One of my favourite food bloggers and creative people around is Heidi Swanson, the brains behind 101 Cookbooks and founder of Quitokeeto. I have been following Heidi for a long time and I just love the minimalist look of both the blog and her photos. They are both examples of the saying that simple is best, which I totally am a fan of. As it happens, she together with a handful of other excellent bloggers, gave me that much needed nudge to start my own blog. I don’t know them but I still consider them to be my mentors. They truly show us how it’s done.
So I promised you I would be back in September. A little later than I had planned originally before J and I moved back to Malta, but better late-ish than never. I am so happy to be back with my blog. I missed writing and I missed cooking. I still miss it to a certain degree to be honest, because only yesterday we managed to set the kitchen up properly, so until then meals were modest and simple. Not that I regret that. The produce here is generally very good and the heat doesn’t make me that enthusiastic to be in front of the stove! I am still getting used to the markets and shops, and the best places to buy ingredients, so I’m finding planning meals to be one of the many little challenges since the big move. I won’t bore you with the details. All I can say is this: it was stressful and I can almost promise myself not to do it again. Ever. Almost. I cannot count how many times we did that and it becomes tougher every single time. Change can be a good thing though.
Shall I state the obvious? I think I will. If you don’t like beef and/or anchovies just don’t bother. Mmm…don’t like the sound of that so let me rephrase. If you like beef but you or anyone you’re feeding is not so keen on anchovies, to put it mildly, try this recipe. Adding them does make a difference. You will not be able to taste them, but they give a depth of flavour that you won’t get with anything else.
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.)
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.