Aubergine Chermoula

Aubergine Chermoula (9562)

Thank goodness and everything or anyone you and I might believe in, Christmas came and went without a hitch. I promised myself I wouldn’t worry too much about it but in reality J and I spent the best part of the week before feeling sick about the whole thing. At one point I even thought I had some sort of stomach ulcer. Part of it was my fault I’m sure – but looking back I cannot see what was all the fuss about the cooking, since I spent two days prepping everything beforehand. But you see, it was not all about the cooking. Anyhoooo, everything turned out just fine.

I was totally in control on the day though and this was partly due to the help given by Sabrina Ghayour’s Persiana. I had so much fun in the kitchen, cooking, taking pictures and doing some tweeting. I made a variation of the recipe as a side dish to serve with a roast pork loin, together with other veg. It was a hit. I made it once before for a trial run and served it simply with rice, which worked wonderfully well. Since then it became a favourite. This is it with how I changed it (albeit slightly) to cater for what I had in my pantry at the time.

  • glug of olive oil
  • 2 aubergines, cut into bite-sized cubes
  • salt
  • 2 red onions, roughly sliced
  • 4 large garlic cloves, crushed or very thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 red pepper, deseeded and cut into strips
  • handful of sultanas
  • 1 large can of chopped tomatoes
  • 200ml water
  • 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 heaped tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons runny honey

In a large pan, heat the olive oil and tip in the aubergines. Gently fry them until they turn golden brown. Season with some salt to draw some of their water out half way through the cooking. Take them out of the pan onto a warm dish and set aside until needed later.

Using the same pan, turn the heat to a low setting and add the sliced onions. Cook them until caramelized, stirring occasionally, making sure they don’t blacken. Add the garlic, cumin, cinnamon and paprika and give the onions a little stir. Add the red pepper and cook until it turns a little soft.

Add the sultanas, tomatoes, water, vinegar, sugar and honey. Mix everything well and let it come to a simmer. At this point, reintroduce the aubergine into the pan and continue to cook until softened. Switch the heat off and let it sit on the hob to cool and to let the flavours mesh together.

This dish is best prepared a day or two before you want to eat it. Like a stew, it will taste even better.

Enjoy!

(This recipe was slightly adapted from Sabrina Ghayour’s Persiana: Recipes from the Middle East and Beyond, Mitchell Beazley, 2014.)

Around Ghent

Yellow House in Ghent (9948)

Last year I was lucky enough to join J on a very short trip to Ghent, Brussels. It was cold. I felt it in my bones, more so after still wearing my t-shirts back home. It was the first time I wore my winter clothes after a sweltering summer in Malta. On our first day in Brussels I underestimated how cold I would feel, and I didn’t wrap up properly. I learnt my lesson that evening though and geared up the next morning. I spent the day exploring the town on my own while J was away giving his lecture. It was rainy and gloomy but I still enjoyed it immensely. I love spending time alone sometimes. I walked and walked and walked, city map glued to my gloves in case I got lost  – one of my all-time fears. I always manage to find my way back though. Faith in myself restored!

As I was finding my way around the square, trying to find a decent place for coffee (which I eventually found) a woman in a big black Mercedes drove up to me asking me if I spoke French. I said I did…just a little to get by and understand but nothing that would resemble a decent conversation anyway. Does Madam speak English I asked meekly? I barely get by she said, but it was clear to me that she was lost. She told me she couldn’t find her way back home and there my heart sank. I didn’t know her at all and yet I was so worried about her. By the time I stopped a family to ask for help, she just drove off. I tried to call out but nothing. In the evening, while on the tram (and to this very day) I just couldn’t stop wondering whether she got home safely. I hope everything was all right for her in the end.

I took this photo on one of the bridges across the river. That gorgeous pale yellow caught my eye, but I didn’t quite get the snap how I wanted to. Somehow, as in most of my photos, what I see is not what the end result is. Shows I’m not a pro. On the whole though I’m pretty pleased with it. The sky though, don’t make me rant on the whiteness. I almost ruined the picture. At first I thought the couple at the bottom got in the way, however looking at it they show the scale of the building, plus, at the risk of sounding cheesy, they contribute to the romantic feel of the town itself. Unfortunately I only edited two photos from our stay in Ghent. I took many photos but the majority didn’t make the cut. A good excuse to go back then!

On a more foodie note, since tomorrow is Shrove Tuesday, known also as Pancake Day in the secular world, I have this and this recipe to share. I made mine today, since I will be in a bit of a rush in the morning. I was up at stupid o’clock today so what the heck, today is the day I thought. The recipe for French toast can be found here.

Enjoy!

Browse through 4 years of C&T:

One year ago: Chocolate Pasta with Pecans and Caramel Sauce

Two years ago: Cornbread

Three years ago: Stuffed Vegetables

Four years ago: Mouclade

Porridge with peaches and crushed raspberries

Porridge and Peaches (9539)

It’s been quite a while since my last post. It’s not that usual for me to miss some weeks of photos and recipes but I must confess that lately inspiration has been scarce to say the least. I am not fighting it. I decided to let it go and write only when the content is good. I hate leaving things not-quite-right; it’s just not my style, so I went with the not-to-force-it attitude which works for me, at least for a little while. On a more positive note, J and I have also been to London till last week. We’ve been up visiting J2. It was good fun and we revisited some of our old favourite spots together with new ones. Exciting times indeed. The highlight of the trip was the fact that we managed to meet a handful of our dearest friends, a few in Guildford, with some Shakespeare thrown in the mix. Good times.

