Q: What to do with left-over Shortcrust?

Xkumvati-(4503)

I get asked this question quite a lot, especially after posting the recipe for shortcrust pastry. I have one quick solution for you. Roll out the remaining pastry into a sheet and cut it into thick strips. Shallow-fry them in a little bit of vegetable oil and when they puff up and turn golden brown remove them from the pan. (Don’t be absent-minded here as they will burn easily. Happened to me countless times!) Place on some kitchen paper, sprinkle them with a bit of sugar (white or brown or whatever you choose) and a splodge of honey or golden syrup. They are yummy. Great for a pick-me-up or whenever you need some cheering up! Short but sweet.

Enjoy!

Rob x

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Too much Salt.

J and I have just arrived back from a brief holiday in the Lake District. Those who know us know that we love the Lakes, especially in good weather. This year, weather-wise, it was not good. We cancelled two days of camping and chose to head up north on Wednesday instead to stay in the tiny village of Seatoller in Borrowdale. That was a great choice: the valley was lovely with beautiful views all around, but with low clouds, mist and the heaviest rain we could barely walk. I could be exaggerating just a little bit but it was too soggy for my taste. We did manage to enjoy some walks here and there, and we went to our favourite little towns of Keswick, Hawkshead and did all the tourist things, among which was a visit to Hill Top, a farm which once belonged to Beatrix Potter. But I seriously digress…

Though this actually brings me to something I wanted to write about for quite a long time now. I don’t want to be a nag because no one likes that, myself included. But this has been bothering me. On to another story then! (Sorry…) While we were in Hawkshead we decided to have some coffee and cake from a quaint local teashop. Quaint is only the word J used to describe it, since it was really girly, but later he told me he felt squeamish when he saw it. Their chocolate cake seemed so delicious in the display area so that’s what I ordered. Result: it was so-not-delicious! It was dry and had too much salt in it for my liking – so I ask this: what is it with people’s obsession with chocolate and salt? There is no doubt that we are eating too much salt. Now this comes from someone who loves salty things – I could eat a whole tin of anchovies if given the chance. I say it because I would be the first one to put my hand up because I’m guilty too, even though I’ve given up on the anchovy-tin-bit quite a few months ago. Sad I know, but true! Thankfully these days many food stuffs have labels that indicate how much salt or sodium (they are different) you can find in that product. They make life a teeny bit easier.

I am trying to reduce salt in my cooking. I didn’t take it away completely because I need it. We all do. I still wash the beans from a tin to remove all those salty preservatives. More so after watching a celebrity chef on tv throwing the beans plus + the horrible goo into his dish = yuck! But salt in sweet things…*mm…let me think*…is not a good idea with chocolate. I just don’t like it, and I prefer to use herbs and spices, and pepper of course to season savoury stuff. I am no chef I know that. I’m a simple home cook and people are partial to different kinds of food – I know that too. But the fact that we should go slowly with the salt mill is well-known. Nothing new here. I won’t go into any health issues – we’re getting that everywhere and a lot lately and frankly you know the drill. I just want less salt in my sweets. Where can I get a decent saltless bar of chocolate? I wonder if that’s a lot to ask.

Rob x

Note: For a good guide for salt take a look at http://www.bbc.co.uk/health/treatments/healthy_living/nutrition/healthy_salt.shtml

Easy breezy pasta and rice.

Puttanesca Revisited (7034)

The school year has started and with it the gloomy weather. I don’t mind it really – better than the scorching heat. I’m no meteorologist (even though I’m known among friends to be quite the tornado buff), but seems to me that the colder weather is on the way, and this means one thing: baking party! I woke up hellishly early this morning and managed to do quite a few things, including baking some breakfast muffins and devoured one (yes…just one) while pottering about in the kitchen. Lately I’ve been into cupcake mode again so after I write this I’m off to chocolate cupcake heaven. I will not keep any recipes for myself, don’t worry.

