So today morning, while helping my beautiful Mummy with some errands, something happened. I kept running into friends and neighbours telling me how much they enjoy reading my blog and about the recipes they like. Neighbourhoods change, but visiting my parents feels like going back home. People there are mainly very friendly and many of them know me from when I was a child. I love feedback, and before you roll your eyes at me (I can see you) I appreciate all kinds. Done properly. You know what I mean. I love writing on here. I don’t get too personal, mostly because I don’t want to make my friends and family uncomfortable or make them feel uneasy in any way. I want people to talk to me at the end of the day!
As I was going through many recipes this morning, trying to decide which one to put up on here, I began to feel nostalgic. This photo was taken by the lovely J quite some time ago, when yours truly wasn’t really interested in taking pictures to begin with. Ahh the memories! Don’t get me wrong. Even though taking my own photos is fun and it makes it easier to ‘own’ this blog, I do miss the days when we started out with bad lighting and sharing one camera and one lens. I cooked and J took all the pics, and it felt like teamwork. Now I cook and take the majority of the images. However stirring and mixing and pouring while handling the camera can be somewhat dangerous…when you’re me. I tend to spill things and/or burn myself in the process, so when this happens J steps in…when I ask for help. There are a few times when I’m in the zone (and they are the best days) where I feel I can handle anything. The camera might be smeared with an absurd amount of flour or chocolate, but that’s when I get a few decent pics. And I’m happy. I’m no expert, as you might have noticed…
surely noticed…but I love learning and experimenting, and J is a brilliant teacher.
I made this curry or stir-fry, call it what you will, when I wanted something really quick for lunch. Cooking for Friends is not one of my favourite books. I rarely use it because I find that some recipes just don’t work, but this one does with a few changes. If you and your pals like spice then this one’s for you and it’s a good excuse to use some of that fenugreek that’s been sitting in your cupboard doing nothing. If it’s still fragrant then go ahead and use some of it here. It will transform your dish into something special together with the coriander. I love both.
- 600g of cauliflower, chopped into florets
- ½ teaspoon fenugreek
- ½ teaspoon coriander seeds
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, finely sliced
- 1 green pepper, roughly chopped
- 1 courgette, chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped or crushed
- 1 large red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
- 100ml vegetable stock (or chicken stock, if you prefer)
Lightly toast the fenugreek, coriander and cumin seeds in a pan over medium-low heat. A couple of minutes will do. Use a mortar and pestle to crush the seeds, together with the salt and pepper, and grind everything into a fine powder.
In a large pan, heat the olive oil and add the chopped onion. Add a tiny amount of salt to draw some moisture out of the onion to soften. When the onion is soft, add the garlic, chilli and the ground spices and stir.
Add the cauliflower florets and the vegetable stock. Cook until the cauliflower is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed or evaporated.
Serve with rice or pasta, or as a side dish with fish or meat. Serves 4.
(Recipe adapted from Gordon Ramsay’s Cooking for Friends, HarperCollins, 2008)
I love a good lasagna. To eat that is. Well, let’s say that unless J is at home and can help me with lifting the heavy pans I don’t enjoy it. What I also don’t enjoy is the washing up of all those pots and pans. Even now as I’m writing this, my wrists are not happy and every time I write one word I have to stop and wish my carpal tunnel away. My frustration could also be a result of taking loads of pictures with this one and in my kitchen cooking and carrying a heavy-ish camera don’t always go together.
Look, not all cooking is a breeze and sometimes a challenge is good for the soul. Not to sound too dramatic, this is an easy dish, but it takes some time to prepare. You might be asking me “is there anything you like here?” Of course there is. I have extra portions for the next day, and it will taste even better tomorrow. Just give yourself a couple of hours for prep time and assembly and you’ll be OK. I admit I don’t make this as often as I would like, but when I do I remind myself that I should, and what better way to welcome the winter months! And the kitchen is smelling lovely! I also have a vegetarian one lurking in my files which I must not forget…
Please be aware there are quite a few photos in this post. I just thought they would be of help. Thank you for being ever so patient with me as always.
For the sauce:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 large onion, chopped
- ¼ teaspoon paprika
- ¼ teaspoon garam masala or mixed spice
- ¼ chilli flakes (optional)
- ¼ curry powder (optional)
- 250g bacon, chopped
- 2 shots red vermouth
- 500g minced beef, preferably lean
- 500g passata di pomodoro
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
- around 250ml water
For the ricotta mixture:
- 500g ricotta
- 500g frozen spinach, thawed; you could also steam fresh baby spinach, and set it aside to cool
- 100g fresh parsley or basil, roughly chopped
- around 6 tablespoons milk, or enough just to thin the mixture a little bit
- salt and pepper, to taste*
- 2 large eggs, beaten
For the bechamel sauce:
- 25g butter
- 3 to 4 tablespoons plain flour
- 1 litre semi-skimmed milk
You also need around 700g to 900g lasagna sheets (around 30 sheets), depending on the size of the dish you want to use.
To prepare the sauce place a large pan preferably with a heavy base on medium heat and pour in the olive oil. Chop the onion, crush the garlic and tip in the pan, together with the spices, and stir occasionally. Once the onions have softened and turned opaque add the bacon and the vermouth and let it cook through.
