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Monday, April 30, 2012

My Favourite Pumpkin Soup (with Eastern herbs and coconut)





The original recipe is here, but this time I didn't roast the pumpkin because... I had time to cut it! (I don't like cutting pumpkin...). Also I had some celery so I put that in too, plus one carrot and one onion.
I added water and organic veggie stock (Rapunzel), and when the veggies were soft I blended them with an immersion blender. 




 At this point I usually add the coconut milk/cream, but I didn't have any, so I used this coconut powder my husband brought me from a trip to Hainan in China (the place is famous for coconut!). he was told to place the content of a sachet in a cup and add hot water to make a hot coconut drink. We did, and it is ok, basically it is just coconut... but I am not really used to drink hot coconut milk, so I added 4 sachets to the soup instead (we still have plenty more). I simmer everything for a bit longer and then added coriander and Vietnamese mint to flavour.

I love this soup!!



Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©


Sunday, April 29, 2012

Five Mile Town, my Birthday, BWW, and the Winners of Fresh As




Five Mile Town - Saturated

Today is my Birthday, and I have a lovely song and video for you. This is from a young NZ band, and one of the boys is my husband's cousin (well, the kid of his cousin... a bit younger than us!). His Mum put the video on my FB wall this morning with her birthday greetings, and I love it! Please share it and support Five Mile Town!




Photo and Recipe by Alessandra Zecchini ©





Because it is my Birthday I hope you will forgive me for doing a mixed post here, and publishing a lot of things together. I have also decided to add my image for Black and White Wednesday, a weekly blogging event created by Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook and this week hosted by Brii of Brigg is Home. The title of the photo is:
styling an egg for a photo shoot






















I also have a couple of presents for those who entered this week competition, two sets of Fresh As products (2 x 1 strawberry powder, 1 strawberry slices, 2 mandarin segments), so, here I go to 

http://www.random.org/.... 



The winners are the first two names randomized from http://www.random.org/

Well, can you believe it that it is Mairi's birthday too, so I am very happy for her to win, and then Matteo, I hope that your pregnant woman will be happy! Please get in touch with me so that I can arrange to send you the goods.

List Randomizer

There were 35 items in your list. Here they are in random order:
  1. Mairi
  2. Matteo
  3. Vanille
  4. Waiau
  5. Martina Dante
  6. Sophie
  7. Sue
  8. Anna
  9. Frances E
  10. EasyFoodHacks
  11. Kitchen
  12. Pease
  13. Frances E
  14. Couscous
  15. Kristin
  16. Martina
  17. Sugar&Spice
  18. Mairi
  19. Nardia
  20. Kitchen
  21. Jo
  22. Sophie
  23. Kitchen
  24. Nardia
  25. Mara
  26. Penny
  27. Nardia
  28. Alli
  29. Frances
  30. Dan
  31. Ginger
  32. Aftertaste
  33. Ganda
  34. Mairi
  35. Melissa
Timestamp: 2012-04-29 00:20:45 UTC

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Mandarin Chocolates





This is too easy! I just used some Fresh As  mandarin segments (they are freeze dried) and dipped them in melted dark chocolate (I used Whittaker's 72% Dark Ghana). That's all.

































Click here if you like to win some Fresh As mandarine segments (plus some Fresh As strawberry powder and strawberry slices). The competition is closing on 29 April.








Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Fangipane Verde al profumo di Sambuca





Yes this is different! Just try it! But don't think that is something completely new! Where I come from in Italy they make a tart called Erbazzone Dolce, filled with spinach, ricotta, almond and flavored with an aniseed liqueur called Sassolino. Here in NZ it is difficult to find Sassolino so I use Sambuca. If you like the recipe for Erbazzone Dolce you can find it in Sweet As, or it was recorded on Radio New Zealand (ages ago, when I was interviewed by Kim Hill on Saturday Morning), and the recipe is also on the Radio NZ website here

But the time instead of making Erbazzone Dolce I made a Spinach Frangipane for the MT Challenge!

The base recipe is similar to Ambra's, but I used salted butter (so I didn't need to put salt in the pastry) and sambuca  instead of lemon zest.

