Monday, 31 December 2012

Orange Almond Cake

Ok I took this out of the oven too soon so the center was a bit on the raw side... If it was cooked all the way through though, just as the edges were, it would've been a spectacular cake.  Just don't make the same mistake I made.
This is really similar to my Torta Caprese.  Both are almond cakes, one with chocolate, and the other with oranges.  This really caught my attention because it uses whole oranges -- peel, pit, seeds -- everything!  No waste.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Vegan Yeast Spelt Pancakes

Two things.  First, I finally got flax seeds.  I have now the perfect vegan pantry.  I've got my chia seeds, flax seeds, nutritional yeast, soya milk, a selection of nuts, dried fruits, seeds, and legumes.  I'm ready for my Vegan Challenge 2.0 in March! 

Second, finally was I able to enjoy something I've made to myself without any criticisms.  I'm done with sharing food with my parents.  I'm just going to cook for myself here now -- no more attempting at making other bellies happy while I'm here. I don't take criticisms well, nobody does, but I'm willing to take constructive criticisms if they're given well.

Now, let me give you a couple of tips when giving criticisms.

Let's say that the problem is the cake is too sweet. 

First give a compliment.  Begin with something good about the cake.  It can't be all bad.  "It's not dry at all."  "You can really taste the almonds."  "It's so soft and fluffy."  "It looks amazing."   Something.  Anything. 

Now.  You don't say "The cake is really moist, but it's a bit too sweet."  Change one word and it changes everything. 

"The cake is really moist, and maybe you could even add a bit less sugar next time." 

You see the difference between "but" and "and"?  You see? 
I hope you can all give criticisms this way.  No point in thrashing someone's self-esteem and trampling it on the ground.  Be nice.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Gingerbread Linzertorte

Is it weird to dream about the guy you like being gay?  'Twas very strange, very strange indeed.  In my dream we were having coffee along with one or two of his friends, and I had discovered all these things about him that made me like him even more --- like the fact that he was good with computers (it's a strange Asian fetish on my part).  Then later his friends mentioned that he was gay.  Maybe it's just a sign that it's not meant to be.  Honestly, he's funny, cute, and nice -- so yes, there's a high chance that he's gay.  

Anyway.  Moving along from my pathetic love life.   

I hope you had a lovely Christmas with roasts and stuffing, sides and cakes, wine and cocktails, and friends and family. 

Here's another Christmas dessert recipe. Now, I only had heart-shaped cookie cutters that I had bought as a silly 15-year-old in love, so this looks more like a Valentine's dessert.  You could technically substitute marmalade with something like strawberry jam and this would look very lovey dovey.  You could change the shapes according to the occasion.  This would've been ideal with Christmas tree or snowflake cookie cutters. 
The Christmas spirit was certainly lacking in Beijing, but you know what made my Christmas?  The fact that one of my readers actually used one of my recipes for her Christmas dinner.  I honestly couldn't be more honored :) 

So I hope it's not too late -- and I don't believe it is, since there are still Christmas trees around and Christmas carols played on the radio -- Merry Christmas to all regular Happy Belly readers and those of you who've just stumbled upon it now. 

with lots of festive love,

Maria x

Recipe from Martha Stewart
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup packed dark-brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
2 large egg yolks, plus 1 large egg white
1 1/4 cups best-quality store-bought jam

Preheat oven to 160C, with rack in lowest position. Sift flour, baking powder, spices, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add sugar; mix on medium-low speed until combined. Add butter; mix until incorporated, about 2 minutes. Add molasses and egg yolks; mix until dough comes together, about 30 seconds.
Turn out dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Roll two-thirds of the dough into a 12-inch round, 1/4 inch thick. Fit into a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Spread jam over bottom of shell; refrigerate until cold, about 30 minutes.
Roll out remaining dough between pieces of floured parchment paper to a 12-inch round, 1/4 inch thick. Transfer round with parchment to a baking sheet; refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes. Cut out shapes from round with cookie cutters. (If desired, reserve cutouts. Bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. and sprinkle tops with confectioners' sugar.) Transfer round to a baking sheet; refrigerate until cold and firm, about 30 minutes.
Lightly beat egg white; brush over rim of tart shell. Carefully slide dough round over shell; press edges to adhere. Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.
Bake until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling, 50 to 60 minutes*. Let cool completely on a wire rack.

*my pie only needed about 30 minutes. 

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Chocolate Almond Gingerbread Bûche de Noël

It's the 23rd -- hopefully it's not too late for some Christmas baking suggestions.

I've spent the whole day baking.  I made gingerbread cookies, I made a gingerbread marmalade linzertorte, I made a torta caprese, and I made this.  Yes, it took the whole day, and tomorrow I might just make another cake.  This is what I'm like on holidays.  Don't worry -- I'm not just going to have all these desserts sitting at home and have them slowly expand my waistline, no no.  I'm going to a Christmas party tomorrow night, and they told me to bring dessert.  It's a party of about 25 people, so  3, 4 desserts sound about right! Any excuse to bake.