Add the lean minced beef and cook until brown. Pour the passata and sugar in with the beef mixture, stir, add the water, give everything a good stir once more, cover and let it simmer for around 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and set aside.
For the ricotta mixture, I would advise you to remove as much of the spinach water as you can. To do this, simply thaw on a sieve on top of a bowl and squash the spinach downwards with your hands or a spoon.
Place the spinach in a medium mixing bowl, together with the ricotta, fresh parsley, milk, add salt and pepper, give everything a good mix and now is the time to taste. When you’re happy with the seasoning, add the beaten eggs, stir and set aside.
To assemble the lasagne, pour a thin layer of sauce, enough to cover the bottom of the dish. Then build the lasagna alternating as many lasagna sheets as you can fit in one layer (I can fit 6 in mine), then a layer of sauce, another layer of lasagna sheets, a layer of ricotta mixture, a layer of lasagna sheets and start the process again, until you get almost to the top.
Preheat the oven to 180ºC and set everything aside to prepare the bechamel. In a small heavy-based saucepan make a roux, by melting the butter, adding the flour and stir vigorously until you get a golden paste, around 6 minutes will do the trick. As you whisk, gradually add the milk, a little at a time. Whisk to avoid any lumps and once in a while scrape the bottom sides of the pan so that nothing sticks to it. Whisk in all the milk until you get a nice velvety sauce. Add salt and pepper and some grated nutmeg.
Pour over the top of the assembled lasagna and bake for 1 hour.
Leave to stand for 15 minutes and serve to 6-8 hungry people! Enjoy with a glass of red.
I hope you enjoyed the recipe and the photos. If you decide to try this over the holidays let me know! I always appreciate feedback.
For me, the cold weather is all about baking. J loves aubergines and so do I, but you know me and veggies; sometimes we’re not the best of friends. However Maltese cooking has found a good compromise – good wholesome veggies stuffed with meat. You will find that I had already written about this so you will forgive me for not going into too much detail about it in this post. I basically kept the same ingredients and followed the same method. However I used aubergines this time round, cooked them till almost al dente in boiling water before distributing the filling, and also topped them with Pecorino. Goat’s cheese would also work here, and of course, never waste the pulp. It bulks up the filling and make it even more delicious. It’s easy and makes for a lovely informal supper with friends. Enjoy!
Autumn is my favourite time of year. Not only because I get to snuggle up in coats and scarves, but also to cook loads of seasonal dishes. I love butternut squash with everything; even it’s orangey-yellow colour reminds me of the autumn leaves falling from the trees. This recipe is for a home-made curry. It is warm, with plenty of depth from the spices, especially the cumin, which I don’t use often. I used whole or seed spices whenever I could and crushed them with the salt and garlic just because I happened to have them in my pantry. Of course, feel free to replace them with powder. Some say that it’s not the same, and although I believe that whole spices in general taste better (because they seem to stay fresher for longer in proper storage), I use powder all the time. The more you use your spices the more you replace them, so the fresher they will be for your cooking. Remember that you can use pumpkin and even sweet potato instead and if you want this to be a vegetarian dish all you have to do is to use vegetable stock. I prefer to use chicken stock here but please use whatever you want. Serves 4-6. I know this is quite a long list of ingredients but I love this curry and thought you might like to try it. You will need:
- 900g butternut squash, peeled and cubed (approx. 1)
- 250g carrots, peeled and cubed same size as the squash (approx. 2)
- 250g potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 1 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 white onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
- 2 teaspoon peppercorns
- 2 teaspoons course salt*
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil (not extra virgin)
- 1 litre chicken stock
- 400g tin polpa di pomodoro**
- 1 to 2 teaspoons chilli flakes, to taste
- 1 large tin of coconut milk (approx. 400g)
- Fresh coriander for garnish and freshness (optional)
- Rice and naan bread to serve
Before you start: crush the garlic, cardamom seeds, peppercorns, salt and coriander seeds in a bowl with a little drizzle of olive oil and mix well. Although I’m not a fan of too much salt, here you do need this because of the sweetness of the vegetables and the coconut milk which you will add later. If you think you will need less, then use just a teaspoon and add salt later during your final tasting just before you serve.*
- In a large shallow pan heat the olive oil and add the onion. When this is slightly softened add the vegetables and the crushed spice mixture. Stir well. Cook for around 5 to 10 minutes and add the stock.
- When the stock comes to a boil, turn the heat down and leave to simmer for around 30 minutes until the vegetables are completely cooked (though still whole and not a mush) and the stock has been slightly reduced. Add the tomatoes. (You could throw in some fresh cherry tomatoes cut in half.)**
- At this stage add the chilli flakes or chilli powder, mix and taste the curry. Pour in the coconut milk and taste it again. Don’t let the curry come to a boil again. You just need the coconut milk to heat through. Garnish with fresh chopped coriander and serve immediately with rice and naan.
I won’t say that this is better than the stuff you get in jars at the store. I use them for convenience myself when I need to cook something really fast. But something made from scratch is so much more satisfying when I have the time. So, take your time, enjoy and tell me what you think.
Also I would like to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving, especially to my American friends. I’ll bring out the cranberry sauce just for you.