Sunday, May 26, 2013

On frying mochi, and hanging Japanese garments

I really like the mochi cakes, the Japanese glutinous rice blocks that are traditionally found in the traditional New Year soup (zoni). Mochi is usually grilled before going into the soup, but I don't have a grill for it, and tend to just boil it into it for a little. I love it. My family less so. And they don't like the idea of mochi in any our miso soups. So I tried to pan-fry it, thinking that they like everything fried, and guess what? Fried mochi is a new favourite! Now I add a block of pan-fried mochi in almost every Japanese meal I make (that is, while my mochi stock last: it is not so easy to find it in New Zealand!). 

In my (short) experience one of the best ways is to pan-fry mochi is with something that will also give it a bit of flavour, like capsicums. These are the little capsicums from my garden, small but tasty! Heat the oil in the frying pan, add slices of capsicum and mochi, turn everything a few times (I like to turn the mochi blocks on all six sides) and serve hot. Here is my mochi and capsicums served with soba, seaweed salad, avocado and Japanese pickles, a quick and balanced lunch!

And now some photos of my yukata and kimono, hanging to air. I took these photos before the weather turned really wet, now we are getting into winter and it is good to air yukata and kimono before putting them away, especially since I rarely use them anyway, and Auckland can be quite humid! Some of these garments are very old, other new, and they were all presents. I love them!!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Thursday, May 23, 2013

How to make Labne

Labne is a strained yogurt 'cheese', to make it you just need plain yogurt (I used a pot Straight Up from The Collective Dairy). To strain the yogurt I used a cotton cloth, not too fine, but finer that a muslin cloth or cheese cloth. Place the cloth in a fine mesh strainer over a bowl, spoon the yogurt in, close the cloth over it and top with plate that will fit the shape of the strainer, and then with a weight. Leave in the fridge for one or even two days if you can. The collected liquid can be used in baking, and what you are left with is a creamy labne, ready eating, for spreading, or to make Labne balls.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Monday, May 20, 2013

One pot quick and easy frozen mango yogurt

Nothing could be easier, and with only two ingredients (and yes, two of my favourite NZ products: Fresh As and The Collective Dairy). I used many different Fresh As powders and freeze dried fruit slices (you can find a few recipes here) in the past, but this time the choice was mango, as I like mango ice cream, and I guessed that mango frozen yogurt would be good too! I mixed 3 tsp of mango powder (btw, this is just 100% mango) to 450 g (half a jar) of Straight Up yogurt, and the put it in the freezer for two hours, stirring from time to time. The I whipped everything with an immersion blender (so I didn't even need to take the yogurt out of its pot) and served it. Easy as!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Fashion Food!

I am thrilled to feature in the Autumn-Winter edition of New Zealand Fashion Quarterly Entertaining with ten pages of Italian vegetarian recipes.

Thank you to fashionable Fiona, FQ editor, and art director Marcel (he found some beautiful props too!). And of course thank you Sean for the beautiful photography.  It was great working with you guys!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Dulce de leche cupcakes for Sweet New Zealand

In Uruguay, Chile and Argentina I ate a lot of dulce de leche, the delicious caramelized milk that you find in almost every sweet dish, from the famous alfajores to flans, from cakes to ice creams.

This is a variation of my classic vanilla cupcake recipe, and in New Zealand if you cannot get dulce de leche you can use a can of caramel. Some people even make caramelized milk by boiling down a can of condensed milk for two or three hours, but starting with fresh milk is better, this blog had a good step by step recipe.

Dulce de leche cupcakes

130 g butter
3 eggs
130 g sugar
A few drops of pure vanilla essence
200 g self-rising flour
12 tsp dulce de leche

Makes 12 cupcakes

Preheat the oven to 175°C. Line a 12-muffin tray with cupcake 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 vanilla. Keep beating at a low speed now; add the flour little by little. Keep beating making sure that there are no lumps. Divide the mixture between the 12-cupcake cases and top each cupcake with a teaspoon of dulce de leche. Bake for about 20-22 minutes, until golden brown at the top (the dulce de leche will sink in, leaving a dot at the top). You can check if the cupcakes are ready by inserting a toothpick into the sides (not the centre with the dulce de leche!): if it comes out clean the cupcakes are ready. Remove the cupcakes from the tin and let them cool down. 

This recipe is for Sweet New Zealand, the sweet monthly blogging event for Kiwi Bloggers, this month of May 2013 hosted by Bridget from the blog After Taste
Click here to enter.

Sweet New Zealand is looking for a host for June (and the months beyond) so please contact me if you are interested.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Monday, May 13, 2013

Some serious (non-alcoholic) drinking in South America

There is a reason why there aren't photos of wine here (except a strange medio y medio). Well, two reasons really: first I didn't drink much wine, it doesn't really go well with active traveling with kids, second, there is good wine in South America, especially Chile and Argentina, but I mostly just drunk a glass at night in dimly lit restaurants, and the photos were too dark to publish.

But I can easily write a post mostly on some amazing non-alcoholic drinks, because they really give you a sense of the flavour of this part of the word. If you are a wine snob who judges a country by its tannins, well, sorry! But there is some alcohol, I promise, just scroll down to the end. And if you are into smoothies and fruit drinks... read on! 

Jugos y licuados
Juices and smoothies

On the left there is an example of what you get in Uruguay when you order a fruit smoothie. Fruit and water based, they are cheap and they often serve you a full glass plus a jug to refill it. Best flavours for us were strawberry (frutilla), peach (durazno) or the combo with both frutilla e durazno! If you cannot choose go for a tutti frutti, which usually had these plus apple, orange, banana or whatever fruit is available. The only problem is that sometimes they add sugar, so ask for no sugar if you prefer.

