Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Best of 2013

And the year's drawing to a close.  I've been reading "Best of 2013"'s everywhere, from food news to celebrity moments to advances in technology.  So I've decided to share Happy Belly's highlights in 2013 - a combination of viewers' favorites and mine. 

Best breakfast
It was difficult to choose the best breakfast, because I have a ridiculous number of breakfast recipes.  But I had to choose this oatmeal over any other pancakes and eggs because.. it's just love and comfort in a bowl.  It's the perfect thing to have over and over again for a whole month.  It's cumbersome and time-consuming, yes, that is why I shamefully admit that I still make oatmeal in the microwave sometimes.  However, as I'm on holiday right now, I've been making my porridge according to this recipe every morning.

Best Dessert
This Hazelnut-Praline Dacquoise was popular.   Indeed, it took me a whole morning to make it and look how pretty.  Two nut based sponge cakes with a rich creamy center.  Despite all the sugar and butter in this dish, it was beautifully light. 

 Best Vegetable
Broccoli with Tahini 
Steamed vegetables can be boring if you don't know how to dress them.  

Saturday, 28 December 2013

How to: Rice the Chinese Way

I didn't really know how to begin this post-- there's just so much to say about rice.  Unfortunately, unless you were brought up in an Asian household or have been in close contact with Asian culture growing up, you won't think too much of rice.  To most, there's just basmati, short grain and pudding rice.  There are some wholegrain rice like wild rice and black rice but then with the white rice there's just those.  Plain rice to you may be incomprehensible.  You may be used to eating it as an accompaniment to a curry or a stir-fry, something to soak up the rich juices.  It may be fried and tossed with herbs and spices, but you may not have had the opportunity to enjoy good plain rice.  Good quality rice, cooked perfectly, is so incredibly fragrant and flavorsome just on its own.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Brandy & Raisin Ganache Squares

I'm back home in China with my parents now, and they don't really bake at home, so it's just me that buys all the baking ingredients.  I had bought dark chocolate the last time I was here, which was exactly a year ago.  A ton of dark chocolate.  I didn't use it all, and the other day I wanted to make some truffles, opened them up, and sweet mother of Jesus they were filled with worms. Urgh just the mental image of those little things crawling around makes me gag. 

Terrifying.  I remember my grandparents had an orchard, and my grandmother would make freshly squeezed orange juice for us with their own oranges.  Own organic, pesticide-free oranges -- filled with worms.  We'd get these clear glasses of bright-colored juice with little white worms just swimming around.  "It's okay, they don't do any harm."  Yea but no, Grandma..

So I bought more chocolate to make these truffles.  With excellent brandy, courtesy of my parents' liquor cabinet.
Here's a trick.  In China, as everything I like is imported, I couldn't find excellent quality chocolate without my bank account having a heart attack.  So I had mediocre chocolate, added a ton of spice and brandy to it to cover its mediocreness and then the truffles tasted fantastic.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Yamyam (Berlin)

Korean food, in most parts of the world, is shamefully underrated.  It's spicy, it's fresh, and it's exciting.  There are stews, barbeques, sushis, pickles, noodles and rice.  Don't confuse it with Chinese or Japanese food as they have their own unique blend of condiments that form the basis of all these dishes.  It is no doubt one of my favorite cuisines in the world.

When I was in Berlin this summer for two months, I had a constant craving for Korean food.  I don't know if it's because I was having too much German bread and cheese and sausages, which I love by the way, but I just really felt like eating Korean food.  Berlin is amazing for many reasons: the nightlife, the art, the music, the young people, the life -- but for me, obviously, the food in a city really matters, and Berlin is amazing because of the restaurant scene.

So let's talk about this Korean restaurant.  I went to three in Berlin, the others were not as good and not as memorable, I don't even remember which ones they were.  This one definitely tops the list in terms of the food, the price and the atmosphere. 

The restaurant's situated in Mitte:  a humble setting with simple tables that are all squashed together, and most of the time it's just full of people and it's loud and it's fun. 

I've eaten there many times and I'm usually obnoxiously taking photos of everything I eat but surprisingly enough this is the only picture I have.  I suspect that the food was so good that I couldn't wait to take photos of them. 

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Caxton Grill (London)

If you're in the UK and you're remotely interested in food then you probably watch Masterchef and you probably know of Adam Handling - the finalist on the last Masterchef Professionals.  Only 24 years old and he is the head chef at Caxton Grill.  Actually, he was a head chef at Esperante at the St Andrews Fairmont Hotel in 2011 when he was only 22.  That's when I first met him, hell, he could've been head chef there at age 19 for all I know.  Talk about a way to make you feel inadequate, right?  24 and his food is amazing.

I'm just going to boast about him a bit more before I get onto my dining experience -- the other great thing about him is that he's humble.  He's humble and down to earth and will chat to you if you're at his restaurant, if you like his food, and if you're a nobody with the dreams of becoming a chef like him.  He's nice, and I like food cooked by nice people.

Now I can go onto the dining experience.  The restaurant's lovely.  Everything was pleasant, service was good, the atmosphere was nice, nothing extraordinary but things were lovely.  

