Monday, 22 December 2014

Grilled broccoli with chile and garlic

Grilled broccoli with chile and garlic

Even if we are in the middle of the festive season, I am not going to give a recipe for Christmas or New Year's Eve parties. With just few days left to Christmas, it's likely that most people have already planned where and how they will enjoy their festive meals; and those who are going to host a lunch or dinner at home, at this time, have probably decided all the recipes they are going to serve and maybe already started the preparation of some dishes. So I want to share another kind of recipe - which probably would make a good impression even on the Christmas table. In particular it is a recipe for broccoli, one of my all-time favorite seasonal product that I like to prepare and serve in many ways: simply boiled with a dressing of extra-virgin olive oil, broccoli is a very versatile side-dish going well with fish, meat, chicken and eggs, but it can be transformed into several different kinds of tasty sauces for pasta or other vegetarian main courses or into delicious side-dishes, alone or mixed with other winter vegetables. Today's recipe is featured in a cookbook that I am consulting a lot lately and is a great source of inspiration, "Ottolenghi The Cookbook" (other recipes from the book here). This recipe is actually a different version of one I use very often for broccoli; in fact while ingredients are the same (basically just broccoli, garlic, chile and olive oil, to which I sometimes add anchovy fillets), the cooking method makes the difference: I use to boil broccoli, then stir-fry with garlic and chile, while  Ottolenghi, after boiling broccoli, grill it and then toss with olive oil, garlic and chile previously cooked together. It's very interesting to experiment how, simply using two different cooking techniques with the same ingredients, it is possible to obtain two different dishes (in this case both very tasty and flavorful).

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Chocolate and Hazelnut spread

Chocolate & Hazelnut spread

Christmas is approaching very fast, as usual...and these last days are typically spent by many visiting shops, malls, markets, etc. to find the last Christmas gifts for relatives and friends; and for those who - like me actually - don't think to Christmas presents in advance, this is the busiest shopping period of the year. To be honest, I don't like spectacular, impressive Christmas presents...I prefer smaller things, not original maybe, but chosen with care and affection. And among my favorite kinds of gifts are edible things, and in particular homemade edible gifts (the other favorite category is that of small, high-value, not edible stuff). The time and passion spent for preparing, packing and wrapping any edible thing always deserve great appreciation. But, beside this emotional component which makes homemade presents always much valuable, what I like most of edible gifts is that they are usually of better quality and taste than the same shop-bought foods (of course if good quality ingredients are used). And this is the case, for example, of this chocolate and hazelnut spread, which is the homemade version (actually... one of the many possible versions) of a worldwide renowned, iconic spread that everybody knows and most of the people like. Frankly, I am not a fan of this product - the commercial one I mean - because I have many doubts regarding what it is made of; the list of ingredients printed on the label is not comforting: I would expect to find just chocolate or/and cocoa, hazelnut and not much more; on the contrary the list of ingredients is quite long and some of them ...ehm ...of questionable nature and origin. I know that probably somebody will hate me from now for this radical statement, but this is my real, actual opinion (in fact when I was a child - and of course guided more by the good taste and popularity of the product than by health issues - I ate jars of this cream, in several possible ways: spread on bread or toast, as an ingredient for other desserts, eating spoon of it directly from the jar or even - I shouldn't say this but I'm sure that many others do the same - taking it with fingers).

Monday, 15 December 2014

Banana- Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Banana- Chocolate Chunk Cookies

A banana cake with chocolate chips that I prepared not long ago (recipe here) made me completely reconsider the use of bananas for making cakes and other sweet baked goods. Since then I am not worried anymore when bananas I buy start becoming overripe...I can always use them to prepare something good for breakfast!
Bananas makes baked goods particularly moist and flavorful (bananas have their own peculiar flavor that is not easy to hide) and absolutely pleasant...These cookies are a combination of two bakery most beloved classics: chocolate chip cookies (who doesn't love them?) and banana bread. The result is really enjoyable: a light crust encloses a soft pastry enriched, both in flavor and texture, by pieces of chocolate and rolled oats (the original recipe calls also for walnuts, that I cannot eat and don't like and therefore omitted). The recipe comes from "Cookies" by Martha Stewart, a book I love as it gives me great inspirations: this time I just eliminated walnuts and reduced butter and sugar (as I do most of the times I follow an American recipe). Absolutely worth trying!

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Sun-dried tomatoes and olives muffins

Sundried tomatoes and olives muffins

I've been baking many muffins lately, and trying different varieties...
I would say that muffins are my newest field for baking experiments. I made several tests and experiments with other baked goods - tarts, cakes, cookies, breads, focaccia, and more - but muffins were not in my repertoire yet. Until I discovered how good, tasty and pretty they can be....and absolutely easy to make, and super fast too.
I've always liked muffins - not all of them actually, as I had also the unlucky chance to see, and eat, muffins with the same specific weight as bricks and others so flattish to resemble more a sweet pizza - but I had somehow undervalued their potential. And in fact muffins, when properly made and baked, are a really delicious treat, very good-looking too; and the funny thing is that the less you work the batter, the better muffins come out: the only trick for moist, soft and domed muffins is to mix the ingredients (to be precise add the liquid mixture to the dry mix), as less as possible, just to roughly combine everything. Not a secret though: everyone seems to know it, it's written on every cookbook, magazine, website, blog; it's important just to put in practice this simple advice.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

My DinnerTime experience

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to try the service offered by DinnerTime ME, the local branch of an international company founded in Sweden few years ago and recently arrived in the Middle East, whose purpose is to provide families with fresh ingredients and instructions to prepare four creative meals during the week. How does it work? Every week DinnerTime's team creates a four meals set menu, buys all the fresh ingredients required (and some cupboard staples more unlikely to be always available in your pantry) and delivers right to your door in a time slot chosen by you, together with all the instructions to prepare the recipes. All you have to do is to check DinnerTime's website to view in advance the menu planned for the following week and, if you like it, place your order - online, by phone or email - by Thursday; on the following Sunday, at the chosen time, you'll receive your box.
To be honest, I wouldn't have ordered from DinnerTime on purpose, as I like to plan meals for my family by myself, selecting new recipes to try or, even more often, deciding what to cook on the basis of the fresh food - mainly vegetables and fish - I bought (and I buy only what inspires me, usually because is fresh, local, organic if possible, and somehow tempting me). But I received a DinnerTime voucher as a gift from the beautiful online magazine 
Food e Mag dxb, a food and travel e-magazine authored by local bloggers, (you can register on the website to have a chance to receive a gourmet gift) and was happy to try. 

