Renato’s Maltese Figolli

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My figolla decorated with sugarpaste

I am sharing Renato Briffa’s recipe for Maltese figolli.

And for the figolli pastry you will need:

2 kilos flour
25 g baking powder
450g butter
1 lemon zest
4 drops vanilla extract

Rub in butter into flour add the rest of the ingredients.

Separately mix together 800g sugar
1/2 can evaporated milk
1 litre water
Mix with wooden spoon until sugar dissolves

Add the liquid to the flour mix and form a dough. Leave to rest in fridge for at least an hour.

Prepare the almond filling
1 kg ground almonds
800g sugar or equivalent in stevia
2 grated lemon zest
3 drops vanilla extract
8 eggs

You will also need marzipan, icing and chocolate to decorate the figolli

To make the pastry, sift together the flour, baking powder and icing sugar in a large bowl. Add the butter and rub in with your fingers till mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
Add the citrus zest, the fresh orange juice and egg yolks and mix together till you have a smooth  pastry. Wrap up in cling film and leave in the fridge for an hour.

Prepare the almond filling by placing all the ingredients together in a large bowl.  Mix and bind together.  Make sure the mixture is not sticky.

Prepare the figolli by rolling out the pastry on a floured work surface, to a thickness of about 1/2 cm.

Using figolli cutters, cut the figolli pastry shapes (2 per figolla) and place on baking trays covered with baking paper.
Roll out the almond filling and cut out one shape per figolla. Brush ½ of the pastry shapes lightly with water, and cover each piece with the almond filling. Brush the almond filling with water and cover with the remaining pastry shapes. Each figolla will end up with a pastry top and bottom, with the layer of almond in the middle. Bake the figolli in the oven at 160`c, for 40 minutes.

Allow to cool completely overnight and then decorate, using chocolate, marzipan, confetti, icing and mini easter eggs.

Natalie’s figolli…

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And Miriam’s

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Annie’s Beautiful Figolli

Popped Amaranth

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Popped Amaranth  This photo was taken by CJ Baldacchino during a live tv show

‘a great alternative to popcorn.  If  you dip fruit and bananas into a bowl of popped amaranth, it forms a thin coating and makes a crunchy and tasty snack.  The first time I tried to make popped amaranth, it was  not very successful.  You need a very hot pan and to make it is small quantities, a spoonful at a time.  You need patience but its worth it :)’

 

You will need:

3 Tablespoons of raw amaranth

Heat a heavy pan over high heat until it is extremely hot.  Add one tablespoon of raw amaranth.  Cover the pan with a lid, lift the pan from the burner and shake it from side to side.  Provided that the pan is very hot, it will take around 12 seconds for the amaranth to pop.  Remove from the pan immediately to avoid it burning.  Add the next tablespoon of raw amaranth, repeat the process and then pop the last tablespoon of seeds.  The process will not work if you add more than one tablespoon at a time.  The popped amaranth can be stored in an airtight container for up to a month in the fridge. This recipe will give you 1 cup of popped amaranth.

This is a vegan, gluten free, nut free diabetic friendly recipe

Amaranth is available via Good Earth Distributors and you will also find it at Big Fresh in Mosta

 

Flying to the Mediterranean… March issue

This is from the February issue of the island’s airline magazine …

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Presidents, popes and honeycomb candy … its all about chemistry

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I made honeycomb candy with Adriana and its all about chemistry, action and reaction. It’s ideal for breaking up and scattering over ice cream and desserts and surprisingly very easy to make. I love watching the mixture react and bubble with the baking soda.

And today we wait to see President Obama have his first audience on the world stage with Pope Francis and I wonder how the chemistry will work? How will Pope Francis react with Obama’s charisma?

Popes meet Presidents and Presidents visit Popes.

It was only 6 days ago that our own President had a similar audience with the Pope. So animated is everyone in this picture here that it almost reminds me of a family photo, a celebration of the end of a Presidency with just nine more days to go.

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And I wonder about the chemistry of President Obama and Pope Benedict? What was it like ?

