Friday, 31 August 2012

Double Chocolate Espresso and Cashew Cookies

Up until about 3 weeks ago if you had asked me where I would want to live, I would've said London, without a doubt in my mind.  This summer I was in Rome for 1 and a half months, which is the longest I've ever been since I moved away when I was 2, and I came to a realization -- I really love Rome.  It may not be as cosmopolitan or dynamic as London, but I love Rome.  God knows it isn't easy to find a good job in Italy at the moment, but if there was a decent job waiting for me in Rome, I'd go there in a heartbeat after I graduate.  Maybe I'll do my masters there.
These were my goodbye cookies.  I had brought these to work, to my colleagues who are some of the nicest people. Flann O'Brien Restaurant and Pub on 17 Via Nazionale, Rome, please make sure you tip well.  The waiters there are very nice, though I don't recommend the lasagna or the cannelloni.
In David Lebowitz's words, these cookies are quite close to heaven.  Deliciously soft and chewy and chocolatey, and easy to make.  They're even better the next day actually.  

Recipe from The Great Book of Chocolate
About 24 cookies
1/2 pound (2 sticks) [230g] butter
1 cup [200g) granulated sugar
3/4 cup [180g] firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tsp instant espresso powder
2 cups [280g] all-purpose flour
2/3 cup [65g] cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup [100g] cashews
3/4 cup [100g] semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 160C [325F].  Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper or oil them lightly with vegetable oil
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs vanilla and espresso powder. Mix well.
Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.  Mix into the creamed butter mixture.
Fold in chocolate chips and cashews
Scoop the cookie dough into large balls (about 4cm) and place them at least 5cm apart from each other on the baking sheets.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until the cookies are just flat.
Let cool about 10 minutes before transferring from baking sheet to the cooling rack

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Summer Calamari Salad

I always have plenty of seafood when I'm back in Italy -- there's no denying it, the best seafood is in the Mediterranean sea. In fact, I may be biased, but the best produce comes from this area.  Fruits, vegetables, seafood, meat -- I'm very thankful for the fact that I'm Italian.  See, on British television, I've heard them boast about their produce several times, claiming that they have the best produce in the world.  Uh huh. Anyway, living in Britain for most of the year, and being only in Italy for summers, I have to say that... That I was stupid.  I could be studying in Rome, at the University of John Cabot or whatever. I could be.  I could be eating calamari and tomatoes and beautiful, beautiful oranges all year round.  But it's ok.  Maybe this makes me appreciate them more. Scotland's got good salmon. And potatoes.
I love calamari, not everybody does though.  I personally love the chewiness.  Grill them, boil them, steam them -- mix them with some vegetables and toss with a vinaigrette and it becomes an excellent appetizer or side dish in the summer.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Chicken with Orange and Basil Sauce

It was orientation week of my first year in uni.  I had quickly made a group of friends, and one of them, Ross, was turning 18 that week. Now. That was before I really started cooking. I had gone to a couple of cooking classes that summer, and with those few recipes in my computer and a heart filled with enthusiasm, I so eagerly wanted to cook for Ross and my friends as part of a birthday present. Much of it was a blur. I don’t remember if I actually cooked the whole meal or not, I just remembered my attempt at this chicken with orange sauce. I had learned the recipe from one of the cooking classes in Rome. It was supposed to be easy and delicious – one of those sweet and savory dishes that I love. And since I witnessed the whole procedure and helped chopped onions and squeeze orange juice, I had stupidly thought that it would be a piece of cake to recreate the dish. Thinking back, perhaps my memory is deluding me to protect me, but I honestly don’t remember it being that bad. Yes, the chicken was on the raw side, but the sauce was alright. My friends remember it differently though – they said it was just orange juice poured over medium-rare chicken. All except for Ross, bless, he has never once criticized anything that I cooked, that’s why he’s my favorite. 

