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"A few weeks back," wrote Info-Poland contributor Andy Bereza from London, "I hosted a Podwieczorek for about 100 people and decided to reduce classic Polish cuisine to finger food proportions. Perhaps invented with some element of surprise? It worked brilliantly . . so I thought I'd share the ideas."

Pollini: There's Kir and there's Bellini. As a nation, we Poles deserve a national champagne cocktail. I'm passionate about our country's ability to harvest the rose . . . simply as petals or jam. (Blikle use nothing else in their paczki). The French make a syrup too . . so I hijacked the manufacturer's suggestion to add 10ml to a glass of Prosecco (works well with any naturally fizzy dry wine). The nose is amazing. What could be more romantic to start an evening than Champagne and Roses?

Micro Muchomorki: An intense childhood memory. My mother invited guests to her nameday party and we would wait patiently in our bedroom eavesdropping on the chatter and anticipating plates of leftovers to arrive. Demi tomatoes studded with dots of mayo atop peeled eggs are the strongest memory. Fifty years later, half a sweet cherry tomato skewered to a hard boiled quail's egg brings it all back. Awkward to serve? We baked a round of shortcrust pastry perforated with small holes and stood our 'poison' mushrooms there.

Kiełbasa Kebabs: I 'm sure the alliterative naming arrived before the recipe. We diced 'wiejska' into cubes (about 5mm), speared half a dozen onto 10cm bamboo skewers, then grilled gently over a smoky barbeque. At serving time, these were re-heated in a microwave and accompanied by a complementary skewer of similarly sliced dill cucumbers.

Barszcz Lollies: How do you serve Polands's favourite soup on sticks? Freezing seemed a better idea than making a jelly. Solid purple ice crystals are probably too intense for a party. So a soft centre . . sour cream . . . with an intense barszcz coating feels a little more refined. (In fact, on the premise that familiar breeds content, fruit ice lollies with vanilla ice cream centres are a good reference point). So, to create the 'filling' I 'whipped' sour cream in a nitrous oxide powered cream whipper. Squirted the result into silicone rubber trays and inserted lollipop sticks. Half an hour later I was able to dip the lollies in cold barszcz concentrate (from a bottle) and refreeze. It was the hit of the party.

Babki Gryczane: My dad, in his nineties, talked about baked pierogi with kasza gryczana (buckwheat groats) inside. His sister came over from Poland subsequently and made them - it shattered his childhood food pleasure memory. Over the years, in our family kitchen, we've boosted the flavour of kasza with fried mushrooms - even easier now with mushroom stock cubes. Using miniature mince pie baking trays and supermarket shortcrust pastry a new savoury pie was born.

Śledź Sushi: Sushi became a family favourite with my wife's first pregnancy 25 years ago, when I was working for the a Japanese company. Safe to say, a kilo of raw salmon now disappears within a few hours in our household. The vinegared fish experience is so akin to the taste of sledz, that it only took a few tries to create a delicious maki roll - strips of sledz and its pickled partner, ogorki, rolled in sushi rice, then sheathed in seaweed paper, sliced, and served alongside a dipping bowl of brewed, soy sauce.

Dziczyzna w Bułce: This immediately conjures up visions of mini-hamburgers for me. We split fresh, ready made venison burgers into tiny portions and barbecued these over smokey charcoal in preparation. Bite sized bulki were a bigger challenge, but a packet of instant bread mix solved that problem quickly. For garnish, as it's nearly Xmas, cranberry=zurawiny sauce, dispensed from a squeezy bottle to garnish each serving before final pinning with a bamboo skewer.

Kabanos w Koszulce: This recipe invented itself. The British party mainstay is sausage rolls. So we rolled moist kabanos in sheets of puff pastry, then cut into slices under 1cm thick and roasted till risen and crisp. They looked like alien spaceships.

Oscypek Profiteroles: I admit it. This idea failed . . but I know reminding myself will help find a solution next time around. Apple pie with cheddar cheese is a British classic - we ate hot apple pie with parmesan ice cream at a local restaurant some time last year. Wonderful - and so easy to do. Then last Christmas as a parody of Port and Stilton as a savoury course, I came across Stilton Foam (Espuma style . . made in a cream whipper) served with a port reduction sauce . . . and biscuits. Equally surprising and delightful. It seemed natural to transform Poland's most famous cheese the same way. So I baked the profiteroles a few days ahead. The night before I boiled the double cream and added a whole, grated Oscypek. Trouble was, it wouldn't melt adequately, and I was left with an un-smooth mixture. (Must be smooth or clogs the cream-whipper). I sieved it through a cheesecloth but this left the flavour behind. Anyway, a few insipid profiteroles and a great base for spaghetti carbonara (next day's lunch) were the result.

Gołabeczki: Traditional, full size golabki are 10cm across and 4cm in diameter. So think small at one fifth that size! Filling was no problem, but there was no way to contain such small dimensions in cabbage leaves. We substituted spinach. Much thinner and much greener. We had a panic making these up . . wrapping them like cigars, but unable to fold the ends down wihout severe cracking and tearing! No worries. As soon as we began to poach them in stock, the spinach wilted and magically self-closed the parcels! Finally served on cocktail sticks with a splattering of rich, red, tomato sauce.

Chrupkie Pierogi: What inspired these? Chinese Spring Rolls? MacDonalds Apple Pie? The traditional boil then fry technique didn't appeal . . apart from which I didn't fancy making them up from scratch. So I experimented with various deep frozen varieties (Russian Pelemeni worked out best) which I dropped straight into a Tefal deep fat fryer. Five minutes later they emerged crisp and separate - ready to serve.

Bigos w Koszyku: I figured bigos was a must - my mum cooks the best in the world - so all I needed was a finger friendly delivery system. Crunchy vol au vents (we get them buffet size - as deep frozen ready cut pastry sheets) proved perfect - with a teaspoon of the hot, savoury, ambrosia slurped in just before serving.

Still on the back burner, maybe for a summer re-run, recipes for zurek ice-cream, "mizeria sorbet," ice-cube size "ryba w galarecie" and "pasztet foam."

19 December 2005


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