I need to start getting paid for this though.  Chocolate, butter, cream, spices -- these all cost a fortune in China.  Normal dark chocolate for baking costs a minimum of £3 per 100g.  Cheapest butter is about £2 for 200g.  So my cakes all cost about £20 each to make.  I miss Europe.  I miss reasonably priced food.  China's cheap if you want to just live the Chinese lifestyle.  But I have needs.  I like cheese. Cereal.  Butter.  Chocolate. They're all imported here.  
Anyway. Happy thoughts. It's almost Christmas! What are you doing this Christmas? What do you usually eat for Christmas?  A big traditional Christmas dinner with a turkey and 10 different sides and all that? I've never had one of those.  We're not big on Christmas as a family unfortunately.. But tomorrow night should be fun. 

This was a special request by Gwen  -- I hope you have a wonderful Christmas with lots of yummy foods.  If you want any requests, just email me at or follow me on Twitter @MariaSisci or tell me on my FaceBook page www.facebook/happyxbelly.  #Shameless self promoting.

So here are step to step instructions on rolling.

After you've taken your sponge cake out of the oven, it should look like this
Now.  Get a large baking sheet, bigger or the same size as your pan and sprinkle with icing sugar.  Flip the spongecake out and lay it on top of this baking sheet.  Peel away the baking paper on top, and make a few slits along the edge of the short end which will be at the center of your roll.  About 1 inch, just enough to go all the way so that it almost goes through. 
Then with the help with the baking paper underneath, use it as a lifter to roll up the cake from the slit end. 
Roll it up all the way
 Make your filling, and then unroll the cake.

Spread the filling evenly over the whole surface.
Roll it back up. 

Cut a good bit off the roll at a sharp angle and attach it to the side.

Recipe adapted from here
5 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup golden syrup
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup caster sugar

250ml double cream
1/3 cup sugar or more to taste
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2 cup ground almonds

Chocolate ganache
200ml double cream
200g dark chocolate, broken into small pieces

-Preheat the oven to 160C. Grease a 12x17 inch (43x30cm) pan with butter, then line with parchment paper, and grease and flour the parchment paper.

-In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks until pale, about 4 minutes.  The batter should form ribbons when you slowly raise the beaters.  Add the golden syrup and brown sugar and beat until combined. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, spices and salt, Beat the dry ingredients into the egg yolk mixture until combined.

- In a clean bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add 1/4 cup of the sugar and beat until firm and glossy. Fold the egg whites into the batter until no streaks remain. Spread the batter onto the prepared baking sheet in an even layer. Bake for about 15 minutes, until lightly browned and firm to the touch.

-Get a large baking sheet, bigger or the same size as your 12x17 inch pan and sprinkle with icing sugar.  Flip the spongecake out and lay it on top of this baking sheet.  Peel away the baking paper on top. Make a few slits along the edge of the short end which will be at the center of your roll.  About 1 inch, just enough to go all the way so that it almost goes through.  Then with the help with the baking paper underneath, use it as a lifter to roll up the cake from the slit end. 

Make the filling:
-Beat the cream with the sugar until stiff peaks form.  Mix in almond extract and ground almonds. 

-Unroll the cake and spread the filling evenly over the entire surface.  Roll it back to the way it was rolled.

-Cut a bit off the roll at a sharp angle and attach it to the side

-Spread with your slightly firmed chocolate ganache.  Use a fork to give it that woody look. 

Chocolate ganache
-Heat the cream in a pot until simmering, then add your chocolate and stir until all is melted.  Wait for it to cool and firm up a bit before spreading it on the roll.  Use a fork to make it rough and wood-like.

-Dust with icing sugar and decorate with almonds and Christmasy things. 

Friday, 21 December 2012

Tomato and Egg Stir-Fry (西红柿炒鸡蛋)

After a long, dreadful, sleepless journey, I'm back in Beijing.

The thing is I just can't sleep on planes.  You know what it is? Babies. Stupid babies.  I've developed an ugly hatred for babies on planes.  To be fair, I don't actually blame them.  It must be painful with the air pressure, and I used to be one of those screaming babies on planes myself.  I blame the parents for bringing them. 

I see a simple solution to the problem -- charge extra for babies.  Babies fly for free -- they're essentially an extra carry-on.  They're crying hand luggage.  Yes, they don't take up any space, but they cause so much negative externality to the other passengers on the plane, that in order for your other customers to have a pleasant journey, you must reduce the number of crying babies on planes.  And the best way to change behavior involves money -- so by charging extra, people will think twice about bringing their 5-month-old's to the next holiday.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Baci di Dama (Lady's Kisses)

I should just carry cookies with me at all times.    I had my little box of cookies with me, distributing them to my friends after my exams, and then bam, as luck would have it, I ran into the guy I like and I was able to give him my cookies.  I think that made him like me a bit more as a person.  Hopefully. 
Baci di Dama are hazelnut/almond sandwich cookies from Piedmont in Italy.  They can either be made with hazelnuts or almonds, with chocolate in the middle.  I personally prefer the hazelnut ones, and I was going to make the hazelnut ones, but my hazelnuts disappeared, so I had to make do with almonds.  
They're called lady's kisses because apparently they look like kisses, sweet, no? I didn't tell that guy that though, I thought it might've been coming on a bit too strong. 