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Seafood, fennel and lime salad

Seafood, fennel and lime salad

I have previously said (see my post here) that "Ottolenghi The Cookbook" is my favorite cookbook at the moment. I have already tried several recipes and many others are in the pipeline.
Among the recipes I have already made- all very appreciated actually - this Seafood, fennel and lime salad is so far one of my favorite; I'll prepare it again and again, both for family meals and dinners with friends (future guests, be prepared to taste it sooner or later!).
When I first read this recipe in the book, I loved it immediately as it reminds me one of my favorite Italian seafood appetizers, insalata di mare (seafood salad), a simple dish of usually steamed or poached seafood (any type of fish can be used, but a seafood salad usually has prawns or shrimps and squids, and sometimes shellfish, scallops and/or other firm fish) that can come in several variants; the basic version is made dressing the seafood only with extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice, but it is possible to add many other ingredients in order to have different combinations of flavors and textures: capers, olives, citrus zests, raw or cooked vegetables (celery is commonly used in Italy, but also zucchini, carrots, cherry tomatoes, steamed potatoes, sun-dried tomatoes work well), herbs (parsley is the most popular) and spices ... the range of possible combinations is almost infinite.  Also it can be served warm or at room temperature.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Cocoa and vanilla braided cookies

Cocoa and vanilla braided cookies

December has arrived...the last month of the year, the month of Christmas. And when Christmas approaches, for many people it's normal to start baking: cakes, traditional Christmas sweets, rich breads and, of course, cookies. Cookies are probably the most simple and versatile of all: can be made also with help of children, can be served to relatives and guest coming to visit us, but also given as a sweet, homemade present (that I always appreciate much actually). And there exist so many varieties of cookies that it can be fun to bake different types, so as to serve or give a nice assortment during Christmas season.
So it's time to share a new recipe for cookies, not a traditional Christmas cookie, but a pretty, nice, simple cookie that can be a good addition to your baking repertoire.
I find them perfect for afternoon tea, but they go very well also with a cup of coffee.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

The Farmer's Market on the Terrace in Dubai

The Farmer's Market on the Terrace in Dubai

When I was about to move from Italy to Dubai one year ago, one of the (many) things I started wondering about was what kind of food I would have eaten daily. I was not much concerned about the availability of food, or the possibility to find products I was used to; on the contrary I thought I would have found a much wider variety of foodstuffs, thanks to the multicultural city that Dubai is. My thoughts were more related to the quality and origin of what I was going to buy, cook and eat. Given local weather conditions and characteristics, my idea was that not much could be grown locally with the consequence that most of supplies had to fly from all over the world to local supermarkets. My ideal of food shopping is a bit different though: I prefer to buy products, especially the fresh ones, with a supply chain as short as possible; if it where possible I would buy everything directly from growers and producers (have a look at my profile to know what I think, and have always thought, about the food I want to eat). This habit of mine takes origin mainly from my family's costumes: when I was a child part of the fruits and vegetables we consumed at home where grown by my grandparents in their farm, together with olives for making oil and grape for wine; and so eggs, chicken and other foodstuffs. What they didn't produce came mainly from other local, small, family-run farms. Many years later my mom still buys the food for the family as much as possible in the same way, and living very close to the countryside the task is quite easy for her. I moved from there long time ago and lived for many years in some of the biggest cities in Italy, Milan for a long time than Turin for a while before coming to Dubai. But the way I used to buy food didn't change much: fruits and vegetables from farmers (in Turin I was so lucky! I had a daily farmer market at five minutes walking from where I lived), olive oil directly from producers (in each Italian region it's possible to find different types of olive oils), and the same grains, wine, pasta, cheese, and actually most of the food we had. It was also a good excuse to travel and go out of the city during weekends. I love seeing first hand where and how food is grown and produced, talking with producers, knowing the people behind what we eat and also tasting new products and knowing different ways to use products.
So when moving to Dubai, I thought I had to give up this way of shopping and convert to supermarket; also I thought that some products would have been available but absolutely overpriced.
My main concern was related to vegetables since, even if we are not a vegetarian family, we make a really huge consumption of vegetables, of all varieties. And eating stuff coming from hundreds miles away, plus pricey, was not an attractive idea to me...
But luckily I was completely wrong! Because Dubai has a unique, real, farmers market, and finally the new season has just started: last Friday, November 28th, The Farmer Market On The Terrace officially returned and will be held every Friday till the end on May in a beautiful location, an avenue shaded by palm trees in the Ballroom Gardens at Jumeirah Emirates Towers.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Marinated eggplants with tahini and oregano

Marinated eggplants with tahini and oregano

There is a book that is giving me great inspirations lately: "Ottolenghi The Cookbook" (not so original tough). Even if in my wishlist for a long time, this book is a relatively recent addition to my cookbook shelf. And since I bought it I'm trying one recipe after another.
When I get a new cookbook, I use to go through it in quite deep detail and place a sticker on the pages with the recipes I wish to try, so as to find them easily in future. Whit this book, after reading the first fifteen pages of recipes, I realized that I was placing a sticker on nearly all pages: the style of cooking, the ingredients used, the presentation, everything is so close to my taste that I really would like to make almost everything, from vegetables to meat and fish, to baked goods. And so I changed my approach and decided to give a sort of priority to the most inspiring recipes: I placed stickers just on those I want to make first, but even so the book is full of colored post-it jutting out from the pages. I have already prepared several dishes taken from the "to-do list" and I have to say that all of them came out very good, and sometimes even outstanding.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Yogurt cocoa muffins

Yogurt cocoa muffins

These muffins had originally to be a cake, a yogurt cake. In fact, with a sort of childhood nostalgia, my initial intention was to prepare the cake which probably represents my very first approach to baking. Actually this yogurt cake is very popular in Italy (and in France also), probably all moms make it and let their children help, as it is super easy. The peculiarity, if you will, is that all ingredients (to be precise most of all) are measured using the yogurt cup, in particular the "Italian" yogurt cup which is 125 ml (actually now things are a bit different than when I was a child and it is possible to find also other sizes but most yogurts still come in a 125 ml cup). To be honest this way of measuring ingredients is not much different than the US cup-based method...Anyway, even if not so precise (especially if children do the measuring) it is very very easy: no scale needed, no grams, ml or other units of measure; even younger kids can do it. And it's funny too.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Basic focaccia (Locatelli's foolproof focaccia)

Basic focaccia (Locatelli's foolproof focaccia)

Focaccia is one of the most popular baked goods in Italy, very simple and versatile: it can be stuffed inside or left plain, topped with sea salt and olive oil, rosemary or other herbs and sometimes with finely sliced olives or onions or cherry tomatoes. Like many other types of food, each Italian region has its own type of focaccia, with different preparation methods (and often even different ingredients) as well as diverse toppings or fillings; some types are even considered cake.
Focaccia originated from the Northern shores of Mediterranean (most historians believes it was introduced either by the Etruscans of North Central Italy prior to the Roman Empire or in Ancient Greece), and slowly spread into the cultures of Greece and Rome where it was very widely used.  The name ‘Focaccia’ is derived from the Roman words “panis focacius”, where "panis" simply means bread while "focacius" is the Latin word for center of fireplace, that is where this popular food was cooked (focus means fire in Latin). And given this origin it is not hard to believe that this flat bread, initially simply topped with spices, olive oil and other products, gradually morphed into one of the most famous Italian meals – pizza.
Focaccia's basic ingredients are very simple and actually remained unchanged from its origin until now: flour, water, salt, a small quantity of yeast and, one of the most important elements, olive oil, which was added to the top of the dough as a mean to preserve its moisture after baking. Through the centuries, most of the Italian regions have managed to modify original focaccia recipe and adapt to their regional and local tastes and ingredients; as a consequence the focaccia recipe has fragmented into countless variations, with some bearing little resemblance to its original form.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Banana and chocolate chips scones

Banana and chocolate chips scones

I've finally had to accept the idea that not all the bananas I buy will be eaten as a fruit; for some reasons, one or more become overripe so fast that their destiny. if they are not too bad to be necessarily wasted, is to be used as an ingredient of a baking recipe. Since I made this banana cake with chocolate chips, that really made me change my mind on any kind of baked goods containing banana as a main ingredient, I started experimenting with this fruit: since banana gives a pleasant, particular moistness to baked stuff, it is possible to make very nice things without adding much fat (butter or oil or any other kind of shortening); it is also possible to reduce the quantity of sugar, taking advantage of the natural sweetness of the fruit, and even avoiding to use eggs since bananas have a natural thickening action.
These banana and chocolate chips scones are absolutely worth trying; soft, moist and - trust me - with a really light texture! They are perfect for an healthy, energetic breakfast, as well as for the afternoon tea-time but also give them to your children for breakfast or as a snack (especially if they don't like to eat fruit).