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And back to our honeycomb candy! you will need:

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3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons water
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon glucose, if you do not have it, leave out

Grease a baking sheet.
I use a non stick spray.
Add the sugar, honey, and water to a saucepan. You can stir the mixture, but it isn’t necessary.
Cook the ingredients over high heat, without stirring, until the mixture reaches 300°F. The sugar will melt, small bubbles will form, the bubbles will become larger, then the sugar will start to carmelize to an amber color.
When the temperature reaches 300°F, remove the pan from heat and whisk the baking soda into the hot syrup. This will cause a reaction and it will bubble up.
Stir just enough to mix the ingredients, then dump the mixture onto the greased baking sheet. Don’t spread out the candy, as this would pop your bubbles. Let it spread naturally.
Allow the candy to cool, then break or cut it into pieces.
Store the honeycomb candy in an airtight container.

And I close today with a more personal picture of another Pope meeting not another President but a monk, my own uncle…. The unique charisma of John Paul II may be a hard act for other Popes to follow.

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And this ain’t no phoney baloney but the real McCoy… Pork Tray Bake

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The pork on the island is amazing with over 160 pig farms here and it is a very high quality product. It is so tender and far superior to the cheaper imported pork. And today I visited a happy pig farm where i fell in love with Babe and I am going back again in a few days as Babe is indeed irresistible ….

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Fresh local pork is I think the best pork I have ever tasted.

This has very little prep time and you will end up with one dish of meat and potatoes. To avoid it sticking, I line my tray with baking paper to avoid a lot of mess and cleaning afterwards. What I like about this dish is that you do not have to worry about measurements and just use the quantities that suit you. I am serving it with a large salad of mixed leaves and tomatoes lightly drizzled with olive oil. The plums caramelise in their own natural sugars, no need to add anything. They have a tangy taste when they are cooked so if you prefer a sweeter flavor, use apricots or peaches.

You will need :

Pork loin chops, center-cut, allow one or two per person depending on appetites
Olive oil, a good quality one, makes a difference for this dish!
Ham or bacon, I am using the local Arrosto ham which is delicious
Plums, I am using greengage and red plums
Potatoes, calculate half per person, washed and thinly sliced with skin on
Fresh rosemary, finely chopped up
Red chili flakes, optional
Maldon salt
Chopped Hazlenuts
Half a lemon to squeeze

Preheat oven to medium high.
Lay a few very thin slices of potatoes on the baking tray. I only use a few as I want this to be a meat dish with salad rather than meat and potatoes.
Arrange the pork chops on an oven proof tray lined with baking paper.
Combine fresh rosemary with a little bit of olive oil and rub over the pork.
Cut up plums, I use yellow and red ones today and arrange neatly around the pork.
Squeeze half a lemon all over the pork.
Season with sea salt.
Sprinkle chopped ham/bacon all over the dish followed by more fresh rosemary, chopped hazlenuts and red chili flakes. This is optional, leave out if you do not want it spicy
Bake in oven for about 35 minutes, depending on how crispy you would like your pork. The plums will caramelise naturally. Leave to stand for 5 minutes. Garnish with some more chopped Hazlenuts and some freshly cut up plums. The colours make this dish look wonderful and it is delicious.

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Spilt Pea and zucchini soup

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The soup today is mum’s recipe. It is made with zucchini and dried green split peas which I always have in my store cupboard. Split peas are very high in protein and low in fat and they give the soup a distinct earthy flavor. All you need to do is soak the split peas overnight and if you wish to speed up the time they take to soften add 1/2 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda to 125g of dried split peas during the boiling process, not before when you are soaking them as this destroys the vitamin content. When you boil the split peas use a large pot with plenty of water on medium heat to prevent sticking. It may sound like a lot of trouble but it is worth it and if you are at home anyway, they can boil away while you do something else.

Mum uses off-the-bone gammon in hers.

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You will need:

125g dried split peas, soaked, boiled, softened and rinsed
1 kg zucchini, chopped up
1 bay leaves
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 large potato, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Drizzle of olive oil
Fresh thyme
Squeeze of lemon
100g off the bone ham or if you are vegetarian, substitute with a vegetable stock cube
Water, enough to completely immerse everything plus 3 cups

In a large pot drizzle some olive oil and sweat the onions, add the garlic, stirring occasionally.

Add the zucchini, potato, bay leaf, thyme and softened split peas, salt and pepper to taste and cook, stirring occasionally.

Add the stock or water, the chopped up gammon (this is optional), squeeze of a lemon and bring to boil. Simmer and cook on low heat for an hour. Do not forget to keep stirring occasionally.

Remove the bay leaf.

Transfer the soup to a food processor. I use a hand blender and puree until smooth, processing in batches until you have a smooth purée. If it is too thick, add more water. If you would like a richer texture add milk or single cream. We tend to avoid this especially during the week !