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Grilled Chicken with Garden Pea Skordalia

I'm always slightly nervous when I cook chicken.  I never know when it's cooked through, and unlike beef, I can't just have it medium-rare.  There's a funny story involving chicken with orange sauce, but I'll get to that next time.  Let's just first say that I've served people raw chicken before.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Pea & Mint Greek Yoghurt Pancakes

Oh nothing worse than over-seasoning a perfectly fine dish.  What happened was that I seasoned in the beginning, then I went away and did something, came back and thought I hadn't seasoned so I seasoned again.  But other than being salty, the pancakes were good!  It's pretty much the same concept as my cottage cheese pancakes, just that I used greek yoghurt instead of cottage cheese.  I was so impressed by yesterday's pancakes that I wanted a repeat.
See, every night as I'm struggling to fall asleep in my bed, I plan my menu for the following day.  I love planning my breakfasts. Now that I work from 12-5, I eat lunch at work, and by the time I come home for dinner, I'm so exhausted that it's hard to cook a proper meal.  It's usually something simple, or I use the day's wage in a nice restaurant.  I only really get to cook breakfast now, or brunch, really.  Last night I was thinking of making my own muesli - I had yoghurt, I had honey, I had nuts and fruits.  Then I thought about making a porridge with such toppings.  Then I fancied the idea of scrambled eggs, or maybe a frittata.  Then I thought maybe a breakfast sandwich.  Then an hour or two later I finally settled on making pea and mint yoghurt pancakes, and eventually I fell asleep.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Tomato Cottage Cheese Pancakes

Ok I normally prefer sweet breakfasts to savory ones, but these pancakes were amazing.  I’m not bragging since it’s not really my recipe.  I love quinoa but I couldn’t find quinoa in my local supermarket, only quinoa flour. I'd bought a pack and it had been sitting sadly in my cupboard along with the other flours and breakfast foods for the past month.  I tried making pancakes with it once, don't know what happened but it didn't taste right, and since then I’d just left it there. Every morning I grab the oats or the all-bran or the chocolate-bran, all right next to it, and the poor quinoa flour’s just there, untouched, unnoticed, unappreciated.  Then I stumbled upon 101 cookbook’s cottagecheese muffin recipe.
“You can use the flour of your choice in this recipe” – finally.  God knows this morning I had no patience to wait for my breakfast to bake for half an hour, so I decided to make pancakes. Plus it’s easier to ¼ the recipe and make 2 large pancakes, rather than to make 2 muffins. I had to cut down the recipe because or else I’d eat it all. That’s the problem with cooking for one. It should be easy, just cook for 2-4, like the recipe says, and then just refrigerate the rest. No, not for me, my stomach’s unfortunately a bottomless pit.  My biggest problem is portion control.  The only way to restrict myself is to cook less.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Tofu-Stuffed Peppers

Today I'm going to talk about my Minnesotan friends, Shyam and Ian.  Ok I promise it relates to these peppers. Kind of.  See, I work at a pub and today there was a table of Minnesotans.  And this relates to these tofu-stuffed peppers because I work near the unofficial China Town, and I passed by China town to get the tofu.  Tofu's already popular enough in Italy to be found in practically any supermarket. Ah, but for silken tofu, dried tofu, smoked tofu etc. you need to go to the Chinese supermarkets/health stores.  When it comes to smoked tofu, I actually prefer the Westernized versions in health stores, but it's mid-August and Rome's on holiday -- most stores are closed ---most, but not all, no, not the hard-working Chinese people. So I go to the Chinese supermarkets for smoked tofu.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Livornese-Style Red Mullets (Triglie alla Livornese)

Taranto, which is in the Puglia region in Italy, has fantastic seafood.  The best fish and seafood of Italy really do come from Southern Italy, but apparently the best you can get is in Rome and Milan, because all the good stuff is sold to those two cities.  Another weird thing, I remember growing up with my grandmother ever only making salmon for us, which is obviously not from Italy.  And then I went to a seafood restaurant in Taranto, talked to the chef, and discovered that half of the seafood they use is from Morocco.  Disappointed and confused, I went to the fishmonger's myself and asked for some local produce, and he gave me these little red mullets.
Honestly, red mullets aren't my favorite white fish as they've got too many fishbones.  Use other fish if you want, it's a very simple recipe, the sauce is only made with 3 ingredients :)

serves 2
2 small red mullets, cleaned
1 250g can tomatoes
1 sprig of garlic
1 sprig parsley

