2016, here we go!

It (only) took me eight days to wish you a happy new 2016! With work, some travelling, Cesca having her Christmas holidays, some new teeth for Bettina and preparing for Christmas, life was pretty hectic, hence my absence.

We had the pleasure of visiting the beautiful Tuscany, this time round going to Lucca, Montepulciano, Cortona, Montalcino and the picturesque Pienza! The scenes, food and wine were beyond great, and thankfully everything went well. There were some uncomfortable moments flying out to Italy with Bettina when we had to tie her in the plane seat with me and her seat-belt, but thankfully food won her over and proved to silence and quiet her for a couple of moments.

Everyone is settled back into their routine now. I started work again, as did A, Cesca is back to school and Bettina is back to staying with Nanna during the day. Also, our kitchen is functioning once again after a much-appreciated break. Since all our bodies were all craving some simple soups, I wasn’t in for that much work. However after three soup meals, we needed something more concrete than a liquid meal, so yesterday I tried out this recipe, choosing to leave out the rice and leave it a prawn and potato dish. I added some thyme, some substituted the fresh coriander with the dried bit, and it truly came out delicious! The best part is that it does not take up that much work and you can leave it cooking slowly whilst you do something else (in my case it was feeding the girls and tidying up the kitchen).

As for new year’s resolutions I haven’t done any really, knowing fully well that I always fail in keeping them for more than a couple of days. My only wish is that I take care of myself, physically and mentally, a bit better. So I will try to properly wash my face every other day, instead of using the lazy girl’s option for cleaning my face – make-up removal wipes. I am not going to use the word ‘diet’ because that never works. But I will try and be more away of what I consume and eat. And as hard as it is, I will start finding half an hour a day, at least a couple of times a week, to go out for a walk. My level of exercise is sadly zilch. To be honest, it is not something I can do anything about, because my day is fully packed and jammed between school, work, the house and cooking. I sometimes joke that I need to set in toilet breaks in my schedule. Which in all honest would not be a bad idea. But I will try and find thirty minutes, children-free and just get out and walk. The weather is really beautiful at the moment, and I do believe that nothing works for

a healthy mindset than getting out in the open and wander around. So this I will truly try and hold on to.

Is there something you’re holding yourself to do/not do in 2016? Yesterday I read that if you keep doing something regularly for thirty straight days, your mind sets it as a habit and you become accustomed to doing it. So I’m setting small goals so hopefully I’ll have small victories to celebrate.

So stay healthy and happy dear friends. Let’s hope 2016 will be a peaceful ones, for us, our family and friends.

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Cesca’s eyes speak volumes about the way she feels about her sister 🙂 

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No filter needed.

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I swear her clothes, her Dumbo and her hands managed to gather every speck of dirt Tuscany had to offer.

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A beautiful read. If you can translate it, I suggest you do so. Wise words!

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Cortona’s hot chocolate.

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It’s like we wind them up , and then zoom they’re off!!

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Chickpea soup never looked so good.

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My everything.

 

 

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She’s a lucky girl indeed.

Autumn Simples

I love the in-between seasons – spring and autumn are my all-time favourites. New seasons equals new foods, new recipes and new ideas. Autumn is particularly abundant in beautiful colourful foods, and the recipes are equally pleasant. I love this season because it means that the oven is no longer off-limits, and I can once again start baking.

With work and a family to take care of, I can not prepare complicated recipes. With Bettina now crawling all over the place and having just discovered the wonders the inside of a fridge has to offer, I have to be quick in the kitchen because otherwise it’s having her grab the insides of my knees and following me around, begging me to give her a piece of whatever I’m cooking. Girl loves her tummy.

So my recipes have to be quick, uncomplicated but as tasty as can be.

Through Facebook and several cooking groups, I’ve discovered several recipes which I have tried out and am so happy to share with you because they’re not fussy at all, and the result suggests otherwise.

I’m cooking this Chicken in Sweet and Sour Sauce every week now. I was promised a restaurant-like plate and I have to say, it is true! The oven-baking gives it a great effect, and if I have to suggest one small thing, it would be do use less sugar than said. I found the chicken to cook more tenderly with less sugar to caramelize the whole dish. You can add pineapple bits which I think fit in just perfectly! I added some jasmine rice cooked in cloves and cardamom seeds with some peas to give it some colour and it came out just right.. As always, it’s all about preferences 🙂

Pasta is always a winner in our house, and in fall I love the combination of pumpkin, sage and walnuts, or pancetta, mushrooms and herbs. I love combining the sweet with the salty, fruits with vegetables and meats. One pasta dish which is my fall-upon dish whenever I’m totally stuck is an easy plate pasta with red sauce, red wine, black olives, anchovies, some chili, raisins, and topped up with toasted breadcrumbs and pine nuts. Divine!

When I lived in England, I discovered a pork recipe which I love, if only for the sweet scent that fills up the kitchen whilst cooking it. I often hold myself back with the dates and apricots here, because it can come a bit too sweet for a dinner dish.  I’ve recently discovered a grain mix, just right to substitute rice – spelt, barley, durum wheat, rice and oats all come together for a great nutty taste, and it goes just right with this dish!

I can’t mention cooking with giving you a cake recipe. I found myself with extra apples the other day, and together with figs and walnuts I baked this cake, which is simply perfect for winter. The only problem I found with this cake was that I could not stop eating it. So be aware that this cake is seriously addictive. If you’re counting your calories, I don’t recommend this. You won’t be able to stick with one small piece.

