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!
When I woke up this morning I kept reminding myself that it’s Thursday (not Sunday) and a public holiday on the rock. It’s not as quiet as one might hope, and to type this I had to close the window in my study. It’s easy to focus now and I *am* calm. Which brings me to a recipe made best when you have a good thirty minutes of peace. So tell your partner in life to babysit the kids and the pets for a little while and spend some time in the kitchen with me.
One of the things I love about Malta is the fruit and veggie trucks you see dotted around the many towns and villages on the island. I love going to the one near to where I grew up in Birkirkara. I love visiting my mum too
which goes without saying and of course, going there brings back good memories. I have been meaning to post the following recipe and the above photo for ages so here it is. It’s starting to get warmer here now and we’re already finding plenty of spring and summer produce. I’m finding good quality strawberries too which I macerate in lemon juice, some sugar and pepper too. Delicious.
This is one of the simplest recipes you can imagine. It’s tasty, salty (my weakness in food; don’t let my sweet tooth fool you) and made with pantry ingredients. I just love this stuff. I saw this first on Chinese Food Made Easy but it was J who suggested we try it after we both arrived home one evening after a very tiring day.
I bought the book primarily because I wanted to learn how to cook Chinese food, or a version of it, at home, without resorting to unnecessary trips to the takeaway. The good thing is that we don’t do that often, but once in a blue moon I do get that annoying urge for something very salty. Instead of rushing out to get food containing who-knows-how-many-extra-grams of salt,
which quite frankly I don’t need and I would guess other unmentionable things, J and I opt for this either alone or as a side. It definitely hits the spot.
Serves 3 to 4 as a snack or side dish.
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or rapeseed oil
- 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 cup thai rice, cooked
- 3 large ripe tomatoes, sliced
- 3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- pinch of pepper
- 2 spring onions, finely chopped
- a sprinkle of fresh coriander
Heat up a wok, or a non-stick pan over very high heat and add the vegetable oil into the pan. (You must work quickly but carefully from here on, so take a deep breath and go for it.) Add the beaten eggs and scramble them for a couple of minutes.
Next add the rice and stir well to break it up. Add the tomatoes and stir-fry everything for a few more minutes. Everything is practically already cooked so you don’t really need more than five minutes I would say.
Pour in the soy sauce, sesame oil, pepper and spring onions. Give the rice another good mix and serve immediately. Sprinkle some coriander on top of each serving.
(Recipe adapted from Ching-He Huang’s Chinese Food Made Easy, HarperCollins, 2008.)
There are times when my to-do list gets so long (it’s sickening really) that even the kitchen becomes my enemy! It doesn’t happen that often but when it does and I want to eat, I make something simple, quick, with extra for leftovers and good all in one. There are plenty of recipes out there which will give you all of this, and more. But when I’m really pressed for time I opt for rice. I prefer rice over pasta generally because I find it lighter, and the fewer the ingredients the better. It’s wierd I know, especially because when making a stir-fry I go for whatever-I-can-raid-from-the-fridge kind of cooking! But for a salad I go the other way. I cook the rice as usual. Then in a large mixing bowl I throw in beans, spring onions, a yellow pepper, extra virgin olive oil and some fresh chopped parsley. A bit of salt and pepper, mix mix mix and it’s ready. Eight ounces of rice will give you plenty for 2 people.
[Before you continue reading this, please be aware that I have an updated version of this recipe with better photos and step-by-step instructions.]
Summer’s almost here so I thought that this will be my last chance, at least for now, to write about another lovely traditional treat from Malta. I wasn’t that keen on this when I was young. I always loved my food, but there were some things which I couldn’t stand. Baked rice was in this list but not anymore. To my mum’s chagrin I didn’t like hers as much as my Auntie M’s! (Sorry Ma.) Somehow my Auntie’s was more seasoned and more flavourful, but that could also be my imagination! (Watch the guilt emerge!) I did discover though that baked rice could be good by making a punchy tomato based sauce; that, to the average Maltese may be a bit spicy, but to me it’s heaven on a plate! When I lived in the US (quite a few years back now) I learned to to use more herbs and spices in my cooking and I never looked back since.
