Monday, March 31, 2014

Vegan Sushi and onigiri (rice balls)

The weather has been beautiful, and it is still possible to eat outside, especially fresh things like this vegan sushi. Note that fish sushi is not traditionally eaten in summer in Japan, although thanks to refrigeration now many do, but some 'traditionalists' refuse. Vegan sushi on the other hand, like inari and norimaki (nori rolls), as well as onigiri (rice balls) are all great summer options.

Let's start with the onigiri. 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. At this stage I took some rice aside to make onigiri and used the rest for sushi (see below). Rub your hands with salt and shape the rice into balls. I added some salted sakura blossoms on top to make pretty onigiri, and then I made some miniature ones (last photo) which I sprinkled with fresh chives.

To the remaining rice I added 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 your norimaki with the filling of your choice (I used takuan, cucumber and busy lizzie flowers). Or use the rice to fill inari (tofu) sachets, and then top them with herbs, flowers, veggies and pickles. So refreshing.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Vermicelli in coconut and veggie broth with tofu and Asian fragrances

This is an aromatic vegan and gluten free soup, light and delicious.

For the broth:
500 ml vegetable stock
1 can coconut cream or milk + one can of water (rinsing the coconut cream)
1 large yellow courgette (zucchini)
2 fresh red chilies
1 block of tofu
a pinch of freshly grated ginger
1 stalk lemon grass
a few coriander leaves

Simmer all together for a few minutes until the zucchini are soft but not mushy.

In the meantime soak the vermicelli in hot water until soft then divide between 6 bowls.
chop a few cherry tomatoes, and wash some fresh basil and some thai mint

Pour the hot soup over the vermicelli, making sure that each dish has equal parts of tofu and veggies.
Decorate with the tomatoes, basil and Thai mint and serve immediately.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Grape juice and a glass full of memories

There are some beautiful grapes on sale at the Dragicevich Orchard in Oratia, those old fashion grapes that really smell and taste like grapes (not like the stuff that you find in supermarkets). And they make a wonderful juice. Apparently grape juice has antioxidant effects, well, this would be a bonus, but the only thing that I can say so far is that it is delicious, and the aroma brings back happy childhood memories of picking grapes at my Grandma's in Italy. Yes, memories in a small glass! Have you ever had a similar experience with food and drinks?

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Fresh As raspberry agar agar, and Win with Sweet New Zealand!

Agar agar must be the easiest pudding ever, and it is vegan and gluten free. Also, if you don't use too much sugar it will be low in calories (and no fat, I guess…). 

For 4 serving I use 500ml of water, half tsp of agar agar powder (usually I use 1 tsp, but I wanted a softer and more wobbly jelly) and 1 tbsp of sugar (here too, personal taste!). For the Fresh As fruit powder dosage, it depends on your taste; for most fruit (like pineapple) I use 1 tbsp, or 1 and half tbsp (like passion fruit), but the raspberry powder is so intense that half tbsp with suffice, using the other half just to sprinkle on the jelly when is set. Bring to boil and pour into 4 jelly moulds. Let it cool down, refrigerate, and serve (with more Fresh As powder sprinkled on top). 

This recipe is for Sweet New Zealand #32, the blogging event open to all Kiwi bloggers (living in NZ or overseas) and expats blogging from NZ. Frances is the host for March, and there are many prizes this month offered by Healthy Food Guide (Tote bag, magazine and zesty citrus zester), so check out how to enter by clicking here. Also let me know if you are keen to be a host in 2014, and book a month!

Sweet NZ image
Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Vegan Rice Paper Rolls

Something filling yet light, done in a jiffy! I had very little left in the fridge, just a bit of salad mix, but in the pantry I had some rice paper, vermicelli and dried gluten meat. So I put the 'fake' meat in a pot with a little vegetable stock (made with an organic veggie cube) and cooked it until soft. Then I cut it into little strips (actually, Arantxa did it - see photo).  I soaked the vermicelli in boiling water and then drained and rinsed them. To assemble the rice paper rolls you will need to line the table with clean tea towels, then soak the rice paper in hot water until soft, top with salad, the vermicelli and the gluten meat strips.

 To see how to fold the rolls (step by step) you can have a look here. If you have time you can fold the rolls adding herb leaves and flowers. Keep the rolls covered with a tea towel until ready to eat. Serve with soy sauce or sweet chili sauce.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Friday, March 21, 2014

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

How to make mascarpone at home

To make mascarpone at home you can use just cream or a mixture of cream and milk, plus citric acid. Lemon juice can be used instead of citric acid, and if you have lemons (preferably not Meyer lemons, but some more acidic lemons)  you can use lemon juice, but citric acid is easy to measure. Some bloggers make a similar recipe and call the result ricotta (or creamy ricotta), but don't be fooled, they are mistaken (or idiots) and this is NOT ricotta, ricotta is a totally different product made in a totally different way and with different ingredients. You can find a recipe for ricotta here or, even better, here

Mascarpone is delicious, rich and fat, it is used in many Italian desserts or cheese dishes (like torta di mascarpone and gorgonzola) and of course the more cream you add the highest the fat content.

