Parmesan and Rose Peppercorn Scones

20130830-122631.jpg

A day of humidity, close cloudy skies but for me a glorious day everyday on this little Mediterranean island.

Today I am going to mum’s for tea and although she adores my cakes and pastries, she prefers something savory so I am making some Parmesan and Rose Peppercorn Scones and I use the basic recipe from Delia’s online cookery course www.deliaonline.co.uk. I omit the sugar, add Maldon Salt, Parmesan and fresh pink peppercorns which I cut from her tree in the garden.

Scones remind me of England and in the USA you call them biscuits, so here is the recipe for scones with a Mediterranean twist. They are delicious and can be eaten fresh on their own or like mum eats hers smothered in butter !

You will need:

40g butter
225g self-raising flour
Pinch of Maldon Salt
110ml milk
3 spoons grated Parmesan
1 spoon fresh Rosé Peppercorns
I used a plain cutter 5 cm. but use what suits you and you can also cut them manually in squares or triangles

Preheat the oven to 220°C

A baking sheet with a non-stick liner, and a 5cm plain (or fluted) cutter

Sieve flour.
Rub in butterusing your fingertips until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Add the salt, rose peppercorns and Parmesan.

Use a knife to mix in the milk little by little

Knead the mixture to a soft dough

Add a free drops more milk iPod mixture is to dry.

It is very important not to overwork the dough.

Place the dough on a floured pastry board and with a rolling pin lightly roll it out to a thickness of about 3cm.

This thickness is important and a lot of times people make a mistake in the thickness and knead too much and this is why the scones do not turn out well.

Cut the scones using a pastry cutter or a knife. Do this with one sharp tap so that the scones do not twist when baking.

Place the scones on a baking sheet, dust each one with Parmesan and bake on the top shelf until golden brown. Allow to cool on a wire rack. They are delicious warm and freshly baked !

20130831-090257.jpg
And this is what they mean when they say Paradise ……

Two different Watermelon Salads ….. with identical ingredients !

20130829-043311.jpg

I always admire photos of beautifully arranged plated watermelon chequerboards and I am trying it out with a combination of avocado and feta, topped with capers and mint.

There is quite a bit of wastage after the cutting process so I am making a second salad using exactly the same ingredients tossed in a bowl.

I am still not sure which one I prefer. I think the rustic salad has more flavor as the ingredients are allowed to absorb the mix of juices. The Watermelon Chequerboard Salad is more time consuming and will make a lovely starter or side for a dinner party, the Mediterranean Watermelon Salad is suitable with any meal, in a large salad bowl with a BBQ or simply taken in Tupperware to a picnic on the beach.

For four persons :

1 watermelon
1 packet Feta Cheese
2 avocados, ripe but firm
Fresh mint
Capers
1 Lime
Olive Oil
Maldon Salt
Freshly Ground Pepper

Peel and deseed watermelon.

Cut equal sizes, about 1/2-inch thick square shapes of watermelon, feta and avocado and arrange as a checkerboard on a serving tray or plated individually. Scatter chopped fresh mint and capers. Season with sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Drizzle some olive oil and squeeze some fresh lime.

And my rustic salad with the same ingredients and a couple of olives …

20130829-045637.jpg

20130829-045708.jpg

20130829-045842.jpg

20130829-045858.jpg

Fresh local street food this morning, pasta pies with flaky pastry ! Loaded with calories but absolutely yummy …..20130830-051621.jpg

Scottish Red Lentil Soup, so healthy with no added fat….

20130828-072604.jpg

Inspite of the heat, I am craving this very healthy comfort meal that I make nearly every week in winter.

It is so quick to make, no blender, no chopping and you end up with a satiny purée with a bit of texture and it is just divine. My Scottish mother-in-law was not too fond of cooking but she made this soup when I went to her home in Irvine the first time and I loved it so much that she made it for me each time I visited. This is her recipe and I have added a bit of garlic as it gives the flavor more depth.

It has no added fats, is so healthy and wholesome and if you are craving comfort food try this for a healthy option. I have mine as it is but I put a small fresh mozzarella ball into the empty bowl for the others before I poured the soup in and served it with the option of grated parmigiano reggiano. It is just delicious and gets rid of all those hunger pangs very quickly !

