Saturday, 31 December 2011

Last Day of 2011

So it's the last day of 2011.

I'm currently in Calabria stuffing my face with foods that are contributing to my ever growing love handles.  Eating 4 course meals everyday for lunch and dinner including dessert.  Feeling disgustingly blissful, while at the same time panicking and studying for my exams that are quickly approaching.

So obviously I haven't been cooking.  I wanted to do restaurant reviews of some sort. But I don't think I'd be good at it.  I've visited Alia, which is in Castrovillari, and Le Cucine di Palazzo Salfi.  Alia's said to be one of the best restaurants of the country, serving Calabrian food with a modern twist.  I'll perhaps do a more detailed post about these two places later, I've taken photos, but right now, in summary, it was a big disappointment.  I've given it a 2.5 stars out of 5 in my book.  it was average.  Merely average.  It was good, but it wasn't splendid.  Maybe 2.7 stars.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Chinese Dumplings (饺子)

Mommy helped me with these.

I'm a complete jiaozi amateur.

These are eaten all year round in China but it's one of those things that you must eat on Chinese New Year.  I remember my grandparents making these in the kitchen every Chinese New Year --my grandmother making the fillings and my grandfather making the dough.  Shame I won't be spending Chinese New Year with them this year :(  For the first time I won't be in China for Chinese New Year. God. What am I supposed to do, go to China Town? :(  I'm a Northerner, I feel like China Town is filled with Southerners.  We don't eat the same thing!  Oh it's so soon...It's going to be the year of the Dragon.  It doesn't really mean anything but it's just if you're curious.  Are you a Dragon, you ask?  Well, if you're turning 12, 24, 36, 48, 50, 62... you are.  Every 12 years it repeats.  I'm a Monkey.

To make the filling
We made 2 fillings, one vegetarian with eggs, onions and spinach.  Another with minced pork and onions only.

1. Scramble some eggs, set aside.  Blanch the spinach in hot water until wilted, mix with eggs.  Fry the onions until translucent and fragrant, mix with spinach and egg mixture.  Season to taste with soya sauce and sesame oil.

2. Sautee some onions and once translucent add the minced pork and cook over medium high heat until..cooked.  Season with soya sauce, sesame oil and 5 spice.

Monday, 26 December 2011

How to: Artichokes

It's so nice at the end of the year.  People go crazy over preparations for Christmas, and once Christmas is over it's New Year's.  Two big celebrations, one after the other, it's nice.  It keeps your mind off other things.  Like the fact that Economics is driving me off the edge,  the fact that I'm surrounded by negativity, the fact that the heating doesn't work.  Yea,  it keeps my mind off these things.

Christmas was nice this year.  I perhaps ate a bit too much, as usual, so here's something you might consider eating to keep fit.

I like artichokes, I especially like those small marinated artichokes actually.  It's so nice in salads, pastas and pizzas.  It really does steal the show from the other ingredients even when it doesn't even mean to.  I remember once buying a whole box of those canned artichokes -- I put it in everything.   A lot of people don't like artichokes, surprisingly.

For the sensible people out there: here's how you prepare fresh artichokes.

What disappoints me the most is when I buy these huge globe artichokes and by the time I'm done with all the prepping it ends up being half the size I bought it for.  They've got these tough outer leaves that are unfortunately inedible, which you have to peel off.

Actually, not leaves, petals, I believe.

Step 1. Cut off the stems and remove all tough outer leaves.  Yes, you may end up with something very small, it's layers and layers of those tough leaves.

Step 2.  Cut off the stems, and a couple of cm off the top.   Just cut a big chunk off, don't worry. Yes, I know, it's a lot of waste and it can be worrying.  Also trim the stems.

Step 3.  You then want to cut around the head to make sure you've cut off all the tough tips from the outer leaves.

Step 4. Rub all the cut edges with a slice of lemon.  This prevents them from browning.

Step 5.  Fill a pot with an inch of water, add some salt, a whole lemon, cut into 4 slices.  Place the artichokes in, head down.  Cover, and put it over high heat for about 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of your artichoke. Check frequently to see if the water's dried out, if it has, add more water (obviously).  They're done when they feel tender on the fork.

Dressing:  I love it with just some good olive oil and some capers. They've already got the acidity and the saltiness from cooking.  You can also do a nice herby dressing with oil, mixed herbs (like parsley and mint), minced garlic.  Keep it simple.

Tip: I find it easier to cut with like a serrated knife or with scissors.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Panettone [Trial 1]

It's my favorite time of the year.  I'm not Christian or anything, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy Christmas. Oh by the way, check out The Atheist's Guide to Christmas, with funny tips and anecdotes written by atheist celebrities, writers and scientists.

