WordPress is acting up, but to make up for the lack of recipes last week, I have an additional post for you for this week. Also I’ve been receiving some requests these days in the run-up to the holidays. This is the first for this season. For me, this recipe is an oldie but a goodie, as they say. And it’s comforting. December has officially started – I say officially because culturally Christmas begins way to early. One of my neighbours has had her tree up for more than three weeks. That’s crazy if you ask me. I don’t think I’ll have mine up till next week, together with the traditional Bambin (Baby Jesus) and/or Presepju (Crib). And some things are still in boxes anyway. I’m learning slowly is the less I have the happier I am. I’m still working on that.
I have been waiting for quite a while to post this. A year – simply because asparagus are now in season. I have to honestly say that sometimes I’m not very good with the seasonality of ingredients, mainly because I have not been to a market for ages. Not good I know but life and travel get in the way of practicality. Nowadays travel for me means going back and forth to Malta, the land of sunshine, fresh produce, bread, lemons and the best almond sweets. There’s no need to tell you how much I eat and when I come back home I know that I’d have to shift some of the weight. Back to life, back to reality.
I live in a Victorian building. It’s not insulated well and even though we do have heating, it still gets cold in the evening. Last week temperatures were almost unbearable, and everyone was rightly complaining. Main reason: the snow. We’re still using the oven almost everyday. Baking pizzas, cakes and the likes helps to warm up my tiny kitchen. Yep – that’s the excuse you see!
One of my favourite things is the Holiday Hot Cake from Nigella Express. It’s easy and you don’t need any fancy equipment to make it. It doesn’t look good on photos either but it *is* good. I don’t like advocat too much so I don’t add anything with the whipped cream. I make it during Christmas, but this year it has made a very special appearance during the Easter break. No one minded.
You can find the recipe on Nigella’s website here. Enjoy!
An Easter feast would not be complete without an impressive piece of meat at the center of the table. For me it just has to be lamb. For me, lamb was an acquired taste. It has a powerful overwhelming flavour and I don’t like to eat it regularly. Although this meat is very popular in Mediterranean countries, I don’t think it’s cooked often enough in Maltese kitchens. Beef is still numero uno, followed by pork. When I was a child roasts were a huge part of my life. Given the British influence on my country, I do think that kids my age grew up with Sunday roasts. Family tradition was important and in this the Maltese are very Mediterranean. We still believe in having lunch and/or dinner together at the table, though this ritual is also undergoing a gradual demise, together with other familial traditions. Unfortunately major celebrations like weddings, Christmas and Easter are the only few occasions where families still get together. Yet, there is hope…
I never roasted or braised anything other than chicken before we came over to the UK. This is only because of that one haunting phenomenon that stops us from doing whatever we want to do: fear. When I started this blog I knew I had to overcome my kitchen anxieties. I have so many more I want to conquer! But I didn’t know where to start. Since there are so many recipes for lamb, I had no idea where to start. My confusion disproportionately grew, until I found the one that broke the irrational cycle. You say drama, drama, drama. I say Oh-God-I-will-burn-the-whole-thing-with-the-kitchen. That’s fear for you.
James Tanner, one of my favourite chefs, has an easy recipe for a braised shoulder of lamb in Takes 5. I wanted to replicate the exact same recipe. As it happens I had to make some changes. (I still used the essential ingredients and recipe from the book as inspiration. His method is a bit chefy and I wish I did what the recipe said but I took some shortcuts.) As a result of my usual and still unexplained absentmindedness, I bought a boneless shoulder, instead of one with the bone in. So the cooking times went all wacky on me, but after the crisis was averted, I was happy with the result. And even happier with the eating, of course. This is what I did.
- 1.5 kg boneless lamb shoulder
- 1 tablespoon of regular olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 2 large onions, thickly sliced
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 10 large garlic cloves, left whole and unpeeled
- 200ml a good robust red wine
- 300ml vegetable stock
Preheat the oven to 230ºC. Rub the lamb shoulder with regular olive oil, salt and pepper, and place it in a hot cast iron pan, on top of the sliced onions. Put the pan in the oven and cook for 30 minutes, uncovered. Remove from the oven and take off any excess fat.
Now reduce the temperature to 175ºC. Add the dried thyme and garlic cloves to the lamb, together with the red wine and vegetable stock.* Cover the pan and cook for around 1 hour, or until the lamb is pink in the middle.
As with any roast meat, let it rest for a while before carving on a warm dish covered with kitchen foil. If you want to make a thicker gravy I would stick with James amount of wine, i.e. 500ml.* I will eventually try the full recipe and get the bone in cut. After all, the meat next to the bone is more tender and tastes better. I did like the boneless shoulder though and will come up with a stuffing to go with it. In the meantime buon appetito and Happy Easter.
I wrote about this recipe quite a while ago but today being Shrove Tuesday, a.k.a. Pancake Day, here it is again. I love pancakes and would eat them every week. If only!
Just a note before we start: instead of buttermilk, you can use the same quantity of milk and leave it at that. You can also add about 1 teaspoon of lemon juice to the milk and let it sit for around 15 minutes. Also feel free to leave the salt out completely. I prefer a salt-free batter personally but I know that J likes a slightly salty flavour. For extra taste and colour contrast J likes to add some blueberries, but you could add raspberries, or nothing at all.
- 175g plain flour
- 2½ teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt – optional
- 4 tablespoons sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1¼ cups buttermilk
- 35g butter, melted
- 150g blueberries – optional
- If you don’t have buttermilk start off by preparing the milk as suggested above. If you’re using only milk then read on.
