Monday, 30 April 2012

Parsnip and Orange Pie with Granola Crust

So this was my thought process:  pumpkin pies -- I love pumpkin pies but I wanted to make it with something different. Another similar root vegetable perhaps, oh carrots! There are carrot cakes, carrot desserts, it would work beautifully in a pie.  Mmm I love carrots roasted with parsnips, you know what, in fact, parsnips are even sweeter than carrots.  Parsnips in a dessert? So I googled, and you know what, I wasn't the only one, there have been other parsnip pies.
Ah then came another vision.  Now I wanted to make it I've been eating nutella and jam and peanut butter out of the jar (I'm not exactly at a high point in my life at the moment), so I felt the need to make the pie slightly healthier.  So instead of the normal buttery shortcrust I decided to make a crust with oats and honey and dried fruits and then I realized -- that's basically the composition of a granola bar! So I whizzed some up in the food processor, added some more oats and honey to adjust the consistency and let me tell you, it was delicious.
So parsnips in a dessert.  I have to say, when you first have it, it's not..amazing.  It's not bad.  It's interesting.  It can be overwhelmingly parsnipy. But. I swear, the more you have it, the better it gets.  The particular taste does grow on you.  And the crust, oh I just loved the crust.

Pie filling
2 cups cooked and mashed parsnips
zest of 1 orange
juice of 1 orange
1 cup of greek yoghurt
1 cup of cream cheese
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs

granola bars

Preheat oven at 180C.

Make the crust by whizzing up granola bars.  All granola bars are different, so add some more oats or honey to get the perfect consistency.  It should just hold together as a dough.  Line a pie dish with greaseproof paper and press the granola mixture down.

Make the filling by putting all the ingredients in a food processor -- have it silky smooth.  Put in pie dish on top of the granola crust and bake for 40 minutes.  

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Red Wine Rice Cake

I love cooking with alcohol.  A dash of white wine as you're grilling your fish, a dash of red wine as you're panfrying your steak, a dash of rum as you're mixing the batter for your cake -- it does miracles.
If you haven't yet, go watch Two Greedy Italians -- a wonderful program about two cute old Italian men travelling and eating around Italy.  In the Calabria episode, they made an orange rice cake. Mmm I was too curious, so I had to make my own version of it.  Oh they also made a sweet blood pudding made with flour, cocoa, sugar and pig blood.  Curious. Yes.

Oh and this cake gets better the next day.  Wait if you can and eat it the next day, or even the day after.

200g arborio rice
175g caster sugar
400ml milk
300ml dry red wine
1 cinnamon stick
5 eggs, separated
a dash of rum

Heat the milk, cinnamon stick, sugar and wine together in a pot.  When it begins to boil, turn the heat down to low, pour in the rice, cover and let simmer for 15-20 minutes.  Leave to cool
Preheat the oven to 180C.  Whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Whisk the yolks in a separate bowl with a dash of rum or whatever liquore you have at hand.  Stir in the cooled rice, then gently fold in the egg whites.  Pour the mixture into a greased cake tin and bake for about 40 minutes

Friday, 27 April 2012

Limoncello Flans

After weeks of gray skies, long showers and cold winds, I realized, you know what, life isn't too bad.

Sometimes life gets you down.   Small things, usual things, expected things, perhaps. They pile up like a landfill inside of you all at once.   And they weigh you down.  You become unproductive and useless as a human being, a waste to society.  We've all had those moments, or days, weeks, or even months.  It can seem so difficult to pull out of these periods of slump and recession.  So difficult to pull yourself out of bed and do something with your life.  But you know what, today I realized life isn't too bad.  It may sound silly, but I came to this realization at dinner with food and friends.
Good food and loving friends.  When you're away from home, soaked in rain and you've hit rock bottom -- good food and loving friends.

These are limoncello flans -- just like lemon flans I suppose, but with an exciting kick (life also isn't too bad when you've got alcohol).

