On Pizza and a recipe

Pizza (8031)

During the past few weeks I made quite a number of pizzas, reason being I’m still testing out my oven. I didn’t want to bake before making sure I wasn’t about to burn anything. A couple of friends whom I visited last Saturday are still waiting for a lemon drizzle cake. And this morning, when I actually had some time on my hands, I ran out of sugar, so the cake just has to wait. My mum came over for a short visit though and we made some pizzas for lunch.

Pizza Dough (9921)

Making good pizzas is a sure way of being the most popular person around. OK perhaps it’s not just that but you’ll be close. A few years back, one particular Sunday afternoon was spent baking pizzas for our friends and their little girls. I have never seen the little ones eat so much before – they asked for seconds, as long as their pizza slices where plain tomato with plenty of cheese. The grown-ups opted for a little more. Many moons ago I liked a loaded pizza, but over the years I learnt that the classic Margherita (tomato, mozzarella and a little bit of fresh basil after you take it out of the oven) is always best, especially when making it at home. I must add that I’m partial to chorizo and mushrooms, just because they are two of my favourite things to eat.

Pizza Dough (9923)

I don’t believe you can ever achieve a so-called professional result when using a normal kitchen oven. No one has an oven at home that can be set to around 480°C. So the only option we have is to set it to the maximum temperature possible. Having said that I don’t think that going to a restaurant will necessarily guarantee the most amazing pizza you’ve ever tasted. Making good pizza at home is possible, only not that easy.

To some extent this morning I was still experimenting. I have been doing some reading on the subject and I found three very reliable sources of knowledge: Italian chef Giorgio Locatelli’s Made in Sicily, Daniel Young, the brains behind Young & Foodish, and if you really want to get into the nitty-gritty check out Felicity Cloake. I had to do a double take on Giorgio Locatelli’s method for making the dough. He insists on adding milk and sugar which I found quite unusual, but I’m in no position to disagree. On the contrary, I’m intrigued. I must make a note of that and try it. Also he prefers to leave the dough to rise for 24 hours in the fridge. Mr. Young likes the dough to be soft and light, something which I still need to work on. I just can’t quite figure out how to get that texture, though I suspect it must have something to do with giving it a longer time to rest, and a little less baking time. The flour also plays a part. I used ’00’ today which is different than the strong bread flour I usually use. (Here in Malta ’00’ is readily available in my neck of the woods, although I know that bread flour is available from some bread bakers on order.) Giving it extra minutes in the oven makes the dough too crispy.

Pizza (9927)

At this stage I have learnt the following:

Preheat the oven well to the maximum temperature possible. The oven I have now takes a good 25-30 minutes to reach 240°C. (The extra 10°C Locatelli recommends unfortunately has to be ignored.)

Top the dough with the tomato sauce and the rest of the toppings just before you put the pizza in the oven.

Green, red or yellow peppers are a no-no on pizzas. The water content in these makes the end result too soggy.

Cook the pizzas one by one in the oven. Don’t be tempted to place one on the top shelf and one underneath. All the steam from the pizza on the bottom shelf will seep through the base of the one on the top, making it impossible for the base to crisp up. Incidentally this is also true for cakes. Trust me – it happens!

If you won’t be bothered with pizza stones, and in my opinion you shouldn’t fret about these, invest in a couple of screens (See photo.) These will ensure that the base is cooked through.

Pizza Screens (7332)

Extra point: I’m not a food snob (I will eat snails) but I cannot bear any beans or peas on mine.

This morning this is what I used for making two pizzas:

  • ½ teaspoon dried active yeast
  • 200g plain Italian ’00’ flour
  • 100g strong bread wholemeal flour
  • 1 x 15ml tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 190ml warm water

Preheat the oven to 240°C.

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water, olive oil and salt, and stir until every granule of yeast and salt disappears into the liquid. Add half of the flour and mix well. Add the rest of the flour and continue to mix everything using clean hands.

