milk and honey

A couple of weeks after writing about the importance of running, of how running equals a healthy lifestyle, I go round to spraining my ankle. And I was not running (in the literal or figurative sense of the word) when doing so. I was planking – the one and only exercise which probably does not involve any movement. So I have (literally) stopped running for a couple of days now and I’m going crazy (just a little bit of that and lots of exaggeration perhaps). But I do miss it.

The upside of not training is getting a couple of extra minutes of sleep in the morning. Which for me translates as a couple of extra minutes of reading the night before. And I have to share and recommend a book I have just started, but which I am breezing through.

The book is called milk and honey by Rupi Kaur. I read some amazing reviews of it on Goodreads and it got me all curious. And a couple of pages in, I am hooked. It is a collection of poetry – long and short verses which tackle hurting, loving, breaking and healing. I do not read poetry but these lines just struck me in a way that I have to share with you.

Watching and Eating

You realize the cold weather has started kicking in when you don’t get the overwhelming urge to get out of the house the minute you get in. The duvets come out, the carpets are put in place, the odious task of wardrobe shuffling starts and long sleeves make a much-welcomed appearance.

And in my case, the oven is put into good use and the television is on again.

This weekend we saw The Great Gatsby. Leonardo di Caprio is not my favourite actor. I fail to disassociate him from the baby-faced actor who played Jack in the Titanic, and I find his portrayal of older characters lacking. He here plays the lead character, and along with Tobey Maguire who narrates the tale of Jay Gatsby and Carey Mulligan who plays the love interest, the film was surprisingly very good to watch. I use the term ‘surprisingly’ because it took us some minutes to get into the film. The director is Baz Luhrmann, and if you of any of his films, you may know why his films are not the usual ones. You have Jay-Z playing at a 1920s party and brightly used colours on a black and white background which make it unusual, but pleasant to the eye and ear. The soundtrack is great I have to say. My personal favourites are nearly all there (Florence and the Machine, Lana del Ray and Alicia Keys amongst others). Unlike my usual experiences, I did not read the book prior to watching the movie, and I only ordered it now. I always regret watching a film after reading the book – the book is always that bit better. So this time I worked it out the opposite…we’ll see how it plays out.

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And I baked 🙂

This week I did a yummy and slightly strange Almond and Cinnamon Cake. ‘Strange’ because unbeknownst to me when choosing to make it, it is a gluten-free and dairy-free cake. It is shallow in appearance, but the taste of ground almonds gives it a rich taste, with the cinnamon topping just pulling it off ever so well. It is very easy to make and the reviews were very good as well! I’m definitely doing this one again!

So if you’re interested…

– 8 egg whites (I used 6 and that was enough).

– 150g caster sugar

– Few drops of almond essence

– Zest of 1 clementine or 1/2 an orange (I used one of each)

– 125ml mild and light olive oil

– 150 ground pure almonds

– 1 teaspoon baking powder

– 100g flaked almonds

– 1 teaspoon cinnamon

– Approximately 2 teaspoons icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 180 Celcius and grease a springform cake tin and line the base with baking parchment.

Whisk the egg whites until they are opaque and start to hold their shape. Then slowly add the sugar and whisk until it’s all incorporated and the mixture is thick and shiny.

Add the almond essence and the clementine/orange zest. Then, in about 3 goes each, alternately whisk in teh oil and the ground almonds (mixed with the baking powder) until they are both smoothly incorporated into the meringue.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin, then mix together the flaked almonds and cinnamon and sprinkle them over the top.

Bake for 35-40 minutes (start checking at 30 minutes) until the top has risen and set, and the almonds are golden. A tester should come out clean.

Remove from oven and let cool.

You can then sprinkle some icing sugar on the top to create a snowy effect. I did without just to use that bit less sugar.

(Healthy eating and all that…)

Christmas is coming up and I would definitely recommend this one for the festive period. It’s easy to make and it’ll definitely make a hit!

Have a great week 😉

Autumn – Check, Oven – On!

Thankfully the weather here on The Rock has cooled down a bit. Mind you, it’s nothing compared to what our European counterparts are experiencing because our temperatures are still reaching mid-20s, but at least it is now sometimes bearable to wear a pair of jeans and a semi-sleeved top.

However don’t let the date kid you. November may be round the corner but don’t think you can put on any jackets, coats and scarves for now!

With cooler weather, I can start using my oven again. For humane reasons I do not switch on the oven during the summer months – that would amount to suicide. But now I have started unearthing my oven recipes from their summer hibernation and my oven is on again!