Monday, 17 November 2014

Chicken nuggets (my way)

Chicken nuggets (my way)

Chicken nuggets, besides being one of the "signature" items on the menu of the most popular fast food chain (no need to name it), are also present in most of the kids menus all over the world. Because almost all children (and often also parents) love them; except my son and maybe few other kids in the world (excluding vegetarians of course). In particular he doesn't like those nuggets made using bite sized pieces of chicken, where the taste and texture of the meat is fully recognizable even if they are covered in breadcrumbs, usually very salty and deep-fried. But my son actually dislikes almost all kinds of meat and fish and also cheese: I would say he is unconsciously vegetarian, and he would have pasta, then pasta and more pasta, both for lunch and dinner (he is really Italian!).
But when I made these chicken nuggets, beyond any expectations, he liked them, so I want to share the recipe for those moms looking for different ways of presenting meat to their children, especially if like my son are not meat and chicken lovers.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Tender chocolate cake (Torta tenerella )

Tender chocolate cake (Torta tenerella )

Now that we are officially in Autumn and that even in Dubai the weather is getting chillier (so nice actually), it is finally time for the chocolate season to start again. To be honest for me it never stops, as I enjoy having chocolate at any time of the year, including the hot summer - and I am not talking about chocolate ice cream or semifreddo!. And to start (or continue) the new chocolate season, I want to share the recipe for my "passe-partout" chocolate cake. Passe-partout because this cake is good for many different occasions, simply adapting the way it is presented and served. In Italy it is called torta tenerina or tenerella (that means tender, soft), and it's similar to the cake that French call fondant; it is basically a nearly flour-less chocolate cake, characterized by an extremely moist, tender and almost melting center. The result is based in part on the ingredients that are always the same, even if in different quantity and proportion depending on the recipe: chocolate, butter, eggs (whose whites must be whipped into a meringue), sugar, very little or no flour (sometimes replaced by corn starch), in some cases cocoa powder and optional flavors (like coffee or liquor); but what gives the fondant center is the baking time, that has to be short. The longer the cake is baked, the firmer the heart becomes; and here the level of internal tenderness preferred depends much on personal taste: some people like a really melting center, others prefer a firmer one. It's just a matter of trying and adjusting the baking time to personal preferences (and oven too, since each one is different, in particular when it comes to bake sweet goods requiring much precision). I like the center soft but not really melting and, in general, I tend to bake the cake a little longer if I know that children are going to eat it. I also have to say that a cake with a softer center is more suitable to be served at the end of a meal than a firmer one, which is more similar to other chocolate cakes good for breakfast or tea-time (and this is why I bake it longer for kids).

Friday, 14 November 2014

Pasta Master Class with chef Claudio Sadler

Sadler Masterclass @Italian Cuisine World Summit 2014

I couldn't have had a better occasion than this to inaugurate a new section of the blog where, besides recipes which remain the protagonists of this website, I want to talk about other food-related experiences worth being remembered and shared. Since the birth of this blog - relatively recent though - I hadn't experienced yet any food event really deserving a detailed review, with the only exception of some restaurants that I visited here in Dubai and really enjoyed, but whose reviews would maybe be superfluous or redundant considering the many and valuable ones already published by others. But the "original" occasion finally came and I am now very happy to talk about it.
During the month of November, more precisely from the 7th to the 20th, Dubai is hosting the sixth edition of the Italian Cuisine World Summit, an event celebrating Italian food and culinary tradition which gathers in the city some of the best and most renowned Italian chefs: the list includes guest master chefs at the helm of prestigious restaurants in Italy but also ambassadors of the Italian cuisine all around the world. The summit program is very intense and absolutely exciting: some of the finest Italian restaurants in Dubai are hosting gala events as well as dinners with special menus created by the Italian visiting chefs; an extensive series of cooking lessons, courses and seminars are being held at different venues, featuring chefs, experts, sommeliers and food writers; events, cooking shows, competitions and more will take place at several locations in the city. Check the summit's website to know the detailed programme or visit Dima Sharif's blog which, having being appointed as the official blog of the event, is following closely what is going on, anticipating upcoming events, introducing chefs, showing what is taking place throughout the summit, including some behind-the-scene. The event is really a great opportunity for Dubai's residents and visitors for having a first-hand experience with top quality Italian cuisine and food tradition, be it a dinner prepared by a celebrity chef or an family-friendly event or a seminar on olive oil (or something else) or a cooking lesson. Among this huge range of possibilities, thanks to Dima's invitation, I had the opportunity to attend a Master Class on dry Pasta held by the Michelin-starred chef Claudio Sadler.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Oat flakes and buttermilk bread

Oat flakes and buttermilk bread

Bread is never missing on my table. I think that it is a fundamental component of every single meal, from breakfast (but I confess that for breakfast I prefer a sweet baked good) to dinner. And something I really love is to have in the bread basket a mix of different bread varieties: when I dine out I appreciate restaurants serving an assortment of breads. hopefully homemade, as well as I like to prepare more than one type of bread when we have guests at home. But even a "regular" weekday family dinner is more pleasant with two or three different kinds of bread to choose from.
And...in the continuous search for new, diverse types of bread...I made this one, which is really peculiar but absolutely worth trying: no-kneading required, just a long rest; buttermilk as a main ingredient (and I really like the texture of breads made with buttermilk); and oat flakes substituting part of the flour. The result is a moist, rich, flavorful and original bread perfect for lunch or dinner with salads and soups, but also for breakfast with butter and jam or honey, better if lightly warmed in the oven.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Chocolate chip sablè cookies

Chocolate chip sablè cookies

Out of the millions existing recipes for chocolate chips cookies, I want to share my favorite one. Even if, to be honest, these cookies are not proper "chocolate chips cookies", as they do not have the peculiar characteristics of this much loved family of cookies: crisp (less or more depending on the recipe) at the edges with a softer, chewy interior (same comment as before). No; these chocolate chip cookies have a more friable, crumbly texture and for this reason I called them sablè, to distinguish them from the iconic American cookies. It's not that I don't like the traditional choc-chip cookies; on the contrary I enjoy trying different versions of them, in search for the impossible-to-find perfect one, and also I always take note of new interesting recipes whatever the source is (blogs, magazines, cookbooks, friends, ...). To try them all I should bake a batch of cookies every single day! On this blog I have already published the recipe for a traditional chocolate chip cookie by French pastry chef Christophe Michalack and that for a chocolate chip cookie-cake; it is finally the time to share one of the cookies I make more often.
Chocolate chip sablè cookies

