Last-Minute New Year’s Eve Treats

Christmas is over, but I still have several days of lazy home holidays. I keep on reading for hours in bed, sipping wine and eating the remains of my – as always excessive – food stock. I don’t feel particularly keen on cooking anything new or complicated, especially since I don’t organise any party this year. Nonetheless, for the last night of 2014 I’ll certainly find the courage to prepare several festive treats, as long as they are quick, easy and don’t require much shopping (or, ideally, can be prepared with pantry and/or fridge contents). I suppose some of you feel the same, so I thought I’d share with you a choice of last-minute New Year’s Eve savoury and sweet dishes, which are effortless and quick, but still have a festive touch. Happy New Year, my dear visitors! May all your dreams come true in 2015!

You can start with these buttery cute tidbits:

Last Minute Crackers

Last Minute Crackers

and carry on with these aromatic olives:

Seasoned Olives

Seasoned Olives

Add vibrant colours to your table with this sunny-looking salad:

Mango, Chicken and Cucumber Salad

Mango, Chicken and Cucumber Salad

If you have already made maki sushi, you know how easy and quick they are.

Maki with Shrimp, Avocado and Cucumber

Maki with Shrimp, Avocado and Cucumber

Maki sushi with Canned Tuna and Cucumber

Maki sushi with Canned Tuna and Cucumber

These “baskets” are perfect containers for Guacamole or Shrimp Salad:

Wonton Cups (Edible Snack Containers)

Wonton Cups (Edible Snack Containers)

Home-made taramosalata doesn’t even compare to the supermarket-bought one…

Taramosalata (Fish Roe Dip)

Taramosalata (Fish Roe Dip)

If you have never had smoked mackerel, this spread is a good occasion to try it:

Smoked Mackerel and Egg Spread

Smoked Mackerel and Egg Spread

Savoury cakes are easy, foolproof and, served cold, they feed crowds for hours:

Savoury Cake with Goat Cheese and Dried Tomatoes

Savoury Cake with Goat Cheese and Dried Tomatoes

Surprise your guests with these fabulous tofu snacks:

Tofu and Bacon Snacks

Tofu and Bacon Snacks

The quickest and easiest chocolate mousse ever (delicious even without raspberries):

Quick Eggless Chocolate Mousse

Quick Eggless Chocolate Mousse

I will never thank enough Katerina (from Culinary Flavours) for this fantastic, incredibly easy chocolate treat I never tire of:

Unbaked Chocolate Cake

Unbaked Chocolate Cake

Easiest and most addictive chocolate treat I know (accidentally, it’s quite healthy too…):

Prunes in Chocolate

Prunes in Chocolate

and, last but not least, something cute for coconut lovers:

Bounty (Coconut, Chocolate and Rum) Truffles

Bounty (Coconut, Chocolate and Rum) Truffles


Terrine de foie gras (Fat Duck Liver Terrine) with Armagnac

foie_gras_aFat duck liver terrine was love at first bite. The first time I tasted it I was lucky to discover a superior product made by a friend’s uncle, duck farmer. Afterwards, having tasted inferior copies even in decent-looking restaurants, I started to assume it was extremely difficult to prepare. This was before I made it on my own and realised that the aesthetic side wasn’t easy to achieve for a me at least (as you can see above…), but even the clumsiest home terrine often tasted much better than some excellent-looking, but undeniably low-quality specimens served by professional chefs, not to mention supermarket-bought jars.

Fat liver production dates as far back as Ancient Rome, when birds were fed figs, and the method was so widely practised that the latin “ficum” is a root word for French “foie” or Italian “fegato” (both meaning “liver”). Until now figs or fig jam are considered good company for fat duck liver. Even though goose fat liver is also popular in some countries (such as Hungary), in France the duck liver prevails and it’s even difficult to find a goose liver, raw or transformed.

