Friday, 23 April 2010

The Cocktails That Keep Me Sane

I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar when I met my husband.  It was 1995 and I waitressed in a bar called the Aquarius 51, at the top of the Manulife Centre skyscraper in Toronto. It's now called Panorama.  I earned from tips the most money I have ever made - and I had no idea how rich I was - I went from living on a student grant to this and just assumed that this was what life was like when you were working.  It was when I started craving a microwaved baked potato with cheese that I realised that I hadn't eaten in for six months, including breakfast.  And then I started to wonder whether that was normal.

Well, cocktails in 1995, it was like the dark ages.  Everyone was ordering Mai Tais, Tequila Sunrises, Strawberry Daiquiris.  Basically anything colourful with fruit juice.  Even I liked Strawberry Daiquiris! The only decent cocktails I remember anyone ordering were martinis and "The Godfather" (see below). Upon returning to Britain, we had a long phase of margaritas. Then along came Sex and the City and the Cosmopolitan.  Tastes changed, and we welcomed with open arms the Mojito and the Caiparinha. And the Whisky Sour.

So here I am, in suburbia, and in a country where most pubs will give you an inch of Vermouth over ice if you ask them for a Martini.  And I console myself with the fact that I can get a cocktail as good as anywhere right here in my house.  All you need is a shaker, ice, ingredients and a copy of Larousse Cocktails.


1 shot scotch whisky (I suggest Famous Grouse as a good base for all whisky cocktails unless otherwise specified)
1 shot amaretto 

Serve over ice in a rocks (short) glass

Whisky Sour

1 shot whisky
1/2 shot sugar syrup (available as gomme syrup in Waitrose or dissolve 100g sugar in 50 ml water, cool, bottle and keep in the fridge)
1/2 shot fresh lemon juice

Shake with plenty of ice then strain into a rocks glass.  Optionally serve with a maraschino cherry.


1 shot vodka
1 shot triple sec/cointreau/grand marnier
1 shot lime juice
2 shots cranberry juice
strip of orange peel 3/4 an inch wide, three inches long, so finely cut as to be zest only, avoiding pith.

Shake liquid ingredients in a shaker with plenty ice.  Strain into a martini glass. Fold the orange peel sharply and wipe the zest that it exudes around the rim of the glass.  Optionally (and I saw this done to great effect in the Octagon Bar in Dublin (owned by U2)), take a cigarette lighter, light it, fold/squeeze the peel before the flame so that the zest shoots through the flame and falls, caramelized, into your willing cocktail.  Practice this in private. Drink wearing heels.

Caiparinha (kai-par-een-ya)

1 lime, quartered
2 shots cachaca white rum
2 tsp caster sugar

Crush the lime in a rocks glass with the sugar.  Add a couple of cubes of ice and the rum, stir and serve.


Kahlua (or Tia Maria)
Baileys Irish Cream
Grand Marnier (or Cointreau)

I give no measures here because this is hand poured. What you are aiming for is three separate stripes of booze in a shot glass.  Start by pouring a third of a glass of Kahlua.  Then take a dry teaspoon and carefully hold it face down inside the glass so that the tip of the spoon is at the junction of the top of the Kahlua and the glass, touching the side of the glass.  Slowly, gently, trickle Baileys down the back of the spoon - if you are doing it slowly enough it will float on top of the Kahlua without mixing.  Leave a centimetre or so at the top and put your spoon at the junction of the top of the Baileys and the glass.  Pour the Grand Marnier, slowly, gently, down the back of the teaspoon.  It will float on top of the Baileys.   Tastes like Christmas.

Nigella's Summer Staple

Juice of 5 limes
1 bottle Asti Spumante

Mix in a large jug with plenty of ice.  It tastes like a Margarita but has much less alcohol - perfect for long summer barbecues where you want a drink with a kick that doesn't get you too drunk.

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