Photo Diary: Gozo

The Azure Window (0188)

I thought it was time to post some non-foodie pics once again. As some of you may know, a friend of mine came over to Malta from the UK for a short visit. It was a real whirlwind and I tried to show her as many interesting places around the island in five days. She just started working as a travel consultant so would it be needless to say that she prepared a serious list of things she wanted to see? That was a bonus because she gave me a clear idea of the places she was interested to visit.

The Azure Window (0184)

Fungus Rock with Shore in the Foreground (0192)

The first thing on her list was a day in Gozo, and we did just that on her first full day here. It was as hot as hell but we managed to pull through. I didn’t take as many photos as I would have liked. That happens to me often, for whatever reason, so I had to make do with the few adequate snaps I managed to take. When we came back home in the evening I realised that I didn’t even take some of the beautiful Gozitan ftira we ate for lunch! I might have taken a shot with my phone but the camera on that is, very mildly put, complete rubbish. A good excuse for another trip.

Fungus Rock (0182)

Fungus Rock and Heart (0194)

I usually divide these kinds of posts into two, mainly because I don’t like the clutter with too many pictures, but as I said before, there aren’t that many. I’m including everything for this one though, since most are of Fungus Rock and the beautiful Azure Window – *the* sights to see in Gozo. I had to include the one with the heart. I guess someone loved the views as much as we did! And the ice cream we had to cool ourselves off in the shade made things even better! I cannot remember whose idea that was but there was no question as to whether we needed one.

The Inland Sea (0180)

We Heart Fungus Rock (0196)

We also went to The Cittadella a.k.a. the Citadel (Iċ-Ċitadella), in the middle of the city of Victoria (or Rabat). The view of Għasri from the top of the Citadel made the uphill climb worthwhile (for which sadly I have no decent photos).  Restoration works started on this fortified city a few years ago. It’s still quite chaotic in there but we managed not to trip over various construction contraptions in the quaint narrow streets. Some tourists were not so lucky.

Balcony Pots (0199)

Citadella (0201)

Citadella (0202)

A View from the Fort (0204)

Citadella (0203)

Just take a moment to appreciate that gorgeous blue sky. And yes, it was as hot as it seems! (A great ending to C&T’s 300th post.)

Enjoy!

Rob x

Chocolate and Peanut Butter Squares

No-Bake Chocolate and Peanut Butter Bars (0209)

A few weeks ago I was invited to a friend’s house. It was already sweltering hot but the day before, as a result of my Facebook status at the time, and a special request for it, I baked some chocolate chip cookies. I never ever regret baking, especially for others and it’s only good manners to take something with you when someone welcomes you to their home. And you know the drill, for good friends I would do that and more. Another friend of ours made the most delicious rice salad I’ve ever had, with the freshest mozzarella and seafood. Bringing dessert was the least I could do.

No-Bake Chocolate and Peanut Butter Bars (0208)

So I made the cookies. By the end of the last batch I was a mess. Having every imaginable window open plus my BFF at the moment, a.k.a. the fan, on at maximum, wasn’t enough. Apart from that, the oven takes a long time to preheat and that doesn’t help my sanity at all. But the cookies tasted great…and we had ice cream with that. Do I need to say anything else?

No-Bake Chocolate and Peanut Butter Bars (0211)

That day I promised myself and everyone else who follows me and/or reads C&T that I wouldn’t touch the oven again until the arrival of the colder months. Well, I lied. Why? Because at the time I said that, it was a fact, something set in stone, but I think I must have missed baking so much that I completely turned my resolution upside down on its head. Did I learn my lesson by now? Nope. I had people round for tea a little while ago and I made not one, not two, but three cakes. Well, two cakes and a batch of brownies, which doesn’t make things any better! It’s only the start of July now, so I cannot imagine what will happen by the end of the year.

No-Bake Chocolate and Peanut Butter Bars (0210)

However, you might be please to know that on the same cookie-baking spree, I also made this recipe. I had not touched one of Nigella’s books for ages. This is a good thing actually. I still love Nigella, but I am trying newer things at the moment. I’m spreading my wings a little bit more. I found this really easy no-bake recipe in How To Be a Domestic Goddess. I tried it with the ingredients I had and it worked, although I would have liked to add a packet of crushed digestives or Marie biscuits to the base. I think the recipe would have worked better, but at the end it didn’t matter too much. The squares can be cut to any size but in this case I would dare to say the smaller, the better. Trust me on this one. These babies are very rich, but make lovely little treats.