Fat liver can be prepared in many ways, the most famous two being very simple, quickly fried hot “steaks” and more elaborate and complex “terrine”, usually (though not always) cooked in hot water bath, and served cold and definitely my favourite. The terrine is not difficult to make, but it takes several days, so if one wants to follow the French trend and serve it for Christmas, it should be bought at least four days before being served.

Most people don’t dare preparing fat liver at home. I was also afraid of experimenting with such an expensive product, but, encouraged by my mother-in-law whose terrines were always fabulous, I made it one day and was genuinely surprised it was actually good. As I have mentioned above, excellent visual results are difficult to obtain (at least for some cooks…), but, even though it takes time and requires patience, a good-tasting terrine is not difficult to prepare.

The only difficult part in the preparation is deveining, though many butchers sell it already deveined. The liver has big and small veins and the more of these are removed, the better. The trick is to find the right compromise between removing as many veins as possible and not tearing the liver apart in hundred pieces.

Fat liver terrine recipes are galore and mine is loosely based on mixed sources, such as my mother-in-law’s advice or tips from internet and cookery books. Different spices and/or aromatic alcohols or even fruits/vegetables can be used (I have had fantastic terrine with artichoke for example!), but even made with simple tawny port terrine is really good and even salt and pepper are sufficient, as long as the raw product’s quality is good.


If you buy fat liver for the first time, the most important thing is the weight. The heavier the liver is the worst the quality. A good duck fat liver should weigh between 400 and 500 grams. If it’s a bit heavier, it’s not important, but never buy the huge 700 g ones! (I have seen such livers too). Then try to buy the product which is not too soft (delicately pressed it should “bounce” slightly but definitely not leave traces) and not bruised. Of course the fresher it is the better and good French chefs recommend even frozen product if we are not sure about the liver’s freshness.

Some friends have already asked me, so I prefer to warn you : I have never cooked goose liver, which is bigger, has a different texture and taste, so I have no idea how to prepare it. All the tips and advice concern fat duck liver.

What to serve it with? As I have mentioned above, foie gras is often served with fig jam and also with sweet onion jam or fruit chutneys. The simplest and often the best way to enjoy it without hiding its delicate flavours is to serve it with good quality sea salt and crunchy “airy” French-style bread. This is the way I prefer it but I also like it sometimes with tangy jams (such as violet plum jam).

Foie gras is usually served as a starter, on individual plates in slices (which should never ever be squashed and spread on the bread like a vulgar supermarket pâté!), together with toasts, but it also makes wonderful finger food when served on mini toasts. Good quality – flaked or grainy – salt sprinkled over a piece of the terrine or a toast is the ultimate touch.

Every meal and every time of the day is perfect for foie gars. A late Sunday breakfast is one of my favourite moments to enjoy it…

Traditionally sweetish sauternes wines are advised with fat liver, but I have it only with dry wines. (Don’t be ashamed to try it with red wine! Many people living in south-western France, famous for its fat duck livers, prefer it with red wine).

Special equipment:

good tweezers (the best would be special fish bones removal tweezers, but good eyebrow tweezers should do)

a “terrine”/pâté dish (with a cover and, ideally with a fitting lid, but tit’s not obligatory)

a cooking thermometer (this is not obligatory, but makes the cooking time control much easier)

Preparation: about 4 days (2,5 hours + 24 hours in the fridge + 30-40 minutes cooking+minimum 48 hours in the fridge before serving)

Ingredients (serves 6 – 8):

1 whole duck liver (see the tips above)

10 tablespoons armagnac or another aromatic alcohol of your choice (e.g. port), but alcohol is not necessary really

about 1/2 litre water

about 1/2 litre milk

salt, pepper

Take the liver out of the fridge.

Let it warm up to the room temperature.

Divide the two lobes and carefully take out first of all the main veins and as many small ones as you manage.

Put it into tepid mixture of water and milk for 2 hours.

Take it out, pat dry. Put the first part of the liver in the terrine dish.

Season with salt, pepper and half of the alcohol.

