Chocolate Truffles (aka Energy Balls)

DSC_1882These truffles / Energy Balls are the bomb!! They are the perfect pick-me upper snack, or sweet tooth craving. So good and you don’t have to feel guilty eating them because they are super HEALTHY. No added sugar, full of minerals and vitamins from the dates, cacao and almonds, and all while being a great energy and mood boost.
I was in England last week visiting some middle and high schools, and the teachers were telling me how much chocolate the kids eat, they are completely addicted! There are lots of options for eating cacao products without all the added sugar and other processed ingredients, this is a great option, especially for kids/teens that need to keep their concentration high during the day.

I made a batch this morning and gave some to a friend as a late birthday gift – it made her very happy 🙂

This is a basic recipe, the coatings can be switched and changed to your personal taste.

·INGREDIENTS· (for 35 balls)
→15 medjool dates, pitted
→1 1/4 cup Almonds (100 gr)
→1 cup shredded coconut flakes (100 gr)
→1/4 cup cacao powder
→3 tbsp coconut oil
→1 tsp cinnamon
→pinch of chili (optional)

For Coating (optional):
→cacao powder, coconut flour/flakes, orange zest
turmeric and chili powder

In a food processor combine all the ingredients and mix well until a ball forms (couple of minutes). With your hands, take a small amount of mixture and form the balls, the size really depends on how you prefer to enjoy them. Place in the fridge while you prepare the coatings.
Mix the coating ingredients in small bowls and then roll the balls in them: cacao powder, coconut flour, and orange zest turmeric, chili powder   just cacao powder 
You can create different combinations to your liking (i.e. cardamom, ginger; crushed red peppercorns; hemp seeds)
Store in the fridge and enjoy within 2 weeks.

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Hazelnut butter with a twist

DSC_1837Nut butters….yummm! Once you try them you get fixed on them! On the market today you can pretty much find nut or seed butters of any kind..not only tahini, almond or peanut butter, but hazelnut, cashew, sunflower etc. They are so good and full of protein and good fats, so versatile, eaten on toast (for breakfast like in the picture below!), on fruit or added in smoothies for an extra protein boost, or straight out of the jar!
Nut butters tend to be on the pricey side, so making them at home is another good reason to try it. You just need a good blender and you’re set.
They make a great gift, too. In fact, I’m thinking of making tons of jars of different butters to give as christmas gifts this year.

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Before writing down the recipe, I would like to recommend this book by Nathan Runkle, founder of Mercy For Animals. It’s his biography, and talks about his journey of love and compassion for animals from his early teens till today. Mercy for Animals is a big non-profit organization in the States focusing on the overall improvement of animal welfare in the world. The book was very inspiring and reminded me of the many reasons I decided to take animal products off of my plate a long time ago. Highly suggest this (easy to read) book!

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·INGREDIENTS·
→2 cups of hazelnuts (raw or toasted)
→2 tbls coconut flakes
→2 tsp cocoa powder
→1 tsp cinnamon powder
→1 tsp brown sugar or maple syrup (optional)

In a blender start buzzing the nuts on low level, scraping down the sides frequently. Add the rest of ingredients and keep blending on a higher level. The final result should look creamy and smooth. The whole process takes between 5 and 10 minutes depending on your blender.
You can store it in a jar outside of the fridge for 2 weeks, or refrigerated and will last for longer.
Note: this is a variation of an ordinary hazelnut butter. You can make it like this or use just hazelnuts or add more ingredients to your liking.

 

Bitter foods & Puntarelle salad

DSC_1728This year I’m taking a great course on Botanics. Might be because of the teacher or because I’m fascinated by the subject, in any case I’m finding it really interesting. The past lessons we’ve been talking about the main Plant Families (Apiaceae, Brassicaceae, Leguminose, Rosaceae, Liliaceae and so on) and their characteristics, uses, health benefits. Also, we’ve been doing workshops on different types of foods, such as peppers or seeds (i.e. distinguish between 12 different varieties of peppers, taste them, describe them etc.). Another interesting part of the course is EthnoBotany: this is the study of the uses of certain plants in a particular area/region based on its traditional culture and knowledge; it answers the following questions: Why do those people eat those plants? How do they preserve/cook them? What cultural/social/religious meaning is represented by the plant? As part of the course, we need to do a group project interviewing a community (in Italy or abroad), getting to know what wild plants/herbs they use, foraging them and creating an Herbarium (collecting, drying the plants and creating a book).

