Why is it a hummingbird? The original 1978 recipe for birthday girl …

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Adreana kindly helped me out last minute and baked a heavenly hummingbird cake for my daughter’s birthday. We did not want to end up with leftovers nor did we wish to overeat today so she made a dainty 8 inch cake.

I met Adreanna when I was covering the story of the tallest chocolate building in the world. She is one of the team members selected to go to Dubai to help construct the building. A delightful, creative and hardworking young lady and I like her quiet self confidence and professionalism. I love the photo of her deep in thought while she is helping out on Andrew’s next chocolate project !

I gave Adreana the original Hummingbird Recipe created in 1978 by Mrs L H Wiggins of North Carolina and a lighter version of the original recipe, both published in Southern Living Magazine. The Hummingbird is the most popular cake in the world today and according to Southern Living the most requested recipe ever in the history of the magazine.

We chose the lighter version.

And why is it called hummingbird we wondered ? We came across different versions but the best one I like is that it tastes so divine, so sweet, so good, moist and so luscious that it makes you want to hum! Just the thought of my lips coming into contact with those ripe bananas, pineapple and pecans all enveloped in cream cheese and coconut makes me want to fly too ! So I like this reason best…. Hummingbird cake will make you happy and you will hum and fly just like a hummingbird ! And I hope that my daughter will have a wonderful day today and that her future will bring a lot of humming and happiness !

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This recipe is adapted from Southern Living Magazine.
You will need :

3 cups self raising flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 large eggs, beaten
1 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple, undrained
1 cup chopped pecans
2 cups chopped bananas

Cream Cheese Frosting
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Combine the first 5 ingredients in a large bowl
Add the eggs and oil, stirring until dry ingredients are moistened. Do not beat and stir in the vanilla, pineapple, 1 cup pecans and bananas.
Pour batter into three greased and floured 9-inch round cakepans.
Bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.
Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes; remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks.

Spread Cream Cheese Frosting between layers and on top and sides of cake; sprinkle 1/2 cup chopped pecans on top.
Store in refrigerator.

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My daughter…Happy Humming !
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Healthier spinach ricotta cannelloni

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This is a healthier cannelloni dish with oil and butter used very sparingly:

The recipe serves 4 (or less for huge appetites !) and you  will need :

For the cannelloni

16 cannelloni tubes.

2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 large bunch fresh basil leaves, torn
500g spinach, fresh or frozen, chopped and thoroughly drained
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Maldon Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
400 g ricotta
1 cup mixed grated cheeses
1 egg
Pinch of nutmeg
Olive oil

for the white sauce
500 ml crème fraîche
1 cup freshly grated Parmegiao Reggiano
1/2 cup grated mozzarella

Preheat the oven to 180ºC

In a saucepan, sauté the garlic Ina touch of olive oil, add the spinach and cook. Drain it very well and allow to cool.
Mash up the ricotta Ina separate bowl, add the cheeses and egg, season with salt and pepper. Add the nutmeg, dried oregano and basil leaves and mix until it has an even consistency.
Add the spinach to the ricotta mix making sure it is cool before you do so.

Using a kitchen towel, sparingly wipe an ovenproof dish with a few drops of olive oil.
Fill the cannelloni tubes using a piping bag with no nozzle so that there are no air pockets in the tubes however you can always use a small teaspoon.
Lay the filled cannelloni tubes on the ovenproof dish.

To make the white sauce, mix together the crème fraîche and Parmegiano Reggiano over low heat on your stove. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Take off the heat and add the mozzarella. If it is too thick add some skimmed milk. Spoon over the cannelloni making sure that the sauce gets in between the tubes. Dust with some extra Parmesan and Mozzarella cheese before you bake in the oven for 25 minutes and the cannelloni are bubbling and golden.

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Savory individual ricotta pies…. And if you visit London and do not quite make it to the dream island….