The recipe author is one of the most famous Italian pastry chef, Maurizio Santin (sorry but his website, except for the name, is in Italian), whose creations are usually amazing, even if sometimes a bit challenging for home-patissiers. This recipe (that I have lightly adapted) is instead very easy to make and always much appreciated by both children and grown-ups; actually, based on my experience, they don't last long if there are children around. And the other good thing is that, as the result is much better if the cookie dough is cold and firm, the dough can be made in advance, shaped into logs and kept in the freezer until you are ready to bake your cookies: they are perfect in case of unplanned visits in the afternoon or after dinner, for a sweet breakfast (paired with a cup of milk) or just when craving for something sweet (but not too elaborate). And in fact, having a look into my freezer it is likely to find a couple of logs of these cookies, just waiting to be baked.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Raspberry - almond blondies

Raspberry - almond blondies

I admit that the first time I heard of blondies (sigh, how long ago it was... my first stay in the States) I thought they were a flat cake, cut into squares, made with white chocolate. And I was completely wrong! But forgive me, I am Italian and this sweet doesn't belong to Italian tradition. Actually now many "foreign" sweets, as well as many other dishes, are popular in Italy too, and sometimes are even more appreciated than local ones, especially by follower of food trends: first cupcakes, then macarons, now something else. But blondies, unlike their dark cousins, are not much familiar to people. Maybe in future ... who knows? They are good indeed, and also easy to make.
I don't know exactly neither their origin and the story behind them, if there is one, nor their relation with brownies. But I think they deserve a try. Whereas brownies flavor depends, obviously, on chocolate, blondies have a molasses flavor, coming from brown sugar combined with butter, that I like even if some recipes are too sweet for my personal, and Italian, taste (actually most of the American desserts tend to be too sweet for me).
Raspberry - almond blondies

The recipe for these raspberry-almond blondies comes, ça va sans dire, from an American cookbook, "Cookies" by Martha Stewart, from which I take inspiration sometimes. But. as usual, I adapted the original recipe to my personal taste: first of all I cut (much actually) the amount of sugar and this means less sweet but also less chewy, more cakey blondies; then, since I am not a fan of nuts, I didn't put any sliced almond into the batter, as requested by the recipe, but just sprinkled some on top, all over raspberries; and finally I added to the batter some chopped white chocolate whose sweetness perfectly pairs with raspberries sourness. And these italianized  blondies came out very good, not too sweet, soft and delicate, perfect with a good cup of jasmine tea.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Almost peperonata

Almost peperonata

I have a backlog of recipes for the blog - and I mean recipes with pictures edited and ingredients and preparation steps already written - waiting for being published. But the last two months have been a bit odd to me (I don't want to talk of how fast they passed: it seems last week that I came back from my summer holidays!). At the beginning of September my two years old son started going to the nursery, for the very first time in his life. And since then he attended his class less than half the scheduled time. Not because he doesn't like the school - on the contrary he is always very happy and excited to go - but because he repeatedly gets sick: three, maximum four days in school and then fever, cold, cough, sore throat. We are going to the doctor every other week, and she says that everything is absolutely normal: the immune system is developing, there are many viruses in schools (and in Dubai in general), it is the very first time he gets in contact with many other children  ... with time everything will go better. All things I already knew, but when they really happens are a bit annoying. Not much for me but above all for the kid: one whole day at home (and he wakes up at 6.30 a.m. and sleeps at 8.30 p.m.) is really long and it may difficult to find many different activities to do; I said many different, because the interest of a two years old boy lasts no longer than 20 minutes, with cartoons the only exception. So this is how I spent most of my days during the last two months: finding something to do for my sick little boy. I thought that after the beginning of the school I would have had much more time for doing things I was always postponing (exploring better the city because I am still new to it, knowing people/making new friends, and pampering myself sometimes) and above all dedicate more time to my blog. But nothing went as planned and on one side I am still postponing the same activities, on the other I can work at the blog much less then I would (when my son sleeps in the afternoon, in the evenings or during weekends while the child is playing with his dad); but there is also a very positive aspect of all this: I stay with my son, and the time spent with him is the most precious. And another consequence of this, not so serious indeed, is that some of the not-published-yet recipes are no more "in season", in the sense that they would be more suitable for the past summer than for the incoming fall. Considering the concept of seasonality that I have always had as an Italian living in Italy. I try to explain. I have always preferred to use seasonal (and local as I have already said) product and also to make dishes coherent with the current season, but I have to admit that after moving to Dubai I have slightly changed my idea of "seasonal": when living in Italy I wouldn't have prepared a farro salad or a gazpacho in November, preferring maybe a more warming risotto; but here in November the weather is almost the same as in July in Italy (and also the range of available local products). This means that some of  my "expired" recipes are still good for Dubai's fall and winter, like this peperonata, an Italian side dish made with onion, peppers and tomatoes.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Wholemeal no-knead bread

Wholemeal no-knead bread
I adore the smell spreading throughout the entire house while bread is baking in the oven.
According to a scientific research, the aroma of freshly-baked bread, besides the obvious power to make your mouth water and stimulate appetite, may have other positive effects: like a sort of aromatherapy it seems to awake a positive mood, make a person more sensitive, and even trigger a benevolent behavior towards other people, even strangers. I am not sure that I become kinder thanks to the delicious smell of freshly - baked bread (need something stronger), but for sure making bread improves my mood and gives me great satisfaction; and this is why I love to make and bake my bread at home.
I have already said here that I do not possess a stand mixer to make dough without much labor, and that I therefore usually prefer to make no-knead breads. But the fact that I don't have an electric machine with planetary mixing action is pretty much an excuse, a banal justification to my unwillingness to do a pretty hard work. Because kneading is not difficult, but requires time and a bit of elbow grease. And I am lazy, like most of the people of my generation (younger people are even worst, but ... that's it). Nowadays everybody is used to get everything (including home-made food) quickly and easily; and I think that it is not always and not only a matter of limited availability of time, but a modern mental attitude. In fact I remember- and with great nostalgia - my nonna (grandmother in Italian) and her extraordinary energy.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Chocolate chip cookie-cake