So roll those sleeves and start cooking 😉

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Oven-Baked Sweet and Sour Chicken. Photo doesn’t do it justice, I promise!

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Apples, walnuts and brandied figs about to go in the cake mixture!

Fresh is Best

One of the things I love the most about living here on The Rock, is quite trivial perhaps. You might think it’s quite silly, but having lived abroad for a couple of years I have come to appreciate it that bit more.

I love the freshness and the availability of certain herbs, vegetables and fruits.

I love the fact that uncles and aunts come visit and bring me bags of fresh produce. I love receiving soil-covered potatoes and strangely-shaped marrows. Looking deep into the bags I get, I always get thrilled to find the small bag of eggs. Still warm!

Whenever I visit my greengrocer, he always offers me free basil, parsley, rocket – he sometimes gives me a mixture of fresh herbs which give my fridge the best smell ever. I find far-from-perfect-looking Maltese peaches and water/melons. Their appearance might not be the most attractive, but their taste is by far the best! I love having the greengrocer choose the fruit for me and showing me which is the freshest and tastiest, and suggesting one fruit over the other.

In England, all fruits and vegetables were picture perfect. All apples and oranges were equal in size, no dent could ever be found on any fruit, and the most frightening thing ever was how long they would hold in a fridge or on a bowl on the kitchen table. We would sometimes leave for Malta for two weeks to go back to England and find the pears still intact, still shiny and still looking as good as ever. You have to wonder what goes into treating the fruits and vegetables.

One phrase sums it all up – nothing beats the local!

Photo courtesy of veggiemalta.blogspot.com

Photo courtesy of veggiemalta.blogspot.com

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!!

Late-Night Baking!

Thanks to my KitchenAid, free evenings and lots of mouths to share my baking with, I am now baking at least 2-3 times a week. It’s much easier to bake when you know you do not have to eat the whole thing out of guilt plus the mixer is so easy to use and it does a perfect job. After the lemon drizzle cake I did on Wednesday, today I tried out Italian Almond Biscuits – or as they’re better known, Biskuttini.

They’re dead easy to make. Yes, a bit messy but nothing some flour and water won’t fix.

So go on, try them out!

You’ll need:

– 250g plain flour

– 1 tsp baking powder

– pinch of sale

– 150g caster sugar

– 2 beaten eggs

– finely grated rind of one orange

– 100g whole blanched almonds, lightly toasted.

– Preheat the oven to 180 Celcius and lightly dust a baking tray with flour.

– Sift the flour,baking powder and salt into a bowl. Add the sugar,e ggs and orange rind and mix to a dough. Knead in the almonds.

– Roll the dough into a ball, cut into half and roll out each portion into a log about 4 cm in diameter. Place the logs on the prepared baking tray and then bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 5 minutes.

– Using a serrated knife, cut the logs into 1cm diagonal slices. Arrange the slices on the baking tray and return to the oven for 15 minutes or until slightly golden.

– Transfer onto a wire rack and leave to cool and go crisp.

And voila’!

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I may have let them in a tad more than necessary, so once they are lightly golden I suggest taking them out immediately! They might not need the full final 15 minutes.

Love, Food, Wine and Love

Just in case it escaped anyone, yesterday was Valentine’s Day. As I’ve written before, I don’t particularly buy into this man-made holiday and I think it’s just an excuse for shops to get a big boost after January’s lull business sales.

But then the cynic in me wakes up on February the 14th and thinks, “Hmm, I should do something special this year”, and I start thinking about the evening’s menu. Our initial craze to buy eachother Valentine’s Day gifts has phased out with the passing of years, and I am now happy with a bouquet of flowers and A gets a card I know he always expects. And over a bottle of white we enjoyed our dinner, though not in the romantic and peaceful environment you’d expect but with C keeping us loud company. When the clock struck 8pm and C went to bed, we could finally move onto the sofa, finish our wine glasses and relish the quiet. And snooze off soon after.

The menu was set up after a cooking-book shopping spree last Wednesday. Three cook-books later this was the set menu:

– Beef Teriyaki Soup

– Quiche Lorraine with Parma Ham, Mushrooms and Leeks

– Blueberry and Walnut Muffins

– Baby Figs, Cream Cheese, Walnuts and Mint Tart

My back was killing me by evening, the dishwasher was put into extra use throughout the day, the kitchen was a disaster, but everything turned out great and tasty! Here are some pictures 😉

 

Yummy blueberries and baby figs!

Yummy blueberries and baby figs!

Quiche in the making...

Quiche in the making…

 

Ta-dah!

Ta-dah!

The muffins, two of which were 'destroyed' by C who found them, removed the blueberries and poked her fingers in the remaining holes...

The muffins, two of which were ‘destroyed’ by C who found them, removed the blueberries and poked her fingers in the remaining holes…

The tart looked amazing and tasted as good!

The tart looked amazing and tasted as good!

Finally x

Finally x

 

Oh, and I can’t forget little Miss C popping silly faces all day long!

 

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How was your day? Did you do anything special or was it just a normal day like all the others? I don’t believe we need a specific day dedicated to love. Love should be an ever-permanent thing, but if you use it as an excuse to go that bit further than usual, then so be it. Lots of love vibes coming your way dear friends x