Friday, March 30, 2012

Three Layer Puddings in a Jar: Vanilla, Chocolate and Plum Cream

First I made a vanilla pudding (following this basic recipe, but omitting the passion fruit), and I filled the bottoms of the jars (they are 125ml jars) with it. I put the jars in a bowl with some cold water to cool quickly. I added a few pieces of 72% dark chocolate to the pot with the remaining vanilla pudding, which was still hot, and stirred to make chocolate pudding. I poured some in to make a second layer in the jars. I had a lot of chocolate pudding left over for four ramekins, so I made a separate dessert too :-). 

In the end, when the puddings were cold I made the final pink layer: I whipped about 100 ml of cream with a tsp of Plum Powder (the flavour was lightly tangy and really nice, and the colour very pretty) and pour it on top. Refrigerate with the lid on, and serve with the lid on!! Very cute!

And now another sweet reminder: Emma just published the recap for 
March Sweet New Zealand, and there are some amazing entries!
Click here and come and have a look for yourself!!!

From my kitchen: happy weekend everyone!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Salad bento with quail eggs and the big Avondale spider

Did you ever see the blog Cooking Gallery? It is on my blogroll and among my favourite blogs to visit because it is full of fantastic bento ideas! And my kids like it too, but they cannot really take proper decorated bentos to school, it is not practical in NZ, so they usually have a sandwich, some fruit and when possible some raw veggies too, all stuff that can be eaten with fingers or with a bento pick. So bento tend to be fun meal to eat at home! 

And just for children? No! Yesterday I was at home alone for lunch and I thought that I should eat more salad. Kazuyo gave me some of her quails' eggs and inspired by Cooking Gallery pretty 'faces' and figurines I made a fun bento just for myself.

To be honest with you if I had made this for the kids I would have taken out all my flower cutters to cut the veggies like flowers and so on, but here I limited myself in making a little sleeping doll. Of course I would like to have a set of nori pounchers like these (I tried to cut the nori with scissors but it is hard), but I haven't seen them in New Zealand (let me know if you do!!) so I used some caraway seeds for the eyes and mouth. In the bento there are young spinach leaves, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, cannelloni beans, olives, quail eggs, baby carrot and avocado. Dressed with lemon, olive oil and salt. If you don't have quail eggs, you can use bocconcini, or for a vegan version a small new potato.

And now to the spider... maybe the photo doesn't give it credit, but it was a big one! For some reasons these big Avondale spiders always make lots of appearances when my husband is away, so I have to deal with them. It was around midnight and I was just turning the light off to go to bed when I saw it next to me! Aghhhh! I run down to the kitchen to get an empty jar (1 liter plastic yogurt pot), but usually these creatures are on the floor or wall and I manage to catch them by 'cupping' them with the jar and sliding a piece of paper underneath like I did in this post; this time it was on an angle and I had to get it in and quickly put the lid on. Tap tap tap ... It kept patting around the jar like mad with its legs and pincers and it was quite difficult to take a still photo!
I let it free outside in the garden, and run back inside locking an bolting the door! I know that Avondale spiders are not dangerous, but I just didn't want to sleep with one next to me..... creeeeeepy!!

Are you scared of spiders?

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Last of the Summer Colours...

... and I need to make the most of it. Last tomatoes, last yellow Venetian runner beans, last chives (believe it or not this morning I had a look and the remaining had been eaten by bugs!), there are a few carrots left, but most are a bit woody now and I may keep them for the horses. Fortunately there is still some cavolo nero and some rainbow chard, but not that much. Anyway, I need to make space for the winter veggies now, and even small quantities of vegetables can go a long way in a soup. The other ingredients? Water from the sky and some rock salt. And at the end maybe a drizzle of olive oil :-).

Last of the roses too, not enough to make anything edible, but so pretty to look at! And how are your gardens going? I guess that many of my readers will be getting into Spring now, but if you are in the Southern Hemisphere like me, please let me know what you are planting right now :-).

