Thursday, March 31, 2011

Square mangos

Today is our anniversary. 20 years together. We were soooooo young, we both agreed that mango was the best fruit, and we also agreed about many other things.

Square mangos

850 ml canned mango pulp (from India)
250 ml water (from the sky)
2 tsp agar agar powder

Mix all the ingredients in a pot, bring to boil and simmer for 2 minutes.
Pour into a rectangular container and let it set (a couple of hours)
Cut into small cubes and decorate with small bamboo leaves.

On another note, if you get Alive magazine check out my article: three pages on the history of pasta and 2 recipes (plus a view of me in the kitchen :-)


Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How to make your own lemon detergent at home

I always use eco cleaning products, or go for the 'home remedies' like baking soda, vinegar and methylated spirit, but I always fantasized about making some myself. I found some good ideas on  Galline 2nd Life, a blog that I like very very very much! I was immediately attracted by the washing up and dishwasher detergent, but for a different reason: it reminded me of a beautiful lemon salt scrub for the body that someone presented me years ago. It smelled great and was so nice to use under the shower... it even looked like the one in the picture... So I tried!

Ingredients, as given by Lo in Galline 2nd Life

3 lemons
200 g salt
400 ml water
100 ml white vinegar

Slice the lemons, keeping the peel but discarding the pips. In a food processor blend the lemons as finely as possible with the salt and a little water (taken form the 400ml). Place in a pot, add the rest of the water and the vinegar. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Once cold place in a jar.

I tried to use it for the dishes and it works quite well, unless the dishes are really greasy. For the dishwasher Lo suggests to put 2 tbsp in the dishwashing powder compartment, I did and tried at different temperatures, but I think that it works better if doing the dishes by hand.

Lo also says that it can be used for wooden chopping boards, and I used it for the kitchen sink and marble benches (very good, and with a nice lemony smell). Then I took it into the shower and use it on myself! This is where I liked it best: a mild exfoliant, particularly nice for the feet, especially if you are one of those New Zealanders who spend half of their life in jandals or bare-footed!

In a few words: a real multipurpose detergent! Thank you Lo!

Recipe by Lo and Photo by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Decorated Biscuits: Ideas for Easter

Egg biscuits with runny and royal icing

Lamb biscuits with fondant icing


Chick biscuits with runny and royal icing

Bunny Biscuits with marzipan icing 

 Bird biscuits with runny and royal icing

Candied fruit biscuits made with the leftover pastry and icing

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Muriwai Beach e la colonia dei gannet

I would like to show you the magic of Muriwai beach, not far from my house, and beautiful even on a gray day. 

La spiaggia di Muriwai, nell'ovest di Auckland e non lontano da casa mia, è un posto magico e unico. Anche in una giornata grigia, che fa apparire la sabbia nera ancor più nera, si possono fare lunghe passeggiare e, a bassa marea, vedere bellissime stelle marine. 

A seal! Una foca!!

The gannets colony

Muriwai è famosa per la colonia di Gannet, uccelli migratori che vengono a nidificare qui da agosto a marzo. 

E` uno spettacolo vedere questi uccelli ed i loro piccoli così da vicino, sembra di essere in un documentario di Geo! 

Photos  by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pink Flowers, Underwater Gardening, Kiwi-berries...

and wasps!

A bit of a mixed post today. Naked ladies: did I get your attention? Well, once I told a friend that I had naked ladies in my driveway and he turned up in no time! But despite the name they are flowers, quite special to me really, since the bulbs were a gift from a couple of old friends. I guess that they are called naked ladies because they have no leaves, the stalks are long and ... naked, and the blooms beautiful and pink. They blossom in late Summer/Autumn and don't last long, but they are perfect cut flowers. Originally the title of this post was Naked Ladies (and not Pink Flowers) but I decided to change it because it got thousands of visitors, too many in fact, maybe looking for something else (especially from Mountain View), but at the same time I though that maybe changing the title is not enough... it is probably inbuilt already in some meta tag that I cannot modify... so to cash in for the extra visitors I added a sweet video at the end :-).