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In the meantime though I humbly wanted to offer a few tips to busy bees who have no time to cook. If rice and/or pasta is your thing then don’t fret and see if you like either one or both of the following. One is a classic puttanesca sauce. You need anchovies for this so I would give it a miss if they’re not your cup of tea. The other is something quick which you can throw together with some rice. (And no, I won’t go into how-the-pasta-got-its-name topic. It’s a classic story for a classic pasta dish. Some would even say it’s vintage.)

For Pasta alla Puttanesca you need the following ingredients, and will give you 3 to 4 servings.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 30g anchovy fillets, drained from their oil and chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed or peeled very finely
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon crushed chilli flakes
  • 500g spaghetti (or fettucine, I prefer the latter)
  • 400g polpa di pomodoro
  • 200g olives
  • 2 teaspoons capers
  • pepper, to taste
  • about ¼ or so of pasta water
  1. Prepare the pasta water and let it heat up well to almost boiling point, or better still have some boiling water from the kettle to hand. You can cook the pasta while you are preparing the sauce.
  2. In a wide pan pour the olive oil on medium heat, and add the anchovies. Cook for around 2 minutes or until the anchovies have almost disappeared into the oil. Add the garlic and chilli and stir.
  3. Pour the tomatoes, tip the olives and capers and stir until the sauce has slightly thickened. Add pepper to taste. You don’t need salt here – you get plenty of that with the anchovies and capers, so go slow on that if you still think that you really need some!
  4. Reserve a quarter cup full of pasta water before you drain the spaghetti. Before serving, add the water to the sauce to thicken it slightly. Add the sauce to the pasta, toss and enjoy.

The second thing I find most convenient is a plain passata to which you might add some fresh basil and Cumberland or Chorizo Sausages. I don’t add any chilli here because the chorizo is already spicy. I make it a point to add a teaspoon or so of dark brown sugar to the sauce and a touch of Worcestershire (how you pronounce this is up to you – they are still undecided here anyway!) Toss this with rice and you have a heart-warming something after a day’s work. So uncomplicated, you don’t even need a recipe…and please…spare me the jokes!

Enjoy!

Rob x

Oven-baked Potatoes with Mushrooms and Herbs

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I tried this quite a while ago while cooking with my mum in her kitchen a few weeks after Christmas. We turned simple potatoes into something nice, served with a juicy steak. I love cooking with my mama, and I’m happy to cook something for her once in a while. It’s the least I can do after so many wonderful meals she cooked for me. We made quite a few, had plenty of leftovers and gave some to my aunt who liked them so much that she ate one cold from the fridge. These keep well when cooled and is great for eating outdoors.

The quantities for this recipe are approximate; tastes differ from one person to another and not everyone likes loads of herbs or cheese or even mushrooms. So add or subtract whatever you want and experiment with different ingredients. Then you’ll end up with your personalised recipe. It’s very easy and you can figure out what I did from the photo. But here’s a guide. For the best result it’s better to get the largest potatoes you can get from the market. You need:

  • around 6 to 8 potatoes, boiled al dente (meaning ‘with a bite’, not ‘to the teeth’! Yes I’ve heard that!) and cut in half.

For the filling:

  • 2 small onions, chopped
  • 6 mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 slices of bacon, chopped (you can use pancetta for a stronger flavour)
  • any herb that you fancy: I used some freshly chopped parsley
  • pepper, to taste
  • around 2 tablespoons of butter
  • around 2 tablespoons of milk

For the topping:

  • 12 slices or so of emmental cheese

In a pan prepare the topping by gently frying the onions, bacon and mushrooms in a little olive oil for a few minutes. Don’t cook them too much; the oven will do the rest of the cooking later. Set this mixture aside in a mixing bowl.

Once cooled, slice the cooked potatoes in half and scrape the middle into the same bowl, and add the parsley (or any herb you prefer). Add some pepper but no salt. You get plenty of this from the bacon. Add the butter and milk and mix. This is like making a fancy mash.

Once the mixture is ready and you are happy with the seasoning, scoop this into each half and top with the sliced cheese. Bake in the oven at 180ºC till everything turns golden. You can grill them if you prefer. Serve with steak or chicken and salad.

