Saturday, 31 December 2011

Last Day of 2011

So it's the last day of 2011.

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

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

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Chinese Dumplings (饺子)

Mommy helped me with these.

I'm a complete jiaozi amateur.

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

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

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

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

Monday, 26 December 2011

How to: Artichokes

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

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

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

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

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

Actually, not leaves, petals, I believe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 23 December 2011

Panettone [Trial 1]

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

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

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

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

White Chocolate Limoncello and Almond Truffles

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 19 December 2011

Breakfast Sesame Bread Pudding

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

Saturday, 17 December 2011


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

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Crostini with Peas, Onion Chutney and Cheese

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

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

These are pretty self-explanatory.

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

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

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Pork and Roasted Vegetable Salad

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

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

Monday, 12 December 2011

Healthy Chocolate Avocado Mousse

Admittedly not the most appealing color

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 9 December 2011

Peanut Butter and Sesame Mousse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

to garnish:
2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

chocolate crisps

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

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

Garnish with chocolate and sesame seeds

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

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Orecchiette with Dry Tomato Sauce

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

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

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

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

Sun dried tomatoes
Cherry tomatoes

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

Monday, 5 December 2011

Pasta Salad

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

Oh, the urge to slap this man.

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

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

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Green Beans and Mushrooms with Hazelnuts and Capers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Saffron and Cardamom Scones

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

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Whole Wheat Bread

When you bite into it, you get that initial crunch from the hard crust followed by your teeth sinking gently into the soft, light crumb in the middle -- then you know it's good bread.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Butternut Squash Jam

So impressive. So delicious. So easy.  It's always impressive to have homemade jam because it's usually such a time consuming process.  This, however, takes no time at all.  I didn't really know what to call this, I was attempting to make squash butter but it became too..jammy for butter. Whatever it is, it can be used as a spread on your bread and whatnot.  It's essentially just cooked squash with spices and honey in it, it tastes kind of like a pumpkin pie.  Mmm I know, pumpkin pie jam.  It's nice because it's something different, I don't know why they don't have squash jam, I'm seriously getting sick of strawberry jam.  Strawberry jam and raspberry jam.  I like jam but I don't eat enough of it and so I never buy a whole jar of jam.  And making homemade jam usually means making a big batch of it because it takes forever to make.  This can be made in whatever portion size you want.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Butternut Squash Filo Triangles with Caramelized Onions and Goat's Cheese

I know, the title is long but I wanted to let you know everything that's inside. If I just called it Butternut Squash Filo Triangles, it doesn't sound nearly as exciting as when I have the words "caramelized onions" and "goat's cheese" in it. I was even thinking of putting "hazelnuts" in the title but that may have been excessive. Yes, there are hazelnuts inside (you can omit it if you're allergic or something but it adds a nice flavor and crunch to it).

I made these for a dinner party and they're quite easy to make. Oh and happy belated thanksgiving guys! I'm not American but I'm having a belated Thanksgiving dinner feast tonight. I'm not having anything to do with it, I'm leaving it to the Americans, I don't think non-Americans should be involved. I attempted to make these.."buttermilk biscuits" this morning and..well, I will blog about it soon. I think I'll just bring wine. Wine and bread. Or maybe savory scones..? They're practically the same right?

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Chestnut Mousse

Yes, chestnuts again. I know, I feel like I only cook with two things, chestnuts and squash. I can't wait until seasons change and I get to cook with different things.  But it's ok, I love chestnuts and squash and here I'm showing how you can practically do anything with them! So enjoy them while they're in season.

This mousse is delicious, and best part is it's not even that fattening!  It's quite light, it only has 2 tbsp of cream (split amongst 5 portions, so only about 50 calories coming from the cream in each portion :D) and if you really wanted to you could replace the cream with milk, it was only used to thin out the mixture a bit. Or yoghurt maybe.  Anyway, this can be made ahead, don't be like me, I didn't calculate my timings right and made them too late for my dinner party, they should be refrigerated for a minimum of 2 hours until they set.