Another little gardening tip now: I have a fish tank, and I used to buy water plants from the pet shop, $10 for 5 little pants that needed replacing every two weeks. But I like the plants, my friend Chris went around saying that I had a Vegan aquarium because he could not see any fish in it, only plants! I do have one gold fish though... maybe I need to get some more, we'll see. Going back to the water plants, I got tired of buying them so I experimented with some normal plants from my gardens, even weeds! And you know what? They are perfect! They seem to be happy living under water, taro, ferns and other leaves keep on living, and flowers last a few weeks. Also the fish likes to eat the nasturtium orange flowers, it nibbles all the petals away happily in no time! You just need small plants and seedlings with some roots, and now that I know this I am not going to buy expensive 'special' plants again, just use weed and plants that are overgrowing in the wrong places. It is a bit like bringing the garden inside the house really, especially for the impatients, which I love but are not good as cut flowers.

Today I also wanted to show you the kiwi berries. They are quite common in New Zealand now, but maybe if you live overseas you don't know them. They are miniature kiwis (look at them near a 50p coin) and look and taste like kiwi fruit.

The best thing is that they don't need to be peeled, and they are really cute. I just served them with some Greek yogurt. And just to let you know, these kiwi berries are not from my garden, but I wouldn't mind planting them!

And now to wasps. My husband got stung just outside this window (our kitchen), first on Saturday and then again on Sunday. The second time he got an immediate bad reaction all over his body and ended up in hospital. It was quite scary really, now he needs to be careful and carry an adrenaline pen. About two people every three years die from wasp or bee stings in New Zealand, this is quite a big number considering that there are only 4 million people in this country. Pest control came over today but couldn't find the nest: the bush is quite thick and trees really tall, so we will need to get some wasp traps near the house. Not everything is pleasant out there in the garden.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Zuppa dell'Orto

From my garden

This is what I got from my garden: yellow and green beans (a few of the yellow beans where overgrown so I collected the big purple beans inside), celery, tomatoes and my first mini pumpkin. All in the pot, with some rain water and rock salt. Yep, rain water, our water comes from the sky and we collect it in a big tank. Can't stop thinking that a soup like this is almost self-sufficient, a part from the salt!

Since my leeks are not ready and I don't have any onions or garlic in the garden, I thought of adding some chives at the end, for that 'oniony' kick. But you know what? When I lifted the lid it smelled like I had just entered a huge veggie garden. The aroma was so strong and perfect that I didn't add anything else.

It was a filling and satisfying garden soup (I called it zuppa dell'orto), you can add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and/or some freshly ground black pepper in the end, or some pasta for a thicker earthier flavour. Sorry I forgot to take a photo when it was in the plates, and it got eaten so quickly!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Friday, March 18, 2011

Indian at home

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Until 5 or 6 years ago I only had Indian food in restaurants or at friends', except for Dahl and Naan bread, that is. In the last few years I started to cook more and more Indian food (or at least, try to!) by myself, and now, with so many good Indian blogs around, I can really say that I am becoming more 'adventurous' with my use of spices.

At home we love to have Indian dinners, and the kids are starting to request them more and more often. Usually I also have rice, but sometimes I find some nice flat bread in the Indian shop. I tend to make two different curries for an informal family dinner, and one is either with panir, or with pulses, for protein.

This was our dinner table the other night, to drink we had mango lassi (recipe here), on the right palak panir (same recipe as my silverbeet panir, but this time I used spinach) and in the jar some mango chutney made by our friend Mike.

The colurful curry is Potato and Capsicum:

Peel and cube 4 large potatoes
Wash and cut into large strips 4 capsicums (one green, one yellow, one orange and one red).
In a large pot sizzle half tsp of nigella seeds with two garlic cloves (peeled).
Add half tsp of turmeric, half tsp of coriander powder, half tsp of fennel powder, and half tsp of cumin powder.
Add the potatoes and stir.
Add 1 cup of water, salt to taste, and a tbsp of tomato puree.
Cover and simmer on low until the water has been absorbed.
Add capsicums and stir.
Add one tsp of dried fenugreek leaves, and a little more water if needed.
Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
Check if the potatoes are cooked, then add half tsp of garam masala and simmer for 5 more minutes.

Serve hot, with rice or flat bread.

With this recipe I take part in the contest Magie con le Spezie from the blog Verdecardamomo

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Kahikatea Cupcakes, and Writing a Cookbook Part 8

I really love foraging and I miss all the berries that I used to pick in Italy. I learned from a Maori forest ranger that you can eat the berries of the kahikatea tree (the red aril, not the blue seed) and I have a large tree in front of my house that is fruiting right now. The only problem is that the tree is so tall that I cannot reach the berries (the native birds are probably happy for it), so I have to content myself with picking just a few from the ground. It is hard work, I'll never be able to make jam with the quantities I am getting, but I did make a flan with kawakawa creme and kahikatea berries before (for the recipe, and a photo of the berries click here), and this time I made cupcakes.