Enjoy!

Rob x

Savoury pies

Ricotta-Pie-(4510)

Lately I have been feeling somewhat homesick, especially when my auntie sends me photos of what she’s cooking! Just kidding – keep those pics coming Zi! Now this doesn’t happen to me very often, but when it happens it happens. That’s life. Cooking traditional Maltese food helps me to invoke a feeling of cosiness and reminds me of home, especially during the winter months. I feel so happy in the kitchen, even when I’m tired and can’t be bothered to cook a feast. But as a concept Maltese food is not that complicated, so for today I’ve decided to share with you something which we like to cook on our little island: my version of Ricotta Pie. What’s great about this pie is that you can eat it warm in winter and cold in summer. I love it! For my Maltese readers this will be nothing new, but I hope you will still like it and appreciate this lady’s wish to write about home once in a while!

Torti-(4500)

So for basic shortcrust pastry I always use the following. I use ounces for this as the measurements in grams can be a bit tricky. The basic rule of thumb for shortcrust is that the amount of flour should be twice as much (by weight) as the amount of fat.

  • 8oz plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon of salt (optional)
  • 4 oz margerine or butter, cold from the fridge
  • around 6 to 8 teaspoons cold water

Mix the flour, baking powder and butter in a bowl, using your thumbs and second and third fingers. Make sure that the butter is cold. Be patient here; the butter should be rubbed into the flour in about 5 to 10 minutes, until it seems like breadcrumbs. Do not use your palms because you will make the mixture warm up. Remember that for this, the colder everything is the better. Add the water gradually as needed, but don’t overwork the pastry. Wrap the finished product in cling film and set aside in the fridge until you need it. I like to keep it there for at least an hour, but I would say 30 minutes is enough.

For the ricotta filling you need:

  • 500g Ricotta
  • 300g frozen peas
  • 1 large egg, beaten slightly
  • some pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon dried sage
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1 onion, cooked lightly in olive oil or butter and cooled.

You won’t believe how easy this mixture is to make: just mix the ingredients in a bowl till all is combined. Don’t forget to preheat the oven to 180°C/356°F/Gas Mark 4.

To assemble the pie: divide the pastry into two and roll it out on a clean and floured surface, a few inches larger in size than your pie dish. With the help of your rolling pin, lift the pastry and place it on the bottom of the dish. Fill the pastry with the ricotta mixture, then roll out the second piece of pastry and place this on the top. Secure the edges with your fingers. If you have extra pastry, make something pretty like a star or a flour or a simple knot to put on the top layer. Prong with a fork, brush the top with some milk or a beaten egg yolk and sprinkle with some sesame seeds. Place in a preheated oven for around an hour, till it turns golden and beautiful. It’s the smell of home. Enjoy alone or serve it with a plain green salad and a glass of your favourite white.

Timpana-(4509)

Timpana-(4511)

For another idea you can also make Timpana. The pastry is the same, but with a Bolognese type filling, made with penne, minced beef, peas and tomato passata. There’s no recipe here, at least for the time being, but I’ve put up a photo to give you an idea. In my view you don’t have to follow a recipe to the letter; it’s only here as a guide. I love this recipe and I hope you will to.

Enjoy!

Rob x

Very Chocolatey Chocolate Loaf Cake

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Please don’t tell me that I made a mistake. I purposely emphasised the extreme chocolate-ness of this cake because I really wanted to make it clear that this is serious chocoholic business. This loaf cake is definitely good but it’s not for everyone. It’s not that I want to discriminate – far from it! It’s just that it’s very dense. I would suggest serving it with something else, like for example some berries for some tartness to make up for the sweetness provided by the chocolate and sugar in the recipe. This cake could easily be a chocoholic’s dream. Oh and also: please don’t comment on the photo – I had some extra chocolate icing to spare and wanted to use it!

