Thursday, 28 June 2012

How to: Fresh Egg Pasta

It's a dry and tough dough to work with, but everyone's got to make fresh pasta at home at least once in their life.
I honestly didn't think it'd be such hard work.  I don't consider myself particularly weak, I've got some upper body strength, but my god.  I had never been so mean to a food item before.  It's not good to yell nasty things to a piece of dough, you gotta show it love and affection.  I felt bad.  Anyway, after moments of frustration, I had decided to switch tactics and, like I said, love and affection, and the dough came together and it made beautiful ravioli (post will come soon).

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Porcini Mushroom and Orange Orzotto

Orzotto is simply barley risotto -- so it's healthier.  Now before I begin rambling about how to make a risotto and all that, I'm gonna share a nice story.
My father taught me how to make risottos. Oh I actually have two stories to share about risottos, but I'll share the other one another time, this post will be about my father.  Okay, it's not really a story.  I'm writing this in my guilt ridden state, and I have to write it instead of actually say it because I'm a hopeless human being.  Expressed emotions in real life make me uncomfortable.  I'm half Italian and half Chinese, and so yes, this comes from my Chinese side.  Both from the receiving end and from the giving end, I cannot deal with it.  If you go all sentimental about how much you love me, I freeze and grimace and my stomach churns in a curdling mix of nausea and discomfort. No, no. Don't. Please. Send me a text, write me an email.  Don't even say it over the phone.  You know what, just keep it to yourself.  I can't quite express emotions either.  This is going to sound absolutely horrifying to some of you folk, especially to you sickly melodramatic Anglo-Saxons, but I don't recall ever saying "I love you" to either of my parents. I do love them dearly but the idea of mumbling out those tongue-twisting words is nauseating.  It partly has to do with the language thing.  "I love you" in English doesn't sound like a big deal, everyone says it all the time, but "I love you" in Italian and Chinese, because I so rarely hear it, just sounds so much more..terrifying.  It also seems easier with boyfriends and friends than with family -- again, I know, judge, judge, judge away, you opinionated ****.  Excuse me, emotions make me defensive and mean.

So my father taught me how to make risottos. He's taught me many food-related things because he knows how much I love it. He does a lot of things with the sole purpose of making me happy.  I'm a very very lucky daughter, I know.  Unfortunately I'm also a moody and immature little girl who throws tantrums on a regular basis.  It must be horrible, doing everything you can to make someone happy, yet that person is just so f*cking difficult to please.  So here's an apology, Dad.  God knows I can't actually do it in real life without emptying out my insides and bursting into tears.  I get frustrated at a lot of things, but I don't actually blame my father for any of it, because I know he tried his best and he just wants me to be happy.

My father taught me the basics of an excellent risotto.  So the two secrets are patience (as with a lot of things) and a good stock. \Sorry for sounding like a total food snob but the cube stuff just won't do.  The thing I love about a porcini mushroom risotto is you can simply use the broth left over from the soaking the dried porcinis -- so much simpler than slaving away for a proper stock.

Anyway, thanks, Dad, for teaching me how to make risottos.  Here's a healthier version, watch out for your ever-expanding belly.  He'll probably read this post as a good supporting father does, so I ask of him to not make me uncomfortable by reacting to this in front of me. No hugs and loving physical contact, and definitely not a word about this.  Thanks.  <3

To the rest of you, I hope you've skipped all that and just went to the recipe.  Enjoy.  The orange zest does wonders.

Serves 4
1 garlic clove, minced
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 glass white win
1 knob of butter
40g dried porcini mushrooms
320g barley
zest from 1 large orange

Soak the dried porcini mushrooms in 1l of water.  Take out and strain and reserve the liquid.  Roughly chop the mushrooms and fry in a pan along with the minced garlic for a couple of minutes.

