Monday, April 14, 2014

Sexy pumpkin!

 I got given this pumpkin, it is quite big and really beautiful, I am not quite sure about the variety, a long neck? I don't want to cut it yet (too pretty) so it has been posing in my living room like a big bottomed model in an art studio.
Does anyone know this variety, and what it is best used for? I expect that I can get quite a bit of flesh from the 'neck' while all the seeds are in the round bottom part… and if this is the case I may just keep some seeds for next year, so I can too have some fancy long neck beauties like this one!

Well, if you have a name, and some recipes, for my model I look forward to hearing from you! :-)

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Fig tart and green lisianthus

There is a fig tree up the road from my house and every year I can forage a few figs. This year they abound and are small but sweet. The skin is a bit hard though, so they are perfect for baking rather than eating raw.

Fig tart

For the base:

- 200g plain flour
- 100g  butter, soft
- 100g sugar
- 1 egg 
- 1 drop vanilla essence

For the filling
- 12/15 figs (depends on size)
- 3 eggs + 2 egg whites
- 100 g raw sugar
- 100 g yogurt
- 1 drop vanilla essence
- Icing sugar to sprinkle

Prepare the base and spread over the base and borders of a 23cm tart dish lined with baking paper. Cut the figs into two and place over the pastry, cut sides up. Whip the eggs and egg whites with the sugar, add the yogurt and vanilla essence and then pour over the figs. Bake for about 45 minutes at 180°C or unit the centre is not wobbly anymore. Dust with icing sugar and let it cool down completely before cutting.

I am in love with lisianthus, especially the light green variety. It would be great to grow them in the garden, anyone out there that knows how? 

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Friday, April 11, 2014

Polish Easter Egg Workshop Wednesday 16 April and the recipe of the day: Gluten free and vegan vermicelli with baby corn and Chinese mushrooms

 Celebrate a Polish Tradition and Create Beautiful Eggs for Easter

An Invitation from Regina

The Polish tradition is that after fasting for Lent for 40 days a family makes a basket of food to be blessed at Holy Saturday’s Mass.  There is a quiet element of competitiveness with the baskets with most parishioner’s, especially the women, checking out the baskets to judge who they believe has the best one.

The contents of the Easter basket are eaten by the family on Sunday morning, so everything one consumes for breakfast needs to be in the basket, this includes: decorated Pisanki (eggs), kielbasa (Polish sausage), a butter lamb, salt, a babka (pound cake from a moulded tin) or a sweet yeast cake.  A Pussy Willow branch or toy chick is also in a lot of baskets as this is one of the first trees to show signs of the impending and long awaiting Spring and both are a sign of new life.

Every year our family has made an Easter basket with many friends joining us for the decorating of the Pisanki.
We extend a warm welcome to all to join us this Easter!

The Details
Where: Oratia - address available on registration
When: Wednesday April 16th 7pm to 9pm
Cost: $5 Members $15 Guests
RSVP: Anutosh 8349909

And now for the recipe of the day:

Gluten free and vegan vermicelli with baby corn and Chinese mushrooms

This is a cold dish, incredibly filling. 


1 handful mixed Chinese dried mushrooms
1 pack vermicelli 
A few drops sesame oil
1 can baby corn, drained
1 small carrot, grated
1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
Juice from half a lime or lemon
1 fresh chili finely chopped (optional)
2 or 3 tbsp soy or Tamari sauce (Tamari sauce if you are gluten free)
Vietnamese mint fo decorate

Soak and then simmer the mushrooms until they are soft, then drain and cut into small strips. Cook the vermicelli in boiling water (or use the mushrooms' stock) for two minutes, then drain and rinse under cold water, place in a mixing/serving bowl and add the sesame oil. Mix well. Add all other ingredients and mix well. Serve at room temperature, or cold if it a really hot day.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Vegan and gluten free chocolate pudding for Sweet New Zealand

This is sooooo yummy, it reminds me of those soy chocolate puddings that you can buy in the fridge compartment of many organic-vegetarian stores (and now in some supermarkets too) but it is homemade and therefore even tastier.

