Monday, 27 February 2012

Congo Bars

I have way too many cook books yet I've only ever followed a handful of recipes from them.  This is one of the handful.
This is a recipe from The Great Book of Chocolate by David Lebovitz, though he got this recipe from Flor Braker.

Of all the great recipes from this amazing book, I had decided to go for the seemingly easiest first.  I had never had congo bars, admittedly the name got me, I thought it'd be more exotic.  It's something like a cross between a brownie and a chocolate chip cookie... that kind of tastes like a biscotti as well.  It's good

150g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
450g light brown sugar
3 large eggs
285g flour
2 1/1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
300g dark chocolate chunks
150g mixture of toasted walnuts and almond flakes

Preheat oven to 160C.  Grease a large baking pan.

Mix the butter, sugar and eggs until well incorporated.  In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, then mix this mixture into the wet mixture and fold in the chocolate and nuts.

Spread the batter into the greased baking pan as evenly as possible and bake for about 30 minutes or until golden.  When cool, cut into bars or small squares and leave overnight before you eat them.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Butter Bean Hummus with Lemon and Basil

Oh I was just eating this with a spoon, t'was delicious.

Light, zingy and fresh.  Something to eat to distract yourself from the weather.  It reminds me of picnics.  I love picnics. I love the idea of a bunch of small cold dishes, some cheese, some salad, some hummus, some good bread.  Some olives, marinated tomatoes, fresh fruits. Altogether in a pretty little basket on the grass under the sun.  Light breeze, birds chirping, no insects, with some friends, some music playing magically in the background.  Oh I dream.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

White Cut Chicken (白斩鸡)

There’s this misconception that Chinese food is “unhealthy”, “oily” and “full of MSG”.  I remember my first experience with Western Chinese food in Italy.  I was horrified by the glistening dishes of vegetables and meats, smothered in rich, thick sauces. The thick, chewy spring rolls that have been fried and refried with a burst of oil in every bite.  The egg fried rice, oh the egg fried rice.  How do you make the egg fried rice so unhealthy?  How do you make it so frighteningly sticky and shiny? 

Look at the Chinese people that surround you.  No, we don’t have faster metabolism (I wish), nor do we have smaller appetites (my stomach’s a bottomless pit).  When it comes to obesity it really comes down to what you eat and the real Chinese diet is actually healthy and low in fat, that is why not many of us are overweight. I grew up in Beijing with a Chinese mother who’s very much of a health freak and so I got the essence of Chinese health foods.  So here I offer you a recipe of a dish I grew up with, hoping to break your falsified belief about Chinese cuisine.  A simple, healthy and economical appetizer, that would, contrary to Chinese restaurants’ beliefs, suit your Western tastebuds’ needs.   Oh and the best bit – you can find all the ingredients in your local supermarket without having to go to an Asian supermarket!

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Citrusy Braised Leeks

Yes, I'm in a leek phase now.  I go through these favorite vegetable phases.  I had never had leeks before I came here.

This makes a great side dish.  You've got the sweetness coming from both the leeks and the oranges, and the earthy nuttiness coming from the almonds.  These mellow flavors are then contrasted beautifully with the sharp hints of the zests of  lemons and mandarins, giving the dish more character.

Healthy, delicious and simple.  Everything I stand for.

Prep time: 5 min       Cook time: 15 min        Serves:  2-3      Suitable for:  accompanying a meaty main 

Half a large leek, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 stalk of lemon grass, bashed
Zest of 1/2 lemon
Zest and juice of 1/2 orange
1 small handful of almond flakes

Heat some oil in a pan, add your garlic cloves and lemon grass and fry for a minute before adding the leeks. Add 1/2 cup of water/stock and cover with a lid, let it simmer for about 15 minutes until tender.  Add the zests and the juice of the citrus fruits and the almond flakes.  Drizzle with some excellent extra virgin olive oil before serving.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Mediterranean Chicken with Onions and Leeks

I feel like a big ball of positive energy today.  You know those days where you just wake up happy? Today was one of those days for me.  And I realized, this is a positive cycle.  Me being happy will lead to higher productivity and people liking me better, which will in turn result in better outcomes, better essays, work, relations with other people, which would make me happier.  It's like a big multiplier effect of happiness.  And happy people make better food!