100ml milk
100ml limoncello
1 tsp vanilla
3 eggs
45g caster sugar
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 lime
1 tbsp lemon juice
lots of love

Preheat oven to 160C.
Beat the eggs with sugar until frothy and whisk in all the other ingredients, but reserve some zest of lime and lemon.  Pour into ramekans.  Line a baking tray with a towel and place the ramekins on top.  Fill the tray with about an inch of hot water and bake for about 40 minutes until set.  Take out ramekans and top with zests.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Mini Savory Roulades

Well, I suppose this is more about the presentation.  Quite cute aren't they?  Instead of your usual mundane crostinis that you serve in cocktail parties, why not put the topping into a mini roulade?  You could even stick in a fancy cocktail stick to knock it up a notch.
make use of sandwich bread.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Rosemary and Chocolate Polenta Crackers

I love nice crackers with my cheese.  Apricot and hazelnut, black olive, chili and sun-dried tomato -- perfect balance of sweet and savory that complements beautifully with your choice of cheese.  But they're one of those over-priced things that can be consumed in 10 minutes, leaving you still hungry.  So I set out to make my own crackers.
Rosemary is often associated with savory dishes, with your rack of lamb or your crackling pork belly.  It has a robust, woody flavor that stands out in a roast.  Chocolate, on the other hand, is often marked as the queen in the world of sweets.   Together they have an interesting love affair.  Good on their own but have it with a piece of cheese -- it's a good supporting act for the star of the show.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Thai-Spiced Mushroom and Tofu Stir-Fry

So.  Two things are currently on my mind.  A.  I miss Asian food.  B. My computer's throwing a tantrum, my trackpad no longer works.  Currently using my flatmate's computer as I feel like updating my blog is the only thing that can keep my mind off of my computer.  Poor Macky.  Maybe he'll be ok in a couple of hours.
So.  I'm going to focus on A, Asian food.  The basis of many Thai dishes is the combination of garlic, ginger, lemongrass and chili. Then you can probably make it into a creamy curry by pouring in some wonderfully silky coconut cream.

1 stalk lemongrass, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1cm piece ginger, finely chopped
1/2 red eyed chili, finely chopped
300g firm tofu, drained and patted dry, and cut into cubes
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
a small bunch coriander

Fry the lemongrass, garlic, ginger and chili in plenty of oil for a couple of minutes.  When fragrant, add the tofu and the mushrooms, be careful as to not scramble the tofu.  Season with fish sauce, and finish off with some chopped coriander.  

Friday, 20 April 2012

Cardamom Polenta Cookies

Nigel Slater said that if he was stuck on an island with just one spice he'd pick cardamom.
Yea, Nigel and I are just meant to be.  I love cardamom.  I've never been to India but these cookies taste like India to me.  Hot sunny India.  It's so difficult to not talk about the weather here, I mean, i finally understand the British obsession with the weather, I'm obsessed.  I check the weather forecast every single day.  I don't know, it's like I'm purposefully upsetting myself.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Matcha and Marzipan Bread Pudding

I hate wasting food.  My father's voice resonates in my head whenever I stand over the bin with a plate of leftovers. "There are kids starving on the streets, Maria."  And as always, he manages to make me shiver in guilt.  Thankfully somebody one day thought of the idea of a bread pudding.  It's genius.  Only recently did I discover the difference between a bread and butter pudding and a bread pudding, actually.  This is a bread pudding.   It's not a rich and horribly sweet dessert overloaded with butter and sugar.  It's an afternoon tea snack, a part of your breakfast, or just something to satisfy your sweet tooth anytime of the day.
You can get so creative with bread puddings.  I love matcha.  It makes me really homesick since I used to always have these delicious matcha lattes in the Starbucks in Beijing.  I write this with a look of unadulterated contempt on my face as it's pouring rain outside.  I don't know where my beautiful Scottish spring is.  I miss home, where, according to my dashboard weather forecast, is sunny and 16C.

But it's ok.  When the weather isn't ideal, we can make means with other things like good food.  Happy belly = happy mind.  First, imagine the taste of this if you will. You get the pronounced marzipan together with the mellow matcha notes, and then you get bursts of sharp citrus tang coming from the candied peel.   Imagine the texture -- first, the toasted bread and almond flakes provide the crunch, then a thick layer of soft and moist sponge.  Now, imagine eating this with a cup of warm tea or a glass of wine in your room, overlooking the gray showers outside your window.  It makes it better.

250g stale bread
1 1/2 tbsp matcha powder
300ml milk
1 egg
50g marzipan
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp mixed candied peel
1 tbsp almond slices

Preheat oven to 180C.
Tear the bread up into bite size pieces.
Whisk the milk, egg, sugar and matcha together and pour over the bread. Leave for 5 minutes before mixing in the candied peel.
Spread half of the mixture evenly on a buttered tray.  Roll out your marzipan and try to fit a single layer of it on top of the mixture.  Top it off with the remaining bread-mixture.  Sprinkle flaked almonds.
Bake for one hour.  

