Thai cooking made simple: Panaeng Curry

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Since it is phonetically transcribed from Thai, the name of this dish is written in many different ways: Panaeng, Phanaeng, Panang, Penang, Peneng, Penaeng. They all refer to the same dish: A coconut milk based dry curry, with a hint of peanuts. It can be prepared with pork, beef, chicken, duck, large shrimps or tofu for the vegetarians. I prefer the pork or beef version, since those seem to team best with the taste of the curry. Compared to other Thai curries, Panaeng curry is rather mild, one of the reasons most people like this curry so much.

The preparation itself is actually quite simple and does not take very long at all. You spend most of your time shopping for the right ingredients and chopping the ingredients up.

If you have an Asian supermarket or Toko in the neighbourhood, buy your Thai ingredients there, instead of your regular supermarket. Most supermarkets stock a range of Asian ingredients, but the quality is mediocre and the price a lot higher. But still a good alternative if a specialized store is too far away.

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Ingredients (for 2-3 pers.):

  • 200 ml of coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons of Panaeng curry paste
  • 2 tablespoons of fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of palm sugar ( or white or brown sugar)
  • 6 kafir lime leaves

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  • 1 tablespoon of stir-fry oil (sunflower, rapeseed or soy-bean oil)
  • 400 gr pork or beef loin, cut into strips
  • one red bell pepper
  • one onion
  • a handful of peanuts, roasted and chopped

About the Thai ingredients:

Panaeng curry paste is a thick orange paste, sold in a bag, a cup or a jar. After opening it can be stored for several months in a closed container in the refrigerator. The curry paste can be made at home, but even most Thais buy it in the store. The curry paste is made of onions, peppers, coriander, garlic, kafir lime, lemon grass and shrimp paste. This explains the rich taste of the dish.

Coconut milk: coconut milk for cooking is what we would describe as coconut cream. It is not the watery coconut milk found in the coconut, but a thick cream made of the coconut flesh. It has the texture of a thick cream as well as its high calorie count. It softens the spiciness of the curry paste.

Fish sauce is a basic ingredient of all Thai food. It takes the place of salt but cannot not simply be replaced by salt. They sell it in small bottles and it can be kept for many months in the refrigerator after opening. You can use it in all your other wok dishes instead of salt.

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Thais often replace sugar with palm sugar. But you can just as well use regular sugar, the taste will be the same.

One ingredient that cannot be replaced are the kafir lime leaves. Fresh they are often sold in a large pack and do not keep very long. Most Asian supermarkets also sell them deep frozen, which is a great alternative. You can keep them in the freezer like for ever, and just take out a few leaves when needed. They defrost immediately, and then release this most wonderful citrus smell! It is these kinds of herbs that make Thai food so wonderful! Do not buy the dried version, those have lost all of their aroma and colour .

Since all Thai ingredients can be kept for a long time, you just have to pass by the Asian store once or twice a year! One more good reason to get your ass over there. And it will feel like travelling abroad without having to book a flight.

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All other ingredients can be found in your regular supermarket. You can buy pre roasted peanuts, but since those are often salted too, I usually roast them myself. (And it is a lot cheaper). Just toss the peeled peanuts in a non-stick pan over a high heat, and stay with it. It takes a while before the peanuts colour, but once they do, you better take them of the heat immediately because they burn just as quickly. Do not touch them if you do not want to burn your fingers. Let them cool of on a plate. Once cooled, you can chop them in a mortar or an electric grinder. Make sure not too grind them to dust. (You can use the same technique to roast other nuts like pine nuts or cashew nuts, great addition to salads in summer!)

For the fresh ingredients:

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Peel the onion and cut it in to strips, peel the bell pepper with a vegetable peeler and also cut it in to strips. Cut the meat in to bit size strips. Cut the kafir lime leaves in to very fine strips.

Take 200 ml of coconut cream and mix it together with two tablespoons of fish sauce.

Now you are ready to prepare the dish. Cook white (jasmin) rice to serve with the curry. The Panaeng curry only takes about 10 minutes to prepare!

