Sheep graze outside our door.. and we make apple jam

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I open the gate today and I am greeted by these wooly creatures and this makes me happy to live here…

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A first time meeting with Ninu the shepherd, a friendly chat and he is full of curiosity and asks personal questions but this is the heart of the Mediterranean countryside and it is acceptable. He tells me of his cheese making secrets that take place at his home. And I am invited to go and see, and taste and eat, as long as i do not take pictures of him but he will share the secret recipes and I have permission to snap the cheese and the sheep… sounds like a good deal to me !

But today it is jam making day.. wild local apples, one of my favorite and a mixed citrus some time during the weekend. I am reducing the sugar content by half but will need to store it in the fridge. If you require a longer shelf life without refridgeration, you will need equal measurements of fruit and sugar.

And for a good apple jam with no artificial additives and no pectin you will need:

1 kg apples, chopped and cored, soaked in lemon juice to prevent discoloration
3 lemons, juice and zest
500g sugar

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In a large pot place the apples, lemon juice, lemon zest and cover on moderate heat until apples are soft and mushy. They should remain pale and become clear with the apple juice.
Uncover and mash.
Add the sugar, stir and bring to a fast boil, reduce hear keeping it on a rolling boil. This is an important stage, do not let it cool and loose the boil so that the jam will retain its color.
Keep at this stage for 10 minutes, switch off and test the setting point using the saucer method which you can see on this blog.
If it has not reached setting point, bring to a boil again and keep at rolling boil for another r 5 – 10 minutes. I have never had a problem with this jam setting.
It should be a lovely golden peach color.
Place in sterilized jars and seal.

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See the instructions about sterilizing

And in memory of a poet, a writer and a cook …’if you have one smile in you give it to the people you love’ Maya Angelou…

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Yesterday’s paper

Chocolate hazelnut tapioca (Dairy Free)

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This dessert is gluten free, dairy free, egg free, has no added sugar and no added fat and I made it specially for Good Earth

It is amazingly decadent although i used completely natural ingredients… And what i especially liked about is the texture. You get the hazelnut flavor from the delicious milk but the added ground nuts give it a hint of a bite, a bit of a surprise for those who eat tapioca often 🙂

You will need:

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100g tapioca
1 liter Alpro Hazelnut Milk
50g ground almonds
6 while hazelnuts to decorate
1/4 orange, you just need the grated peel
1 small dairy free chocolate
Add sugar, honey or sweetener of your choice, i did not add any in ours and it was sweet enough for us
Some mint leaves to decorate

In a saucepan, pour the hazelnut milk, add the ground hazelnuts and leave them in the fridge for at least an hour to soak. You may wish to leave them overnight. Add the tapioca and start to cook on low heat.

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When it starts to thicken add the grated orange peel. Keep stirring and finally add the dairy free chocolate and stir until it melts.

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Remove from heat and pour immediately into individual glasses. Decorate with a whole hazelnut and two mint leaves. Serve hot or cold.

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Pumpkin, lentil and orange soup with sage flowers

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A light lunch today and mum’s delcious recipe of fresh pumkin, orange lentils and a bit of grated orange to finish off with such a good result. It is gluten free, egg free, has no added fat and if you leave the fresh goats’ cheese out, it can also be dairy free. Quick and easy, all in one method plus the blending to make a smooth consistency with a hint of texture. You will need:

1kg pumpkin, peeled and chopped
200g orange lentils
1 onion roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, as they are
Add a vegetable stock cube if required
Grated rind of 1/4 orange
Sea salt and pepper freshly ground pepper
optional fresh goats cheeselet
optional sage leaves, if you prefer or they are not available use parsley

Immerse the onion, garlic, pumpkin and lentils in water and bring to boil. leave to simmer on a gentle boil on low heat for 40 minutes.

Turn off heat and allow to cool slightly.

Add the grated rind of 1/4 orange
I use a hand blender and whizz it until the soup has a consistent appearance.
Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
Reheat when ready for use.
Drop individual goats cheeses just before serving. This is optional and it is still delicious without.
I garnished with the flowers of sage that are at the prime of their cycle at the moment. Used sparingly, these are wonderfully delicious.

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Edible flowers are underused. They have been around forever and in the Old Testament we see a reference made to a bitter herb referring to dandelion, the Romans loved rose petals in their food, the Greeks served glasses of wine with floating violets and the Ottamans used edible flowers in most of their desserts and main courses.

These sage leaves are full of flavour and turn a dish to have the wow factor ! They taste of a mild sage, no flowery taste or stromg flavors and unlike the leaves, much milder….

This week’s paper

Marmurat Tart

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Baked for special celebrations, this is a traditional chocolate tart with orange flavor. It is not always available from local confectionaries and with communion celebrations this month and many family gatherings, this will be very popular. This is a simplified version of Renato’s recipe which I have adapted for a busy home cook.

