Friday, 25 August 2017

Boozy Gin Brownies - Recipe

Oh gin, you popular wee thing you. The boom in this particular drinks trend is far from over, and with more than 70% of all gin in the UK now produced in Scotland, it's no surprise half of us have gone gin mad. 

It just so happens that I've now decided to eat the stuff, never mind consume goblets of it at the weekend.

Not the most experienced of bakers, I wanted to incorporate one of my favourite spirits into a simple recipe which bakers of all levels would be able to tackle. And with a slight addiction to chocolate, I opted for my very own Boozy Gin Brownies.

There are of course numerous different ways you can make brownies, and if you've got your recipe nailed then that's totally cool. But for those who don't, I've pulled together a recipe for simple, slightly gooey brownies below.

And as well as gin, I've also added some white chocolate chips and mini marshmallows for those who really want to have fun with this recipe.

To make the boozy gin brownies you will need the following...

  • 200g dark chocolate (I used Bournville)
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 4 large eggs (or five medium)
  • 60g cocoa powder
  • 3 tsp vanilla essence
  • 60g plain flour
  • One handful of white chocolate chips
  • One handful of mini marshmallows
  • Any premium gin (I used Cocoa Gin from Hotel Chocolat)
You will also need one square/rectangular baking tin lined with grease proof paper to bake the brownies in.

Below is the step-by-step method you will need to follow - however I've left out the gin and tonic I'd poured myself to drink whilst baking.

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 180C and line your baking tin - set tray to the side.
  2. Break the dark chocolate into small pieces and place in a heatproof bowl. Melt the chocolate gently over simmering boiling water in a pan, or microwave the chocolate in bursts of 30 seconds. Set the chocolate aside to cool.
  3. Put both the butter and the caster sugar into a mixing bowl and beat until fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one after the other. Add in the vanilla essence and beat well.
  4. Slowly pour some of the melted chocolate into the mixture and mix it in. Do this until all of the melted chocolate has been added. If you would like, feel free to add white chocolate chips and marshmallows at this stage - or any other confectionary you would like.
  5. Sift in the cocoa powder and flour and gently stir into the mixture ensuring it has completely combined.
  6. Pour the mixture into the lined baking tin and put into the pre-heated oven for 20 minutes.
  7. Once cooked, place the brownies on a wire cooling rack. Leave the brownies to cool for about 8-10 minutes and then, depending on how strong you would like your brownies to be, pour/drizzle your favourite gin over the brownies. The mixture will soak up the gin. For this recipe I used Hotel Chocolat's Cocoa Gin which is infused with cocoa shells.
  8. Cut into pieces and serve.
To confuse things a little, I decided to make two batches when baking these brownies - both containing gin, however only one contained the mini marshmallows and white chocolate chips.

These brownies are a great fine piece to take to any tea party and can be made with numerous other spirits including rum, reposado tequila and even a dark beer. I used Hotel Chocolat's Cocoa Gin due to it being infused with cocoa shells, but next time I'll definitely think of using a more floral gin or one with lots of botanicals from the sea, as I think they would work extremely well. I can imagine the Gin Bothy amaretto gin liqueur would also be a winning combination too.

Enjoy your boozy baking folks, but remember, please bake and drink responsibly.

  For Now...

Just Julia


Thursday, 17 August 2017

JUST JULIA TRIES: The Pier (Aberdeen)

On a sunny day, Aberdeen's beach promenade is a busy place. With various eatery's having come and gone from the location, it's to no one's surprise that when the former Pier Bisto relaunched as The Pier that the public would swarm in.

The restaurant is big, and is dressed with a sea of intrinsic pictures lining its walls. It's bright and with the addition of the large windows - one of which doubles as an ice cream takeaway hidden behind the bar - its very spacious.

After a walk along the beach one night, my sisters and I, as well as my sister's boyfriend Jack, decided to head in for dinner.

A rum drinker, Jack opted for a Kraken and coke, whilst my youngest sister decided to try out the Kinder Bueno milkshake - nothing like pacing yourself for dinner...I on the other hand ordered a Fine Time Fanta - a gin based cocktail featuring Hendricks, Solerno (a blood orange liqueur), lemon and orange juice. And what a fine time it was.
Any opportunity to eat out, I encouraged the gang to order a compilation of tapas starters, of which four strong choices were decided on.

First to face the taste test was the smoked salmon empanadas. The Latin-American inspired filo pastry dish was packed with delicious Scottish smoked salmon, cream cheese and chives, and finished off with a homemade salsa served on the side. The pastry was crisp and inside was extremely cheesy and smooth, and even better, there was a real generous amount of salmon squeezed in there too.

Next to meet the wrath of our forks was the chorizo cooked in red wine. The spicy sausage went perfectly with the red wine, which, not being too fond of red wine, I was extremely surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did. Served with some fresh salad leaves it was definitely a table favourite.

The patatas bravas went down a treat and was devoured pretty quickly. The spicy tomato sauce - which was more like a tomato salsa for this dish, went really well with the potato. The salsa/tomato chunks were very light in comparison to the bigger, creamier squares of crisp potato.