I love Christmas because of the atmosphere, the decorations, the music, and most of all, the food.  All these countries have so many wonderful things to offer at Christmas.  As a family we don't really celebrate Christmas.  I mean we'll make an effort to all have a meal together but that's it.  I think the most christmasy Christmas we've had was when my sister brought her American husband home and we went through such an effort in trying to have a proper Christmas dinner with a roast and presents and everything.  So I don't really know what Italians normally eat for Christmas, maybe nothing in particular at all, like my family.  The only Italian Christmas food I know is panettone.  The slightly sweet, light as air, melt-in-your mouth fruitcake.  It originated from Milan.

1. Coming from the Italian word "panetto", meaning small loaf of bread, and the suffix "-one" means large.  Therefore, a large..small loaf of bread.
2. Deriving from Milanese, "pan del ton", meaning bread of luxury.
3. Resulted from a 15th Century love story.  A nobleman fell in love with a poor baker's daughter, Toni.  To win her love, he disguised as a baker and invented this bread for her.  Obviously with such a grand gesture of love the Duke of Milan agreed to the marriage.  This bread was known as "Pan de Toni" (Toni's bread).
4. The cook burnt his dessert at an important court dinner on the 24th of December.  Just when he thought he was about to lose his job and much more, his assistant, Toni, suggested putting some old dough together with some candied fruits, eggs and buter.  The desperate cook agreed and served what actually became a huge success.  The cook was a nice man and gave all credits to Toni, thus naming it Pan de Toni.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

White Chocolate Limoncello and Almond Truffles

I want a well stocked liquor cabinet.   Not to drink them or anything, but to cook with them.  I love cooking with alcohol.  What's better than a chocolate mousse with a shot of rum or a stew with half a bottle of red wine or an almond cake with a generous glug of amaretto.  Mmmm.  Currently as a poor college student all I have is wine and limoncello (thank you Ross and Caitlin for the limoncello <3)
Limoncello's a lemon flavored liqueur originating from Southern Italy.  Traditionally served as a digestive after a meal, it's sweet and creamy and delicious.  It's actually quite easy to make at home, it's essentially just lemons marinated in vodka for a looong time, and then you mix it with milk and sugar (please find a proper recipe, I'm not at all confident in what I just said).  But the key lies in the lemons you use.  The best limoncello uses lemons from Sorrento -- large, beautiful, vibrant, intensely flavored lemons.

However, I prefer using it as an ingredient rather than just drinking it.  It can be used in anything that incorporates lemon juice or zest.  One day I'll upload a post about this divine torta caprese al limone with limoncello -- a flourless lemon cake made with ground almonds, lemon zest, juice and limoncello.  Yes, it tastes as good as it sounds.
Anyway, think about adding it to your lemon cheesecakes, your custards, your ice creams.  Or even just mix it with whipped cream and serve it over a dessert of your choice.

With limoncello I thought I'd make some truffles.  Truffles are one of those fancy little things that take no effort at all to make.  Normally I prefer dark chocolate truffles (with a bit of rum or brandy) but I so desperately wanted to use my limoncello, and you know what,  these were the best truffles I've ever made.  Lemons, white chocolate and almonds make a heavenly alliance that can do no wrong in any circumstances.
250g white chocolate, broken into peices
175ml double cream
2 tbsp limoncello
1 tsp almond extract
Ground almonds for rolling

Melt white chocolate with the cream over medium heat, remember to stir.

When melted, add the limoncello and almond extract.  Mix well to incorporate and put the mixture in the fridge to harden for about 2 hours.
Take the mixture out and shape into balls.  Roll them in ground almonds and place them in the fridge until ready to serve.

I got a new photographer for these truffles, my friend, Kirsten, came over from Ireland and I forced her into taking photos of these babies whilst my usual photographer, Sarah, was busy working on her 4000 word essay..or was it a presentation....  But thank you Kirsten and come visit again soon :)

Monday, 19 December 2011

Breakfast Sesame Bread Pudding

Yes, bread pudding for breakfast.  Nothing better than desserts for breakfast.  It may seem like a lot of effort, well, it certainly is compared to your cereal and milk, toast and jam or protein shakes.  BUT I say this again and again, I'm a breakfast person and I truly believe a good breakfast can make your day.  I gave this to my flatmate and it immediately brightened up her day, I swear.
This, like my breakfast souffle, is not as time consuming as you might think.  It's all about time management.  You wake up, preheat the oven and you do the preparation, which takes 5 minutes.  While the bread soaks up the liquids, you check your mail and stuff.  Then you place it in the oven and you take a shower and get dressed.  All about time management.