A fellow blogger has asked me for a casserole recipe – it seems I’m not the only one eyeing wintery recipes. I have a recipe for a Pork and Sweet Potato Casserole dish I haven’t tried yet for some reason. The ingredients are simple and easy to find, and here’s the recipe!

– 2 tbsp olive oil

– 500g diced pork

– 1 onion/leek

– chopped garlic

– 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed

– 1 tsp ground cumin

– 1 tsp sweet smoked paprika

– 2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano

– 150ml dry white wine

– 400g can of chopped tomatoes

– 170ml soured cream

– 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

– Heat the oil in a large casserole. Add the pork and brown on all sides. Then add the onion/leek and garlic and cook for 3-4 minutes until softened. Add the sweet potatoes to the an, then scatter over the cumin, paprika, oregano and seasoning. Stir for 1-2 minutes.

– Pour in the wine then add the tomatoes to the pan with 100ml of cold water. Bring to the boil then cover the pan and simmer gently for an hour and a half, until the pork is tender and the sauce has thickened. Stir n the soured cream and scatter with the chopped parsley. Serve with steamed rice, a large green salad or some steamed cabbage.

Should you wish you can also add some red kidney beans for the last 15 minutes of cooking time, just to make the meal go that bit further 😉

The nice thing about a casserole is that you have a couple of minutes of preparing the dish and then you can let it cook slowly and nicely in the oven, or in this case over the hob. By the time the food is ready, the food’s aroma will have probably driven your appetite over the wall and all the more better for you!

I’d appreciate any feedback on this dish just because I haven’t tried it out myself yet. If the ingredients are anything to go by, I’m sure it’ll be a winter favourite in our household!

Oh, and this was us this time last year! Wearing coats and scarves and drinking hot chocolates!! Ah, to have a fraction of that cold weather…

Have a great day x

Jos

Our Jimmy last Halloween :)

Our Jimmy last Halloween 🙂

Back to Baking

Because of the insufferable heat the islands offer in summer, I had to pause my baking activities and took a two-month break. Using an oven in the middle of a Maltese summer is the equivalent of adding Tabasco to a chilli burger and then complaining it’s too hot and spicy. My hands were itching (quite literally!) and I was drooling over recipes I was searching for and going through in my cooking books and magazines.

Then last week, the weather cooled down a bit.

And so I baked!

And as I always do, I get over-excited. There is something about a lit oven with a baking cake inside that makes me happy. Be it the warm heat, the delicious scent coming out of the oven or the bubbly excitement when finding out how the cake actually tastes!  We had friends over for one night and family the next, so the occasions called for two cakes.  The first one was quite straightforward – it was an Almond and Apricot cake, whilst the second one – a Mojito Genoise, required that bit more work and effort, but the results were simply yummy!

(In my excitement I forgot to take any photos, but I can assure you, you won’t mind the appearance of the cakes because you’ll be too busy devouring them!!)

I’ll give you the online link of the Mojito Genoise cake only because the other cake is easy to find. One minor tweek I’d recommend is decreasing the amount of sugar used in the Mojito syrup because it comes a bit too sweet when using the recommended amount. The rest is as good as it’ll ever get 😉

The Mojito Genoise cake

I did not cover the whole cake with buttercream only because I did not have the time to do so. This cake may require some extra effort, but it'll definitely be appreciated by your guests!!

I did not cover the whole cake with buttercream only because I did not have the time to do so and I did not want to over-sweeten the cake. This cake may require some extra effort, but it’ll definitely be appreciated by your guests!!

Pistachio, ricotta and chocolate tart

As promised, here’s the recipe to this tasty tart! I made the sweet pastry from scratch, and although it takes longer and requires more effort, the end result makes up for it, and how!

It’s a Giorgio Locatelli recipe, and just like he himself says,

“This is almost like a chocolate ricotta cheesecake, with a delicious pistachio topping…there won’t be any left by the end of the evening’.

 

True!

Sweet Pastry:
– 140g unsalted butter, slightly softened
– 90g caster sugar
– 1/2 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out
– 1 egg
– 250g plain flour
– 25g ground almonds

(Or you can use 375g shop-bought pastry.)