So to get C&T going again, I wanted to post one of my favourite photos I took last year. Here’s how you can turn a simple porridge into something delicious. Do you remember Eric Lanlard’s recipe for peach muffins from Chocolat? I had a ton of extra raspberries in the fridge after baking those, and decided to lightly crush and throw them in with my morning porridge together with a peach or two. I wasn’t sure if I would like it or not. I did though. A lot. It felt like a comforting hug. This is what you need for one helping.

  • ½ cup porridge oats
  • water, enough to just cover the oats
  • touch of sugar, optional
  • small pinch of salt, optional
  • a splash of semi-skimmed milk
  • 2 tablespoons lightly crushed raspberries
  • 1 ripe peach, peeled and cut into quarters, or use tinned peaches
  • maple syrup

Put the porridge oats in a small pot and cover with water, on high heat. When the water starts to boil, reduce the heat to minimum and stir continuously until all the water has been absorbed in the oats. Add some sugar and a little pinch of salt if you want to, stir and add the milk. I don’t like my porridge to look like industrial-strength glue, so I keep it quite liquidy. But that depends on individual taste so go ahead and cook it how you like it!

Serve it in your favourite breakfast bowl, adding the crushed raspberries and peaches on the top. A squirt of maple syrup will add a little somethin’ somethin’ to your morning.

Enjoy and Happy start to the week!

Rob x

Browse the C&T archive for more recipes.

One year ago: Churros

Two years ago: Apple and Walnut Cake

Three years ago: Stuffed Vegetables

Four years ago: Lemon Muffins

A non-recipe recipe: Mock Pizza with Spring Onions and Eggs

Mock Pizza with Spring Onions and Eggs (8437)

I don’t know whether I’m going to give Mr. Daniel Young a fit if/when he reads this! Let me start by apologizing profusely if I did, but this mock of a pizza is something I quickly whip up when I’m either in a hurry or when I have run errands all morning and just want to chill out when I return home. Better than grabbing some greasy concoction from anywhere I say. These days I admit I would make soup or the traditional Maltese minestra (a richer version of the Italian minestrone) which fills me up until dinner time, as long as I have made it beforehand. When I slack on the prep, or when only pizza will do – without the time it takes to make a decent dough, I make this or anything similar. Before I go on, as I very often do I have recently posted an updated version of my proper pizza recipe here, so give it a go if you have some time to spare today.

With regard to this assemblage, I won’t give you any specific quantities for the spices. The reason behind this is very simple: I totally winged it and used some leftover tomato sauce which I seasoned the day before for some pasta. Having said that I will include everything needed for you to use as a guide. You can leave out the egg if you must, and substitute it for anything you fancy. I used the following:

For the base:

  • one shop-bought seasoned flat bread

For the sauce:

  • around 3 tablespoons tomato passata
  • pinch dried chilli flakes
  • pinch of smoked paprika
  • small pinch of sugar
  • salt
  • pepper
  • dried oregano

For the toppings:

  • 1 spring onion, chopped
  • 1 egg, boiled for 6 minutes and chopped into quarters
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 200°C. (You don’t need to max it out here as the base is already cooked through.) Lay the base on a tray lined with parchment paper, and spread the tomato sauce as evenly as you like.

Heat the base for a few minutes or according to the packet instructions. Plate it up and top the pizza with the chopped spring onions and egg, and pour over a dash or two of extra virgin olive oil. You can add some more oregano and pepper just before eating.

Simple but so good. Enjoy!

Rob x

Guildford: a couple of pics

Cathedral from the Castle (9799)

First of all: Happy New Year everybody! Christmas has come and gone, and so did the holidays. I really hope you had a good one and we all hope for the best for ’15. 2014 has not been one of my best years but I got through. Phew. Now the only way to look is onwards so let’s go.

Flowers on the hill (9806)

Having said that, I apologise for the lack of posts this week. I am still recuperating from a bad bout of flu with a very frustrating cough to back it up. I do have some recipes lined up but this year I have decided to be more diverse in what I write. No fear – the recipes will keep on coming, however I don’t spend all my time in the kitchen so I want to take my camera out into the world a little bit more and post more pics here. I hope you don’t mind it that much, especially if you come here looking for cooking tips. You will continue to find them, I can vouch for that. I’ve got so many from last year that are still waiting to be published. You will find a little more variety, that’s all. At least, that’s my plan.

I cannot really focus that much today, as my head is still in a fuzz, so I thought that posting a couple of photos I took during my past walk into Guildford will be good to get me going. There were other photos in my edit folder, but these two are the best I could take that day. It was very bittersweet and after a little while I decided to put down my camera and just let the atmosphere sink in, if you know what I mean. The last day was as surreal as the first day in London. I still can’t get my mind around the last seven years. Do you get that feeling sometimes? Let me know.