Take a large wok pan, skillet or frying pan, whatever you have available at home. Pour the cooking oil in the pan, turn up the heat and add two tablespoons of Panaeng curry paste. Sautée the curry paste, making sure not to burn it. It is perfectly normal if the oil separates from the curry paste. Then add the meat strips and let them fry a bit in the curry paste. Add the coconut mixture, and stir until the curry paste is dissolved in the coconut sauce. Then add the onion and bell pepper strips, sugar, and half of the peanuts and lime leaves. Let it all cook on a lowered heat until the meat is done, while stirring regularly. This only takes about 5 minutes.

Pour the (wonderfully smelling) curry in a serving bowl and top with the rest of the peanuts, lime leaves and some coconut cream. Serve with cooked white Thai rice.

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(If the curry is too spicy to your taste you can add more sugar, or reduce the amount of curry paste. But if you put too little curry paste you will  lose a lot of the flavour!)

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One advice. If you would ever invite Thai friends at home, do not cook Thai food! Cook something else; a family recipe or a typical regional dish. Thai people are notoriously critical when it comes to their National dishes, especially when prepared by non-Thais! (I speak from experience)

 

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Cocktails with homemade limoncello

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We still had a batch of our own made limoncello left. With Christmas coming up we decided to use it for a cocktail to start our family dinner. We did some research and came up with these two varieties that are liked by most.

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Limoncello Fizz: Like a gin fizz but sweeter and more festive.

You need:

Limoncello – 30 ml
Prosecco (or cava, or cremant or champagne)
Slice of lemon to garnish

Use a nice champagne glass, pour one small jigger (25 or 30 ml) of limoncello in the glass and fill up with prosecco or champagne. Use a slice of lemon or lime to garnish the glass.

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Yellow cab: A long drink variety on a Tom Collins. Also very refreshing in summer. If you like it less sweet, use soda instead of 7up.

You need:

Limoncello 30 ml
Gin 30 ml
Little bit of freshly squeezed lemon juice
7up
A sprig of mint

Take a long drink glass or a large wine glass. Squeeze some lemon juice on the bottom of the glass. Pour one jigger (30 ml) of gin and the one jigger (30 ml) of limoncello in the glass and stir with a bar spoon. Top up with 7 up, then add ice cubes to the glass. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint. Add a straw and stirrer. If you like it stronger use 50 ml of gin and limoncello each.

For a recipe of homemade limoncello read: Homemade golden limoncello

Chez Bene&Bolle

Today’s review is not about a fancy new gig in town or about a promising young culinary artist on his way to stardom. Today is a small reminiscing about a great evening among old friends. It has been many years since we had last met with Bene and Bolle, and they have made it a night to remember. To add to the harmony, our best friends Patrick and Hilde were also at the rendezvous.

Lounging in front of the fireplace we started effortlessly, cracking jokes,  sharing views, casually, as if we had last met just the other day.

And it goes to say that the most important ingredient of a successful night out is not the food nor the dress or the music, it is the company

Having said that, with great company, great food is often not far away 😃

And Bolle definitely did not disappoint. With Bene as a perfect host serving us delicious plate after delicious plate. I liked the idea of fresh oysters with passion fruit (a great marketing recipe for a love potion!) and I wonder why so few people know about the never failing delight of freshly baked crispy cheese wafers.

One of the gains of finding yourself among real friends is that few subjects are off limits. We had neither time nor intention to deep dive into heavy personal topics this particular evening but it is comforting to know that diverting opinions do exist, that they are allowed to exist, that they are respected and that there is willingness to explore one’s point of view.

Of course we talked about the events in Paris, the brutal killing of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, of the policemen and of the hostages at the supermarket. And of course we all condemned this barbary and there are no ‘buts’ to attenuate the circumstances. Yet, when all was said,  the one aspect I missed, not just in the evening’s  discussion, but in all I have  heard, read and seen in the various media,  was  a simple reflection, the question if we, if  our society, could have done something to prevent young  citizens, born and raised among us, homegrown children,  to get radicalised to the point of giving in to blind hatred and self destruction. The question has to be asked. And just like we, friends, try to understand each others point of view, why don’t we try to understand theirs? When Boku Haram in Nigeria kidnaps children and exterminates entire villages, we do frown, we do find it horrific, but then we shrug and get on with our lives. Only when it hits us at home, do we act. When a minute fraction of Boku Haram violence hits us close to where we live, we suddenly wake up and demand changes.  in my view, this attack did target Charlie Hebdo, but more than that, it targeted our Western society as a whole. Our response is now focused on repression when it actually should focus on better understanding and prevention. Unfortunately, that is  a type of language that did not seem to be lost to our current ruling politicians these faithful last few days.

