Welcome to the Year of the Horse … Crispy beef and broccoli noodles

Today marks the first day of the Chinese New Year. Goodbye to the snake and welcome to the horse with celebrations for the next two weeks …

There are a number of Asian food stores on the island and I popped in to Mr and Mrs Wang’s store yesterday as they stock authentic asian ingredients and brands.

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I love Asian food and when I am in Mr Wang’s store I feel that I am back in the Far East. It is no different and we are so lucky to have access to all these great ingredients on the island. Mr and Mrs Wang are from the North East of China and they have been living on the island for 13 years now. They are always so helpful and willing to share their knowledge.

We were fortunate to have a Chinese nanny when the kids were young. She was a wonderful cook and most of the Asian dishes I make are originally her recipes. I am making Crispy Beef and Broccoli noodles today. It is a much lighter version to the usual dish and I use a good quality minced beef and cook it until its crisp, therefore avoiding any additional flour, cornstarch or batter and everyone who has tried it loves it.

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You will need :

2 tsp chopped garlic
1 spring onion or 1/4 onion, finely chopped
2 tsp chopped ginger
Pinch of sugar
Soy sauce, according to your preference
250g good quality ground beef
2 teaspoons fish sauce
200g broccoli, steamed and set aside, make sure you do not overcook them as you want to keep some texture
1 tablespoon sesame oil
A little vegetable oil for crisping the beef
Noodles of your choice, cooked according to instructions on packet. Do not overcook. I used cellophane rice noodles.

Heat a wok or a large frying pan until hot and add a little vegetable oil.
Add the minced beef, cook and stir constantly to avoid it sticking until it becomes crispy.
Drain in a colander so that you get rid of most of the surplus oil.

In the same wok add the garlic, onion and ginger and stir fry quickly without letting them brown.
Add the beef, the fish sauce and soy sauce and heat through. Add a pinch of sugar,
Add the cooked noodles and stir to combine the meat.
Finally add the steamed broccoli.
Add the sesame oil and stir through and finally drizzle some more soy sauce.
Serve immediately. This recipe serves 4 but of course it depends on the size of your appetite.

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Maltese Pudina and Barbetta’s

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Maltese Bread Pudding, photo during a live tv show

‘A visit to a very old bakery in the village of Zejtun prompted me to bake this old fashioned Maltese chocolate pudding [Pudina] that my grandmother, like most frugal Maltese and Gozitan grandmothers, used to make.

It was an economical cake, the way to use up stale bread and all the bits and pieces in the kitchen store cupboard.

As with most Maltese sweet recipes, I use one given to me by Renato Briffa, passed on to him by his father who owned a confectionery in Old Mint Street, Valletta in the 50s. You can sprinkle it with coconut before serving just as Renato does but I studded it with blanched almonds when I made it on tv this week.

It keeps moist in an airtight container for two or three weeks and the flavour and texture improves a few days after baking.’

 

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For the Maltese Pudina, you will need:

1 loaf of bread and you can use up your stale bread
4 spoons cocoa powder
150g butter (melted)
Zest of 1/4 lemon
Zest of 1/4 orange
4 eggs
4 drops vanilla extract
25 g sultanas
1/4 teaspoon mixed spice
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
25g chopped dark chocolate
2 tablespoons jam
125g sugar
1 shot of  your favourite liquor
25g canded peel
50g coconut
75g ground almonds
70g custard powder
Milk, enough to bring the mix dropping consistency and more for soaking the bread

A baking tray of 35cm by 25cm x 6 cm deep

Soak the stale bread in milk for at least an hour and then drain it thoroughly by squeezing the milk out using clean hands.

Melt the butter in the microwave and mix all the ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. If you are making a large quantity you can mix by using the k beater and an electric mixer. Or use a large metal spoon as I did on tv.
Spray the baking dish with baking spray [I like coconut flavour or avocado spray for the Pudina] and then pour in the mixed pudding batter.
Bake at 190 C for about 45 minutes to an hour.

For a gluten free recipe, use a gluten free loaf of bread.

For a lactose free pudina, use a plant-based milk and this is especially good with almond milk.  Use chocolate that is lactose free.

For a vegan recipe, use a plant based milk and swap the 4 eggs with 4 tablespoons of linseed ground in 12 tablespoons of water.  Use a dairy-free chocolate and a dairy-free spread instead of butter.

To reduce the sugar content, use stevia instead of sugar, sugar-free dark chocolate and a sugar-free jam 

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‘Zejtun brought back many memories from my childhood.

