Monday 31 December 2012

An entirely biased vodka tasting with unprecedented results

We all get a bit stuck in our ways sometimes, it's human nature to want to hold on to things we know, yet it's important to keep moving forward. And this is why my brother, my dad and me decided to have a vodka tasting. My brother felt that my dad needed it because all he ever drinks are Polish and Russian vodkas, proclaiming them the best without having had many comparisons. Me, I've been stuck on Grey Goose for a while now, and was sure that no other vodka compares. We were all surprised with the results. We chose 5 vodkas for entirely personal reasons. Belvedere, an upper echelon of vodka, which my dad favours; Żytnia: a lower quality Polish rye vodka; Grey Goose: my pure, French favourite; Chase, as this is apparently the best of the British; and Snow Queen, which has a good reputation and hails from Kazakstan and Ukraine (places we have family). We tasted blind and marked for various qualities, such as aroma, flavour, texture and smoothness, yet it was our overall impressions that we pooled together to find the winner, which was...

1. Chase - UK

And what a shock that was to a Polish family! I was convinced that what I was drinking was my favourite Grey Goose and gave it top marks for both flavour and lack of burn going down. It was almost creamy, absolutely delicious 

2. Belvedere - Poland
This is the only vodka where I visually noticed a difference in appearance - it appeared more blue in hue to my eye. It was also incredibly smooth going down, though slightly more bitter in flavour, which is not to my liking

3. Grey Goose - France
In a blind tasting, this was actually my dad's favourite and not mine. It was flowery and delicate with a  hint of bitterness. Smooth going down.

4. Żytnia - Poland
Although very good in offsetting salty and pickled snacks, and with a firm place in the hearts of all us Poles, it is entirely justifiable that this cheap vodka came second to last in our blind tasting. It is a different calibre of vodka, and not in a good way

5. Snow Queen - Kazakstan/Ukraine
I actually wretched as I shot this vodka down. We were meant to not be saying or doing anything that could influence another person's decision process, yet it was an involuntary reaction. The last time I had one like it was when I did a bong followed by a shot of rectified spirit at Uni. That time it had followed through, this time it didn't, but it wasn't pleasant either. It was probably completely unfair, as this vodka often ranks high in expert tastings and my brother actually quite liked it. But it is what it is, as they say - I wouldn't drink it again myself

Friday 28 December 2012

Scandinavian cinnamon rolls and creamy mulled beer

The Cinnamon rolls were meant to be easy. Just a bit of dough, rolled up with some butter and cinnamon inside, only a few ingredients. Well, let me tell you the life lesson I learnt today: don't expect things to be easy. Apparently, the Dalei Lama himself says this quite a lot, and it's become my mantra of late. If life was nice and easy the whole time, then none of us would ever evolve. And yet, and yet... sometimes I do wish things were just a bit easier - those cinnamon rolls took a lot out of me. I was making them for a Secret Santa party and by the time I got there I was worn out from pummeling that bloody dough. Also, I stupidly added an extra egg when I should have just added some water to soften to dough, so here I will give you the correct amounts, that make the perfect cinnamon roll. If, like me, you find the dough too dry just add some milk or water, not another egg, which makes the rolls slightly harder than they should be once cooked. As the ingredients are simple and the recipe straight-forward, I used really good quality stuff, which made my cinnamon rolls tasty regardless - this is my trick when making something for the first time, don't skimp on the quality and you will always come out on top, even if your hands may be cramped and your wrists aching

700g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking ammonia
225g sugar
200g cold butter
2 eggs
50g softened butter
1 tablespoon cinnamon
Splash of water or milk

Sieve the flour, baker's ammonia and baking powder into a bowl, and mix together. Add 150g of the sugar. The rest of the sugar you mix with the cinnamon in a separate bowl. Cut the cold butter into small cubes and blend into the mixture with your fingertips, until it resembles fine breadcrumbs, then make a well in the middle. Break the eggs into the well, mix it together and make the dough, which should be stiff but not dry. If it is dry (like mine was), then add some milk or water until everything sticks together as it should. Knead the dough for a looong time. Perhaps if you have warmer hands than me, this will be easier for you. Finally, wrap it in cling film and refrigerate for about 20min. Roll it out into a rectangle on a dry surface with some flour and trim the edges, so that it's a neat one. Spread the soft butter over the top and sprinkle the cinnamon mix over the top of that. Now roll it up into a log and cut into pieces about 1cm thick. Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper and bake for about 25min on 180 degrees C
We spent Christmas with my cousin in his family in Zakopane in Poland. We spent the days skiing and snowboarding, stopping of for mulled wines and beers, and grilled "Oscypek" with cranberry sauce. The "Oscypek" is a decorative, smoked cheese, typical of this area