Chocolate chip cookie-cake


What can be better than a chocolate chip cookie? Difficult question...even more difficult after trying one bite of this chocolate-chip dessert, that is something in between a cookie and a cake, with a soft and slightly chewy interior and a crunchy exterior. Really nice!
The first time I made it was last summer, while I was in Italy. The occasion was my niece birthday; the girl, who turned seven, knowing my love for baking (and for chocolate too), asked me to prepare her birthday cake. The task was not so easy. First of all, how to guess (and match) the expectations of a seven years girl? Too tricky, I skipped this point. At least I wanted to make a good cake, no matter the girl's inscrutable will. But here came the real problem: I was far from my house, that means far from my collection of cookbooks, magazines and folders full of recipes ripped out from magazines, from which I usually take inspiration; and we were in a holiday home, that means no internet connection. Luckily when I travel I always bring we me, together with my beauty case, at least one of my recipe notebooks; this time I had with me the "baking notebook", containing the recipes for breads, cakes, cookies, tartes & Co. that I make more often  and those never tried yet but labelled as "must try". And I had also a USB pen with some notes for the blog and other recipes. I had enough material to choose both a birthday cake and another dessert (after all, more than twenty people were invited to the party). As a birthday cake, since I didn't want to risk much, I made a chocolate cake filled and covered with a chocolate ganache. And then one of the "must try" recipe hand written on my notebook was this chocolate chip cake that I had copied from a lovely French blog with a self-explaining name, chocolat & caetera. And I chose it with no hesitation.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Ginger Roasted Salmon

Ginger Roasted Salmon

Reading the list of fish recipes published so far on this blog, one could think that the only fish my family eats, or at least the one we prefer, is salmon (three recipes out of four, including this, are for salmon). But this is only partially true. As I have already said here, I like salmon and make it quite often. But, how can I say, it is the fish for my "lazy" days: when I want to make something tasty without much effort, when I want to have fish but I don't want to clean more than one pan, when I am not in the mood for trying a new fish, or when, after spending fifteen minutes in front of the fish counter, I cannot decide what to take and go home with two salmon fillets.
And in fact when I buy fish - but it is the same when I buy any other food, especially fresh -  I usually tend to choose, or better to search for local fish, that means local varieties, locally caught. Because local fish is (if seller is reliable) fresher than imported, and consequently tastier, and also more reasonably priced (less travel, less intermediaries). This is sometimes that I like to repeat (have a look at this post) because choosing well the food we buy help us to eat better and helps the environment too.
But let's go back to salmon, which I buy even if not perfectly coherent with the buying philosophy just mentioned.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Milk cream cookies

Milk cream cookies

Like in many other fields, also in the Food and Beverage world there are products which, for some reasons, are so popular and loved to become somehow iconic - and consequently also imitated by many. Often their fame is supported by massive, highly effective marketing campaigns, but usually these products taste absolutely good (oh, yes) and have something original and unique.
While some of these products are "stars" at global level (think for example to Coca-Cola), the majority are recognized on a smaller scale, usually national, sometimes cross-national. This is the case of a cookie, super popular in Italy, whose name, Macine, the Italian word for "millstone", comes from their round shape with a small hole in the center, which reminds just that of a millstone.
Milk cream cookies
Launched in the '80s, these cookies still have a leadership position in the Italian market of baked goods, even if since then many other cookies have been created and many international brands have entered the Italian market with a wide range of cookies. And the imitations? For sure all retailer private labels have these cookies in their assortment, but also other brands have something similar (all with different names, of course). I remember that, as a kid, I loved them with a cup of milk, at breakfast, but also on their own at any time in the afternoon while doing my homework. If my "extended" family living in Italy is representative of an average Italian family, I understand why these cookies are still so popular: they are the favorite of my sister's eldest son who (I saw him directly last summer) can eat half packet each morning helped by his sister; and something similar happens in my husband's sister family where the ten years old boy prefers them as an afternoon snack; and the rest of the family usually helps too.
And they are very simple, no chocolate or other additions, no filling, no cream, just a friable texture and a delicate flavor. According to the label, their unique taste should come from the fresh milk cream used in the recipe. I trust, even the 2% cream claimed on the label is not that much! Anyway, since they are so simple, I wanted to make them at home: it's funny and gratifying to replicate industrial foods at home. And also I love home-made cookies: they always taste more "natural" than the store bought one, and are potentially healthier, of course if high quality ingredients are used: no artificial flavors, real butter, fresh milk and eggs, no preservatives (even when the label says that they do not contain any preservative, industrial foods always keep much longer than home-made, and this is still a mystery for me).

Monday, 13 October 2014

Banana cake with chocolate chips

Banana cake with chocolate chips

Before making this recipe I did not take into great consideration banana cakes or breads. I thought of them as "second choice" cakes, made not much for the love of banana cakes as for using some overripe bananas sitting in the kitchen. Maybe because I don't like bananas (probably I didn't eat even as a child) or because most of the banana cakes I've tried had walnuts inside (and I have a sort of allergy to walnuts); or maybe the strange color that bananas give to the cake or... I don't know exactly, but I had never considered to make a banana cake before. But I have a two years old son who has a strange relation with bananas: there are days when I have to go out and buy bananas because he sees another kid eating a banana on the beach and wants one too; but there are also other days - usually when I have plenty of bananas in the kitchen- in which he looks at bananas as they were the last food in the world he would eat. And so the poor bananas, after becoming more and more yellow, finally turn brown and seem to say: "please decide what to do with us". If there is just one too ripe banana, I can throw it, but if they are more I think it's a shame. And just too many overripe bananas are the origin of this cake which made me change idea about banana cakes. Because it is delicious, much more than I ever expected.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Kofta Kebabs with yogurt sauce

Kofta Kebabs with yogurt sauce

Even if I have been living in Dubai for almost one year now, this is the very first time I prepare  a Middle Eastern dish at home. What a shame! But I can always make up for lost time, considering in particular how much I love this flavorful and spicy cuisine.
Kofta (or kofte) kebabs are long meatballs, made with ground lamb or beef (or a mix of them or even other kinds of meat, like mutton), flavored with herbs and spices and grilled on skewers. The name kofta comes from the Persian word kufthe which means mashed (when meat grinders were not available, meat was first cut into small pieces then mashed in a sort of mortar). Koftas are very popular in Turkey where it is possible to find many local versions, but they are a traditional food in almost all Middle Eastern countries; variations occur also in North Africa, the Mediterranean area, Balkans and India. Koftas can be grilled (then they are named kofta kebabs) or cooked in several other ways: steamed, fried, or cooked in a gravy. There are also vegetarian versions (especially in India) where meat is substituted for lentils, potatoes or other vegetables. It is also possible to find kofta made with fish.
Kofta Kebabs with yogurt sauce

I had seen a recipe for kofta kebabs last summer, during my holidays in Italy, while leafing through an Italian cooking magazine (funny, isn't it?) and decided I had to try when back in Dubai, where finding ingredients (spices in particular) is much easier (and of course, cheaper). I did not follow exactly the recipe I had found in the magazine, but added some ingredients (garlic and cayenne pepper in particular) and increased the quantity of the spices. I know that there are several versions of kofta kebabs (as for all traditional dishes), and I cannot say if the one I made may be considered somehow "orthodox"; I only know it is delicious and easy to make.
I used a mix of lamb and beef ground meat, but it is possible to use all lamb or all beef or even other combinations: what I recommend is not to use low fat meat, in order to have tender and moist kofta.
Also I baked the kofta kebabs in the oven but - and probably this is the more traditional cooking technique - they can also be grilled or chargrilled. A yogurt sauce flavored with mint and parsley is a perfect, refreshing complement (also tzatziki works well); and don't forget some Arabic bread.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Potato cakes with smoked salmon and herb crème fraîche