A lifetime ago, I spend my childhood in a peaceful southern Maltese village  built around an imposing church, where one of my favourite places was Barbetta’s  with the strong aroma of yeast, sesame buns and whiffs of vanilla.

Mikiel welcomes me and weeps. I am a face from the past and as his memories come alive, he squeezes my hands and cries with joy. He is the last of the older generation of a family who own an amazing village bakery, built by Mikiel’s grandad in 1858, a busy hub tucked away in a village corner, contented customers forever flowing through the doors

 

I have been gone too long he says, yes thirty one years is too long, a mature face no longer that of a child but the eyes never change he says. Mmm… the eyes …. now gone is the innocence, with more expression as they carry the burden of the real harshness of life. Oh how wonderful it was to be a child in this village and I feel emotional as I see him weep.

I remember kind people with a heart of gold. We were outsiders here and made to feel at home, made to feel that we belonged and part of the close-knit clan. We are outsiders now, even more so, but the doors still open,  and the generosity of spirit is still here.  The heat from the ovens wraps around me like a comfort blanket on an unusually very cold day.   Comfort food, kind faces, kind words and more smiles.

Mikiel reminisces and I listen to his anecdotes. He speaks of my parents and his admiration for my father. I promise to come back to see him again very soon. He will not allow me to leave without piling his baked goods into my car.’

Lea’s Good Food Everyday airs on Smash TV and you can follow the facebook page

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Trade Enquiries:

Birds Custard Powder by Premier Foods  at George Borg Ltd, Telephone 356-21 472 177
Baking Ingredients and Gluten Free Bread by Genius  available at  Good Earth
Fry Light Cooking Sprays  President Butter   by Rimus Group

5 must-do-activities in Malta

Photography Ian Noel Pace and CJ Baldacchino

Prue Leith’s signature dish …. Muscovado Heaven (with canned peaches…double yum)!

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On my way to Jane’s I was so pleased to spot one of three original 1930 Bedford buses that still operate on the island.

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We’re celebrating my son’s birthday this evening and for dessert I made Prue Leith’s signature dish known as Muscovado Heaven. It is gluten free and so quick and easy to make. It is one of those desserts that looks like you have gone to a bit of trouble. You can leave them plain or add any type of fruit and you must also make them the day before you need them to leave them in the fridge overnight. This dessert will only work with muscovado sugar. A mere sprinkle of the sugar melts into a fudgy syrup as it absorbs the liquid in the dessert and hits a cold temperature. I went through a phase using Greek yoghurt but ordinary yoghurt also works and it is a fraction of the price. The combination takes you to heaven ….literally, hence the name …. Close your eyes and dream…

You will need :

Equal amounts of double cream and yoghurt
For 6 persons I used 500 ml of cream and 500ml of plain yoghurt
1 large can peaches
150g muscovado sugar

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Place the drained peaches at the bottom of the glasses.

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Whip the double cream and fold in the yoghurt. Pipe or spoon the yoghurt mixture into the glasses.

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Sprinkle the muscovado sugar on to the surface.

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Leave in the fridge overnight….

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The sugar will melt into a fudgy syrup, the combination is heaven….

A quick weekday meal …. Roberto’s Perfect Puttanesca

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Jane and I made this pasta last week with Roberto and I am making it at home for our supper tonight.

Jane will also be cooking this for her son Owen when he returns from the USA this week. Owen hosts a chat show here, One Night Stand every Tuesday evening and his guests have included the First Lady, Mrs Margaret Abela and HE the Ambassador of the USA, Gina Abercrombie Winstanley (in photo above with Owen)…

Here is Roberto’s recipe for a perfect Puttanesca and scroll all the way down for the irresistible result! This is a store cupboard pasta, something quick, easy and wonderfully delicious that can be prepared in no time at all. In fact rather than being a whore’s pasta, I prefer the version that the name is derived from ‘Facci una puttanata’… all about making something ‘cheaply and quickly’ !!!!

You will need :
Spaghetti or pasta of your choice, allow 110g per portion, I use Barilla thick spaghetti
150g green olives, finely chopped
4 anchovy fillets
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, finely chopped
200g tomato polpa
1 spoon capers, chopped
1/2 glass white wine
Parsley,chopped finely for garnish
Sea salt and ground pepper
Drizzle of olive oil

Sweat the garlic and onion in the olive oil over medium hear. Add the anchovy, capers and olives. Stir and add the white wine. As soon as it starts to bubble, add the tomato polpa and cook for 10 minutes. In the meantime cook the pasta according to the packet instructions. Remove the sauce from the heat and immediately stir in the sauce. Season and garnish with chopped fresh parsley.