For 4 puddings:
500 ml oragnic soy milk (I use Vitasoy, either Original, Milky or Calci Plus)
2 tbsp raw sugar
1 heap tbsp cocoa (the better the cocoa the better the flavour, so don't go for cheap baking cocoa, but for 'hot chocolate' quality)
1 tbsp cornflour
Natural Vanilla essence (or a little cinnamon if you prefer)

Dissolve the dried ingredients with a little soy milk to make a paste, then add the rest of the milk and mix well. Put on the stove on low and, always stirring, bring to simmering point. Make sure that you stir well, especially around the borders and bottom of the pot, so that the pudding has a smooth consistency. As soon as it start thickening turn the element off, add the vanilla essence (if using) and keep stirring until it has cooled down a bit. Divide into 4 dessert ramekins or small bowls (or teacups) and refrigerate.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Sweet NZ imageThis recipe is for Sweet New Zealand #33, the blogging event open to all Kiwi bloggers (living in NZ or overseas) and expats blogging from NZ. April's host is Marnelli form Sweets and Brainsclick here to enter. Also let me know if you are keen to be a host in 2014, and book a month!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Kashmiri Masala chickpeas and potatoes

Manu invited me to a 'Swap' on her blog, and my swapping partner is Billie from Scotland. We had to send each other an ingredient and then make a recipe with it. I sent Billie the Fresh As raspberry powder, and I look forward to see what she will do with it! She sent me some Kasmiri Masala, but because I got it late (I forgot to tell Billie my address, silly me, but fortunately she copied it from the parcel I sent her!). I had a super busy week (which included preparing for a full day TV shoot), and I am behind with my deadline for publishing a recipe! But the best thing about a Masala is that you don't have to sizzle all the spices at the beginning and work out the doses, in fact a masala should be added at the very end, to enjoy the fragrances of the aromatic spices (and the Kashmiri Masala is definitely very aromatic!!). So even if I was running around like mad I managed to throw together something starting with the leftover juice of a peperonata (stewed capsicums with celery, carrot, and garlic).

I had all that wonderful bell pepper's stock left from the night before (we ate all the capsicums and veggies), so I just peeled and cut 5 large potatoes, added the content of one can of chickpeas, and some cherry tomatoes from the garden (make an incision with a knife so that they don't 'explode' during cooking). I added a little salt and then simmered everything until the potatoes were soft. I adjusted for salt and added one tsp of Kashmiri Masala, put the lid on for 2 more minutes on low, and then served my aromatic stew to the family (with some roti and some raita). The only problem is that I don't have a last photo! We ate too quickly before remembering to take one! :-) But I hope that you will like the recipe, and it is super simple!

And for the weekly gardening photo: the last blueberry (I think) from my plant but still quite a few Alpine strawberries coming up, this is what we can pick every two days, not enough for jam maybe, but enough to decorate desserts :-).

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Celery, cucumber and coriander juice

Green, cleansing and refreshing! 

Celery stalks and leaves, cucumber, and a few sprigs and leaves of coriander (to taste, it can be really strong).

Happy detoxing!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Monday, March 31, 2014

Vegan Sushi and onigiri (rice balls)

The weather has been beautiful, and it is still possible to eat outside, especially fresh things like this vegan sushi. Note that fish sushi is not traditionally eaten in summer in Japan, although thanks to refrigeration now many do, but some 'traditionalists' refuse. Vegan sushi on the other hand, like inari and norimaki (nori rolls), as well as onigiri (rice balls) are all great summer options.

