Monthly Archives: December 2016

Mulled Wine Recipe

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Valentines Oyster RecipesValentines Oyster RecipesThe Taster is very proud to present the following . . for 25 years, former butler Richard J. Smith advised celebrities, politicians & royalty on wine. He now runs the Wine Schools of Cheshire and London ( and writes for The Taster (adding a bit of class to the whole enterprise, we’re sure): here, he gives us Perfect Punch.

Mulled Wine RecipeMaking your own mulled wine isn’t as difficult or as costly as you might think. Your home will smell amazing for hours too!

§ Getting The Wine
As you’re adding lots of extras to the wine, never spend too much on a bottle — but do get one of decent quality. For a wine steal, nip to Aldi and grab a bottle of Toro Loco Tempranillo (a bargain £3.60). What’s important is while it’s incredibly cheap, this wine has still been bottled in Spain and isn’t pumped full of the extra sulphites that so many supermarket wines fall foul of. Avoid full-bodied or very light wines.

§ Ingredients
For six glasses:

  • 1 bottle medium-bodied red wine
  • 60g granulated sugar
  • Cinnamon stick
  • 1 medium size orange
  • Cloves

Alternative recipe for Amaretto Cherry Punch — add:

  • 4 shots Amaretto
  • 1 tin of black cherries in syrup

§ Method
Bring half a litre of filtered water to the boil, add the sugar, then simmer. Once the sugar has dissolved add the red wine.

Stick cloves in half the orange and slice the remaining half.

Gently stir and add the cloved orange, orange slices and the cinnamon stick.

Simmer for 20 minutes and taste. If you prefer a sweeter mulled wine add a little more sugar, simmer and taste again.

If you’re making Amaretto Cherry punch, add the black cherries (and the syrup) to the simmering mixture. Take off the heat, add the Amaretto then stir. Return to the heat and simmer. Add more Amaretto if you prefer something stronger.

Keep your mulled wine on a gentle heat and serve into heatproof glasses or cups.

**Do be careful if you or any guests are driving. While mulled wine is a warming treat in winter you’re still consuming quite an amount of alcohol. Merry Christmas

Cin Cin and Ho Ho Ho!

See for more by Richard

We hope the above idea provides inspiration. We do update entries, so check back any time. Click HERE for more ingredients.

Christmas Fire

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Christmas FireTHE human spirit has never been able to tolerate the winter of the world without a rebellious spasm of light and fire: twinkling candles, bonfires, burning logs and glittery trees to set the night ablaze and frighten off the dark beyond the campfire. Hannukah, The Chinese New Year, and (a little earlier in the year) Diwali all feature fire, light and in the case of Chinese New Year, firecrackers and fireworks.

From flame we progress naturally to feast — Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Burns Night. Roasts, spits, bubbling cauldrons; instant poptarts, pinging microwaves; butter and potatoes always the same, hot and dripping down the centuries. These winter banquets are celebrations of celebration itself.

Without fire, the physical burden of surviving on cold plants and blue meat would have denied us our humanity. Instead of evolving large, capacious skulls to house our large, beautiful brains, we would have had large, capacious guts and a mouthful of outsize fangs and grinders. We are exactly the right size to make the exercise of lighting a small fire worth the trouble, in terms of calories expended and heat generated. This is no happy coincidence; it is why we are as we are. The ability to cook has shaped our brains and bodies. Likewise, celebration feasts — something of which no animal has any concept — are a unique expression of humanity.

(Should you ever feel a pang of guilt at taking one more spud, just tell yourself that self-indulgence is the flip side of noble self-awareness.)

If Christmas Day doesn’t quite pan out right — and judging from the rest of 2016, if all we suffer this festive period is a few powercuts, we should all be mightily grateful — then, as Dylan Thomas put it, ‘Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’ Ignite the candles, open the wine and invite the neighbours round to pool resources. Advanced cooks might consider getting out the barbecue. Either way, shed light on the problem — literally — and you’ll be carrying on tradition just as much as ever; and a tradition that has been around for an awful lot longer than that of roasting large North American poultry.