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Sweat the garlic and onion….

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Add the tomato polpa and mix through ….

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Toss in the pasta …..

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With a large serving fork and spoon, roll the spaghetti around the fork …..

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And perfect puttanesca !

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And Saturday’s newspaper

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Energy Balls with citrus zest (gluten free, no processed sugar)

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There is something so satisfying when you know exactly what your’re eating. I use a mix of dates, figs, prunes, added almonds and lots of fresh tangerine zest.

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These energy balls are very easy to make and a good activity with the kids. I coated half the balls in sesame seeds and the other half in coconut. You can also make a very large batch and store them in airtight containers or jars.

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You will need:
2 cups pitted dates, roughly chopped
2 cups coconut
1 cup figs
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup grated citrus zest, I used local tangerines
1/2 cup honey, I used local eucalyptus carob honey
1/2 cup chopped flaked almonds
1/4 cup fruit juice, usually I use orange but this time I used purple carrot juice
For rolling balls : 2 cups sesame seeds and 2 cups coconut

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You can use a food processor if you want a smooth even consistency but I always prefer different textures and defined flavors in my food and I used a food mixer fitted with a K beater.

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Place all the ingredients in your mixer and blend until you reach the consistency you prefer.

Using a tablespoon for measurement, roll balls between your hands.

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Line two dishes with a baking sheet and place the sesame seeds and coconut for rolling the balls.

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And the wonderful delicious result which you can store in the freezer or airtight containers !

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Click here for The best energy balls ever

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Roberto cooks for Jane…. Pappardelle with pumpkin, chestnuts, pancetta and sage !

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Well the day did turn out bright and sunny after all. I did not wear a coat, just a cardigan in the middle of January !

So with glorious weather we did glorious things and I visited the largest inner city garden in Europe

and in the most beautiful garden of dreams

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we picked lemons, cauliflowers, cabbages and broccoli

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Jane came with me. She is the mother of a very popular tv celebrity. I am working on a feature about Owen and apart from speaking a lot about his career and aspirations, we have also discussed food and what he enjoys eating and cooking.

Today I am going to speak about a part of our session with Roberto who is half Brazilian and half Italian. He is friendly and fun and we had a good laugh as well as ate wonderful food. Over the next few weeks, I will tell you more and share the recipes Jane and I have been working on. She is a fantastic home cook and she had already passed on a number of great old Mediterranean recipes which I am trying out.

Roberto has been on the island for three years and he cooked several pasta dishes today so that Jane can have some new recipes to prepare for Owen and her family. Roberto explained that this pasta is popular in the Piedmont region of Italy. You must try it, it divine and I have today included a recipe by photos, keep scrolling to see the end result :mrgreen:

In the kitchen with Roberto and Jane …

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And for this wonderful pasta you will need :

200g pumpkin, cooked and cubed
200g pancetta
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, very finely chopped or minced
2 teaspoons very finely chopped fresh sage leaves
100g chestnuts, peel, boiled and finely chopped
400 g Pappardelle, we used Barilla
4 spoons freshly grated Parmegiano Reggiano
150ml single fresh cream or half and half
Freshly chopped parsley
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Drizzle of olive oil

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The ingredients

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The pasta

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The pancetta, onion and garlic are sautéed in a drizzle of olive oil

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Add the pumpkin, parsley, chestnut and sage. Cook through.

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Add the cream and cook through. If the sauce is too thick, simply add some hot water.

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Add the freshly grated Parmesan

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Pappardelle with pumpkin, chestnuts, pancetta and sage….. Fit for a queen…

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And Queen Jane’s verdict ?

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Could not be better …

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And here we are in the magnificent dining room and Joe explains all about the different regional foods of Italy….

Crustless Vegetable Torte with Maltese gbejna

healthy vegetable pie with gbejna and sesame seed

Crustless vegetable and ricotta pie.  Photo by Marconia Schembri during a live tv show

‘Serve warm or cold, so incredibly delicious and packed with vegetables.  It is quick and easy to prepare and economical and has been one of the most favourite recipes of this year’

You will need:

200g self raising flour
50g oatmeal or oat bran
250g ricotta or soft fresh gbejna cheeses
4 eggs
200g mixed grated vegetables [on tv I used sweet potato and zucchini]
2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs or parsley
a pinch of dried mixed herbs
salt and pepper
3 mature gbejna cheeses cut across in half
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 tablespoons olive oil
21 cm loose-bottomed cake tin

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Brush the cake tin with a good olive oil.

