Saturday, 31 December 2011

"You are love itself - when you are not afraid."

Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, "I Am That"

Monday, 26 December 2011

Coconut milk pannacotta with passion fruit 'pepite' and agave syrup (Concours White and Gold)

I am very pleased to introduce this post, as it represented a great challenge to me.

As you probably may have read here , I have recently decided to take part in my first contest ever.
The theme of the contest (held by the French website Culinographie) was «White and Gold Christmas», a theme which I didn't feel quite comfortable with...

When I work on a recipe, inspiration usually comes from a/some ingredient/s or a creative combination of them based on their sensory elements (taste, texture, smell..). Colours have a role, of course, but not at the starting point. Developing a recipe from assigned colours was the first challenge I had to face.

Talking about colours, I am in love with white. White is Space between shadows and colours. White is Light. And these are the elements I like to play with while I am shooting a photo.
As for Gold... that's hard to explain, but I've never quite liked it. It must have something to do with my catholic upbringing and all that baroque art I have been massively exposed to as a child, when I forcefully attended Mass... 

Though I am not keen on gold, I knew from the beginning that passion fruit would have been among the ingredients: those sweet and sparkling golden beads would have brightened up the simplest dessert. And it had to be a dessert. I was pretty sure about it.
The first recipe I experimented with was some kind of 'Mini Pavlova with Passion Fruit' .
Unfortunately, it didn't actually turn out the way I had expected (you can learn more about this culinary failure here).

As a second and last attempt I tried out a 'Coconut milk pannacotta', a personal version of this recipe, which has always appealed to me. Passion fruit and agave syrup simply add a sweet and exotic note, plus a sparkling beam to this candid and immaculate white dessert.

As for the food styling, I was determined to convey a light, bright atmosphere that matched well with the light-ness of this recipe. And I was also concerned about keeping it simple, just as the dish the photos had to portray.

Inspiration came unexpectedly.

As I was decorating my house for Christmas with my daughter M., I found some tiny golden candles I had completely forgotten about. I loved the way they reflected light...and it immediately struck me...I thought I could play with it - Gold and Light -  and style the recipe using these candles and some golden fabric to lighten up the elements of my composition.

I spent a couple of hours taking photos of the recipe with my camera and macro lens, merrily playing with the different options I could choose from...

The whole process (devising, making, styling the recipe, and shooting the final product) really challenged me at different levels. It was a great way of 'learning by doing', discovering new elements I'll play with in the future.

This post ends with a special thank-you-note for Aline, Parigote, and Christelle
Thank you for hosting the contest and for the wonderful opportunity it has provided to bloggers. Thank you for the ecxellent work you are doing as creators and contributors of the food photography blog 'Culinographie'!

Best whishes for the New Year to everyone!

Ingredients for the pannacotta (serves 6):

full fat coconut milk: 350 ml
silk tofu: 100 gr
agave syrup: 2 + 1/2 tablespoons
vanilla bean: 1 - seeds scraped, pod reserved
agar agar: 2 teaspoons
unflavoured vegetable oil (optional)

Ingredients for the passion fruit coulis:

passion fruit: 12 - halved, pulp and juice scooped out
agave syrup: 4 tablespoons

Combine coconut milk and agave syrup in a saucepan over medium heat, add the vanilla pod.
Bring to boil and stir in agar agar.

Reduce to lower heat and let simmer for 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat and let it cool down. 

Remove vanilla pod and discard.

Liquify silk tofu in a food processor and stir in the vanilla seeds. 
Whisk the liquified tofu into the cooled coconut milk mixture.

Divide mixture into 6 individual glass bowl or ramekins greased with vegetable oil (this will make it easier sliding the pannacotta out of the ramekins).
Let the pannacotta chill in the refrigerator for at least 3-4 hours.

While the pannacotta is chilling in the fridge, prepare the passion fruit coulis.
In a medium bowl combine the pulp and juice of passion fruit with the agave syrup. Reserve.

Remove the molds form the fridge. 
Submerge the molds (bottom only) in a bowl of hot water, then remove from water and run a sharp knife along the edges of the pannacotta to loosen it from the ramekin.

Turn the ramekin upside down on a serving plate and gently tap the sides of the mold to help the pannacotta slide right out.

Serve the pannacotta with the passion fruit coulis and garnish with some mint leaves.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

"All division is in the mind. There is none in reality. Movement and rest are states of mind and cannot be without their opposites. By itself nothing moves, nothing rests."

Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, "I Am That"

Friday, 16 December 2011

Apple cake, by mistake

Things don't always turn out the way we expected. 
As simple and thruthful as this may seem, the lesson is hard to learn. At least for me. 
Whenever I take the resolution to move in one direction, life flows in the opposite one.

I usually get disappointed as I realize I have little control over serious or trivial events, but when I allow myself to accept things as they are, something interesting and unexpected happens, and a  casual mistake may lead me through an unpredicted creative path.

This is how a brand new project, or a recipe, may be developed.
Take this story, for instance.

As soon as I decided to take part in my first contest, hosted by the French website Culinographie, I visualized both the recipe and the styling for the post I would have submitted: 'Mini pavlova with passion fruit syrup'. The idea really appealed to me, and the more I thought about it, the more I craved for it.