Fry the onion in a pan with a bit of oil until softened, but not colored.  Add the rice and toss for a bit before adding the white wine and frying it for a couple of minutes until it evaporates.  Add a ladle-full of the porcini broth and stir until it's all absorbed.  Then keep repeating this process until the rice is cooked but al dente.  Stir in the mushrooms.  Add parmesan, orange zest and then stir in the knob of butter.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Spicy Poached Pears, Goat's Cheese Crumble, Tuile

Kat and Ross are two people I just love to cook for.  They're my favorite couple out of my group of friends, and believe me, a disgusting number of my friends are in committed relationships that are lasting way too long.  I'm 19, most of my friends are in that sleep-around-and-have-fun age group, yet many of them have been sleeping with the same partner for years.  Well, good for you.  I won't stare bitterly at you or live vicariously through your lives in a pathetic manner.  As long as you're not rubbing it in my face, I don't care about your love and commitment and all that mushy sentimental stuff.  Anyway, I won't tell you all about Kat and Ross and why they're my favorite couple (well, one reason is that they've never made out in front of me, thank you), but rather I'll focus on this delicious dessert that was made when they came over for dinner.  Yes, it tasted as good as it sounds and looks (thanks you Kat for the lovely photo).  The combination of flavors isn't new, it's a classic, but oh how delicious it was in a dessert form with different textures mmmm.  Oh and I also like Kat and Ross because they always like my food.
Serves 4
Spicy Poached Pears
2 cups dry red wine
1/3 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla pod
4 conference pears

Tuile Biscuit (from Ross Burden)
2 medium egg whites
85g flour
100g sugar

Goat's Cheese Crumble
70g sugar
50g cold butter, diced
50g flour
50g oats
1 egg, beaten with a bit of water
A log of goat's cheese, cut into 4 slices.

Halve the vanilla pod lengthways, scrape out the black seeds, and put it in a pot, along with the actual pod, with the wine, sugar and cinnamon stick.  Stir over medium heat until the sugar melts.  Peel the pears, make sure it's kept whole with the stalk intact.  Add the pears, make sure they're fully immersed in the liquid, cover and let cook for about 20-30 minutes or until tender.  Remove the pears, turn up the heat and boil the liquid for about 20 minutes or so, until it becomes thick and syrupy, and leave to cool.

Preheat oven to 180C.  Mix all the ingredients together to form a smooth paste.  Using a spatula, Spread a thin thin thiiin layer of the batter on a baking sheet -- make a small rectangle, and bake for just a couple of minutes until golden.  Take out and roll it up or do whatever shape desired.  Bake only two at a time because you need to shape them while still hot and soft.

Goat's Cheese
Blend the crumble ingredients in a food processor until it resembles breadcrumbs.   Dip the goat's cheese slices in the beaten egg and then dip in the crumble ingredients.  Place on a greased sheet, more crumble on top and bake at 180C for about 10 minutes until golden. Serve with poached pears, tuiles and syrup.  

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Italian Pistachio Cookies

I brought these to a club – I know, even for me it’s a bit much. Well, I made cookies, and I was going to a club right afterwards so…I brought them. Don’t worry, I didn’t go around and give them to random cute guys on the dance floor. 
Xiu is a beautiful club on the 6th floor of the Park Hyatt Hotel in Beijing, you can see the city from the terrace – it’s just gorgeous when the sky is clear. But other than that it’s very overrated. It’s gotten a range of awards, but the reason I went the first time was because of the “Most Beautiful People” and “Best Place to Find a Date” awards – and you know what? Lies. Blatant lies. You’ve got sleazy old men hitting on 20-year-old Chinese girls, desperate housewives from season 12 reliving their youths, and prostitutes – both premium and cheap. And yet, despite these people, and the bad service, and the overpriced drinks, I kept going back. Yes, yes, of courses it’s because of a boy. They have a band that plays there every night and the drummer is so perfectly beautiful that it’s almost worth the 6 pound gin and tonic just to gawk at him. Did manage to meet him and the rest of the band, gave them cookies, got his number, but it didn’t work out. These pistachio cookies may not have been able to seduce him, but I think it did make the rest of the band and my friend who works there like me more. Consider them friendship cookies rather than aphrodisiacs. My friend, Annabel, really liked them (thanks for a great couple of nights out, and remember, no more musicians for us).
I don't know if they are Italian cookies, I got them from another blog.  I was very biased, I wanted to make pistachio cookies, and found a recipe for these Italian ones and thought they must be good.  They were.  