This recipe is taken from Nigella’s How to be a Domestic Goddess with minor variations. So for this gooey, moist cake you need:

  • 225g unsalted butter, softened
  • 200g dark brown sugar
  • 175g light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 100g dark chocolate, melted and slightly cooled
  • 200g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 250ml boiling water

Preheat the oven to 190ºC/374ºF/Gas mark 5, and grease and line your loaf tin.

Whisk the butter and both sugars together till they form a creamy consistency, then add the eggs and vanilla extract and continue whisking.

Add the slightly cooled chocolate and fold it gently into the eggy mixture, trying not to overbeat. This cake should be dense so you don’t want a fluffy consistency here.

In a small bowl combine the plain flour and the baking powder, and add this to the cake batter, one spoon at a time and mix gently with the boiling water until the batter is smooth and somewhat liquid, but not too much.

Pour this into the lined loaf tin and bake for 30 minutes at 190ºC; then turn the oven to 170ºC/approx 340ºF/Gas mark 3 for 25 minutes. Always keep an eye on it to prevent any burns and check the cake with a skewer or sharp knife, although here you’re looking for a gooey cake so the knife should not come out squeaky clean.

And as always…enjoy!

Rob x

Penne with Chorizo

Penne-with-Chorizo-and-Creme-Fraiche-(4659)

These days some of my friends are making it very easy for me to decide what recipes to write about. Yesterday a friend told me that she was making some cupcakes and thought of me, which was very very nice of her, me thinks. Today I had a little chat with another friend of mine about the joys of pasta, and how it can be classified as comfort food. As a typical Maltese I enjoy a nice plate of pasta once in a while, not only because it is one of the easiest things to prepare, but because there’s nothing better than pasta with a sauce made from simple ingredients. The Italians serve pasta as a primo, which is as it should be. But unfortunately in general we (as in non-Italians and not as in Maltese please) have made the portions bigger and bigger.

Cooking with chorizo is one of my favourite things to do. It wasn’t common in recipe books at all but lately it’s becoming more and more popular. It’s cured and smoked, and it can be eaten as is, but it gives a great depth of flavour when incorporated into your cooking. It is very strong and salty so go easy with it, but be brave and try it. For those who are new to it (just like me a couple of months ago) here’s something you should consider – a recipe which I tried recently from James Tanner Takes 5. (You know how much I like this book so I won’t bore you again!) It’s quick and uncomplicated. Simple enough, but you will want a second helping. James’ recipe calls for penne, and I can see why. I used tagliatelle instead and if he were here he would probably tell you to use whatever you like. However if you like to eat bite-sized chunks of meat and pasta at one go, then it’s penne all the way!

A little note about the ingredients before you start. If like me you don’t have sherry vinegar in your pantry, try using some white wine vinegar instead, and please don’t panic when you see that this recipe needs whipping cream. You don’t need it…really. James suggests using half-fat crème fraiche instead and it works fine. Tried and tested. Don’t let it heat up too much though because it tends to curdle. James cooks with shallots, most probably because they will give you a delicate flavour which is needed against the chorizo. I must confess that I didn’t have those so I used one common onion. I could have tried using spring onions instead. Also you can adjust the pasta quantity depending on how many people you’re having over for lunch. The quantities below are James’. Serves 4.

  • 350g dried penne
  • 250g chorizo, cut into diagonal thin slices
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 shallots
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 125ml whipping cream or half-fat crème fraiche
  1. Cook the penne according to the packet instructions.
  2. In the meantime, slice the chorizo, and heat the olive oil in a pan. Tip in the shallots or onion and soften over medium heat for around 2 minutes. Add the chorizo and crank up the heat until it starts to release some of it’s oil.
  3. Add the sherry vinegar and leave to cook for around another minute or so over high heat and stir to deglaze your pan. Pour in the cream or crème fraiche, but don’t boil it if you’re using the latter. Just let it heat up and remove at once from the heat. Season with some fresh ground pepper.
  4. Drain the pasta and add the sauce on top into warm individual bowls.

Enjoy with a glass of chilled white vino and eat it in the garden!

Rob x

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