Put the second part, season, add the rest of the alcohol and slightly press.

Cover the dish and leave in the fridge for 24 hours.

Preheat the oven at 130°C/266°F.

Put some hot water (60°C/140°F) in a big shallow dish, put the dish with the liver inside, so that the water covers 3/4 of the dish height.

Cook in the oven for around 40 minutes, checking the central temperature of the liver.

It shouldn’t have more than 50-65°C/122-149°F inside in the centre, while being taken out of the oven (depending on how pink you want it to be inside).

Take it out and let it cool.

Discard most of the fat formed at the top of the terrine.

Press it slightly (or press with something heavy, such as a wooden board; the best thing is to have a special terrine dish with a special adjusted board).

Put into the fridge for at least 48 hours (it should be consumed within four days after being cooked).

Take out of the fridge about 30 minutes before serving.

Keep in covered (otherwise it will dry and the colour will change).

Serve it either in individual slices with bread/toast aside or as finger food on small toast (dipping the knife in hot water makes the cutting easier).


Duck Tsukune (Japanese Ground Duck Skewers)

ducktsukunepTsukune, or ground meat skewers, are the first thing I order whenever I go to an izakaya, a Japanese pub (the probability they serve it is very high). As I have mentioned here, in a place specialised in yakitori (chicken skewers), tsukune’s taste measures the cook’s skills and the place’s ambitions, so if they are just average, it’s probably high time to move to a different pub… A huge majority of tsukune are prepared with chicken meat, so using another bird instead is not a revolutionary idea, but this slight modification does make a nice change and I see this stronger-flavoured version as cold-season tsukune. I found the green chilli and lime zest paste (raimu koshou, my Westernised version of yuzu koshou) an extraordinary flavours enhancer here.

If it’s the first time you come across this name, “tsukune (捏ね or つくね)” apparently comes from the verb “tsukuneru” (to knead) and refers to the fact that the patties shaping process involves more or less kneading. Even though they are usually made with chicken, other meats can also be used or a mixture of meats. The shape also varies: while most yakitori-serving restaurants give them an oval shape and grill them on skewers, tsukune can also be round and pan-fried or simmered in soups.

This recipe is loosely based on the Chicken Tsukune posted here, which was based on a recipe from  Izakaya: the Japanese Pub Cookbook by Mark Robinson, a fabulous cookbook and Tokyo izakaya guide in one. As I have mentioned above, I served these tsukune with raimu koshou and its mixture of hot and slightly bitter flavours was the best seasoning I can imagine.

If you don’t have or like duck meat, you might want to try the basic, chicken tsukune version:



TIPS : For optimal results do not use ground duck breast here (you can use it as a small part of the meat mixture), otherwise the tsukune will be tough and dry.

If you cannot find ground duck legs, you can easily mix them in a food processor (this is what I did). After grinding, remove any long stringy white bits you see (unless you have a real meat grinder; then the result should be perfect). You can grind the meat almost to a pulp, if you wish, but I liked the slightly chunky texture too.

I prefer my teriyaki glaze less sweet than the one usually served in Japanese restaurants, but feel free to add more mirin or sugar if you prefer it sweeter.

Raimu koshou (lime zest and chilli paste) recipe is very easy and goes perfectly with strong flavoured meat dishes or ramen soups:

Raimu Koshou (Chilli and Lime Zest Paste)

Raimu Koshou (Chilli and Lime Zest Paste)

If you don’t have time to make the lime and chilli paste properly (it does take several days to mature), you can try a quick version, mixing the chilli and the zest with salt just before serving the tsukune.

Special equipment: skewers (I have used 8) and a brush

Preparation: about one hour

Ingredients (serves two as a snack):

ground meat from 2 medium duck legs (about 250 – 300 g/9 – 10 oz)

1 small onion (I have used a shallot)

(optionally: grated zest from one big lemon or 2 limes)

salt, pepper


Teriyaki glaze:

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon sake

1 tablespoon mirin (sweet cooking sake)

Chop the onion and combine with the zest, the salt and the pepper.