On the other hand, the bouillabaisse, this particular evening,  was ‘to die for’ and when it was  followed by one of my all time favourites, a succulent roast of rabbit, any leftover resistance to restrain my calory intake was thrown overboard. Lucky too because just in time to accept several slices of  mocca and vanilla ice cake.

Hmm, somehow, after the terrorist paragraph talking about food suddenly sounds less appetising. But maybe it’s just me. I am not at peace with myself, I admit. I do feel a sense of guilt, being among the lucky few on this planet who can bathe in affluence. Even though I also feel that we deserved every bit of it, as we didn’t get it for free but through hard study and hard work. Even though I do acknowledge that our system has entrenched layers of solidarity and a well established safety net for our less talented or less fortunate co-citizens.  Yet, in spite of all of this,  I can not help to think that there is a lot of bias in our sense of ‘egality, fraternity and liberty’. It seems to me that somehow, some of us are still more equal than others.

So, let’s again raise our glass my friends! I praise myself lucky to live among you. You who are yourselves of sound mind and who, while sharing good wine, can uplift a nice and relaxing dinner into great and intelligent conversation. And isn’t that precisely what differentiates us from the other animals?

Your ultimate ski-holiday check-list

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On our ski-holiday this year I realized I again forgot to take some essential items with me. Not as essential as my ski jacket or helmet. I took everything I basically needed to go ski every day, but I forgot a small back pack for instance, and really missed it almost daily. I therefore decided to write down the essential ski-holiday check list for next time, and why not share it with others, who might need it too!

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Your ski outfit:

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-Skijacket -Skipants -Skisocks -Sleeveless shirt or top -Underfleece sweater -Upper fleece sweater -Gloves or mits -Undergloves (with touchscreen tips if you want to use your smartphone when skiing) -Helmet (do wear one, it is just a sad way to die while skiing) -Scarf -Fleece neck warmer (to pull over your underface when very windy) -Ski hat (there are very thin hats which you can wear under your helmet for extra warmth) -Ski goggles (do not underestimate the strenght of the winter sun, also essential when it snows) -skis or snowboard -skishoes -ski sticks

If it is very cold you can wear following items for extra insulation:

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-shirt with short or long sleeves as extra layer -thicker socks (do not wear two pear of socks!) -panties to wear under your skipants

Accessories you need on your holiday:

-sunglasses -regular gloves -regular hat -snowboots of sturdy walking shoes or moonboots -regular scarf (it might seem dum to take two pairs of hats, scarfs and gloves, but the ones you use for skiing are often sweaty or wet, so it is comfortable to be able to change them for others at the end of your ski-day) -umbrella (where it can snow it can rain…)

For your days on the slopes:

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Ski-pass In some ski-areas you can re-use your ski-pass (and not have to pay for it again). So keep it somewhere where you will find it- again next year.

-a small or medium backpack (to take lunch, water, sunscreen, put away carfs, sunglasses…) -small thermos flask -some sandwich bags to pack lunch -a pocket knife. On very busy and sunny days you might prefer to eat your lunch outside on te slopes in the sun, rather than to wait for a table at one of the restaurants on the slopes for a much too expensive lunch.

-sunscreen, and an extra small tube of sunscreen to take with you on the slopes -one lipbalm per person -packs of disposable handkerchiefs

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-a plastic sheet to put in the trunk of your car to put the wet skis and boots on after skiing, snow chains (do put them on at home at least once, so that you are familiar with how it works. Most often you have to put them on when it is dark, in the snow, in cold weather ….), and you can take some old gloves and an old sweater with you to put on your chains, because it is often a very dirty job!

-a credit card: when renting skis the shop often asks a credit card as guarantee, and it might come in handy at other times too! -your social security number and/or assurance cards

-telephone numbers of close family members

first aid kit: -plasters -disinfection spray -wound healing cream -ointment for burns -after sun cream -facial cream (the cold dehydrates your skin) -painkillers -thermometer -other medication you regularly take.