Recipe from here
Ingredients (better to buy the nuts whole and grind them at home)
90g pistachios, finely ground +100g pistachios, roughly chopped
100g almonds, ground
50g egg white (1-2 medium eggs)
120g sugar
icing sugar

Preheat oven to 180C. Mix the ground pistachios with the almonds, egg white and caster sugar.  Shape them into small balls and roll in the roughly chopped pistachios.  Arrange on a baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes.  Dust with icing sugar when cooled.  

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Baklava with Homemade Phyllo Pastry

If I were to ever be lucky enough to somehow cook as a profession in the future, there would be lots of people I would need to thank.  Of this large group of people there are these three that used to teach me in high school.  I'll talk about the Geography and TOK ones in another post, as this will be about the English one.  These baklavas were a request from him -- quite a terrifying task as he's Greek.  Anyway, English lit was never my strong point in school.  I really wish I was good at it, because I liked my teacher, he's a nice guy, but I just wasn't very good at all that analysis stuff.  I admire people that have a natural talent for such things, I feel like English lit is one of those subjects where you can't and become better at it, God knows I worked hard, well, maybe not hard enough, but some people can sleep through all the classes and still achieve outstanding grades.  Bastards.  I know too many of them.  I don't know what their secret is, maybe fish oil capsules or some intense brain-training courses starting from a ridiculously young age.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Cardamom and Pistachio Tartlet

I'm a complete waste of space and resources at work -- I suppose most interns are in an office.  The guilt is overwhelming, I feel like a burden.  So I brought these to work as it was the only way to make me feel like I'm contributing to society.

(the puff pastry to the custard filling ratio might not be right, I forgot how much puff pastry I used, so you may have either leftover puff pastry or the custard)
1 package of puff pastry dough
1 cup of pistachios, roughly chopped
50g flour, sifted
500ml milk
6 egg yolks
4 cardamom pods
150g sugar
1 yolk beaten with a bit of water for the egg wash

Preheat oven to 180C.  Thaw the puff pastry dough.   On a floured counter top, roll it out to about 3mm thick.  Cut it into whatever size you want. Prick the dough all over with a fork, place them on a greased sheet. Place another parchment sheet on top and weigh it with another baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes.

Bash the cardamom pods slightly, put it together with the milk and bring it to a simmer, then turn the heat off and let it infuse for 10 minutes.  Beat the yolks with the sugar until pale and frothy, then add 1/3 of the cooled milk, keep whisking, and add the flour as well.  Remove the cardamom pods and add the rest of the milk in, whisking continuously.  Then put the mixture back on the heat and bring to a boil over low heat.  Keep stirring with a wooden spoon so it doesn't get lumpy. Stir and let it cook for another 5-10 minutes until it gets thick.  Take it off the heat and let it cool.

Spread the cream onto the  middle of the base of the baked puff pastry,  leaving about 1cm all around.  Brush the edges with the egg wash.  Sprinkle with pistachios and bake for another 10-20 minutes.  

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

How to: Mussels

People get so squeamish about cooking lobsters at home -- poor little harmless creatures suffering through seconds of burning pain as they drown in a pot of boiling water. How excruciating it must be for them. How cruel. You know who I feel sorry for? The poor mussels in your bouillabaisse soup. Mussels and other shellfish of the sort just don't receive the same sort of sympathy. We seem to forget that we're also cooking them alive. 
Cruelty aside, they're wonderfully easy to cook/kill. First, discard the ones that are already dead -- the ones that don't respond. Tap them or something, see if they open up or close. See if they're gasping for air, grasping onto their last few momentsof life. I've long been desensitized to these things.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Rosemary Olive Oil Cake

Ok if you haven't already, it's really time to make rosemary start working in the desserts department as well.  Its main jobs often lies in the roasts department - lamb, pork, beef - it works its robust flavor into that suckling pig, giving it some extra earthy kick.  But it does its job well with lots of sweets as well.  Check out the chestnut and chocolate rosemary cake , raisin and rosemary brioche, and this orange and rosemary marmalade.