You will need a 10 inch tart dish

Heat oven to 160 degrees or gas mark 5

Baking time about 25 – 30 minutes. Prep Time 30 minutes

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

Sieve flour and baking powder into a large bowl. Add the softened butter cut up into small pieces and rub in until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the vanilla extract and lemon zest. Mix the sugar with water until it has dissolved and mix into the dry ingredients until they bind evenly. Wrap in cling film and leave to rest in a cool place for at least 15 minutes.

Ingredients for Marmurat Filling

125 g Pure Ground Almonds
100g Sugar
50 g Devon Digestive Biscuit Crumbs
1 egg
2 tablespoons Orange Marmalade
1 tablespoon Cocoa Powder
Pinch of Mixed Spice
4 drops Vanilla Extract
20 g Candid Peel preferably orange

To finish : 150 g Dark Chocolate and 80 g Roasted Flaked Almonds

In a large bowl mix the ground almonds, sugar and sweet crumbs. Add sieved cocoa powder, mixed spice, vanilla and candid peel and mix well. Finally add the well beaten egg and mix with wooden spoon until the mixture is even. Test for a dropping consistency and if necessary add another egg.

Grease the tart dish. Open the rested pastry with a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface. Line the dish. Trim the pastry neatly and dock it with a fork. Spread the marmalade on the bottom of the pastry and then fill with the almond mix. Take a spoon and dip in hot water and run over the surface of the filling to achieve a tidy finish. Bake in a hot oven at 160 degrees for 25 – 30 minutes. When baked cool on a wire rack.

To finish off, melt 150g of Dark Chocolate and spread it on the tart. You can either use a palate knife but I like to brush it on with a large pastry brush in several layers. Decorate as desired with Roasted Almonds. Store in an airtight tin. This tart will keep for a few weeks and in fact the flavour will improve.

One little hint, always weigh your liquids on a digital scale, it is far more accurate !
Happy baking ….

Broccoli and Hazelnut Pasta Shell Bake

This is a healthy pasta dish, shells filled with a mix of broccoli, hazelnuts and ricotta and baked in the oven to make a surprisingly light dish.

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I used 10 giant pasta shells and this serves 2 to 3 persons.

You will need:

10 pasta shells.  Boil plenty water with a bit of salt and when it reaches boiling point drop the shells into the water gently. Lower the heat to a gentle boil and after 2 minutes llift out.

75g uncooked brocolli
50g hazelnuts
100g sheeps milk ricotta 

1 egg (optional, you can leave them out and they still work well without the egg)
One spoon freshly grated parmesan
salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine the above 5 ingredients in a food processor until you have a thick paste

Fill the pasta shells.

You will then need 3 tablespoons of polenta in a flat dish. Dip each shell, filling side down, to seal the filling.

You will also need some simple prepared tomato sauce and you can prepare this the day before following your usual recipe or you can make it quickly gently sweating half an onion, one clove garlic, both finely chopped, add a can of tomatoes, cook on low heat for 10 minutes. Add half a glass of wine if you wish. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and some dried oregano.

Place the sauce in an oven proof dish and arrange the filled pasta shells facing down on top of the sauce.

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To make the white parsley and cheese sauce use 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add 500 ml milk and 100g of mascarpone (optional and still good if you leave it out) and a bay leaf. When it starts to boil lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, then add 2 tablespoons of grated parmesan and season with salt and pepper.

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Pour over the pasta shells. If you leave the mascarpone out, allow the dish to rest for 15 to 20 minutes before baking.  This allows the pasta to absorb some of the liquid ingredients, improving on texture and flavour.  At this stage you can also freeze the dish and bake it when you are going to use it.  It keeps well in the freezer for 3 months.

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And bake at 170C for 25 minutes. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

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I use pasta by Milanese available at Paul & Waters, polpa and tomato products by Victoria Brand, dried herbs and spices by Schwartz, sheeps’ ricotta and mascarpone by Zappala, polenta by Le Farine Magiche, fresh vegetables, eggs and herbs by Big Fresh, olive oil by Olio Costa D’Oro.

European Elections and Chris’ Eton Mess … (gluten free)

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This week’s paper

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Across the Atlantic, they say that Europeans do not care about the EU election as there is an estmated average of 43% turn out. And on the island we are expecting a turnout of around 72%. Europe matters to people here.

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And today we go to a different island in Europe and visit the UK. Chris now lives in Eastbourne and he is an amazing Pastry Chef specialising in butter and chocolate sculptures. His work on St George is just incredible.

As Chris’ work is so complex and unachievable to most, I asked him to prepare a very simple dessert especially for my newspaper readers which they could make very quickly and something from his adopted land, something very English. He produced a very delicious Eton Mess, created in the famous public school where the royal princes attended.

