Sunday, January 31, 2016

Fresh pasta with ricotta

Too hot to cook but I still feel like pasta, so the solution is fresh pasta, which doesn't take long to cook, just a couple of minutes boiling instead of 10-11 minutes. You can make your own fresh pasta (there is a recipe here) or if you are in Auckland you can go to Pasta & Cuore and bring home some really yummy super fresh pasta, made daily! And for sauce? Too hot to make a sauce too, but fresh pasta doesn't need much if it is good: top with some ricotta, cubed or crumbled, salt, black pepper, extra virgin olive oil and fresh basil leaves. If the ingredients are good you don't need many, nor big amounts.  Simple is best!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Andy Warhol - Ai Weiwei exhibition at the NGV

Ai Weiwei, Dropping the Han Dynasty Urn, 1995. The original work was in photos, this is the lego version

This is one of the best exhibition I have seen recently, I love Andy Warhol's work, and WeiWei too, so much of his work is about pots and everyday object, but also flowers, places, people, politics… and a full spectrum of media. Definitely worth a visit if you are in Melbourne, the exhibition is on until 24 April 2016.
Ai Weiwei, an installation from the Forever Bicycles series, composed from almost 1500 bicycles

Ai Weiwei, Grapes, 2011
Ai Weiwei, Blossom 2015,  a large bed of thousands of delicate, intricately designed white porcelain flowers

Ai Weiwei, Caonima Balloon Bird Balloon, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Andy Warhol, Silver Liz (Ferus Type), 1963
Andy Warhol, Absolut Vodka, 1985
Andy Warhol, Flowers, 1970
Andy Warhol,  Mao, 1972
Andy Warhol, Dollar Sign, 1981
Andy Warhol, Self-portrait, 1986

Photos  by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Vegan chocolate and coconut cream puddings with edible flowers

1 can coconut cream
1 l oragnic soy milk (I use Vitasoy, either Original, Milky or Calci Plus)
4 tbsp raw sugar
2 heap tbsp cocoa (the better the cocoa the better the flavour, so don't go for cheap baking cocoa, but for 'hot chocolate' quality)
2 tbsp cornflour
Natural Vanilla essence 
1 tbsp icing sugar
Edible flowers to decorate

Place the can of coconut cream in the fridge (possibly one day ahead). Dissolve the dried ingredients with a little soy milk to make a paste, then add the rest of the milk and mix well. Put on the stove on low and, always stirring, bring to simmering point. Make sure that you stir well, especially around the borders and bottom of the pot, so that the pudding has a smooth consistency. As soon as it start thickening turn the element off, add the vanilla essence (if using) and keep stirring until it has cooled down a bit. Divide into 8 dessert ramekins or small bowls and refrigerate. When the pudding is set open the can of coconut cream and scoop out the cream top, leaving the water at the bottom of the can (this can be added to other dishes, like curry or rice. Whip the coconut cream with a drop of vanilla essence and the icing sugar. Top the chocolate puddings with the whipped coconut cream.

And now for the flower decorations: choose only organic flowers, here we have borage, rose petals, violets, diantus petals (small carnations), calendula petals (pot marigold). Wash the flowers and petals with water, I let mine soak for white a while and shake them gently to make sure that there are no insects (this is a Vegan dish after all!). A few flowers or petals will suffice, as they are only decorations, although to be eaten. Refrigerate again so that the coconut cream set, and then serve.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A vegetarian meal from the garden and beautiful Waitakere (and tui)

I made a dinner for 4 for the garden: fried zucchini flowers (recipe here), 
borage bread cutlets (recipe here), fried sage (just fried the sage leaves 
with the leftover oil from the zucchini and borage fritters), fresh salad leaves, 
boiled new potatoes and carrots with herbs sauce 
(just mixed feta with basil and parsley). It was delicious, 
and such a satisfaction to grown my own dinner!                                                                                                               And now, And And now some photos from the Waitakere Ranges, where I live, 
and of a New Zealand native bird, the tui, eating nectar from flax flowers.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Gusto at the Grand in Auckland

For a night out in Auckland city and a good Italian Restaurant I would definitely recommend Gusto at the Grand in Federal Street. The head chef is the famous and talented Sean Connolly, the food is delicious, the portions generous and the service, lead by Edward Hurrell, is efficient, professional and friendly. Sometimes restaurants in hotels get mixed reviews, as some diners (and critics) are very interested in the look, furniture and atmosphere of the place. Me, I don't give a toss if the food is a real experience, like in this case. 

