Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Best of 2013

And the year's drawing to a close.  I've been reading "Best of 2013"'s everywhere, from food news to celebrity moments to advances in technology.  So I've decided to share Happy Belly's highlights in 2013 - a combination of viewers' favorites and mine. 

Best breakfast
It was difficult to choose the best breakfast, because I have a ridiculous number of breakfast recipes.  But I had to choose this oatmeal over any other pancakes and eggs because.. it's just love and comfort in a bowl.  It's the perfect thing to have over and over again for a whole month.  It's cumbersome and time-consuming, yes, that is why I shamefully admit that I still make oatmeal in the microwave sometimes.  However, as I'm on holiday right now, I've been making my porridge according to this recipe every morning.

Best Dessert
This Hazelnut-Praline Dacquoise was popular.   Indeed, it took me a whole morning to make it and look how pretty.  Two nut based sponge cakes with a rich creamy center.  Despite all the sugar and butter in this dish, it was beautifully light. 

 Best Vegetable
Broccoli with Tahini 
Steamed vegetables can be boring if you don't know how to dress them.  

Saturday, 28 December 2013

How to: Rice the Chinese Way

I didn't really know how to begin this post-- there's just so much to say about rice.  Unfortunately, unless you were brought up in an Asian household or have been in close contact with Asian culture growing up, you won't think too much of rice.  To most, there's just basmati, short grain and pudding rice.  There are some wholegrain rice like wild rice and black rice but then with the white rice there's just those.  Plain rice to you may be incomprehensible.  You may be used to eating it as an accompaniment to a curry or a stir-fry, something to soak up the rich juices.  It may be fried and tossed with herbs and spices, but you may not have had the opportunity to enjoy good plain rice.  Good quality rice, cooked perfectly, is so incredibly fragrant and flavorsome just on its own.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Brandy & Raisin Ganache Squares

I'm back home in China with my parents now, and they don't really bake at home, so it's just me that buys all the baking ingredients.  I had bought dark chocolate the last time I was here, which was exactly a year ago.  A ton of dark chocolate.  I didn't use it all, and the other day I wanted to make some truffles, opened them up, and sweet mother of Jesus they were filled with worms. Urgh just the mental image of those little things crawling around makes me gag. 

Terrifying.  I remember my grandparents had an orchard, and my grandmother would make freshly squeezed orange juice for us with their own oranges.  Own organic, pesticide-free oranges -- filled with worms.  We'd get these clear glasses of bright-colored juice with little white worms just swimming around.  "It's okay, they don't do any harm."  Yea but no, Grandma..

So I bought more chocolate to make these truffles.  With excellent brandy, courtesy of my parents' liquor cabinet.
Here's a trick.  In China, as everything I like is imported, I couldn't find excellent quality chocolate without my bank account having a heart attack.  So I had mediocre chocolate, added a ton of spice and brandy to it to cover its mediocreness and then the truffles tasted fantastic.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Yamyam (Berlin)

Korean food, in most parts of the world, is shamefully underrated.  It's spicy, it's fresh, and it's exciting.  There are stews, barbeques, sushis, pickles, noodles and rice.  Don't confuse it with Chinese or Japanese food as they have their own unique blend of condiments that form the basis of all these dishes.  It is no doubt one of my favorite cuisines in the world.

When I was in Berlin this summer for two months, I had a constant craving for Korean food.  I don't know if it's because I was having too much German bread and cheese and sausages, which I love by the way, but I just really felt like eating Korean food.  Berlin is amazing for many reasons: the nightlife, the art, the music, the young people, the life -- but for me, obviously, the food in a city really matters, and Berlin is amazing because of the restaurant scene.

So let's talk about this Korean restaurant.  I went to three in Berlin, the others were not as good and not as memorable, I don't even remember which ones they were.  This one definitely tops the list in terms of the food, the price and the atmosphere. 

The restaurant's situated in Mitte:  a humble setting with simple tables that are all squashed together, and most of the time it's just full of people and it's loud and it's fun. 

I've eaten there many times and I'm usually obnoxiously taking photos of everything I eat but surprisingly enough this is the only picture I have.  I suspect that the food was so good that I couldn't wait to take photos of them. 

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Caxton Grill (London)

If you're in the UK and you're remotely interested in food then you probably watch Masterchef and you probably know of Adam Handling - the finalist on the last Masterchef Professionals.  Only 24 years old and he is the head chef at Caxton Grill.  Actually, he was a head chef at Esperante at the St Andrews Fairmont Hotel in 2011 when he was only 22.  That's when I first met him, hell, he could've been head chef there at age 19 for all I know.  Talk about a way to make you feel inadequate, right?  24 and his food is amazing.