Let's start with the onigiri. Wash the sushi rice (or Japanese rice) several times in cold water, until the water runs clear, and then cook it by absorption. The doses are about 1 and 3/4 (three quarters) cups of sushi rice for 2 cups of water, but that depends on the type of pot. You need a pot with a good lid, or you will loose too much steam. I kind of regulate myself by ear now, since I know my pots and pans. Bring the pot to boiling point, lower the heat and simmer until all the water has been absorbed. Once the rice is ready pour it into a bowl and stir it with a wooden spatula, cooling it with a fan if you can. At this stage I took some rice aside to make onigiri and used the rest for sushi (see below). Rub your hands with salt and shape the rice into balls. I added some salted sakura blossoms on top to make pretty onigiri, and then I made some miniature ones (last photo) which I sprinkled with fresh chives.

To the remaining rice I added some ready made sushi vinegar, about 2 tablespoons, but this is my personal taste. If I don't have sushi vinegar I use 2 tbsp of rice vinegar, a little sugar and a little salt (to taste, and I don't like to use too much sugar or salt!). Roll your norimaki with the filling of your choice (I used takuan, cucumber and busy lizzie flowers). Or use the rice to fill inari (tofu) sachets, and then top them with herbs, flowers, veggies and pickles. So refreshing.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Vermicelli in coconut and veggie broth with tofu and Asian fragrances

This is an aromatic vegan and gluten free soup, light and delicious.

For the broth:
500 ml vegetable stock
1 can coconut cream or milk + one can of water (rinsing the coconut cream)
1 large yellow courgette (zucchini)
2 fresh red chilies
1 block of tofu
a pinch of freshly grated ginger
1 stalk lemon grass
a few coriander leaves

Simmer all together for a few minutes until the zucchini are soft but not mushy.

In the meantime soak the vermicelli in hot water until soft then divide between 6 bowls.
chop a few cherry tomatoes, and wash some fresh basil and some thai mint

Pour the hot soup over the vermicelli, making sure that each dish has equal parts of tofu and veggies.
Decorate with the tomatoes, basil and Thai mint and serve immediately.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Grape juice and a glass full of memories

There are some beautiful grapes on sale at the Dragicevich Orchard in Oratia, those old fashion grapes that really smell and taste like grapes (not like the stuff that you find in supermarkets). And they make a wonderful juice. Apparently grape juice has antioxidant effects, well, this would be a bonus, but the only thing that I can say so far is that it is delicious, and the aroma brings back happy childhood memories of picking grapes at my Grandma's in Italy. Yes, memories in a small glass! Have you ever had a similar experience with food and drinks?

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Fresh As raspberry agar agar, and Win with Sweet New Zealand!

Agar agar must be the easiest pudding ever, and it is vegan and gluten free. Also, if you don't use too much sugar it will be low in calories (and no fat, I guess…). 

For 4 serving I use 500ml of water, half tsp of agar agar powder (usually I use 1 tsp, but I wanted a softer and more wobbly jelly) and 1 tbsp of sugar (here too, personal taste!). For the Fresh As fruit powder dosage, it depends on your taste; for most fruit (like pineapple) I use 1 tbsp, or 1 and half tbsp (like passion fruit), but the raspberry powder is so intense that half tbsp with suffice, using the other half just to sprinkle on the jelly when is set. Bring to boil and pour into 4 jelly moulds. Let it cool down, refrigerate, and serve (with more Fresh As powder sprinkled on top). 

This recipe is for Sweet New Zealand #32, the blogging event open to all Kiwi bloggers (living in NZ or overseas) and expats blogging from NZ. Frances is the host for March, and there are many prizes this month offered by Healthy Food Guide (Tote bag, magazine and zesty citrus zester), so check out how to enter by clicking here. Also let me know if you are keen to be a host in 2014, and book a month!

Sweet NZ image
Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Vegan Rice Paper Rolls

Something filling yet light, done in a jiffy! I had very little left in the fridge, just a bit of salad mix, but in the pantry I had some rice paper, vermicelli and dried gluten meat. So I put the 'fake' meat in a pot with a little vegetable stock (made with an organic veggie cube) and cooked it until soft. Then I cut it into little strips (actually, Arantxa did it - see photo).  I soaked the vermicelli in boiling water and then drained and rinsed them. To assemble the rice paper rolls you will need to line the table with clean tea towels, then soak the rice paper in hot water until soft, top with salad, the vermicelli and the gluten meat strips.