-Smash the garlic and roughly chop some parsley, and throw them in a pan with some oil over medium-high heat.
-When the garlic begins to color, add the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper.  Stir, and let the tomatoes cook for a couple of minutes.
-Place the red mullets in the pan and lower the heat. Let cook without cover for about 10 minutes without turning them.  Baste them with the sauce every now and then.
-Sprinkle over some more parsley and serve.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Soaked Oatmeal Pancakes

Oh finally another way to eat your porridge in the morning.  I saw this recipe last night and immediately prepared the first step.  The next morning, to my dismay, I discovered that there were no more eggs in the fridge.  It was 8:30 on Sunday.  I hate Sundays because most shops are closed on Sundays in Italy. And I hate Sundays in mid-August because most shops are closed for holidays.  Rome is especially empty in August.  Everyone's off to the beach in Tuscany, Sicily or other better places.  Good for them because Rome is too hot in August.  I really should be going elsewhere, like in Calabria, my cousin has invited me to spend ferragosto with her and her friends.  Ferragosto is on the 15th of August, it's a holiday to..I think just celebrate the summer.  It's a lot of fun, I don't remember the last time I celebrated it properly, for a long time it's just been an inconvenient day where everything's closed.  This year I've got a job though. My parents are leaving me on the 15th to go back to China, so I'll be all alone from then to early September.  Let me know if any of you drop by Rome.
Back to my morning panic, it's okay, I got dressed quickly and ran across the street to the supermarket that's open on Sunday mornings.  I stood outside pathetically as the owner told me across the glass door that they don't open until 9.  So I stood and I stood and eventually I think he felt sorry for the half-asleep disheveled girl so he let me in to buy some eggs.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Salmon Tofu Cakes

Nothing beats the sense of satisfaction of receiving the money you earned.  I remember my first ever paycheck, it was for an article I had written for a magazine in Beijing.  I was 15 and overjoyed.  I have no idea what I spent it on but I blew it all really quickly.  Now I'm working as a waitress, and while I may earn a lot less than they do in the States, UK, Scandinavian countries and other more civilized countries, I still feel incredibly proud at the end of each day when they give me my pay.  It really is exhausting though.  Today was my third day.  Yesterday and the day before went by smoothly, today I had spilled a beer, got a couple of orders wrong, and had a customer leave without paying.  Third day, so they're still quite forgiving.  So it really is exhausting.  No time for proper cooking, but look, ah finally a low-carb fish cake where you make it in a food processor, which you can then grill and wham it's done.

125g firm tofu
50g canned salmon
1 egg
1 sprig parsley
flour, as needed

Put the tofu, salmon, egg and parsley in a food processor and whizz until chunky. Stir in seasoning and flour, as much as you need to be able to form them into patties.  Heat the grill on high.  Rub the patties with some oil and grill a few minutes on each side.  

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Fajita-Spiced Mushrooms

I realized that there are really no better words to describe that god-awful feeling in that unbearable heat than "melting" and "baking".  You feel droplets of sweat slowly dripping from every surface of your body and before you know it your back is thoroughly wet, drenching in liquid.  It really does feel like you're melting.  And it affects your mood.  I'm tired, I'm frustrated, I feel heavy, I feel myself sinking into the ground with every step.  In the beginning I thought of it as a comfortable roasting heat outside -- definitely better than the high humidity heat where your sweat clings onto you and refuses to leave, now that's steaming.  This baking feeling, I don't know, it's better.  Though 30 minutes outdoors and I feel like I should be rubbed with spices, let me hold onto a couple of lemons, and no need to baste me, no, no.  My goodness it's hot here in Rome.  Oh the weather report lies, I know it's not merely 33 degrees outside, everyone says it's at least 41 but the weather report refuses to even go over 35.  I'm trying to relate all this complaining to a recipe, but I can't.  Would've been apt if this was an ice cream recipe, but oh well.  Here are some very delicious fajita-spiced mushrooms. I love mushrooms.  Thinking about them makes me feel better.