I'm just going to boast about him a bit more before I get onto my dining experience -- the other great thing about him is that he's humble.  He's humble and down to earth and will chat to you if you're at his restaurant, if you like his food, and if you're a nobody with the dreams of becoming a chef like him.  He's nice, and I like food cooked by nice people.

Now I can go onto the dining experience.  The restaurant's lovely.  Everything was pleasant, service was good, the atmosphere was nice, nothing extraordinary but things were lovely.  

So you're first greeted with three types of breads served with two types of butters - "gingerbread" and "olive".  The gingerbread is interesting, though not my favorite.  The olive was amazing.  Both made in the restaurant.  The breads were also fantastic, there was rye, focaccia and brioche, but they were the only things not made in the restaurant.
 Adam Handling said that his favorite things from his menu are the starters, and boy was it difficult to choose. 

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Chocolate Fennel Seed Shortbread

Fennel seeds are used as a mouth freshener in India.  Isn't it interesting how some cultures use mint and some use fennel seeds?  I was wondering what other herbs and spices were used as mouth fresheners worldwide, so I googled.  Unfortunately I couldn't really find what's used in different countries, but apparently many different spices can be used: cardamom pods, cinnamon, cloves... So next time post-garlic bread/pre-smooching session, you can just grab the closest spice and chew on it.   Basil also works apparently.  But it also depends on your partner - not everyone enjoys cinnamon, for instance.  They may prefer garlic breath in that case. 

Fennel and chocolate.  Chocolate works with anise flavors.  You know what I was thinking? Chocolate, fennel seeds and orange.  I don't know, maybe a chocolate mousse with a crunch fennel seed topping and an orange sorbet.  Maybe some orange crumbs, candied citrus zest.  Perhaps a fennel seed praline.  Chocolate fennel seed bark?  Chocolate fennel seed truffle coated in chocolate orange ganache?  Served with some fennel seed crackers? So many possibilities.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Cauliflower Steak and Capers

"How do you come up with stories for your posts?"

Well, I sometimes don't and that's why I haven't updated in so long.  That and exams got in the way.  I'm just procrastinating now, well, no, I can't even call it procrastinating anymore, this is just called jeopardizing my future.

Anyway, I try to have a story at least remotely related to the food I'm posting about each time.  As interesting as my exciting tales in the library are as a student, I understand that not everyone appreciates them in a food blog.

I can usually link the central ingredient of a dish to a memory, and I'm honestly finding it difficult to think of something cauliflowery.  I don't think I ever really had much as a child in either Chinese or Italian cooking.   I had always confused broccoli and cauliflower as a child.  In Southern Italy I swear we interchange the terms, and in Mandarin one's called "green vegetable flower" and the other "white vegetable flower" (literally).  I didn't know that there was a clear distinction between the two. 

Sorry, that's the best story I've got relating to cauliflowers. 
I was trying to follow Bon Appetit's recipe but it was turning out to be quite bland.  See, in the recipe the cauliflower puree is made with cauliflower, milk, water, salt and pepper and that's it.  It was a bit bland for me.  Maybe with top quality cauliflower it'd be better, but with my little supermarket cauliflower, I felt the need to add things.   I understand that you don't want to overpower the cauliflowers because it's a delicate flavor, but just a tiny bit of extra virgin olive oil, butter, capers, oregano and smoked salt can only make things better. Just a touch of each. 

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Grace's Granola of Nuts and Fruits

I love cereal, and I just love muesli and granola.  I like to make my own, I like to browse through my collection of nuts and seeds and dried fruits and make my perfect bowl of breakfast every morning. 

I have yet to find a brand that sells my perfect type of muesli.  I've tried them all, but they usually have too many dried fruits or not enough or not enough nuts or too little seeds --  and they're usually insanely expensive for something so easy and cheap to make at home.  This is granola made purely with nuts and dried fruits, so it's very luxurious and delicious.  I followed a recipe that basically had the following proportions:

1 cup nuts
1/2 cup dried fruits
1 tbsp nut butter
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp oil

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Olive Oil Scottish Oatcakes

Dammit, Scotland.  Dammit, dammit, dammit.  You were so wonderful to us this winter up until now.  You were mild and warm and sunny and calm, and everything was well in the world up until now.  What is this, on my birthday you come with your 80mph wind and your rain and your snow.  I knew it.  I knew you wouldn't keep calm for so long.  I knew you were going to hit us with a blizzard when we least expect it.
This is just something lovely I found on Twitter to make things better

Urgh.  This post was supposed to be a tribute to Scotland, because I love oatcakes.  I really really do.  They're delightful things.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Mini Ice-Cream Charlottes

I really like the name "Charlotte", I think it's so pretty.  Nobody really knows why charlottes are called charlottes.  It could be named after a Queen Charlotte, or, according to Wikipedia, it could come from the world "charlyt" which means a bowl of custard.  I hope it's the latter, because that means that the name Charlotte is based on the dessert rather than the other way around.  Can you imagine?