 To see how to fold the rolls (step by step) you can have a look here. If you have time you can fold the rolls adding herb leaves and flowers. Keep the rolls covered with a tea towel until ready to eat. Serve with soy sauce or sweet chili sauce.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Friday, March 21, 2014

Win the Italy Home Replica Shirt in time for the FIFA World Cup

Over at the Dante Auckland Blog there is a fab giveaway open to all Kiwis (and Italian Kiwis!) to win the Italy Home Replica Shirt.

Click here to enter, or visit the Dante Auckland FB group.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

How to make mascarpone at home, and win more prizes with Sweet New Zealand!

To make mascarpone at home you can use just cream or a mixture of cream and milk, plus citric acid. Lemon juice can be used instead of citric acid, and if you have lemons (preferably not Meyer lemons, but some more acidic lemons)  you can use lemon juice, but citric acid is easy to measure. Some bloggers make a similar recipe and call the result ricotta (or creamy ricotta), but don't be fooled, they are mistaken (or idiots) and this is NOT ricotta, ricotta is a totally different product made in a totally different way and with different ingredients. You can find a recipe for ricotta here or, even better, here

Mascarpone is delicious, rich and fat, it is used in many Italian desserts or cheese dishes (like torta di mascarpone and gorgonzola) and of course the more cream you add the highest the fat content.

I used 300 ml of cream and 200 ml of full fat (grey top) milk and 4-5 g of citric acid diluted in 50 ml of hot water (the lower the dose and the less 'lemony' the taste, but it is difficult to measure 4 or 5 g, just think of a level tsp - and again, all teaspoons are not the same!). Gently bring the milk and cream to 85°C, and stir with the thermometer for 5 minutes (yes you will need a cheese thermometer), keeping the temperature constant. Add the citric acid and water solution and stir, turn the heat off and let it rest for 10 minutes. Place a sieve over a bowl and line with a clean cotton cloth (or even two if the cloth is too fine - do not use gauze or cheese cloth, you need something with a thicker mesh). Place in the fridge and let it rest overnight to drip the excess liquid away. In the morning the mascarpone will be ready! The longer you leave it the thicker it will become, so you can let it rest for a bit longer if you like, or stir it into a creamy consistency and store in a container with a lid until you are ready to use it (a few days only). 

Just eat it by the spoon with a little cocoa and sugar, or honey, really decadent!

This recipe is for Sweet New Zealand #32, the blogging event open to all Kiwi bloggers (living in NZ or overseas) and expats blogging from NZ. Frances is the host for March, and there are many prizes this month offered by Healthy Food Guide (Tote bag, magazine and zesty citrus zester), so check out how to enter by clicking here. Also let me know if you are keen to be a host in 2014, and book a month!

Sweet NZ image
Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Naturally green ideas for St Patrick's Day

Happy St Patrick's Day! Around this time of the year I see a lot of pins and posts full of green food which, sadly, tends to be full of… green coloring! Why? I like to take advantage of this celebration to propose that we eat more greens, and I mean natural greens! So, here to a healthy St Patrick's Day!

I'll start super healthy, with this super green juice with cucumber, celery and silver beet.

or more green juices if you like to add some fruit too:

Celery lemon and green apple
Cucumber, celery and green apple

And here one to detox if you drink too much Guinness!

For a starter I love a Garlic and cilantro guacamole, vegan and gluten free, and the kids love it too!