For the bottom layer:

  • 60g dark brown sugar
  • 200g icing sugar
  • 60g unsalted butter
  • 200g crunchy peanut butter

For the top layer:

  • 200g milk chocolate
  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Grease a 23cm square cake tin and line it with parchment or baking paper. Make sure to overlap the sides of the tin. This will make it easier to unmould the square when it is set.

In a large mixing bowl mix all the base ingredients together. (I just use a wooden spoon for this, but you could use a mixer with a paddle attachment if you like. I just don’t bother as one bowl and spoon makes the cleaning up much easier!) Press the mixture onto the base of the lined cake tin and set aside.

For the topping all you need to do is to roughly chop the chocolate into chunks. Place it into a heat-proof bowl together with the butter, and melt it over simmering water. When the chocolate has completely melted, spread it evenly all over the base.

Put the tin in the fridge and leave it to set.

Slowly unmould the contents of the tin very very carefully (I mean very carefully!) and cut it into small squares.

Enjoy!

Rob x

(Recipe adapted from Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess, Chatto & Windus, 2003.)

This is what I was doing….

One year ago: Photo – Fresh Herbs

Two years ago: Smitten Kitchen Strawberry Fools

Three years ago: Burgers

Four years ago: Tea Time Cakes – Banana Nut Loaf

Country Captain Chicken with Rice

Country Captain Chicken with Basmati Rice (9964)

I’m sure that summer’s officially here, one, because it’s almost unbearably hot, and two, because I buy chicken by the bucket, or whatever expression you might choose to put instead. There are tonnes of reasons for which this happens. The first one that comes to mind is that it makes a perfect meal for when I have people over for supper. So I keep various chicken pieces in the freezer at once. This past week I went to the butcher twice; they were on my list for both trips, simply because I had guests last Saturday and I ran out of chicken breasts. As I must have mentioned somewhere before on C&T but I must do so again I would rather have the dark meat bits. The meat next to the bones is generally more tender and juicy. However lately, since the turn in the weather, I much prefer grilling or pan-frying a marinated chicken breast. The marinade bit is most important. It’s amazing what some extra virgin olive oil together with freshly squeezed lemon juice, salt and pepper does to a piece of meat, and to vegetables! Place the meat in a dish, marinate, cover with cling film in the fridge for a couple of hours. Grill, serve with a simple salad and voila, you have a meal. Right there.

This recipe is a little different, in that you don’t even need a grill pan and there’s no marinade prep but it’s easy. I like it because it resembles a curry without the extra spice. It comes in handy when you know you will feed a group of people who undoubtedly have various likes and dislikes, or even allergies and/or intolerances. As months go by I am often finding myself in this predicament, which can be a headache on one hand, but a positive thing for me, meaning I’m reconnecting with people. It’s been almost a year now since I moved back from Surrey. Unbelievable.

This recipe is my take on a 30-minute meal recipe from the unstoppable Rachael Ray. I loved watching her shows when we lived in Michigan. Her easy recipes and two of her books which I bought during those years guided me through my first attempts at cooking. If I can dare to compare, she’s the equivalent I’d say to what Jamie Oliver was doing in the UK at the time. He eventually also took on the same 30-minute meal concept a few years ago. I tried this one last year when I was still getting used to my kitchen in Malta, and it was one of the successes! Don’t let the long-ish list of ingredients intimidate you. Most of it is all pantry stuff. Keep me posted and good luck! Serves 4.

For the rice:

  • 1 cup basmati rice
  • 2 cups water

For the chicken:

  • ⅔ cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 4 large chicken breasts
  • 2 tablespoons regular olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter (optional)
  • 1 green bell pepper, washed, seeded and roughly chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, washed, seeded and chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon mild curry powder
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 2 handfuls of pitted dried prunes, chopped into chunks*
  • around ¼ cup flaked almonds, lightly toasted on a dry pan
  • 3 spring onions, washed and chopped

Cook the rice as you usually do or with the absorption method as follows.

Place the rice in a pan, cover it with the cold water and place it on the hob on medium heat. When it starts to bubble away, decrease the heat to minimum (if using a gas cooker) and let it absorb all the water till it is tender. If using an electric cooker like me, switch off the ring on which you are cooking the rice. Fluff it with a fork once the water has completely been absorbed.

In a shallow bowl mix together the flour, paprika, salt and pepper and thoroughly coat the chicken pieces.

Place a large non-stick pan on medium-high heat and pour in the olive oil. When the pan is hot, brown the chicken pieces for around three to four minutes per side. Remove them from the heat and set aside.