Recipe from Giallo Zafferano
makes about 40
150g hazelnuts/blanched almonds
150g flour
150 butter, room temperature
100g sugar
1 tsp vanilla
50-100g dark chocolate

If using hazelnuts, toast them in the oven at 180C for 10-15 minutes until fragrant, then rub off skin.

Ground the nuts in a food processor with the sugar.

Put the nuts, sugar and flour in a large bowl.  Cut the butter into pieces and add that into the bowl as well.  Using your hands, mix and knead until it forms a smooth dough.  Separate it into two chunks and flatten each into a disc, wrap in cling film, and leave in the fridge for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 160C.  Line two baking trays with baking paper.

Working with one disc at a time, leaving the other disc in the fridge.  Form little balls of about 5g each.  Use a scale like I did if you're a bit OCD like me.  Put them all on the baking tray, spaced apart and bake for 10-15 minuets or until the tops are golden brown.

Leave to completely cool

Break the chocolate into pieces and put them in a bowl.  Put the bowl over a pot of simmering water and stir until the chocolate melts and becomes smooth

Put a chocolate chip sized dollop of melted chocolate on the bottom of one cookie, and place another cookie on top, to sandwich the chocolate.  Repeat with the rest of the cookies.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Trout, Spiced Aubergine Purée, Salsa Verde, Fried Garlic & Anchovies

 There are days of revision where I just make a sandwich.  There are days of revision where I just buy a sandwich. Or a wrap, or a salad, or just some generic meal deal.  Well, yesterday wasn't one of those days.  Yesterday, I was determined to make myself a gourmet lunch, because I don't like how exams are compromising my meals. 

See. Sometimes I don't buy certain ingredients because I find them too expensive.  Pistachios, hazelnuts, pine nuts, fish, seafood.  Well, a pack of pine nuts costs the same as a ready-made deli wrap that I always get.  So I've decided to eat out less, cook more, and cook more extravagantly.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Saffron Biscotti

I have a pounding headache, I am sleep-deprived, and I am on the verge of being ill, but these are my happy cookies. 

These are Swedish saffron biscotti.  I love saffron.  It's a very dominating ingredient both in terms of appearance and flavor.  Just the slightest pinch of it can paint the whole dish into a bright, mood-lifting yellow.   I don't know how to describe its flavor...  It's unique and complex, and combines well with the more subtle notes of sweet orange and bitter dark chocolate in these cookies.

It's exam season and I hope these cookies brought much cheer to my stressed-out peers. I've been going around giving people these.  Yesterday I was in the library and a girl behind me was on the verge of a breakdown because she had just received her essay back and she'd discovered that she'd failed her module.  I felt so bad for her, I just wanted to give her cookies but I thought that would've been weird... But I think she needed a cookie...

It's a rough time.  It's exam season.  It's dark outside.  It's not even dinner time yet.  It's depressing.  I was just reading a BBC article on vitamin D deficiency in this country.


But let's redirect our attention from the window to these cookies. 

They're like little jewels of sunshine.  Yellow's just such a happy color, isn't it? And the Christmas napkin helps too. 

They're meant to be small, cute and dainty little Swedish Christmas biscotti, but instead I turned them into big rustic Italian ones.  The recipe below is the original one that also asks for pearl sugar for garnish, and I think it does add a nice touch, I just couldn't find it.  It also tells you to make them small and dainty. 

Recipe from Saveur
Makes about 40 cookies

3 cups flour

2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1 cup sugar

4 tbsp/60g unsalted butter, softened

1 tbsp. orange zest

1 tsp. saffron, lightly crushed

2 eggs

1/4 cup milk

3.5 oz / 100g dark chocolate, chopped
Pearl sugar, for garnish

Heat oven to 160C.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.
In a large bowl, using a handheld mixer on medium speed, beat together sugar, butter, orange zest, and saffron until pale and fluffy, 1–2 minutes.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition;
add milk and mix until combined.
Reduce mixer speed to low and add dry ingredients in 3 additions; mix until just combined.
Mix in chocolate, then transfer dough to a work surface.

Quarter dough, transfer each quarter to a parchment paper–lined baking sheet, and form each into a 12" x 1" flattened log; sprinkle each log with 1 tbsp. pearl sugar and refrigerate for 20 minutes. Bake 1 sheet at a time until lightly browned around edges, 30–35 minutes.
 Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes; repeat with remaining dough logs.

 Reduce oven temperature to 150C.
Transfer each log to a cutting board and, using a serrated knife, slice the logs into 1"-thick slices. Return slices to the baking sheet, cut sides up and spaced evenly apart, and bake 1 sheet at a time until light brown and dry, 15–20 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to let cool completely before serving.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Thai Chicken Lettuce Cups (Larb Gai Salad)

I'm only experiencing my second episode of winter blues of the year so far, which isn't bad.  It hit yesterday afternoon and it went on until this evening, so it wasn't very long either, unlike the first one that lasted for two weeks.  It's funny how big of an influence a person can have on you.  A silly boy ruined my day yesterday, but a nicer boy made my day today.

