemon.
Orange for garnish. 

Shake over ice and add a twist of orange peel. The orange is a natural partner for the slightly bitter tang of Aperol.

I’m ambitious when it comes to garnishes, but ham-fisted. I have discovered a trick, however. I used my deadliest knife to peel large sections of orange peel, but there was still too much pith. Using an old-fashioned grapefruit knife, I cut this away, then abandoned dodgy blades altogether, reaching instead for a pair of scissors. I use scissors a lot in the kitchen, even when serving spaghetti!

I cut out an easy leaf shape, scoring the peel with the scissor tip to release the zest, and poured the cocktail over this.

Another tip: if you’re forever opening fruit juice cartons, freeze some of the juice in ice cube trays. I had a stash of grapefruit juice cubes in the bottom of the freezer, which was just as well, as I’d almost run out of ice.

Oh, I muddle through.

As Christmas approaches, I feel I might have some more Aperol moments.

Did you know, one of the flavours in the secret Italian recipe is rhubarb? Also, it’s not as strong as you might think from the taste: its alcohol content is only 11 per cent.

By Pamela Kelt

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Half Life: #2 Junkers 52

Half Life: cocktail #2 Junkers 52

This is a rather special little number which we’ve dubbed the Junkers 52.

We got to know ‘Iron Annie’ rather well because it was used as the basis for the most iconic seaplanes of the period.

Two measures of vodka
One measure of cloudberry liqueur
Half measure of triple sec
Juice of a lime.

To make:
Shake over ice and serve.

There is a passing mention of cloudberries in the book, so they were a key ingredient. In fact, they're quite fascinating.

Cloudberries, like cranberries, are rather good for you, thanks to their high vitamin C content. Nordic seafarers and the Inuit regard them as protection against scurvy. The benzoic acid content acts as a natural preservative.

It was also a popular herbal medicine in ancient Scandinavian lore. The tea from cloudberry leaves was used in to cure abdominal infections.

The cloudberry is also tough, being able withstand temperatures of below -40°C.

If I can find the berries for sale anywhere, I’m going to try my own version of the liqueur, based on the apricot recipe I put up recently. We bought our cloudberry liqueur at Helsinki airport, but it is available over the internet. Try looking up Lakkalikööri (‘Lakka’ means cloudberry in Finnish).

You can also buy the jam from a well-known Swedish homestyle store. If I’m ever brave enough, I’m going to try out a recipe I found for jam wine (as you can imagine, I am wary) and try this instead.

By Pamela Kelt

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Half Life: #1 Arctic Breeze

Half Life: cocktail #1 Arctic Breeze

Cocktail time. The bluest and the best. This is the Arctic Breeze, devised to celebrate Half Life, a film noir mystery thriller I co-wrote with my husband Rob (pictured below), inspired by a trip to Norway. Off we go.

One measure of vodka
One measure of dry martini
Half measure of triple sec
Juice of half a lemon
Half a teaspoon of blue curaçao.

Add to shaker. Add handful of ice. Shake and pour. It should come out a lovely, pale, polar blue. (If I were to use more blue curacao, it would make my tongue blue, which is a bit peculiar.) If you're being fancy, frost a glass. Here's how. Dab of lemon juice round the rim. Dip into caster sugar in a saucer and store in fridge. Cool.

By Pamela Kelt

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Apricot Liqueur

Apricot liqueur is a bit of a treat but it is expensive for what it is. Even the most basic apricot brandy starts at around £12 a bottle. Here's a cheaper alternative that's simplicity itself.

Apricot Liqueur

One pack (about 200-300g) dried apricots
225g white sugar
500 ml vodka*

To make:
1. Boil the apricots in the sugar with 50-100 ml water to soften. You’ll need more if the apricots are tougher, less if they’re the squishy sort.
2. Combine all ingredients in a large Kilner jar. (I’ve used a wide-necked coffee jar in the past, and it worked fine!)
3. Seal it tight and leave it alone for three weeks.
4. Drain. Filter through a muslin bag for a clear liqueur. If you’re not fussed about cloudy cocktails (anything with fresh lemon or lime goes cloudy anyway), just pour through your finest sieve.
5. Create label. Fee free to copy either of the ones reproduced.

I use cheap schnapps (from Iceland, of all places). Plain gin or vodka is fine. I see on US websites that many mixologists from across the pond use the high-proof Everclear for this type of recipe. It’s not available in the UK, as far as I can tell. If you’re not sure, stick to gin or vodka.

As for bottles, I tend to collect them. Anything with an interesting shape will do. I remove the labels by soaking first in hot, soapy water and finishing off with white spirit. It's a strong smell but it dissolves the glue in no time.

The apricots are great with cream or ice-cream. If you make your own ice-cream, whiz them in a blender and stir through a vanilla yogurt-style ice-cream before the initial freezing. It goes a lovely pastel orange.

By Pamela Kelt

Friday, 8 November 2013

Tomorrow’s Anecdote

This was my first literary concoction, to celebrate my first release, retro mystery Tomorrow's Anecdote on Crooked Cat.

