Arepas with Black Garlic Chicken & Salsa

Foreign restaurants in Beijing when I was a child definitely lacked diversity. There were the French, the Italian, the Japanese – all of which were mediocre at best. More “exotic” ones did open but their lifespans lasted as long as this arepas dish would in your fridge.  My favorite pastime was reading Time Out to discover all the new strange and wonderful openings and sell the idea to my father. Trying out these restaurants with my father was my second favorite pastime.
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Cornbread Muffins

The story began with my sister’s departure for the United States when I was 12.  My companion and friend whom I relied on when boredom crept, when bullies struck and when my parents screamed and fought, left me. I was to face school, home and the world alone. All I looked forward to were the biannual visits  when she would bring comforting American gifts like Jiffy Cornbread mixes. That was my introduction to baking.

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Vanilla Raspberry Jam

I’ll be honest, jam has never excited me.  It was never the spread of choice on my toast or in my croissants. In the true Italian fashion, I preferred Nutella as a child. Then with age and the exposure of American culture my Nutella was replaced by peanut butter, and it makes me feel better about eating it by the spoonful. So, not a big fan of jam, but I do however love making jam. I love hovering over the pot of simmering stew, having the steam rise up to your face, the room sweetened with the scent of fruit and sugar –  it’s the equivalent of going to the spa for me.
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Chocolate, Tahini & Rosemary Cookies

I was that child that had chocolate permanently stained on her face. That child that wasn’t allowed to wear white, and whose tantrum could always be tamed by a bar of chocolate.  It was only ever going to be chocolate ice cream, chocolate cake and nutella on toast for me. Vanilla and fruit could move along, they had no room in my sweet childhood. Maybe hazelnut and caramel could sometimes act as supporting roles, but chocolate always took to be the main star.

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Tomato & Almond Pesto (Pesto Trapanese)

What makes a pesto a pesto? I asked myself that question one dinner in Bologna as I stared uncomfortably into the dish of white lard known as Bolognese pesto. It was spiced fat. Spiced mushed fat. You can imagine my disappointment. Pesto in my mind meant something with herbs, with nuts, with an abundance of cheese, that is fresh and at the same time with a heavy punch. I really wasn’t planning on eating lard for dinner.
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Matcha Biscotti

I am grateful for many of the material things that I have in my kitchen. I love my knives, I don’t know what I’d do without my soft spatula, and whilst I slice myself every time I use my mandolin, it is still a life saver. The newest addition to the family s is my standing mixer, which I’ve named Heston. I’ve had Heston for about half a year now and he’s made life so much easier. This recipe involves whisking the eggs and sugar until incredibly pale and fluffy, about 20 minutes with electric mixers in my hand. But with Heston,  I can just watch TV whilst he does his job. Heston’s great, Heston’s a good boy.
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Mediterranean Roasted Baby Carrots

I don’t like people that take up space. In kindergarten we had classes where the girls had to practice sitting with our legs glued together. The boys got to play outside. I was taught to be small. To walk with small steps, to eat with my arms stuck to my torso, to sit with my legs crossed, to take up as little space as humanly possible. In China I was big. My hips, my shoulders, and my frame didn’t fit the petite Asian mold. That’s why I never want to take up space, it’s not nice to take up space. It’s not nice for anyone to sit with their legs wide open, but unfortunately it’s much worse for a girl to do so, no?
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Rosemary, Tahini & Honey Cake

Rosemary belongs in sweet settings just as it does with roasted veg and bold meats. I tell you where rosemary doesn’t belong — it’s water. I once went to this “plant-based”, “healthy” (and overpriced) cafe that tried to be clever and instead of serving water out of jugs with lemons, mint or even cucumber — it’s sitting there with rosemary. Rosemary-infused water is not nice, there’s a reason why it’s not a thing. I don’t like these cafes. I don’t like that they try to be clever with their waters. I don’t like that they use their vegan “milks” to justify £4 cappuccinos. I don’t like that they serve me “bowl food” filled with grains and vegetables that’s essentially my go-to 15-minute cheap lazy weeknight meal  and they serve it to me like some revolutionary diet-friendly food with a hefty price tag.

And I don’t like their stodgy gluten-free and vegan cakes. No. I like my butter-and-egg-rich fluffy and moist wheat flour cakes like this one.

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Grapefruit & Fennel Tart

Allow me to recount the story of the salted lemon tart. It was in the first few weeks of culinary school, when confidence was at a low and there was constant anxiety over little things like turning on the stove.  We were making a tarte au citron in pastry class — a short crust pastry encasing lemon curd topped with Italian meringue — a fresh and delicate classic. I had been stirring the curd for almost 20 minutes and it just didn’t look right. Time was running out so I just went with what I had and poured it in my tart shell.  As I prepared the Italian meringue on top I caught some curd on my finger and licked it – I gagged. I had mistaken salt for sugar in the curd. I had about a cup of salt in that pie. I had completely butchered that French classic.
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