Recipe from here
250g portabella mushrooms
2 shallots, sliced

Marinade ingredients
1 tbsp water
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
juice of 1 lime
3 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 - 3/4 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp paprika

Slice the mushrooms and place in a bowl with all the marinade ingredients.  Let them sit for at least half an hour.  Fry the onions until brown in some olive oil, then add the mushrooms along with the marinade.  Stir and let cook for about 10 minutes.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Saint Honoré Cake

He's unfortunately at a conference in DC at the moment.  Last year I made him a Saint Honoré, this year, though we celebrated his birthday early, there was no cake.  Poor guy's watching his cholesterol levels and waistline.  He purposefully bought a jacket that's a bit too small for him around the belly area, just to encourage himself to lose some weight (well, that and that the jacket was on sale).
Saint Honoré is the French saint of bakers and pastry chefs.  It has a puff pastry base with a ring of cream puffs on top and a center filled with a cream of creme patisserie plus egg white, I believe.  I first had it in an Italian restaurant in Hong Kong.  Oddly enough that's the best I've never had.  I've had it in Italy and I've had it in France, but the best one was in that Italian restaurant in Hong Kong.  You know what my problem with the Italian and French ones are?  The puff pastry layer underneath is too thin.  The one in HK was a thick millefoglie (I'm Italian, I don't like saying mille-feuille), whereas the other ones, you might say the proper ones, is just a thin layer of puff pastry.  It's not the same.
Take my recipe with a pinch of salt.  Adjust it to your liking.  I had it filled with hazelnut-creme patisserie, and the choux buns were filled with chocolate-hazelnut creme patisserie.  I dipped some of them in caramel and some in a chocolate ganache.  You don't have to go through all that trouble, you can just dip them in caramel or something.  Needless to say this takes a loooong time, but it's worth it for a special occasion!   AUGURI PAPA'!  :)

You'll have a lot of left over choux buns with this recipe.  Bake them and you can put them in the freezer.  Reheat in the oven for 5 minutes at 200C and they're ready for another indulgence.
Cream Puffs

100ml cold water
 50g butter, cubed
70g flour, well sifted
pinch of salt
1/2 tbsp sugar
2 medium eggs

Bring the water, butter, salt and sugar to a boil.  As soon as it boils, take off the heat and add all the flour in at once.  Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon to avoid lumps until it comes together as a dough.  Put back on low heat and stir for a couple of more minutes until the dough becomes drier and comes off the pot clean.  Leave the dough to the side to cool.  When the mixture is completely cooled, add one egg and stir until well incorporated.  It may not look like it will but it will.  Then do the same for the rest of the eggs, adding them one at a time.  Have the oven heated at 220C, pipe them into small balls. Use a wet finger tip to rub each ball for a crispier crust.  Bake for 10 minutes before turning heat down to 180 for 20 more minutes.

Hazelnut Creme Patisserie & Chocolate-Hazelnut Creme Patisserie

40g hazelnut
250ml milk
1 vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla extract
3 egg yolks
80g sugar
25g flour, sifted
2 tbsp cocoat

Put the hazelnuts in the oven at 180C for about 5 minutes until fragrant.  Put a towel over them and rub the skin off.  Put them in a food processor and whizz until finely ground.
Heat the milk with the ground hazelnuts  and vanilla until simmering, then turn off the heat and let it infuse for ten minutes.
Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until pale and foamy.  When the milk has cooled down, strain it, and whisk 1/3 of it into the egg mixture, then whisk in the flour.  Finally tip the mixture back into the pan with the rest of the milk, and using a wooden spoon, stir continuously over medium-high heat until it boils.  Then turn the heat down to low and continue stirring until it becomes thick, about 10 minutes. Leave to cool.

Take out half the creme patisserie and mix in 2 tbsp of cocoa, or more, adjust to your liking.

Poke a hole into the bottom of the cream puffs, and using a piping bag, pipe the chocolate-hazelnut creme patisserie into them.

1-2 lb puff pastry (I don't remember exactly how much I needed, sorry!)
Hazelnut creme patisserie

Heat the oven to 200C.  Roll out the puff pastry to about the size of 1 pound coin, and cut out 3 circle using a large plate. Put each of them on a baking pan lined with parchment paper (you may need to bake them in different batches).  Pierce the dough all over with a fork.  Place another sheet of parchment paper on top, and place another baking pan on top to weigh it down as it bakes.  Bake them each for about 25 minutes or until golden.  You can remove the baking pan and parchment paper on top in the last five minutes to help color them.  Transfer the dough to a rack to cool.
Distribute 1/2 of the hazelnut creme patisserie over one layer of the puff pastry.  Place another layer on top, and spread the other half of the creme patisserie on top.  Place the third layer on top.