If you have not yet been fortunate enough to experience the little island in the heart of the Mediterranean but happen to be visiting London you will find a cafe in Fulham Road called Parparellu. A big dose of nostalgia and memory lane for all natives gone afar no longer able to bask in the island’s warmth and hospitality. Here they will find familiar things, familiar food and possibly familiar faces.

Joe Pace who opened the place a year ago is a charming host and the buzz in the cafe is electric…the menu offers a mix of simple traditional island food with cannoli, kwarezimal, qasatat, timpana, Fenkata and street food includes freshly baked pastizzi.

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And as Parparellu celebrates its first year this week, I am today making individual ricotta pies in short crust pastry known on the island as qassatat. These are individual savory ricotta pies in a short pastry crust recognizable by the open fluted surface where you can get a glimpse of the golden baked ricotta top before digging in.

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You will need :

For the dough
1 lb flour
8 oz chilled butter cut up in cubes
1 egg
pinch of salt
about 1/2 cup water

Rub the butter into the flour until it looks like breadcrumbs. Add the salt.
Add the egg and work in and then the water gradually. You may not need to add all the water. Knead the dough. Wrap in cling film and leave in the fridge to rest for at least half an hour.

For the filling
500g ricotta
2 eggs
1/2 cup grated Parmegiano Regiano
Pinch of Salt

Mash up the ricotta. Add all the other ingredients and stir until even.

making a Qassata

Roll out the dough and using a 4 inch circular cutter, cut out rounds on a well floured surface.

Put a spoon of the ricotta mixture in the middle if the circle.

Pinch the edge of the dough into pleats until you have done it all around. You are trying to get an open funnel surface. Either pipe some more of the ricotta mix into the pie to fill the neck of the funnel. You can also use a teaspoon but do not fill it right to the top as the filling will expand and rise.

Brush the pastry with egg wash.

Bake at 200C for about half an hour until they are a golden color.

Serve hot or cold. I like to serve mine with a simple salad.

My individual ricotta pies !

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And here is some of the food being served at Parparellu :

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Ricotta Gnudi New York style !

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A friend of mine recently visited New York and updated me with all her recent food adventures. I always love to hear about new dishes and ingredients and the combination of a success story.

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She tells me all about her lunch at The Spotted Pig in New York which has become one of the trendiest eateries with gnudi of all kinds on their menu. It is run by the former chef of Riverside Cafe in London.

Gnudi are not gnocchi, they are not a pasta dish, but seem to belong to the same family. They are simply skinless ravioli, the filling without the shell but not quite gnocchi. This is enough to whet my appetite and I am making them today for our supper.!

I have been given this recipe by an American chef and will be preparing them for supper tonight. I will of course include the photos and method once I have made them ! There is also a step by step recipe by photo guide.

You will need :

1 cup fresh ricotta
1 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for finishing the pasta
2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
Pinch grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives (optional) or 1 tablespoon dried
1/2 cup flour
4 cups semolina
3 tablespoons butter
10 sage leaves

Combine the first 5 ingredients in a bowl
Fold in the 1/2 cup of flour until it is combined with the ricotta mixture, adding more flour by the tablespoon if needed so that the mixture isn’t too sticky to roll into 1-inch balls.
Using floured hands, roll the ricotta mixture into balls and place in a bowl or dish that has 1/4 inch of the semolina sprinkled on the bottom.
Arrange the balls so that they are not touching each other or the sides.
When you have a layer, cover the balls completely with flour and begin another layer.
Finish by completely burying the ricotta balls and transfer to the fridge. Leave overnight.
In a skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Watch it carefully, and when the butter solids begin to brown and the butter is foamy (above), add the sage leaves. Just a few moments longer on the heat and the butter should turn a nutty brown color. Don’t overcook it to avoid introducing any bitter flavors.
Carefully transfer the gnudi to a pot of salted boiling water and cook until they float, about 1 minute.
They don’t need long at all, and the pasta coating can turn tough if they are in the water too long.
Remove them with a slotted spoon to drain, and serve with the brown butter and crisped sage leaves. Grate Parmesan over them, if desired.