"What does your name mean?"

"It is the latinized version of a Greek name.  It means chaste and purity  "

"Mine means 'cheerful' and 'joy' in Hebrew." 

"Mine means a bowl of custard."

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Tagliatelle with Peas and Pancetta

Pasta with butter and cheese may sound simple and plain, but it is divine when done right.  Being Southern Italian, I never really had pasta with butter growing up, it was always pasta with olive oil.  That was my sick food actually.  When I was sick, my mother gave me congee (Chinese rice porridge) and my father gave me pasta with olive oil and cheese.  Perfect for any stomach problems. 

But then I came to the UK and discovered good butter, recipes with butter, and consequently a whole new world. 

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Losanges Noix et Chocolat (Chocolate Walnut Diamonds)

 I'm so sorry for not updating regularly enough.  I have been cooking - for instance I made these exactly a week ago today!  I could have updated but I've been busy, so I apologize.  

There's just been so much work and stress and anxiety from many different areas - it's no longer just Economics that's the source of all evil.  In fact, this semester, Economics hasn't been too bad.  I had a very cute and clever professor who just made everything better.  That's the key to learning for me maybe.  It did motivate me to work very very hard, yet I still did badly on the test, so I don't know... I didn't want him to think that I was an idiot but... meeeeh.

Again, from Christoph Felder, this guy's just fantastic.  This book, everything I've made has been good (except for my tried and failed attempt of his croissants).

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Saffron Risotto (Risotto alla Milanese)

Give an Italian saffron and the first response is saffron risotto (risotto alla milanese).  That was my response at least, after my friend gave me saffron from Lebanon.

Risotto alla Milanese is a beautiful risotto with saffron and parmesan.  It's a classic. 

Remember, the key to any good risotto is lots of stirring.  They're not hard to make, it just takes time and care.  In the winter it's actually not bad to be hovering over a stove stirring a pot with the steam in your face.  My clothes still smell of saffron - I think it's wonderful.  It's like smelling of gold. 
 Credits to Qi, who took the photos and gave me the saffron.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Coffee Liqueur & Raisin Ganache Squares

These are luxurious little bites of bliss.  These were cut into 1" squares but I'd suggest you to have them even smaller - they taste fantastic.  I don't care if you're not a fan of raisins, you should still try them.
 When I was small, whenever I cried or was upset, my father would give me a piece of chocolate -- and just like that everything was okay.

Two days ago I got my care package from my father - and it made my day.  My father doesn't normally do these things, not because he doesn't care, but simply because he's just incredibly busy.  He's the type that's always on his phone, rarely home for dinner, but with whatever free time he has, he dedicates it all to his family.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Lemongrass and Ginger Braided Bread

There's this picture of me as a child with braided hair, grinning with my mother.  I hated doing anything with my hair when I was small.  I wouldn't even let anyone comb it except for my sister.  My hair was always a mess and only my sister could comb it painlessly.  But I remember my mother braiding it on a few occasions with me wincing in pain like a baby.  I rarely braid my hair now.

My mother used to also make the best of breads.  See, she would spend ages perfecting a recipe, and then she would never make it again.  That's how it was with her sourdough breads and her ricottas and her cakes.  And then that's it.  Weeks of sourdough breads and then you reach that peak of perfection and that's it.  I miss my mother's breads.  I miss her braiding my hair, I miss her.  Making bread always reminds me of my mother.
I brought this bread to an  Italian themed dinner that was meant to cater for a girl that was allergic to wheat and a girl that was allergic to gluten.  Yea, I was an inconsiderate idiot.  Still tasted good though.

Brussel Sprouts with Everything Nice

I was thinking about chefs that work in high-end Michelin-starred restaurants.  I was thinking about the pressure and the stress of all the precision and accuracy...  Every plate has to look identical and perfect.  As a customer, I think the food that comes out of those kitchens taste fantastic, but I don't know if I'd like to work as that kind of a chef.  Just look at what I'm doing here.  I went to the supermarket with a friend and I offered to cook her dinner.  She came to mine, I looked at what I had and I just made this.  It's the kind of cooking I love.  Look at the recipe, look at how imprecise this is (I'm sorry).  I don't remember how much tahini I put in there, it could've been half a tbsp it could've been 1tbsp.  Taste and adjust as you go. 
But it's made with love and passion and creativity and everything I believe cooking should be about.