Vanilla Cream and Chocolate cream

1 cup double cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp icing sugar
1 tbsp cocoat

Combine all the ingredients and beat until stiff peaks form for the vanilla cream.

Take out half the vanilla cream and mix in 1 tbsp of cocoa for the chocolate cream.


1/2 cup sugar

Spread the sugar into an even layer on a pan and heat over medium-high heat until golden brown.  Do not stir.  You may swirl the pan around.  Dip some of the cream puffs into the caramel, try not to burn yourself, and put them upside down on a piece of parchment paper and leave to cool.

Chocolate Ganache

80g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
1/3 cup double cream

Bring the cream just to a boil, be careful as it might spill so keep a close eye to it.  Pour it into a bowl along with the chopped chocolate and stir until chocolate has melted.  Dip some cream puffs into the chocolate ganache and place them upside down on a baking sheet and leave to cool.

Put the cream puffs around the edge of the millefoglie.  Pipe alternating layers of the vanilla and chocolate cream in the middle.  Sprinkle with some chopped chocolate and hazelnuts.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Healthy Apple Pancakes

I like to be creative with my breakfasts, especially on those days where I just wake up with an unsupportable hunger. Maybe I didn’t eat enough last night. I’ve gotten to that stage where it’s getting harder and harder for me to find people my age when out with my dad and his friends. There used to always be kids my age that would be unwillingly dragged along by their parents, but now I guess most university students are off doing their own thing in the summer. Last night’s party consisted of people my parents’ age, my grandparents’ age, and then high school students. I realized that since moving to the UK, no matter with whom, after the initial hello, where are you from, what do you do’s, my socializing topic of choice becomes that of the weather. It’s perfect as it’s not age specific, everyone knows about the weather, everyone has some feeling towards the weather. Right now it’s getting hot in Rome, but I’m not complaining. At least it’s not still under 20 degrees, windy, and cold *cough* Scotland *cough*.

With the topic of the weather I manage to befriend people of all ages. Try it. Life tip.

You become so engrossed in conversation with others that you forget about the food at the party (well, not exactly what happened. I wasn't a fan of the pasta). Then in the morning you can make yourself a batch of these healthy pancakes. Use whatever flour you want, I used oat flour. You don't have to use grated apples, add chocolate chips, some other fruit, or make it savory by adding more salt and spices and mixing in some peas or onions or something.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Grilled Chicken with Tomato Salsa

I love chicken. It’s cheap, it’s versatile, it’s high in protein, low in fat – low cholesterol. My poor father just found out that he has high cholesterol so he’s been trying to stick to just chicken and fish. Poor guy loves cheese. Loves mozzarella. Every time we go back to China he’d pack three big blocks of parmesan cheese for his late night cravings when he comes home from work. No more. Anyway, here’s a nice light recipe for the summer if you have high cholesterol or if you simply want to keep slim for the beach. Takes 10 minutes. No, less.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Spicy Steamed Meat Patties

I bought a book on steamed recipes. These were actually meant to be kebab sticks but as I had no skewers, patties they became. It’s spicy and diet-friendly, actually, it’s even Dukan-diet-friendly I believe. Very yummy, make sure you don’t oversteam them, I did and they became a bit dry. That’s what happens whenever I steam something, I feel like they can’t “burn” or anything, so I forget about them…but they can still overcook! Excuse the photo, sometimes when it’s late in the afternoon, and by that I mean 2 or 3, i.e. too late for lunch for me, my hunger takes over my blog needs, and so my lack of patience leads me to take bad photos before the meal’s even ready (it’s meant to be paired with tomatoes and greek yoghurt, please do, they make a big difference).
I made these with veal, but if you have some ethical issues with that (and so I presume you’ve obviously never had a good veal carpaccio, you poor thing), use ground beef or lamb.  Ohhh I wonder how they’d be with tofu if you’re vegetarian/vegan.  Yea, why not try with tofu.  You may need an egg or two or some liquid to hold it together.  Or if you use silken tofu you may need to add some starch.  Try it! I’m intrigued, I’m gonna try it– my local supermarket’s tofu’s on offer right now until the 8th of August so that will be a large part of my diet in the next couple of days.
© Design by Neat Design Corner