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Monday, March 26, 2012

An Indian cooking class

It was a very 'Slow' weekend, fist we had the bush walk on Saturday, and then an Indian event on Sunday! The cooking class was taken by Sheena, and we all learned a lot. The main dish was a chicken curry, but she also kept some spices aside and made the same curry vegetarian for the five veggies who were present. Then Sheena showed us how to make a cauliflower and carrot baji, a daal, chapati,  basmati with cumin seeds, and a good chai.

From top left clockwise: the rice, frying onions and spices, chiken and veg curries, vegetable baji

Making Chapati

Making chapati was my favourite part, every student made his/her own, but I ended up making quite a few, for the children and the house staff too, it was very enjoyable! I think that this is the first thing that I will try at home because I need to eat more wholemeal flour, and chapati are so easy to make!
If you live in Auckland and would like to come to some Slow Food events please follow the Slow Food Waitakere blog for updates, or join the Slow Food Waitakere Group on Facebook.

From top left clockwise: Sheena and Sachiko, making chai, flavouring basmati with fried cumin seeds, daal and chapati.

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini except the 4th one (of me) by Steve Kesler©

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Slow Food Waitakere Bush Walk

Slow Food Waitakere Walk

Today a few members of Slow Food Waitakere meet for a 2 hours bush walk to Upper Nihotupu, and beyond! Thank you Laurel for leading the walk. Next appointment tomorrow for Indian food!

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Friday, March 23, 2012

Something for the boys: a beer gadget!

This time my husband supplied me with a blog post, a first one! He showed me these photos from his latest trip to Japan, a self-service beer dispenser that apparently pours the perfect beer, if I understood well it even tip the glass lightly while doing it (for a perfect beer head, I guess).

I don't know much about beer, and I know even less about gadgets, but I like them both and...  I feel quite thirsty now,  and possibly like another beer post coming along... :-).

Happy Friday!!

Photos Peter Dowling ©

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Pine Nut Tōfu Sauce, and a Japanese recipe book to help Japan's recovery efforts.

Today I am proposing a recipe extract from an ebook that I have just purchased: KIBŌ (Brimming with Hope. The Author is Elizabeth Andoh, a renowned Japanese food writer (also the author of Kansha  a book about Japanese Vegan and Vegetarian cuisine!)

The book is being sold online for under $US4, and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to Japan's recovery efforts. If you like to have a look inside the book, and for more sample recipes, please click here, where you will also find the links to purchase the book. You can also find the info on Amazon by clicking here.

Pine Nut Tōfu Sauce  (Matsu no Mi Shira Aéadapted from page 87:
KIBŌ (Brimming with Hope): Recipes & Stories from Japan’s Tohoku 
by Elizabeth Andoh (10 Speed, 2012).

Recipe Elizabeth Andoh, photographer Aya Brackett, stylist Karen Shinto

Reprinted with permission from Kibo ("Brimming with Hope"): Recipes and Stories from Japan's Tohoku by Elizabeth Andoh, copyright (c) 2012. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.

This nutty tōfu sauce comes to the Tohoku table in two ways: either mixed with fruit or tossed with greens. If you choose the fruit version, try fresh apples and dried apricots, cranberries, or blueberries, diced. The classic version, stuffed into a whole scooped out persimmon, is shown on page 71 of KIBŌ (photo on page 70), If you prefer, toss slightly bitter greens in the tōfu sauce; briefly blanched and coarsely chopped spinach or kale are good choices.

Recipe makes about 1 cup sauce, enough to make 6 to 8 small servings when mixed with fruit or blanched greens.

4 ounces (about 1/4 to 1/3 large block) tōfu, drained of packaging liquid
1/4 to 1/3 cup pine nuts (matsu no mi), un-toasted
Pinch of salt
Drop of mirin (syrupy rice wine)

Bring plain water to a vigorous boil, add the tōfu and cook it for 1 minute (begin counting from the time the water returns to a boil). With a slotted spoon, remove the tōfu, draining it well as you set it aside to toast and crush the pine nuts.

In a heavy skillet set over medium heat, dry roast the pine nuts, stirring them with a spatula or gently swirling the skillet to keep the nuts in motion. When aromatic and very lightly colored, about 2 minutes, remove the skillet from the stove. The nuts will continue to roast with retained heat so judge color on the light side. While still warm, transfer the nuts to a suribachi (grooved mortar) to crush them the old-fashioned way, or to the bowl of a mini-sized food processor the modern way.

If you are using a suribachi grind the nuts until completely crushed and slightly oily BEFORE adding the drained tōfu you set aside earlier. Continue to grind until the mixture is smooth and thick. Sprinkle with the salt and grind further. Finally, drizzle in a few drops of mirin. When ready to use, toss in your fruit or greens and mix. Serve family-style from the suribachi bowl, or divvy up into individual portions, mounded in small bowls or cups.

If you are using a mini food processor, pulse-process the nuts until crushed and slightly oily. Scrape down the sides BEFORE adding the drained tōfu you set aside earlier. Continue to pulse-process until the mixture is smooth and thick. Sprinkle with the salt, drizzle in a few drops of mirin and pulse to blend.

Scrape out the sauce and use immediately, or store in a covered glass jar in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. 

This ebook is really lovely and it has many vegetarian recipes, if you like, please have a look and spread the word.

And since I am talking about a cookbook I am also entering this post to the blogging event Cookbook Sundays, hosted by New Zealand blogger Sue of Couscous & Consciousness


Monday, March 19, 2012

Stories over Supper book event on Wednesday 21 March

I will be there with Arantxa and other NZ children's authors. Come and meet us, it is a free event, with dessert too!

Where: Paper Plus Gelndfield Shopping Mall, 
When: 21 March 2012, 6:30, 
rsvp Maria Gill <>

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Volvo Ocean Race, leaving Auckland today

Today we went down to the Viaduct in Auckland to see the yachts of the Volvo Ocean Race leave Auckland. There is a short video here if you like, with some great filming (even if it was a grey day)!

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Friday, March 16, 2012

Tiny potatoes from the garden and... what is happening to the WordPress comments??

Potatoes and Cape gooseberries

The veggie garden is full of small potatoes, I picked a few, some really tiny, but I didn't want to leave them there, and the kids love them. I washed them and boil them, in three batches, from the largest to the tiniest.

After boiling them, the larger (but still new potato size) were then sautéed together with small steamed carrots and green beans in olive oil, garlic, smoked paprika, cumin seeds, chili flakes, coriander seeds, and salt. A very satisfying combo!

The smaller potatoes were sautéed with garlic, olive oil, rosemary, sage and salt. A real luxury to eat such small potatoes, but I need to make more space in the garden, and there are plenty more to dig up! 

Any suggestions for more tiny potato recipes?

Lastly, a little note to my WordPress blogger friends: I am not able to post comments to your posts anymore! What's going on? I managed to do it in the end by signing with my Twitter account, but this is so strange... it almost seems like there is a war between Blogger and WordPress! Let me know if you have had a similar experience, and how I can comment using my name (and possibly my link), if know it. Cheers! :-)

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Pink and Plum Inspiration

Pink Plum Cupcakes

 The other day in Titirangi I bought something new, a plum powder! I was very keen to try it and so I made some vanilla cupcakes and added some to the mixture. I also made a soft royal icing topping with about 1 tsp of plum powder. In baking I would say that you possibly need quite a bit to make a difference in colour and taste, but for icing it works really well, giving off a mild colour, smell and taste. I am keen to try more Fresh As flavours now! And of course the flowers are from my garden :-).

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sunday dinner, Zaru Soba and Vegetable Tempura

This was Sunday dinner, Zaru Soba and Vegetable Tempura (mostly pumpkin). For the recipes I have to direct you here for the Zaru Soba, and here for the tempura (my own recipe).
And since I have learned to cook zaru soba from The Book of Soba by James Udesky, this post is dedicated to the blogging event Cookbook Sundays, hosted by New Zealand blogger Sue of Couscous & Consciousness


Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Sunday, March 11, 2012


Today I'll take you for a virtual tour of my neighbourhood: Titirangi is the best known village close to my house, a funky corner of Auckland for bush, beaches, coffee, art, books, shopping, and eating. For me this is one of the best parts of Auckland, I feel comfortable and inspired here, and I always discover more beautiful spots and little treasures. No particular recommendations here, only a few snapshots of a Saturday morning in Titirangi.

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Friday, March 9, 2012

Chocolate and peanut butter cookie-brownies, and are food bloggers proper food writers?

Recipe first. I felt it coming when my husband asked me three times if I was going to the supermarket (no, no, and no) and then moved around the kitchen saying that there wasn't anything bad to eat. Our American wwoofer lifted his eyes in surprise, but I knew exactly what it all meant, and replied that the cookie jar is empty on purpose. Yes, that he worked it out too, I am not the type that simply forgets to fill the tins, I simply try to 'regulate' the weekly intake of sugar in this family. But then I felt guilty, with the wwoofer we had an extra mouth to feed, and another thought crossed my mind: I never made peanut butter cookies!

When I told the American he couldn't believe it, they are such a classic US thing, but to be honest I am not really fond of them and I rarely eat peanut butter, which is also the only food that my kids don't like.
But my husband loves it, so I decided to go for peanut butter and chocolate and invent something that would feel more .... decadent? 

I used:
200 g smooth peanut butter (with salt)
100 g 72% dark chocolate, melted
100 g sugar
1 egg
more sugar, regular and icing, to dust.

It is great to see that flour is not needed (gluten free, hurrah!!) you realize that as soon as the egg goes in: everything becomes really thick! I rolled the mixture into walnut size balls and then rolled half of them in icing sugar and the other half in regular sugar before baking them. I wanted to see the difference, and regular sugar works better for this recipe, possibly because there is no butter.
Baking flattens the balls into little domes, keep it at 180°C for about 16 minutes, no more than 18 if you like me like the cookies to be soft inside. Let them cool completely outside the oven before removing from the baking tray. 

I actually had step by step images but they got lost while a keen helper erased more images that needed to be erased from my phone, but the process is very simple and similar to this one, a method that I often use, with few variations, to make most of my chocolate cookies. Of course I didn't tell this to Jacob, the American wwoofer, since he was so impressed that without having ever made peanut butter cookies I came up with these little beauties in less than 40 minutes, and no recipe! 

Of course he loved them, so did my husband, but what about the kids? The came home from school and smelled chocolate. Arantxa was the first, one bite and she looked at me, but her expression wasn't happy. 

What did you put in it? 
You tell me, use your sense of taste! 
Mmmh, some sort of nut... hazelnut? 
I thought so, I like hazelnuts... oh... no... you didn't!!! How could you!!!!

Max hadn't taste his yet

What!!! What is it, what did she put in it!!
Shhh don't tell him...
Peanut butter!!! She put peanut butter in!!!
You did?
Yes... but the chocolate is stronger, try...
Yes, they are not bad, you can just taste the peanut butter.
No, this is not good, these are like the cookies that Dad likes...

... And she doesn't. So, feeling guilty, I also made some vanilla cupcakes :-).

Next chapter: on Wednesday I went to a social media seminar held by the Guild of Food Writers. I have been a member for years, but attended very few events, and it was about time I showed up again. Nothing new to report back to food bloggers about the content of the seminar itself, since all of us seem to be already connected to most of the social media available now, but there is one thing that I like to tell you: Greig Buckley, the presenter, mentioned the New Zealand Food Bloggers Association, the fact that we had our first well attended conference, and put up on the screen this page, telling how many members there are already. I think that I was the most surprised person there. I was surprised because bloggers were talked about so 'officially'. And I was the only member there who also happens to be a (non commercial) blogger. I asked the committee if they would consider food bloggers as potential Food Writers Guild members, and they said yes, they had talked about it already (didn't I read the newsletter???), and bloggers are food writers (or write about food...) although individual blogs will need to be considered first for 'quality'. But mostly I had the impression that food bloggers matter, I said that food bloggers can be very powerful (why use half terms here?) and a lot of people nodded. Maybe not everybody likes it, but that is another matter.
So, if you like to belong to the NZ Guild of Food Writers, you should submit your blog!

Well, happy weekend to all, I leave you with one of Arantxa's art pieces, a thank you token for watching and supporting her video.

 Artwork by Arantxa  Zecchini Dowling©

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Glass Petit Fours

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Yes, made from glass, I bought them here, I think that they are really cute, and it took me a while to choose the right ones to take home. I also have a collection of glass lollies :-).


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