Prep time: 1 hr  Cook time: well, no real cook time, let it set in the fridge for at least 2 hrs  Serves: 5  Suitable for:  impressing guests with a delicious and healthy indulgence 

3 egg whites
1 yolk
2 tbsp cream
150g chestnuts
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp cocoa
1/2 cup sugar

Roast the chestnuts in a preheated oven of 180C for about 30 minutes until tender.  Peel and put in a pot with the milk and a pinch of salt, and let it simmer over medium heat for about 20 minutes.  Puree everything in s a food processor.

Press through a sieve to get a velvety smooth paste, this may be a bit difficult because it's quite a thick paste, you can add a bit of milk to thin it out.  Mix the paste with the egg yolk, half the sugar, vanilla, cocoa and 2 tbsp of cream, you can substitute this with milk if you'd like, this is just to make it richer. Beat the egg whites with the sugar until glossy and stiff peaks form.  At this point fold the egg whites into the chestnut mixture.  To make it easier, first take about 1/4 of it and mix it in, then gently fold in the rest, this will make your life a lot easier.  Once fully incorporated, put it in individual ramekins or wine glasses or whatever it is that you fancy, and let them rest in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours.

Decorate with chocolate shavings or a dusting of cocoa/icing sugar.  Be creative.  Originally I had planned to decorate with caramelized chestnuts, it would've been beautiful, but caramel and I were not getting along. I made 4 batches and they burnt every time.  I blame the stove.  Or the sugar.  Or the pan.  It became a very frustrating 40 minutes with me just yelling nasty things to my caramel.  But the mousse calmed me down, it didn't need those caramelized chestnuts, they were still beautiful.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Moroccan Spiced Roast Chicken with Couscous Stuffing

I love an excuse to cook a roast.  I love roasts, but I can't always justify making a roast just for myself.  The easiest/cheapest would be chicken.  And everyone loves chicken so it's always a safe choice.  So my friends came over last night and I made a Moroccan spiced roast chicken with couscous stuffing.  Oh it's as good as it sounds.  It's got honey, dates, nuts, spices, cinnamon.  All things good.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Breakfast Banana Chocolate Souffle

A breakfast souffle?  Yes, I'm a breakfast person and I'll go through the trouble of making a souffle for breakfast if I have time.  A good breakfast can make my day, and this is actually a cheat's souffle, it's not that complicated, it really just takes 10 minutes for prep and then you put it in the oven for 25 minutes. So here's the plan: you wake up, preheat the oven, in the mean time you take a shower.  After the shower, you make the souffle, put it in the oven, and while it's cooking, you get dressed.  It's not time consuming at all if you plan ahead.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Stuffed Scallop/Patty Pan Squash

I stumbled upon this squash at the vegetable shop and thought it was just the prettiest thing.  I had never seen one of these before.  I was so excited, I chose the prettiest one, went to the counter and asked what it was called and how it tasted.  I wondered if it would be sweeter than butternut squash or if it would be kind of bland like courgettes.

"Um.  I'm not sure, I've never had one of these.  It's just a squash."

No sh*t it's a squash, lady, but what is it? It frustrates me when people don't know what they're selling.  Anyway, after some research online, I believe they are called scallop squash or patty pan squash.  It's a summer squash and apparently you can find really tiny ones.  But that's just in the summer unfortunately.

This turned out to be exquisite.  I really should've been working on my Psychology practical or at least be attending my Maths lecture but I had no idea how long this dish would take.  I only had a one hour lunch break, but it stretched out to be two hours and I missed my Maths lecture.  It's ok, the result was amazing.

It's one of those instances where I just dumped everything I had in the fridge into the pan.  I usually do that and the results are okay, but today's was really good.

Prep and Cook time: < 1 hr  Serves: 1  Suitable for:  delicious procrastinations

1 scallop squash
6 chestnuts
1 small carrot, diced
2 sprigs of thyme
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp raisins
1 piece of pumpernickel bread
a splash of white wine
2 tsp cinnamon
1 knob of butter

Cut the lid off of the scallop squash, like how you would to a carving pumpkin. Put on roasting tin along with chestnuts, carrots and thyme.  Drizzle generously with oil roast in the oven at 200C for around 30 minutes until everything is tender.  While the goodies are comfortably in the oven, heat a bit oil in a pan and throw in your onions.  Let them slowly fry and caramelize over low heat for 20-30 minutes.