-If you wear contact lenses: spare contact lenses and/or glasses, fluids and holders for your contact lenses

-cords and chargers for phones, computers and tablets

If you rent an apartment or chalet these are some useful items you should take:

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-Take the address and telephone number of your destination with you in the car in an easy to reach spot (do not pack it in your suitcase).

-Breakfast for the first morning (you usually arrive late in the evening): coffee, coffee filters, tea, breakfast cereal or muesli, milk, sugar, jam, chocolate spread, chocolate milk powder -cookies

-garbage bags -washing up liquid -dish washing sponge -toilet paper!! -handkerchiefs -paper towels -salt and pepper -fondue fuel cartridge (if the place has a fondue set) -reusable supermarket bags -kitchen towels -dish washing gloves (if you use them) -some bottles of wine of champagne

Toiletries and cosmetics:

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If you rent an apartment or chalet you should bring -shower gel -soap -shampoo -hair dryer -toothbrush -toothpaste -bath and hand towels -bed linnen -earplugs (against noisy neighbours) (all other personal toiletries you need)

-Books to read (or download them on your tablet) -download some films on your tablet or computer for the evenings (films you always wanted to see but never got around to)

For the car trip to your destination:

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-You are not the only one who goes skiing in the holidays, traffic tends to get really bad on these days, and if you are unlucky and the weather turns bad, who knows how long your trip will be: So pack enough food and drinks to cover one or two meals, with some extra fruit and cookies to munch. Gas stations are often terribly crowded on busy days during the holidays, so you can eat in the car instead of standing in an endless row for something to eat or drink. And if you are as unlucky as some during these last holidays and you get stuck in a huge traffic jam, you will be so grateful you packed food.

-For the same reason do not wait until your gas tank is almost empty before filling up, if you get stuck somewhere you do not want to run out of gas!

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Enjoy the snow!

No Christmas party stress please!

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As a result of some strange family discussions, I got to be the host for the family christmas dinner this year. This was three weeks before Christmas, and at that time it seemed like I got plenty of time to plan and execute a dinner for 19 family members. We are now three days away from D-day, and time seems to have magically dissapated between then and now. But I will not be overcome by stress or sleep shortage by Saturday! As a good cook I decided on a menu with dishes that can all be prepared in advance, or that only have to be hassled together on the day itself, without any complex cooking techniques. And I opted for traditional dishes that have been in the family cookbook since my Grandma’s time and thus had to be fool proof. With it I also stumbled upon my theme for the day: A vintage christmas party: let’s do it like grandma and mom used to do it! They managed quite easily (or so it looked), so with their recipes it should be a piece of cake! And it would please my mom who insisted on holding on to family traditions, with the new generation becoming the host for the yearly big get together.

But there is more to plan than just a dinner. Where to sit 19 people? Do I have enough chairs, glasses, plates, forks, knifes, sofas for the apero time? And we have to get our fresh christmas spruce in time this year so that it can be decorated in time( we usually only think about it when christmas is just a few day away with just a few trees left at the shop, the ones others did not choose…). Oh and table decorations,  and enough toilet paper, and the house should be clean…. My children wanted to go all the way with the vintage theme, proposing we all got traditional christmas sweaters. I vetoed against that idea, I would have enough to think about already so I did not want to fuss over my clothes on that day. But we would choose old vinyl records to listen to and show old 8mm movies my brother had digitalized a few years back.

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Two weeks in advance we started putting up the tables and counting the chairs, and if this seems overly early, I am so glad we did, because it was nothing too early! And I used one of my lunch breaks to buy some table decorations, and being quite early, had enough choice left in the shop (hurray)

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We bought our christmas tree on time so that it could be decorated a week in advance. And on one of our trips into the centre of the city I decided to overcome my disgust for the masses of christmas shoppers flocking the streets, to buy traditional chocolates and cookies to serve with the coffee. I wanted to serve some specialties from Bruges. I looked up the recipes for the first and main courses and made a list of ingredients I had to buy. I went through my cupboards to see what was still in stock. We made a first trip to the supermarket to buy everything that could be bought in advance (wines, other drinks, sauces, chips, nuts, olives,…) I was lucky since my husband prepared mussles the weekend before, so I could use the stock to already prepare the fish sauce for the gratin.

