Sunday, July 31, 2011

Calling all Kiwi Bloggers: Sweet New Zealand

Our NZ blogging community is growing, and I have spoken with other food bloggers about the idea of a monthly blogging event, just for fun, and to get to know each others better. Well, the response was very positive, with some bloggers even keen to host the event in the future (but don't be scared, hosting will never be a requirement, nor will be 'following').  So here we are: Sweet New Zealand! I thought that this title would be quite inclusive, as every food blogger has something sweet in his/her archives. And as requested by some of you I also kept the 'rules' to a minimum. Here they are:

1 This blogging event is open to all bloggers living in New Zealand and Kiwis living and/or blogging overseas. This is not a competition and there are no prizes or winners: it is just a way for Kiwi bloggers to connect and share recipes.

2 You can take part with anything sweet: cakes, fruit salads, biscuits, ice creams…You can write a new recipe or send the link for an old recipe, if you like, as long as the entry contains the phrase Sweet New Zealand, the banner (choose your own size), a link to the host, and to this post (so please update your old posts, if necessary).

3 Send your entry by the 28th of each month New Zealand time (25th for Feb.) to your host with:

                Your Name
                Your Blog Name and URL
                Your Post URL (and name of the recipe if it isn’t in the post title)
                A photo (not too large)

 Your host will publish recaps at the end of the month.

4 There are no more rules, so have fun!

If you have any questions, please leave a comment or email me:
alessandra at clear dot net dot nz

I look forward to your comments and entries :-)!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Niue Sea Snakes

Everyday we are exploring two or more little bays/chasms/natural pools. Some are great to see tropical fish and coral, others are good for... snakes! They are poisonous, yes, but not really dangerous because they are not aggressive, so you can swim with them, and you know what? They are actually really really cute! Some popped their little heads up and I could see their eyes! Growing up in the mountains with vipers (in Italy), and now living in one of the few countries that doesn't have snakes (New Zealand), I never felt comfortable with these reptiles, but the Niue sea snakes are different :-). You can find out more about them here.

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Whales and Fish in Niue

with feet in the water

More images from Niue

Sunday we went to Church, there are many to chose from and it is a real experience even if you are not a Christian: everybody is welcomed and the singing is lovely. We choose the Church in the village of Avatele, and for the rest of the day people in the village commentend about it "So, you went to Church this morning!" even people who didn't come to Church commented, they all heard about it, I guess that we were very 'noticeable'. From Avatele we drove around the interior, and then visited the only resort in the Niue: the Matavai (very tranquil and low key, in tune with the rest of the Island), and we also went to the largest 'beach' that there is (mostly rocks and chasms here), which is actually small and with no sand, but fine coral pebbles, and clear water.

Church: wear a hat. Street sign, not so steep really! The swimming pool at the Matavai Resort, the only one!

In front of the beach there is the Washaway café, a real Sunday institution because it is only open ... on Sunday! It is run by Willie, who also run the Crazy Uga café in Alofi (open the other 6 days), and the car rental service. Willie lived in Auckland for many years, but now is back catering for the few tourists who make it here. He actually says that statistics on population are wrong, there are only about 1000 people on the island. The Air NZ plane can take just over 170 visitors per week (our plane possibly had 150, half of them visiting family or returning home, the other half tourists), plus we can count a few more who arrive by yacht, so at any time there may be about only 1200 people on the Island.

Willie and the Washaway café

One of the most spectacular place we visited today was the Tavala Arches, a bit of a bush and rock walk to get there, but then we were rewarded by a beautiful scenery, and the sighting of whales (the first time for me, and I saw my very first whale through this Arch!). And then the coral and fish! I don't have the right camera, so I took these photos with my iPhone (with my feet in the water), but I think that these can give you an idea of the place: the snorkeling was amazing and we were the only ones there for hours, until another family arrived.

Tavala Arches

Added this post to Jim's Magnificent Monday :-)

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Sunday, July 24, 2011

First images from Niue

Niue, 259 square km, less than 1500 people, one flight a week, from Auckland (about 3.5 hours). This place is very relaxed, no big resorts or fancy restaurants, no beaches, but rocks, caves, coral, natural pools, chasms, bush tracks... and coconut crabs.