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Apple and Cheddar Empanadillas

I remember before coming to the UK, my little ignorant mind associated cheddar with those thin bright yellow plastic sheets of cheese, individually wrapped and packed in a stack -- you know, the typical "sandwich cheese" for kids. I'm not going to be snobbish and say those were rubbish -- as a child I did enjoy them in my sandwiches.  I haven't had them in years, though.  The point is, I had never thought of cheddar as good, fine cheese.  And then I had my first whisky-smoked cheddar.  Oh it was good, fine cheese.
One thing that fascinates me is that as you go to the cheese section in your average British supermarket, you'll find that the ratio of types of cheddar to types of all other cheeses is something like 2:1.  They've got more cheddar selections than all the other cheeses that they have to offer from around the world.  It's not even like it's all different smoked cheddars -- you've got 6 different types of mild cheddars alone.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Sweet Potato Falafels with Lemon-Tahini Yoghurt

I find it difficult to comprehend the world of a vegan sometimes -- but then I realize it's okay, they've got falafels.  I've always wanted to set myself a vegan-week challenge, just to see if I can.   I don't eat a lot of meat and fish. I can try to cut down on my egg consumption. Dairy wise, I prefer soya milk.  But I do like cheese just a bit too much to give it up for one week.  
  Other than the deprivation of cheese, I honestly worry about getting enough protein. We're meant to consume about 50g of protein a day.  If I were still in China, it would be no problem.  Supermarkets have isles and isles of different tofus at extremely affordable prices.  Dried, smoked, marinated, fresh -- flavored with five-spice, cumin, pepper, pickles. Here I can only find Quorn tofu for 2 pounds.  Or there's even more expensive stuff in some health stores, but ok, let's go back to the student budget thing.  I can eat tofu, tofu's great, I love tofu.  But I need cheaper sources of protein.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Orange Brioche

Brioche.  In certain parts of Italy, it's what you would call a croissant. Italian croissants are often filled with creme patisserie or nutella or jam.  When I think brioche, I think of going to the cafe downstairs, ordering a robust cup of espresso and a rich creme patisserie-filled croissant for 1.20.  Oh the simple joys of life that I used to take for granted.  Now I can't even get a cup of coffee anywhere here in Scotland for less than £1.40, never mind a decent cup of coffee.  
But this is about the actual brioche.  The soft and spongy French pastry enriched with too much butter and eggs.  My goodness there's so much butter and eggs.  I've always known it contained butter and eggs, but for some reason it had never occurred to me that they'd be actually half the ingredients. Well, too much of both is a sure sign of deliciousness. But please, please, please eat this in moderation.  

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Braised Beet Greens

Beet greens -- beetroot's underachieved brother living in the shadow of its popular sibling. Beetroot is colorful and beautiful with distinct flavors -- and beet greens are just average leafy green vegetables that's unacknowledged and often thrown away by people.  Poor beet greens.  When blanched and sauteed, they taste like spinach.  Baked after tossed in oil and salt, they resemble kale chips.  Don't throw your beet greens away.
Beet greens from about 3 beetroots
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/2 tbsp red wine vinegar

Wash your beet greens and cut away the heavy stems.  Tear leaves into bite-size pieces.
Sautee the garlic in a pan over medium heat until fragrant.  Add the beet greens and stir to coat in oil.  When wilted, add about 1/4 cup of water.  Cover and cook for a couple of minutes until tender.  Add vinegar and season.  Serve warm.  

Friday, 13 April 2012

Vegetarian Stuffed Aubergines

Dear aubergine/eggplant haters,

Please don't stop reading.  If there is a possibility to convert you into a person with normal taste buds, this recipe may be a start.

This recipe for me represents the classic Mediterranean flavors -- aubergines, tomatoes, basil, olives and capers altogether as a classic combination reminding people of the laid-back sunny days on the beach with a glass of wine (as I write this, it is hailing outside here in St Andrews, Scotland).

Aubergines are my favorite vegetable.  The creamy texture and the earthy taste, it makes some of the best veggie burger patties.  Before serving this to a bunch of people, at least two people have told me that they disliked aubergines -- but they enjoyed these.