You can toss it with some pasta or grains, or serve on top of bread.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Parmesan and Thyme Scones

I was having the best of days and I couldn’t tell you why.  I was a ball of sunshine just radiating joy.  I was in the library – where all hope goes to die, and yet I was on top of the world.  I wasn’t very productive, I spent hours just browsing on the internet, yet I knew of it.  I knew I wasn’t productive, I knew I had to study for my test on Thursday, but for that day nothing mattered.  I had been under the same nail-biting, hair-pulling, pen-chewing stress for the past month. And whenever I took any time off, it was worse, I had that guilt. That nauseating guilt just at the pit of my stomach. 

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Vanilla and Apricot Whole Grain Scones

After finishing my essay two nights ago, all I wanted to do was relax and bake, before starting revision for my test on Thursday.
 If you had to choose a food item to represent a relationship you have with someone, could you? My relationship with my flatmate can be scones. We used to frequent a cafe together than had scones of the day everyday - they had such exciting flavors, like coconut and orange, banana and brown sugar, Mars Bars etc etc. I loved their scones, and she just loves scones in general. Unfortunately I'm not the biggest fan of the cafe otherwise. It's apparently where Kate met Will if you guys follow the royal family. Well, if I end up meeting a man here I hope he takes me to another cafe.

Friday, 8 November 2013

The Perfect Bowl of Porridge

I know that it's simply sacrilegious to be making oatmeal in the microwave in Scotland, but I'm guilty of it.  1 part quick rolled oats, 2 parts water, give it a quick mix and pop it in the microwave for 30 seconds.  Season, add a dash of milk, and that's my breakfast on most days.

Then I followed this recipe for the perfect bowl of porridge.  The author describes the porridge as "just right". 

This bowl of porridge was much more than "just right".

Like I've said before, for me, having porridge in the morning in winter is like falling in love.  Well, with this bowl of porridge it was better -- it was first love.  It's that tingling warmth you have at the bottom of your stomach that rises up and warms through your entire body and soul and puts the color on your face.  That reassurance of happiness, peace, kindness and life and sunshine, snowflakes and flowers.  That purity and innocence and simplicity that makes you reminisce and smile.

It is much more than "just right".  It's first love all over again.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Lemon Coconut Bars

Lemon bars are happy.  It's the color, it's the bright yellow, it's the tart and the sweet and soft filling against the crunch of the base.  Lemon bars are what you need on a dark winter's day in Scotland.

See, I have this wonderful weather app: it not only tells you what the current temperature is but it tells you what it feels like.  I've surely mentioned this.  I love talking about the weather, it's all I talk about with people.  Weather and food.  Those were certainly the main topics of conversation at the lunch where these lemon coconut bars were consumed, so I wouldn't be surprised if you find me talking about this exact same weather app in other posts. 

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Tawny Port Cake

It was a long day.  I came home at around midnight from the library and decided to make cake.  That is how I relax.  I put on my apron, turned on the oven, grabbed the butter and eggs out of the fridge, opened my cupboard, and pondered.  Then I saw the bottle of tawny port I had laying around, and settled on that.  I had found a recipe for a sherry cake awhile back.  It was in a Delicious Magazine, and I sneakily took a photo of that page in the store.  Gotta love smart phones.  I have so many shots of recipes from cookbooks in book stores.  I mean, sometimes I really just like 2 or 3 recipes from a cookbook.  No need to spend so much $$$ on it.  I just pretend I'm texting.

This cake is so incredibly moist.  Some people are very uncomfortable with that word but that's the best way to describe this cake.  I don't know if it's the port that makes it so.  Also, you can definitely taste the port and it's just delicious.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Miso Raspberry Pistachio Lentil Salad


Competition is still on!  Less than 24 hours to go, like my page, follow me on twitter and post a potential nut butter flavor on my facebook timeline.  For more information, check this post

Ok so.

Food is always on my mind.  Sometimes I genuinely feel like I may have ADHD because I have such difficulties focusing.  I'd be in lectures, or in a conversation with someone, and suddenly my mind would go to food.  Ingredients, combinations, flavors, colors, plating.  It always goes to food. 

So I was in a very interesting class about face perception and attraction and I started thinking about raspberries.  Raspberries in savory dishes.  Not a sauce that goes with meat, but just something light.  And then I created this little ingredient spider diagram in my head with one of the spider legs ending with miso and raspberries.

What I do when I have a new idea is google.  Because unfortunately I can't be the first one to think of a revolutionary food pairing -- if it hasn't happened yet, it's likely that an amateur cook like me can't make the pairing taste good.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Nut Butter Giveaway!

Dear Reader,

I bring good news.

Look how cute, two little jars of nut butters. A popular Chocolate Almond Butter and a brand new Ginger Hazelnut Butter. 
They're fantastic.  And I'm giving them away to a lucky creative person.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Miso Ricotta & Roasted Tomato Crostini

I'm Chinese and Italian, yet while I've always been intrigued by the idea of fusion, this was a practice rarely carried out in my household.  Italian food had to stay pure - there was no room for Asian influences.  And with Chinese food, my mother was not as strict, but I suppose she just stuck with traditional recipes -- with the exception of adding olive oil to everything. 