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A taste of New York…. baked ricotta cheesecake !

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A typical New York cheesecake is made with cream cheese and sour cream but mine today is a taste of Italian New York.

The best cheesecake I ever tasted was a ricotta baked cheesecake from Venieros in New York. This is where you can also get sugar free cookies and carb free cakes if you are watching your calories !

I remember coming back home after my visit and trying to make a similar baked ricotta cheesecake and this is now one of my favorite desserts. You can leave it plain or top it with fruit and give it a glaze. It is a good basic recipe and you can be creative and add chocolate or other flavorings and toppings. I like the slight grittiness in the texture that the ricotta gives and it has more flavor than the smooth and satiny cream cheese version.

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You will need :

22cm springform cake tin

For the sour cream pastry
200g butter, cut into cubes
250g flour
125 ml sour cream, I used plain yoghurt this time and the result was great

For the cheesecake filling:
4 eggs, separated
700 g ricotta
80ml cream
200g sugar
Few drops vanilla
Zest of 1 lemon

Icing sugar, for dusting or this time I used fruit and glazed it with warm apricot jam

To make the pastry rub the butter and flour until it looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the sour crea, and mix into the dough using a palette knife. Add sour cream and give it a few more pulses until the dough comes together. Wrap the dough in cling film and store in the fridge 30 minutes.

Roll the dough into 3mm thickness, make sure it is wide enough to cover the bottom of the tin. Drape the pastry over the tin, then gently press the pastry to sides to fill all corners, let the excess hang over the edges of the tin. Place the tin in refrigerator to let it set.

Beat the ricotta mixer on high speed until light and fluffy. Turn the speed down to low, then add the egg yolks and keep beating until combined and there are no lumps.

In a clean large mixing bowl, add egg white and sugar, whisk until soft peak. Pour the cheesecake mixture into the meringue, fold gently until combined.

Preheat oven to 180C. Remove the springform tin lined with pastry from the refrigerator, pour the cheese mixture into the tin but without filling to the top, by leaving an inch from the top.

Bake the cheesecake in the oven for 1 hour. Then let the cheesecake cool in oven. Remove from tin and transfer to refrigerator to let it set overnight.

Dust icing sugar or decorate with fruit and glaze with warm apricot jam.

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I used the same recipe adding a spoon of cornstarch to the ingredients above with a digestive biscuit base instead of the pastry and simply dusted icing on the top.

A successful fusion of cultures so far apart … Wontons from the heart of the Mediterranean!

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Last week I bought some Chinese ingredients from the local Asian food store and was about to make some traditional Chinese wontons when I spotted a tub of fresh local ricotta in the fridge and wondered if sweet ricotta wontons would work.

I like a bit of a twist in my cooking, nothing too experimental but a slight surprise, just a bit different to the norm keeping everyone interested, a sweet Mediterranean Wonton. I used a tub of fresh local ricotta and sweetened it with a mix of thyme honey and carob syrup which I made in July and added commercially made candid peel rather than use my home made one as i want the same colorful appearance that one finds in the cannoli that are made on the island. I also used cinnamon and vanilla.

250g ricotta yields 45 mini wontons. It is important not to fill them too much and to moisten the edges without overdoing it to close the pastry and retain a good shape. I laid the wontons out on a tray well covered in cling film and froze them. As soon as I deep fry them, I will include photos of my finished product which I hope will be enjoyed by my colleagues at the newspaper who can be my guinea pigs today ! And I look forward to finding out how much these will appeal and whether I should be making them regularly …..