You will need :

250g red lentils
3 large potatoes
6 medium size carrots
2 cloves garlic
2 vegetarian stock cubes
1 can chopped tomatoes
Start with 2 liters water and top it up as it cooks

Optional – some garnishes to choose
Small mozzarella balls
Chopped crispy pancetta, can be used as a garnish
Chopped parsley, for garnish if you like
Parmigiano Reggiano, for garnish if you like
Maldon Salt
Freshly Ground Pepper

Rinse the lentils, no need to soak and place in large pot together with peel potatoes and carrots roughly chopped in large chunks. I even leave them whole sometimes. Add the garlic cloves, chopped tomatoes and stock cubes. Top up with two liters water. The vegetables need to be fully immersed so add more water if necessary.

Bring to a boil and lower the heat. Give it a stir and keep doing this from time to time to makes sure the contents do not stick to the bottom of the pot. Kelp adding water throughout the cooking time to keep the contents moist and make sure they do not dry up.

Kept the soup simmering on low heat until the potatoes are fully cooked. Test one of the potatoes with a knife. When they are cooked, take a masher and mash all the contents thoroughly. You should end up with a creamy thick consistency. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. If it is too thick for you add more water and reheat. This soup is even more delicious the next day.

20130828-075742.jpgTopped with freshly grated Parmegiano Reggiano

And here is the fish hawker early this morning…

20130828-112859.jpg

Melon Chili Ginger Chutney… and a new way for sterilizing !

20130825-111449.jpg

I am into making preserves, jams and chutneys at the moment. The abundance of fruits on this small island inspire me, their ripeness and freshness, straight from the tree into the pan. It’s like preserving the freshness for the winter when the local variety will no longer be available. I like cutting my own fruit…. I love being outdoors, the clear blue skies and fresh sea breeze and I also look forward to the blistering sun at midday when everyone swelters and sweats but it does not affect me and I remain surprisingly cool….. I think that shows how much how I really love it ! I have no problem being in the heat during siesta time. This is a paradise on earth …..

So a new discovery yesterday, quite a delicious one. The local melons were so cheap at the vegetable market and I cut the last few apples left on the trees and started making this chutney straight away… capturing the freshness for the winter months when I will dream and long for the heat of the summer to return.

I was advised to try a new way of sterilizing jars and lids this week and although more time consuming, it is I feel a much safer method for sterilization.

What you need to do is boil the jars and lids in a large caldron for 20 minutes, then using tongs take two sets of jars and lids, fill, cover immediately with lid and turn upside down down for a few minutes. Keep the water temperature on a low boil until you finish the process. It is true that this is a long process but I feel more satisfied with this method of sterilization somehow.

Here is the recipe for the Melon Chili Ginger Chutney. It has the same consistency as the traditional mango chutney and it is going to be a great accompaniment to curries, with poppadums, or simply served with a cheese platter or ploughmans lunch http://britishfood.about.com/od/faq/f/ploughmans.htm

20130825-114223.jpg

You will need :

1 kg Apples, preferably cooking
1 kg Melon
6 limes, zest and juice
2 kg Sugar
3 teaspoons sea salt, I use Maldon www.maldonsalt.co.uk
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger but you can add more if you prefer
Dried chili flakes, 1 used 3 teaspoons but adjust according to your taste

Chop up apples with skin on and pour the lime juice and mix well to prevent discoloration.
Cover and stew on low heat until soft and mushy,.
Break up with masher.
Peel the melon and chop.
Add to the apple mixture and cook until you can mash it up. Add the grated ginger.
I do not like a completely puréed look and leave some bits and chunks.
Add the sugar, stir and bring to a rolling boil for around 10 minutes. Do not overdo it as you want to retain a light color.
Use the saucer method for testing the setting point. Place a saucer in the freezer and test the chutney by putting a few drops on the cold plate. If it wrinkles when you push it with your finger, it has reach setting point. If it is still runny, return to heat, boil and retest.

Chop up the dried chili and use the quantity you are comfortable with. I used r teaspoons of while dried chilis and chopped them up. This makes it very spicy as we prefer spicy chutneys but it is best to put less and I increase it if you wish.

I usually calculate that each kilo of fruit yields 12 x 150 g jars. Sterilize jars as described above and fill.

The taste is fantastic. I enjoyed making it and look forward to sharing and eating it very soon….

20130825-133754.jpg
Turning over the jars upside down for a few minutes after filling them

20130825-133842.jpg

Follow the story of the tallest chocolate building in the world

And the feast of Santa Maria !

20130819-054812.jpg

The feast of Santa Maria took place this week, a public holiday to spend with family and friends, with magnificent firework displays all over the island, full of life and celebration, loud, noisy and joyous. Food stalls in the streets, a day for the people to enjoy, whether devout believers or not, most of them in their best attire out to celebrate the special festa of their Madonna.

