Category Archives: Drinks and cocktails

Rhubarb Kisiel (Warm Gooey Rhubarb Pudding)

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This is one of the most extraordinary things that can be made with rhubarb. The tangy fresh flavours, the pink hue and, most of all, the addictive gooey consistency make this pudding one of my favourite spring sweet treats. One of the rare desserts I prefer when still warm.

Probably a majority of my dear readers have never even heard of kisiel, so I will start with the explanation. Kisiel (pronounced “kishyel”) is a very popular Polish pudding, made with fruit soft drinks or whole fruits with water (and nowadays, alas, most people buy its powdered instant versions…). It is thickened with potato starch (hence the gooey consistency), served warm or cold and usually has a fresh, tangy note. Its unique texture – vaguely reminiscent of Lemon Curd – is as important for me as its flavour. It is a very light, fat-free pudding that can easily be made even lighter if you use a sweetener instead of sugar.

I have learnt only recently that similar fruit dishes exist for example in Germany, Estonia, Lithuania or Finland, but sometimes they mean slightly thickened soft drinks and not puddings. When I saw a Finnish Rhubarb Kiisseli recipe in my Moomins Cookbook (for those of you who don’t know it yet, I am particularly fond of Moomin characters; I have already mentioned this book here), this discovery gave me the idea to include the Moomin family into the photo. The beautiful tray you see above was one of the most touching presents I have ever been offered. I was completely blown away when I received it from my dear friend Charles (from Five Euro Food), who bought it during one of his trips to Sweden. This tray, my infallible mood improver, was perfect to serve kisiel, since both bring back my childhood memories. Thank you so much again, Charles, for your thoughtful kind  gesture.

Since all this has put me in a happy “Moomin” mood, here is the cartoon’s theme song:

Even though the Finnish kiisseli was my inspiration for this post, I have used my own old recipe which is a bit different. I prefer to have this pudding warm, but it can also be served cold.

If you feel like playing with rhubarb, you might like this quick and easy Rhubarb Soft Drink (which by the way is the first step of this pudding’s instructions):

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or this refreshing Wobbly Rhubarb Delight I made with agar agar (kanten), and which, I insist, is not a jelly, but a less dense, incredibly light dessert:

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TIPS: Potato starch thickening properties can vary, so you might need to adjust its amount during the cooking process. Start with the below amount and if after 3-4 minutes of cooking, the texture is still too liquid, dissolve one more tablespoon starch in a glass with two tablespoons of cold water and add to the pan, constantly stirring (see the instructions below).

This pudding can be served both warm and cold, but I prefer it warm. Taste both to choose your favourite way.

BEWARE! Do not eat or cook rhubarb leaves! They are toxic. Only stalks are edible.

Preparation: 1about 40-50 if you need to prepare the Rhubarb Soft Drink, 15 – 20  min if you already have it

Ingredients (serves four):

500 g (about 1 lb) fresh rhubarb, leaves removed, stalks cut into 2-3 cm pieces (about 1 inch)

2 litres (4 cups) water

sugar or sweetener

4 slightly heaped tablespoons potato starch

First prepare the rhubarb soft drink (if you already have it, skip this step).

Put the rhubarb into a big pan with water.

Bring to a boil at medium heat and cook until the rhubarb completely softens.

Strain while still hot, put aside and wait until the rhubarb drink cools to the room temperature. (You can also prepare it in advance, refrigerate and follow the dessert instructions the following day or even two days afterwards).

Measure 1 liter (4 cups) rhubarb drink and pour it into a pan. (Do not throw away the remaining soft drink, which is delicious!).

Add sugar or sweetener to your taste.

Dissolve the potato starch in additional 4 tablespoons rhubarb drink (make sure it is no longer hot!).

Bring the rhubarb drink to a boil. Pour slowly the dissolved potato starch, constantly stirring.

Cook it until thickened (about 4 minutes).

If your pudding is still liquid after four minutes, put the pan aside.

Dissolve one more tablespoon in 1 tablespoon cold rhubarb drink or water and add it to the pan, stirring. Heat, constantly stirring until it thickens.

Serve warm or cold.