Tip the dough on a clean well-floured surface and work it well. Cover your hands in flour and you will be fine. Leave the dough to rise on an oiled tray or bowl, making sure to cover it with a damp towel. Leave it to double in size, at least for a couple of hours. (I never bother to leave it in the fridge for 24 hours because I tend to make it on a whim. But please do if you find the time.) Take the dough out of the bowl or tray, divide it in two, and roll each piece onto two pizza screens.

Choose your favourite toppings and cook the pizzas either one at a time or if you have a larger oven, place them side by side, and bake until the cheese has melted and the dough has turned golden. The base should be cooked through and crispy.

I am curious to hear about any recipe which works for you, and keep me posted if you try this one.


Rob x

Roasted Butternut Squash with Broccoli and Feta

Roasted Butternut Squash with Broccoli and Feta (8953)

If you know me personally you will have no doubt as to how much I miss our years in Surrey. Please don’t think that everything was plain sailing; nothing in the real world is totally charmed. We had our ups and our downs, but one thing’s for sure – the kitchen space in our tiny flat was my refuge. There were times when I cursed its size (for years I wished for a larger space as I was constantly running out of workspaces) but now that this wish is granted I do tend to feel lost. I was saying that to my beautiful Mum this morning (she’s finally visiting me often at home). She understood.

Apart from the various kitchen conundrums (these are small ones compared to others so I won’t complain), one of the persons I miss is my lovely friend and neighbour F. She always wondered how we managed to plod on in such a tiny space. She was also my confidant and my guinea pig! Whenever something came out of the oven down I went to take her a piece of cake or two, depending on how much baking was done that day. Apart from knocking on her door whenever we needed anything flat-related, I knew she would give me an honest opinion on anything, including anything food-related. She was my family away from home and I hope I showed her how much I appreciated her kindness.

This recipe is one she taught me, and it stuck. It’s right up my street when it comes to sides: so easy to prepare and very tasty. Having said that you need cumin for this, which isn’t really one of my favourite spices, but here it really works. In its raw state cumin tastes and smells like sweat. Sorry for the analogy although now I could challenge you not to find it so acrid. I actually love it here but if you now find it gross, especially after that comparison, or you don’t have it go ahead and replace it with something smoky like paprika, or with earthier flavours like garam masala or a bit of curry. For a little somethin’ somethin’ hot you can use fresh chilli. The smaller the better.

Now I could have swore, on my own life, I had written down this recipe somewhere. As I’m writing this I’m going through my kitchen notebooks and I have copious amounts of papers of various sizes strewn in front of me. I managed to find a paper with the following: Feta (in cubes), 7 pm – start roasting veggies, add broccoli 10 minutes before squash is done. That is it! A good guess would be that I made it for us during an Easter lunch, to which F very graciously accepted our invite. (And having her over for Easter would eventually become a tradition.) I’m sure that paper referred to the recipe in question, but that’s not very helpful. And here I don’t simply mean to you! Thankfully we don’t need much to recreate this little gem. What makes it better is that you can scale it up for more guests.

  • 1 butternut squash, around 900g, cut into cubes
  • rapeseed oil
  • a good few dashes of powdered cumin
  • 400g broccoli, washed and cut into florets
  • pinch of salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 200g plain feta cheese, cut into cubes

Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas mark 4.

Tip the cubed butternut squash in a non-stick roasting tin, and pour a few glugs of oil on top. Distribute the cumin over the squash and give everything a good rub with your hands. Place the dish in the oven and bake for around 30 minutes.

Take the roasting tin out of the oven. Add the broccoli florets to the squash and gently give the vegetables a light mix. Season with some salt and pepper and bake for a further 10 to 15 minutes until the vegetables are soft enough but not mushy. Sprinkle the feta cheese on top of the veggies and serve while still warm.

For around 4 people as a generous side, and good with any other baked veggies or a nice piece of roast. Could be also eaten on it’s own with a fried egg. I want some right now. Can’t believe how chatty I was in this post.