People don't understand the influence their kindness can have on people.  It may be as simple as a bright smile and a "how are you" that can really make someone's day.
 Try to be nice to everyone.  To your friends, acquaintances or the sales people behind the counter -- stop and ask them how they are, and be genuinely interested.  Everyone wants to feel important and cared about, and they feel that way if people ask them about themselves.  And smile.  Make an effort to smile.  The whole world does smile with you if you smile. 

Tuesday, 11 December 2012


Ok, I know, I know.  Anybody who knows what picadillo is will know that this doesn't look like picadillo.  Picadillo is a Cuban dish with ground beef with tomatoes and lots of spices.  This isn't ground beef, no.  I never buy ready-ground meat because usually the meat they use is just the bits and pieces that's left over and nobody wants.  My mom always goes to the butcher's, picks a cut of meat, and asks the nice butcher to mince it for her.  This is how it works in China and Italy and I assumed the rest of the world.  I went to the butcher's here today and he wouldn't let me do that.  He had that little meat grinder thing right behind him and told me that I could only do that if i wanted 3kg of meat. 
Does it work like that where you're from?  Oh things are just so difficult here food-wise.  And we only have one butcher's in town. 

Monday, 10 December 2012

Sage Wrapped Pork Medallions

They say you don't know what you have until it's gone.  And it's true.  I only really started consciously appreciating pork when I had started dating my exboyfriend who was muslim.  He never forbade me to eat pork, but, to be nice, I tried not to in front of him.  After we broke up, I went on a pork rage and started incorporating bacon into my breakfasts, pork sandwiches for lunch and pork chops for dinner. We're on good terms now, he even sent me a birthday present, which was so incredibly sweet of him.  It's funny, because after him, I had a thing with a Jew, then a thing with a vegetarian.  I really need to start dating men without dietary restrictions. 
This is easy and pretty. 

3 pork medallions
Sage leaves
A splash of white wine. 

Rub the pork medallions generously with olive oil, salt and pepper.   Pick out the sage leaves and one by one wrap around the sides of the medallions, trying to make them stick to the pork. 
Heat a pan on high.  When it's smoking hot, place the pork medallions in, add the splash of white wine, and fry for a couple of minutes, without touching them.  Then turn them over for a few more minutes.

Sunday, 9 December 2012


"Why are you baking if you're stressed?"
Some people obviously don't know me at all.  Exam in less than 24 hours?  Of course there's something baking in my oven.  

It's the holiday season so I was browsing through Christmas recipes and stumbled upon this Estonian Christmas bread called Kringel.  I honestly don't know the first thing about Estonian cuisine, I'm assuming it's heavily based on meat, potatoes and bread.   Anyway, kringel is a beautiful twisted bread with cinnamon and sugar, which takes minimal effort and time with simple cupboard ingredients, so it was the perfect baking project the day before my exam, that is 70% of the entire module, that is actually Microeconomics, my achille's heel.   Oh God.  I wasted my afternoon, I should've been studying.  I should be studying now.  

Friday, 7 December 2012

Sweet Potato & Brussel Sprouts Hash

It was my birthday two days ago, and I want to thank everyone for the birthday wishes, those that celebrated it with me, and especially those that gave me lovely presents!
I just turned 20.  I feel like a proper adult now.  There are still 19-year-olds in high school, but if you're 20, well, you should be out of high school.  I felt old for the first time just this summer when I found some of my younger cousin's friends attractive, and stopped and thought.. Wait, they're 16.  This is inappropriate.  It's weird because I'm often the youngest person in my social circle, but now that I'm in my 3rd year in university, I'm befriending younger people.  Hell,  I'm pretty sure my current crush is younger than me. Well, not that it matters anyway.  I'm currently just the embarrassing customer to him, but I won't go into that. 

Monday, 3 December 2012

Tofu Kimchi Dumplings

Maddy's the biggest fan of kimchi.  Kimchi's a spicy Korean condiment made with fermented cabbage, daikon, spices and lots of chili.  It usually contains fish sauce, so, sorry, vegetarians, but you can find vegetarian-friendly ones in specialty shops, I guess.   It's funny how loads of vegetarians are ignorant of all the things that contain animal products, but I won't spoil it for you... I actually typed out a list, but then deleted it because I felt mean.  So, yes, I won't spoil it for you.  Ignorance is bliss.  I'm giving you guys an imaginary pat on the back now.  

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Flourless Brownies

"Baking is the less applauded of the cooking arts, whereas restaurants are a male province to be celebrated. There's something intrinsically misogynistic about decrying a tradition because it has always been female.