A completely unexpected first time experience for me in many ways. I have often seen displays of fireworks as I drive along or during my long evening walks but have never stopped to sit and watch. A surreal evening completely mesmerized with the magic of the colorful burst of stars in the sky, a perfect setting with many imperfections, sitting in isolation with people around, yet nearly alone, at such close proximity with these beautiful sparks around me, a happy, sparkly starry evening in spite of the uncomfortable twigs digging into my legs. Magic all around and suddenly silence, impossible to recreate again, gone forever and it all ends and I wonder if that was a dream or reality…. never has anything so overpowering ended so quickly….

That evening I felt the very pulse and soul of this little unique island in the heart of the Mediterranean….

20130819-055106.jpg

And what a following ! Fresh off the press today, Sunday 8 September, progress with the tallest chocolate building in the world !

…. Take a peek and see what’s going on ! ..

20130825-154820.jpg

Watermelon Chili Preserve

20130822-161150.jpg

Watermelon is so refreshing and at the peak of its season now so i think its a good idea to take advantage while the price is low to stock up and store some for the winter months.

We have spent the last month eating watermelon for breakfast with yoghurt, for lunch with local goats cheese and making endless fresh juices and home made granitas with mint and other herbs but it is time for something a little bit different.

I wanted to make a sweet chili jam using watermelon and I have combined two recipes and added chili and salt. In the Middle East, it is common to make a watermelon rind jam and I have combined the red flesh and rind of the watermelon to make this wonderful preserve. The result is something different with a great taste, texture and color and it is delicious served with cheese, fresh bread or water biscuits or alternatively with cold meats.

Although I deseeded the watermelon, I decided to leave a few seeds as this clearly identifies the fruit once it is in a jar or when it is plated. The chili can be adjusted according to your taste. I love it and hope you will try it out. It is especially good with hard cheese such as pecorino or Manchego.

You will need:

20130822-203329.jpg

1 kg watermelon rind, with the tough green skin peeled off
1 kg watermelon flesh put in a sieve and mashed to drain water out
2 kg sugar plus some extra sugar to sprinkle over watermelon rind
6 limes, squeezed juice and zest
50 g pectin
Crushed dried chillies, quantity to your discretion

Remove the green tough skin of the watermelon and cut into rough chunks. Sprinkle sugar over it and leave for 2 to 4 hours. Drain the liquid out.

Take the flesh of the watermelon, deseed and cut into chunks. Place in a sieve and with a masher break it up allowing the juice to drain through the strainer. Save the juice and refrigerate it. It is delicious with some ice and lime zest.

Add the drained flesh to the chopped rind in a large cooking pot. i added a few seeds but this is optional. Add the sugar, juice and lime zest and heat gently until it comes to a boil and reaches 220 C. Add the pectin and cook for a further five minutes.

I used the saucer method for testing the setting point. Place a saucer in the freezer and test the preserve by putting a few drops on the cold plate. If it wrinkles when you push it with your finger, it has reach setting point. If it is still runny, return to heat, boil and retest. The best color is achieved when the jam is not over heated for a long period of time, but this is a matter of preference. I have heard some people say that they like a darker color.

Finely chop as many chillis as you desire and stir me into the watermelon preserve.

Now you will need to sterilize the jars. Rinse them in clean warm water and allow them to drip dry and place upside down on an rack in the oven at 140C for half an hour.

Pour the jam into the jars preferably through a funnel. I wear latex gloves to prevent contamination. I pour the jam into warm jars while it was still warm.

If you are going to store the jam, I suggest placing a disc of waxed baking paper onto the jam before covering with a lid.

You will need to store the jam in a cool dark place.

20130822-214529.jpg

20130822-214731.jpg

A healthy Mediterranean Supper tonight … Baked crustless Ricotta and roasted vegetable salad

20130811-204208.jpg

As the evening approaches, the weather is cooling down slightly and there is a gentle breeze.

A simple supper tonight and we are privileged to be able to enjoy a really healthy Mediterranean diet on the island. The summers here bring abundant fresh fruit and vegetables and for tonight I am using fresh ingredients with reduced cooking time to retain all the flavors and goodness.

I am preparing baked crustless ricotta in earthenware dishes, a salad of roasted vegetables with local limes and olive oil and to follow a fruit plate of prickly pear slices and fresh figs. We are drinking infused water with herbs and rose peppercorns.