For the base:

- 200g plain flour
- 100g  butter, soft
- 100g sugar
- 1 egg 
- tbsp sambuca

Mix together and then spread (I couldn't be bothered rolling it, I spread it with fingers) into a 23 cm round baking tin  lined with baking paper. 

The MT Challenge said that for the frangipane filling we had to use this recipe (in Italian). Then we could add the fruit/ingredients we liked, and after seeing that all the chocolate/pear/apple/various-things were already taken, I choose spinach. Ah!!! I am sure that there isn't a green Frangipane yet!

For the filling:

- 100g ground almond
- 100g unsalted butter, soft
- 100g sugar
- 1 egg
- 30g potato flour of corn flour
- 1 tbsp orange blossom  water (here we could choose our own flavoring, so I choose sambuca)
- 3 portions of frozen chopped spinach defrosted at room temperature

Mix together in this order and then fill the pie crust. Bake at 180°C for about 30 minutes, or until the crust looks cooked and the top has lightly risen. Let the Frangipane cook down completely before removing from the baking tin.






This post is for the MTC di Aprile hosted by Menù Turistico










I made this cake yesterday because it was a holiday, 25 April, Anzac Day, and Festa della Liberazione in Italy! In the morning I took the children horse riding in Karekare. It was a beautiful day and the horses had my last carrots (the veggie garden has all been dug up now!). Well, apple season now, so the horse can have apples instead, but I learned a new fact: Caroline, who owns the horses, told me that they should eat as many carrots (and carrot leaves) as they like, but only a limited number of apples! I hope that my new carrots will grow fast now! In the photos Billy eating a carrot, and Laddy drinking from an old bath tab (and yes, that blue strip in the background is the sea!).








In the afternoon (and what a sunny day it was!) we had the Spinach Frangipane for snack and in the evening we went here to celebrate Anzac Day and Festa della Liberazione. It was a very special occasion, I even had to do a short speech, and I felt honored to be part of the remembrance for both NZ and Italy.




To end a long post, if you are in NZ, please remember to enter this giveaway, closing on 29 April!


Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Making Japanese cucumber pickles



Photo and Recipe by Alessandra Zecchini ©




Just cucumber and unrefined Japanese salt, put a weight on it (like a stone) 
and wait a day or so. Squeeze and serve. 

This photo is for Black and White Wednesday
hosted by Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook





Monday, April 23, 2012

Strawberry Pudding, and some smoothies too




When I was little in Italy there was a sachet to make strawberry pudding, and I used to fantasize about it. My mother always bought the chocolate one, and rarely the vanilla one, while I was dreaming of trying the strawberry because it was... pink! In the end Mum got it but we were all disappointed: it tasted quite artificial, and the pink colour too was ... too artificial. Since then I only made strawberry pudding with real strawberries. Well, until a week ago, that is. After the plum powder I tried the strawberry powder, the ingredient list is pretty short: it only says strawberry! This time I wasn't going to get that 'artificial' feeling!

I made the pudding twice, the first tasted good...  but I used whole eggs and the yellow from the yolk possibly took away a bit of the colour: the pudding wasn't exactly pink, and I really wanted a pink pudding (pudding, not pannacotta!).

Plan B: I remade the pudding only with egg whites, so that the base was white. I used 3 egg whites, 3 tbsp sugar, 3 tbsp plain flour, and 600 ml of full cream milk.




Another change I made from my first experiment was that instead of adding the strawberry powder at the beginning, I decided to add it at the end, to see if the aroma would be stronger (it is, in my opinion). So as soon as the white 'custard' was ready I thinned one heap tbsp of Fresh As strawberry powder with  a little milk to make a paste, and then I added it in and mixed well.





To complete the look I decorated the puddings with some Fresh As strawberry slices (these are also freeze dried), since here in NZ it is Autumn now, and strawberries are out of season.


And while waiting for the puddings to set in the fridge, I made some smoothies with banana, apple juice, and some more strawberry powder, to drink in the garden (the weather is beautiful these days!) accompanied by our homegrown Cape gooseberries.

The pink flower on the right is just to complete the happy pink picture, and definitely not to be eaten!