So ok, happy food resulting from a happy state of mind.  Chicken and leeks.  I've been eating more meat, it's been difficult to fight the carnivorous urge lately.  I like chicken, it's one of those meats that everyone likes.  It is healthy and it is cheap.  Chicken thighs - very cheap.  All about the budget and the diet lately as a college student.  

Prep time: 20 min        Cook time: 40 min         Serves: 2            Suitable for: a happy, healthy lunch

1 large onion, thinly sliced
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1/2 large leek, thinly sliced
4 chicken thighs
1 tsp herbes de provence
3 bay leaves
2 tbsp crumbled feta cheese
1 small handful of basil leaves

Fry the onions and garlic in a pan until translucent and add the leeks and the bay leaves.  Season the chicken thighs with salt, pepper and herbes de provence, and place it on top of the leek and onion mixture.  Cover with lid, turn the heat down and let it simmer for about 40 minutes until cooked.  Add the crumbled cheese and torn basil leaves and serve :)

Monday, 20 February 2012

Sun-Dried Tomato Bread

Hi.  I'm back.

It's been a rough week with not so much cooking, or at least not very delicious cooking that I felt deserved to be put up on Happy Belly.  Anyway, I'm over that now, and I've got 9 days for 9 more posts for February!  Challenge accepted.

So my come back will start with a nice sun-dried tomato bread.  I'm starting to get the hang of bread making.  I love how versatile it all is.  Every bread you make will be different, even if you follow the recipe to every detail.  It doesn't matter if it's a little too much flour, a little too much water, not enough resting time.  You always end up with a different result, you just have to keep trying until you know what you want.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Wild Mushroom and Apricot Ragout on Polenta Cakes

Aren't these cute?  I love fancy canapes.

I love sweet and savory things.  Mushrooms and apricots?  Well, whenever I think of matching ingredients I go to my bible, Niki's The Flavor Thesaurus .  This book is legendary.  It describes in extensive details all the wonderful ingredient pairings of the world.  It said apricots and mushrooms are like two peas in a pod so I trusted it and together in a pan they went.

Thank you Freya Gabbutt for the lovely photo by the way :)

Friday, 10 February 2012

Celeriac, Orange, and Cardamom Soup

Celeriac. Oh poor celeriac.  It's such an ugly vegetable.  It looks like the head of a sick bald man.  I know, I'm not making it sound particularly appetizing.  I see it every time I go to the vegetable shop and yesterday I finally decided to try this thing.

I don't think it has any distinctive taste actually.  Nor is it particularly nutritional.  It is high in potassium and vitamin c, but not so much so that it's much better than your other vegetables.

Oranges.  I love adding oranges to my vegetable soups. It's especially good in a broccoli soup, it adds that much needed sweetness and zing to your average boring soup.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Coconut Almond Truffles

These are quite sweet and rich, so make sure you make them small and you eat them with some tea or bitter coffee.
My mom drinks a cappuccino every afternoon and needs to drink it with a sweet. She can't drink it alone.  It's nice, other than that my mom's a total health freak whose diet consists mainly of soups and steamed vegetables.  Bless her, she's a great cook, just doesn't cook much anymore.  She used to love experimenting with recipes, but the only problem was she never noted them down.  She'd make it for the sake of making it and then just lose the recipe.  I suppose I got that from her, thank goodness for this blog.  I remember she had a coconut cookie phase and experimented with these recipes, oh how much I loved them. I remember bringing them to school and sharing it with my classmates --- it's still how I make friends today.  After awhile she's stopped and to this day I still have not acquired the recipe for those delicious, soft, chewy coconut cookies.