See, I grew up with really black and white ideas about certain ingredients.  Ricotta and mascarpone were ingredients in Italian cuisine.  Soy sauce and sesame oil were ingredients in Chinese cuisine.  Those were clearly separated in our kitchen and consequently in my mind.  Then, coming to the UK really opened my eyes to a whole new culinary world, ironically enough. 

You can say what you want about British cuisine.  It went through a horrific stage back in the 70's all the way to the late 90's.  Hell, maybe longer than that.  Yes, the Brits had it bad for awhile. Appalling, in fact.  Thank god I never lived through those periods, but there are still places in the UK where that food culture still lingers, unfortunately.  But you know what, right now, the UK is so imaginative with food.  It is truly a melting pot of cultures and that is seen through the foods.  I love British cookery programs because they have the most amazing things.  They take fusion to a whole new level.  And you know what, it's difficult with fusion, it's difficult to break boundaries and mix things up, and for that, I respect you, Britain. 

Monday, 28 October 2013

Goat's Cheese and EVO Oil Pumpkin Butter Crostini


If it was a child it'd be able to talk! 2 years! I don't know much about children and development, so I don't know what other things 2-year olds begin to do, but they talk around that age right?  Although I started talking really late, like at 3...


Unfortunately there's no cake.  I meant to have a birthday party but I'm too busy... However, fear not, I'm planning on a belated birthday party with a fancy cake. 

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Honey Coconut & Banana Chocolate Bark

That post-dinner treat accompanying your coffee is surprisingly underrated.  There are dinner parties that are so thoroughly planned out, with different courses and music and wine, and then after dessert, if you desire a coffee, it's served to you there on its own.  That lonely cup of espresso needs company.  It is the same for restaurants, I'm always slightly disappointed when that post-meal coffee does not come with a treat.  Yes, I understand that there probably is a dessert that precedes the coffee, but limit that portion size, and you allow for something else to tingle your taste buds with the bitter coffee before you end the evening.  You have two, three savory courses, you need at least two different sweet things as well in my opinion.  Make a dessert - make it small and rich, and then have something else for that necessary shot of espresso at the end. 

Chocolates, fudge, biscuits - take your pick.  If you're busy like me, chocolate bark's perfect.  Versatile, quick, and impressive.  I like dark chocolate with my coffee, but that's because I like my coffee bitter, so i don't like having something like a piece of fudge awaiting to be melted into my coffee. 
Coconut and bananas - - classic combination, with a drizzling of honey on top.  I like that every bite's slightly different in terms of sweetness levels, as I've used sweetened coconut flakes and banana chips.  It's like those chocolates with sea salt, you get these occasional bursts of flavor at different points, making it so much more exciting than a uniform flavor.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Roasted Broccolini with Lemongrass & Peanut Butter

I'm Italian.  I grew up with olive oil on everything.  Shallow-frying, deep-frying, Chinese food, Japanese food - always extra-virgin olive oil.  No it's not extravagant or anything, it's just...the way it is.  My grandparents used to make their own olive oil and they had so much that they would have to give them away - hence no tears were shed when they used it for deep-frying arancini balls. 

I grew up loving the taste of olive oil in everything -- even in Chinese food, I love that subtle olive undertone, that's true fusion right there.  And if it's anywhere more commonly used, it's used for roasting vegetables. 

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Lemon Basil Bars

Today was like being thrown into a pit and having my lungs sucked out of my nose.  There was no light of day, the temperature dropped, constant rain, blueberry prices rose, econometrics miraculously worsened further, and it's just the time of the month.  It was an off day.  I came home in the mid afternoon, and 5 espressos and two vitamin D pills later,  I just curled up on my couch and felt the life slowly drain out of me.

Just when I thought that the last thing I needed was human interaction, then came my Indian sunshine.  My flatmate, Saanya, just miraculously made things better.  The evening ended with making lemon basil bars together with jazz music and the sound of drizzling rain in the background.  The whole living room is still warm from the baking and things just aren't that bad anymore.  Off for a quick escape tomorrow and the day after and all will be well.  All is well. 

So we made these lemon basil bars.  I'm telling you, the basil's the star here, and basil needs to be present in desserts more.  Remember my strawberry basil tarts?

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Spiced Beetroot and Coconut Rice

Going into my Indian friend's house is the most thrilling experience for my olfactory system.  There is apparently a misconception that Indian households reek of curry -- no, no, Saanya's flat is heavenly.   It's not a greasy unhealthy smell, it smells of the most beautiful concoction of spices.

Have you seen an Indian household's spice rack?  Saanya's was actually a bit special.  See, Saanya loves nutella.  Can you imagine how many different spices an Indian household has?  Can you imagine all of them stored in nutella jars?  It's an impressive collection. 