When they're out of the oven, dice the chestnuts.  Scoop out the flesh of the squash but be careful, don't scoop out too much because you want it to stand tall and pretty. Put the squash, carrots, chestnuts, rye bread raisins, and cinnamon all in the pan with the onions.  Turn up the heat to medium high, add a splash of wine and a knob of butter, and just toss everything around for awhile until the wine has evaporated.  Season to taste and stuff it in the squash.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Chestnut Bread

Like I said, chestnut season.  I still have about 100g of chestnuts left, so expect another chestnut recipe soon. Anyway, felt like baking bread, probably not the smartest idea to have in the late afternoon as it's too early to leave it overnight yet too late to be able to go to sleep at a reasonable hour.

I like making bread, there are few things as satisfying as taking your homemade bread out of the oven.

It's quite plain, probably a good idea to eat it with cheese or some jam and butter, it's white bread with a hint of chestnut.  Ok, more than a hint, but it's not an overpowering flavor of chestnut.  It's nice and simple and earthy and nutty and just slightly sweet.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Chestnut Stuffed Mushroom Caps

It's chestnut season and I love chestnuts, but plain old chestnuts roasting on an open fire can get a bit boring at times.  Stuffed vegetables on the other hand, are always exciting.

Vegetables stuffed and rolled are just so pretty.  Excuse the photos because they do these stuffed mushrooms no justice, they actually looked lovely.  Chestnuts and mushrooms have a wonderful partnership.  They both have this beautiful earthy note, and chestnuts have that extra flavor, that mellow sweetness, that it so kindly lends to the mushrooms as they slowly roast together in the oven.  These make a great appetizer, but only after I ate it did I realize that they could've done well with a nice simple dressing, a salsa verde, to perk it up a bit. Whizz up some garlic, parsley, olive oil, lemon juice and grind. Season and drizzle on top.  

Prep time: 25 min Cook time: 10 min  Serves: 2  Suitable for: a simple romantic appetizer for two or a casual main for one 

2 big mushroom caps
1 small red onion, finely chopped
8 chestnuts, cooked and peeled
A splash of wine
A generous block of Grana Padano (or any other hard cheese you have at hand)
A generous nob of butter 
a handful of parsley 

Sautee the onions with some oil in a pan over medium heat for about 20 minutes until beautifully caramelized.  Remove the stems from the mushrooms, chop that up finely along with the chestnuts and add to the pan.  Add a splash of wine and fry for a couple of minutes more before seasoning. Place the mixture in the mushroom caps, let them get nice and cozy.  Cut up your nob of butter and slice your cheese, place them on top of the mushrooms.  Bake in a preheated oven of 180C for 10-12 minutes and serve with chopped parsley sprinkled on top.  

Well, there's that sauce that you can drizzle on top.  Again, it's whatever you have at hand.  

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Chestnut and Butternut Squash Soup

I think I might be posting nothing but soup recipes for the next two months.  It's just so cold and I don't understand why my heater isn't even remotely warm.  The cold just puts me in a bad mood.  It's ok, soup makes it all better. This is sweet, spicy, light and delicious.

Prep time:  30 min  Cook time: 15 min  Serves: 3  Suitable for:  warming the soul when you're sad

350g chestnuts
500g butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 small apple, cubed
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 cup vegetable stock
1 cup milk
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1tbsp honey

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Chocolate and Pear Marzipan Tart

Pear, almond and chocolate.  You just know it will be good when the three appear together.  Almond marzipan filling sitting on a chocolate pastry shell with sweet pears, bitter chocolate and roasted almonds all around.  Mmm.

I had just bought ground almonds because I was planning on making macaroons for my friend, however, my mechanical scale was disappointing me and so I had to settle for something else.  Obviously not as impressive or delicate as French macaroons but they're still tasty and perfectly capable of satisfying your friends.

You can make a lot of this ahead of time, like the shortcrust pastry and the marzipan, these can keep in the fridge for a few days.  Then when you're ready, the process should take less than 10 minutes (slicing your pears, chopping your chocolate etc).