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Then Monday came and with it my calendar for the last week was instantly filled. Meat and fish and bread should be ordered in advance. I should not forget to call my mom for extra chairs. I needed to buy an extra grill for the oven, and six extra oven plates for the first course. I had to call the butcher again because he wasn’t sure my order would get there in time with Belgium being on strike four days before my dinner. And I had to get the house clean….. (sigh, no relaxing this week…)

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I made a to-do list of what I should do every day of this last week, to make sure I did not oversee anything by D-day. I gave myself one cleaning task every day of the week, so by the end of the week, the whole house would be presentable. I ordered all my meat, fish and bread on Monday and Tuesday, and bought the grill and plates I missed on Monday. The rest of the ingredients I would buy on Friday together with the pre-ordered meat and I would collect the pre-ordered fish and bread on Saturday (I could ask my husband to pick it up for me). I would set table on Thursday evening, prepare the stew and vegetables, and put the drinks in the fridge on Friday evening. And I would put plates and serving dishes ready for use. I would take the sauce out of the freezer to de-freeze.

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Would be left for Saturday morning: Pick up the fish and bread. Shortly poach the fish in the fish stock, cut the little tomatoes, and portion the fish and scallops, cut the parsley, put crackers, chips and olives in bowls, bread the little toasts.

Et voila, ready for the guests, no stress…

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(and for those curious for my christmas menu: Cremant de Bourgogne as apero drink with breaded toasts, olives, cheese, crackers and chips, fish gratin with french bread as a first course, stew of rabbit with grean beens in bacon and potato croquettes as a main course, christmas ice-cream cake with whipped cream and fruit as desert, traditional cookies and chocolates from Bruges with coffee or tea)

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So here are my “avoid the christmas stress” tips:

-Plan, plan, plan in advance…

– Make lists (ingrediënts lists, shopping lists, task lists …).

– Count the number of guests and check if you can seat them.

– Choose dishes you have experience preparing – christmas is a perfect time for nostalgic family recipes.

– Choose dishes you can prepare in advance like stews, soups, oven dishes that just need to be grilled or reheated, salads that just have to be tossed together. Go for taste over looks, you will score with tasty dishes everyone likes, rather than complex dishes that can fail and might not please all. And if children also like these dishes you avoid cooking seperatly for the little ones.

– Do not make the desert yourself, just buy it at a reputable bakery or shop.

-Check if your oven in large enough to hold the dishes you want to heat or prepare in the oven and that you have enough place on the stove for all your pots. If not, replace one of your warm dishes for a cold one.

– Make a list with all the ingredients you need, and group them according to the shops where to buy them.

– Use the weekend before to already install everything, and buy whatever can be bought in advance.

– Pre-order large amounts of meat, fish, bread, deserts, vegetables, so you do not have to worry one day in advance where to find them.

– Sauces and soups can be made in advance and put in the freezer.

-Stews can or shoud be made one or two days in advance, the taste improves, and the meat softens.

– Avoid a busy workweek just before your party if you possibly can…

-Make a to-do list for the last week before your party, of tasks you shoud do every day of that week.

-Set table the day before, already put serving dishes and plates ready for use, this way, if you still miss something you can always ask one of the guests to help you out and bring it with them.

-Put drinks in the fridge at least one day in advance.

-No stress, no stress, no stress, it is just food, the athmosphere often improves when something goes wrong….

AGUA DE VALENCIA – A sunny cocktail

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Agua de Valencia will forever be synonymous with sunny warm weather, the sea, a burlesque café in the laid back beautiful old town of Valencia and sweet sunriped Valencian oranges! It is the perfect cocktail to drink in the late afternoon to cool down the heat and start a romantic evening. It is the signature cocktail of Valencia, invented in café Madrid, a café already shut down when we visited.

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Valencia seemed an unlikely choice for a city trip to Spain. Many prefer Madrid or Barcelona, but those last two where already off our bucket list. Many who had visited Valencia praised it as a beautiful city, with a very lively atmosphere, not too touristy yet, great food, drinks and parties, and with all the advantages of Madrid and Barcelona, but without the tourists!