Before I continue talking about these sensational aubergines, I need to thank my friend Victoria Albrecht for these stunning photos.  I should also thank Sarah Budasz for taking most of my other food photos.  I was asked why I started a food blog.  Honestly, I had wanted to start a food blog since the beginning of university (i.e. end of 2010), as I enjoy cooking and eating and writing about food.  But I've never been good at photography, and that was my main reason for delaying this for so long. Fortunately, I make the right friends and so I can utilize/exploit their abilities for this blog :)
Anyway, back to the gorgeous stuffed aubergines.  This is a really simple stuffing, it's very Mediterranean and very delicious.  Again, adjust it to your liking -- add anchovies, remove olives, add different cheeses.
Serves:  4  
4 aubergines
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
3 tbsp capers
½ cup olives, roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped,
½ cup grated parmesan
½ cup chopped mozzarella
1 egg
Preheat oven to 200C. 

Remove stems and cut the aubergines in half.  Place them in a large pot of water and bring to the boil.  Simmer for about 20 minutes.  Remove when flesh is soft, drain and leave to cool.

With a small spoon, carefully remove all the flesh from each half of the aubergine, leaving the skin intact. Place the pulp in a colander to drain off excess water.  To the aubergines pulp, add all the other ingredients except for the tomato sauce and season.  Fill the aubergine skins with the mixture, place on baking tray and top with tomato sauce.  Bake for 20 minutes.  In the last 5 minutes, sprinkle on some more parmesan and place it on the top shelf of the oven.  

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Beet and Vanilla Soup

Sweet and earthy -- the beautiful crimson beetroot is lovely both raw and cooked.  It's got a strong flavor with an attitude, which matches perfectly with other blunt flavors like acidic and salty. I, however, hate cooking with beetroot normally as it paints the house red.  As pretty as it is, my hands look like the end of a murder scene after peeling a beetroot.

I usually like pairing beetroot with very salty things -- capers, anchovies and goat's cheese.  Its sweetness counterbalances and mellows out the harsh saltiness.  You can make a really nice dip with some roasted beetroot mashed up together with crumbled goat's cheese.  Or serve a salad with some anchovies, capers and sliced beetroot over some fresh greens.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Perfect Spaghetti al Pomodoro

Unfortunately I haven't had time to cook these past few days. I've been so busy that I'm actually forgetting meals -- shocking, I know. But as I am dedicated to this blog I must update -- even if there are no photos and obviously it's a lot less appealing but it's okay!

Here is how to make the perfect Spaghetti al Pomodoro. You can use the same tomato sauce for dozens of things. Eat it with meat balls, with stuffed vegetables, put on top of pizza. It's incredibly versatile. Add some anchovies and sun dried tomatoes with the soffritto in the beginning. Add cream or chopped mozzarella in the end. But here is the basic, classic, traditional, fool-proof recipe for the best Spaghetti al Pomodoro.

My father loves Spaghetti al Pomodoro -- he could eat it all day long. Because of his work, he mainly eats Chinese food (living in China and all that), and so whenever he is home, all he wants is this. Now, my father may not be able to cook many things, but his pastas are sensational -- I never order this dish outside, ever. Italians are often very conservative with their foods, and I'd like to think that I'm slightly more open-minded, but with some classic dishes... I don't like making changes. I feel like changing it would insult my family in a way, as these dishes are much more than just delicious food -- they're memories. Memories of my father making pasta in the middle of the night, memories of seeing strands of spaghetti tangled up in a vibrant, thick sauce with sparks of green basil on a plate too large for me, yet still insisting on eating it all with my fork and hands and savoring the perfect balance of sweet, sour and salty.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Vegan Tofu Cheesecake

Thinking back to the two-week break I just had, I think I've learned a couple of lessons:
1.  The public transport system in London is far from perfect
2.  Check which airport you're going to
3.  Don't trust easyBus

Learned all  these the hard way.

Anyway, other than the ridiculous amount of money I've lost, I've also basically just sat in front of a television and binged for two weeks straight.  Now as life is back to normal tomorrow, it's time for the cleansing diet.  Here's a tofu cheesecake I made sometime ago -- something to set my mind back on the right track.

It was a real experimentation -- I quite liked the texture of the filling, it was, as expected, silky smooth and ever so soft.  Flavor wise, it was satisfactory, but perhaps next time I'll add more peanut butter, or use other stronger flavors to mask the slight hints of tofu.  Some cocoa, vanilla or spices perhaps.  The crust was pretty much identical to the lemon thyme souffle cakes .

300g silken tofu
2 tbsp peanut butter
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp corn flour

1/2 cup dates
1/2 cup nuts

Preheat oven to 180C.  Make the crust by combining the dates and the nuts in a food processor and pulse until it comes together as a dough.  Butter two small ramekans and line the base with the crust mixture.
Make the filling by putting all the other ingredients in a food processor and pulse until smooth.  Fill in the ramekans and bake for 30 minutes.  