Easter Party Ideas

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Wonton Cups, or Edible Snack Containers

Zsuzsa, my blogging friend from Zsuzsa is in the Kitchen, has recently invited me to join her and other bloggers (Eva from Takarékos Konyha, Elisabeth from Food and Thrift and Eva from Kitchen Inspirations) and, just like them, post my Easter menu suggestions. I was honoured, but at first I panicked because apart from a Chicken Terrine (see below) I don’t really have traditional Easter dishes on my blog. Both Zsuzsa and Elisabeth have convinced me to present whatever I might serve for such an occasion, even if it is not traditional in any country or region of the world. Thank you, ladies, for your advice! Thus, I have chosen some festive dishes I love, regardless their origins or relation to Easter celebrations. Thank you so much, Zsuzsa, for your kind invitation. I hope my eclectic choice, far from Easter traditions will not disappoint you.

Here is a list of dishes I would take into consideration if I had guests for Easter (of course I wouldn’t serve all of them!). All of them can be served at a buffet-style party, my recent favourite way to entertain. Such a concept usually means more work beforehand because, contrary to traditional meals, one cannot serve just three dishes, but this way I offer a bigger choice to the guests, who are not forced to eat all they are served, but most of all such a party has a more relaxed atmosphere. Apart from one exception, I have chosen easy recipes, which either can be prepared very quickly or made in advance. They have both Western and Asian origins, so I hope you will find here some useful ideas, not necessarily for Easter.

First of all, I would never skip the obligatory Wonton Cups, or Edible Snack Containers (see the photo above). Versatile, cute and easy, these edible containers are nowadays a staple not only when I have guests (thank you, Juliana!).

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Last-minute Crackers can be prepared really just before the guests arrive as long as you have some puff pastry in the fridge. These star-shaped crackers were prepared for Christmas, but you can give them any shape you wish, such as bunnies…

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These olives are so easy to prepare you will never consider buying them seasoned by someone else again.

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This Smoked Mackerel and Egg Spread can be prepared with any smoked fish of your choice, of course.

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Recently discovered Taramosalata (Fish Roe Spread) is one more thing I will never ever even think of buying. Home-made version is incomparably better.

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Light Chicken Terrine with Nutmeg is actually the only dish I used to have as a child for Easter and other festive occasions.

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Savoury Cake with Goat Cheese and Dried Tomatoes (aka Goat Cheese and Dried Tomatoes Bread) is a wonderful alternative to canapés.

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Cake with Ham and Olives, another canapés substitution, is a real crowd-pleaser.

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If you feel like serving Japanese food (why not?), try preparing Maki Sushi with Shrimp, Avocado and Cucumber. They will not necessarily look as perfect as in your sushi shop, but they are really easy to prepare.

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Spring Rolls with Leftover Roast and Carrots, an Asian sandwich alternative, can also be prepared with the remains of your roast, after the Easter holidays.

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Sesame-Coated Chicken Nuggets (Tori no goma age) can be made in advance and will please all the sesame fans.

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Japanese Chicken and Leek Skewers (Negima) are brushed with teriyaki glaze and usually please every guest.

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Asparagus Teriyaki Pork Rolls are incredibly easy to prepare and are one of my favourite ways to serve asparagus.

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Unbaked chocolate Cake with Biscuits (Chocolate Terrine with Speculoos) is a rich creamy dessert which doesn’t require baking and is incredibly simple to prepare.

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Coconut, Chocolate and Rum Truffles (Bounty Truffles). Who doesn’t like chocolate truffles?

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Matcha and White Chocolate Truffles are the only ones which might be tricky to prepare, but they are green, fresh, festive and have this amazing slightly bitter matcha flavour…

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Chocolate and prunes are all you need to prepare these luscious Prunes in Chocolate, a quicker and easier alternative to chocolate truffles.

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This Kiwi and Rum Cocktail seemed perfect for a spring party.

I strongly encourage you to check the wonderful Easter menu suggestions proposed by my blogging friends and would like to wish you all a very happy Easter and wonderful holidays to those who don’t celebrate it!