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We first tasted agua de Valencia in Café de las Horas in Calle de conde Almodovar, a small street that comes on to the square with the Basilica. The café is decorated in a great burlesque boudoir style, which gives the place a warm atmosphere.

The agua de Valencia in cafe de las Horas is ‘to die for’. We tried other places, but this is by far the best place to drink Valencia’s famous cocktail. Freshly squeezed orange juice is a must, so please only drink it only if they use fresh juice, in all other cases keep your money in your wallet!

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Once home we decided we should try to make it ourselves, since it would be the perfect cocktail to drink on a on a sunny day in our garden.

After looking up the recipe, and trying it out, we adapted it a bit. The oranges in Belgium or not as sweet as those in Valencia, so it needs a bit more juice and sugar. The quality of the cava is very important and should be rather sweet than dry.

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Ingredients:

300ml freshly pressed orange juice

50ml Gin

50ml Vodka

700ml Cava (or Champagne)

Sugar (or liquid sugar)

crushed ice

 

Method:

Into a pitcher jug, pour the orange juice – best if it is freshly squeezed orange juice.

Add the semi-dry Cava (or Champagne if you do not have Cava).

Add the vodka and gin.

Add the sugar according to taste.

Refrigerate before serving.

Serve in the jug, and then pour into glasses onto the crushed ice to drink.

You can decorate the glass with a fine slice of lemon or a raspberry.

 

No need to use a cocktail shaker, you should mix the drink in the pitcher with a spoon, but when serving the drink, you should try and remove the spoon from the jug without disturbing the mixture too much. Enjoy!

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Homemade golden limoncello.

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AH Limoncello! When you have ever visited the area of Napels and the Amalfi Coast, you must have tasted it, since most restaurants give  you a little glass of this yellow liquor after your dinner. And when walking around in Sorrento, and the area of Napels, lemon trees are everywhere, lemons are used as decoration, lemons on plates and cups and aprons, lemon ice cream, … You cannot fail to notice the abundance of lemons when on holiday there! Neil had already tasted home-made limoncello on a previous trip, and knows how good it can taste. So when we visited Sorrento on a weekend break in May, we decided to bring some lemons of Sorrento home and try to make our own limoncello. We bought 5 huge lemons, that had not been treated, since you only need the peel, and insecticides are unnecessary for a good tasting limoncello. (the price was ridiculous: only 3 euro!) (maybe we should have bought more, but our luggage was already pretty heavy)

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I surfed the Internet to find a decent recipe. I compared some of them, and compared those directions with my own experience making liqueur before. I decided to use pure alcohol (96%) together with vodka, for a tastier softer version. For the 5 huge lemons (equivalent of 10 normal lemons), I bought 1 l of alcohol 96% and 75 cl of vodka, and poured both together in a glass bowl. I let the lemons soak in water for ½ hour, and used a new little dishwashing sponge to clean them, and take away all the dirt from the peel.

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I used a potato peeler to thinly slice of the yellow peel from the lemons, taking care not to peel any of the white parts with it. This works quite easily. I put all the peels in the alcohol, and closed the bowl. I stored the bowls away in a dark (not cold) place to make the lemon oil dissolve in the alcohol. This takes about 43 days, and on day 6, 22 and 36 you should stir the mixture and then close it off again. Time to wait….

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On day 43 first check if the mixture is ready to be strained, by plying one of the lemon parts. If the part is still pliable, it is still too early and you should wait longer. If the lemon part is stiff and breaks immediately, it is time for the next step.

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Filter the liquid by straining it through a coffee filter. You will have about 1,6 liter of alcohol left. Mix 800 ml water and 4,5 cups of white sugar in a pot and bring to a boil to make a syrup. Let the syrup cool down and pour it in the lemon-alcohol. Stir and close the jar and return it to a cool dry and dark place for another 40 days in which the liquid will be mellowed into limoncello. If necessary you can strain the liquid again through a coffee filter after this period, depending on the clarity of the liqueur. Then it is time to pour it in bottles. Make sure the bottles are very clean, rinse them with boiling water.

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And there you have your golden drink. If you leave it in the bottles for some months more the taste will become mellower. (great for Xmas and New Year!)

Ingredients:

5 big untreated Sorrento  lemons

1l alcohol 96%

75 cl vodka

800 ml water

4,5 cups of sugar