While on holiday in Washington DC for a few days in 2003, J and I headed over to a Mexican restaurant with some friends. I remember dreading it at first – I didn’t know how I was going to handle all those spices without drinking gallons and gallons of water. (Incidentally drinking water makes it worse, but that’s another story.) However I *really* enjoyed the Taquito (or flauta) and cheekily asked J: “Why didn’t you tell me that Mexican food is so yummy? ey??”
Traditionally baked rice is made with minced beef, but for a vegetarian option you can substitute with many veggies. Courgettes would be one option, but I prefer butternut squash or diced pumpkin for a sweet earthy flavour; also they are more meaty and contain less moisture. Make sure you add more pepper to cut down on any extra sweetness.
With these quantities you will feed 6 to 8 people, depending always on how hungry you all are. For the sauce you will need:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil and a knob of butter if you like
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed or chopped finely
- 3 medium onions, diced
- 500g lean minced beef
- 4 rashers back bacon
- 2 teaspoons mixed spice
- ¼ teaspoons curry powder
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 2 teaspoons saffron, infused in some stock (optional – you will *only* need the liquid)
- 580g polpa di pomodoro (I use two 390g cartons/tins)
- 1 dried bay leaf
- 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- pinch of nutmeg (I know, I know but I couldn’t find one eighth of a teaspoon anywhere!)
- salt and pepper, around 1 teaspoon of each (you don’t need to add loads of salt – remember there’s bacon in here)
For the rice:
- 3 cups/24oz rice (I mix white and brown together but suit yourself)
- 6 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock depending on personal preference)
For binding it all together:
- 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
As a topping:
- a fair amount of grated cheese (optional but yummy!)
- Place a heavy-based saucepan on the heat. When the pan is really hot tip in the oil and butter, together with the garlic, onion, minced beef, bacon, all the spices, except the nutmeg, and the saffron-infused water. Let these cook for around 10 to 15 minutes. Then add the polpa di pomodoro, sugar, nutmeg, salt and pepper. You may also add a few drops of Worcestershire sauce if you like. Leave it to simmer to let it reduce. Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas mark 4 before you move on to assembling the dish.
- Mix the rice with the stock, the sauce and the eggs. Place everything in a large dish and bake for around 40 minutes. At this final stage add the grated cheese on the top to cover the rice and return to the oven for an additional 15 minutes till the cheese turns golden.
Comfort food for cozy nights in…Enjoy!
When Rick Stein published his latest book, and was coming over to Guildford for a book signing, I had the flu. Typical. When J saw that I just couldn’t make it, he went to the venue for me with my copy, making sure I wouldn’t miss the autograph part. I would have like to say hello to Mr. Stein myself, but that’s how life is sometimes.
I have not been able to cook much from Rick Stein’s book Spain, but I have found a recipe which inspired me to make a version of his Paella Valenciana. I have changed a few things here and there primarily because I didn’t have some of the ingredients. So I raided the fridge to see what I could find. It was a bit touch and go; I wasn’t confident that this would work, so I asked J for some advice. If you decide to try this make sure to read the recipe before. It’s really simple mind you, but the steps are very important.
Paella is ideal for a supper party. With these quantities you will have enough for 6 people with some left-overs. This dish is very easy to make; it just requires a bit of looking after…
Before I go on I would just like to say something about paella in general. Although it is not a risotto, so no continuous stirring is needed, you still need to check that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan. So make sure to stir and scrape the rice from the bottom of the pan once in a while. Thus ended my rant. You will need:
- 500g boneless chicken thighs, chopped into bite-sized pieces
- 500g paella rice (available in supermarkets)
- 1 large onion, chopped in large dice
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1.25 litres chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
- 1 green pepper, diced
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 2 teaspoons saffron, steeped in warm water and sieved*
- 240g dried chickpeas, cooked (or 410g can drained and washed under cold water)
- 400g polpa di pomodoro (or large can whole tomatoes cut in chunks)
- 1 teaspoon dried rosemary (Do not use too much or it *will* taste so soapy!)
- Place the chicken in a bowl and season it well with a little salt and as much pepper (approximately ½ a teaspoon each is ok) as you like. Mix well. When you think you have enough seasoning, heat a large ovenproof pan. I use a large cast-iron one – a favourite of mine. Using a tablespoon or so of olive oil (not extra virgin), brown the chicken on all sides. Remove the chicken pieces from the pan and wrap these in some kitchen foil to keep warm. Set aside until needed.