Prep time:  1.5 hr  Cook time:  25 min  Serves: 4   Suitable for:  surprising your friends


Chocolate Shortcrust Pastry
125g butter
250g flour
20g cocoa
100g icing sugar
2 yolks

60g butter
60g sugar
1 egg
70g ground almonds

2 tbsp sliced almonds
10g dark chocolate
2 pears (thinly sliced)

Make sure everything's cold.  Butter's fridge cold, your bowl's cold and your hands are cold.  Nigel Slater's tip for a warm summer day of baking is to run your hands under cold water first.  Using your hands, mix the butter with the flour until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs.  Mix in the cocoa and the icing sugar.  Add a splash of water to your egg yolks and beat briefly, then put it in the mixture.  It will be quite crumbly but try your best to form it into a block, wrap it in cling film and leave it in the fridge for at least half an hour.

Once you take it out of the fridge it may still be quite crumbly and so it may be difficult to roll it out into a thin sheet.  Nige's tip is to simply cut out thin slices (about 3mm) and with your hands patch them up and place into your buttered moulds.  Using a fork, poke holes, this is to make sure that they don't rise too much when you bake them.  These will cook quite quick so simply put them in a preheated oven of 180C for 5 minutes.  They'll cook through with the filling later.

Cream the butter with the sugar until light and pale, beat in the eggs, one at a time.  And finally, add the ground almonds.  Put this on the stove over medium heat and stir continuously until it boils.  It will very thick, similar to the picture below.

Chop your dark chocolate and place 2/3 of it on the partially-baked pastry before spreading the marzipan on top.  Add your thinly sliced pears and put in the oven (180C) for 25 minutes.  In the last 5 minutes sprinkle sliced almonds and more chocolate on top.

These smell absolutely divine, as soon as you take them out of the oven you'll have the smell of cocoa and roasted almond rushing up your nose.  And once you taste them, mmm.  The mellow sweetness of the pears, the bitter notes of the chocolate, and the roasted nuttiness of the marzipan all working harmoniously together, making your belly happy.

Oh feel free to do anything here!  Do a hazelnut marzipan instead, change your pears to bananas, change it to white chocolate, make your pastry shell plain, make it with ground almonds.  You can do anything, whatever ingredients get your mouth watering.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011


Found in practically all Italian restaurants and a favorite amongst many.  You've got the beautiful, subtle contrast in texture with the silky smooth cream against the soft, tender sponge, that when bitten into, releases a strong robust flavor of coffee matched with hints of bitter notes from the cocoa, altogether supporting yet not overpowering the mellow and elegant notes of the mascarpone.  Tiramisu when literally translated means "pull me up", while the origin of the dessert is unclear, most suggest that it's meant to not contain alcohol because the caffeine in it needs to wake you up, or "pull" you up, after a heavy meal.  Hence this recipe doesn't contain alcohol.  It's just as good, if not, in fact, better, because this below is the best tiramisu recipe.  That's right, I said it. I love tiramisu but I would never order it in a restaurant.  Never.  Not even if it's from the best restaurant in Venice.  I grew up with my father's tiramisu and I've never found one that tasted better.

The key lies in its simplicity, like most great Italian dishes it's just a beautiful combination of a few ingredients.  This one contains just 6:  eggs, mascarpone, sugar, cocoa, ladyfingers and coffee.  It's incredibly simple to make and very impressive to your friends.

Prep time: 20 minutes  Cook time: 2 hours  Serves: 8-10  Suitable for: thanking your friends for something

5 eggs
500g mascarpone
150g sugar
1-2 packs of lady fingers
3 shots of espresso, cooled and mixed with a dash of water.
some cocoa

Separate the egg whites from the yolks.  Beat the yolks with sugar and mascarpone until foamy.  Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form and gently fold that into the yolk mixture.  Dip the ladyfingers in the coffee and lay them out next to each other in an even layer on your dish (note: you want them to have enough coffee so they're soft and spongy but not too much that it leaves a pool of coffee on your plate).  Spread the mascarpone mixture on top.  Here you may choose to do another layer, I didn't but feel free to do so if your dish is small.  You don't want to stint on the mascarpone mixture though, so make sure your ratio of the cream and the ladyfingers is at least 1:1.  I personally prefer it to be 2:1.  Dust with cocoa powder in the end and put in the fridge for at least 2 hours.  When ready to serve, dust with another layer of cocoa.