I'm not being entirely facetious when I say it's a feminist tract."  -- Nigella Lawson
 It's funny, I've never really thought of Nigella as a feminist.  I mean, she's all about being the "domestic goddess" and cooking for the family, and over half of her audience is men who only watch her shows because she's a voluptuous woman who cooks and makes sex noises when she eats.  But she has a point here.  When people think about feminism, we generally go as far away from the kitchen as possible.  Only recently have we been celebrating women head chefs in top restaurants, but even with that, it's about..trying to take over men's jobs, it's women trying to more like men.  All these celebrity head chefs behave like stereotypical dragon ladies, because it's almost as if.. if they're not as tough, if they're more "woman"-like, then they'd lose respect in the office.  There's nothing wrong with being feminine, there's nothing wrong with feminine things.  Yes, denouncing something just because it's feminine is incredibly misogynistic.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Spiced Quinoa with Butternut Squash & Pistachios

I went through some of my earlier Happy Belly posts today and it's funny how different they are from the recent ones.  This started out as a proper food blog where every blog post was about the actual dish I made. Then slowly I started linking the food to relevant life anecdotes and next thing you know this somehow turned into a personal diary.
So let's talk about this dish.  It's not my recipe, I got it from Will Cook for Friends.  It's a healthy superfood salad full of protein and healthy fats.  It's, I suppose, inspired by Lebanese flavors, what with the pistachios and coriander.  Oh I should add saffron to it next time.  I love saffron.  Hell, I felt like it was such a splurge buying pistachios (£4 for a small pack), I might as well add saffron to this.  Saffron actually isn't that bad.  It's expensive but you use so little of it every time.  A tiny little box with like half a tbsp of it might cost you £5 but at the same time you only use such a small fraction of it each time that it would last you for quite a while.  These pistachios on the other hand...well this was half a pack right here. 

Ok back to the dish.  It's easy and versatile.  It's a salad, it is by definition just a jumble of ingredients so add what you want.  You can use cheaper nuts and you don't have to add saffron. 
I made this when my friend, Rachel, came for lunch.  I love it when friends come over for lunch.  Guys, don't be afraid to ask, I love cooking for friends, if you're good company, you can invite yourself over for a meal. 

Recipe from Will Cook For Friends
Serves 2
1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1/2 cup quinoa
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 garlic clove
1/2 cup pistachios, roasted and shelled
1/4 cup fresh coriander, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 180C.
Toss cubed squash with 1-2 TBSP olive oil, and a large pinch of salt. Spread in an single layer on a foil covered baking sheet, and roast for 15-20 minutes, or until fork tender. Shake or stir the pan once during cooking.

In a small pan over medium heat, saute garlic in 1 TBSP olive oil until golden and fragrant. Rinse the quinoa under cold water, drain, then add to the pan. Add the vegetable broth, coriander, and cumin, and bring to a boil*. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and let cook 12-15 minutes without lifting the lid. Remove from heat, and let stand for another 5 minutes. Remove the lid, and fluff quinoa with a fork.

Stir in chopped cilantro, pistachios, and the squash. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and cayenne. Serve.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Butternut Squash and Coconut Soup

 Okay, before talking about this beautiful soup, I need to talk about Twitter.  As you (should) know, I got a Twitter account a couple of days ago, and  I'm having mixed feelings about it.  On one hand, omg, I tweeted with Nigel Slater, he acknowledged my existence, I'm one step closer to becoming his apprentice.  On the other hand, I honestly don't have that many interesting things to tweet about.  Every now and then I eat or cook something interesting, but what else?  I feel like I'm just being a nuisance popping up on people's newsfeeds with my mundane daily activities and uninteresting opinions on trivial things.  I'm still getting the hang of it.  But other than having a conversation (yes I'm calling it a conversation) with Nigel (yes I'm going to assume we're on first name basis now), the other highlight of my twitter experience is my friend, Ahmed, tweeting about Happy Belly!  I'm still so surprised that some of my friends actually read Happy Belly.  I can see how many page views I have but I don't actually think people read this, which is why sometimes I get really personal and start spewing all my problems here.  If I have regular readers who are not my friends, it's kind of creepy, because they know a lot about me...

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Healthy Coconut Banana Bars

I was thinking about post-uni plans as I was eating these breakfast bars today.  Actually, I had this realization a couple of days ago.  It's that time of the year when all 3rd year university students are busy with internship applications, especially the economists -- and I may be the only one in my year that still hasn't filled out a single application form.  Most economic students are expected to go into banking or accounting or other dreadfully dull, high-paying and soul-sucking jobs.  I can't do it.  In all honesty, it's not like I haven't tried applying to them.  I've half-filled application forms, it's just always difficult when I get to the "Why do you want to work with us?" part.  I honestly cannot think of a legitimate reason why anyone would want to go into investment banking other than to have a bank account equivalent to an all-you-can-eat buffet.  Up until this year I was pretty much set on going down that grim path.  I knew I was going to hate it, but it just seemed like the logical thing to do.  I thought a high-stress life would suit me just fine, and 14 hours of work a day with no sleep would be fine --- all a small price to pay for a gorgeous flat in the center of London and unlimited amount of useless designer bags.  Then something hit me. I think what really changed my mind was my friend.  I had coffee with him and he's only a first year, and he was telling me of his plans in the investment banking world.  And it just made me so sad. 
 You know what I want to do with my life? What I really want to do and probably never will? 

I want to open up a cafe.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Spiced Onions, Chickpeas & Mashed Carrots

Ok, after a week of just self-loathing, this morning I woke up beaming.  I had the post-Thanksgiving glow.  Ok, when I first woke up I was feeling bloated and disgusted with myself for having eaten half a turkey last night, but then, I felt fantastic.  The sun was shining (even though it was short lasting) and everything was good.  I had just had a mini conversation with Nigel Slater on Twitter (highlight of the entire semester), my sister had sent me a whole box of cinnamint gum (which I'm addicted to), my kitchen was (and still is) clean, and everything is good. 
Nigel had tweeted about his dinner, which was essentially this, except that he had used black eyed peas instead of chickpeas.  And then I tweeted him and asked how he made it, AND HE TWEETED BACK! Bless.  And so here. Thanks for making my semester, Nigel. 
Oh and happy belated thanksgiving! 

Serves 1
2 small carrots, peeled and chopped into chunks
1-3 tbsp milk/cream
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 can chickpeas (about 170g), drained
1 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 tsp ground coriander seeds
1/2 tsp chili 

Peel and chop the carrots.  Steam until tender.
While the carrots are steaming, chop or slice the onions. 
Heat a bit of oil in a pan and add 1 tsp of  mustard seeds.  When they start popping, add the onions and chili and fry for 5-10 minutes, adding oil when it gets dry.
Season the onions and take them out, reserve.  In the same pan, add more oil, add 1/2 tsp of mustard seeds and the ground coriander, when they start popping add the chickpeas and just fry for a minute or two until warmed through. Season.
Put the carrots in a food processor and add the milk/cream bit by bit until it reaches your desired consistency.  Season.
Serve by placing the carrot mash on the plate first, then top it off with chickpeas and finally the onions.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Chocolate Salami

I remember making one of these with nutella once when I was small.  It was from one of the first cookbooks I've ever owned, and it was just a thin hardcover book filled with nutella recipes.  I remember being in my grandmother's kitchen in their seaside house and mixing the digestive biscuits with the nutella and butter... This must've been at least 10 years ago since I haven't been to that house since my grandfather passed away.   It's funny how we have such vivid memories of the most random events.

This is making me rather nostalgic.  You know those stereotypical big Italian families that spend a lot of time together?  That was us every summer in Southern Italy at the seaside house.  I never really appreciated it when I was younger.  It was always my grandparents, my aunts and their families, plus our family, so it was 14 people going to the beach together, or dining out in restaurants and at home with a ridiculous amount of good food and good laughs.  Then in 2003 my grandfather passed away and we stopped going to the seaside house. 

Things deteriorated even more after my grandmother had a stroke a few years later... and then she passed away this summer.  It was only then did we all finally get together again, the 12 of us, for lunch.  It was my cousin's 18th birthday, and it was the first time in years that we were all together and probably one of the last times.  Here's my big Italian family.  Excuse the bad quality, the waiter was absolutely useless. 

I made the chocolate salami for the weekly Psychology Society lunches, and used melted chocolate instead of nutella.  And I added a bit of almond extract, which adds a really nice touch to it.  Try adding rum or vanilla or spices like cinnamon or chili, or maybe coconut milk hmm. 

Recipe adapted from Giallo Zafferano 
200g good quality dark chocolate
150g good quality butter, softened at room temperature
300g digestive biscuits
1/2 tsp almond extract
100g sugar
2 eggs

Break up the pieces of chocolate, place them in a bowl and melt over a double boiler (i.e. put the bowl over a small pot of simmering water.  The bowl should not come in contact with the water, so not too much water in the bowl).  Leave to cool
Meanwhile, mix the sugar into the butter in a bowl with a spatula and mix in the eggs and almond extract
Mix in the cooled chocolate (not so cool that it hardens obviously).
Break the digestive biscuits into pieces and fold that into the chocolate mixture
Put the mixture onto a large sheet of parchment paper, roll it up and twist the ends
Place in the fridge for at least 2.5 hours to harden
Open up and slice into pieces to serve

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Curried Brown Rice Skillet

Just to exacerbate things, my iPhone took a hard blow today and the screen shattered.  It was already cracked, but now a bit of the screen is actually missing.  It's probably somewhere on my kitchen floor.  Yes, it happened while I was making this. 

If you've read my last two blog posts you'd know that I'm currently an emotional wreck.  I really shouldn't be allowed to post on Happy Belly when I'm like this. 

On another note, I got a Twitter account.  I probably should've gotten a Happy Belly one.  I don't have the slightest clue what to do with it.  It's just like a series of status updates isn't it?  I've always felt like my life isn't interesting enough to have a Twitter account.  I've always found people who update their Facebook statuses with meaningless little mundane daily activities incredibly self-absorbed.  I don't even know how it works.  I've decided just to use it to follow people.  I retweeted and replied to one thing about this exhibition.  I don't know what else I can tweet about, I thought I'd be able to tweet about Happy Belly but I don't know how that yet.  You know what else?  It's almost like a popularity contest, isn't it?  Right now I have no one following me which is really upsetting. 