For the filling, mix all the ingredients together and you will need :
250 g ricotta, mashed up with a fork
1 spoon Thyme Honey or alternative
1 spoon carob syrup or use more honey if carob syrup is not available
3 spoons commercially bought colorful candid peel
Pinch of Cinnamon
Pinch of Vanilla

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Wonton skins are readily available from local Asian food stores. Defrost them well.

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Lay out the wonton skin on a glass board.

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Place a small amount of filling in the centre of the wonton in a rectangular shape.

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Dip the tip of your finger into some water and moisten one side of the wonton skin. Do not overdo it as this will spoil the shape of the wonton and make it soggy, you merely want to seal it.

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Dod the wonton in half and gently press the two sides so that they bind together.

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Fold the wonton lengthwise without sealing it further. With the tip of your finger gently wet the tip at one corner of the pastry, twist and seal the two tips together.

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Until you get this shape. Make sure the tips are securely sealed.

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Lay out the wontons neatly on cling film on a tray. You can freeze them and fry them at your convenience.

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Today’s tea time treat…. Fig and Hazelnut Tart… can’t wait

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The pomegranates are beautiful on the trees soaking up the Mediterranean sun and will surely be ready to cut next week.

I am baking a tart for tea today and am using a fig compote I made in August when figs were abundant and I preserved them is all forms imaginable. I think everyone loves figs and they are a crowd pleaser. I am including a recipe for a fig compote that can be made using dried figs found in any food store so that you are able to bake this tart at any time of the year. I am using chopped hazelnuts in the pastry shell and you should end up with a crunchy yet soft cookie crust topped with gooey figs…

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You will need :

A loose bottomed 10 -12 inch tart tin

Pre heat oven to 170C

For the sweet hazelnut pastry :

480g plain flour
300g butter or margarine
100g sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 spoons water, you may not need to add this
A few drops good vanilla essence
Zest of one lemon
2 tablespoons chopped hazelnuts and extra chopped hazel it’s for sprinkling on top of the tart
Pinch of salt

Sieve the flour and add the butter or margarine cut into pieces
Rub in until it resembles fine breadcrumbs
Add the sugar, pinch of salt, vanilla and lemon zest and mix
Add the beaten eggs and bring together with a knife
Add a few drops of water if necessary to achieve the right consistency.
Add the hazelnuts and knead into the dough
Wrap in cling film and allow to rest in the fridge for half an hour.
Roll out on a floured surface and line the tart dish. There is no need to grease it as the pastry has a high fat content.
Pierce the pastry evenly and there is no need to bake it blind.

For the fig compote

500g dried figs, chopped up, I like mine in large chunks
Zest and juice of one lemon and orange
1 spoon sugar or 1 spoon honey
1/2 cup wine, whatever is available white, red or rose
1 cup water
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh time, do not use the dry variety, simply leave out if not available

Soak the figs in wine with bay leaf, thyme and citrus zest for an hour or overnight in the fridge if you prefer
Place in a saucepan over medium heat with the sugar or honey and water
Stir and keep an eye on it so that it does not stick to the bottom. Add water if necessary, you do not want it too dry.
Bring to a boil and reduce heat and leave on a gentle boil for 10 minutes.
Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Spoon the cool compote into the pastry shell. Sprinkle chopped hazelnuts and bake in a moderate oven at 170C for 45 minutes. After 30 minutes check the oven and move the dish to achieve an even colored crust.

If you have left over compote its delicious with oat cakes and a blue cheese such as Roquefort or Gorgonzola.

This is delicious served hot or cold and can be stored in an airtight container for a week and in the freezer for three months. We like ours fresh !

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The sweet hazelnut pastry dough
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how to make a perfect hazelnut crust

Penne with local sausage, cherry tomatoes and Rukola

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A peaceful Saturday night, as the sun sets on the jewel in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea, it’s time to make a simple pasta supper using local pork sausages.

These are wonderful with black peppercorns, whole coriander seeds, garlic and parsley and the aroma while they cook stimulates even the feeblest of appetites ! And if you do not live on the island and have no access to these heavenly sausages oozing with flavor, this dish is delicious using a continental type sausage such as Toulouse .