Grate coarsley the vegetables of your choice and keep aside.

Sieve the flour twice.  Add the oats or oatbran and some salt and mix in.

In a separate bowl combine the ricotta or fresh soft gbejna cheese with the eggs by mashing with a fork and then mixing until it is of an even consistency.

Place the grated vegetables in the bowl with the flour and mix gently so that all the vegetable pieces are well covered.

Pour the ricotta batter over the flour and vegetable mixture and use a large metal spoon to fold in.  Test for a dropping consistency and add a tablespoon of water at a time if necessary to achieve a dropping consistency.

Immediately pour the batter into the prepared cake tin.  Cut the gbejna cheeses in half and arrange on top of the ‘tart’.

Scatter the sesame seeds on top and bake in a preheated oven for 40 minutes until it becomes golden.  Brush the top lightly with a good olive oil and serve hot or cold.

Lea’s Good Food Everyday is available via Midsea Books

Trade Enquiries: J Calleja Ltd for Costa D’Oro Olive Oil

A language with no barriers and some more weekend baking …. Peach Sundae Tarts …

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With the digital age comes the language of emoticons… a visual rather than verbal language, a picture that says a lot in a very little space. And like food, it has no barriers, a language understood by all.

Most people use visual images for speed and in the same way that I am resistant to the use of convenience foods, I absolutely refuse to take shortcuts with text acronyms. But in my eagerness to reach out to a wide range of you who follow this blog, I was drawn to emoticons and visual imagery which if used correctly to enhance and enrich communication instead of a substitute to the written word, has an ability to add tone and depth of expression that a single written word is unable to do. Emoticons are understood internationally and break the barriers of different cultures and languages. I love the basic smiley or sad faces at the end of a sentence and very recently I was delighted to be introduced to Mr Green by one of my favorite readers. So what i assumed was a teenage fad and a lack of command for the written word may in the future very well bring about an international dictionary of visual communication for a language with no barriers, an addendum to every language dictionary that exists.

And while we are on the subject of international appeal, my weekend bake today is made with classic old fashioned canned peaches. There is something so comforting about eating canned peaches and looking at them. With a taste and texture that is so remote to the fresh peach, I have never come across anyone who hates them. I am making these retro-style tarts with a filling of cinnamon and almond topped with canned peaches and dusted with muscovado sugar before they are baked to bring out the most wonderful to-die-for flavors and texture.

You will need :

Ingredients for Sweet Pastry
160g Flour
50g Sugar
50g softened Butter
5g Baking Powder
3 drops Vanilla Extract
35g Water
Zest of a quarter of a fresh Lemon
Pinch of cinnamon

Sieve flour and baking powder into a large bowl. Add butter cut up into small pieces. Rub in until you have a fine consistency. Add vanilla extract, lemon zest and cinnamon. Dissolve sugar and cold water and mix into dry ingredients. Knead and leave to rest wrapped in cling film in a cool place for at least 15 minutes. Grease the tart dish and roll out pastry on a lightly floured surface. Line the dish and trim neatly. Dock the pastry with a fork. Follow the instructions for baking blind.

And for a gluten free sweet pastry
320g gluten-free flour
1 teaspoon xanthan gum, leave out if your flour already contains this
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch salt
50g sugar
140 g chilled butter
1/2 to 3/4 cup cold water

Place the flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, salt, and sugar into your food processor and pulse a few times until well-combined. Add the butter, and pulse. Add the ice water to the mixture a bit at a time. If using a food processor, pulse repeatedly while dribbling in the ice water very slowly. After you have added the water, pulse a few more times to see if the mixture is beginning to come together in the food processor. If not, dribble in more water and pulse. Stop adding water the moment the mixture begins to come together.
Cover the dough and place in the fridge until firm.
Roll out and follow instructions as for sweet pastry above and baking blind.

The almond cinnamon filling and peach topping
This will fill 24 small tart cases or one 11 inch tart.
For Almond filling:
200g Ground Almonds
125g butter
100g Sugar
3 Eggs
Zest of half a lemon and half an orange
Few Drops Vanilla Extract
Pinch Cinnamon Powder
Pinch Cloves

For the Peach topping
2 large peaches, peeled and sliced
Pinch of cinnamon
1/2 cup muscovado sugar

Cream the butter and sugar until they ate fluffy. Add the eggs and then the rest of the ingredients and beat until the mixture is consistent. Spoon into the tart cases and dip a teaspoon into hot water and flatten the surface.
Mix the cinnamon powder into the muscovado sugar.
Arrange the peach slices neatly in a spiral and dust with the muscovado and cinnamon mix.