So staying at Saanya's house was pretty awesome.  Her mother made me this coconut beetroot dish that I fell in love with.  I tried searching it online and somehow ended up with this beetroot rice dish and I added coconut to it and it's not bad at all.  I added grated coconut but try it with some shredded coconut or coconut chips.

I've made this twice.  First time was better, second time I just winged it with the spices and..well, the balance wasn't right. 

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Stewed Pears with Ginger and Lemongrass

On a cold winter's night, there is nothing more satisfying than coming home to fogged up windows from cooking.  Nothing more satisfying than a warm house soaked in the smell of spices and honey.  Smells like Christmas, but with ginger and lemongrass instead of the conventional cinnamon.  And there is nothing more satisfying than eating this hot spiced pear stew with good company. 

I am aware that it is only October, but as I reside in Scotland, trust me, it's winter already.
Get creative.  Play around with the spices, add a vanilla pod in there.  Add some other dried fruits, here I added raisins.  Add a healthy splash of alcohol.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Fondued Crostini

Christ.  It is obscenely cold, dammit.  It's one of those days where you just refuse to leave the house, not even step out of your house, really, because of how cold it is.  It is cold and it is windy.  You know what's worse?  It's deceiving because it's sunny.  It's been sunny the entire day, and before stepping out I was like oh what a delightful day, I may have the flu and its associated symptoms of dizziness and sore throat, but it's a warm delightful day.  Then I stepped out and the worst possible profanities burst out of my mouth. 

You know what this day needs?  A cheese fondue.  A wonderful cheese fondue prepared by my Swiss friend, Sarah.  We used to live together and she used to make these wonderful cheese fondues that on a cold winter's day is all you need to restore your faith in love and humanity. 

Unfortunately she has left me.  She has graduated and moved on with her life, and left me here in the Scottish cold.  Though I am deeply hurt by this, especially now that all I want is a cheese fondue, I've made these "fondued crostini".  They're cute little canapes, and I've called them fondued crostini because..well, it's essentially a mixture of melted cheese and garlic and herbs on top of bread.  Use whatever cheeses you have to melt on top of them, add some herbs - thyme or rosemary or whatnot, and something to cut the fat, like lemon zest.  Be creative.  If you have access to a fondue pot or a Swiss friend, have a proper cheese fondue.  If not, just melt a bunch of cheeses and stuff on top of bread and make do. 

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Hazelnut-Praline Dacquoise

F*ck the raw challenge, man.  I stopped after two days because, to put it mildly, my body was not in the best state.  First day I was hungry, second day I was exhausted and my stomach was upset, and on the third day I felt like I had caught a cold. I'm still feelin ill now -- queasy stomach, raspy voice and dizziness.  F*ck the raw challenge, man.  

I'm slowly easing back to normal foods, I'm blanching my vegetables and cooking my oatmeal now.  That warm bowl of oatmeal for breakfast made me all warm and fuzzy inside -- just like the feeling of falling in love.

So two days ago I was not productive mentally and thus I decided to take my time and make a dessert.  It's quite a cumbersome dessert, not difficult, just takes a bit of time but it is so.good.  One of my friends said it's the best thing I've made.  Well, what can I say, it's just another recipe from Christophe Felder's Patisserie. 

The cake took awhile... And I did encounter some challenges, namely that of my broken hand mixer, which definitely made my life more difficult when it came to whipping egg whites.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Soaked Oatmeal with Lemongrass and Ginger

The biggest challenges I faced on the first day of my raw challenge were constant hunger and constant jaw pain.  There was a lot of chewing -- carrots, celery sticks, brussels sprouts.  Yes, I was eating raw brussels sprouts, I don't see what's wrong with it.  Most people grimace in disgust when I tell them this. 
Day 2, I'm not so hungry anymore but I'm feeling nauseous.  I rarely have stomach problems and I can tell you with shameless certainty that I'm definitely not pregnant.  But yes, nausea and dizziness.  I think I shouldn't have made such a sudden transition to 100% raw food.  The night before I was eating venison wellington -- venison loin wrapped in mustard, sauteed mushrooms, prociutto, and then all encased in puff pastry, served alongside with a brandy cream sauce.  Quite a jump there, and I think my body's confused and upset. 

Thursday, 3 October 2013

The 4-Day Raw Challenge

Yup.  Raw.  Raw vegan.  Anything heated above 47C/118F is not raw food.  So dried fruits, nuts, vegetables, sprouts, and legumes.

Ok. Raw Foodists argue that cooking food can destroy certain vitamins and minerals.  Supposedly it makes you feel incredibly energized, it increases your mental alertness and it connects you to the earth.