If you live in New Zealand click here for a chance to win some Fresh As strawberry powder and strawberry slices (plus some mandarin segments too). Competition closes on 29 April at 12pm.  


Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©


Giveaway to New Zealand readers: FRESH AS°


Photo by Alessandra Zecchini ©


I have a special bog candy for you this week! You may remember that I talked about this plum powder from Fresh As a while ago? Well, since then I have tried a few more products by the same maker, some I used to make desserts (recipes will follow in due course), some to make smoothies, others just sprinkled over cereals, ice cream or yogurt. I  love the fact that they flavors are so intense, and that they provide natural food coloring, something I am always looking for. But most of all I am delighted to inform you that Fresh As has offered me some products for you to try!

Two lucky readers will receive the set as shown in the picture: 1 pack of strawberry powder, 1 pack of strawberry slices, and 2 packs of mandarin segments (plus recipe cards). You can also see the products here.




To enter:


- You must be in New Zealand, sorry to all the other readers.

- Just leave a message at the end of this post, with your name.

- For a double, or triple or more entries just share this post on FB, or Twitter, or your blog, or any other social media, then come back and leave me another message (one for each social media share) telling me where you shared this post. Twitter and FB buttons are at the end of this post. 

- You don't need to be a follower or subscriber of this blog to enter: follow this blog only if you like it, (and that will make me happy :-)!

But, I will give you an extra entry if you will follow the Dante Alighieri Blog (this is a charitable organization, so thank you for helping!). If you do, just come back and leave me another message.

- Remember, the more messages, the more chances to win!

- The 2 winners will be chosen with random.org on April 29 (my birthday!), after 12:00, so you have one week, until Sunday 29 April, 12 o'clock, to enter.

- Remember to come back on the 29th to find out if you won (especially if you are not a blogger and I cannot get in touch with you via the net). I will send each winner the 4 packs as shown in the picture.

- Good luck to all.

Alessandra

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Percy Jackson likes blue food


Blue beans from my garden

Just in case you don't know, this is Percy Jackson. I love reading kids' books and Max, Arantxa and I are all waiting impatiently for the release of the next Percy Jackson book (Autumn 2012, unfortunately it must be the Northern hemisphere's Autumn, not the down-under one! ;-( !!).

Percy Jackson is a demigod so he eats nectar and ambrosia among other things, but the most fun fact for a food writer is that he likes blue food (being the son of Poseidon and all that sea connection...). So his Mum gives him blue coloured treats, like blue cake and drinks and stuff and (what a coincidence) Percy is ADHD.

Well, in the story being ADHD is due to the fact that he is a demigod (dyslexia is another sign of 'demigodness'), not because he had eaten food heavily colored with tar. And yes, studies connecting artificial colours in food with children's behavior are still ongoing, but some countries have banned some types of blue food colouring, and I like to be very careful about them too.

Only very occasionally I used blue food coloring, and always in tiny quantities, mostly for a pale china blue icing. Generally I prefer to use natural dye, like juice from berries, or spirulina and green tea, or spices... but blue, so hard to come by! And like Percy Jackson I too like blue food, I was so happy when the last beans we harvest in our garden were blue!


My favourite bowl (Japanese)


I also read somewhere that if you serve food in a blue plate it is less appetizing.... funny enough my favorite bowl is blue (a bit old now, but I love it!) and I have a collection of blue tablecloths. And to complete the disgrace, my kitchen is blue, a shocking colour according to some experts: blue and food are just a no-no!

BTW, blue is not my favorite colour, I prefer yellow and green, so I don't know why I particularly like blue when connected to food. When I can find natural blue food, like blueberries and borage flowers... well, I am in heaven. Grapes, blackberries, eggplants, violets, nori seaweed that almost looks blue... every time I can I try to add blue to my colour palette, I even have a green and blue board on Pinterest. 

Let me know if you also like blue in food, and maybe give me some suggestions on how to get more natural blue on my plate :-). Also let me know if you like Percy Jackson ;-)!