Just yesterday in class, we talked about the Asteraceae plant family, also known as the sunflower or daisy family. It is one of the largest plant families, some examples of known plants are lettuces, radicchio, chicories, chamomile, tarragon, arugula, artichokes…
The common characteristic from a gastronomic point of view is that these plants are all very BITTER and considered extremely good for you.
DSC_1699The Mediterranean diet, up to the ’70s, was a very varied diet: during the summer months people would eat grown tomatoes, onions, peppers, celery and so on, but for the rest of the year (October – May) the population would feed themselves on wild bitter vegetables, just picked in the backyard or foraged nearby, nothing cultivated. After the ’70s the Mediterranean area was influenced by the arrival of industrial farming, greenhouses, mono-cultures, and so fewer and fewer wild crops, but only the same cultivated vegetables that you can nowadays find year-round. Because of this, people are forgetting about the importance of seasonality. It is so unnatural to buy fresh tomatoes or eggplants or zucchini in January, but yet the supermarkets keep selling them. Continue reading

Didactic Garden & Green Tomato Chutney

img_0635It’s been too long since my last blog post… Guilty!
I started my second year at UNISG and, like the beginning of last year, it’s been overwhelming: there’s been the SlowCheese fair which happens every two years here in Bra lasting 4 days with crazy amount of tourists and cheese producers from all over the world; I went to Tuscany for a week on a studytrip which was amazing (it was all based on geothermal and renewable energy); and as always the small town of Bra keeps us surprisingly busy 24/7.

This semester I have some really interesting classes that I love so far: Botanics, AgroEcology, History of wine, History of Diets and Geography of Products.  Lots of new students have arrived either undergraduates or new Masters. Lots of interesting cultures going on and I’m excited to meet many of them.
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My university has a big garden, called Didactic Garden, which grows most of the food they use in our cafeteria and many plots are used by the students for the Horticulture classes. Two days ago, the manager of the garden created an event on Facebook, called Autumn harvest, with the idea to come help them pick all the remaining veggies from the summer and clean up the garden in preparation of the winter. Since there were tons of unripe tomatoes, the idea was to make chutney with them.
The day started at 9 am, about 10 students showed up (yes, not that many), we started picking all the remaining veggies, which were bell peppers, eggplants, some ripe tomatoes, friggitelli (green Italian peppers), leafy greens such as swiss chard. Someone immediately took the harvest to our cafeteria which then prepared Gazpacho for us to enjoy during lunch. We then picked all the green tomatoes, and then cleaned up the plots, throwing all the plant remains on our compost pile, and spreading green manure on the plots in order to renew the nitrogen component of the soil and to have the plot ready to plant in for the upcoming spring.

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Continue reading

Chez Panisse & Alice Waters

21150386_10213972853786577_3641629499783875203_nI just got back from a month and a half in Berkeley, California, working at Chez Panisse, Alice Water’s restaurant. I got the connection through my job last year working in a farm in San Diego (Chino farm), they send out boxes of produce every two weeks up to Chez Panisse and have been friends with Alice for long time. Through them I got her contact, and met her in Turin last year during the slow food fair. Alice is the vice president of Slow Food Usa, and she is known to be founder of the Farm to table movement in the states. Also, she started a big project called the Edible Schoolyard project, and is very involved in social and political food issues around the states and internationally.
She opened Chez Panisse when she was 27 years old, after travelling in France and receiving her Montessori teaching certificate. The initial intention was to keep cooking food for friends and family but just for a bigger crowd, and soon the restaurant became famous, today it serves all organic, seasonal, local and very traditional based food. This year, it celebrated its 46th birthday.  Alice doesn’t cook in the restaurant anymore, but she is still very present and knows what’s going on and what is being served each week. Whenever she isn’t travelling she comes in and “checks” on things, trying the menu foods, giving advice and critiques.

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Alice is a legend and one of those people I “look up” to since I found out about her. I contacted her at the beginning of this year, asking her if I could be of any help to her in any way during my summer break. I didn’t mention anything about working in the kitchen, I was open to do whatever, I even offered to be her personal assistant. I got a reply right away from her and couple hours later also from the head chef.  Within two days an internship in the restaurant was organized. It felt so great and the fact I got an answer so quickly gave me such a positive feeling about it! (Last year, I tried getting an internship in a much less known restaurant and it took me two months and a lot of emails..)