Potato cakes with smoked salmon and herb crème fraîche


There was a time when I always had in my fridge a package of smoked salmon. At that time - don't think it was decades ago, just three or four years - my life was completely different than it is now: I lived in Italy (but this is not particularly relevant), my son was not born yet, my future husband worked and lived during the week in a different city and, most important fact of all, I worked. And my job conditioned a lot the rest of my life. I know that all jobs do, but working as a business consultant for a big consultancy firm makes a little more difficult to plan the day schedule: I never knew at what time I would have come back home in the evening, when I came back home. Because I often worked at the clients premises, that could be hundreds miles far from Milan, and maybe finished meetings at 7 pm; then I had to take my car and come back home and, of course, arrived very late. Since my days where a little unpredictable - and I am not a huge fan of fast foods/take away/home delivery - I liked to have always on hand some ingredients to prepare me a decent dinner at any time. And smoked salmon was perfect for this purpose: it goes well with salads and other veggies (I always have vegetables in my fridge, and eat them every day, twice a day if possible), it is tasty, has a wonderful, comforting color and, to me, can add a sense of luxury even to a last minute, improvised meal.
As it saved many of my lonely, late dinners, I still have a sort of affection for smoked salmon, and sometimes buy a package of it. But now, not having the problem of improvising dinners in less than fifteen minutes, it risks to arrive very close to the expiry date without being taken into consideration. And a package of forgotten smoked salmon was the input for this "potato cakes with smoked salmon and herb crème fraîche" recipe.
Actually the potato cakes come from a Jamie Oliver's recipe: he serves them with smoked salmon and boiled eggs. I eliminated the eggs (that I prefer to cook differently) and added some crème fraîche, flavored with two herbs,chives and dill, that in my opinion perfectly match the taste of salmon.
I served this dish for dinner with a rich mixed salad, but it would be perfect for a weekend brunch or a lazy, indulgent breakfast.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Jam-filled tartlets

Jam-filled tartlets


I have one - frankly speaking several - notebook where I take note of recipes I want to try (and after I make one of them, the relative page becomes full of comments: my variations / substitutions, cooking tips and, of course, tasting notes). Many of them are recipes that I specifically search for, but there are some that I stumble upon by chance while randomly surfing the web or flipping through magazines or cookbooks or watching TV cooking shows. And these recipes are usually written down in one go; being inspired by the curiosity or the beautiful picture or by the fact that I have never made something similar, and paying attention not to miss any ingredient or preparation step, I sometimes do not take into great consideration the quantity and proportion of the various ingredient the recipe calls for. And so, when I go through one of my notebooks in search for inspiration, and read more carefully what I wrote, I find recipes (often for desserts) requiring quantities of certain ingredients that, in my opinion, cannot be part of  a as-healthy-as-possible diet (that is the kind of diet which drives me daily, first while shopping at the supermarket/market, then when preparing meals): amounts of butter and/or so exaggerate quantities of sugar requiring a detoxifying period to get back to normal values of cholesterol and glycemia. Don't think that I am obsessed with healthy food or that I banned some ingredients (actually I avoid to buy, use or eat some things for healthy reason but this is not the case of butter and sugar that, to me, are fundamental ingredients, especially when making sweets and baked goods); but, when it's too much...
Well, thanks to this deeper analysis I can eliminate recipes that for sure I will never make; but there are recipes that, even if a little "too rich", for some reason are still inspiring me, and remain in the list of the recipes to try. It is the case of these small cakes, that I have seen in the deliaonline website.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Balsamic roasted red cabbage

Balsamic roasted red cabbage

Considering the quantity of vegetables that we - me and my husband I mean - eat every day at dinner, most of the time I spent in the kitchen is dedicated to cleaning and cooking vegetables. And I haven't published any recipe for veggies yet. It's time to do it. The recipe I have chosen is for roasted cabbage flavored with balsamic vinegar. Perfect for incoming fall and winter seasons (even if actually here in Dubai these seasons mean staying outdoor, going to the beach and doing other activities that at other latitudes are typical of spring and summer). But, anyway, when weather becomes relatively cooler, it is time to eat cabbage; everybody should because it is a vegetable packed with benefits for our health. Like the more à-la-page kale or the more common broccoli and Brussel sprout, red cabbage belongs to the family of cruciferous vegetables, whose nutrients and properties are scientifically recognized as capable to improve our health and prevent or even treat some diseases, first of all cancer. But what's good in them?

Monday, 29 September 2014

Crostata alla marmellata (jam tarte) and a lesson on how to make pasta frolla

Crostata alla marmellata (jam tarte)




Crostata, the Italian word for tart or pie, is one of the most popular and loved sweet baked goods in Italy. It is prepared in almost infinite forms and varieties, with local / regional versions, and it is possible to find at least one type of crostata in every single bakery, patisserie, bar and café all over the country. But also the homemade version is very common: almost all families have their own recipe which is usually handed down from mother to daughter. The peculiarity of crostata is the pastry dough used, the pasta frolla, that is the Italian take on the sweet shortcrust pastry - and this why I like to call it with the Italian name.
Pasta frolla is probably the most used basic dough in Italian pastry-making for preparing shells or closed pies, that can be topped or filled with an infinite variety of ingredients: custards, fruits, chocolate ganache, ricotta-based fillings, caramel sauce, or even savory fillings; the most simple of all possible fillings is jam or marmalade. This "basic" version of the crostata is absolutely my favorite breakfast and I make it very often. And it is so tasty and comforting that any moment of the day is perfect for having a little wedge of it.
But even if apparently simple, pasta frolla is not really the easiest of doughs to prepare or handle. Considering my passion for any kind of crostata I wanted to know more about pasta frolla and to discover how to make it in the best way, and studied a bit. Even if I like improvisation in the kitchen, cooking and especially baking and making pastries, I'm afraid, is all a matter of chemistry and physics. I do not want to bother anybody with a scientific treatise, but I like to share some basic pieces of information that can help anybody to make a good pasta frolla, which is a basic pastry dough perfect for almost any kind of sweet (and some savory) tarte one can imagine (and if someone has not understood yet, it is my favorite one). And once one masters just a little bit of this topic, no store-bought pastry shell or pastry dough will ever after been taken into consideration when deciding to make a tarte or a pie.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Stir-fried sirloin beef with cherry tomatoes, green olives and capers

Stir-fried sirloin beef with cherry tomatoes, green olives and capers


I spend a lot time in the kitchen, and I like it. I can stay a whole afternoon tempering chocolate, lining pans, whisking eggs and flour, spreading batters, whipping cream, just to make a layered cake or mono-portion triple chocolate mousse; also I may enjoy shaping dozens mini-croissant. Or even, considering that both me and my husband eat huge quantities of veggies, I do not mind washing and cutting as many vegetables as a restaurant kitchen (I am not exaggerating) for the dinner side dish.
But when it comes to prepare meat, I don't know the exact reason, I prefer not to spend much time. Probably it is because I like rare meat (as I have already said in the post for Asian-style strip steak), or maybe because most of the times I cook meat only for two people - my two years old child has chosen a vegetarian diet, with pasta as favorite dish (I hope he will change, sooner or later) - and a slowly roasted piece of meat for dinner is not worth the effort and time.
The good thing of this habit is that I have an interesting repertoire of fast recipes, really helpful for busy-day dinners as well as in case of unexpected guests. One of these is the recipe for stir-fried sirloin beef  with cherry tomatoes, green olives and capers which is really tasty and easy to make. Since the meat is cooked just few minutes, without many additional ingredients and spices, it is important to choose quality meat to have a really good result.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Greek Yogurt and Chocolate Chips Muffins