Saturday, 17 December 2011


I love stollen.  Christmas is upon us and I had to choose between making mince pies, stollen or panettone.  My flatmate makes the best mince pies (with a ridiculous amount of alcoholic cider -- I think that's the secret), panettone seems too challenging for the moment, and thus I went for stollens.
Stollen's a traditional German Christmas cake.  It's like a fruit cake but much lighter and more bread like.  It was first made in the 1400s and was made without milk or butter, so I suppose it was quite tasteless compared to what it is now, nonetheless, it was popular.  Butter wasn't allowed since Advent was a time of fasting and so bakers could only use oil.  Oil was expensive and several appeals were made to the Pope, but he denied them all.  I think this went on for quite some time and and finally one pope (I think the 6th one that they appealed to) said ok and restored the buttery goodness into baked goods at Christmas time, but he only did so for the Prince and his family.  All the other bakers had to pay a fine to use butter, and the money, of course, went to the church.  It's like a butter tax.  Probably not a bad idea now in places of high obesity rate but still, taxing on deliciousness is sad.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Crostini with Peas, Onion Chutney and Cheese

I'm finally on holiday.   Yes, I have exams right after my holiday in January but it's okay because I am giving myself a couple of days to just rest and cook and be happy.  I've got a stollen currently resting happily in my warm and cozy room, ready to be in the oven in about half an hour.  I've got my suitcase open, ready to be packed.  I've got my laundry done.  It's all good.  I'm leaving tomorrow to go back hom to sunny Italy at 17C.

Hopefully the stollen will be good, here's an easy and elegant appetizer that you could serve on Christmas my case I just ate it as a mid afternoon snack.

These are pretty self-explanatory.

You get your bread nice and toasted, rub on some garlic, spread on chutney, cooked peas and top it off with some hard cheese and thyme sprigs.  Bake at 200C for just a couple of minutes until the cheese melts. Mmmm.

I'll be back soon with my stollen and other Christmas goodies. xxx

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Pork and Roasted Vegetable Salad

I love roasted vegetables.  I love roasted vegetable salads.  In a restaurant if I see a roasted vegetable salad I'll immediately order it.  And if it's with some sort of meat on top then even better.  I love roasted vegetable salads.  They're so simple and cheap and I had never made it at home, I always order it in restaurants and it costs a fortune when you think about how cheap the ingredients are.  These fancy restaurants are robbing us blind! This is so good, this is what you'd pay 9 pounds for in a restaurant.  I made 4 portions of this and my ingredients cost....can't remember but it was surely less than 5 pounds.  

And isn't this pretty? You can imagine this being served at a restaurant, right?  I'm so proud because usually I'm so bad at presentation.  Food is one of those things in life that gets judged unfairly based on its appearance.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Healthy Chocolate Avocado Mousse

Admittedly not the most appealing color

I had read so many of these chocolate avocado mousse recipes.  Apparently the avocado taste would be completely offset by the chocolate and it gives a silky texture making the dessert sinlessly delicious.

I thought I'd give it a go, I always like to try out new healthy dessert recipes.

So it's obviously not the same as your average decadent chocolate mousse with a whole cupful of double cream folded into it.  It's...interesting.  Different.  It's not bad, I'd happily eat a whole bowl of it, but it's no competition to the real, fattening, artery-clogging stuff.  *Sigh* such is life.

The cocoa didn't completely cover the taste of the avocado so I added a banana and some mint.  Take these measurements with a pinch of salt since you should just keep tasting it on the way, seeing if you want it more chocolaty or banana-y or minty or avocado-y.  Just use them as a general guideline.

Total time: 10 min Serves: 4  Suitable for:  satisfying a level 2 sweet craving (i.e. you want something sweet but you don't need a slice of devil's food cake.  That's level 5)

2 ripe avocados
1/2 cup cocoa
1 banana
1/2 cup mint
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Scoop out the flesh of the avocado, chop the banana, and add all the ingredients into a food processor.  Process until smooth and adjust the ingredients according to your own taste.  Place in moulds and chill in fridge until ready to be served.

The aim here I suppose is to just keep the consistency of a mousse.  So you can add other flavoring agents, add a shot of rum, add some other fruits.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Peanut Butter and Sesame Mousse

It was a bad day and we all needed some cheering up.  *** you, Hurricane Bawbag, **** you.
So, peanut butter and sesame mousse.

I had to create a stunning dessert using at least one of the designated ingredients: sesame seeds, cinnamon, rhubarb, yoghurt and peanut butter.  It was part of my awesome birthday cooking challenge.

There are so many ways of making mousse.  You can use gelatin, you can use a soft cheese like cream cheese or mascarpone, you can just use whipped cream and egg whites.  Whipped cream and egg whites make the mousse a lot light and fluffier, which is what I like.  When I was small my dad would always make this chocolate mousse by incorporating mascarpone with eggs and cocoa, different, a lot richer, but good as well.

Peanut butter.  It's such a humble ingredient, and I love pairing humble ingredients with sophisticated and elegant concepts.  Something that's in our snack sandwiches in a luxurious and decadent dessert. Mmmmm...