Anyway, this was adapted from Naturally Ella.  It was originally with butternut squash but I didn't have any, so this was a nice staple recipe. 

Serves 2-3 
Recipe adapted from Naturally Ella 
1 onion, diced
1 garlic, minced
1 1/2 tbsp garam masala 
1/2 cup chickpeas
1 cup tinned chopped tomatoes
1 1/4 cup vegetable stock
1/2 cup short grain brown rice

In a cast iron skillet, heat some olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add onion and garlic and fry for 10 minutes until it begins to caramelize.
Add garam masala and rice.  Stir until the rice is all coated with the garam masala.
Add the chickpeas, tomatoes, and stir until tomatoes begin to boil.  About 3-4 minutes. 
Add the stock, bring it to a boil, and turn the heat down.
Leave the rice alone, let it absorb all the liquid, about 45 minutes.
Remove from heat and let it cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Sun-Dried Tomato Crackers/Flat Breads

I'm actually bored.  I had a horrible realization yesterday afternoon in the library as I was wallowing in my sorrows.  I had submitted my last piece of coursework for the semester and I didn't know what I would do the next day.  I didn't feel like working, so I didn't want to go back to the library, and I don't like staying at home.  I didn't know where to go.  It's been so long since I last.. didn't have to go to the library, that I actually didn't know what I would do if I wasn't going to the library.  It's not that I don't have friends, it's just that they still have coursework.  So last night I stayed up and looked for things to do in Edinburgh and wrote down a list of galleries that I wanted to visit.  I came here, actually worked a bit, caught up on some Psychology stuff, went to the galleries, and now I'm in a cafe, bored.  I need more friends.  I need more friends in Edinburgh.  I practically only have one friend in Edinburgh who's currently not replying to my request for company for dinner.  I don't mind dining out alone, I do it often enough, but it's between now and dinner... It's dark already, but it's only 17:00, I should wait until 18:30 at the earliest.  That's 1.5 more hours.  So I'm updating my blog, in dire need of friends and entertainment of some sort.  Again, winter and hormones. 

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Coconut Brioche Snails

I'm aware of the inappropriateness of all this.  This is a rather depressing post for such beautiful brioche snails.  I hope it doesn't put you off and so I warn you, skip to the recipe first.  I had made these over the summer and they were a huge hit with my family.  Perhaps if I had one now I'd be in a better mood.   

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Home-Cured Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Had some difficulties back home, but then this morning I hopped on a bus to Edinburgh and it was sunny and oh when I'm in sunny Edinburgh I'm just a ball of sunshine myself. 
I almost never buy those jarred sun-dried tomatoes, not even in Italy.  They'll never be as good as the ones you make at home. The key lies in the olive oil, really.  Unless you pay an extortionate price, the olive oil used in commercial sun-dried tomatoes are never good quality.  So for this, please use the best olive oil that you can afford.  Trust me, it will be worth it. 

Friday, 16 November 2012

Overnight Chocolate Coconut Oats and Chia

Happy Belly's been a bit..inactive in November.  So what have I been doing in November, not updating Happy Belly?  Work. Work, work work.  Not even academic work. Ok, yes academic work, but the past three days have just been surreal.  I was working from 8 to 22, walking about 7, 8 miles a day, meeting and talking with the most fascinating people, not writing my Econ essay, and falling behind on both my Microecon class and Cognition class. 

All I can say is, expect good breakfast recipes in the next couple of days and not much else since I'll be leaving the house after breakfast and then only coming back from the library after dinner.

This is one of those power breakfasts that will get you through the day.  It's like an overnight oatmeal dish but with the addition of chia seeds for that extra boost of healthiness.  Coconut and chocolate are two flavors I always enjoy together, but do what you will -- add nuts, honey, dried fruits, coffee and whatever you like in the morning. 

Friday, 9 November 2012

How to: The Best Scrambled Eggs [Happy Birthday Jess]

HAPPY BIRTHDAY JESS!  I've talked about my lovely friend, Jess, before, and I think I've yet to mention her and her celebrations.  She loves her Thanksgivings, Christmases and Halloweens, but above all, she loves her birthdays.  She loves her birthday like a child loves her birthday.  It's adorable, it really is.  She begins reminding everyone of her birthday weeks in advance, and so obviously, for someone such as her, it's important to not disappoint when the big day comes. 