20476326_10213708915428283_1697799566357025597_nChez Panisse is located on the main street of north Berkeley, which is a 30 min subway ride from San Francisco. It is considered the most liberal-minded town in America (more than San Francisco), home to the counterculture hippie movement of the sixties. Still today, Berkeley is full of students going to Cal, and alternative minded people.
Downstairs is the restaurant, which serves about 90 people a night divided into 2 seatings and has always been on a fixed menu (customers have to reserve at least 2 or 3 weeks in advance). While upstairs is the cafe, which is open for both lunch and dinner, there is an open menu, it’s more casual and serves more tables.
I interned the whole time in the downstairs part. The downstairs team is small and composed of only 4 chefs plus the head chef (and the interns, usually 1 or 2). It was an amazing experience and I learned so much. Continue reading

Homemade Raw Chocolate

img_9388Raw chocolate is so easy and fast to make!! Cacao is an incredible super food: it has 40 times the antioxidant quantity than blueberries do, it’s an excellent source of magnesium and iron, it’s full of calcium, a great mood elevator and anti-depressant, and so much more. So eating chocolate is actually Healthy!…BUT this is if you eat dark chocolate, meaning no added sugar to it, which nowadays is pretty hard to find. Cacao is actually a bitter food, that is why so much sugar is added in common supermarket coco products. But making your own chocolate is so satisfying and fun to do, you can add different toppings and make it look pretty, perfect as a homemade gift to give to someone.

I used a silicone mold to make the bite sized chocolates, but you can also spread it on a board lined with parchment paper and it will work fine too.

To find the ingredients go to a health food store and try to go for the high quality ones. Always keep in mind that the outcome of your recipes will depend almost entirely on the quality of the raw ingredients.

CACAO INFO GUIDE:

  • first of all “cacao” refers to raw and much less processed than cocoa, while “cocoa” is the term used to refer to the heated form of cacao;
  • the cacao fruit tree produces cacao pods which are cracked open to release cacao beans;
  • Cacao butter is the fattiest part of the fruit and is the inside of a single cacao bean; it’s white in color and has a rich buttery texture. the butter is removed and what is left of the bean is used to make other cacao products;
  • Cacao nibs are simply cacao beans that have been chopped into edible pieces;
  • Cacao paste comes from cacao nibs that have been slowly heated and melted into a bark. Because low heat is used in this process, cacao paste retains its natural properties and is naturally about 55% cacao butter (this is why it’s solid at room temperature just like the butter);
  • Cacao powder is made by applying a cold-processing process to the cacao bean, so that most of the butter is removed. This is why when preparing chocolates, you will have to add cacao butter to the powder.

img_9400•INGREDIENTS•
→125 gr cacao butter
→80 gr cacao powder
→2 tbsp maple syrup*
→1/2 tsp vanilla
→1 tsp maca (optional)
→pinch of salt
Toppings: cacao nibs, nuts, nutmeg, etc.
*maple syrup can be replaced by honey but be mindful that honey usually has a more intense/strong flavor changing the final outcome.

Chop the cacao butter, add to a bowl, and melt on top of a pot of simmering water. Stir well and be careful to not overheat the butter. Once melted move bowl away from heat, add the cacao powder, the maple syrup, vanilla, pinch of salt, maca (if using), and stir well until smooth. Pour in silicone molds or on top of a board lined with parchment paper. Add your toppings immediately before it sets. I added some nuts, nutmeg and cacao nibs. But you can also do some cinnamon, ginger powder, goji berries, dried flower petals…
Put in the freezer to fasten the set time (it only takes 5 minutes). Store in the fridge if your house has a warm temperature.

 

New potatoes, herbs, dijon…

DSC_1696New Potatoes are wonderful, typical of the summer and great steamed, boiled or roasted. You can make great salads with them. This salad has tons of different kinds of herbs and a great mustard dressing, transforming these potatoes into something special.

I used the herbs I had in my garden (chives, mint, coriander, oregano, thyme) but others work great too (basil, parsley etc).  And for the onion choose any kind of fresh summer onion  (green onions, scallions etc).

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•INGREDIENTS• (for 4 as a side)
→ about 800 gr new potatoes
→ 1 big bunch of mixed herbs (yields 1/2 cup after chopping)
→ 1 small red onion or other summer variety
for the dressing:
→1 tbls dijon mustard
→juice of 1/2 lemon
→4 tbls extra virgin olive oil
→1 tsp honey
→salt & pepper

Put a pot of water to boil. Wash the potatoes and cut them in 2/3 inch pieces. When water is boiling, add some coarse salt and the potatoes. They should be done after 15 minutes, but test them with a fork or knife (careful not too overcook them, otherwise they will become mushy).
Prepare the dressing in a jar and shake well. Chop the onion super thinly and wash and chop the herbs. Add part of the dressing to the onion and herbs and let it sit/marinate for couple minutes while the potatoes are cooking.
Drain the potatoes, and pass under cold water to cool down. Cut them in slices and add to the herbs and onion mix. Mix well and adjust the dressing if you need more.
I served mine slightly cool. It’s delicious!