We rented a car, number plates have easy to remember numbers, and phone numbers are the same: 4 digits only :-). The one radio station plays mellow Polynesian tunes and it is very hot.

Natural swimming pools and sea chasms are cool and full of colourful fish (and some sea snakes too, I didn't see any yet, but the others did... apparently). I love this place, I just leave you with some images, 
have a good Sunday.


Photos by Alessandra Zecchini © (and one by Arantxa)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Where to?

Well, I am off. Where to? Can you guess? The photo may give you a clue, changing my winter slippers for reef shoes! Ciao!!!

Photo by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Polynesian Interior, and a recipe for Eggy

Shells necklaces from Tahiti, basket from Hawaii, Poi from Aotearoa, bag from Samoa

Shells necklaces from Tahiti, kete bag and paua shell, flax flowers and little Whare (house) from Te Reo Maori students

Tapa briefcase from Samoa, shells necklaces from Tahiti, Picture from Rarotonga, lei garlands from the 2$store

This is my office. I have chosen a Polynesian theme because I live in the largest Polynesian city in the world, Auckland, and I travelled to several Polynesian countries, collecting things where I could.

Turmeric Eggplants and Chickpeas

Today recipe is for Intuitive Eggplant of Eggplants to Go, who is collecting eggplants recipes for her July 2011 Culinary Smackdown.

Cube two large eggplants and let them sweat with salt for one hour. Rinse and pat dry.

Put two tbsp of vegetable oil in a large frying pan/casserole dish, and sizzle two peeled garlic cloves with one heap tsp of turmeric, half tsp of cumin powder, half of coriander powder, and a good pinch of salt. If you like add a chili pepper too.

Add eggplants and stir, after 10 minutes add the content of a can of chickpeas (water included).

Cook until the eggplants are almost a mush, adding a little water from time to time, when necessary. Adjust with salt and serve hot. I served mine with flat bread and baby spinach leaves.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

In praise of chickpea flour, eating broccolini flowers and carrot leaves, and natural skin care

Chickpea flour, also called gram flour, or besan, or garbanzo flour, is a wonderful product. It is gluten free, high in protein, iron and vitamins, and perfect for vegetarians. I payed $3.50 for a kg bag in the Indian store, and 1 kg goes a long way. My main reason for buying it was to make fritters, like onion bhaji
while the only Italian dish based on chickpea flour I am familiar with is Farinata, a kind of savoury pancake, so my repertoire was a little limited. Then the other day I was making some spicy marinated tofu, and I always have leftover marinade when I do this, so I thought of 'scooping it up' with a few veggies and the chickpea flour as a binder.

Broccolini flower fritters

My spicy marinade for tofu is based on plain yogurt to which I add a little squeeze of garlic, some freshly grated ginger, a little lemon juice, salt, cayenne pepper, paprika, ground cumin, ground coriander... well, whatever takes my fancy really. I marinate the tofu in the yogurt mixture and then I fry it or grill it or even bake it. I kept the leftover spicy yogurt in its bowl and added a chopped red onion and, not having much more in the veggie garden, I picked up the broccolini that had gone into flower. I chopped them, and then added enough chickpea flour to get a paste that I could spoon into a frying pan with hot oil. Well, that went down a treat, I guess that you can fry any leftover veggie that way.

Carrot leaf fritters

 I also wanted to make something Vegan, since chickpea flour can be mixed with just water and it will still bind like eggs do. For my Vegan fritters I used another overlooked thing from my garden: carrot leaves. I always end up planting carrots to close, and fail to thin them when I should (I just don't have the heart to do it...) so I had to pick up a few little ones to let their sisters grow in peace. Baby carrots are great anyway, but what a waste throwing out all those pretty leaves! Then I read on the blog Galline 2nd Life (a blog that I enjoy a lot!) a recipe for a frittata with carrot leaves. I washed and roughly chopped the carrot leaves, made a batter with chickpea flour, water, salt and pepper, added a chopped red onion, and fried my fritters. In the end I topped them with some smoked paprika and a few sesame seeds. Good hot or cold.