When the paperback arrived from Amazon, I felt the need to celebrate.

The book is semi-autobiographical, based on my heady days in the newsroom during the turbulent Thatcher years. Gin and lime helped - as it does the heroine in the book.

If I were feeling fancy, I’d suggest that Tomorrow’s Anecdote itself is a quirky blend of literary elements.

Part mystery, part thriller, part family saga, part romance.

So, I decided to come up with a Tomorrow’s Anecdote cocktail based on the protagonist’s penchant for a cheeky little gin and lime. So, in an online exclusive, here’s the totally original recipe that we came up with, amid much merriment.

Half measure each of: gin, dry white vermouth, sweet red vermouth, lime cordial, apricot brandy.

To make:
Use equal parts of all liquors. Shake over lots and lots of ice (three or four per person). Strain and serve.

If you hold it up to the light, it matches the pinkish hue on the cover of the book.

NB If it pains to you make cocktails with apricot brandy, which is rather expensive, it’s easy to make your own.

Recipe coming soon ...

The Cloud Pearl Blush - a variation

What a difference bitters can make.

I've always loved Angostura bitters, but recently I've been branching out. Have you tried cranberry bitters? They make a super Christmas present suggestion - especially if your partner is stuck for ideas for what to buy you.

Try this variation of The Cloud Pearl. It's surprisingly different in taste, with just a minor adjustment.

The Cloud Pearl Blush

One measure of gin
One measure of sweet vermouth (bianco)
One measure of dry vermouth
Dash of cranberry bitters
Ice (tonic water ice cubes and regular).
Make some tonic water ice cubes by pouring tonic water into the ice cube tray. 
    To make:
    Place liquor into a shaker and shake lightly with two or three ice cubes per person.
    Place tonic water ice cube into a classic wide cocktail glass.

    The cranberry bitters create this subtle pink shade and add a lovely fruity hint.

    Keep checking in.


    Home-made cranberry bitters (much cheaper and fun)

    Tomorrow's Anecdote

    Dark Interlude

    Half Life

    Ice Trekker

    The Cloud Pearl White Chocolate Milk Smoothie.  

    The Cloud Pearl

    I love a cocktail with a gimmick.

    Here’s the recipe again for The Cloud Pearl cocktail. It featured in the 'welcome' blog, but I wanted it to have a separate entry.

    It has a UV twist!

    One measure of gin
    One measure of sweet vermouth (bianco)
    One measure of dry vermouth
    Dash of Angostura bitters
    Make some tonic water ice cubes by pouring tonic water into an ice cube tray. You’ll also need to locate a source of UV light. I bought a cheap mini-torch on ebay. It also has an infra-red light, which I feel might feature in a future post. Blacklight bulbs are also easy to find - you might have one left over from Halloween ...

      To make:
      Place liquor into a shaker and shake lightly with two or three ice cubes per person.
      Drop a single tonic water ice cube into a classic wide cocktail glass.
      Dim the lights and switch on UV light as you pour the cocktail over the tonic water cube.

      The quinine in the tonic water glows lilac. It fizzles as it floats and looks amazing. The idea was to represent the 'cloud pearls' concept from the book, which are frozen hailstones flung to earth by angry weather gods.

      By Pamela Kelt

      Sunday, 3 November 2013



      I’ve made wine. I do bread. I make yogurt – even pasta – but cocktails are my latest thing. At cocktail hour (whenever that happens to be), we often chat over the day as I rustle up a little something.

      We have our favourites, but it’s fun to experiment.

      Last week, my book, The Cloud Pearl, was released. It’s the fifth book this year (I’ve been busy), and I’ve celebrated each release day and title with a unique concoction. It’s become something of a ritual.

      It struck me that it might be fun to share the recipes, and here we are.

      If you’re wondering about the title, whenever my father went on a golfing holiday to France, when asked what time it was, he always said: ‘Half-past Kronenburg.’ It was that kind of gents’ vacation. This is my small homage to the expression.

      Anyway, here’s the recipe for The Cloud Pearl cocktail. It has a UV twist!

      Make some tonic water ice cubes by pouring tonic water into an ice cube tray. You’ll also need to locate a source of UV light. I bought a cheap mini-torch on ebay. It also has an infra-red light, which I feel might feature in a future drinkie.

      • One measure of gin
      • One measure of sweet vermouth (bianco)
      • One measure of dry vermouth
      • Dash of Angostura bitters
      • Ice.

      To make:
      Place liquor into a shaker and shake lightly with two or three ice cubes per person.
      Place tonic water ice cube into a classic wide cocktail glass.
      Dim the lights and switch on UV light as you pour the cocktail over the tonic water cube.

      The quinine in the tonic water glows lilac. It fizzles as it floats and looks amazing.

      By Pamela Kelt

      PS The book is for younger readers, so this recipe is only on this site. To appease my conscience, I also devised an alcohol-free white chocolate milk shake/smoothie, that worked well. I’ll put this up another day ...