Greek Yogurt and Chocolate Chips Muffins


I had not planned in advance to make these yogurt and chocolate chip muffins; the idea came when I noticed that I had in the fridge a cup of plain Greek yogurt very close to the expiry date. Nobody at home likes to eat this kind of yogurt on its own, but I usually keep some in the fridge for "potential use" as an ingredient. Yogurt is not the only food I use to buy in advance, to have it on hand just in case. And sometimes what I buy is much more bizarre and, consequently, less versatile than yogurt: it may range from a particular preserve or jam or chutney, to a sauce, to a mix of spices, to a type of grain, to a never tasted cheese. Most of the time I choose these items while hanging around supermarket or grocery store aisles looking for something else, written down on my shopping list; but I also like to buy local specialties when I travel, so I usually bring home edible souvenirs. Not considering purchases made during holidays and travels, where the idea is to bring home something to remember visited places, in the other cases, beyond my impulse buying there are remote, faded memories of particular ingredients required in recipes that I have seen somewhere; a magazine, a cookbook, a website? Who knows! But unfortunately most of the times I do not stumble upon those recipes anymore and so my purchases are actually quite useless. Or better, when I find them in the pantry or worst in the fridge, usually very close to expiring (and I don't like to throw food), I have to choose one out of two alternatives: the first is to to search a recipe requiring some of the stuff I have. So I consult all my cookbooks and food magazines, surf the web, search in my favorite food blogs and, in case I find some inspiration, what I usually have to do is to go and buy many other ingredients that I do not have at home. What a waste of time! The second chance, that I follow more often, is to pretend to be a Masterchef participant and create a dish (preferably and hopefully edible) based on one selected ingredient, or more than one for an even more challenging task.
I know it is pretty weird but I cannot resist; when I go shopping I have to buy something, be it a cup of yogurt or sour cream or a new spice or a jam, that I may need in future!
This time, with the yogurt on hand, the job was quite easy, then I chose to go for the creative route and make something sweet for breakfast.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Croissant-shaped milk bread

Croissant-shaped milk bread


I know that the picture can be misleading: one could easily think I am going to share the recipe for a soft (and sweet) brioche-bread containing a relatively high amount of butter, a certain number of eggs, a lot of sugar, requiring a long preparation process and, of course, a standing mixer. But no, the recipe is that of a bread, which is soft and brioche-like because prepared with milk instead of simple water and "reinforced" with a minimum quantity of butter and egg. Also every step can be made by hand (no particular equipment required) and, not considering dead times while the dough is rising, the total preparation time is relatively short. My sister is the source of this bread's recipe that I had the chance to taste this summer while staying (in Italy) at my parent's home with her and her two children, who used to have it for merenda (the afternoon snack) filled with ham, prosciutto or chocolate-hazelnut spread.
I liked it immediately because is soft, light, with a good balance of sweetness and saltiness, and therefore can be the perfect side for both sweet and savory dishes / meals. In particular, exactly as the brioche bread that it reminds so much, I find this milk bread perfect for breakfast, a bit warm maybe, served with jam (with or without butter), chocolate spread, light spreadable cheeses, or cold cuts. But actually it is very versatile. Use it for example to make small sandwiches for the morning or afternoon snack: children (and not only them) will love it. And what about using this bread to make sweet and savory bites for a buffet? If there are adults among the guests, the range of possible fillings significantly increases: smoked salmon, any kind of paté, vegetable spreads, and more. It will also be appreciated if placed in the dinner bread basket with other varieties of bread.
I gave these little breads the shape of a croissant but, of course, other different shapes can be used: rolls, buns, small loafs.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Chocolate and red fruits mousse cake

Chocolate and red fruits mousse cake


Special occasions always deserve a special cake! It can be an anniversary, a birthday, a dinner with guests, a special day or simply the wish to make at home something that is usually bought from pastry shops or ordered at the restaurant.
It is not always necessary to master the art of patisserie or to have particular and costly equipment. Some recipes only require time and a bit of organization, like this chocolate and red fruits mousse cake; the only matter here is to plan in advance all the steps, especially if it has to be served for a specific time. But, since it tastes better the day after preparation, I recommend to make it in advance and keep it the freezer until the planned day; then it is important only to remember to transfer it into the refrigerator at least four hours before serving.
The recipe is my personal adaptation of different recipes that I wanted to put together; I have to say that the result gave me great satisfaction. The cake is composed by three layers: the first one is a base of biscuit joconde, a sort of sponge-cake made with almond flour which gives a delicate nutty flavor and a slightly crunchy texture which perfectly balances the softness of the upper layers. Then comes a very peculiar milk chocolate ganache, where the cream is replaced by a blend of red fruits (I used raspberries and sour cherries because I wanted some sourness to balance the sweetness of milk chocolate, but any type of red fruits will work well). Finally on top there is a light dark chocolate mousse (light because there is no egg and no added sugar), which really has a light texture. The combination is absolutely lovely, especially for chocolate fans. I made it as a unique cake (the occasion was my son's second birthday) but it can also be shaped in mono-portion cakes (it only will take a little longer, and take up more space in the freezer). For decorating the top I tempered some milk chocolate, spread it in a thin layer over non-stick paper and, when partially solidified, cut it into little circles. I used also some raspberries to add a touch of color and served.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Teriyaki Salmon

Teriyaki Salmon


I love salmon and I make it very often at home: it is easy to find in all supermarkets, it does not require specific cleaning (of course if one takes fillets or steaks), it cooks rapidly and, not less important, it tastes really good and can make special even a standard mid-week dinner at home.
I also love Japanese style in cooking: apart from sushi and sashimi (that I really like but won't probably never make at home), I have always enjoyed the combinations of flavors typical of Japanese cuisine; no to talk about how beautifully food is usually offered, even when the recipe is one of the simplest. So I wanted to try to make at home salmon teriyaki, a Japanese cooking technique in which fish or meat is grilled or seared with a sauce made of soy sauce, mirin (a sweet rice wine) and sugar. Probably there are thousands slightly different recipes for salmon teriyaki; this one belongs to the list and is really delicious, a perfect balance of salty and sweet. And is ready in fifteen minutes, with very few things to wash after. Much much better than what is served in many restaurants.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Chewy cocoa cookies with chocolate chips