I asked my little boy to pick a few berries and then I rinsed them. I added a few drops of lemon juice and 1 tsp of sugar, and let the berries marinate overnight. The day after I made my usual vanilla cupcakes and added a few of the berries, strained.

I used the pink juice to make a little icing by adding a couple of tsp of icing sugar. And then I decorated the cupcakes with a fresh kahikatea berry. They were a hit with my guests who, although being real Kiwis, have never eaten the berries before, or anything made with them.

Since kahikatea berries can only be found in New Zealand, I am re-using this recipe for Sweet New Zealand, hosted by Sue

And now to writing a cookbook: yes it has been a long time since the last post on this subject, and the reason that I am picking it up now is that... I cannot give you a recipe for these cupcakes! They are my basic vanilla cupcakes, and one of my trusted (and most cherished) recipes, but since it belongs to my new book (due to be published in September) I have to keep it... secret! So, for now just use your own favourite cupcake recipe, and just add the berries to it!

These months have been dedicated to editorial, design and proofreading, a long process really, but really vital. At this stage you, the author, are working with other people, generally by email or phone, or on paper. The manuscript, and then the first proofs, keep going back and forward between all involved to set the pages, add the photos, correct the mistakes, rewrite the recipes that don't fit the page, check the page numbers, and makes all the changes and additions that are necessary.

You have to be patient, open minded, ready to compromise, and ready to make your point when you feel strongly about something. Don't loose your cool, or your manners: often it is not a questions of who is right of wrong, but what works best for the book itself. If your brilliant childhood reminiscence doesn't fit the page, so be it! Let it go! (Unless it is vital to the recipe, of course!). But if one of the step by step photos is missing, and you really think that you cannot do without that one, or if the editor has suggested a change that is not necessary, or improving the book, stand up for it.

For this process it is useful if you know how to correct proofs and make changes by using proofreader marks. If you are not in the publishing business you can find some good books as reference. Remember that your editors, designer and proofreaders will all be using these 'symbols', so it really helps to understand them.

So, in the last few months I have been working on this, plus writing a glossary, an index and a conversion table. Not creative as writing recipes perhaps, but still an important part of the process.
Sometimes the index is written by a third person; if you are not confident with writing your own index speak to the publisher: a good index is very important in a cookbook.

As a last word of advice: always use a courier to deliver the proofs (or deliver them yourself): they are too important to get lost in the mail!

Next time I will talk about the book cover, till then... keep on planning that cookbook of yours!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Roasted Leek and Potato and Other Soups, with iPhone Camera+

A few weeks ago my little boy started wearing dental plates, and since it is still hard for him to chew I have been making lots of creamy soups. Soups are nice, and quick, but not necessarily photogenic. To make it more fun I have been using the Camera+ iPhone application that Arfi showed me.

Roasted leek and Potato Soup with Leek Broth

Generally I sauté the potatoes and leeks in the pot to make this soup, but I wanted to try something different. So I cut the potatoes (Agria) and leek in big chunks, placed them in a roasting dish lined with baking paper, added olive oil and salt and roasted everything for about 30 minutes. I didn't want the potatoes to become brown, just lightly roasted on the outside, and soaking up the flavour from the leeks.

I washed the green leaves from the leek (the ones that are too hard to be eaten) and place them in a pot of water with some rock salt. I cooked the leaves until I got a fragrant and light leek broth. I removed the leaves and added the content form the roasting pan, oil included. I cooked everything for other 30 minutes, then blended the soup with an immersion blender.

The iPhone photos are so bright, not something I would use all the time, and not really suited to printed photos, but certainly fun for blogs, and soups!

Another good soup combo: Pumpkin and smoked garlic.
Here I just cooked some pumpkin (add a carrot for a brighter orange color) in vegetable stock, and before blending I added a couple of cloves of smoked garlic. More garlic salt and spices can be drizzled directly on the plate.

And then broccolini (from my garden), and potato soup.
Simmer the veggies in vegetable stock, blend and drizzle with
extra virgin olive oil.

These soups are vegan, inexpensive, easy to make, gluten free, and healthy, so I am taking the chance to contribute to this great initiative, promoted by Oggi Pane e Salame, Domani..., to create awareness about Endometriosis.

Grazie Sonia!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©


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