Good luck, everyone — !


This article was adapted from one originally published in the Winter 2014 edition of The Taster. Click HERE for more articles

Christmas Fire

Alcohol Free Drinks & Mocktails

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Here’s a selection of a few alcohol-free options for Christmas and other occasions, designed to take the sting out of being a Designated Driver

Alcohol free drinks§ FOR CHRISTMAS
Try Botonique. As the name suggests, it’s botanicals and tonic, with a high level of nutrients. Created by a wine merchant, it’s much drier than soft drinks and has the complexity, length of finish, dryness and freshness of a crisp dry white wine – but without grapes or alcohol. The makers describe it as “reminiscent of dry white wine or Prosecco, with hints of gin, Pimms and vermouth”

Serve on its own
Well chilled or over ice
In a Champagne flute for maximum bubbles
In a wine glass for fewer bubbles
Give it a stir if you don’t want the bubbles

Lemon & ginger
Cucumber, lime & mint
Strawberry & black pepper
Pineapple & sage
Top tip: instead of ice cubes, cool down your mocktails by dropping frozen fruits such as strawbs or raspberries into them

 Try 50/50 with a cheap dry white: Botonique turns it into something much more interesting, nutritious and half the ABV
 Add a splash of dessert wine such as Muscat for a Gewurtztraminer effect
 Try one part red, such as Malbec, to two parts Botonique for a refreshing light red, about 4% ABV
  For Christmas: try one third port to two parts Botonique for a sensuous, refreshing Christmas tipple of just 6% ABV

Alcohol free drinks§ FOR BARBECUES
We’ve tried these and they’re pretty good: soft drinks, with a cayenne chilli kick which lets them stand up really well to the strong flavours of barbecue, with a little fire of their own. The spicier the food, the better —  try the cucumber & mint with cumin lamb burgers, or the mango & ginger with exotic fruit salad




cornish waterYou can personalise or brand your own bottles of this Cornish Natural Spring Water, which comes from an underground lake where pure moorland rainfall filters naturally through rocks deep within a hillside. Clear, crisp, mineral taste; comes in still or sparkling.




We hope the above ideas might provide some inspiration. We do update entries, so check back any time. Click HERE for seasonal ingredients.

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Alcohol Free Drinks & Mocktails

Sustainable Wine Discount

Sustainable Wine Discount 15%

Use code OH15 to get 15% off all orders

sustainable wine discountTulip Hambleton, of Sustainable Wines, writes:

I am a wine lover and expert based in North London. Originally from New Zealand, I have spent the past 20 years working in the retail and food and drink industries, my love of wine eventually culminating in my business — Sustainable Wines UK.

My company does what it says on the tin. I wanted to find the very best sustainable, organic, biodynamic and natural wines from all over the world, and make them available to people who might not otherwise get to try them.

As well as my love of wine, the concept was driven by two of my passions: for the environment and health. The wines we sell are produced in a natural, eco-friendly way, and are low in chemicals and sulphites. The goal for me was to enhance people’s health and enjoyment and help the planet — through wine!

Our customers enjoy some of the most interesting and unique wines around — from bottles made right here in the UK, to award-winning wines from New Zealand; including its newest wine region, Ohau. Ninety minutes north of Wellington, on the west coast of the North Island, Ohau only started wine production in 2009, after a local viticulturist discovered similarities in the soils and climate to those of other NZ winemaking regions. Ohau’s signature varieties are Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc, several of which have won international awards over the years.

Tulip’s Christmas Wine suggestions

Christmas morning: Start with a fantastic bottle of natural Prosecco. Our Casa Coste Piane Prosecco is made from 60-year-old vines in the unusual champenoise method, with no added sugar, sulphur or yeast.

Aperitif: Toast with an organic Crémant

Christmas Dinner: Pair starters with a sustainable white or rosé from Ohau Vineyard. With the turkey, enjoy a luscious, aromatic Pinot Gris; and round pudding off with our smooth, chocolatey Pinot Noir from Spy Valley.