Shochu on the Rocks (Shochu Rokku) with Yuzu

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If it wasn’t for the presence of the extraordinary yuzu, I would have never mentioned this simple – though excellent – drink I usually have with lime. Yuzu is an Asian citrus (shaped like a small grapefruit and either green or yellow depending on its ripeness) very popular in Japan, but quite difficult to get in Europe, apart from the bottled juice. It was one of the few food items I brought from my recent trip to Japan and also the one I was going to taste for the first time in my life. Since I had only two fruits, I promised myself to use them wisely. I knew that yuzu’s acid juice is often used as a seasoning in salads, but spicing up my weekend glasses of shochu (see below) with slices of this marvellous fruit seemed the wisest – and a more amusing – option.

I will not exaggerate if I tell you I was spellbound by the compelling aroma of yuzu’s zest. Instead of finishing my drink, I kept on inhaling its magnificent scent which has transformed my good old glass of shochu into a mysterious, sophisticated drink. I thought that this simple but elegant drink was a good excuse to share with you my discovery of fresh yuzu, but most of all to write once again about shochu, my favourite and most frequently drunk Japanese alcohol. (I have talked about it here, here and here)

I still consider shochu the most surprising alcohol discovery of my life because, honestly, I didn’t expect anything special. I have simply fallen in love with the first sip. I don’t know why it took me so many months to finally notice it in my favourite Japanese grocery, but the day I asked about shochu (I had read about it somewhere) I realised that its different brand and varieties filled at least a third of the alcohol shelves in my grocery shop. This is how my adventure began.

Shochu (焼酎) means “burning sake” (sake meaning generally alcohol) and has been produced in Japan since the XIVth century. It is distilled from different ingredients, such as barley, sweet potato, buckwheat, rice… Some shochu are also flavoured (my favourite are flavoured with shiso and… yuzu of course!). Its alcoholic content is usually between 20 – 25 %, but it can be stronger too. Apparently, the consumption of shochu has tripled since the 80s and is rising every year. It is no longer considered cheap alcohol for manual workers, it is produced with more care and some bottles reach very high prices. More and more Japanese women choose it because shochu has very few calories (35 kcal in 50 ml, which is almost 3 x less than vodka for example). Oh, and I would have forgotten to add it doesn’t end up with a hangover the following day, even drunk in big quantities! (This information was checked more than once…).

I think I love all the shochu types I have tasted: the often amber-coloured barley shochu, the nutty soba one (distilled from buckwheat), the subtle rice one or sweet potato shochu which is not sweet and which seems to be the most popular in Japan. Some shochu types (like barley for example) are reminiscent of good quality, single malt whisky, but in a subtler version. Luckily my two Japanese grocers vary the brands all the time, so I keep on discovering new bottles.

Shochu can be drunk alone, warm or cold. When it’s cold, it’s served on the rocks (“shochu rokku”) or in a “sour” (pronounced “sawa”): a weak cocktail with sparkling water and fruit juice or with sweet soda. My favourite way to drink it is on the rocks, especially in Japan where ice cubes are huuuuge and shochu stays cold for eternity without being diluted. At home I often add one or two slices of lime and sometimes just a bit of sparkling water. Of course, the better the bottle, the less you want to dilute it…

During my recent trip to Tokyo, among the glasses of shochu I had practically every night, one has left particularly vivid memories. It was an exceptionally strong barley schochu (40%) called Hundred Years of Solitude 百年の孤独 (Hyakunen no kodoku) and aged in wooden barrels. I will never forget the izakaya (pub) where with my Japanese friend we both enjoyed a glass of this fiery piece of art which seemed a subtler, mellower version of single malt whisky.

TIPS: There are two main types of shochu: produced with continuous distillation (kourui 甲類) and single distillation (otsurui 乙類) (thank you, Hiroyuki!). The latter is considered superior and above a certain price all the shochus are produced this way. The useful word to remember (and ask in a shop) is “honkaku” 本格. Apparently it means “genuine, classical method” and marks a good quality product (but not all the shochu bottles are marked this way, alas).

If you prefer a lighter cocktail with yuzu and shochu, check Nami’s (Just One Cookbook) Yuzu Sour cocktail recipe .