- If see the need add another tablespoon of olive oil in the pan and tip in the onion, garlic and paprika, and stir. After 5 minutes or so add the polpa di pomodoro. Let the bottom of the pan de-glaze for a few more minutes. Now add the green pepper, cooked chickpeas, frozen peas. Mix everything together, add the stock, rosemary and the saffron infused water.* You just need the water here; that’s where the flavour is.
- It’s time to add the rice, and stir this into the stock. Scatter the browned chicken pieces onto the rice and leave it be. Simmer on a medium/high heat for around 5 minutes, then turn the heat low and leave it for another 15 minutes or so, that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan.
- When you see that the rice has absorbed the stock, turn off the heat and cover the pan with a clean dish cloth for a few moments. At this point it’s ok if your guests turn up a bit late! Fluff up the rice with a fork before serving.
Please note that the above photo was taken before any fluffing occurred, in case you’re asking. Enjoy.
One of the things we learnt when we moved to England was to take advantage of the countryside. Even though it’s not really my style, I have grown to love the outdoors because of various reasons. I wouldn’t say that our last trip to the Lake District was a total success but at least it was enjoyable, and the peaceful surroundings were truly priceless. We are lucky because in Surrey there are quite a few National Trust houses with beautiful grounds. Apart from loving the many houses and gardens we also like to visit the shops and most often than not we purchase a couple of books.
During a short trip up to Cambridge I got The National Trust Complete Traditional Recipe Book by Sarah Edington – mostly because I liked the cover. I don’t know what it is with me and book covers. I have bought loads of books for that reason (and I *know* I’m not the only person to do that, so please don’t give me that look). Unlike some other NT publications it looks modern, definitely neater and it’s also a good read. I love reading where each recipe originates from and how it was developed, and there is such a good recipe selection. I am going through some of them very slowly, and was planning to write about this book much further along the way. However I cannot help including the recipe for Coronation Chicken right here. It’s an oldie I know, but hey, the book says *traditional* so you were advised. Traditional does not necessarily mean boring, so with a few tweaks here and there it is possible to make something really tasty. It’s great for when you have people round for lunch or an informal summer supper, and adding coriander makes it even fresher.
For this recipe you need some cooked chicken, either leftovers from a roasted bird or you may prefer to get some boneless and skinless thighs from the store and cook them beforehand, as I did this time round. The quantities given here will make enough for 6 to 8 servings, depending on how hungry you are. I would serve it with rice and some salad on the side. My take on the recipe goes like this:
For cooking the chicken:
- around 1½ kg chicken, cut into bite size pieces
- 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- ½ teaspoon ginger powder
- ½ teaspoon curry powder
- (You might need to add 1 tablespoon of water to all this.)
For the sauce:
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon of oil
- ½ teaspoon ginger powder
- 2 small cubes glacé ginger, chopped (replace by another ½ teaspoon of powder if needed)
- 1 teaspoon curry powder
- 2 tablespoons mango chutney
- 150ml (½ cup) good quality mayonnaise
- 100g (approx. ½ cup) plain yoghurt
- 50g almond flakes, toasted *without any oil* in a small pan
- a little salt and pepper, to taste
- fresh coriander, to serve
- In a shallow pan heat the oil and add the onion, garlic, ginger and curry powders and finally the chicken pieces. Toss together until well combined and make sure the chicken pieces are cooked through. Place these in a large bowl and set aside to cool.
- In the same pan add another tablespoon of oil and toss in the onion, both gingers and curry. Cook these together until the onion turns soft and transparent. Scrape this mixture into the bowl containing the chicken.
- To the chicken mixture add the mango chutney, yoghurt, mayonnaise, a little salt and pepper. It would be good to taste at this stage. Place in a serving dish and top with the toasted almonds and coriander.
Serve with plenty of rice and some salad. It’s a dish for all seasons.
P.S. I tried this with around 50ml mayonnaise and added more yoghurt to the recipe. It worked out great. The only thing is that the mixture was more of a liquidy consistency but other than that it was fine.
Note (11. 12. 2013) : The National Trust are now in the process of updating most of their cookery books. I bought a few lately and they look as good as all those recipe books being published as of late.