These are nothing like those, this is just coconut, almonds, condensed milk and vanilla.  Mmm healthy, I know.
400g desiccated coconut
1 can condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla

Mix the coconut and the condensed milk until well incorporated and then form into little balls. Put an almond in each of the ball and chill in the fridge until serving.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Fig and Almond Crisps

Second day of the second semester and I cut myself, burnt myself and slipped and fell on my bum in the streets -- fortunately no one witnessed the last event.  So not a great start to a new year -.-

New semester, new start.  I like to make resolutions to the start of anything.  New year, new academic year, new semester, start of the month, start of the week.  I feel like I can only make changes at the start of something.  Yea, so no diets for me on a Wednesday, no no.  Unless it's the start of a new month.  I start my diets on Mondays.  Ok, back to the new semester.  I need to go to the gym.  I need to keep the house clean.  I'm continuing with Economics... Every semester I tell myself I'll drop this miserable, stress-causing subject from hell, but..the Asian part of me that yearns to be employable in the future forces me to continue with it.  Especially this time I told myself that if I get into honors I'll continue, and I did.  Scraped by.  This semester -- if I get a 2-1.

Ok enough about my mundane life and life goals.

Monday, 6 February 2012

A Simple White Loaf

My God it's difficult to find a loaf of bread with a nice crust in this town.  I used to hate eating the crust of the bread when I was small, but now it's like, is there anything better than hearing that light, crisp sound as you gently squeeze a good loaf of bread?

This should've risen more... But what matters is the taste and it tastes great.  Nothing better than good bread and cheese.  My friends, Nat, Sarah and I often get together and indulge in decadent cheeses and pates and bread together.  These things that I used to take for granted in Italy, these things that are so incredibly cheap in Italy, so readily available at any deli, these poor man's foods... are just luxuries here.  I'm not used to these things being so expensive.  The delis here sadden me.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Matcha Almond Cookies

First of all, matcha is finely milled green tea. 

I actually made these ages ago. So I made a batch of cookies for my friend in Glasgow. Cookies are my go-to gifts for people because they’re so incredibly easy to make and so versatile. Unlike other baking, it’s not as much of a science (obviously depending on the type of cookies you make), so it allows a lot of room for experimentation. Find a good basic cookie recipe, leaving the ratio of the wet ingredients and dry ingredients relatively the same, and you can let your imagination go wild. 

I love matcha, Starbucks in China has this amazing matcha latte, which is essentially just matcha powder + sugar + hot milk. It can be an acquired taste because I find that it’s mainly us Asians that like it. The matcha latte – not everyone likes, but matcha flavored desserts are popular amongst all sensible people.

Matcha is complemented by delicate flavors, like fruits and soft spices. It pairs especially well with citrus notes, like lemons. Matcha and lemon zest are always together in my puddings. It’s like salt and pepper; Hans and Gretel; Mickey and Donald. I find one just lonely without the other. For these cookies I’ve experimented with the addition of cardamon as well. It’s always a safe addition to most desserts; it adds an exotic note that really spices up your dish. Try adding it to your average old custard or rice pudding.

When thinking about what ingredients go together just think about the ones that you can already find. With matcha, think about Twining’s wide green tea range – Green Tea with Pomegranate, Green Tea with Mango, Green Tea with Pear and Apple etc.

Prep time: 10 min  Cook time: 10 min  Makes: about 20 cookies  Suitable for: gastronomic gifts

½ cup flour
½ cup whole-wheat flour
1tbs matcha powder
pinch of salt
½ tsp ground cardamon
Zest of 1 lemon
110g butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup caster sucar
½ cup flaked almonds

In a large bowl, mix the flours, matcha powder, ground cardamon and salt. In a separate bowl, cream the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Combine the two mixtures with the addition of lemon zest and flaked almonds. And you’re pretty much done!

Form it into a block, wrap it in clingfilm and leave it in the fridge for a couple of hours to harden. Afterwards cut into half a centimeter squares, or rectangles, or whatever shape depending on how you shaped your block. Line the cookies on a baking sheet and put into a preheated oven of 180 degrees. Bake for about 10 minutes.

Mmm then you just get these green crispy gems that go beautifully with your tea, coffee or milk

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