To serve, reheat the soup but do not boil.

Serve the soup into individual bowls and if you like garnish with crispy bacon ..

This soup freezes well.

Sunday lunch: Rib Eye Beef Tagliata, oregano potatoes and sautéed mushrooms

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For the Steaks you will need

Depending on size and appetite, allow 150g to 300g of beef per person
Salt and Pepper
Oil

Always cook the steak from room temperature, never straight from the cooler.
Preheat pan by placing it on high heat.
Brush both sides of the steak lightly with olive oil.
Place steak on a very hot pan.
Turn it over and never cook a steak more than once on each side otherwise it will become tough.
I tend to season my steaks after they are cooked, especially when it is a good cut like this one as I want to make the most of its natural favors.
For my 300g steak, I cooked it 3 minutes on one side and 4 minutes on the other side and my guests have requested medium to nearly cooked all the way through.
Remove from heat and let it rest for 5 minutes. This is important.
I serve the steaks sliced at a diagonal angle against the grain with a fine serrated knife. I think it’s so much more appealing than a slab of cooked meat thrown on to a plate. However there is a time and a place for everything and I know most of the boys usually love their meat slabs left as they are, but after all this is Sunday lunch !

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And for the Oregano Roasted Potatoes you will need

 

1 kg potatoes, washed and peeled
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
Juice of half a lemon

Preheat oven to 175C.
Cut potatoes into large chunks and place in a single layer in a large baking dish. Add the oregano, salt and pepper; olive oil and lemon juice and toss around using your hands or a wooden spoon to coat evenly. Do not use a metal spoon.
Bake for about an hour or until potatoes turn crispy. I love this recipe as they remain soft and mushy inside !

For the sautéed mushrooms you will need

 

250g mushrooms, chopped or sliced
2tablespoons olive oil
Herbs of your choice, today I am using finely chopped flat leaf parsley
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to season

It is important to use a large pan so the mushrooms are in a single layer and will brown. Otherwise they will steam instead and release all their juices and flavor.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
Sauté the sliced mushrooms for 3 minutes until they start to brown. Add 1 tsp of herbs of your choice. Season and saute for another 2 minutes. Garnish and serve.

 

Daffodils in the garden and Tunisian Merguez Canapés

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Yesterday 58 years after its independence from France, Tunisia remembered this special day on a little island in the Mediterranean.

I visited the official residence of HE the Ambassador of Tunisia, Souad Gueblaoui in the morning to join her team of chefs while they made preparations for a formal evening reception to be attended by the President.

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The kitchen of this sunny and spacious residence was buzzing as they decorated, stuffed and sliced. And I was only allowed to do some very LIGHT cooking and treated like a Princess ! no carrying and no heavy duty industrial equipment for me this time. I learnt some new tricks about Tunisian cuisine with its Mediterranean roots and a bit of a spicy kick. And I just love the ingredients, the fragrance and the freshness.

I am sharing with you today the special in-house recipe for Merguez Sausage Canapés but more traditional recipes courtesy of the Embassy chefs will be on my feature page in this week’s Press which is devoted mainly to this beautiful country and its people, the culture and the cuisine.

I have only been once to this beautiful country on holiday and I very much hope I will return one day soon as I have always wanted to visit Carthage.

For the canapes, you will need:

Shop bought Canapé Boats
6 Merguez Sausages
2 eggs
1 green pepper
1 onion
1/2 fresh chilli
2 tomatoes
olive oil

Remove the skin from the sausages and mash the flesh with a fork.
Deseed the pepper. Chop it up and put aside.
Skin, deseed and chops the tomatoes.
Deseed the chilli and chop very finely until it is like a purée.
Beat the eggs.
Drizzle some olive oil into a pan.
Pour the egg and make a rough omelette. Chop it up in the same way you would do for egg fried rice
Keep aside.

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In the same pan sauté the onions and chilli. When it softens add the pepper and finally the tomatoes.

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Remove from pan and keep aside. Add the sausage meat and cook.

When it is cooked all the way through add the other ingredients and mix.
Allow to cool. Just before serving, fill up the pastry boats with a teaspoon. Garnish with flat leaf parsley if you wish.

And HE the Ambassador discusses the evening’s plan with her staff. You can see part of the decoration of a special cake being made with Tunisian Flag made out of sugar fondant

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and a tray is prepared with fresh lemon juice and a taste of the evening to come…

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we enjoyed a precious moment of peace in the garden before we both had to rush off again.