I used 300 ml of cream and 200 ml of full fat (grey top) milk and 4-5 g of citric acid diluted in 50 ml of hot water (the lower the dose and the less 'lemony' the taste, but it is difficult to measure 3 or 4 g, just think of half a level tsp - and again, all teaspoons are not the same!). Gently bring the milk and cream to 85°C, and stir with the thermometer for 5 minutes (yes you will need a cheese thermometer), keeping the temperature constant. Add the citric acid and water solution and stir, turn the heat off and let it rest for 10 minutes. Place a sieve over a bowl and line with a clean cotton cloth (or even two if the cloth is too fine - do not use gauze or cheese cloth, you need something with a thicker mesh). Place in the fridge and let it rest overnight to drip the excess liquid away. In the morning the mascarpone will be ready! The longer you leave it the thicker it will become, so you can let it rest for a bit longer if you like, or stir it into a creamy consistency and store in a container with a lid until you are ready to use it (a few days only). 

Just eat it by the spoon with a little cocoa and sugar, or honey, really decadent!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Naturally green ideas for St Patrick's Day

Happy St Patrick's Day! Around this time of the year I see a lot of pins and posts full of green food which, sadly, tends to be full of… green coloring! Why? I like to take advantage of this celebration to propose that we eat more greens, and I mean natural greens! So, here to a healthy St Patrick's Day!

I'll start super healthy, with this super green juice with cucumber, celery and silver beet.

or more green juices if you like to add some fruit too:

Celery lemon and green apple
Cucumber, celery and green apple

And here one to detox if you drink too much Guinness!

For a starter I love a Garlic and cilantro guacamole, vegan and gluten free, and the kids love it too!

Garlic and cilantro guacamole

For a green main I love pasta with green sauces, like this Pasta with chive sauce

And here some more delicious vegetarian and vegan recipes

Cous cous with Broccoli romani

And for for dessert

Agar agar Feijoa jelly, vegan and gluten free

These little homemade marzipans are colored with spiraling, and topped with pistachio, a lovely green, vegan, raw and gluten free treat for a special occasion, or for a edible present. So here we are, lots of naturally green suggestions, Happy St Patrick's Day!
Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Next Saturday in Auckland: Glen Eden Food Festival, Free Entry

Finally a good, clean and fair Food Festival for everyone! Slow Food Waitakere has been working very hard with several West Auckland organisations and the Waitakere Ranges Local Board to create the first Food Festival in Glen Eden. 

Free Entry!

Come and enjoy:

Stalls from different local community groups to help you with all your gardening needs, from composting to free seeds to community gardening and even a produce swap. 

Free cooking demos by experts to show you how to prepare yummy and healthy food, preserve and bottle produce, make cheese etc., including Regina from Slow Food Waitakere dishing up some fashionable 'Pacific Beat' dishes (free tastings). Scroll down for the full demo timetable.

Live music and entertainment plus lots of kids' activities, including face painting and give-aways at our Slow Food Waitakere table.

Hot and yummy hot food from around the world cooked by the New Lynn Night Market WISE Collective Hub (former refugee women) for your Saturday lunch.

Glen Eden Food Festival Cooking Demonstrations

10:30-11:10    Cheesemaking workshop: Halloumi and Ricotta with Virginia Best and Madeleine Collins 
Madeleine Collins and Virginia Best will demonstrate making ricotta and halloumi at home using simple ingredients.  They will demonstrate how to cut the curd and press cheese.  You don’t need any fancy equipment to make cheese and this workshop will give you the confidence to make your own cheese at home.

11:15- 11:45     Preserving talk with Julie Craig of Oak and Thistle

Julie Craig lives self-sustainably in an urban environment and has done for many years. With a young family to provide for, Julie has learned the arts of cooking, preserving, jamming & jellying, herb growing and their uses, home gardening and livestock maintenance.

In this workshop Julie will speak about many aspects of preserving the harvest, from fruits and vegetables to herbs, extracts, and more.  Julie will teach you what you need to get started and give some great ideas for making your own basic equipment.  She’ll go through the steps of making healthy and tasty edible foods to keep on hand so that you can preserve at home.  There will be an opportunity to see examples of preserves and more, and have a taste of some of Julie’s deliciously preserved harvest.

11:50-12:20     Indian Vegetarian Cooking demonstration with Indira Vallabh

In this fun and informative workshop, you’ll come away feeling confident about preparing delicious, authentic, and healthy Indian dishes at home.  All dishes are gluten free and recipes will be provided.  Indira Vallabh is an experienced Indian cook and has a popular Indian Vegetarian Food stall at the Grey Lynn Farmers Market.  Indira will demonstrate a delicious vegetarian curry and either a raita or chutney as an accompaniment.  Tastings will be available at the end of the class.

12:25-12:55     Pacific Cooking demonstration with Regina Wypych of Pacific Heartbeat 
Regina Wypych of Pacific Heartbeat will bring a Pacific Island flavour to the Glen Eden Food Festival with two simple, delicious, and heart-healthy recipes.  The first dish, Vermicelli Chicken Lemon Salad, is a fresh zingy Pacific chicken salad.  The second will be a tasty Oka i’a, raw fish salad.  You will have a chance to taste both of these dishes, and recipes will be available to take home.