So you're first greeted with three types of breads served with two types of butters - "gingerbread" and "olive".  The gingerbread is interesting, though not my favorite.  The olive was amazing.  Both made in the restaurant.  The breads were also fantastic, there was rye, focaccia and brioche, but they were the only things not made in the restaurant.
 Adam Handling said that his favorite things from his menu are the starters, and boy was it difficult to choose. 

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Chocolate Fennel Seed Shortbread

Fennel seeds are used as a mouth freshener in India.  Isn't it interesting how some cultures use mint and some use fennel seeds?  I was wondering what other herbs and spices were used as mouth fresheners worldwide, so I googled.  Unfortunately I couldn't really find what's used in different countries, but apparently many different spices can be used: cardamom pods, cinnamon, cloves... So next time post-garlic bread/pre-smooching session, you can just grab the closest spice and chew on it.   Basil also works apparently.  But it also depends on your partner - not everyone enjoys cinnamon, for instance.  They may prefer garlic breath in that case. 

Fennel and chocolate.  Chocolate works with anise flavors.  You know what I was thinking? Chocolate, fennel seeds and orange.  I don't know, maybe a chocolate mousse with a crunch fennel seed topping and an orange sorbet.  Maybe some orange crumbs, candied citrus zest.  Perhaps a fennel seed praline.  Chocolate fennel seed bark?  Chocolate fennel seed truffle coated in chocolate orange ganache?  Served with some fennel seed crackers? So many possibilities.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Cauliflower Steak and Capers

"How do you come up with stories for your posts?"

Well, I sometimes don't and that's why I haven't updated in so long.  That and exams got in the way.  I'm just procrastinating now, well, no, I can't even call it procrastinating anymore, this is just called jeopardizing my future.

Anyway, I try to have a story at least remotely related to the food I'm posting about each time.  As interesting as my exciting tales in the library are as a student, I understand that not everyone appreciates them in a food blog.

I can usually link the central ingredient of a dish to a memory, and I'm honestly finding it difficult to think of something cauliflowery.  I don't think I ever really had much as a child in either Chinese or Italian cooking.   I had always confused broccoli and cauliflower as a child.  In Southern Italy I swear we interchange the terms, and in Mandarin one's called "green vegetable flower" and the other "white vegetable flower" (literally).  I didn't know that there was a clear distinction between the two. 

Sorry, that's the best story I've got relating to cauliflowers. 
I was trying to follow Bon Appetit's recipe but it was turning out to be quite bland.  See, in the recipe the cauliflower puree is made with cauliflower, milk, water, salt and pepper and that's it.  It was a bit bland for me.  Maybe with top quality cauliflower it'd be better, but with my little supermarket cauliflower, I felt the need to add things.   I understand that you don't want to overpower the cauliflowers because it's a delicate flavor, but just a tiny bit of extra virgin olive oil, butter, capers, oregano and smoked salt can only make things better. Just a touch of each. 

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Grace's Granola of Nuts and Fruits

I love cereal, and I just love muesli and granola.  I like to make my own, I like to browse through my collection of nuts and seeds and dried fruits and make my perfect bowl of breakfast every morning. 

I have yet to find a brand that sells my perfect type of muesli.  I've tried them all, but they usually have too many dried fruits or not enough or not enough nuts or too little seeds --  and they're usually insanely expensive for something so easy and cheap to make at home.  This is granola made purely with nuts and dried fruits, so it's very luxurious and delicious.  I followed a recipe that basically had the following proportions:

1 cup nuts
1/2 cup dried fruits
1 tbsp nut butter
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp oil

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Olive Oil Scottish Oatcakes

Dammit, Scotland.  Dammit, dammit, dammit.  You were so wonderful to us this winter up until now.  You were mild and warm and sunny and calm, and everything was well in the world up until now.  What is this, on my birthday you come with your 80mph wind and your rain and your snow.  I knew it.  I knew you wouldn't keep calm for so long.  I knew you were going to hit us with a blizzard when we least expect it.
This is just something lovely I found on Twitter to make things better

Urgh.  This post was supposed to be a tribute to Scotland, because I love oatcakes.  I really really do.  They're delightful things.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Mini Ice-Cream Charlottes

I really like the name "Charlotte", I think it's so pretty.  Nobody really knows why charlottes are called charlottes.  It could be named after a Queen Charlotte, or, according to Wikipedia, it could come from the world "charlyt" which means a bowl of custard.  I hope it's the latter, because that means that the name Charlotte is based on the dessert rather than the other way around.  Can you imagine?

"What does your name mean?"

"It is the latinized version of a Greek name.  It means chaste and purity  "

"Mine means 'cheerful' and 'joy' in Hebrew." 

"Mine means a bowl of custard."

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Tagliatelle with Peas and Pancetta

Pasta with butter and cheese may sound simple and plain, but it is divine when done right.  Being Southern Italian, I never really had pasta with butter growing up, it was always pasta with olive oil.  That was my sick food actually.  When I was sick, my mother gave me congee (Chinese rice porridge) and my father gave me pasta with olive oil and cheese.  Perfect for any stomach problems. 

But then I came to the UK and discovered good butter, recipes with butter, and consequently a whole new world. 
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