Garlic and cilantro guacamole

For a green main I love pasta with green sauces, like this Pasta with chive sauce

And here some more delicious vegetarian and vegan recipes

Cous cous with Broccoli romani

And for for dessert

Agar agar Feijoa jelly, vegan and gluten free

These little homemade marzipans are colored with spiraling, and topped with pistachio, a lovely green, vegan, raw and gluten free treat for a special occasion, or for a edible present. So here we are, lots of naturally green suggestions, Happy St Patrick's Day!
Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Next Saturday in Auckland: Glen Eden Food Festival, Free Entry

Finally a good, clean and fair Food Festival for everyone! Slow Food Waitakere has been working very hard with several West Auckland organisations and the Waitakere Ranges Local Board to create the first Food Festival in Glen Eden. 

Free Entry!

Come and enjoy:

Stalls from different local community groups to help you with all your gardening needs, from composting to free seeds to community gardening and even a produce swap. 

Free cooking demos by experts to show you how to prepare yummy and healthy food, preserve and bottle produce, make cheese etc., including Regina from Slow Food Waitakere dishing up some fashionable 'Pacific Beat' dishes (free tastings). Scroll down for the full demo timetable.

Live music and entertainment plus lots of kids' activities, including face painting and give-aways at our Slow Food Waitakere table.

Hot and yummy hot food from around the world cooked by the New Lynn Night Market WISE Collective Hub (former refugee women) for your Saturday lunch.

Glen Eden Food Festival Cooking Demonstrations

10:30-11:10    Cheesemaking workshop: Halloumi and Ricotta with Virginia Best and Madeleine Collins 
Madeleine Collins and Virginia Best will demonstrate making ricotta and halloumi at home using simple ingredients.  They will demonstrate how to cut the curd and press cheese.  You don’t need any fancy equipment to make cheese and this workshop will give you the confidence to make your own cheese at home.

11:15- 11:45     Preserving talk with Julie Craig of Oak and Thistle

Julie Craig lives self-sustainably in an urban environment and has done for many years. With a young family to provide for, Julie has learned the arts of cooking, preserving, jamming & jellying, herb growing and their uses, home gardening and livestock maintenance.

In this workshop Julie will speak about many aspects of preserving the harvest, from fruits and vegetables to herbs, extracts, and more.  Julie will teach you what you need to get started and give some great ideas for making your own basic equipment.  She’ll go through the steps of making healthy and tasty edible foods to keep on hand so that you can preserve at home.  There will be an opportunity to see examples of preserves and more, and have a taste of some of Julie’s deliciously preserved harvest.

11:50-12:20     Indian Vegetarian Cooking demonstration with Indira Vallabh

In this fun and informative workshop, you’ll come away feeling confident about preparing delicious, authentic, and healthy Indian dishes at home.  All dishes are gluten free and recipes will be provided.  Indira Vallabh is an experienced Indian cook and has a popular Indian Vegetarian Food stall at the Grey Lynn Farmers Market.  Indira will demonstrate a delicious vegetarian curry and either a raita or chutney as an accompaniment.  Tastings will be available at the end of the class.

12:25-12:55     Pacific Cooking demonstration with Regina Wypych of Pacific Heartbeat 
Regina Wypych of Pacific Heartbeat will bring a Pacific Island flavour to the Glen Eden Food Festival with two simple, delicious, and heart-healthy recipes.  The first dish, Vermicelli Chicken Lemon Salad, is a fresh zingy Pacific chicken salad.  The second will be a tasty Oka i’a, raw fish salad.  You will have a chance to taste both of these dishes, and recipes will be available to take home.

1:00-1:30    Simple Meals at Home with Peter Clifton-Sprigg of Vision West
Learn how to prepare “Pan Fried Moroccan Chicken Breast served with Mini Rostis and a Seasonal Dressed Salad” with chef Peter Clifton-Sprig of VisionWest. This impressive dish is cheap, fast, easy, nutritious, awesome tasting and beautifully presented, with lots of possible variations to try out at home. Ingredients will include fresh raw beetroot, carrots and parsnips or golden kumara, fresh chicken with a deliciously fresh seasonal salad including green, red, orange and yellow vegetables.

See you there!


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