Filling:
– 700g ricotta
– 200g caster sugar
– 2 lemons, zest
– 150g dark chocolate, blitzed in a food processor or grated
– 3 eggs, lightly beaten

Topping:
– 50g caster sugar
– 100g pistachios

– To make the pastry, cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the vanilla seeds and egg until combined. Add the flour and ground almonds in 3 stages, mixing well each time. Knead lightly on a lightly floured surface. Shape into a disc and wrap in clingfilm, chill for at least one hour.
– Preheat the oven to 200 celcius. Line the base of a 20-cm loose-bottomed cake tin with baking parchment. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry to a circle. Use to line the tin and trim the edges to 5cm high, don’t worry if it cracks. Just patch it up with the trimmings. Line to blind bake, then chill for 30 minutes. Blind bake for 10-15 minutes until just cooked. Set aside to cool.
– Lower the oven to 170 celcius. Mix all the ingredients for the filling and then spoon into the pastry case. Bake for 30-40 minutes. It should be a little wobbly in the centre. Allow to cool in the tin. Don’t worry if the cake seems too wobbly because it will harden when it cools down!
– Meanwhile prepare the topping. Heat the sugar and 50ml water over a low heat, stirring gently until the sugar has dissolved. Turn up the heat and bubble until you have a thick syrup that has not started to caramelize (117 celcius on a sugar thermometer). Add 75g of the pistachios and stir until the syrup sticks to them but they don’t quite stick together. Spoon onto greaseproof paper and leave to cool, and then break into clumps. Crush the remaining nuts in a food processor.
– Lift the tart from the tin. To decorate use a ruler to help you sprinkle alternate 2-3 cm strips of candied and crushed pistachios over the top.

Enjoy!

The Hot One!

It was quite a relief last night waking up to the sound of the wind blowing through our bedroom blinds. The past couple of days were exhaustingly hot and utterly draining. My energy levels were rock-bottom and every chore required that bit extra effort to do. Thankfully it’s cooler today but the sun is no less hotter.

This weekend I baked a pistachio and ricotta cake which came out really, really good! I made some strawberry ice-cream and today I made Cesca’s birthday cake. The decoration of the latter will be left to more capable hands than my own. As you may know by now, I’m good when it comes to flavour, not so much when it comes to decoration…

The cake which took a whole afternoon to make was gobbled up in record time! Good sign ;)

The cake which took a whole afternoon to make was gobbled up in record time! (Recipe coming in following post!)

 

Almond cakes!

Almond cakes!

Cesca’s been spending all afternoons in her inflatable pool. She throws in all of her toys and spends hours at end playing and splashing around!

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Lethargy is hitting her hard poor thing – she has to get used to this heat! In the meantime, her naps have extended to three-hour ones!

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I hope your weekend was a great one and that you’re coping much better than I am with these temperatures. I need my body to start readjusting to the severe weather-change going on!

Have a great week 😉

Substituting Alternatives

Yesterday I baked cupcakes. Somehow Thursday has become my Baking Day, and seeing how my baking lot gets divided up between so many (dare I say eager?) mouths, it’s fun and encouraging to set forth with my apron and utensils.

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I needed soured cream for one lot of these cupcakes. And as it turns out, soured cream is not that easy to find on The Rock. Same as buttermilk, passion fruit, pretzel bread, individually-packed chicken breast (although I have found a patient butcher who does this for me), raspberries, the sweet-sounding conference pears and jazz apples, and the wide variety of readily-cut and sliced stir-fry vegetables. I miss the weekly recipe cards Waitrose had available and which nearly-filled my recipe book. I miss the 3 for 2 offers, the slashed prices at the deli counter at the end of the day and the gazillion of choices in everything.

Three supermarkets later I found my soured cream, and needing two tubs of it, I figured paying six Euro for that alone was a tad too much. So I did what I am now often doing – I googled substitutes. Turns out natural yoghurt with some baking soda works just as well as soured cream. And buttermilk’s substitute? Milk with some lemon juice or white vinegar.

It’s amazing how much you learn when things aren’t presented to you ready and finished.

I’m still discovering the supermarkets here. I only really knew one that well before I left for England. But having to bulk-buy, I have started dividing up my shopping – I go to A for deli, B for household cleaning goods, Mr. C sells me fresh vegetables and fruit and D has a great deal on C’s nappies. So I often find myself wandering aimlessly up and down an aisle trying to locate something, only to realize I’m in the wrong aisle. The supermarket set-up of some does not help – supermarket B has its dried fruits and nut packets scattered round three areas, so trying to compare like goods is a tough one. Supermarket D has an explosive jumble of things going on, whilst A changed its layout a couple of months ago but of course I’m only just learning the new position of everything just now.

I am a supermarket junkie. I loved the English ones, I would visit them everyday and spend hours (and lots of money) there. The variety of items, the vastness of the shops and the service of the employees always made it an enjoyable experience. So it makes perfect sense to me that whilst I’m getting lost in a supermarket somewhere on The Rock, deep deep down I’m silently crying out for my Waitrose and M&S. I could walk down the aisles there blindfold and still find every single thing I was looking for.

Yes, I’m still missing England.

I'm not the only one in the family who loves supermarkets...

I’m not the only one in the family who loves supermarkets…