You will need:

Baked Crustless Ricotta

Serves 2 as a starter or side or accompanied with a salad
Preheat oven to 175 C

250g ricotta
1 egg
Fresh Mint Leaves
Dried Oregano
Maldon Salt
Freshly ground pepper
Ovenproof dish lightly brushed with olive oil

Place ricotta in a large bowl. Mash with a fork. For larger quantities use a masher. Mix in beaten egg, fresh mint leaves torn up in large chunks, sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Pour into prepared dish. Sprinkle dried oregano on the top. Bake in oven for 25 minutes. Allow to rest for a few minutes before serving. Also delicious cold.

20130811-204926.jpg

20130811-205351.jpg

Infusion of Orange and Rose Peppercorn Water
I use lidded glass spaghetti jars for this water as they fit perfectly in the shelf of the fridge door… This is a totallly natural drink if you are a fan of flavored waters.

You will need:

Two oranges, I used blood red ones but if not available the regular ones are fine
Rose peppercorns
Fresh basil leaves
A large bottle of still mineral water

Squeeze one of the oranges and chop the other one into small segments with the skin on. Crush a few rosé peppercorns to extract the full flavor and leave a few of them whole. On the island they grow abundantly but you can find them in most stores. Tear a few basil leaves roughly, do not chop up with a knife as they will discolor. Fill up jar with mineral water and stir everything into it. Cover with lid and put in the fridge overnight if possible, or at least for 6 to 8 hours. I usually top up the jar twice during the day with water and keep two jars in the fridge at any one time so that I always have the infusion available to drink.

Thirst quenching, full of flavor and a natural source of Vitamin C.
I stopped drinking carbonated and low calorie artificial drinks a year ago and limit them to a treat once in a while ….

20130811-221304.jpg Sliced pink prickly pears and mini figs with a drizzle of fresh lime …

Until next year, prickly pear season is coming to an end….

20130915-124931.jpg

The tallest chocolate building in the world ! an awesome talent …

From an island of dreams …..20130811-173202.jpg

And from the simple chocolatey Rocky Road to the largest and most complex chocolate creation in the world ever.

Why do I write about this ? Because I have an open invitation from one of the world’s most talented chocolate artists to spend time with him while he builds the tallest chocolate creation ever. This promises to be a world class masterpiece, a unique work of art.

I am lucky to witness the story unfold, just an idea a few months ago when Andrew spoke to me with excitement about his plans. He knew exactly what he was going to do and how, but it was still a dream…..a dream about recreating Dubai’s Burj Khalifa and constructing the tallest building in the world out of pure chocolate.

The dream is now reality and five tons of Belgian chocolate have arrived. Andrew is shut away in his own paradise encapsulated in chocolate for the next few weeks on this little island in the heart of the Mediterranean. The plan is to ship the structure to Dubai where he will assemble it piece by piece. You can follow the story on facebook

Andrew is listed in the Guinness Book of Records for building a very long chocolate train exhibited at the Brussels Chocolate Week last year. You can see the detailed work in the Daily Mail

I look forward to the next few weeks with him and hope you will join me here to watch him chiselling away, building and capturing the spirit of the mighty Burj Dubai in chocolate and to follow his story and his dream. This is a story that amazes, a story of a superstar in his own field, a talent that is unsurpassed, a gift from God.

Watch this space !

20130811-172235.jpg

20130811-174834.jpg
The Burj Khalifa Building in Dubai

20130818-121320.jpg

20130818-121429.jpg

20130818-121714.jpg

The Queen of Rocky Road

20130811-004832.jpg

Boys especially seem to love Rocky Road.

My daughter first made it when she was in high school in the UK. At the time, it was not so popular yet outside the US although I am told that Rocky Road actually originates from Australia. She very quickly became known as The Queen of Rocky Road as she took it in with her to school every time a friend had a birthday.

I wanted to make some Rocky Road for the sons of a friend yesterday so I asked the Queen of Rocky Road to pass on her favorite recipe! She suggested Nigella’s www.nigella.com/recipes/view/rocky-road-crunch-bars-25 from her book Nigella Express
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Nigella-Express-Lawson/dp/0701181850

I added some extras and hope the boys enjoyed it…

You will need:

135 g butter
300 g dark chocolate
2 tablespoons golden syrup
2 tablespoons carob syrup
250 g digestive biscuits
100 g marshmallows
100g smarties or M & Ms
100g milk chocolate
Chocolate confetti

Melt the butter, dark chocolate, carob syrup and golden syrup in a saucepan.

Put the biscuits into a plastic bag and then crush them roughly with a rolling pin so that there is a mix of pieces and crumbs.

Mix the biscuit pieces into the melted chocolate mixture, and then add the marshmallows and mix.

