It's my birthday tomorrow so I've been running round like a maniac all week to try and get in top of, and even ahead of, the long list of jobs that December brings. I think I might be more or less on top of stuff, regardless I've opened some Champagne and don't care about anything else being done or not for the moment.
The Fortnum & Mason Christmas and other winter feasts Book has a suitably celebratory feel about it for almost a birthday. I love Fortnum & Mason's at any time, and really liked the first cookbook that Tom Parker Bowles wrote for them. This one (the second) is even better in my opinion. Part of that is undoubtedly because a bit of Fortnum's sparkle is never more appealing than at Christmas when all out luxury is more or less the order of the day.
That's what makes the lists of products so enjoyable to read about - close your eyes after some pages and it's pure Nutcracker territory during the dance of the sugar plum fairy. What really makes the book work though is that everything in it sounds good, and a good proportion of these recipes are likely to find their way into my winter repertoire.
It's the same mx of fantasy and practicality that makes the shop so irresistible to me, and it's definitely the sort of Cookbook you don't necessarily know you need until you have it - which makes it perfect present material.
I'm pairing it with sloe gin laced cocoa, mostly because that was my immediate stand out hit from the book, and it's delicious. The recipe in the book calls for a terrifying amount of cocoa powder, which I found a bit to bitter, so it's probably better to experiment to get the right balance for you.
I'd actually never drunk cocoa before - only hot chocolate which powdered or made with melted chocolate is considerably sweeter. Cocoa powder was for cooking with. I wouldn't have liked it much as a child, but as an adult the relative bitterness/dryness is appealing just as Cadbury's drinking chocolate now seems far to sweet.
Make your cocoa with milk and a good slug of sloe gin (again add as taste and discretion suggest, there's no need for measurements here) either stir in some double cream to make a thicker, richer, drink, or whip it to spoon on top, and add soft brown sugar to taste if you want a little more sweetness. Damson or mulberry gin would also be excellent.
It's not just the rich, slightly decadent, thoroughly grown, up flavour of the drink I like so much (although it is all of those things, and they are good things to be), or that it's warm and comforting on a cold day, I am also really pleased to have a use for the sloe gin I have hanging around. I have never yet managed to make a batch, or buy a bottle, where drinking it neat hasn't put me strongly in mind of cough medicine (quite a nice cough medicine, but still...). I like it much better in things, and never more than in this.