I pretty much agree with this article by Jay Raner:

"We are humans, ergo, we cook. The celebrated anthropologist Richard Wrangham recently published a whole book, Catching Fire, which argues it is cookery which made us human. Heating food makes it possible to extract the maximum amount of energy from ingredients. That meant our ancestors could waste less time foraging for stuff to keep them going and could instead concentrate on really cool things like inventing machinery, developing language, and becoming artists so they had something to talk about. Without the appliance of fire to food we really would still be hanging about in trees doing the fly-eating thing. "

Fried Potatoes with Romesco Sauce

So I catered for my friends' 3-year anniversary dinner and one thing I had made was romesco sauce potato cakes with grilled chicken. 

This is a simplified version of the potato cakes.  What you can do is peel and boil the potatoes, mash them and add some butter then mix in some of the romesco sauce.  Form it into patties, dip in flour and shallow fry them. 
Here I just sliced and fried the potatoes and put the sauce on top, then decorated with some basil on the side.  Just some ideas.  Oh I've got a good one!  Make fries and then serve with romesco sauce instead of ketchup.  OR make a potato gratin where you layer potatoes with the romesco sauce.  OR potato jackets. OR potato soup with a swirl of this sauce.  OR just mix it with mashed potatoes.  All the ideas with the same two components, isn't it amazing?  Get creative.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Croissants et Boules de Noisettes

So, again, i got this recipe from Patisserie.  All recipes come with a French name and an English name, and I've decided to keep the French name, because "Hazelnut crescenets and Balls" just doesn't sound as appetizing as croissants et boules de nousettes. 

I encountered serious problems when making these.  So I have the world's most awful electric beaters.  They were a gift from a friend, but my god.  Anything other than pure liquid it cannot beat.  I was genuinely worried that the whisks would break out of the main body and fly out and seriously injure me.  I've already got first degree burns on my right arm and my right ring finger, and a second degree burn on my right middle finger.  And cuts and chipped nails all over.  I really don't need more injuries.

Anyway, all was well. I didn't injure myself while making these cookies, but the problem is, these cookies could have been better.  They were delicious, but the butter was meant to be beaten until pale and fluffy and well..no.  I had to hand whisk it at the end.  My biceps essentially just come from cooking.
The flavors are fantastic.  Hazelnuts, cinnamon, orange zest and lemon zest.  It's Christmas.  It's love.  It's wonderful. 

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Vanille Kipferl de Sébastien

I just had the best time of my life. 

I catered for my friends' 3-year anniversary dinner and made them a 5 course meal.  I honestly enjoyed it better than they did.

Here's the menu

Amuse bouche of 3 mini crostinis -- pumpkin seed butter, parmesan and lemon ; miso ricotta and roasted tomatoes : ricotta with wholegrain mustard, basil, anchovies and orange zest.  
Appetizer -- ricotta gnocchi with herbs and lemon
Main - Romesco sauce potato cakes and spiced chicken
Dessert -- Torta Caprese with whipped cream
Petit fours -- crostini with dark chocolate and sea salt flakes ; hazelnut cinnamon crescent cookie ; chocolate hazelnut cookies ; crostini with white wine syrup soaked apricots, orange zest and mint. 

It wasn't bad.  Oh I loved it so much, thank you Kelsey and Nathan -- hands down my favorite couple. 

ANYWAY.  How does that relate to these cookies.  Well, I got the recipe for the hazelnut cookies I made tonight from the same cookbook as these cookies right here. And these raspberry chocolate cookies.   Yea it's a fantastic pastry book.  A bit on the $$ side, but it was a worthwhile investment for me.  I really only spend money on cookbooks and kitchen stuff and food.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Simple Chocolate Coconut Macaroons

Guys, download the Martha Stewart Cookies App.  It's so pretty.  I really appreciate good-looking applications, especially on my iPad.  Nothing like cooking to a beautifully designed recipe page on a  9.7 inch 2048x1536 resolution at 264 ppi screen.
 These simple coconut macaroons is just a matter of mixing in the ingredients, putting them in greased muffin cups and baking them. 

These aren't very sweet.  I served them with my zabaione at a dinner party, but you can dust them icing sugar and they become perfect with coffee and tea.  The original recipe also included flaked almonds.  On a side note, I managed to throw a dinner party for 8 people for £8.   Homemade pizzas, flatbreads, spreads and sauces along with a lentil salad.  Mmm.  I don't know what I'm doing with my life, I keep cooking and hosting these dinner parties (I know I usually do, but for the past week, despite the lack of blog posts, I've been cooking loads and not studying much...)

Monday, 23 September 2013


Like all children, I wasn't a big fan of alcohol-infused sweets.  I loathed those chocolates, rum babas and especially zabaione -- the classic Italian custard made with egg yolks, sugar and sweet wine.  It's absolutely delicious but I was a silly child.   It's funny how your tastes change. 