In Buenos Aires the extra jug disappears (pity) and strawberry and peach still dominate as the preferred lavours, although but many cafes are really into barley grass, carrot, and other healthy additions. 

In Chile they don't seem to have the strawberry or peach, but their best liquado (fresh fruit juice or smoothie) is definitely raspberry! We also tried cherimoya, but no, we all ordered raspberry over and over again. Try it, ask for frambuesa.

Move to Peru and the choice becomes more tropical: papaya, pineapple and sometimes mango are the tips on offer. Here they tend to do juices rather than smoothies, but the papaya is thick like a smoothie. Above we have from left: papaya, orange, pineapple and melon.

And if you have to choose between a papaya juice and a Inca Kola... don't go for the Inca Kola! This is a super sweet and fizzy drink produced locally by Coca Cola that tastes of yellow food colouring, it may be popular in Peru, but I didn't like it at all! In fact I was surprised to see how many people in South America drink soft drinks. In Uruguay and Argentina I saw people (adults) drinking mostly Coca Cola with their dinner, whatever that was pasta or mains.

Coolest drinking experience in Montevideo

If you are visiting Montevideo a suggest a trip to the Sofitel (unless you are lucky enough to stay there!). The Sofitel is the new name of the beautiful old Hotel Carrasco which was built between 1912 and 1921.  If you have tea or coffee there is a trolly full of delicious pastries to choose from, and if you have a drink... well, the menu is never ending, and the kids and Peter had some lovely virgin cocktails (yes Peter too because he was driving). I had a red wine. But let's look at the interiors first!

Just for fun: the ladies' powder room is entirely lined with mirrors, perfect for a photo chance before trying to find the exit!

Strangest drink in Montevideo: 

This has to be the medio y medio, originally from the Bar Roldos, in the Mercato del Porto (not a market but a place full of restaurants and bars, and grilled meat smoke - very characteristic!). Apparently this is the city's most famous drink, they say that it is half wine (white originally, but red and rose are also available) and half Champagne. I can assure you that there is no Champagne in there, the other half is a sort of cider, and I have no idea why they call it Champagne. If you don't eat meat go and have a glass (just for the experience, not because I think that it is particularly good!) with a sandwich.

Best cultural experience

In Argentina and Uruguay (and parts of Chile) they drink yerba mate. This is a must try, but you need friends to show you how! Or read about it here

Getting back to Peru now: 

The sweetest drink (after the Inca Kola) is Chica Morada. It tastes just like the Italian amarena cherry drink. I also had a dessert with purple corn sauce (yes, just like a red amarena cherry sauce...) and I guess that it could be said that this is what real corn syrup is supposed to be like.

More liquid observations

Best beer
Best hot drink

And best cocktail is:

Pisco sour! This is really something different! I liked the look of it, and the taste too, a bit like an alcoholic (but not so sweet) lemon meringue pie drink. In fact the bottom is lemon and the white foam is egg white! Of course when they make it everything is shaken together (except the drop of Angostura that decorates the top) and then the foam rises to the top. There are several videos on YouTube to see how it is made. Vegans rest assured: you can order a pisco sour sin huevo (without egg).

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day and Alpine (wild) strawberry smoothie

Happy Mother's Day to all the Mums!

Alpine (wild) strawberry smoothie

All the wild strawberries you can find
One banana
Natural apple juice

Photos and Recipe by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Friday, May 10, 2013

Coca leaves and coca tea for altitude, and visiting some amazing Inca sites

Before going to Cusco we were advised by a number of friends who had been there to take it easy about altitude. Don't drink the night before, relax for one day in the hotel, drink coca tea... all good advice that helped us to adapt to the altitude. And in fact as soon as we landed in Cusco we felt it: one set of stairs had us puffing! We arrived at the hotel and the first thing they did was to offer us a coca tea. It tastes really nice, like a mild green tea. In the lobby there were also coca leaves to chew, and oxygen bottles, just in case. We didn't need those, but every time I went to the lobby I could see newly arrived guests relaxing on the sofas with a coca tea, all a little wary and slow. FYI, coca leaves and tea are legal in Peru, just don't take them back to your own country! Coca helps with altitude, but most importantly remember to take it slowly, just look at the elevations below!

Taypikala Hotel Cusco

Cusco: elevation 3,399 m high, the old part of the city has lots of ups and down streets which can make you tired. Just rest in the hotel for the first day and sleep a lot, eat light meals (there are excellent quinoa soups in Cusco) and plan to visit the city on your second day!

Saksaywaman: elevation 3,701, an Inca fortess in the outskirts of Cusco, easy to reach by taxi, but as it is even higher that Cusco make sure that you have adjusted to the altitude first, and then you can have fun (look at Max sliding!)! From Saksaywaman (which means 'satisfied falcon' and not 'sexy woman')  you can look down to Cusco city! 

Pisac: the city (Colonial Pisac) is 2972 m high, but the ruins (Inca Pisac) are a bit higher. The Inca terraces are incredible, and the irrigation system too; this is another "must see"! 

The Sacred Valley, you can see the Andes from here, and the Urubamba river (which feeds into the Amazon river). I am not sure how high we were (we just stopped on the side of the road to take photos) but we were told by our guide that we were over 3,800 m. high.

Ollantaytambo: elevation 2,792 m. Fortunately we 'went down' a bit here, because this archeological site needs quite a bit of going up steps! We had to take it a little at the time to cover all the terraces and get to the top, but after Machu Picchu this was possibly my favourite site.

And of course there is Machu Picchu, elevation 2,430 (so considerably lower than other sites, but harder to reach). This place is so special that I have another post here with all the photos, in case you are interested. Everything was so beautiful that I think I left a piece of my heart in Peru.

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini © 


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