Leaving the best until last, I tackled the black pudding bon bons with sweet chilli jam. Beautifully cooked, the soft, rich black pudding centre melted in my mouth. Accompanied by the sweet chilli jam which boasted a wee punch of chilli, it was the perfect way to round off our sharing starters.
Eating out has to be one of my favourite things to do. I love the social aspect food and drink bring to a table, creating so much conversation just by being there. It amazes me what great conversations can be had just by enjoying others company with goof food and drink.

So there's one thing I try my best not to do when I eat out, not order the same dish as anyone else.

By ordering something completely different I feel I get to experience a restaurant more than I would if I order the same as my company. When I go out I want to order something different to everyone else so I can truly appreciate a menu and the different cooking skills and techniques which will have been used to create the dishes. That being said, I must admit I struggled to give up the one dish I was so eager to try.

Having previously eyed up the Sailor Jerry glazed steak burger earlier that day, to my dismay, my sister's boyfriend had also flagged the burger as a 'must have' for mains too. Desperate to get a look-in we waited patiently for our second course.

The food took a while to come, but I'd expected that seen as everything is more or less homemade and cooked to order. Our server was new so the service in general was a little slow, but having worked as a waitress before I completely understood and was delighted to be the first ever customers he had served on his own. Learning is a wonderful thing and it was great to see his confidence grow as the night progressed.

When the food arrived it was clear we'd all made pretty good choices.

On the table sat the Sailor Jerry burger, posh fish and chips, and two specials of the day - my hot dog with crispy onions and my sister's pork and black pudding burger.

The Sailor Jerry burger arrived with a treble clef imprinted on the top of the bun and a mug full of chips, however it was the Sailor Jerry sauce that was the talk of the dish. It tasted exactly how you could imagine it would, and personally, I think it would be cracking on a set of ribs - yum. My youngest sister's burger also came with chips and was cooked well. She demolished it in record time, indicating her approval with a big thumbs up.
The posh fish and chips also received good feedback and I managed to talk my sister into swapping some of her lightly battered monkfish and king prawns for a bit of my hot dog. The dish was served with chips and mushy peas, but I think a side of homemade tartar sauce would have finished this dish off perfectly. The fish was stunning and the prawns were perfect.

Moving on to my hot dog, I was pretty pleased with the size of it. So often I go to restaurants or festivals looking for a really good hot dog, to receive, well everything but that. The crispy onions that topped it were crisp and tasty, and the fresh salad added vibrant colours to the dish. The chips were cooked well, but were just your standard restaurant chips - which I do rather enjoy.
Glasses empty, I decided on a frozen tropical daiquiri to accompany my meal - not the most obvious food pairing there but it worked. The daiquiri was ace and  full of flavour, and of course it was super refreshing too. Jack ordered another Kraken and coke, and the girls opted for a few softs.
Deliberating on dessert, we decided to call it a day. Although, in hindsight, I totally could have gone a sticky toffee pudding, just. The brownie with Mackie's ice cream was also a strong contender too, but alas, we were all beat.

Set up for the night, we headed back to the car enjoying a nice walk along the beach promenade on route. A great local, family friendly place, The Pier is a great food stop for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and at affordably priced, it's the perfect place to refuel whilst enjoying time at the beach. Since this visit I've been back for breakfast - the full Scottish, which was scrumptious - and a lot of ice cream too. I'll definitely be making a conscious effort to get my friends along to try out their dinner menu and with numerous collaboration events in the evening too, there's plenty of opportunity for my friends and I to go and enjoy a few drinks whilst catching up over good food.

 Job well done guys. 

   For Now...

Just Julia


Friday, 4 August 2017

Aberdeen Gin Club: Island Life event

As a kid, I was a member of various different clubs. You name it, I've probably been enrolled in it, but as an adult, I find myself not really belonging anywhere. Yes there's work and some of us have the odd hobby we're involved in, but that's no where near the joy and fulfillment belonging to a club would bring to me as a child. 

All that changed when one day I spied a Facebook post announcing that a new gin club was being launched in the city. A keen enthusiast of the spirit, I was thrilled to attend the first ever Aberdeen Gin Club event the club hosted - Island Life.

Having already tasted my fair share of gins, I was delighted to see a few gins on the list which I hadn't managed to try before. Organised by director, Peter Sim or Peaty Nose, the event took place at the recently revamped The Four Mile, Peter talked us through the different gins, taking us on a trip around the Isles of Scotland

Putting out tastebuds to the test, we sampled some of Scotland's finest Island gins, taking notes and scoring each one as we went.
The first stop on our trip was Colonsay, trying out Colonsay Gin (47%).

Taking inspiration from Celtic folklore and the Hebridean beauty of the Island, the gin is made in small batches of 160 bottles per run. The bottle design has been heavily themed on Alva, the red-haired maiden who lives at the home of Wild Thyme Spirits - the company behind Colonsay Gin.

A London Dry style, the premium artisan gin can only add more alcohol or water to it to bring the proof of the gin down.

Featuring angelica roots, liquorice, coriander (seed), orange and numerous other botanicals the gin boasted a prickly spice and has a stronger smell and taste due to its higher ABV.