She had come over for brunch, and unfortunately I didn't take photos of any of the things I cooked.  While there were many components to the dish, today I want to focus on scrambled eggs, which is always a nice thing to have for brunch.  And I found a pretty sketch of it from Debra Morris! 
People think it's such a simple thing to make, but it's so easy to screw up.  I had worked in a pub over the summer and they made horrible scrambled eggs, the ones that taste like rubber because it's so over cooked, you know?  I follow Gordon's sublime scrambled eggs recipe, and it never disappoints.  I've cooked it for several people for breakfast, and it always amazes them.  It's so velvety, creamy and as he says, simply sublime.  It really is only three ingredients -- eggs, butter and crème fraîche.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Chickpea Flour Wraps

And I got chickpea/gram flour finally.  I saw loads of recipes with chickpea flour before, but never took note of any because I thought, well, don't have chickpea flour, nowhere to get chickpea flour in this small town, no need to save the recipe.  Well, if you've been reading my blog, you know that I just went to Edinburgh and went to a health shop -- and I bought chickpea flour. 

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Breakfast PB Chia Seed Pudding

I had always wanted to buy chia seeds.  They're really healthy and they're always found in a lot of vegan recipes as an egg replacement.  I mean, "in terms of nutritional content, a tablespoon of chia is like a smoothie made from salmon, spinach and human growth hormone" says this guy on the bbc
Of course, I had always thought that they were a bit out of my food budget, being 12 pounds per bag, so I never saved any of those healthy chia seed recipes as I thought I'd never get chia seeds.  Then I went to this health store with the friendliest people.  This is, by the way, unpaid advertisement.  If you happen to find yourself in Edinburgh, go to Jordan Valley Wholefoods.  In addition to all the wholefoods that they have, they make amazing quinoa bars and flapjacks, amazing hummus, baba ganoush, spinach and lentil pate, and a huge array of falafels.  I had the pleasure of talking with the owner's son and another girl.  They're really nice people.  I mean people that work in such stores are usually just friendly, peaceful hippies, but these people are especially nice.  Just from chatting with them for a bit, they gave me free baba ganoush, hummus, and a super falafel (with like a bunch of nuts and pomegranate seeds).  The next day I went back, and I got free lentil pate and more hummus.  So now I feel obliged to return to bring more business to them every time I go to Edinburgh. 

Monday, 5 November 2012

Parmesan Celery Salad

Whoa I'm behind.  First November post on the 5th, not good, not good.  I had a mini holiday.   I went to Edinburgh for three days, splurged and didn't do any work.  As guilty as I feel, since I'm behind on so many things, it was fantastic.  I really needed it. 
I haven't been cooking much lately because..well.  See this is the problem with having a public blog, I can't really say whatever I want.  I can't really rant about certain people and situations involving certain people, so I'll just talk about this delicious salad.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Broccoli and Feta Cheese Pie

I wish I had something more Halloween-appropriate for today's post :/  Last year my flatmates and I had an amazing Halloween party where we had made lots of Halloween party snacks. If I'm involved in a party, there will always be homemade food.  No chips and supermarket-cupcakes.  I miss my flatmates, Jess and Sarah. 

Anyway, I'll keep this short and sweet because I'm not at my best today.  The days are starting to get gloomier and gloomier here, and certain people are stressing me out more and more.  
 This is a broccoli and feta cheese pie with a whole wheat crust.  You know me, always trying to be healthy.  I feel bad because the whole wheat crust recipe isn't mine, yet I don't remember where I got it from.  I usually copy and paste the url but I forgot :(  So, it's not mine. But enjoy.  I'm really fussy about these things because I had to write an essay on copyright last year and did a lot of research and stuff.  Being accused of plagiarism is one of my biggest fears. 
Whole Wheat Crust
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup plain flour
1 tsp salt
113g (1 stick) butter, very cold, cut into cubes
4 tbsp cold milk
1 egg yolk plus 1 tbsp of water for egg wash

Broccoli and Feta Filling
2 heads broccoli, finely chopped
150g feta cheese, crumpled
1 onion, finely chopped
1 large clove of garlic, minced
2 eggs
pinch ground nutmeg
Make the pastry
You can either do this by hand or in a food processor.
In a food processor: simply first put in the flours and salt, pulse a few times to mix that, then add the butter and milk and pulse a few times more until it comes together as a dough.
By hand: first mix the flours and salt together in a bowl.  Run your hands under cold water so that they become cold, and mix the cubed butter and milk into the flour until it becomes like coarse breadcrumbs. Don't over mix.  Then just try to press everything together so that it becomes a dough. Wrap in clingfilm, put in the fridge and let that rest for at least half an hour. 

Make the filling

-In the mean time, fry the onion in a large pan with some oil until it becomes translucent.  Don't let it color.
-Add the garlic and broccoli and fry for about 5 minutes, adding water if it becomes too dry

-Let the mixture cool, and then add the two eggs, nutmeg, seasoning, and mix well

-Take the dough out, roll it out so that it's a few inches bigger than your pie dish. Carefully place the dough into the pie dish (an easy way is to roll the dough onto the rolling pin, so that it's wrapped around it, and then unroll/unwrap it out onto the dish).  If you have a lot of dough hanging out, then cut it off and use for decoration if you wish. 
-Pour the filling in. Decorate with remaining dough if you want, and brush the pastry with the egg wash (whisk together the yolk and water)
-Put in a preheated oven of 180C and bake for 30 minutes. 

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