Adjust the heat to medium-low. Add some more olive oil or butter in the same pan. Tip in the peppers, onions, garlic and curry powder. Add a few grindings of pepper at this stage if you like. Pour in the chicken stock, together with the chopped tomatoes and prunes. You can substitute these with sultanas or raisins if you prefer.*

Add the chicken pieces back in the pan and simmer on low heat with the lid on. Make sure the chicken is done by checking that the juices run clear.

Scatter the chopped spring onions and toasted almond flakes over the pan and serve with the rice you prepared beforehand.

Enjoy!

Rob x

(This recipe is adapted from Rachael Ray’s 30-Minute Meals 2, Lake Isle Press Inc., New York, 2003.)

Have a browse through C&T to find out what I was doing:

One year ago: Beautiful Rye, East Sussex

Two years ago: Rachel Khoo’s Pistachio and Prune Cake

Three years ago: A Little Nostalgia and Fun

Four years ago: Baked Conchiglie

Martini

Martini (0215)

Happy Thursday and I hope you’re all doing great today. It’s hot, humid and very very windy here in Malta – the kind of weather that won’t let you do anything. And if you have loads of errands to run it will be a bit of a hassle. I had an important meeting today which basically took all morning but I ticked an item on my to-do-list so it worked well. Thank goodness we had air conditioning, something which we don’t yet have installed in our study. We decided not to last summer but we have been feeling it for a whole month now and I think that by the next few days working here will be unbearable. A solution would be doing nothing during the afternoons and just settle in the living area, watching a good movie perhaps, or re-runs of Castle. Made it to S3 ep3, in case you’re asking.

Another solution would be to live by the sea during warmest months. To be fair, I like where I live because it’s central but wouldn’t it be lovely to walk to a beach instead of having to take the car? I think it would be. I visited a friend last week who lives in a beautiful house seconds away from the beach. Being there was amazing. And I wouldn’t mind either living closer to the beach in the winter. It would get cold, true, but I wouldn’t mind the sunsets. And instead of a cold drink I would be sipping a hot chocolate topped off with a couple of marshmallows. Such a good thought!

Martini (0214)

Last Sunday, J and I spent some time sorting out some work at home. I cooked and sorted out the kitchen, but after a couple of hours I just had enough. It was too hot I decided and I gave up. I sat in front of the fan, feet up and watched Ex Machina. Nothing special, didn’t like it, but hey J wanted to watch it and I said why the heck not. Again, in case you’re wondering/deciding whether to watch it or not. Don’t know if that was helpful but it was a bit meh. My opinion anyway. I think that by the end of it I was asleep. Now I’m not a cocktail enthusiast, nor much of a drinker either, but I do have favourites. (Can I remind you to drink responsibly here please?) I wanted something sweet but J made me a mean Martini. It was strong, so beware, and my favourite thing about it were those two olives. So cute, and good. The trick is to have them at the end, by which time they would have absorbed a little of the drink. Served shaken and cold – the colder, the better.

The following quantities are for two glasses. Make sure you’re not driving after this. It is strong. Well, it is for me. J used Martini for this. If you’re making a cocktail use good vermouth.

  • 80ml gin
  • 20ml dry Martini

Pour the gin and dry Martini in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously and pour into two cocktail glasses. Garnish with two pitted green olives. Two for each glass.

Enjoy.

Rob x

(This is *not* a sponsored post.)

Have a browse through C&T for some ideas…

One year ago: Warm Couscous and Courgette Salad

Two years ago: A Simple Greek Salad

Three years ago: Grilled Salmon with Tarragon

Four years ago: Pizza and Focaccia

Pork Burgers

Pork and Apple Burgers (0174)

I love a good burger. Don’t you? I don’t know what it is but the thought of one just screams of summer barbecues. I find one challenge with making my own though, and that’s coming up with new ways of turning a good burger into something more special. Now I would never bash the ol’ beef burger. Never, but finding a really good one is tough.

A few weeks ago I bought some pork mince on a whim on one trip to the butcher’s. I didn’t know what to do with it until I saw Gill Meller from River Cottage whip up some gorgeous-looking burgers on YouTube. I like how simple they are to make, and the combination of pork, sage and apples is, of course, a classic. So I decided to give this recipe a go. I looked through my herb stash and found that I didn’t have any sage. OK. No biggie I said, and allowed myself some leeway and used my trusty za’atar instead. (At the moment I’m using up some of my dried herbs and spices so that I can replenish with fresh ones.) I also ran out of seeds so I couldn’t toast my own. So I used some ground cinnamon to counteract the tartness of the apples. (I was tempted to add some honey in the mix but in the end I decided to leave it out. It would have given the burgers a more golden caramelised look but then got stuck on how much I would need. The taste would have been great.) It worked. This amount will give you around 8 small patties. Keep me posted if you make these for your next cookout.