Friday, 6 April 2012

Chocolate Yeast Bread

You're seduced from the first moment you feel the beautiful soft dough with your hands.  Then as it enters the oven, the aroma wafts gently from the kitchen to the rest of the house -- imagine the combination of the smells of chocolate and fresh bread -- thank you, David.

The recipe unfortunately isn't mine.  This is David Lebovitz's chocolate bread.  He's an American that lives in Paris and makes all these wonderful creations.
Should've left it in the oven for a bit longer but it was a bit difficult to wait any longer.  Please try this at home as it's very different from your average muffin-like chocolate quick bread.  This is almost like a chocolate brioche as it's made with yeast.  Mmmm.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Easter Goodies

All my favorite holidays are marked by some food item.  For Easter, it's chocolate eggs.  Growing up in China in the 90's meant that there wasn't the atmosphere and the excitement around Easter time.  There weren't aisles miles long of chocolate easter eggs in supermarkets; no giant statues of rabbits and baskets in shopping malls; no special Easter Sunday menus in restaurants.  When I think back to Easter as a child, only vivid memories of chocolate eggs come to mind -- two types of chocolate eggs.
Large chocolate eggs, the size of my little head, wrapped in bright gold foil with a big colorful bow, barely holding its shape after the long journey from Italy to China. Behind the wrap there were thin and fragile broken egg shells that revealed a tiny little plastic toy inside -- unfortunately the size of the egg was not at all representative of the size of the toy.

Then there were the bags of mini Lindt chocolate eggs from my parents' friend, Giovanni Di Pasquale. He'd always come around Easter time. Unlike other family friends whom we'd had to unwillingly entertain by being present at the dinner table and smile and nod along their meaningless adult conversations, the guy was wonderful -- he cooked and gave us chocolate. Every year was the same bag of assorted colorful Lindt chocolate eggs. Colors and chocolate, it was like a small bag of edible rainbow droplets that gave so much more satisfaction than just a sugar high.

I open the bag and try to take one of each color out without pouring all of the eggs out. Then I examined them, carefully deciding which to eat first before putting everything neatly back and saving them for the future gluttony.

With time, grandparents stopped sending chocolate eggs, and the friend started coming around without chocolate eggs. Easter's sole excitement was that it meant a couple of days off school.

Nonetheless, even though my Easters were marked by solely Chocolate eggs as a child, many countries, including my own, celebrate Easter with proper traditional breads and cakes.  In Italy, we obviously have La Colomba Pasquale (Easter dove).  

The dough is similar to that of a panettone, but contains no raisins, topped usually with pearl sugar and almonds, and is shaped into a dove (kind of).  Like panettones, it's usually bought rather than homemade as it's quite a complicated process. But if you fancy making it, there are lots of good recipes out there (like here).  Do tell me if you succeed.

In the UK there are these wonderful Hot Cross Buns.  Soft, light and spongy square breads marked with a cross. Like many other British cakes and breads, it's flavored with dried fruits and spices.   
Here's quite a good recipe of it.  This can be easily made at home.  

Tsoureki is a rich, brioche-like sweet bread eaten at Easter in Greece, but it has its close relatives throughout Eastern Europe.  It's similar to the Armenian choreg, the Bulgarian Kozunak, and the Czech Houska. They all have the similar dough but they're flavored with different ingredients and topped with different nuts.  It's braided and then baked with a pretty colored egg in the middle.  I recommend this recipe.  
Then there's the Dutch Paasbrood.  Sweet bread with candied fruits and stuffed with almond paste, similar to a stollen.

So I hope you do some home baking this Easter, if not you could always go and buy yourself some packaged ones in a store -- either way, make sure you eat some delicious and traditional baked goods this Easter.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Orange and Green Tea Poached Chicken Salad

I love salads.  There's so much more to salads than just some tossed lettuce with oil and vinegar.  It's a wide variety of dishes -- you can have your leafy greens and vinaigrette, or you can have legumes, grains, seafood, meat, roasted veg, fruits with an endless possibility of dressings and sauces from creamy blue cheese to zingy Thai dressings.   
It's springtime, salads are a must to accompany the great weather.  The chicken has delicate flavors with hints of smokiness coming from the tea leaves, accompanied by sweet and tangy notes from the orange juice, and then you get the contrast of zingy sharpness from the zest and ginger. Please do toss it with some julienned vegetables/serve on top of a cold noodle salad/with some legumes.  I had nothing else in the kitchen so it was just pure protein for me.
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