In fact i like to add that since I like to travel and these days I don't travel as much as I would like to, going to hotels to eat feel a bit like being away and makes a night out even more special! Also, I have to say that sadly the service in many New Zealand restaurants and cafes is so poor that is embarrassing, and when I go to the city centre and I need a coffee I try to go to some hotels just because I know that the staff there is really nice, coming from hospitality business schools, professionals!

But back to Gusto, and to why we liked it. To start I can say that I would have been happy even just with the antipasto: a caprese salad, Parmigiano Reggiano with olives and breadsticks, and focaccia bread, simply because it was all really 'Italian', even if only the Parmigiano and olives came from Italy and the rest was produced or made locally. The 'spirit' of the place is Italian, i.e. the ingredients are top quality, and they are combined, prepared and cooked in a way that feels respectful to that quality. 

The first courses were our mains (since we don't eat meat) and I really liked my choice: the Sardinian ravioli with potato, mint, pecorino, and sage butter, while Peter's choice (and favourite) was the Orgy of mushrooms and buffalo ricotta gnocchi. I also had the gnocchi when I dined and Gusto last month to meet Antonio Carluccio, and they tasted even better than the first time, so light and delicate, quite different from anything I have ever eaten before. BTW, Carluccio is a friend of Sean and very complimentary about the British chef, saying that he really understood what Italian food is all about!

Mmmh, I am still thinking about the Sardinian ravioli… but on to dessert! I was really full, but I heard so much about Sean's nutella bombolini that I had to try them! They come seven (7!) in a bowl, and the lovely Italian waitress (from Veneto) told me that she would put in a bag what I couldn't eat. I had one, nice and warm, and the remaining 6 I took home for the kids for breakfast, and they were very very grateful (they send their compliments Sean!). Peter had the panna cotta with rhubarb and strawberries, unusual the presentation in a deep plate, but probably twice the amount of panna cotta that you get in any other restaurant I have been! And it was delicious too.

So compliments to the chefs and staff, we will be back!

90 Federal St, Auckland, 1010

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Friday, January 15, 2016

There is something about Pinterest… or: how to make the most of your Pinterest Boards

I have reached 10,000 followers on Pinterest, and since this is one of my favourite social media (after this blog, of course!) I would like to share a few experiences and, hopefully, tips.

First of all I often read some advice from Social media 'experts' who say to differentiate, have unique boards, bla bla bla… not true in my experience! These six below are my most popular boards, and I can see that, no matter what, since the majority of pinners are women my age, flowers, cats and cupcakes still rule, together with popular food trends like Vegan food or eating flowers (in fact I have seen more interest in this Cooking with Flowers blog - much of it directed by Pinterest, in the past few months). Another popular board is a collective board that I have created for Props for Food Photography, it doesn't have many members but it does gets followers because it is… pretty?

And after the top 6 there are more animals and food! Butterflies and horses are very 'feminine' pins, more sweet things (and I think that often we feel content just at looking at pretty photos of cakes and macaroons), food trends like raw cuisine, gluten free, and words like Italian, Vegetarian and Pasta are bound to be winners, so my combined board does well even if it doesn't have as many pins as most of the others boards (need to work on this!). Photographic background for food, styling ideas and props is another popular one, and a great inspiration, plus I can put in there all the beautiful photos that I like but don't quite fit in my other boards.

Since I have over 120 boards I guess that some visitors often stop at the top, so keeping the most popular boards in a good top position makes sense, but also moving up theme boards during the year works well. I have just moved down the Christmas board, and substitute it with the Hearts board, thinking of St Valentine next month. Then Easter will come round, so I will make another change. Moving boards also keeps me interested, and that is the most important thing: Social Media work better if you like doing it!

So where do my pins come from? Many form my blog and many form other pinners, especially the pinners I follow. And this is the good part: I don't follow many pinners, I heard that the more people you follow the more followers you will get, but I tend to get overwhelmed by my home feed as it is, especially from the community boards. I don't want to give up the community boards, since they are mostly about food and they send lots of visitors back to my blog.

But I think that this year I will seek out a few more pinners to follow, I often seek them out among my own followers, thinking that we may like the same things.