I tried this with Chinese sesame paste.  It's a really versatile ingredient in Chinese cuisine, used in both savory and sweet dishes.  I especially like it in sweet things with just a bit of sugar.  So I'll be using it a lot more now that I found this at the Chinese supermarket! :D

Prep time: 10 min     Rest time: min 2 hrs      Serves:  5 generous wine glass portions or 10 stingy shot glass portions            Suitable for:  de-stressing in times of bad weather

1/2 cup double cream
3/4 cup sugar (or to taste)
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 tbsp sesame paste
2 eggs

to garnish:
2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

chocolate crisps

Beat double cream with the sugar until stiff peaks form.  Fold in the peanut butter, sesame paste, sesame seeds and 2 yolks.  Beat the egg whites with the sugar until stiff peaks and fold that into the peanut butter mixture.

Leave to rest in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours

Garnish with chocolate and sesame seeds

Replace the sesame paste and peanut butter with whatever spread you have at home.  Do a nutella one or something.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Orecchiette with Dry Tomato Sauce

Only have 15 minute lunch break?  This takes 9 to make. 
That's why I love making pasta.  For this, it's just the time to cook the pasta plus combining the ingredients together.  

I made these with orecchiette, which literally means "little ears".  They're actually from my father's region in Italy, Puglia.  Aren't they cute?  

Anyway, I made this for my friend, Elliott.  He's actually the reason I named this blog "Happy Belly".  He always does this ridiculous heart with his hands, not the usual hand heart with the thumbs forming the bottom point of it, no, that's cute.  He does it the other way around, making the heart look limp and thin  He always does it over his stomach -- and I thought, love in the belly, happy belly.

Ok I'll stop boring you with these anecdotes.  This is a dry sauce with both fresh and sun dried tomatoes.  I actually pickled the tomatoes myself!  But that'll be another post :)

Sun dried tomatoes
Cherry tomatoes

Cook the pasta until al dente.  While it cooks, make the sauce.  

Monday, 5 December 2011

Pasta Salad

"All pastas are the same, it's just all different tomato based stuff."

Oh, the urge to slap this man.

There are so many different types of pastas.  Let's first just divide them into two categories, filled and not filled.  With filled we've got tortellini, ravioli, cannelloni, agnolotti.  I absolutely love filled pastas.  Cannelloni used to be my favorite thing in the world.  And pumpkin filled ravioli.  And the cheeses one.  Mmmm, these are best matched with just a simple butter and sage sauce.

Then there's soup pasta.  These are the small ones likes stellini and risoni. I used to absolutely love them as a child.  I vaguely remember my grandmother making delicious fish soup pastas...Oh my grandmother can make everything, everything you'd expect from an Italian grandmother.  I know everyone says their grandmother is the best cook in the world, I don't care what they say, my grandmother is the best cook in the world.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Green Beans and Mushrooms with Hazelnuts and Capers

Ok.  Not nearly as exciting as my last posts with the saffron and cardamom scones and whole wheat bread.  But we need to eat our greens.
This is a nice and simple side dish with a bit of a twist since it's got exciting ingredients like hazelnuts and capers.  Hazelnuts and capers enjoy a particularly harmonious relationship in most forms of sauces actually.  I once had a roast lamb with a hazelnut and caper sauce.  It was basically cooking the chopped hazelnuts and capers in a stick of butter and soya, forming the most beautiful sauce.

Anyway, this takes no time at all, really healthy blah blah blah.  What I eat on daily basis as a part of my meal basically.  This will be very short since I'm half asleep and I'm still waiting for the caffeine from my cup of coffee 2 minutes ago to kick in.

Prep time: 5 min    Cook time: 10 min    Serves: 2  S     uitable for: fulfilling your 5-a-day in an exciting way 

150g green beans, trimmed and cut into 1 inch slices
1 cup mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp hazelnuts, roughly chopped
2 tsp capers
1 tbsp parsley, chopped

Steam the green beans until tender, about 10 minutes.  Saute the garlic in some olive oil and add the hazelnuts.  Add the beans, mushrooms and capers and let all the ingredients mingle in the pan for a bit more.  Season to taste and garnish with chopped parsley and bits of parmesan.

Like I said, just be inspired with the hazelnut and caper combination.  Serve with meats or other vegetables of your choice.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Saffron and Cardamom Scones

It was 22:45 and I had done just about enough integration for the night.  The only sensible thing to do was to bake, obviously.  My double cream was about to expire so I had to use it, and I thought scones.  I thought spiced scones.  I thought saffron and cardamom scones with white chocolate chips.
Cardamom and saffron are soul mates.  They're meant to be together in desserts.  Indian desserts always feature the two together, they may be the first matchmakers to do so actually.  I don't know if it's the work of God or India, I'm just happy that they got put together.
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