If you don’t have yuzu, you can of course prepare the same drink with lime.

Preparation: 5 minutes

Ingredients (serves one):

a generous splash of a more delicate, not aged shochu variety (I have had rice shochu here, but sweet potato shochu is a good option too)

two slices of yuzu

lots of ice

Put everything in a glass and enjoy.

(You can slightly squash the yuzu slices if you want).

 

 

 

Momotaro (Peach and Gin Cocktail)

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If I started by telling you what this drink consists of, it would probably sound quite ordinary, so I’ll talk first about its mysterious name, which I bet is not so mysterious for my Japanese friends. Momotaro, or Peach Boy, is a Japanese folklore tale character, who was found by and old couple in a peach and brought up as if it was their child. I don’t know if the person who named this drink was a fan of Momotaro tale or simply of Japanese origins. The most important is that the cocktail is deliciously summery and makes one feel as if autumn was still far, far away. It is also quick to prepare and requires very few ingredients. I see it as a mood-improving, adult fruit smoothie.

I knew that peach and gin are an incredibly good pairing (see my Peach and Gin Mousse and Peach and Gin Jam recipes), so I wonder why I waited such a long time before trying them in a drink. Luckily I found the perfect recipe at Mix Shake and Pour. My only modification was omitting the syrup, since my peach was very ripe and I hate very sweet drinks.

TIPS: Do not be tempted to use lime juice here instead of the simple lemon one. In my opinion it ruins the cocktail (I have tried once).

Preparation: 10 minutes

Ingredients for 1 Momotaro drink:

1 big very ripe peach

50 ml gin

juice from 1/2 lemon (do not be tempted to use lime juice!)

ice

(sugar syrup, just in case the peach is not ripe)

Cover the peach with boiling water for two minutes. Remove it with a slotted spoon and put into very cold water. After a couple of minutes the peel will come off easily with your fingers. (If it doesn’t, it means that the peach is unripe).

Remove the stone and mix the peach in a blender, adding a couple of ice cubes, lemon juice and gin. Mix again. Taste if more lemon juice or sugar syrup is needed.

Pour into a glass, add two or three ice cubes and smile!

Rhubarb Soft Drink

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After more than two weeks of freezing cold, rain, hailstorms and other “attractions”, we finally have a warm, sunny spring weather. I thought it was an excellent occasion to write about my favourite rhubarb treat, namely the rhubarb soft drink. I must confess I have already posted this recipe a year ago, but I find it so exceptional and Iprepare it so often, I will probably be tempted to write about it every year.

I have always been a big fan of sour and acid food.  As a child I would chew on the raw rhubarb sticks freshly picked in my grandmother’s garden and I have always loved this tangy drink my mum prepared in huge batches on hot spring and summer days and stored in a huge pitcher in the fridge. I cannot imagine a more refreshing and thirst quenching drink than a glass of cold rhubarb drink. Its unusual, characteristic smell, its tanginess and its fabulous colour will always remind me of hot summer days of my childhood.

The preparation is ridiculously easy and quick. The sugar/sweetener amount depends on everyone’s taste. I usually put a heaped teaspoon in one big glass (250ml), but strangely some rhubarb varieties do not need any sugar (at least for an acid flavours fan). The drink keeps – unsweetened – at least for up to a week in the fridge. Do not overdose the sugar, otherwise the drink will lose its tanginess and become bland. The colour depends on the stalks’ hue of course, so whenever I go to buy rhubarb on the market I choose the dark red ones.

WARNING: If you use rhubarb for the first time and the stalks have still some leaves, cut them off and throw away because rhubarb leaves are toxic.

Preparation: 1 hour

Ingredients (makes 1,7-1,8 liter):

500g rhubarb stalks, cleaned and cut in two/three pieces

2 litres cold water

sugar or sweetener

ice

Put the rhubarb into a big pan with water.

Bring to boil at medium heat and cook until the rhubarb completely softens.

Put aside and wait until the rhubarb drink cools down.

Strain it and refrigerate for up to a week.

Add sugar or sweetener just before drinking and serve with very cold or with ice.