Chewy cocoa cookies with chocolate chips







I spent almost two months in Italy, on holidays, and the blog had a vacation too. Not because I did not cook or try new recipes; in fact I made several interesting trials, mainly sweets and pasta recipes, that I want to make again soon and share on the blog. But, how can I say, the context was not ideal for working at the blog. The main issue was actually how to take decent pictures: in a "normal" family food is prepared to be eaten; it has to be good and tasty, how it looks is of secondary importance, especially if it is supposed to be served straight away after preparation (think for example to a plate of pasta). And so I did not feel like involving the whole family (I mean both mine and my husband's where I stayed during these months) in the weird rite of taking pictures of the plates before eating them, even if really deserving to be shared, and desisted from publishing on the blog. But now I am back home, where I can take more time to prepare a (sort of) photographic set, arrange food in a nice manner and take as many pictures as I want (even if sometimes no one of them comes out good enough to be published).  
And the first thing I want to share after summer holidays is a recipe for cookies, better, a recipe for chocolate cookies. Is there anything better than chocolate to make anyone happy, even if he or she has to come back to work? Very interesting is the fact that these cookies are really easy and fast to make: in less than one hour you will have a delicious, rich and flavorful treat perfect as a dessert as well as an elegant snack, with a cup of coffee or tea (but also with some liquor like rum). And also they are not too fat and heavy: in fact the amount of butter is relatively low and there is no egg in the batter (there is plain yogurt instead). 
I made these cookies many times, changing only the type of cocoa and yogurt because I think that they are wonderful this way, but if you want to try alternative versions you can refer to the suggestions of the blog Orangette, where I found the recipe.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Cherry loaf cake with a lemon scent

Cherry loaf cake with a lemon scent

I love summer fruits, and cherries are one my favorite. For sure I love them because they are the first fruit of the good season, but also for their wonderful combination of sweet and sour, the crunchy - juicy texture and their beautiful, joyful color.
At this time of the year, the cherries season is nearly at the end but I still want to celebrate this fantastic fruit with a super simply, incredibly easy but really delicious cake, in which cherries are the real main character. 
This cake is something in between healthy (lots of fruit, no butter, low added sugar) and guilty (super moist and soft, wonderful color, really tasty); it will be a perfect fruity and sweet breakfast or afternoon tea, but it will make a good impression even as a dessert, better if served lukewarm with a scoop of chocolate or vanilla ice cream or cold with a warm chocolate sauce.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Roasted Mustard Lime Chicken Breast

Roasted Mustard Lime Chicken Breast
There are some days when the idea of cleaning up the kitchen after dinner makes me think of calling straightaway some place with home-delivery service for a sushi / sashimi or something else (except pizza because when it arrives it is usually unpalatable, cold and chewy). But actually I am not a big fan of this kind of dinner and usually, if I don't want to cook, I prefer to make a big refreshing salad.
Whit this recipe I have found a perfect alternative. This roasted chicken breast is tasty and at the same time really easy to make and there are hardly any dishes - and also no cooker - to wash: the chicken is marinated in a sauce made with lime juice, mustard (a mix of grainy and smooth mustard), olive oil, a splash of Tabasco, thyme, a little bit of salt and a generous sprinkle of freshly ground pepper, then it is transferred into a baking dish and put into the oven for about 20 minutes. Arrange a vegetable side dish (boiled or roasted potatoes, some steamed veggies or even a simple mixed salad) and the dinner is ready.
There are other good things about this dish: first of all, aside from the chicken breast, it is made from ingredient usually available in our pantry (actually I usually keep also some chicken in my freezer); and if you don't have grainy mustard you can always use only the Dijon or viceversa, as well as lime juice can be substituted for lemon and thyme for other herbs like rosemary or parsley (the result will be slightly different of course). And also it is possible to put the chicken in the marinade in advance (it takes no longer then 10 minutes) and bake it for lunch or dinner (the longer the chicken is marinated the stronger will be the flavor). I want to specify that the mustard flavor is pretty intense in this dish, therefore you will love it if you like mustard - which I think perfectly combines with chicken; but if you prefer a milder flavor you can swap one tablespoon of mustard for the same quantity of olive oil.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Mixed Berries and Apple Muffins

Mixed Berries and Apple Muffins
Like for these soft "cookie-buns" with milk chocolate chunks that I published a few weeks ago, this recipe was not intended for the blog because somehow improvised with ingredients I had on hand and, most important of all, conceived just with the intention of preparing something healthy and yummy for my child's "merenda" (this is how in Italy we call kids afternoon snack). Instead of giving him simply an apple, as I often do, I wanted to use apples as the main ingredient of a more nutritious, yet light and sane, snack.  I had at home some green apples (I am not a fan of their sour taste, I don't even know why I bought them, maybe just to change: I always buy Golden apples or red apples, like Gala, but rarely Granny Smith) and also frozen mixed berries that I wanted to combine. Since I wanted to put in place this idea straightaway, I searched for help on the internet, which is perfect if you have only a little time (I love referring to cooking books or magazines, but searching for inspiration there requires much more time than putting some key-words on Google); I hope that my work on this blog could help people who like me search for a quick inspiration when deciding to cook something. Since I wanted to make something also easy to handle (my child is only two years old) I tough of making a batch of muffins with apples and berries as main ingredients.

Mixed Berries and Apple Muffins I found several inspiring recipes, but I was searching for something also healthy, that for me means possibly with no butter, very little sugar or better sugar substitutes, whole grain flours, etc. And so the final inspiration came from a recipe published on a blog that I did not know before (sallybakingaddiction), but perfectly in line with my requests. Of course I did not have on hand part of the ingredients the recipe called for, like applesauce, yogurt, blackberries (I had mixed berries instead); also I wanted to swap white whole wheat flour used in the original recipe for spelt flour (for which I have a particular affection as showed in these bread, cake, and cookies) and, as I have recently tried with great satisfaction the local laban (an Arab yogurt drink) in this raspberry laban cake, I wanted to use it again in this recipe to replace yogurt and milk. Well, the end of the story is that these muffins came out very good: super moist, packed with healthy fruits, not too sweet and really enjoyable. These berries and apple muffins are the demonstration that healthy sweets can be also very good!

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Buckweath and chocolate cookies

Buckwheat and chocolate cookies

I like to use non-wheat flours when I bake. With a different flour a recipe can completely change: the texture, the taste, the smell and the color also. And for a more intense and rich flavor I like whole grain flours instead of refined ones (and they are healthier too). One of my favorite grain is spelt (even if my blog is very young I have already published a spelt apple cake and a no-knead bread where spelt flour is used) but I love also rye, barley, and buckwheat which is not a grain but a pseudo-cereal from which it is possible to produce a flour suitable also in a gluten-free diet. I like buckwheat's deep dark color, its intense flavor and nutty taste and I use it sometimes also to make bread.
In these buckwheat and chocolate cookies I used a combination of buckwheat flour, whole grain spelt flour (for an even nuttier taste), and cocoa powder (for enhancing the color and the chocolate flavor) to make a very original and unusual version of chocolate chip cookies. Since whole grain flours tend to produce a dough on the dry side, I used brown sugar to increase moisture. For flavoring, I added vanilla extract and a pinch of cinnamon that can be substituted for other spices (for example cardamom or nutmeg) or even nothing). Swapping spelt flour for a gluten-free one (like rice or almond or corn or other of your preference) makes these cookies completely gluten-free.
They go well with a cup of tea, especially if flavored (cardamom, cinnamon, ...), with coffee or with a glass of milk, then they are perfect for an afternoon tea but also as a guilt-free sweet treat.