The first photo is of the view everyone takes from the Castle. I love Guildford Cathedral. Whenever we saw it from the A3 I knew we were home. And that, to me, is the best feeling in the world. I wonder if that will be what I think in a few weeks’ time. I cannot wait to be back for a few days and see my friends. I just cannot wait.

The second picture is just of a few wild flowers on the hill around the Castle. It was very windy and since I’m not an expert at this thing I found it tough to take a good shot. I needed J for a few tips but he wasn’t there so I had to wing it. I think it’s a pretty one and I just couldn’t resist taking a few flower photos.

Until the next one.

Enjoy!

Rob x

A Christmas Treat: The Easiest Chocolate Brownies

The Easiest Chocolate Brownies (9969)

After much deliberation I’ve decided that the last recipe for 2014 will be one of the best I’ve tried this year. When I say the best I mean it in every sense of the word, including the easiest. I make this recipe again and again and it turns out good every time without fail. I also like to make it when I’m in a rush, or before I head off to someone’s house for lunch or dinner. Or when celebrating 4 years of C&T! Time flies, but I’m stating the obvious there.

Strictly speaking chocolate brownies are not Christmasy, but add a pinch of cinnamon and some icing sugar on the top through a sieve and they turn into something even more special. For me, Christmas is already a hectic time all on its own, so the cooking and baking have to be simple and stress-free. It is a must. So this is one of the recipes I turn to. I kept it for myself for a couple of months (well not really!) but it’s about time I share it with you. It is Christmas after all!

I usually get a yield of around 16 brownies with the following quantities. But that’s because I like to cut them into quite large squares. They are rich but that’s how I like brownies to be. Also, I think that in this case you will fare better using either a wooden spoon or a large hand whisk for this. Don’t bother with an electric mixer; this is so straightforward and takes so little time to prep and mix. Take this from someone who hates the washing up. Good luck and enjoy!

  • 275g soft unsalted butter
  • 375g sugar
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 74g cocoa powder (preferably passed through a sieve)
  • 100g plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 100g dark chocolate, melted

Preheat the oven to 180°C and grease and line a square cake tin with parchment paper, leaving some extra at the sides to make it easier to lift the brownies later.

In a large bowl tip in all the ingredients and mix until everything is well combined.

Spoon the brownie mixture into the prepared cake tin and level it into all the corners and at the top with a spatula.

Bake for around 40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. (If the top is browning too much for your liking, cover it with some kitchen foil.)

When the brownies are done, remove the cake tin from the oven to a wire rack to cool completely. Cut into squares and you’re done! Perfect for busy parents too.

Before I leave you for now I want to say: happy baking, but more importantly Happy Christmas. May all the joy these holidays bring be always with you. As regards to recipes I will take a couple of weeks off, but I could post some other photos on here if I have other things to share. I will be on Twitter and Facebook though in case of any cooking queries. Take care of yourselves and see you, for sure, in 2015.

Rob x

(Recipe adapted from Mary Berry’s 100 Cakes and Bakes, BBC Books, 2011.)

A Christmas Gift: Shortbread

Making Shortbread (8785)

Since the countdown to Christmas is now in full swing, I thought that a recipe for shortbread is now in order. This is one of my go-to things to bake when I am invited at someone’s home. Reasons being: I definitely don’t need to spend a fortune for gifts, I can make it easily up to two days before the event (it will keep wonderfully well if stored properly), it can be easily transported anywhere without becoming a mess when travelling, and the recipe can be varied according to any flavour you want. I have once tried it with lavender and lemon zest. It was the nicest thing I have ever had. It’s a win-win situation all round.

Making Shortbread (8759)

Making Shortbread (8764)

Shortbread was never one of my favourites until a few years ago. It is definitely my husband’s though and the shortbread-baking task was automatically his. After a lot of resistance I decided it was time to try it, and it couldn’t have been simpler. Playing with shortbread dough is fun, although may I remind you here to avoid over-handling it as it can turn tough. If you want to make two like I did, just double the quantities.

Making Shortbread (8775)

Making Shortbread (8777)

Here’s what you need:

  • 250g unsalted butter, softened
  • 70g icing sugar, sifted
  • 125g plain flour
  • 125g rice flour

Grease and line a 23 cm round baking tin and preheat the oven to 140°C.

Beat the butter and icing sugar in a bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Sift in the flours and mix with a wooden spoon until well combined.

Press the dough into a ball and knead lightly until smooth. Press the dough into the prepared tin, around 1cm in thickness. Lightly score with a knife into wedges and pierce with a fork. For a prettier result you may also want to pinch the sides.

Bake into the preheated oven for around 35 to 40 minutes until the shortbread is set and turns golden.

Cool on baking trays for 5 minutes, then carefully transfer onto wire racks. When the shortbread is almost completely cold, cut through the lines into wedges or pieces as neatly as you can. Cool completely and store into airtight containers. Or distribute into packages and give some as gifts.

Enjoy and Happy Christmas prep!

Rob x

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