This is the kind of food I like when I have people over during the summer. Add some fresh salad to the mix, throw some seasoned potatoes in the oven, make a lovely lemonade and you have an inexpensive supper right there. People, it’s officially Summer.

  • 500g minced pork
  • 2 apples, peeled, cored and cut into small cubes
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten (optional)*
  • 2 teaspoons za’atar
  • pinch of salt
  • pepper
  • around ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons breadcrumbs
  • a light dusting of flour, for your hands
  • wholegrain mustard, to serve (optional)

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, using clean hands. The egg* is completely optional; I didn’t make use of it. However it will help bind the mixture if you choose to include it. Wash your hands before the next step.

Rub a little flour on your hands and form golf-ball-sized patties. Flatten them slightly and set them aside on a plate until your use up all of the pork mixture.

At this stage I would suggest placing them in the fridge for around half an hour or so. This will make grilling them much easier, as warm uncooked homemade burgers tend to crumble.

Take them out of the fridge and heat up a grill pan. I love my cast-iron one but use whatever you have. A non-stick pan works well too. Just make sure it is really really hot.

Grill the burgers for around 6 to 8 minutes per side, making sure they are cooked all the way through.

Top the burger with wholegrain mustard on a bun and serve with plenty of fresh vegetables. And yes, those you see in my photo are twins – two stacked on top of each other. So no. You are not seeing double.

Enjoy!

R x

(This recipe is very loosely adapted from the River Cottage YouTube Channel. The link is given above.)

Mushrooms with Fresh Garlic and Tomatoes

Stuffed Mushrooms (0049)

I am a planner. Well, whenever I can that is. I look for interesting recipes, write grocery lists and plan weekly meals. Usually. Though there are times when I just can’t be bothered. Stuff just happens. It’s been almost a year since moving back to Malta and we haven’t stopped. Feeling overwhelmed and stressed out doesn’t even begin to describe. So for the past few months I have given up on planning meals all the time. Giving this up for the most part has not been as hard as I anticipated. I know – I’m surprised at that myself to be honest but I gradually learnt not to fuss over the little things. To an extent. Cooking and baking are meant to be stress-busters for me. Whereas lately they were completely stressing me out! And I was letting them do that. I almost made my kitchen my enemy. Say what?! The fact that I’ve been running this blog for four and a half years now has somewhat increased the pressure, even though it remains my beloved hobby and my rock. Phew.

So I decided that when it comes to buying fresh produce I was going to relax. My thought process for the past few weeks has been something like this: deep breathe, let the notepad go, let the pen go, make the journey to the veggie truck, pick the best fruit and veggies you can buy, think of some recipes while you linger, chat to the nicest people there, pay for the stuff and walk away slowly. And it’s working. It is. I feel freer and I cook whatever I want when I’m home. The kitchen is not my enemy anymore. At least for now!

The idea for this recipe has been a long time coming. Around ten years ago I went over to an American friend’s house for lunch. This house was huge, with a large airy kitchen full of sunlight. I just loved being there in one of the biggest kitchens ever. I was literally in kitchen heaven. While we chatted she quickly whipped up some stuffed mushrooms with some fresh vegetables she bought that morning. They were incredible. This is my take on that.

I cannot count the times I wrote the following sentence or something of the sort but here it is again. This recipe is as simple as 1-2-3 but it calls for a little prep. Not much really and you’ll be done in no time. If you don’t like mushrooms you can always try this with other vegetables. Keep me posted.

  • 6 large mushrooms, Portobello or whatever you can find
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil, for the stuffing
  • handful of fresh garlic, washed and finely chopped
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 150g breadcrumbs
  • pinch salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil, for frying the stuffed mushrooms
  • A dash or two of white dry vermouth, or a splash of white wine
  • handful of fresh parsley, for sprinkling

To prepare the mushrooms, wash under cold water. Remove the stalks and discard the tips.

Create a cavity in each mushroom using a sharp knife, enough to fit a good amount of stuffing. Chop and save the cavity and stalk pieces for later. Place the mushrooms on a plate and set aside. You can rub the mushrooms lightly with some olive oil if you wish.