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And the story orginates many years ago about a meringue dessert that was salvaged after being accidently crushed by a dog and with no time to redo it, the Eton cooks served it crushed and mixed it with more strawberries and cream. Guests loved it so much that it remained on the menu !

For Chris’ Eton Mess you will need:

300ml double cream beaten up until stiff (i make it by halfing the cream and adding local yoghurt or greek)
Seeds from a vanilla pod
100g ready made meringues, broken up into pieces
One spoon sifted icing sugar
Strawberries, one punnet, washed, hulled and slices
Some toasted almonds

Beat the cream with the vanilla seeds until you have soft peaks.
In a bowl, mash half the strawberries,
To assemble, break up your meringues into a bowl — you can crush some of the bits into powder, leaving other bits chunky.
Ripple the cream and mushed-up fruit together, then sprinkle in the rest of the fruit and fold again.
Layer your crushed meringues and fruity cream in glasses, then sprinkle with the toasted almonds
Serve immediately.

And you can now see some more of Chris’ work… just amazing …

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On his wedding day with Vanessa …

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And yes, this is edible !

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A Tunisian Hazelnut Dessert called Bouza [diabetic friendly, gluten free, egg free, lactose free, vegan]

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As I dig deeper into the Mediterranean kitchen I become more familiar with the cuisine of Tunisia.

I was served this dessert by a Tunisian friend at a dinner to promote Tunisian business a few years ago. For me this hazelnut cream beats the classics like creme brulee.  This dessert is egg free, gluten free and vegan.  If you wish you can also use regular milk.

It is very easy to make. The cream is poured into glass containers while it is still warm and it sets beautifully. If you want to stretch a bit further and have time on your hands, try the bouza cream in a hazelnut crust and it is to die for.

The cream is flavoured with flower water and you can leave this out if it is not available or if you do not like the idea of flower waters and simply add vanilla instead.

tunisian bouza cj baldacchino

Photography CJ Baldacchino during a live tv show

For the hazelnut cream you will need:

1 litre hazelnut milk
200g hazelnuts
1 vanilla pod
4 level tablespoons cornflour
3 level tablespoons stevia OR sugar
Optional: A few drops of flower water, either orange flower or rose water

Grind the hazelnuts in a food processor.

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The consistency should be grainly rather than a dust.

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Mix the cornflour in 250 ml of the milk. if you are usimg flower water, add a few drops now.
Mix the ground hazelnuts with the milk, vanilla and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a gentle boil on low heat.
Add the cornflour mixture and keep stirring.
Remove from heat.
f you are serving traditional bouza, pour into individual glasses while it is still warm.
Decorate with chopped nuts before it cools.
Allow to set in the fridge for at least an hour.

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Hazelnut Cream in a Hazelnut Crust [this crust is NOT Vegan]

The wild roses in our garden, another ingredient, not a vegetable or a fruit as we know it but a fruit of the earth and edible petals are underused. If used correctly, sparingly combined with the right ingredients the result is incredible. Visually another example that nature is great and no human manuipulation can possibly match it.

for the hazelnut pastry you will need

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400g plain flour
200g butter
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons chopped hazelnuts and extra chopped hazelnuts 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 chopped hazelnuts.
Add pinch of salt and mix
Add the beaten egg and bring together with a knife
Add a few drops of water if necessary to achieve the right consistency, a spoonful at a time.
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 by rolling the pastry around the rollimg pin, lifting it gently and easing it into the tart dish. Trim the sides but leave them to overlap.

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There is no need to grease it as the pastry has a high fat content but i do very lightly just in case.
Pierce the pastry evenly and there is no need to bake it blind.
Bake in the oven at 160C for 20 minutes.
Take out of the oven. Trim the pastry by applying pressure with the rolling pin onto the edge of the tin.

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Return to the oven for 5 minutes.
Allow to cool completely before filling.

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A busy kitchen at the offical residence of Tunisia in Malta 🙂

I hope you will be tempted to try bouza 🙂

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All ingredients by Good Earth

And more strawberries with a fennel and arugula salad

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I love the mix of flavors in this salad and the textures. Imagine mouthfuls of crunchy aromatic fennel and fleshy soft strawberries with the distinct bitterness of the arugula.

1 punnet arugula leaved
4 large strawberries
half a bulb of fennel
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
freshly ground pepper and sea salt

Arrange the arugula leaves on a serving plate.
Slice the strawberries lengthwise and slice thinly.
Slice the fennel bulb into thin slices.
Arrange the strawberries and fennel on to the rocket leaves.
Season with fresnly ground pepper and salt. Drizzle with some olive oil and a few drops of balsamic vinegar.
This is ready to serve as it is. It is worth buying a good quality balsamic vinegar as it makes a big difference to the flavour especially when using with such delicate flavors of strawberry and fennel.