Egg tarts decorated with blueberries and borage flowers

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Friday, April 20, 2012

Vegan Nashi Tart, and going to a party where most of the food was vegetarian






I love nashi pears, pity that the season is short... mostly I eat them raw, cut into thin slices, but since I had quite a few I wanted to make a quick tart. This is too easy! I just used one sheet of ready rolled vegetarian puff pastry, then I peeled and cut 2 big nashi pears and placed the slices on top. I finished everything with a dusting of icing sugar and placed the tart in the oven until the edges of the tart were puffy and golden. As a final touch I sprayed the tart with some grappa spray. Nashi are good for cooking and baking because they keep their shape and don't become brown! This I will make again, it was even better than an apple tart, which is saying a lot (for me!).








A cameo note: a few days ago we went to Sophie's engagement party, and soon as I got in I noticed that most of the food was vegetarian! There were just a few fish dishes, but for the rest Sophie had asked for a mainly vegetarian party, even if the vegetarians present could have been counted on the fingers of one hand. She said that she went to too many parties where most of the food was not suitable for vegetarians, and she wanted something different this time (she doesn't eat meat herself). Of course I could not photograph everything, here are just a few snippets (including Nick's lovely potato fritters) but there was so much wonderful food that for once I ate a lot, but mostly, I ate a variety of different things! 
Thank you to Sophie's family who hosted the party, and congratulations and all the best to Sophie and Brendon.









Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©


PS
Kiwi bloggers watch this space: next week I will have a wonderful give away for you!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I like green: Palak (and celery) Paneer, and I made some Chapati too!



The original recipe (which was for a silver beet, not spinach, paneer) is here, but I changed a few things, like adding celery, and more spices. Fist sauté with 2 tbsp of vegetable oil or ghee 1/2 tsp ground cumin, 1/2 tsp ground coriander, 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper and 1 tsp turmeric. Then add a couple of roughly chopped shallots, a good pinch of salt and finally 500 g chopped frozen spinach (defrosted at room temperature) and three celery stalks, with leaves. Add a little water too, about a cup, and simmer for 20 minutes. Then add 1 tsp garam masala, 1 tsp freshly grated ginger, and salt to taste. In the meantime cut a block of paneer and sauté until lightly golden on the borders (Vegan use tofu). Blend the spinach with an immersion blender, then add the paneer. This is my very favorite Indian dish! 




Ah, and I made chapati too, the edges are not very smooth, but I was in a hurry!
I used 1 cup wholemeal flour, mixed with 2 tbsp vegetable oil and then enough water to make a thick dough. I made 4 chapati with it (see the step by step here) and to cook them I used my Italian cotte, the iron hot plates that I use to make crescentine. They worked perfectly well and I could cook two at the time.





And now for some more green: a walk to Fairy Falls in Waitakere, a good track suitable to most people as it is not too difficult and only 45 minutes walk. I am not sure if this track will be closing soon because of the Kauri dieback that is killing our beautiful trees, at the moment we need to brush our shoes well, and spray them with the spray bottles provided at the entrance of the track (many tracks have this), but this provisions may not be enough. I'll keep my finger crossed for the trees, and if some tracks will need to close, well, it is for the best, and at least I will have my photos to look at.





Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Shrikhand cupcakes, or Shrikhand muffins? And what is the difference between a cupcake and a muffin?







Back from yesterday's post, where I made Shrikhand, and I told you that I had this saffron/cardamom/yogurt/honey juice left over (yes, it tasted like all of these things!) and I could not discard it. So why not use it for some cupcakes??? 


I used the basic Vanilla Cupcakes' recipe form Party Food for Girls, like in this recipe, but I didn't need to use any vanilla, nor lemon zest as I had my bright yellow saffrony/cardamomy juice (and of course I didn't add the Pinoli, although they would be good too)!!! I soaked a good handful of sultana in it and made the cupcakes batter. Another variation was that instead of milk I used natural yogurt. I added the sultana and Shrikhand juice at the very end. I managed to fill up 12 medium and 12 tiny cupcake cases, choosing yellow, orange and just a few lime green paper cases, to keep my cupcakes/muffins "solar looking". To husband and kids these tasted even better than the Shrikhand :-). They are very soft and fragrant and perfect for breakfast!