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And I drove straight to mum’s for a bit of spoiling while I worked among the daffodils in full bloom.

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Then straight back to Tunisian party at 7pm !

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I wish to thank HE the Ambassador for inviting me to visit during her very busy morning and for allowing me to share with my readers her country’s very special day.

Marble Loaf with Raspberries

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Quick Marble Cake, photo by Felix Cesare during a live tv show

You will need:

150g butter OR mascarpone
100g sugar
1 cup stevia
4 eggs
vanilla
300g self raising flour, sifted twice
1 teaspoon baking powder
a pinch of salt

To make the chocolate marbling:

25g cocoa powder
a pinch of cinnamon
a pinch of instant coffee powder

Preheat the oven to 170C.  Prepare a loaf tin with baking spray.

Place the first 8 ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

Take a very large mixing bowl.  Use an electric mixer to combine all the ingredients together.  Turn on the high setting for a minute.  Do not over process.  If the mixture is too stiff, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water.  Use a large metal spoon to place half of the cake batter into another bowl.

Then add the cocoa powder, instant coffee and cinnamon to the mixing bowl.  Use the electric mixer for 30 seconds to blend in.

For the chocolate marbling effect, alternate the mixtures and place 4 spoonfuls of each mixture until both mixtures have been used up.  Then take a skewer and swirl it around to create the marbled effect.

Bake in a preheated oven for 40 minutes and test with a skewer before taking out of the oven.  Allow to cool.

For the chocolate frosting using chickpeas you will need:

150g cooked or canned chickpeas
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon cold pressed coconut oil
50g mascarpone [optional]
vanilla
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
200g melted chocolate

Melt the chocolate in a microwave or bain marie and beat until smooth.  Add the coconut oil.  Use a blender to puree the chickpeas with the vanilla, honey or agave, cocoa powder and mascarpone if you are using it.  Add the vanilla.  Stir in the melted chocolate and beat in.  Use a spatula to coat the top of the marbled loaf.

Decorate the top with  by placing some fresh raspberries on top of the frosting before it sets.

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Quick marble loaf, photography Felix Cesare during a live tv show

I use chocolate by Chocolates Valor cocoa powder by Good Earth Distributors Limited, vanilla by Schwartz #pureflavour flour by St. George’s Brand

Happy feast day Mr J! and Nadia makes Cantucci

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It is a public holiday on the island today and the name comes in all sorts of forms but to all the Josephs and Josephines I know and those i have yet to know, a happy feast day ! Happy Zeppoli Day !

Yesterday we were treated to the most brilliant natural light, something that many here take for granted because they have never been deprived of it. I get notes from some readers to tell me that I help to brighten their day and I thank you. The feedback means a lot to me and I am sharing a photo i took yesterday from outside the office where I had a meeting. For me this is a picture of hope.

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From the darkness I am looking at the bright light, I try to find my wings and I want to learn to fly again. It is not difficult to find my wings, nor is it to fly, the difficulty is to find the will, the energy to break away from the dark, to set free from the fear, the immobilization. Hope is bitter sweet and exposes us to disappointment. And without the bitter sweetness, I remain in the dark, a mere existence. I look at the brightness a few steps from where I stand, I feel positive and I start to polish my wings. And to those who write to me, do look at the light, it is full of hope and there will be disappointments, but it is for living life and those wings are waiting to go !

But before you do so you must make some of Nadia’s Cantucci… It is not only fun and therapeutic making them especially with my two best girls ever but they are amazing with a cup of tea or coffee in the middle of the day and great to have after a meal if you fancy something sweet with not too many calories…

180g soft butter
275 g Sugar
4 eggs
10g baking powder
Pinch of salt
500g strong (00) flour or in the US bread flour
1/2 teaspoon Ground aniseed
115g Whole almonds, skin on

Preheat the oven to 150C.
Cream butter and sugar until fluffy and pale.
Add the eggs one by one and allow to mix in before adding the next one.
Fold in all the other ingredients except for the almonds.
Lightly roast the almonds and chop.
Work into the mixture.

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Dust your work top with flour. Form the dough into long sausage shapes and flatten the tops a bit OR place the mixture into a piping bag without a nozzle and pipe it as Nadia does onto a baking sheet.

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Bake for about 20 minutes.
Allow to cool.
Cut up into thickish slices.

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Place on a baking sheet and return to a cool over at 120C for 10 minutes.
watch them, you don’t want brown Cantucci.

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