Using calamus - a type of reed - the gin makers take the rhizome from it and use it in the gin, giving it that sharp smell.

Pairing well with a slice of green chilli or a twist of orange peel I was pleasantly surprised at how great this gin tasted. It was smooth, but had a real kick of flavour to it without being too punchy.

*tried with Bon Accord tonic and a slice of orange.

Brand ambassador for Colonsay Gin, Scott Rose, also paid a special visit and gave an real in-depth insight into the gin too on the evening.

Next stop, Orkney.
The first Orkney gin we tried was Orkney Gin company's Johnsmas (41.3%). Hand crafted in Orkney from seven times distilled grain spirit and the finest botanicals, it's a compunded gin rather than distilled and is similar in style to a bath tub gin.

The grain is distilled seven times ensuring there's no roughness to the gin. Johnsmas is Orkney Gin's summer gin which is very floral and light. Their Mikkelmas gin is their winter gin and is much more aromatic.

For me, when I tasted it the gin tasted quite similar to Turkish delight. I don't mean it tasted like chocolate, but it boasted the same sweet floral tastes, with a rose flavour coming through quite predominantly.

It was a beautiful gin and was one of my favourite's of the whole evening. I love sweet, floral notes within my gin and it really did stand out for me. In comparison to the taste, the branding was something that didn't capture my attention as much as the others, which just goes to show that you should never judge a gin by its bottle. With a slight hint of spice just to round the drink off a the end, it was a real delicious gin.

*tried with Fever Tree elderflower tonic and a wedge of lime
The second Orkney gin I tried was Kirkjuvar (43%).
This premium gin, pronounced kirk-u-var has a sweet smell of pine with top notes of lemon and was also a well scored gin. The gin was inspired by the Island's spirit which also come across strongly in the company's branding.

The gin was a good, well rounded gin, however, personally I didn't feel it boasted as strong a profile as I was hoping. Being an individual with a sweeter palette, I'm unsure if it was this, or the fact I'd started to have too much gin, but it just wasn't jumping out at me. I got a slight taste of rose, which isn't surprising as they use two types of roses as botanicals, but it just wasn't as pungent as the first Orkney gin.

*tried with Bon Accord tonic and a wedge of lime
Next up we returned to Colonsay to put Wild Island Gin (43.7%) to the test.

With 16 botanicals there was a lot going on in this gin. So much so my palette seemed a little confused as to what to pick out first. A lover of this brand's bottle, this was the first time I'd managed to try this gin. Following the hype of it, I was really excited about getting the chance to try it out.

The gin itself has a sweet yet sour flavour to it, reminding me slightly of sherbet lemons - which I think is due to the lemon peel and balm used in the recipe. It started quite warm with a hint of spice, soon followed by a floral, smooth and long finish. The perfect serve is said to be with an orange peel to accentuate its citrus notes.

*tried with Bon Accord tonic and a slice of orange
Last but not least was a jolly over to the Isle of Harris to enjoy Isle of Harris gin (45%).

A brand I am very familiar with, it's one of my favourite looking bottles. With its stunning design and beautiful branding, the bottle stands out from the crowd in the sea of gins now available on the market.

The gin boasts nine botanicals, including its popular, most talked about botanical, local hand-harvested sugar kelp. Although this gin's main botanicals are very much focused around the connections the gin has to the Island, the gin thankfully does not taste like sea water. In fact, it has quite a fruity and sweet floral, slightly herbal taste to it with flavours of mango, grapefruit, orange and crushed green herbs coming through.

We were also given the chance to try out the newly launched (at the time) Isle of Harris sugar kelp aromatic water. A drop or two of this is said to enhance the flavours of the gin - I tried it on my hand and it was surprisingly good.

The recommended serve for Isle of Harris is a piece of pink or red grapefruit or a wedge of lime.

*tried with Bon Accord tonic and a wedge of lime.
After the gin tasting was over and scorecards were collected, we were then treated to two gin cocktails which Peter had created, utilising two of the gins from the tasting. Both The Bee's Knees and The Rubus tasted excellent, but it was The Rubus which won it for me. Peter kindly shared the cocktail recipes with us so I've decided to share his recipe with you all too - it would be rude to keep these gin cocktails hidden from other gin lovers.

The Bee's Knees
50ml Wild Island Botanic Gin
2 teaspoons honey
20ml fresh lemon juice
20ml fresh orange juice

Add the gin and honey into the shaker and stir until honey dissolves. Add lemon and orange juice and top with ice. Shake well and strain into glass. Garnish with an orange zest twist.

The Rubus
50ml Orkney Gin company's Johnsmas
20ml fresh lemon juice
20ml sugar syrup
25ml Edinburgh gin raspberry

Add the gin, lemon and sugar syrup into a shaker filled with ice. Shake well and strain into a glass with ice and garnish with raspberries.
So if you love your gin and you're looking for a local gin club to join, then check out Aberdeen Gin Club's website for all the event dates and further information. The club also organises events in Inverurie, Banchory and many other towns too.  

For Now...

Just Julia

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