Refrigerate for one hour (you can skip this step if you are in a hurry, but it lets the flavours mix better together).

15 minutes before grilling or pan-frying, soak the skewers (if you use wooden ones) in water.

Form equal balls in your palms, slightly kneading the meat.

Give the balls an oval shape and “stick” them around the skewers, pressing with your palm, making sure they don’t fall off the skewer (I was worried they would fall, but mine never did).

Heat the glaze ingredients in a pan until it thickens.

Put aside.

Grill the skewers on a grill or on a pan, turning them regularly.

If you grill them on a pan, I advise keeping the pan covered, so that you don’t end up with raw meat inside and burnt outside. I turned them four times (as if they had four sides), each time after about a minute.

Just before serving, warm the teriyaki glaze a bit and brush the skewers with it.

Pork Roast with Prunes and Marjoram

roti_porcpPork with prunes is such an international dish, I felt a bit uneasy writing about it (UPDATE: it SEEMED to me very international, but luckily I was wrong); the only reason I do is the presence of marjoram, which for me changes everything here. When I realised none of my foreign friends or relatives seasons pork roast with marjoram, I decided I would share with you this wonderful combination of flavours.

Marjoram, a close cousin of oregano, seems to be much less known in most countries around the world. For me it’s the opposite, since I grew up with the scent of dried marjoram, one of the most important herbs in Polish cuisine. It is mainly used with powerful flavours and/or heavy meals such as pork dishes or rich soups because of its digestive qualities, but also its powerful aroma and a slightly bitter taste, perfect to enhance strong-flavoured meats. Therefore, for me, marjoram and pork are like rosemary and lamb: they seem to be made for each other and whenever I prepare a European-inspired pork dish, marjoram is the first seasoning that comes to my mind. As for the prune, apart from its pork-friendly flavours, it plays here an additional and very important role: it enables me to use the leanest loin without ending up with completely dried meat (and it also allows me to have it as often as I wish, without fearing for my waistline). In short, for me marjoram and prune are the key elements for a perfect pork roast.

TIPS: It is usually advised to roast pork for one hour per 1 kg of meat. For our everyday meals I usually buy a small piece of loin (about 600 g), brown it first in a pan to seal the juices and this browning process reduces the further time of roasting. Feel free to apply your own roasting method here.

This is a method to roast pork stuffed with prunes. If you don’t stuff it with prunes, use a fattier cut, otherwise, with this roasting method you will end up with dry meat.

You can skip the marinating process, but the seasoned meat tastes really better after several hours or a night in the fridge.

Preparation: about one hour+ marinating time (minimum eight hours)

Ingredients (serves 2-3):

600 g/about 21 oz pork loin (or any other pork cut you prefer; the fattier, the juicier it will be)

about ten big prunes, stoned, halved lengthwise

salt, pepper, dried marjoram, black pepper, dried chilli pepper powder (or sweet pepper in powder, if you don’t want a spicy roast), dried powdered garlic

First make 3-4 long cuts (tunnels) with a rather narrow knife inside of your roast (lengthwise).

Using your fingers stuff them with halves of the prunes (do this after each cut, so that you remember well where you did them).

Leave some space at the end of the tunnels: the prunes will swell during the baking process and they will fall out.

Rub the meat on all sides starting with salt, then rubbing with garlic and then with the remaining condiments.

Put the roast into the fridge (covered or wrapped) for several hours or overnight (or even more if you wish).

Heat the oven to 180°C.

Take the meat out of the fridge about 30 minutes before browning it.

Heat some oil in a pan and brown the roast on each side (about 1 minute per side).

Place the roast into a greased baking tin, pour some water at the bottom (several tablespoons).

(If, like me, you are mad for marjoram, you can now rub some more of it into the roast and sprinkle some onto the baking tin too, but skip this step if you have never cooked with marjoram; the result might be too strong for you.)