I got this recipe from this blog, check out its other recipes, good stuff :)  

Orange and Rosemary Marmalade

The last time I made jam was last year in September. I made a delicious apricot and orange marmalade, made enough to fill a whole big jar, could've lasted for a good couple of months. Then we hosted a party, i drank a bit too much, and gave my jam away. One of the many reasons why I've stopped drinking.  I become overwhelmingly friendly and feed people with everything I have.  I wake up to an empty kitchen, sad and confused.  See, even when under the influence of alcohol I am determined to make bellies happy. 

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Rustic Pistachio Pesto Pasta

Pistachios may be my favorite nut.  It's always such a dilemma choosing gelato flavors when I'm in Italy in the summer.  I love chocolate, hazelnut, pistachio and crema (creme patisserie flavored).  I obviously can't get all four, so I always have to somehow choose two.  Yes, yes, me and my first world problems.  Anyway, that's what I usually associate pistachios with -- gelato.  I rarely have it in any other form, especially not so much in savory dishes.   The thing with these pesto sauces is that it's so incredibly versatile, use whatever nut or herb you have available.  And adjust the quantities of all these ingredients to your liking. 

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Turkey Breast with Mushrooms and Leeks

I'm very much into plating nowadays -- it's got to look good if you want people to eat it. I find that anything stuffed or rolled just looks more elegant. Then you elevate your star by putting it on a pedestal, and finally you must drizzle it with a sauce. So here you have turkey rolled and stuffed with a mushroom and leek filling, sitting on top of the same mixture and drizzled with a mushroom and balsamic sauce.
I don't come from turkey-eating cultures, but we should really all eat turkey more, it's very healthy.

Serves 4
4 slices of turkey breasts
½ cup dried porcini mushrooms
1 cup wild mushrooms, sliced
1 large leek, sliced
1 garlic clove
2 stalks rosemary
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Pour 1 ½ cup of boiling water over the dried porcini mushrooms and let them sit for 30 minutes. Strain the liquid and reserve. Fry the garlic in a pan until fragrant and add the leek, rosemary sprigs, mushrooms and half a cup of the mushroom liquid and cook for a good 10-15 minutes.
Pound the turkey breast until large and flat, season on both sides, and put a bit of the mushroom-leek filling onto the end and roll it up. Secure with a toothpick if you need. Do the same for all 4 slices, don’t worry if you’ve got leftover leeks and mushrooms. Place them in the pan together with the leftover mushroom mixture and fry all over until cooked. Remove the turkey rolls and make a reduction of the mushroom juice by putting the remaininy mushroom water into the pan with the balsamic vinegar and heat over medium-high heat until reduced by about 2/3. Season and serve with turkey.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Strawberry and Basil Free Form Tart

It’s the sign of summer – when little plastic boxes of bright red strawberries are found all over town. Now’s the best time to eat them fresh as they’re beaming with flavor, not like their bland pale older siblings that somehow come along in mid January. Grab a box and eat these sweet and vibrant berries with your morning yoghurt on a sun-soaked terrace. Slice them in half and arrange them systematically on a crème patisserie filled pastry case. Just dip them in whipped cream maybe.  Mmm or you can have them bathe in a sweet marinade and then cooked in a sweet and crunchy pastry like I did a couple of days ago.
Basil is a fine match for the beautiful strawberry. But perhaps it's not for everyone. If you're not feeling too adventurous then leave them out -- still a good tart. If you are, chop them both up and have them soak up plenty of sugars and spices and alcohol to enhance their flavors.
Oh and the cornmeal crust is to die for. Trust me. Plain old short crust is just so boring sometimes. If you've been reading my other recipes you'll see I rarely use short crust pastry for my pies.  The cornmeal contributes to both the texture and the flavor of the pastry enclosing the strawberries, adding a nice crunch and a distinct sweetness. To die for.
makes 6 15cm tarts
Cornmeal Crust
1 ½ cup flour
½ cup cornmeal
1 cup icing sugar
1 tsp salt
125g butter
2 large egg yolks, lightly whisked with 3 tbsp of ice water