Now, the original recipe is for cupcakes, but I wonder if these, being totally undecorated, should be called muffins instead. What is the difference between a muffin and a cupcake, in your opinion?

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Monday, April 16, 2012

Shrikhand



I got the idea from Zero in Cucina, recipe here, so thank you Chiarina-ina :-). 

Chiarina's version called for some yogurt, mushed cardamom seeds and saffron (I used a sachet of Italian saffron) and she adds a little icing sugar just before serving. I did it a bit differently, I added a tbsp of bush honey to my. I use Cyclop yogurt, thick and creamy. Put everything in a gauze or fine cotton cloth and let it drip for a night (I did it for a bit more). It tastes delicious and quite... citrusy!! In fact it is difficult to guess the ingredients, everybody said lemon!! I liked it like it was, but the rest of the family added some maple syrup to it (I guess that it was a bit too... sour for their taste).




After straining the yogurt I had all this saffron 'juice' left. OK, it is not that much, but still, not something that I would want to discard! So tomorrow I will show you what I did with it!



Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Pretend Prawn Cocktails (i.e. celery cocktails!)




Prawn cocktail is something I remember from the 80's when I was living in London, but I don't eat prawns, of course :-). But I eat celery, and when you cut celery stalks they have that 'c' shape a little like prawns.




I also remember very well from working in a coffee shop in Oxford St where we made lots of prawn cocktails that the sauce was a simple mixture of mayonnaise and tomato ketchup! So I mixed my celery with that.




I remember the cocktails in glasses, on slices of bread, or even in melons (yuk, not for me) but I think avocado works well here: just cut, remove the stone and sprinkle with lemon juice. And then fill with the celery mixture and top with freshly ground black pepper. This is so basic that I wasn't even sure if it was worth publishing, and yet sometimes the most simple things are the ones that some readers appreciate, especially when they are so quick, easy, and don't even require cooking. What do you think?





Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©


Friday, April 13, 2012

Pinoli Cupcakes






I heard about Pinoli a while ago, and since all the pine nuts that I used to get in NZ just didn't seem to taste right, I decided to try the new NZ home grown variety. My Italian readers will notice the name (pinoli means pine nuts in Italian) and yes, it is quite typical here to give a product a 'brand' name like this. Do we ever do it with English names in Italy? I can't think of any at the moment, but let me know if you do!


But back to Pinoli (the brand). The nuts are fresh and quite big and long, and once toasted they smell and taste good, so I was very happy to buy them (yes I bought them, this is not an ad.). The price is reasonable, they may look expensive to those who are not used to buy pine nuts, but so they should be: they are not cheaper in Italy either and you need a lot of pine cones to get a few nuts out!







I mostly use them for pesto and savory dishes, but they are great for sweet stuff too (btw, did you see this Japanese dish with pine nuts??) and since I am a cupcake fanatic I though of sprinkling a few over one of my favorite recipes, the Vanilla cupcakes basic recipe from Party Food for Girls (but this time I used lemon zest instead of vanilla)




Pinoli Cupcakes



Ingredients

120 g butter
3 eggs
130 g sugar
1/2 tsp lemon zest
200 g self-rising flour
60 ml milk
A few Pinoli pine nuts to sprinkle on top

Makes 12 cupcakes

Preheat the oven to 175°C. Line a 12-muffin tray with cupcakes paper cups.
Melt the butter in a jug, either in the microwave or in the oven (while the oven is warming up for the cupcakes). Place the eggs and sugar in a mixing bowl and whisk, using an electric beater, until the mixture looks light and pale yellow in colour. Slowly add the melted butter and the lemon zest. Keep beating at a low speed now; add half of the flour followed by half of the milk. Add the rest of the flour and milk and keep beating making sure that there are no lumps. Divide the mixture between the 12-cupcake cases and sprinkle a few pinoli pine nuts on top.
Bake for about 18-20 minutes, until golden brown at the top. You can also check by inserting a toothpick into the cupcakes: if it comes out clean the cupcakes are ready. Remove the cupcakes from the tin and let them cool down. The Pinoli don't need to be toasted before baking: they will toast while baking, and the cupcakes will smell delicious!



Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©


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