I won't suggest any because this is perfect.  But you could essentially replace the ladyfingers with sponge cake and add chopped good quality dark chocolate in between your ladyfingers and mascarpone mixture. And you could add alcohol, like kahlua, if you really wish.  But try this classic recipe first before you make that decision.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Spicy Red Wine Apple Tarte Tatin

There will be no anecdotes to accompany this recipe not just because I'm feeling lazy but I don't want anything to steal the spotlight from this truly heavenly dessert.  This post should only be about this apple tarte tatin, nothing more.  I will not mention the conditions in which I made this in (after failing a test and being on the verge of tears), because it doesn't matter.  All that matters is that this was beautiful.  Absolutely beautiful.  A sweet and spicy tart reminiscent of Christmas and everything that's good in life.  It's time consuming but your house will be filled with the aroma of mulled wine making the whole process quite therapeutic -- a cure to all stress and worries.
This should be done in a fairly large pan (mine was about 25cm in diameter) that can be put into the oven, ie. with a metal handle.

Prep time: 1.5 hrs  Cook time: 1.25 hrs  Serves: 10 people   Suitable for:  relieving stress 

7 apples (give or take) (peeled, cored and sliced into quarters)
2 cup red wine
2 cinnamon sticks
4 whole cloves
4 cracked cardamom pods
3/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp cherry liqueur (whatever fruity liqueur you have will do)
400g puff pastry

Heat the wine with cinnamon, cloves and cardamom over medium high heat until it's reduced to about 1/4 cup (about 20 min).  Strain and put aside.
Making the caramel
This can be tricky but the key is just patience and knowing that caramel is not your friend. Do not be tempted to play with it, you may think it's your friend because you love it but it does not love you back. Spread the sugar on an even layer on the pan over medium high heat and just watch it like a hawk. You can shake the pan about to make sure it's heating the sugar evenly but don't stir it.  It will be done once it's all melted to an amber glow.
Take it off the heat and add the wine, butter, vanilla and liqueur.  Put it back on the heat and stir until everything unifies.
Put in the apples and coat them in the caramel before reducing the heat to a simmer, letting everything rest for about 20 minutes until the apples have softened.
Preheat the oven to 180C.  Unroll the puff pastry to abou 5mm thick and cut out a circle that's about the size of your pan.  Once your apples have softened and left to cool for 10 minutes, drape the pastry over everything and tuck in the ends to the apples on the edges of the pan.  Like tugging in a baby to sleep, with care and love.
Put the pan into the oven and bake for 1 hours and 15 minutes or until golden brown.  Leave to cool for at least 10 minutes and carefully invert it onto a plate.

-Have fun with the caramel. And by this I mean try adding different flavors, not just mulled wine.
-Change the fruit if you like pears or bananas better than apples.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Sweet and Spicy Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

I thought I'd begin with this article by the BBC. I'm appalled. "Researchers estimated that more than 30,000 lives a year would be saved if everyone in the UK followed dietary guidelines on fat, salt, fibre, and fruit and vegetables." Food to me is meant to be one of those simple joys of life, and the idea of any serious health issues resulting from the food you eat frustrates me. This isn't a health food blog where I encourage you to use skimmed milk, butter substitutes and so forth. This is a food blog of healthy everyday meals with a few indulgences every now and then. I'd like to encourage a healthy lifestyle. Again, "healthy" doesn't mean no butter or cream. "Healthy" meaning butter and cream in moderation. "Healthy" meaning eclairs and croissants are okay as long as you don't eat it with every meal. And "healthy" meaning deep fried pizzas and butter should be limited to perhaps once a year (difference between the two is that the deep fried pizzas and butter are just utter butchery of food, and thus not worth any potential health risk/weight gain).
Ok, now that I've got that off my chest I can start with these pumpkin seeds.
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