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My sweet Stevia has found a home in our garden and this is just the beginning of a long journey together …

Strawberries filled with yoghurt and cream

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The photo below shows the strawberries with a mix of yoghurt and cream, perhaps a treat for Sunday breakfast, but you can go a step further and make Cheesecake strawberries as you will get all the flavors of eating a cheesecake into a bite, perfect to end a meal without overeating…

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You will need

500g fresh strawberries, washed and hulled

100g double cream
100g greek yoghurt and if you on the island, use local. Its just as good and a praction of the price.
OR swap with
200g cream cheese beaten

1 spoon honey or carob syrup
A few drops vanilla extract
6 digestive biscuits
100g ground nuts, I used pistachio

Cut a small piece off the tip of the strawberries so that they will stand on a plate. Save the tip.
Use a paring knife to hollow out a small whole in the centre of each strawberry
Beat the double cream and when it thickens add the yoghurt.
Add the carob syrup or nozzle and mix in until its consistent.
Fill a disposable piping bag with the mixture.
Snip only a small part of the tip off.
Fill up each strawberry with the mix.
Crush the digestive biscuits to a fine powder and sprinkle each strawberry with the biscuits and top with ground nuts. I love pistachios both in flavor and for color contrast.
You can either serve them as they are or cover the strawberry with the tip that you have cut off previously.
Refrigerate before serving.

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Its lavender Sunday …

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Weekends are for baking and today I look out at the garden with its abundance of flora, foliage so very green at the peak of its life cycle, so fertile before the strong heat of the summer hits us.

I love anything that involves cooking from the garden and i am going through a phase of wishing to try everything i see to re-discover all that has been forgotten. In the heart of the Mediterranean, the flavor of our produce is amazing. It is so easy to cultivate cuttings, sometimes even with no roots. The soil yearns to nurture anything that comes into contact with it, roots feed on those unique properties of the Mediterranean earth, while all that is visible above the ground is blessed with the magical rays of sun bestowed to us here, shining on our produce until everything brims with flavor.

I walk through the garden and graze, full of curiousity. It is not a practice to be encouraged as i am often told off about the danger of possibly nibbling on something poisonous but it has become a habit and one which i thoroughly enjoy.

And that is why the cuisine of this region is so popular all over the world. The vibrancy of the food is reflected not only in the color but also in flavors that remain alive until they reach our plate giving our meals depth and character even when food is barely cooked and eaten in the most simple way.

Here we have no need to construct edibile towers, no need to splatter meaningless sauces on plates because the beauty of our food exists in its natural form, its taste, beautiful from imperfections left undisguised, the gift of nature allowed to bloom on our tables as it was meant to be with not too much human manipulation, just a knowledge of combining flavors.

Natural ingredients from this region are superior and food is for cooking, tasting, savoring, a feast for all the senses. Food here is a joy to celebrate, requiring no building sites on our plates, just a blend of flavors that will make an impact and bring to life the most jaded palate.

Each day here we are invited to partake in the celebration of sharing the fruit of our land, a privilege we have received merely by happening to be here, at the right place and at the right time, whatever the reason is that has brought us here…it is a privilege that deserves appreciation.

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And this weekend I also baked Hazlenut and Lavender Shortbread Biscuits

I cut lavender from the garden and made some lavender sugar which i have stored in a jar.

To make the lavender sugar, i blitzed together 2 spoons of lavender buds and a couple of leaves with two cups of sugar, giving a ratio of 1 tablespoon to 1 cup.
The taste is divine but i think the color can be improved and I will prepare another jar to compare, without the leaves and without blitzing the ingredients. Just storing them together in an air tight jar and allowing the lavender oil to infuse with the sugar. Drying the lavender before storing would give it a longer shelf life and prevent it from sticking together.

And for the lavender and hazlenut biscuitsyou will need :

300 g plain flour
200 g butter (I reduced the butter content in mine to 150g, not the same ‘short texture’ but the flavor was unchanged)
75 g lavender sugar
1 egg
A pinch of salt
75g finely chopped hazlenuts

Preheat the oven to 160C.
Rub the flour into the sugar.
Add the hazlenuts.
Add half the sugar.
Mix and mix in the egg using.
Add cold water a spoonful at a time to bind if necessary.

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Wrap the dough in cling film and place in the fridge for half an hour. Take out.
Knead the rest of the lavender sugar together with a few more buds into the dough.

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Roll out and use a cutter to cut your cookies.

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Place on a greased oven dish.

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Sprinkle some more lavender sugar and top and top with a bud.
Bake for 10 minutes.
Don’t let the biscuits brown. Remove the tin from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes before removing with a palate knife.
Sprinkle with some more sugar and leave them to cool completely.

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