I should have known better, though.
I've always liked meringues, but, apparentely, they have never liked me! I've always had problems cooking them, and this last attempt was no exception.
These last two attemps, to be precise.

The first one ended up as soon as I started. As I carefully whipped the egg whites and added the sugar it was perfectly clear that the consistency of the froth was neither foamy nor stiff, as it should be, but all too watery. I set aside this mixture and decided to have another go...
The second attempt was not very lucky either, since the meringues that came out of my oven after two hours were apparently overcooked on the outside but quite raw inside.

No wonder I felt quite discomforted at this stage. I needed some sort of comfort food to brighten up the day (very rainy, too), and as I still had the egg whites and sugar mixture in the fridge I conjured up this "happy" apple cake. By mistake. (I had six yolks in the fridge, but I forgot to add some to the cake batter!). 

As I originally planned to submit this recipe to the contest, I played a bit during the styling and editing stages, adding a couple of white and gold stars to convey a beaming atmosphere.
Hope you like it!


all-purpose flour: 220 gr
unsalted butter: 150 gr - melted
egg whites: 3
sugar: 110 gr
baking powder: 16 gr
small Gala apples: 4
whole milk: 50 ml

for garnish:

whipped cream
icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 180°. Meanwhile grease a round cake pan (I used a 20cm- diameter one) with butter and coat with flour. Peel, halve and core the apples; set aside in a large bowl, covered with cold water, to avoid oxidation.

In a glass or metal bowl whip egg whites and gradually add granulated sugar while continuing to beat with an electric whisk. Sift onto the bowl the flour and the baking powder, then add the melted butter (at room temperature) carefully stirring dry and wet ingredients with a spatula until the batter gets smooth and fluffy. Gradually add some milk if the mixture is too thick (I used approximately 50 ml of milk, at this stage).

Spoon the batter into the pan and smooth the top with a spoon. Cut the halved apples thin - but don't cut all the way through - and place them on top of batter. Sprinkle with butter flakes.

Bake for for about 40-50 minutes or until a toothpick tests clean in the center of the cake. Remove from oven and let cool. Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve with whipped cream or crème - fraiche.

"View everything in a simple way, and then you can see things as they really are.When we see and accept others the way they are, we can relate with anyone."

Sachiko Adachi, 'To live as we are'

Monday, 5 December 2011

Gingerbread cookies

My mother has never liked cooking very much, but one thing she really enjoys is baking Christmas cookies with her nieces.  

This family tradition started with my brother's daughters and was resumed as soon as M. was old enough to cut out shapes from a rolled out dough.

Being italian and quite traditional in her cooking habits, my mother had never heard of - not to say tasted - a gingerbread biscuit before stepping into an IKEA department store.
And of course she has always been skeptical about my efforts and endavours whenever I've tried to bake an italian version of the more internationally famous gingerbread man. 

This all started when I began teaching english to very young learners: a couple of weeks before Christmas I used to tell them that old favourite story of the 'Gingerbread Man' (remember the refrain 'Run run as fast as you can, you can't catch me I am the gingerbread man'? Even italian children enjoy repeating it! ). The story inevitably inspired me to cook this kind of cookies and that's how I got stuck into different versions of the same recipe, with such exotic ingredients as molasses (where the hell can you find it?) and a never-ending list of spices ...

Anyway...a few days ago M. and I visited my mother (wasn't I talking about her?) and offered her some of the cookies you see in these pictures as a present. 

I couldn't but be proud of myself  as my mother tasted and appreciated - at last - our gingerbread 'biscotti'. Even though not always perfect in their shape  (I beheaded some of the ladies while taking them out of the oven) - they tasted so good!

We made almost three batches of them. M. enjoyed kneading as well as cutting out pine trees and snow flakes from the rolled out dough. A dark brown dough providing sweet and spicy cookies. 

A taste of winter, as simple as that.


all-purpose flour: 350 gr - 12,3 oz
wholemeal flour: 130 gr - 4,6 oz
muscavado sugar: 200 gr - 7 oz
                           or, alternately, a dark brown sugar
unsalted butter: 160 gr -  5,6 oz  -room temperature
whole eggs: 2
ground ginger: 3 teaspoons
ground cinnamon: 2 teaspoon
ground cloves: 1 teaspoon
baking soda: 1 generous pinch
salt: 1 teaspoon

In a medium bowl, sift together the two flours, baking soda, salt and spices. Add muscavado sugar and mix well. Make a 'well' or a 'fountain' in the centre of the dry mixture. Add the other ingredients (butter and eggs) in the well and knead the mixture with your hands until it forms a ball of dough. Divide the dough into two pieces, wrap each of them in plastic film and keep in the fridge for at least one hour. 

Preheat oven to 180° C (350°) degrees, position your racks just in the middle, and line a couple of baking trays with parchment paper. Set aside. 

Roll the first dough out onto a lightly floured wooden board roughly 3-4 mm (approx1/8-inch) thick and cut into desired shapes. Bake for 7 -10 minutes according to the size of your cookies (8-10 minutes will be fine for 10 cm - 4 inches cookies, but larger cookies will take a bit longer).

Remember the cookies will continue to bake for another couple of minutes once you take them out of  the oven, don't overcook them otherwise they will easily dry out!

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