Rob x

Peach Melba Muffins with White Chocolate Chunks

Peach Melba and White Chocolate Muffins (9492)

One of the things I get asked for most by friends and family are good recipes for muffins. Now this is quite tricky for me because I’ve had my issues when it comes to baking the little beauties. I’m not referring to this recipe in particular – these have been a total success. I blame my inability to get use to different ovens quickly and efficiently. The oven in our flat in Woking was very powerful and loads of muffins were burnt! The one in Guildford had a smaller wattage (or whatever you call it) so things took longer to bake. Now I’ve returned to a gas oven and to test it I’m finding myself making loads of pizzas. Some have come out with black bottoms, whilst others have been spared, and ended up in our bellies.

Peach Melba and White Chocolate Muffins (9494)

If I remember well, and that my friends doesn’t happen that often, that’s why I write everything down, this is the last batch of muffins I made before our move. They look very pretty in their simplicity, which made them an ideal subject for taking pictures, and you can be sure the recipe works because it’s by master baker par excellence Eric Lanlard. Also Chocolat turned out to be the last recipe book I bought before coming to Malta. Coincidence. And somewhat bittersweet. You will love them.

  • 300g plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 large egg
  • 150g golden caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 225ml milk
  • 50g soft unsalted butter
  • 100g canned peaches, chopped
  • 125g white chocolate, cut into smallish chunks

For the topping:

  • 100g fresh raspberries
  • icing sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4, and line a muffin tin with paper cases or parchment paper cut into squares. If using a convection oven turn the temperature down to 160°C.

In a medium mixing bowl sift the flour and baking powder. In a separate larger bowl beat the egg and the caster sugar together. Whisk in the vanilla extract, milk and the softened butter. Make sure the butter is cool enough.

Use a spatula to fold the wet ingredients into the sifted flour and baking powder. Fold until just combined.

Fold in the chopped peaches and the white chocolate chunks. As with all muffin recipes don’t overdo the mixing. Some lumps in the batter are not a bad thing.

Distribute the mixture and fill the muffin cases to about three-fourths. Bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in one of the muffins comes out clean. Set aside to cool on a cookie rack.

Crush the raspberries with a fork in a small container. Spoon them over each muffin right before serving. Sprinkle with a light dusting of icing sugar.


Rob x

(Recipe adapted from Eric Lanlard’s Chocolat, Mitchell Beazley, 2013.)

Moroccan Inspired Rice

Moroccan Inspired Rice (9894)

I don’t usually post more than one recipe in a week but today I have some time to myself and I feel there’s no time like the present. I still have loads of sorting out and unpacking stuff to do (and I did some of that this morning) but I definitely prefer sitting down and writing something useful here. Well, I’m letting you be the judge of whether I do come up with useful things or not. I love being here though so why not?

**Since writing that last sentence this is what happened: I have been wanting to upload this since this afternoon. Since around 3pm. But some cable in my monitor has been giving me loads of grief. Keyboard and mouse also broke. Only now is this thing working. So at the moment I’m running on reserve. It’s now 7.**

I feel as if I just moved in a new place, when in fact our house has been ours for ten years. Everything feels new, when in fact it is not. I am constantly trying to figure out what to keep in my larder. It should be simple I know, but somehow I am not happy with what staples to keep in there in order to be able to come up with store cupboard recipes. I have been taking care of that for ages, but not here. Shopping habits also had to change. I tried making lists, googling lists, asking people for advice which they readily gave bless them, but I just cannot get into the groove. I know I will get the hang of things again but it’s going to take some more time.

I’m sure I’m on the right track though because I made this recipe around two weeks ago with some basic ingredients I had both in my cupboard and the fridge and it worked out fine. The method is quite simple and hassle-free – that’s exactly how I’d like my cooking to always be.

  • 1 cup basmati rice
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons rapeseed oil
  • ¼ teaspoon sumac
  • ¼ teaspoon garam masala
  • ¼ teaspoon curry powder
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped or crushed
  • 2 red onions, finely sliced
  • 1 large courgette, cut into cubes
  • 1 large red pepper, cut into cubes or strips
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and washed
  • 200g dried prunes, chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • a good handful of fresh parsley, washed and roughly chopped
  • flaked almonds, slightly toasted

For the vinaigrette:

  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce

Place the rice in a pan with double the amount of water and cook by absorption. In the meantime, prepare the vinaigrette by pouring all the vinaigrette ingredients in a measuring jug and whisk them together until you get a smooth mixture. Also, toast the almonds in a dry pan for a few minutes. These will not take long so keep an eye on them. Set these aside when they turn a lovely golden brown.

When the rice is cooked through and is tender, tip it in a medium mixing bowl and fluff it up with a fork. Pour the vinaigrette over the rice and give everything another mix with a fork to keep the rice as airy and light as possible. Set aside in a warm place until needed.

Add the sumac, garam masala, curry powder and cumin to 2 tablespoons rapeseed oil in a large shallow pan. Give them a minute or two to infuse and add the garlic and onions. Let them turn opaque and stir in the courgette and red pepper. When they start to soften, tip in the chickpeas and prunes into the pan and add a pinch of salt and pepper. Let the mixture cook for around ten to fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the chickpea mixture and toasted almonds to the rice, give everything a mix and serve immediately. Sprinkle the fresh parsley over each individual bowl. For 2 with leftovers or 3 hungry people.

Keep me posted if you have a go at it. You know I love to read your messages. Enjoy!

Rob x

Patate Arraganate or Arrangiate


One evening I just wanted a simple side, prepared without too much faff for a weeknight supper. I must have had some leftover roast from the weekend before; can’t recall much because it has been a while. Proof? Look at the date. Yikes. J was still the one taking the photos for C&T. What I do remember though was that I had around an hour to spare for the prep and the cooking, and in a panic I just couldn’t think properly. Luckily in the nick of time I assembled an adaptation of an easy recipe by Gennaro Contaldo. I read it a few days before in Two Greedy Italians but with no time to find it from the book I tried to make a rough version of it. I have checked his recipe since then and he obviously gives measurement for every ingredient.

I just love the name of this dish. Arraganate means ‘with oregano’. I just cannot make myself learn that word though. I have tried and tried and it simply refuses to etch itself into my mind. It’s a disgrace I know, but I have slacked a lot in my Italian vocabulary. So I find myself using the word arrangiate instead, which can mean ‘arranged’ or ‘managed’. It’s an easier word for me and I can say that it makes sense here as the veggies are placed or arranged in layers. Go with me on this one, yes?

I have left the quantities of the herbs and seasonings out simply because at that time, for me, it was a sprinkle of this and a sprinkle of that! But believe me when I tell you that you can add or subtract whatever you want and it still would be good. This is very rustic in style and as any recipe of this kind it’s very versatile. If you have more than four people coming over for a meal, all you do is to prepare an additional dish or two.

  • Olive oil
  • 500g potatoes, thinly sliced
  • dried oregano
  • salt and pepper
  • dried basil
  • 300g onions, sliced
  • 6 large tomatoes, thickly sliced
  • 8 whole garlic cloves, with their skin on
  • 2 tablespoons white wine

Preheat your oven to 180°C/Gas mark 4.

In a roasting tin or ovenproof dish, tip in around 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil and spread it around the tin with your fingers until it is evenly distributed on the base.

Now it’s time to think about layering: add one layer of potatoes, then sprinkle on a little oregano, some salt and pepper, basil, another layer of onions and tomatoes. Drizzle some olive oil. Repeat this procedure until you have added all the veggies. Try to insert the garlic cloves in between the potatoes. Pour a final dash of olive oil and finish it off with the white wine.

Cover the tin with kitchen foil and bake for around 40 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for a further 10 to 15 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked all the way through.

The unpeeled garlic cloves will roast with the veggies and will be so sweet and impossible to resist, for me at least! They also taste lovely spread over crusty bread.


Rob x

(Recipe adapted from Two Greedy Italians by Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo, Quadrille Publishing, 2011.)