The warm, earthy and spicey beers were my favourite, yet I also missed my dad's own recipe, which I begged him to make as soon as we arrived back in Warsaw. I can't get enough of this now, so I will share it with you while you've still got that Christmas feeling, yet are probably getting to the stage of being ever-so-slightly bored of all the stuff you've been eating and drinking for the past week. Separate the egg yolks and whites. Beat the whites with a pinch of salt until they form peeks. Better yet, get someone else to do this, while you blend the yolks with the sugar. Once the yolk mixture is reasonably smooth, add the honey. Now, gently heat the beer with the cinnamon and cloves, stirring all the time. Blend the yolks with the whites and start to slowly pour the mixture into the warming beer. Again, four hands are better than two for this, as you need to stir constantly. Whatever you do, do not let the mixture boil, or you will end up with sweet scrambled eggs in your beer. No one needs that. Once all the eggs are in the beer, stir for a couple of minutes or so while heating. Add the vanilla essence and stir some more. Try it to check the temperature. Once it's very warm - but nowhere near boiling - cover the pan and leave for a few more minutes to infuse, before serving in front of the fire. You're welcome. The measurement below serve four


4 beers
3 eggs
Pinch salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon vanilla essence

Monday 10 December 2012

More than a Salad - Sweetcorn, Crayfish and Avocado

This salad is my own invention and it's become one of my favourites of late. I'm eating it in many different ways - as a filling for jacket potatoes; with grilled, smoked mackerel, sweet potato mash and hot sauce; or simply on top of freshly boiled jasmine rice. It's so flavoursome, that I would say it's more than a salad, in fact. It kind of reminds me of the cold dish that I always order at Gourmet San - preserved egg with tofu and spring onion - something to do with the consistency (both crunchy and squidgy) and the strong taste, I believe
Fresh sweetcorn is important here, you need to boil it on the cob, then slice it off with a sharp knife. Combine this with chopped avocado, smoked and dried crayfish, as well as the Thai-style spicy dressing
The dried crayfish I found in the World Food aisle at Tesco’s. Every time I eat it I feel like I'm on the boats in Southern Thailand, somewhere near Koh Tao Island. I found this feeling at odds with the brand, which is supposed to be taking me to Africa. Yet on closer inspection I found that it is actually made in Thailand. Good to know that my tastebuds are not deceiving me  after all


Ripe avocado
Dried and smoked crayfish
Corn on the cob, cooked and sliced off the cob


Fish sauce
Red chilli, chopped
Cumin, dried
Coriander, dried

Sunday 9 December 2012

Macha green tea and coconut milk smoothie

Before I fall asleep at night, or sometimes in the morning as I wake up, I think about what my favourite part of the last day was. It puts things into perspective for me and shows me what I love. And what I'm loving most right now are cold, sunny days; reading books that open my mind to a different perspective on life; that feeling of connecting to people that you don't get in groups; and looking after myself: eating well, but not feeling guilty if I overindulge, trusting myself rather than just doing what other people expect, doing what I feel like in that moment even if it means cancelling all my plans and spending the whole evening reading in bed; and making delicious smoothies, like this one here
I blitzed a frozen banana (tip: peel and cut it into chunks before freezing) with some matcha green tea (I diluted a couple of teaspoons in a small amount of hot water first), honey, coconut milk and a couple of ice cubes. It took me less than a minute to down the whole thing, so I guess that my body needed it

Monday 3 December 2012

Bake yourself a man - A German sweet bread recipe

Last weekend my friend, Astrid, held her annual Christmas baking session. We made many varieties of cookie while drinking Prosecco and mulled wine, including all these ones, but today I want to tell you about beautiful Miriam's little men. This is yet another German Christmas tradition, and this particular recipe has been passed down through friendships and generations. As both myself and Miriam are fresh out of relationships the dough making was kind of like therapy. At one point I even found myself shaking my dough and telling it to grow up. And within 45min, it did!
First, you break up the fresh yeast in the lukewarm milk. Apparently, finding fresh yeast is not easy in the UK, our one came from Planet Organic. You combine the flour with the sugar and salt, and break the softened butter into this, working it into the mixture with your fingers. Once that's completely combined, start adding the milk (with the yeast thoroughly stirred in), and creating the dough. You need to really work it at this stage. Even when the dough is ready, the work continues for at least another ten minutes: "Beat it up" I was told, while it's creator went out for a cigarette. Finally, you cover the dough with a wet towel and place somewhere warm, to grow. After about 45min-1hour, separate it into equal chunks and make whatever takes your fancy. Traditionally it's men, but we also made women, snowmen, stars and children, the rest we plaited. If you are sticking to the traditional concept, make the head first and the body needs to be made out of just one chunk. Then stick the head on and bake for about 45min on a medium heat. The result is something like fresh, melt-in-your-mouth brioche, delicious with the lychee tea we drank at Astrid's house, and coffee the next morning, at my house. Next time, I may try adding the almonds too, though I think I'll leave the raisins out as they are prone to burning and shrivelling. No one needs that


1kg flour
40gr fresh yeast
125g sugar
1 tblsp salt
500ml lukewarm milk
100gr butter
(150g almonds or raisins, optional)