Strawberry basil filling (adapted from here)
400g strawberries, sliced
½ cup basil, roughly chopped
½ cup limoncello
½ cup sugar
2 tbsp orange marmalade

Mix all the dry ingredients together, mix in the cubes of butter until it resembles bread crumbs, then mix in the egg yolks. Don’t overwork it, just form a dough and press flat and wrap in cling film. Chill in fridge for at least half an hour.

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl and let sit for at least an hour.

Roll out the dough and cut it into 6 equal portions. Divide the strawberry mixture into 6 portions as well and place each portion onto the center each piece of dough. Reserve the liquid Fold the dough around the strawberries leaving a hole in the middle – don’t worry about being neat, it’s a free form pie. Pour the remaining liquid from the strawberries into all the pies. Bake at 180C for 20-30 minutes until crust is golden.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Raisin and Rosemary Brioche Rolls

Soft buttery brioche for breakfast. Mmm..
My mother's breakfasts begin with a bowl of porridge and a simple green salad with chopped tomatoes, then about 15 minutes later she'll have her cappuccino and pastry. I've been the source of her morning pastry since I came back home, and she's very picky. You wouldn't think she would be considering the fact that she usually settles on sweets she finds in Chinese supermarkets. She's got a very sweet and conservative palate. So every morning my day starts off with the usual breakfast criticisms. It's never sweet enough and my combinations are just way too strange for her tastes. She's really beginning to despise rosemary now, but since I have it in the fridge I try to put it in everything to use it up. I love rosemary in sweets. Rosemary and raisins -- think of how well rosemary and grapes work together on a warm soft focaccia.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Lemon and Coconut Tart

Forgive me for it's difficult to update Happy Belly in China.
But I'm still cooking.  
Back home whenever we have big dinner parties, we would have this caterer come and cook for us, and he’s been cooking for us for years. He makes lots of wonderful things, but in terms of desserts, my favorites are his profiteroles, crème caramel and lemon tart. It’s always nice when a recipe brings back a memory. Oh I’d always sneak into the kitchen before the dinner begins and beg for some pre-appetizer dessert. Back then I wasn’t so much into cooking as I was into just eating, so I never went in the beginning to see how it was made.  His lemon tarts had just a basic shortcrust pastry.  I like coconut so I thought I'd try to do a coconut crust.  
I find that with these lemon tarts there are two schools of thought -- one made with butter and one with cream.  I didn't have that much butter left in the fridge, so I tried with cream.  i suppose with butter it'd be more of a lemon curd filling.  Anyway, still a good pie. 

makes 1 24cm pie
3/4 cup shredded coconut
½ cup flour
110g butter
½ cup icing sugar

Filling (from Raymond Blanc)
2 tbsp lemon zest
85ml lemon juice
125g sugar
5 medium eggs
150ml double cream

shredded coconut and lemon zest for garnish

Toast the coconut by spreading them in an even layer on a baking tray and baking it at 180C for about 10 minutes.  Watch it like a hawk to make sure it doesn't burn.  Leave to cool then mix with flour, butter and sugar.  Press it down and along the sides of a 24cm loose-bottomed tart tin.
whisk the lemon zest, juice, sugar and eggs for a few seconds before whisking in the cream.  Pour into the pie crust and bake at 150C for 20-30 minutes until barely set.  Leave to cool for at least an hour and then garnish with lemon zest and toasted shredded coconut.
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