Tip into a foil tray (24cm / 9 inch square) lined with cling film. I tend not to flatten mine as i like the bumpy surface. After all, it is a rocky road !
Melt the milk chocolate and drizzle over the top. Scatter the smarties or m&ms over the surface followed by the chocolate confetti.

Refrigerate preferably overnight.

Cut into fingers before serving.

20130811-093909.jpg

On the island, the grapes are now ripe and ready for picking !

Seasonal and Locally Sourced …. A passion for fresh produce !

20130810-071014.jpg

20130809-054055.jpg

I am always searching for different ways to cook meals using fresh local ingredients and as the season changes, I am running out of new ideas. What is available at this time? Summer pumpkin, oranges, courgettes, tomatoes, strawberries ……all at the peak of their freshness and flavor…

I meet with Andrew Borg who at 31, is one of the Mediterranean’s up and coming chefs to watch out for. He is carving a reputation for quality and innovation using only seasonal fresh produce that has been locally sourced. I discover that in an effort to cook the freshest food possible, Andrew has started to grow some of his own food and he has even cultivated a world class herb garden on some private land in the countryside. He explains that home grown herbs have more essential oils than those found in grocery stores and that it is both more economical and fun to grow herbs from seeds and cuttings.

Andrew promises to meet my challenge and help me create a menu to introduce my overseas guests to a taste of the Mediterranean using local ingredients in dishes that are simple, light and full of flavour. I am in search of a straightforward meal that can easily be prepared with minimal effort by a home cook with a busy lifestyle.

I return for a tasting session a week later and I am wowed by the simplicity and choice of a light summer menu using fresh local ingredients that Andrew is so passionate about. I can very quickly assess that the hard work has been done as Andrew has set the guidelines to follow by marrying the ingredients harmoniously making this a meal that is easy to prepare at home. This is a simple, elegant and clean farm-to-table menu using traditional Mediterranean ingredients in an inventive way.

Andrew suggests serving Chilled Minestrone in beautiful clear glass soup bowls. The soup is delicate, creative and colourful with finely chopped fresh summer pumpkin, courgettes, turnips and carrots that have retained their colour as they are barely cooked in a light vegetable consommé. Each bowl is garnished with a giant raw Mediterranean Prawn and finely dusted with a fresh grating of hard goat’s cheese or ‘gbejna’.

This is followed by a choice of braised Pork Cheeks, Loin of Rabbit or a simple salad of Octopus and Ham Hock.

There are about 160 pig farms on the island and local pork is reputed to be a very high quality product. Pork cheeks respond well to slow cooking. These plump cushions of meat look brilliant when plated and Andrew shows me how to turn a humble cut into a delicacy. A tartare of apricots and kohlrabi is garnished with fresh marjoram and a drizzle of freshly pressed virgin olive oil.

The Loin of Rabbit is perfectly poached in olive oil and then glazed in local thyme honey and tossed in orange zest and fennel seeds. This is a light dish, very different to the traditional “Fenkata” version of stew in wine sauce that is one of island’s national dishes. I am delighted as rabbit meat is almost cholesterol free and contains less fat and sodium than other meats. I feel I can now indulge without the guilt!

I love fresh summer meals and the interplay of charred Octopus and Ham Hock makes a wonderful salad bringing a burst of bright colour to the table with rucola, courgette flowers, endive and blue basil. This salad balances the rich flavours and tenderness of the octopus and ham hock with the crispness and acidity of the al dente vegetables. The result is a triumph and I am excited about the simplicity which will allow me to easily make it at home without spending hours in the kitchen.

Fresh handcrafted soft goat’s cheeselets are readily available locally and Andrew creates a delicate edible flower and rose peppercorn salad using home grown nasturtium blossoms. The vivid orange and yellow flowers are packed with flavour, a combination of peppery, sharp and sweet . The young seed pods taste of capers and Andrew explains that they can be pickled and also make a very good pesto.

The ricotta and mint ice cream is light and refreshing, an ideal way to end a summer meal. Once again I am inspired and think of endless ways to use local ricotta and mint which grows abundantly on the island…. perhaps a ricotta and mint spread or dip, roasted courgettes stuffed with ricotta and mint….so many possibilities! Sweet wild mulberries handpicked from the countryside are served with the ice cream and the combination is magic!

Andrew says. “Using quality produce reduces cooking and preparation time and adds amazing flavours to home cooked meals. Simplicity is always best…..”

Andrew Borg is Chef/Proprietier at The Black Pig
Tableware http://www.loft.com.mt
Photography: James Bianchi

20130809-113951.jpg Fresh Goats Cheese with a salad of wild mulberries, nasturtium flowers and leaves