Image: Buttercream Muffins (with links to other recipes)

Buttercream muffins (9807)

I feel as if I’m getting my blogging mojo back! And since I am now on Flickr, I have decided to upload a two or three photos a week whenever I can. I was very hesitant at first and always questioned why I (or rather J) thought I would need to be present on another platform, apart from the usual Facebook and Twitter. I had almost enough of Facebook and again, I often think about not bothering with it at all. What I hate is the fact that they change the rules often, without making any form of announcement. (Case in point: I’m trying to upload this on FB and some setting has definitely changed since three days ago!) What I love is the interaction, although I really don’t like the word “Friends” here. It’s fishy. I often receive requests from people I know, but who are not my friends. OK – let me rephrase that. I get requests from people who I *know* for a fact they have absolutely no desire to know me at all. All they want is to generate traffic onto their sites or social media pages. They do it either for marketing (eg. companies) or for narcissistic purposes (as in look-at-me-I-have-a-better-life-than-you-do). So to that I say, no thanks. Thus endeth this rant.

On a more positive vibe, the photo above is one of my favourites. These beautiful little creations were given to J and I by my lovely neighbour while we were still in Guildford. Brought fresh from the market that morning. They tasted as good as they looked. Of course, I couldn’t not take a picture before we devoured them. That goes without saying. Images like these make me even fonder of our life in Surrey. I made some real friends who I will never forget.

I love baking and gobbling up muffins in equal terms. I am looking forward to a spot of baking very soon, now that the weather is giving us a glimpse of a degree or two of coolness. You will find many recipes here on C&T and the following are some of the ones I like best:




Rob x

Iced Coffee at Home

Iced Coffee (9871)

One of the things both J and I wouldn’t live without is coffee. We’re not the typical coffee-obsessed persons – we have an Americano and a cappuccino in the morning with our breakfast, and an espresso after lunch. On rare occasions we have another espresso round about four, but that’s that.

Iced Coffee (9861)

One of the latest scientific studies says that drinking coffee in the morning isn’t optimal, but routines are hard to break. So here I conveniently set science aside (without taking away any merit) and adopt the Italian way: a cappuccino (and un cornetto al cioccolato) in the morning and an espresso (never a cappuccino) in the afternoon. If you’re ever in Italy and you prefer that beautiful frothy milky coffee stuff as your after-lunch fix, ignore the stern looks you’re going to get from your barista. Either that or lie to their faces. Or just smile.

Iced Coffee (9863)

Lately I went to a coffee chain (I know I know – don’t give me that look) with my mum and ordered an iced latte. I don’t usually drink iced coffees, but the incredible heat together with the high humidity that day was tremendous and I just couldn’t drink anything hot. So an iced coffee it was. I will tell you one thing: I was so disappointed. I think you know the drill. Too much ice, so little coffee and milk. Seriously I would have preferred a big glass of cold milk. It would have made so much more sense.

Iced Coffee (9865)

But I didn’t give up. Nope. On to the next day, which again featured a killer heat. Three in the afternoon and all I felt like doing is watch an episode of Stargate Universe and something cold. Let’s make ourselves an iced coffee, taking one step further, adding a shot of chocolate liqueur. We were at home after all.

Iced Coffee (9867)

We didn’t froth the milk or anything because we just couldn’t be bothered. It ended up being a simple straight up iced drink and though it isn’t something I have often, it was a welcome break in the heat. For 2.

  • 2 glasses
  • ice cubes, as many as you fancy
  • 2 strong Americano coffees, preferably made from an Italian blend (I get mine from C&M Borg in Malta.)
  • 2 shots chocolate liqueur
  • milk to taste

In two glasses of your choice, add as many ice cubes as you want – I wouldn’t add more that three. Remember, the more you add the more watery your drink will turn out to be.

Pour the hot coffees over the ice, one in each glass. Add a shot of chocolate liqueur, again in each glass and top with milk.

A simple and refreshing drink especially during those unbearable days, if cold coffee is your thing.

Iced Coffee (9869)


Rob x

**Disclaimer: this is not a sponsored post. I have not received any payment from C&M Borg or any other company for any mention in this post. I have paid for the coffee myself because I am a regular client of theirs and I am not expecting any pat on the back for this mention.

I just like their coffee, and they always offered good service with a smile, and a lovely chat. I appreciate great customer service and anyone who gives it deserves a well done in my book.**


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