- Measure the flour, baking powder, salt (if you’re using it) and sugar and mix them in a bowl.
- For the waffles, or for fluffier pancakes, separate the eggs and use some muscle power to beat the whites into soft peaks. (Or use electric beaters!)
- Mix the milk/buttermilk with the egg yolks and melted butter. Pour these into the dry ingredients but try not to mix the batter too much.
- Fold the soft beaten egg whites into the mixture and use a ladle to pour a bit of the pancake batter on a preheated and greased griddle (or a good non-stick pan). Sprinkle in some blueberries if you want at this stage.
- Cook on one side until you see bubbles forming throughout the surface and the edges have solidified. Then turn the pancake over on the other side. Repeat until you have used all your batter.
Serve alone with some golden syrup or honey, fruit or my favourite treat, that marvellous hazelnut spread from the land of dreams: Italy. Or however you want for that matter! Enjoy!
Kwareżimal is a Maltese traditional biscuit made and eaten during Lent. Even though many have abandoned the idea of fasting during the forty days (quaresima) leading up to Easter, these simple bakes are still widely found throughout the island on shops and in homes. My friend M makes wonderful kwareżimal which I cannot get enough of. However what I will give you now is something a little different…
What I have for you here is less of a kwareżimal, and more of a biscotti. It wouldn’t be fair to call them otherwise, mostly because these babies contain eggs and butter; it is more a matter of convenience than anything else. I have taken the liberty of naming them “Cheat’s Kwareżimal” though, hoping not to offend anyone here! I have no idea why I tend to eat almonds (and/or bake with almonds) after the Christmas period. They may be rich but in my mind they are still healthy and good for you.
J came up with this recipe while we were still in MI, and since it always works well for us I decided to leave the measurements in cups rather than grams, as they are in my notebook. To be honest I prefer this way of measuring. For me, it’s quicker and more convenient (and I have an affinity for it because that’s the way I learnt) especially when you use large glass containers for storing baking ingredients. I cannot do this anymore due to the lack of storage space in my kitchen, but I know that one day I will find a way to do this again…eventually that is.
OK, enough talk and let’s get down to the really fun stuff…For 4 large rectangular-shaped portions you will need:
- 2 cups soft light brown sugar
- 2 cups plain flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cups flaked almonds
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 3 teaspoons good quality vanilla extract
- 1 egg, beaten as egg wash
- Preheat the oven to 175 ºC/350 ºF and line two large baking trays with parchment or baking paper.
- Place the sugar into a large mixing bowl together with the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and almonds and lightly mix these before adding the softened butter. I would recommend using your hands for this (clean, of course!). You risk breaking the flaked almonds if you use a mixer on high speed and I like to see the almonds clearly when cutting into the biscuits.
- This mixture will turn into a dough, and when it does place it on a floured surface. Cut this in four approximately equal pieces and roll each one into a log shape.
- Place the dough onto the lined baking trays and flatten them into around 1cm thick rectangles. Brush the tops with the egg wash and bake for around 25 to 30 minutes, till they turn golden brown.
Store them in an airtight container and cut as many pieces as you like, as you go. Do not attempt to cut them up before serving since they will almost certainly dry out.To make this even more traditional, you can add lemon peel and a few drops of orange flower water, something found in the Maltese version.
I wanted to post this recipe in time for Easter. (I’m also preparing for Christmas!) If you’re celebrating with family and friends this could be an option for you whether you’re having some other pudding or not. If you are having a second for dessert I would suggest serving some kind of chocolate fudge pudding or chocolate fondant. Chocolate and pears are a great combination I promise you! I must tell you now that this is a combination of two recipes. J has been making these since I’ve known him, but recently I have found one in The National Trust Complete Traditional Recipe Book by Sarah Edington. It’s ideal for special occasions and gatherings or even a romantic supper for two. For mega impact prepare this with the largest freshest sweetest pears you can find. They mustn’t be too soft because they’ll just crumble on you as you heat them up with the syrup and wine. You can also prepare them a few days ahead of when you want to serve them and keep them for up to five days in the fridge. It’s also easy to scale up or down – you only need one pear per person! As a guide for 6 people you’ll need:
- 500ml red wine
- 110g caster sugar
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- pinch of ground ginger
- 6 large pears
- In a stainless-steel saucepan, one big enough to hold all the pears upright, pour the wine, sugar, cinnamon and ginger. Heat these very gently until all the sugar has dissolved in the liquid. Then bring this to the boil and simmer for around 5 minutes.
- Peel the pears with a good peeler as thinly as possible. Try not to remove a lot of flesh from the fruit, and leave the little stalk on the top, just because it will look nicer. Place the pears into the hot syrup and make sure you have enough so that the pears are completely immersed (it’s very important to pay attention not to burn yourself here), cover the pan and leave to simmer for around 15 to 20 minutes or until the pears are tender. They will also turn rich deep red in colour.
- Remove the pears from the pan using a slotted spoon and place each one in a bowl. Taste the syrup for sweetness and add a tablespoon or so of caster sugar. Boil the liquid quickly without covering the pan to allow the wine syrup to reduce.
- Some recipes tell you to let the syrup cool a little bit before you pour it on each individual pear. I, on the other hand prefer it hot (don’t ask me why but it’s so comforting) but this totally depends on your personal preference.
Just serve as is, plain, simple without any fuss. Happy Easter!