1:00-1:30    Simple Meals at Home with Peter Clifton-Sprigg of Vision West
Learn how to prepare “Pan Fried Moroccan Chicken Breast served with Mini Rostis and a Seasonal Dressed Salad” with chef Peter Clifton-Sprig of VisionWest. This impressive dish is cheap, fast, easy, nutritious, awesome tasting and beautifully presented, with lots of possible variations to try out at home. Ingredients will include fresh raw beetroot, carrots and parsnips or golden kumara, fresh chicken with a deliciously fresh seasonal salad including green, red, orange and yellow vegetables.

See you there!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Fresh juice using beetroot stalks and leaves….

… plus beetroots from the garden, carrots, apples, and a little ginger. For five juices I used about 1.5 kg of carrots, plus a few local apples, and i picked two beetroots from my veggie garden, they were small but the leaves and stalks are perfect for juicing too (of salad) so nothing get wasted. I used just a little ginger (not all the piece in the photo) to give the juice a little zest. It was really sweet and delicious!
And now, just because I like these flowers so much, here are a couple of shots of Hydrangeas from Ponsonby Central. Have a great day!

 Photos and recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Win double passes to the Oscar winning movie The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza) … Italiani, l'avete visto?

La Grande Bellezza is coming to New Zealand, read on if you like to win a double pass for this unique Roman experience!

Italiani, l'avete visto? Vi è piaciuto?

To celebrate the release of this year’s Foreign Language Film Academy Award Winner The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza) the Dante Alighieri Society of Auckland has five double passes to give away. To enter just click here and read the instructions. Competition ends Sunday 15 March, winners will be announced on Monday 16 March. NZ only.

About the film

Rome, in the splendour of summer. Jep Gambardella – a handsome man with irresistible charm, despite the first signs of ageing – enjoys the city’s social life to the full. A successful journalist and inveterate seducer, in his youth he wrote a novel which earned him a literary award and a reputation as a frustrated writer. He masks his disenchantment behind a cynical attitude, which makes him view the world with bitter lucidity. Weary of his lifestyle, Jep sometimes dreams of taking up his pen again, haunted by memories of a youthful love which he still hangs on to. But will he ever manage it? Can he overcome this profound disgust for himself and others, in a city whose dazzling beauty sometimes leads to paralysis?

View the trailer
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Cast: Toni Servillo, Carlo Verdone, Sabrina Ferilli 
Runtime: 142 min
Rating: M - Nudity

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Stuffed zucchini for vegans and for vegetarians - Zucchine ripiene

I have two zucchini plants in the garden, one yellow and one green. They produce a lot, the yellow three times more than the green (I don't know why) and we have been eating zucchini in 100 different ways: grilled, sautéed, fried and tempura, in soups, with pasta… fortunately they are very versatile!
Here I had a few big ones (sometimes I don't pick them for a day and they double overnight! But the important thing is that they don't get to the 'marrow' state - too big and bitter) so I decided to stuff them.
I cut them into two and scooped out the flesh. Then I baked the shells upside down with a pinch of salt and a drizzle of olive oil for 15 minutes. In the meantime I blended the zucchini flesh and then added chopped parsley and chives (about 1 tbsp), salt and pepper, a tbsp of olive oil and enough breadcrumbs to make a stuffing (add the breadcrumb one tbsp at the time so that you don't add too much). The zucchini were fresh from the garden and therefore they were very moist, so I needed more breadcrumbs, but if you buy them they may be a few days old and more dry, so less breadcrumbs are needed. I removed the zucchini from the oven, turned them up and filled them tightly with the stuffing. 
In the tray you can see also some zucchini slices, these where from 'regular' size zucchini, and I used them as side veggies.

Bake everything until the stuffing has a nice golden crust. If you are a Vegan you can enjoy them as they are, and if you are a vegetarian add cheese 5 minutes before removing them from the oven. The kids loved them, and they are so easy to make!

 Photos and recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Plum jam and the last of the summer sun?

It feels like summer is slowly coming to an end. I had the very last of the plums from the Oratia orchard and made some jam. I usually blend my jams as my husband like them smooth, but I prefer jams with chunks of fruit and peel in it, so I just remove the stone and cooked the plums with a little water and some jam setting sugar (this was a present, and I wanted to try it). The NZ jam tradition seems to be 1kg of sugar for 1 kg of fruit (or even more sugar if you make raspberry jam) for an Italian this is too much. I go for 40 to 60%, with the latter being my preference if I need to preserve the jam for a long time (it helps agains botulin). You can taste the fruit better with less sugar :-).

Finally I am getting sunflowers in the garden, now that summer is ending… well, I got three now, and they are my little personal suns!

And our cats, Nikita (left) and Marameo (right) are also enjoying the last of the sun, sleeping outdoors all day long! Marameo is 18 now, an old lady cat 

 Photos and recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©


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