Natural face mask and exfoliant

The last thing that I discovered about chickpea flour is that it can be used as a face mask and an exfoliant. The Indian lady that was serving me in the shop told me so, she gave me her recipe: a little chickpea flour mixed with natural yogurt and lemon juice, make a paste (last photo on the right, above), put it on your face like a mask, leave it for a few minutes and then rinse. She told me the she used it for acne, and it was the only thing that worked.

Well, I tried for my daughter, and myself, and I am very happy with it, especially because in the last few years, since after reading The world without us by Alan Weisman, I have been avoiding commercial exfoliants, as many seem to be made with synthetic polymers. There is a chapter in this book entitled Polymers are forever, you can actually read the whole chapter by following this link (although if you are the eco type I suggest that you read the whole book :-), but I can tell you that the sentence that most impressed me was this one:

“Can you believe it?” Richard Thompson demands of no one in particular, loud enough that faces bent over microscopes rise to look at him. “They’re selling plastic meant to go right down the drain, into the sewers, into the rivers, right into the ocean. Bite-size pieces of plastic to be swallowed by little sea creatures.”
From The world without us by Alan Weisman, Part II, Chapter 9.

I still remember rushing to the bathroom to check my exfoliant, fortunately it was St. Ives Apricot Scrub, which Thompson claimed to be ok (i.e. 100% natural) but I have not been able to trust ready made exfoliants ever since.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Soufflé glacé and MTchallenge

This is the first time that I take part in the MTchallenge from Menu Turistico. I found out about these challenges visiting Italian blogs: at certain times of the month many bloggers seemed to post the same recipe, and I was getting quite confused... and then I found the blog Menu Turistico and (hopefully) understood how it works. Every month there is a cooking challenge, and the winner has to decide on the following challenge. Some challenges seem to be ... challenging, some are more creative, but there are always some obligatory ingredients and techniques. 

The original recipe is from Loredana and you can find it here (in Italian). For the callenge we were allowed to follow the same recipe, or make variations, or make a different soufflé glacé, as long as it was a  soufflé glacé, in taste and appearance, and not a semifreddo or something else... and that we used egg whites for the base, prepared following the Italian meringue method (and not other methods), plus the addition of a sauce/topping... in a few words, something colourful! I decided to go for the original recipe mostly because it had yogurt: my boy is not keen on spoon desserts (unless they have dark chocolate) but he likes yogurt: I could always sell it to him as frozen yogurt! 

The ingredients from Loredana:
  • 3 egg whites (About 100g)
  • 200 g icing sugar
  • 100 ml water
  • 200 ml cream
  • 250 g plain yogurt 
  • 1 tbsp fruit compote

I must confess that I really enjoy making Italian meringue, possibly because it is not something that I see  here in New Zealand. Beat the egg whites really stiff, in the meantime make a syrup with the water and icing sugar (I never used icing sugar for the syrup before, so this was a new one for me!). I don't have a sugar thermometer (didn't I say this already?? A few times?? Yep!) but you see, Loredana doesn't talk about temperatures, she just says to make quite a thick syrup. Ahh, a real home cook! I made my 'thickish' syrup, and I wish that I could explain it better, but it is that stage when the syrup just start to get a little white and you can smell candy floss. Pour the hot syrup slowly into the egg whites and keep beating until they are cold (see first photo below on the left). In the meantime whip the cream, fold in the yogurt, and then fold with the Italian meringue. 

Wrap some baking or cooking paper around the ramekins, leaving about 5 cm border at the top, and securing them with kitchen string (large photo below on the right). The idea looked pretty but... I don't really have the right ramekins: they are not straight but open up at the top, even if very lightly, and although they looked pretty with a kitchen string ribbon... after the first one I secured the others with Sellotape :-P!! I filled the ramekins with the soufflé mixture and I placed them in the freezer.