A few pins come from my Tumblr and Instagram accounts, and I still feel uncomfortable pinning too much around the net, unless a site specifically invites readers to pin.

So, what are the most popular pins? Difficult to say since some go round the block a lot, but looking at the statistics from this blog I can say, more or less, what are the posts that get more hits directly from Pinterest:

This is probably the winner:

baked halloumi rolls

I am surprised since the photo is not that great and yet, when I tried to trace it, it has been pinned over and over again thousands of times now! I admit that I do love this recipe, which is more of an idea (of mine) rather than a recipe, and I think that simplicity was what won the top pin title here.

Season does play a part, and for the month of December most Pinterest visits came to this:

Home Made Marzipan Sweets

However, this particular post is also a popular Pinterest-driven hit all year round, possibly because it is sweet, raw, gluten free and vegan!

The same thing applies to this pin:

Home Made Marzipan Sweets

Again sweet, vegan and gluten free (albeit not raw this time) and pink with flowers too! But I think that the words Home Made are also good, there is a lot of craft and home made stuff on Pinterest!

In line with the 'home made' we have this other very popular pin…. 

How to Make a Rose Liqueur

… which makes me think that sweet, vegan, gluten free AND PINK are all good 'pins', together with the how to make, of course...

… and perhaps mason jars too? This is another favourite (both images in fact).

Picking, treating and preserving olives in brine, and olives marinated in olive oil and herbs

and I have to say that all the jams and preserves do well on Pinterest (home made factor again…).

Healthy food, especially raw juices and smoothies, are popular, this is my most visited (and it is not even my favourite!), plus was picked up on Pinterest by a raw vegan site as one of their top 10 smoothies, so hits now come from that site as well.

The joy of free feijoas, and feijoa smoothie

I could continue because there are so many more pins that work for getting visits, but I think that you got the idea now: these are the sort of topics that work for me in this particular media, and maybe they could work for you too, if you write recipes. I have just now upgraded my Pinterest Account for business to access the analytics, so maybe in a few months I can have even more insights to share.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Capsicum pastry rolls and sailing in Waiheke on board of Timetama

This is one of those creations that happened while using up leftover puff pastry and a bit of peperonata I had in the pot. The resulting dish was so pretty and delicious that I decided to share it, (Scroll down for the recipe) together with some colourful pictures of our recent trip to Waiheke on Board of Timetama.

Arantxa, Max and Milo in 2016
The same kids back in 2010!

The Hauraki Gulf is a beautiful place for sailing, and to me Waiheke is best seen from the water. I know that there are lots of Wineries and such, but I prefer the tranquillity of being on a boat and looking at the land, rather than the other way round. Also seeing the kids on the water, so confident (more that I could possibly be) and playful is just fantastic.

Playing and .... relaxing! We sailed to Rocky Bay for two nights of shelter, I am now getting more familiar with the coast, and I like walking on semi-deserted beaches and reserves. Yes, very few people around, but as soon as we went to a winery for lunch it all changed, it was packed with people and noise. The ferry to the island is always full at this time of the year, and although the island is quite big most people really seem to concentrate around the wineries/restaurants, or Oneroa village.
Not me, so here are a few pictures of peace and tranquillity!

Capsicum pastry rolls

You must use some cooked capsicums (bell peppers) for this recipes, and I had some peperonata ready:

2 yellow capsicums
2 red capsicums
1 green capsicum
1 garlic clove
half carrot
1 small celery stalk
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (plus more to drizzle at the end)
A little water
salt to taste (if the capers are not too salty)
chopped Italian parsley and fresh basil leaves, plus a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to finish

Wash and cut the capsicums into thin strips. Peel the garlic and cut into two. Wash and chop the carrot and celery into small pieces. Heat the olive oil in a pan and sauté the vegetables, then add the a little water and salt. Cover and simmer on the lowest setting for 45 minutes to one hour, stirring from time to time, and adding more water if necessary. Adjust with salt at the end, if necessary, and finish with some freshly chopped parsley, fresh basil and another drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

I then used some of the capsicum strips for my pastry rolls: I cut the puff pastry sheets in long strips and place a thin strip of capsicum on the border of each pastry strip (see photo) and then rolled it up.

To keep the rolls nice and round I place them in a mini-muffin pan, and used some mini-cupcake cases. I sprinkle the top with salt and dried herbs and baked everything at medium heat until the pastry was golden and puffy. Serve hot or cold.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©


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