These wines are available in the Christmas Wine List Sorted package (£81), which makes a perfect gift . . . if you can bear to give it away!

Leading up to Christmas, I’ll be offering free advice for any businesses or event planners looking to create the perfect sustainable wine list this Christmas season.  See full details at

Find more special offers via The Taster here

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Organic wine discount

Organic Wine Discount 10%

New customers  can use the code VA014 to get 10% off orders of 12 bottles or more

Discount organic wineIf you can’t afford to fly away, get a taste of abroad from Vinceremos: a great British organic wine importer, one of the first to champion Fairtrade wines and spirits from developing countries, and now supplying over 400 organic, vegan, biodynamic, natural and Fairtrade drinks

Vinceremos encourages transparency in wine-making practices and ingredient labelling, believing that organic wines have nothing to hide, and much to shout about. It supplies ‘natural wines’ (made with no added sulphur dioxide); was one of the first to supply vegetarian and vegan wines; and has a wide range of organic Prosecco and Champagne, perfect for Christmas, along with organic Port, whisky and liqueurs; gluten-free beer, English and French organic cider and gift options including magnum bottles

Jem Gardener, owner of the company, says: ‘We passionately believe in organic grape-growing and wine-making, but first and foremost our wines must be delicious. We are committed to looking after the environment, our suppliers, our employees, and our customers.’

Find more special offers via The Taster here

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Brussel Sprout Recipe

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Brussel Sprout Recipes

Brussel Sprout RecipeCHOOSE
Look for dark green, firm shiny specimens. Get an Entire Stalk of sprouts; pick off the teeny tiny baby sprouts at the top to entice Those Who Fear The Sprout (see pic; on this one Stalk we got baby sprouts at the top, normal sprouts at the bottom, and a great big thing like a cabbage at the top. Something for everyone, we think)

Watson, the cognitive-cookery supercomputer, says the closest friends of sprouts are lemon, Cheddar and potato. Well, it could be worth a try . . . What The Taster is sure of is: never boil sprouts — that’s just asking for hideous boiled cabbage aromas — always roast or fry them, and always in lashings of butter and, ideally, bacon fat. Nothing could be better for you. (This is also true for all other brassicas: cabbage, cauliflower, greens etc.) See further options below:

Brussel Sprout Recipe§ Chestnuts & Bacon
Slather raw sprouts in butter, oil & herbs and roast them whole with shelled chestnuts. Then, fry briefly in a pan of pancetta or bacon and a glug of Marsala

§ Cranberries, Redcurrant Jelly & Herbs
Roast the sprouts in butter and oil. Then, deglaze the pan or tray with red wine, add chicken stock, and simmer the sprouts for 2 mins with redcurrant jelly, dried cranberries, chives & tarragon

§ Au Gratin
Having roasted your sprouts, cover them with melted butter & grated Cheddar, and bake 240ºC, 10 mins

§ Advanced Au Gratin
Sauté boiled sprouts with pancetta; pour on Béchamel sauce & grated Gruyère; add more Gruyère and bake 180ºC, 20 mins.

(To make Béchamel: put 420ml milk in a pan with a little fresh parsley, bay leaf, 10 peppercorns and one slice of onion. Simmer 5 mins, sieve out the solids. Melt 40g butter over a low heat, then mix with 20g plain flour into a paste. Mix in the milk a little at a time, stirring or whisking continuously. Turn the heat right down and simmer, 5 mins, stirring occasionally)

§ Go Nuts
Clearly, chestnuts are the big one, but other nuts also go with sprouts. The Italians like almonds, along with lemon & breadcrumbs — mmm, we can see that working, all sautéd roughly together — or, for a daring 1970s vibe, try brazil nuts

We can thank the Victorians, with their exquisite knack for destroying pleasant dining experiences, for Christmas sprouts. They first appeared in cookbooks around the 1850s, served with butter and veal gravy, and have successfully turned Christmas into an ordeal for brassica-haters ever since.