Fortunately, now I love the alcohol taste in everything.  In fact, all desserts could benefit from a shot of rum to give it that kick and excitement.  All meats could benefit from a splash of red wine to give it more depth, and all fish could benefit from a dash of white for extra flavor.   Dear hardcore Muslims, sorry, you don't know what you're missing. 

This custard sounds so simple, doesn't it?  It can be a very refined dessert if you serve it in a shot glass with a spongefinger on the side.  It's also great with fruits, or just on its own, really.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Chocolate-Raspberry Cookies

Ah yes, the cookies are back.  I've said this before -- I like making cookies because they're easy to bring around and give to people.  I brought them to the library to spread the joy and I gave one to a friend who was stressing about an essay.  I think the cookie made his day, he even sent me a facebook message afterwards thanking me for it.  Maybe it didn't make his day but it made his day a bit better, I hope.... and this is why I cook :) I just want to make people happy with my food.
 So this is a recipe from Christophe Felder -- what a pastry chef, if you don't already know him.  His book, Patisserie - Mastering the Fundamentals of French Pastry is fantastic.  Step-by-step pictures and instructions -- it makes life easier and the cookbook more appetizing.  It's also a cool book because it's a pink hardcover 800-page book.  

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Orecchiette with Zucchini, Saffron & Leeks

Italian men are impossible to please when it comes to cooking.  Especially Southern Italian men, and especially with pasta.  They will always always compare your meal to that of their mother's and trust me -- it'll never match up to that.

True story: I was cooking with my cousin and her boyfriend and we were making courgette, saffron and prawn pasta.  I was chopping the onions, my cousin was dicing the courgettes, and her boyfriend was there complaining.  His mother sliced, rather than diced the courgettes.  Yes, that was apparently a legitimate complaint.  They’re both over 20, might I add.   And this is not a rare case.  This is also why I hate cooking for my Southern Italian father. 

However, fortunately, my flatmate’s not picky at all with the way I cut my vegetables.  I personally think courgettes are better diced in pastas, but I suppose it depends.  Here’s the recipe of a vegetarian version of the pasta. 

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Matcha and Orange Baked Oatmeal

I'M ALL MOVED IN!  Finally. It's such a beautiful house and I have such a wonderful relationship with my flatmate where she pretty much just lets me cook everything and she'll eat it -- it's ideal, don't worry, she's not taking advantage of me.  Every morning we have breakfast together, then lunch and dinner, I can't imagine having as good of a relationship with a man.
So, anyway, I've settled in, everything's good.  The kitchen's good but I'm still trying to figure out the oven.  As you can see from the photos, one side of my breakfast today is burnt....  Currently I'm baking cookies and I think that my oven is..... I think it's only a grill... I think the heat is only coming from above.. Oh God this is going to be a long year...

Friday, 13 September 2013

Vegan Stuffed Cabbage

My Grandmother once had a Romanian caretaker who was an awful cook.   Every time we went to visit, she insisted on cooking for us, and, every time, we unwillingly put everything down that fake smile of ours.  But when we cooked -- oh, when we cooked proper Italian food, she wouldn't eat it and would make her own food.   My family also disliked her for many other reasons, but yes, that wasn't nice. 

One of her "specialties" was her stuffed cabbage.  I've had good stuffed cabbage, I had a Romanian neighbor who made me stuffed cabbage and they were delicious.  It's usually rice and minced meat used for the stuffing, that woman's was more like rice and just roughly chopped up lard -- they were revolting.

Anyway, since I'm again on one of my vegan phases (yes, it started out as a challenge but now I do it quite regularly), I've decided to attempt a vegan version of this.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Cold Cucumber Almond & Mint Soup

Cucumbers.  I suppose in regular western restaurants they're usually seen in a Greek salad or in a sandwich.  The former I can tolerate, but I've never been a big fan of cucumber sandwiches.  I remember I had a friend in middle school who ate cucumber and tuna sandwiches, which I tried once and almost threw up in my mouth.  My palate can't detect anything pleasant with that combination.  Maybe it wasn't so much the combination, as was the tuna, since it was canned tuna in brine.  For me, tuna in brine leaves this unpleasant trailing afternote that you need to desperately wash away with gulps of water.  Only tuna in olive oil, please (note: it's my Italian side, not my posh side).  Anyway, to this day, cucumber and tuna remain a rather unappealing prospect to me.  And cucumber with mayo in a sandwich?...again, alright, but not something incredibly palatable. 

My Chinese mother used to stir fry cucumbers with scrambled eggs.  If you haven't tried cooked cucumbers, try it, it tastes almost like zucchini. 

Oh and lastly, tzaziki.  That, I like, which is the inspiration for this soup.  

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