Bake for about 30 minutes, pouring (use a spoon), once or twice, some of the juices on top of the roast (make a test after 20 minutes: if you insert a skewer the juices should be clear, without any reddish traces).

Take out of the oven and make it rest for about ten minutes before serving.

I like it served with a potato salad or simply with bread and a green salad, but it’s also fantastic cold in a sandwich.





Korean Pickled Garlic (Manul Changachi)

korean_garlThis is the ultimate treat for all the garlic amateurs and also one of the most amazing pickling experiments I have ever made. Submerged for two months in a brine made of soy sauce, rice wine and honey, garlic cloves darken, acquiring a different, deeper pungency and complex flavours. Whether you like Korean cuisine or not, as long as you love garlic, you will find these pickles as addictive as I did.

I have never had a chance to taste Korean pickled garlic, but as soon as I heard about it, I decided to make it and chose once more Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall’s Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen as the recipe source. The process is very easy, the only tiresome part being the garlic peeling. It certainly requires some patience, but it’s not something I would describe as a difficulty. To be frank, I am astonished such an easy process yields such extraordinary results.

Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall’s recipe called for whole young garlic bulbs, available only in spring. I didn’t want to wait until spring, so I decided to try my luck with old autumn peeled garlic cloves. (For the whole garlic bulb version and other Korean recipes, I encourage you to buy the wonderful Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen.) Luckily my change worked, but the older garlic needed more time. According to the author garlic can be eaten after ten days of pickling, but I found the taste too harsh and “raw”. It has largely improved and mellowed after two months. In short, I’m very happy with the results and intend to pickle another batch soon since the jar gets empty very very quickly…

If you wonder what you might do with this garlic (apart from eating it straight from the jar every time you open it,) you might like it chopped and served as rice or noodle topping, as a sandwich enhancer (think of a gherkin replacement here) or as one of side-dishes served with both Asian and Western meals. The brine can be used as a dressing for raw vegetables, a salad or a sauce for grilled meats or rice. The brine is delicious too.

TIPS: Don’t worry if some bubbles appear during the first stage (called the “maturing” process). It is normal. The only thing you should worry about is mould (luckily I didn’t have any).

Apparently some versions of these pickles are very sweet. I must say I didn’t even need to cut down on honey because Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall’s recipe doesn’t call for much honey. For me the result was perfect.

I have used here low-sodium soy sauce and my pickled garlic is not particularly salty, but I have no idea how salty it will be when pickled in standard soy sauce.

Preparation: about 3 months (with “old” garlic) or about one month if using young spring garlic


50 rather big garlic cloves, peeled (fI have used 10 bulbs)

500ml/about 1 pint rice vinegar or white wine vinegar (I think you might also use apple vinegar here)

500 ml soy sauce (I have used low-sodium soy sauce)

4 tablespoons honey (I have used chestnut honey but frankly the taste/aroma of honey disappears after some time)

2 tablespoons rice wine (I have used sake, but Korean wine would of course be more genuine here)

Wash the garlic cloves and dry them.

Put them into a jar and cover with vinegar. Pack the garlic tightly so that the cloves are completely immersed (you might need a bit more of vinegar but leave at least 3 cm (a bit more than 1 inch) of space between the lid and the liquid).

Close the jar and leave at room temperature for two weeks.

(You will see some bubbles on top, the garlic will change the colour to blue or green… but don’t worry).

After the two weeks discard the vinegar and put back the garlic cloves into the jar.

Combine the honey, the soy sauce and the rice wine and pour over the garlic, again making sure the garlic is immersed and leaving a space under the lid.

Leave at room temperature for at least ten days, but I do recommend two months. (Taste the garlic every week and you will see how the taste evolves). Of course, if you do this in the summer or if you leave in a hot region, pickle the garlic in the fridge (the warmest places will be enough).

No matter how much time you pickle at room temperature, according to the author these pickles forever, once they are put into the fridge.