Bake for 20 minutes at 175 C until the peaches caramelize.
These are delicious hot or cold.

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Spoon the almond cinnamon cream into the tart cases.

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Dip a teaspoon into hot water and smooth down the surface.

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Arrange the peaches neatly.

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Sprinkle muscavado sugar and cinnamon on top.

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Bake until the peaches caramelize.

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Delicious to-die-for textures and flavors….

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Poached pears with yoghurt and honey

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It is very early in the morning here. I find I write best before sunrise and I am promising myself to go for a long walk as soon as I post this. I have not kept my new year resolution to go for a long walk everyday and I must put more effort to make it happen EVERYDAY without fail ! as it is also a shame not to make the most of living on the island… The feeling of walking at dawn and being able to gaze at vast blue sea in silence with the exception of water splattering on the rocks beneath …. before the buzz starts…. is surreal. And most times it is enough to lift my spirit.

And walking and fitness brings me to share this dessert with you. It is also wonderful for breakfast. I introduced it last week for the diabetic range at one of the hotels . It has no added sugar and it is ideal if you wish to indulge at the end of a meal without adding too many calories….

You will need :

A small punnet of fresh strawberries
500ml Greek Yoghurt. These days I am using the standard local yoghurt, it is just as delicious
6 pears
6 teaspoons thyme honey
6 spoons grated sugar free chocolate
Grated citrus rind and juice of one orange and lemon or use preserved citrus zest

This recipe serves 6.

Peel the pears. Immerse in a pot of cold water with the citrus juice and grated rind or with the preserved citrus zest.
Leave to soak for 15 minutes.
Poach for 4 minutes.
Drain the liquid. I usually keep the liquid and use it to make my jams.
Place the pears in the fridge to completely cool down as you will be able to cut them very nearly. I usually put them in a colander on a plate in the fridge.
Using a hand blender, mix together the strawberries and yoghurt until they are an even consistency. If you wish you can add a tablespoon per portion of whipped cream to have an even firmer consistency. I leave it without.
Pipe or spoon into sundae glasses.
Cut slits along the length of the pears and open up like a fan.
Place on top of the yoghurt mix.
Drizzle a teaspoon of honey on top of each pear and sprinkle the grated sugar free chocolate.
Serve immediately.
You can prepare the yoghurt mix in the sundae glasses, leave covered in the fridge overnight, then assemble the topping just before serving.

And here is how beautiful they looked on the dinner table in candlelight…. surreal …

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And back to reality and today’s paper

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Ari makes Chicken Lettuce Wraps as good as P F Changs ….

Last night Ari made chicken lettuce wraps and even though its been a while since my last visit to P F Changs I think that hers were just as delicious. These are gluten free, low fat, low carb and make a healthy and light nutritious meal….. I am also sharing Ari’s photo recipe.

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You will need :

250g ground chicken
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp Sesame oil
1/2 small onion, chopped
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
Squeeze of a fresh lime
1/4 tsp red chili flakes, but adjust this according to your liking
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated or minced
100g fresh mushrooms, chopped (dried okay if soaked for 30 mins)
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro
1/2 head iceberg lettuce, leaves separated
2 portions fried rice noodles, prepare according to instructions on packet
4 tbsp crushed roasted peanuts

This recipe serves 4 persons, depending on appetites….

In a large pan or wok, cook the chicken in the vegetable oil until it is no longer pink. Add the chili flakes.
Remove from the pan and leave to drain in a colander. This will get rid of unnecessary fat and liquids to give the wrap a good texture.

Quickly cook the onions and mushrooms on high heat in the wok, add the ginger and garlic and cook for about 3 minutes stirring all the time. Add the soy sauce, fish sauce and sesame oil.

Mix with the chicken, add a squeeze of lime juice and the fresh cilantro.

Spoon onto lettuce leaves; top with some noodles. Everyone can assemble their own. Sprinkle with roasted crushed peanuts. If desired dip into soy sauce with a few drops of sesame oil.

I am sharing a photo recipe, remember you can adjust quantities according to your taste….

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Neatly chopped onion, finely chopped garlic and ginger and the noodles.

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Soy Sauce, sesame oil and fish sauce

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Chili flakes

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Crushed roasted peanuts

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Chopped mushrooms

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The lean minced chicken stir fried with the other ingredients and fresh cilantro

Crispy lettuce leaves

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Add a spoon of filling…….A crisp and fresh, crunchy aromatic mouthful… Mmmm

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Delicious
And here is Ari with Luke ….

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