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You will need :

Penne, allow 75 to 120g per portion depending on appetites
Maltese Sausages, allow 1/2 per person, skin removed chopped up
Cherry tomatoes, allow 5 to 8 per person, cut into quarters
Rukola, according to your preference, I used about 10 leaves per person, torn up not chopped
Whole dried chilis, allow 1 per 2 portions, cut up
Dried Oregano, allow 1/4 teaspoon for 2 portions
Dried flaked garlic, allow two flakes per portion, chopped up
1 tablespoon light single cream per two portions
6 tablespoons white or rose wine per two portions
Salt
Freshly Ground Pepper
Drizzle of olive oil
Freshly grated Gran Padano

Cook the pasta in plenty salted water, and follow the cooking time instructions on your pack.
In a saucepan, heat up a touch of olive oil and cook the sauce eat on gentle heat until browned together with the garlic flakes.
Add the chili, oregano and cook further.
Add the wine, cook and reduce.
Add the single light cream, just a touch, the dish should not appear creamy and cook further.
Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
Drain the pasta.
Add the sauce and mix with the pasta.
Add the cherry tomatoes and arugula
Plate the pasta and top with a fresh light grating of Gran Padano.
Serve immediately.

Joseph’s Frangipane and Chocolate Tart

I spent the morning with  Joseph Borg, a very talented pastry chef ! 20130917-220423.jpg

 

And we made his special Almond and chocolate tart !

 

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Mixing the pastry dough

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Kneading the dough

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Piping the frangipan mix into the tart shell

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Adding the chocolate spread to the frangipan mix

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Stirring in the chocolate

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Piping in the chocolate frangipan

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Walnuts for the surface !

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The baked tart with a glaze

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Blow torch the orange segments !

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With the glazed apple and figs and caramelized orange …

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Frangipan and Chocolate Tart !

You will need :

10 – 12 inch tart dish with a loose bottom

For the pastry:
650g flour
400 g butter
200g sugar
1 egg
65 ml water

Cream the butter and sugar in a mixer. Mix together the eggs and water. Gradually add the beaten eggs and water.
Add flour and beat in.
This pastry does not need to rest and can be used straightaway ! It is also best used on the day it’s made rather than storing it in the freezer or fridge.
Dust your work surface with flour and knead the pastry lightly dusting with extra flour. This pastry has a wonderful satiny feel and is lovely to work with.
Roll it out with a rolling pin to a thickness of 5mm.
Neatly cover the bottom of the tart dish. This pastry is rich in butter and you will not need to grease the tart dish.

For the filling:
300g butter
300g sugar
1 liter beaten eggs
350g ground almonds
100g flour
Orange and lemon zest
Walnuts or almonds to decorate surface
100g chocolate spread

Preheat oven to 170 C
Cream the butter and sugar in a mixer. Gradually add beaten eggs and citrus zest.
Add the flour and ground almonds and mix in well.
Split the mixture into 2 and add the chocolate spread to half of the mixture.
Using a piping bad pipe strips of plain frangipane mix into the tart shell leaving a gap to strips of the chocolate frangipane mix in between. If you do not wis to use a piping bag, spoon the mixture neatly.
Decorate the surface with whole almonds or walnuts.
Bake in a preheated oven for 40 minutes.
Allow to cool and brush with some heated apricot jam for a glazed surface.
Decorate with fruit of your choice. Joseph used caramelized oranges, apples and figs.

Corn quinoa and feta salad by Jennifer Rodda at www.milk-and.blogspot.com

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I love Jennifer’s food and blog so much that I published one of her recipes in the local press. Her photography is wonderful and she is always available to answer any queries. I am looking forward to trying some more recipes soon.. We had this salad one evening as a light supper and it was delicious. Thanks Jennifer! ….

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