To prepare the stuffing, place a shallow pan on low to medium heat, and tip in the olive oil. When it heats up, add the onion and fresh garlic. Once the onion turns translucent, add the chopped carrot, breadcrumbs, tomatoes and a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir everything up and remove from the heat once the mixture starts to sizzle. Tip this in a bowl, ready to be eaten by the mushrooms!

Fill each mushroom with the stuffing mixture. Be generous. You will have some leftover stuffing once you are finished, so don’t worry.

In the same pan you used to cook the stuffing, tip another tablespoon of olive oil and heat it up. Place the mushrooms in the pan and let them brown and sizzle on one side. Add the vermouth and cover the pan. Let them steam until tender. You could also put them in a preheated oven at 180°C until the tops turn golden.

Liberally sprinkle fresh parsley over the mushrooms and serve immediately. Having said that I don’t mind eating them cold.

Delicious as a snack or served with other sides as part of a spread. Enjoy!

Rob x

Once again, I have included my favourite recipes and some life events from the past few years. Take a peek.

One Year Ago: Simple Fish Curry

Two Years Ago: Prawn Linguine 

Three Years Ago: Rome…l’ultima parte

Four Years Ago: Cookies with Cranberries and White Chocolate

Leftover Shortcrust Pastry and Chocolate Sauce

Leftover Pastry with Chocolate Sauce (9051)

I have some time on my hands this afternoon and as usual I did a round of my edited photos in my never-ending list of computer files and folders. They seem to get bigger by the minute and sometimes it’s very hard to keep track of things. Having said that I need to check those currently on my phone, which also needs some serious decluttering. Does that word even exist?

Originally I didn’t plan to give you the recipe for the pastry, as I did write a post about it some years ago. I thought “it’s just what I do sometimes when I have some leftovers”, and I *always* end up with leftovers. However to save you a few seconds until you wait for your browser to look it up for you, I decided to include it here anyway. It’s been quite a while. And I would rather have you do this than throwing any extras away.

Leftover Pastry with Chocolate Sauce (9050)

For those who don’t like the idea of melted chocolate, there are a few options. You could either leave them plain or dip them in some sugar and cinnamon while they’re still hot. Or, better still, you can dip them in dulce de leche, which is simply heated (as in heated very gently over low heat) sweetened milk. There are loads of how-to’s out there for dulce de leche. You can go to Alton Brown or Epicurious, both very legit even if they seem a wee bit complicated. If you want something simpler there’s no way to go other than Nigella. You cannot go wrong with her recipe for Salted Caramel Sauce. Sweet pastry crumbled over ice cream also appeals to me, and I’m sure you can find many other combinations to try.

Please note that the quantity given here for the sweet shortcrust is for around a dozen little pies. You will have some extra to make the slices.*

You will have plenty of chocolate but it’s the easiest quantity of chocolate you’ll find in the shops. However I’m sure you’ll find uses for it. Drizzled over fruit is one of my favourites.**

For the pastry:

  • 240g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 60g butter, unsalted
  • 60g vegetable shortening/vegetable fat (Trex in the UK)
  • 90g sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the coating:

  • approx. 1 tablespoon of white or light brown sugar
  • sprinkling of cinnamon

For frying the pastry:

  • a drizzle of rapeseed oil

For the chocolate:

  • 100g dark chocolate** (or a mixture of both milk and dark chocolate)

In a large bowl, sift the flour and baking powder, add the sugar, and rub the butter completely into the flour until you get a breadcrumb-like consistency. Add the beaten egg, lemon zest and juice, and the vanilla extract to the dry ingredients and mix everything well using your clean hands. Wrap the pastry in clingfilm and put it in the fridge for about 40 minutes. This will make it crunchy later and easier to handle when rolling it out.

That’s the pastry done. Roll it out and prepare whatever you plan with it.* It’s now time for the leftovers.

Cut rough strips or slices from whatever pastry is left. Prepare the coating for the hot pastry strips in a shallow bowl. Mix and set aside.

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over simmering water.** Give it a mix with a wooden spoon. Keep an eye on it as you don’t want it to burn.

Place a non-stick shallow pan over medium heat and pour in a little oil. Spread the oil all over the bottom of the pan and let it heat well. Gently place the leftover pastry strips in the pan and let them brown well on each side. Repeat until all the pastry is cooked.

Now you can either dip or drizzle the chocolate over the pastry. Eat while they are still warm.

Enjoy!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,016 other followers

%d bloggers like this: