Monday, 31 December 2012

Orange Almond Cake

Ok I took this out of the oven too soon so the center was a bit on the raw side... If it was cooked all the way through though, just as the edges were, it would've been a spectacular cake.  Just don't make the same mistake I made.
This is really similar to my Torta Caprese.  Both are almond cakes, one with chocolate, and the other with oranges.  This really caught my attention because it uses whole oranges -- peel, pit, seeds -- everything!  No waste.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Vegan Yeast Spelt Pancakes

Two things.  First, I finally got flax seeds.  I have now the perfect vegan pantry.  I've got my chia seeds, flax seeds, nutritional yeast, soya milk, a selection of nuts, dried fruits, seeds, and legumes.  I'm ready for my Vegan Challenge 2.0 in March! 

Second, finally was I able to enjoy something I've made to myself without any criticisms.  I'm done with sharing food with my parents.  I'm just going to cook for myself here now -- no more attempting at making other bellies happy while I'm here. I don't take criticisms well, nobody does, but I'm willing to take constructive criticisms if they're given well.

Now, let me give you a couple of tips when giving criticisms.

Let's say that the problem is the cake is too sweet. 

First give a compliment.  Begin with something good about the cake.  It can't be all bad.  "It's not dry at all."  "You can really taste the almonds."  "It's so soft and fluffy."  "It looks amazing."   Something.  Anything. 

Now.  You don't say "The cake is really moist, but it's a bit too sweet."  Change one word and it changes everything. 

"The cake is really moist, and maybe you could even add a bit less sugar next time." 

You see the difference between "but" and "and"?  You see? 
I hope you can all give criticisms this way.  No point in thrashing someone's self-esteem and trampling it on the ground.  Be nice.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Gingerbread Linzertorte

Is it weird to dream about the guy you like being gay?  'Twas very strange, very strange indeed.  In my dream we were having coffee along with one or two of his friends, and I had discovered all these things about him that made me like him even more --- like the fact that he was good with computers (it's a strange Asian fetish on my part).  Then later his friends mentioned that he was gay.  Maybe it's just a sign that it's not meant to be.  Honestly, he's funny, cute, and nice -- so yes, there's a high chance that he's gay.  

Anyway.  Moving along from my pathetic love life.   

I hope you had a lovely Christmas with roasts and stuffing, sides and cakes, wine and cocktails, and friends and family. 

Here's another Christmas dessert recipe. Now, I only had heart-shaped cookie cutters that I had bought as a silly 15-year-old in love, so this looks more like a Valentine's dessert.  You could technically substitute marmalade with something like strawberry jam and this would look very lovey dovey.  You could change the shapes according to the occasion.  This would've been ideal with Christmas tree or snowflake cookie cutters. 
The Christmas spirit was certainly lacking in Beijing, but you know what made my Christmas?  The fact that one of my readers actually used one of my recipes for her Christmas dinner.  I honestly couldn't be more honored :) 

So I hope it's not too late -- and I don't believe it is, since there are still Christmas trees around and Christmas carols played on the radio -- Merry Christmas to all regular Happy Belly readers and those of you who've just stumbled upon it now. 

with lots of festive love,

Maria x

Recipe from Martha Stewart
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup packed dark-brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
2 large egg yolks, plus 1 large egg white
1 1/4 cups best-quality store-bought jam

Preheat oven to 160C, with rack in lowest position. Sift flour, baking powder, spices, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add sugar; mix on medium-low speed until combined. Add butter; mix until incorporated, about 2 minutes. Add molasses and egg yolks; mix until dough comes together, about 30 seconds.
Turn out dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Roll two-thirds of the dough into a 12-inch round, 1/4 inch thick. Fit into a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Spread jam over bottom of shell; refrigerate until cold, about 30 minutes.
Roll out remaining dough between pieces of floured parchment paper to a 12-inch round, 1/4 inch thick. Transfer round with parchment to a baking sheet; refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes. Cut out shapes from round with cookie cutters. (If desired, reserve cutouts. Bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. and sprinkle tops with confectioners' sugar.) Transfer round to a baking sheet; refrigerate until cold and firm, about 30 minutes.
Lightly beat egg white; brush over rim of tart shell. Carefully slide dough round over shell; press edges to adhere. Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.
Bake until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling, 50 to 60 minutes*. Let cool completely on a wire rack.

*my pie only needed about 30 minutes. 

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Chocolate Almond Gingerbread Bûche de Noël

It's the 23rd -- hopefully it's not too late for some Christmas baking suggestions.

I've spent the whole day baking.  I made gingerbread cookies, I made a gingerbread marmalade linzertorte, I made a torta caprese, and I made this.  Yes, it took the whole day, and tomorrow I might just make another cake.  This is what I'm like on holidays.  Don't worry -- I'm not just going to have all these desserts sitting at home and have them slowly expand my waistline, no no.  I'm going to a Christmas party tomorrow night, and they told me to bring dessert.  It's a party of about 25 people, so  3, 4 desserts sound about right! Any excuse to bake.

I need to start getting paid for this though.  Chocolate, butter, cream, spices -- these all cost a fortune in China.  Normal dark chocolate for baking costs a minimum of £3 per 100g.  Cheapest butter is about £2 for 200g.  So my cakes all cost about £20 each to make.  I miss Europe.  I miss reasonably priced food.  China's cheap if you want to just live the Chinese lifestyle.  But I have needs.  I like cheese. Cereal.  Butter.  Chocolate. They're all imported here.  
Anyway. Happy thoughts. It's almost Christmas! What are you doing this Christmas? What do you usually eat for Christmas?  A big traditional Christmas dinner with a turkey and 10 different sides and all that? I've never had one of those.  We're not big on Christmas as a family unfortunately.. But tomorrow night should be fun. 

This was a special request by Gwen  -- I hope you have a wonderful Christmas with lots of yummy foods.  If you want any requests, just email me at or follow me on Twitter @MariaSisci or tell me on my FaceBook page www.facebook/happyxbelly.  #Shameless self promoting.

So here are step to step instructions on rolling.

After you've taken your sponge cake out of the oven, it should look like this
Now.  Get a large baking sheet, bigger or the same size as your pan and sprinkle with icing sugar.  Flip the spongecake out and lay it on top of this baking sheet.  Peel away the baking paper on top, and make a few slits along the edge of the short end which will be at the center of your roll.  About 1 inch, just enough to go all the way so that it almost goes through. 
Then with the help with the baking paper underneath, use it as a lifter to roll up the cake from the slit end. 
Roll it up all the way
 Make your filling, and then unroll the cake.

Spread the filling evenly over the whole surface.
Roll it back up. 

Cut a good bit off the roll at a sharp angle and attach it to the side.

Recipe adapted from here
5 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup golden syrup
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup caster sugar

250ml double cream
1/3 cup sugar or more to taste
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2 cup ground almonds

Chocolate ganache
200ml double cream
200g dark chocolate, broken into small pieces

-Preheat the oven to 160C. Grease a 12x17 inch (43x30cm) pan with butter, then line with parchment paper, and grease and flour the parchment paper.

-In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks until pale, about 4 minutes.  The batter should form ribbons when you slowly raise the beaters.  Add the golden syrup and brown sugar and beat until combined. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, spices and salt, Beat the dry ingredients into the egg yolk mixture until combined.

- In a clean bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add 1/4 cup of the sugar and beat until firm and glossy. Fold the egg whites into the batter until no streaks remain. Spread the batter onto the prepared baking sheet in an even layer. Bake for about 15 minutes, until lightly browned and firm to the touch.

-Get a large baking sheet, bigger or the same size as your 12x17 inch pan and sprinkle with icing sugar.  Flip the spongecake out and lay it on top of this baking sheet.  Peel away the baking paper on top. Make a few slits along the edge of the short end which will be at the center of your roll.  About 1 inch, just enough to go all the way so that it almost goes through.  Then with the help with the baking paper underneath, use it as a lifter to roll up the cake from the slit end. 

Make the filling:
-Beat the cream with the sugar until stiff peaks form.  Mix in almond extract and ground almonds. 

-Unroll the cake and spread the filling evenly over the entire surface.  Roll it back to the way it was rolled.

-Cut a bit off the roll at a sharp angle and attach it to the side

-Spread with your slightly firmed chocolate ganache.  Use a fork to give it that woody look. 

Chocolate ganache
-Heat the cream in a pot until simmering, then add your chocolate and stir until all is melted.  Wait for it to cool and firm up a bit before spreading it on the roll.  Use a fork to make it rough and wood-like.

-Dust with icing sugar and decorate with almonds and Christmasy things. 

Friday, 21 December 2012

Tomato and Egg Stir-Fry (西红柿炒鸡蛋)

After a long, dreadful, sleepless journey, I'm back in Beijing.

The thing is I just can't sleep on planes.  You know what it is? Babies. Stupid babies.  I've developed an ugly hatred for babies on planes.  To be fair, I don't actually blame them.  It must be painful with the air pressure, and I used to be one of those screaming babies on planes myself.  I blame the parents for bringing them. 

I see a simple solution to the problem -- charge extra for babies.  Babies fly for free -- they're essentially an extra carry-on.  They're crying hand luggage.  Yes, they don't take up any space, but they cause so much negative externality to the other passengers on the plane, that in order for your other customers to have a pleasant journey, you must reduce the number of crying babies on planes.  And the best way to change behavior involves money -- so by charging extra, people will think twice about bringing their 5-month-old's to the next holiday.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Baci di Dama (Lady's Kisses)

I should just carry cookies with me at all times.    I had my little box of cookies with me, distributing them to my friends after my exams, and then bam, as luck would have it, I ran into the guy I like and I was able to give him my cookies.  I think that made him like me a bit more as a person.  Hopefully. 
Baci di Dama are hazelnut/almond sandwich cookies from Piedmont in Italy.  They can either be made with hazelnuts or almonds, with chocolate in the middle.  I personally prefer the hazelnut ones, and I was going to make the hazelnut ones, but my hazelnuts disappeared, so I had to make do with almonds.  
They're called lady's kisses because apparently they look like kisses, sweet, no? I didn't tell that guy that though, I thought it might've been coming on a bit too strong. 

Recipe from Giallo Zafferano
makes about 40
150g hazelnuts/blanched almonds
150g flour
150 butter, room temperature
100g sugar
1 tsp vanilla
50-100g dark chocolate

If using hazelnuts, toast them in the oven at 180C for 10-15 minutes until fragrant, then rub off skin.

Ground the nuts in a food processor with the sugar.

Put the nuts, sugar and flour in a large bowl.  Cut the butter into pieces and add that into the bowl as well.  Using your hands, mix and knead until it forms a smooth dough.  Separate it into two chunks and flatten each into a disc, wrap in cling film, and leave in the fridge for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 160C.  Line two baking trays with baking paper.

Working with one disc at a time, leaving the other disc in the fridge.  Form little balls of about 5g each.  Use a scale like I did if you're a bit OCD like me.  Put them all on the baking tray, spaced apart and bake for 10-15 minuets or until the tops are golden brown.

Leave to completely cool

Break the chocolate into pieces and put them in a bowl.  Put the bowl over a pot of simmering water and stir until the chocolate melts and becomes smooth

Put a chocolate chip sized dollop of melted chocolate on the bottom of one cookie, and place another cookie on top, to sandwich the chocolate.  Repeat with the rest of the cookies.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Trout, Spiced Aubergine Purée, Salsa Verde, Fried Garlic & Anchovies

 There are days of revision where I just make a sandwich.  There are days of revision where I just buy a sandwich. Or a wrap, or a salad, or just some generic meal deal.  Well, yesterday wasn't one of those days.  Yesterday, I was determined to make myself a gourmet lunch, because I don't like how exams are compromising my meals. 

See. Sometimes I don't buy certain ingredients because I find them too expensive.  Pistachios, hazelnuts, pine nuts, fish, seafood.  Well, a pack of pine nuts costs the same as a ready-made deli wrap that I always get.  So I've decided to eat out less, cook more, and cook more extravagantly.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Saffron Biscotti

I have a pounding headache, I am sleep-deprived, and I am on the verge of being ill, but these are my happy cookies. 

These are Swedish saffron biscotti.  I love saffron.  It's a very dominating ingredient both in terms of appearance and flavor.  Just the slightest pinch of it can paint the whole dish into a bright, mood-lifting yellow.   I don't know how to describe its flavor...  It's unique and complex, and combines well with the more subtle notes of sweet orange and bitter dark chocolate in these cookies.

It's exam season and I hope these cookies brought much cheer to my stressed-out peers. I've been going around giving people these.  Yesterday I was in the library and a girl behind me was on the verge of a breakdown because she had just received her essay back and she'd discovered that she'd failed her module.  I felt so bad for her, I just wanted to give her cookies but I thought that would've been weird... But I think she needed a cookie...

It's a rough time.  It's exam season.  It's dark outside.  It's not even dinner time yet.  It's depressing.  I was just reading a BBC article on vitamin D deficiency in this country.


But let's redirect our attention from the window to these cookies. 

They're like little jewels of sunshine.  Yellow's just such a happy color, isn't it? And the Christmas napkin helps too. 

They're meant to be small, cute and dainty little Swedish Christmas biscotti, but instead I turned them into big rustic Italian ones.  The recipe below is the original one that also asks for pearl sugar for garnish, and I think it does add a nice touch, I just couldn't find it.  It also tells you to make them small and dainty. 

Recipe from Saveur
Makes about 40 cookies

3 cups flour

2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1 cup sugar

4 tbsp/60g unsalted butter, softened

1 tbsp. orange zest

1 tsp. saffron, lightly crushed

2 eggs

1/4 cup milk

3.5 oz / 100g dark chocolate, chopped
Pearl sugar, for garnish

Heat oven to 160C.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.
In a large bowl, using a handheld mixer on medium speed, beat together sugar, butter, orange zest, and saffron until pale and fluffy, 1–2 minutes.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition;
add milk and mix until combined.
Reduce mixer speed to low and add dry ingredients in 3 additions; mix until just combined.
Mix in chocolate, then transfer dough to a work surface.

Quarter dough, transfer each quarter to a parchment paper–lined baking sheet, and form each into a 12" x 1" flattened log; sprinkle each log with 1 tbsp. pearl sugar and refrigerate for 20 minutes. Bake 1 sheet at a time until lightly browned around edges, 30–35 minutes.
 Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes; repeat with remaining dough logs.

 Reduce oven temperature to 150C.
Transfer each log to a cutting board and, using a serrated knife, slice the logs into 1"-thick slices. Return slices to the baking sheet, cut sides up and spaced evenly apart, and bake 1 sheet at a time until light brown and dry, 15–20 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to let cool completely before serving.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Thai Chicken Lettuce Cups (Larb Gai Salad)

I'm only experiencing my second episode of winter blues of the year so far, which isn't bad.  It hit yesterday afternoon and it went on until this evening, so it wasn't very long either, unlike the first one that lasted for two weeks.  It's funny how big of an influence a person can have on you.  A silly boy ruined my day yesterday, but a nicer boy made my day today.

People don't understand the influence their kindness can have on people.  It may be as simple as a bright smile and a "how are you" that can really make someone's day.
 Try to be nice to everyone.  To your friends, acquaintances or the sales people behind the counter -- stop and ask them how they are, and be genuinely interested.  Everyone wants to feel important and cared about, and they feel that way if people ask them about themselves.  And smile.  Make an effort to smile.  The whole world does smile with you if you smile. 

Tuesday, 11 December 2012


Ok, I know, I know.  Anybody who knows what picadillo is will know that this doesn't look like picadillo.  Picadillo is a Cuban dish with ground beef with tomatoes and lots of spices.  This isn't ground beef, no.  I never buy ready-ground meat because usually the meat they use is just the bits and pieces that's left over and nobody wants.  My mom always goes to the butcher's, picks a cut of meat, and asks the nice butcher to mince it for her.  This is how it works in China and Italy and I assumed the rest of the world.  I went to the butcher's here today and he wouldn't let me do that.  He had that little meat grinder thing right behind him and told me that I could only do that if i wanted 3kg of meat. 
Does it work like that where you're from?  Oh things are just so difficult here food-wise.  And we only have one butcher's in town. 

Monday, 10 December 2012

Sage Wrapped Pork Medallions

They say you don't know what you have until it's gone.  And it's true.  I only really started consciously appreciating pork when I had started dating my exboyfriend who was muslim.  He never forbade me to eat pork, but, to be nice, I tried not to in front of him.  After we broke up, I went on a pork rage and started incorporating bacon into my breakfasts, pork sandwiches for lunch and pork chops for dinner. We're on good terms now, he even sent me a birthday present, which was so incredibly sweet of him.  It's funny, because after him, I had a thing with a Jew, then a thing with a vegetarian.  I really need to start dating men without dietary restrictions. 
This is easy and pretty. 

3 pork medallions
Sage leaves
A splash of white wine. 

Rub the pork medallions generously with olive oil, salt and pepper.   Pick out the sage leaves and one by one wrap around the sides of the medallions, trying to make them stick to the pork. 
Heat a pan on high.  When it's smoking hot, place the pork medallions in, add the splash of white wine, and fry for a couple of minutes, without touching them.  Then turn them over for a few more minutes.

Sunday, 9 December 2012


"Why are you baking if you're stressed?"
Some people obviously don't know me at all.  Exam in less than 24 hours?  Of course there's something baking in my oven.  

It's the holiday season so I was browsing through Christmas recipes and stumbled upon this Estonian Christmas bread called Kringel.  I honestly don't know the first thing about Estonian cuisine, I'm assuming it's heavily based on meat, potatoes and bread.   Anyway, kringel is a beautiful twisted bread with cinnamon and sugar, which takes minimal effort and time with simple cupboard ingredients, so it was the perfect baking project the day before my exam, that is 70% of the entire module, that is actually Microeconomics, my achille's heel.   Oh God.  I wasted my afternoon, I should've been studying.  I should be studying now.  

Friday, 7 December 2012

Sweet Potato & Brussel Sprouts Hash

It was my birthday two days ago, and I want to thank everyone for the birthday wishes, those that celebrated it with me, and especially those that gave me lovely presents!
I just turned 20.  I feel like a proper adult now.  There are still 19-year-olds in high school, but if you're 20, well, you should be out of high school.  I felt old for the first time just this summer when I found some of my younger cousin's friends attractive, and stopped and thought.. Wait, they're 16.  This is inappropriate.  It's weird because I'm often the youngest person in my social circle, but now that I'm in my 3rd year in university, I'm befriending younger people.  Hell,  I'm pretty sure my current crush is younger than me. Well, not that it matters anyway.  I'm currently just the embarrassing customer to him, but I won't go into that. 

Monday, 3 December 2012

Tofu Kimchi Dumplings

Maddy's the biggest fan of kimchi.  Kimchi's a spicy Korean condiment made with fermented cabbage, daikon, spices and lots of chili.  It usually contains fish sauce, so, sorry, vegetarians, but you can find vegetarian-friendly ones in specialty shops, I guess.   It's funny how loads of vegetarians are ignorant of all the things that contain animal products, but I won't spoil it for you... I actually typed out a list, but then deleted it because I felt mean.  So, yes, I won't spoil it for you.  Ignorance is bliss.  I'm giving you guys an imaginary pat on the back now.  

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Flourless Brownies

"Baking is the less applauded of the cooking arts, whereas restaurants are a male province to be celebrated. There's something intrinsically misogynistic about decrying a tradition because it has always been female.

I'm not being entirely facetious when I say it's a feminist tract."  -- Nigella Lawson
 It's funny, I've never really thought of Nigella as a feminist.  I mean, she's all about being the "domestic goddess" and cooking for the family, and over half of her audience is men who only watch her shows because she's a voluptuous woman who cooks and makes sex noises when she eats.  But she has a point here.  When people think about feminism, we generally go as far away from the kitchen as possible.  Only recently have we been celebrating women head chefs in top restaurants, but even with that, it's about..trying to take over men's jobs, it's women trying to more like men.  All these celebrity head chefs behave like stereotypical dragon ladies, because it's almost as if.. if they're not as tough, if they're more "woman"-like, then they'd lose respect in the office.  There's nothing wrong with being feminine, there's nothing wrong with feminine things.  Yes, denouncing something just because it's feminine is incredibly misogynistic.
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