If you would like to play a strangely addictive game featuring sprouts and farting, click on the below. (The Taster has an embarrassingly high score.) WARNING: not for the fainthearted

Brussel Sprout Recipe

We hope the above ideas might provide some inspiration. We do update entries, so check back any time. See more seasonal ingredients by The Taster here

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World Food History

A Set of Food History Books

Christmas food books Whether you buy one, two, or all 50+ titles in this World Food History series by Reaktion Books, each slim volume “explores the rich history of cuisine. . . reveals the global history and culture of a particular food or beverage.” The Taster has now read several and so far, every book has proved reliable, well written and enjoyable.

With so many titles to choose from, you can build up a very personalised set for someone special. The Taster knows what he’d like — Cheese, Figs, Lemon, Pie, and Brandy, thanks very much :) His Aged Mother, in contrast, might like Tea, Cake, Bread, Game and Pancakes. See the whole range HERE, from A for Apple to W for Wine.

See more foodie books and cookbooks here

If you buy, please mention The Taster

Diet History

Calories And Corsets

Calories & Corsets Louise FoxcroftA history of dieting over 2000 years, by Louise Foxcroft. We particularly liked the chapter on recent history, and how big business and governmental bodies have participated in our ideas about diets and dieters.

“An enlightening and entertaining social history of how we have tried (and failed) to battle the bulge over two millennia. . . Meticulously researched, surprising and sometimes shocking, Calories and Corsets tells the epic story of our complicated relationship with food, the fashions and fads of body shape, and how cultural beliefs and social norms have changed over time. . . This unique and witty history exposes the myths and anxieties that drive today’s multi-billion pound dieting industry – and offers a welcome perspective on how we can be healthy and happy in our bodies.”

Of interest to slimmers, foodies and historians. Published 2013, £8.99 from Profile Books

See more foodie books and cookbooks here

If you buy, please mention The Taster


Antarctic Cookery

The Antarctic Book of Cooking & Cleaning

Foodie Christmas PresentsAn unusual and interesting eco book about Antarctic Cookery. Authors Wendy Trusler and Carol Devine relate the tale of Antarctica’s first clean-up, carried out by 54 volunteers from five countries.

In three months, they cleared the detritus of 30 years’ worth of previous expeditions. But while most of the volunteers were clearing rubbish, someone had to do the cooking. As the authors say, ‘The first thing that comes to mind about Antarctica is not likely the food. But if you are going there, it is the second.’ Trusler spent ‘many long, white nights’ devising menus with limited ingredients in a camp kitchen — with some success, if the 42 recipes given are anything to go by. The international nature of the project is evident in dishes from Great Wall [of China] dumplings to fondue, goulash and roast leg of lamb.

Along with original illustrations and photos, the book reproduces Shackleton’s famous advertisement for volunteers, which still sends a shiver down the spine: ‘MEN
WANTED for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case
of success. Ernest Shackleton . . .’

Of interest to foodies, geographers and historians. Published 2015, £25 from Harper Design

See more foodie books and cookbooks here

If you buy, please mention The Taster

Rafi’s Spicebox Curry Cookbook

Rafi’s Spicebox curry cookbook

curry cookbookThis book was due to be published just as The Taster went to press (December 2016). Having tried one of Rafi’s Spiceboxes, we can testify to their lusciousness: really nice, authentic food; and usefully, for those who like very little, or a whole lot, of heat, you get to decide how much heat you need (the paprika comes in a separate packet).

Born in Hyderabad, India, Rafi herself moved to the UK in 1965 and opened her first Spicebox store in 1989. Now, it is a team of passionate foodies headed by her sons, Kevin and Lee. Apparently, the recipes in this book have been bubbling away for years. All are based on Indian flavours and concepts, but adapted to work with ingredients easily found in the UK. Some are designed to fit in with aspects of British life such as the traditional Sunday roast, or to liven up ‘a drizzly British BBQ’ (somehow we feel the British climate was not among the factors that so happily attracted Rafi to these shores). Some are Rafi’s own original recipes, some have been inspired by further travels.

Banjara Press 2016, £20 from Spicebox

See more foodie books and cookbooks here

If you buy, please mention The Taster
Happy reading!