Next the fruit compote. I heated a few frozen raspberries with a tsp of sugar and mashed them into a sauce. When the soufflés were set I removed a little from the centre and ate it. I loved this step. Place the soufflés back into the freezer until serving time. Finally it was time to serve my soufflés glacés so I filled the holes with the fruit sauce (second image on the left), removed the paper and decorated the tops with a raspberry, a violet (edible) and mint tips. Because there is so much sugar, air and fat in these soufflés, they don't freeze into a block of ice: they are firm yet soft. I will make them again, but smaller portions (here I made 4, but they were rugby player's portions, I think that I should use smaller - and straighter ramekins, and make 6, or even 8) and I will try to use less sugar next time (the boy complained that they were too sweet for his), just to see what happens. 

But for now I am very happy to have tried this lovely recipe, and to be part of the MTchallenge for July. Thank you Menu Turistico and Loredana!

Un PS in italiano: vorrei fare una nota sul colore del mio soufflé: la panna in Nuova Zelanda è molto grassa e piena di vitamina A (le mucche sono al pascolo tutto l'anno, non mangiano fieno ma solo erba verde). Il risultato è che il burro è giallo, e la panna montata non è bianca bianca come in Italia, ma color... panna! Spiegato il colore 'pannoso' del mio qui! Grazie ancora per il challenge, baci A.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini  and©

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Colours: flowers in the garden and a bright pudding

One of the best things about Auckland is that even in winter, where is raining cats and dogs, the garden is always bright with flowers. My orchids are blooming I have two yellow/green ones two different pink ones (although only one has flowers now). I always wanted to have orchids and these sturdy types can live outside, as long as they are in a sheltered spot. Also the Reinwardtia, or yellow flax, is still full of flowers, even after all that rain and hail we had in the past week.

No blooms from my white camellia yet, but the red one is full of flowers, they are lovely cut flowers for Japanese ikebana and for decorations (like for my bento here). The Rhododendron towering over the carport is also full of flowers, usually they stay for a couple of months, and by September the tree is almost all pink. Potted flowers: the hyacinths are just starting outside...

... while indoors they have already bloomed.

And the recipe for today is a mango pudding revisited: my fool proof recipe for mango and agar agar pudding is here, and for the colourful twist I just added a few mixed berries to the mixture. It looked so pretty that I will definitely make it again. 

Happy weekend everyone!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Friday, July 15, 2011

Japanese Bento Basket

This is a three layer picnic basket, and I use it as a family size bento box. I got it from the Trade Aid shop and it is perfect for Japanese food: I put napkins, sake cups (or other drinks) and fruit in the bottom basket, then small plates and wooden Japanese bento picks in the middle basket (no chopsticks today, this is all food that you can eat with your fingers, but you can use the picks for the omelette), and the food in the top tray. There is a lid for the top and a handle to carry it. It looks very stylish.

Picnic giapponese in cesto a tre piani

To line the baskets I used some bamboo leaves from my garden, I cut some patterns in some of the leaves to make them more interesting. The food is: Ume Onigiri, Salad Sushi rolls, Nori Omelette, Edamame beans and garnishes.

Salad Sushi Rolls

Wash the sushi rice (or Japanese rice) several times in cold water, until the water runs clear, and then cook it by absorption. The doses are about 1 and 3/4 (three quarters) cups of sushi rice for 2 cups of water, but that depends on the type of pot. You need a pot with a good lid, or you will loose too much steam. I kind of regulate myself by ear now, since I know my pots and pans. Bring the pot to boiling point, lower the heat and simmer until all the water has been absorbed. Once the rice is ready pour it into a bowl and stir it with a wooden spatula, cooling it with a fan if you can. I then add some ready made sushi vinegar, about 2 tablespoons, but this is my personal taste. If I don't have sushi vinegar I use 2 tbsp of rice vinegar, a little sugar and a little salt (to taste, and I don't like to use too much sugar or salt!). Roll the rice with nori seaweed and the filling of your choice: I used carrots, takuan (Japanese pickled daikon) and rocket salad).

Foglie di bamboo come tovagliette


To make the rice balls cook some Japanese (or sushi) rice as explained above but do no dress with rice vinegar, leave it plain. Start working it when it is still warm: wet your hands with water, and rub them with just a little salt, then shape the balls with your palms, sticking a whole ume (Japanese pickled plum) in the middle while you are working. This time I put the ume not inside but on top, for visual effect, and added a violet (edible) for decoration.

Omelette alle alghe, palle di riso, sushi e fagiolini giapponesi

Nori Omelette 

Beat 4 free range eggs with 1 tsp of vegetable oil and 1 tsp of soy sauce. Heat a large frying pan greased with vegetable oil and pour in the eggs. Lift the sides gently to allow all the egg mixture to run trough and cook. When the omelette is ready to be rolled place one or two sheets of nori (cut it to fit the surface of your omelette) then roll it put. Cut and Serve.

The edamame beans are just boiled, I have been promising the kids that I was going to get them some Mameshiba since they saw them in Cooking Gallery Blog (I love her blog and the kids do too!!). Well, any kind of bean and nut can be a Mameshiba now, but edamame are the best mameshiba for me!
Carrots flowers, takuan slices, pickled ginger and little containers for soy sauce complete the first tray (and a wasabi tube is also in the bottom tray, in case we need it :-).

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

An Apple Cake and an Apple Strudel

I got a few more Oratia heirloom apples (and a few garden lemons too) from Sue, this is still the season for apples in New Zealand! First I made an apple cake, I like to eat apple cake for breakfast, and I took advantage of the fact that I had a German wwoofer staying with us to indulge: she also liked cake for breakfast, something that in New Zealand is not really done!

Apple and Sultana Cake with Rum

The base for this cake comes from my book Sweet As..., it is the base for most of my fruit cakes, and the original recipe is on page 28, where is used for a cherry berry cake. I start by mixing 4 eggs with 200 g of sugar, then I add 150 g of melted butter (salted), 250 g of self-raising flour, and the zest of one lemon (optional). In the meantime I peeled and cut 4 apples and splashed them with lemon juice. I also soaked 2 tbsp of sultana in a little Guatemalan Rum (Ron Botran, the best!).

I added the sultana and apples for last, and folded everything. I poured the mixture in a 23 cm round baking tin lined with baking paper, and baked the cake at 180°C for approx. 45 minutes. 

When the cake was cool I decorated it with icing sugar and homemade sugar flowers, the German girl and my daughter really liked it, I guess that it was very 'girly'! Also it was perfect for breakfast (the rum is just a taste, no alcohol remains really!), probably I would not make it for a dessert or a special occasion, but definitely for more breakfasts (or after school snacks) to enjoy with a hot drink. There was some left when Kiwi blogger Sasa came to visit, I hope she liked it, she must be used to European having apple cake for breakfast!

Dolomiti Apple Strudel

This is my favourite apple strudel, once again from my book Sweet As..., page 20. I learned to make this from my mother, and I like it because it is 'rustic', not fancy like the patisseries' versions, and barely sweet: a real Dolomiti mountain food. In fact I prefer this to any other apple pie or cake or flan!
For the filling peel and slice 4 apples, add 1 tbsp of sultana, a few chopped walnuts (mine were from the South Island) 5 to 10 cloves (according to taste), 1 stick of cinnamon broken into two pieces, 4 tsp brown sugar, and the juice of 1 lemon.

For the pastry mix 200 g of flour with 50 g of butter (cubed, vegans can use margarine), 2 tsp brown sugar and 100 ml cold water. Mix well by hand and shape into a bowl. Refrigerate for 30 minutes then roll out into a large oval, as thin as you can manage. Spread the apples on top and roll up. Pinch both sides of the strudel and turn them in to resemble a gigantic croissant.  Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper and bake at 180°C for almost one hour.

When the strudel is almost done the juices from the apples will start to come out: remove the strudel from the oven and with a spoon collect the juices and used them to coat the crust. Then place back into the oven for 5 or 10 more minutes (or until you are satisfied with it, I like it not too brown, my mother likes with a really crispy crust). The two little ends are quite dry (just pastry) and possibly I wouldn't offer them to guests, but when I was a child my brother and I used to get one each: we loved them, and we still do (although he is in Italy, so I can eat both ends!!). 

Serving tips: my husband (the Kiwi) likes this strudel for pudding, with cream, but for me this is, once again, the perfect breakfast (no cream!).

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©


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