Friday, April 29, 2011

Carrot Cupcakes - Hummingbird bakery stylez

I adapted this recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook.  I've never actually been to the shop in London, but my sister swears by this recipe, and everyone I know who's been to the shop have adored the food there :)  The recipe was for cake, but this was adapted for cupcakes.  
funny hat wearing cupcakes.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Cheesy vegetable Lasagne

We stuff ourselves silly on Xmas day.  It's ridiculous.  And now that the "kids" have become foodies, we have added, not reduced the amount of courses served at this mammoth, 8 hour lunch.  Every time one of the "traditional" family dishes is threatened, half the family go up-in-arms about it, so it's a bit of a risk to change the staples.  In our family these staples are meat lasagne, and a dessert we call "coffee mousse", which I'm yet to attempt.

I did the daring and changed the meat lasagne into a vegetarian version, in an attempt to at least make one of the courses somewhat easier to digest with all the other foods there.  As not to scare the carnivores, we named it "cheesy vegetable lasagne", with an emphasis on the cheese.  And it seemed to work! 

Cheesy vegetable lasagne

Monday, April 25, 2011

Chicken Broth - (Brodu tat-Tigieg)

"Brodu" is so much more than a simple chicken stock in Malta.  It's a hearty meal, with 2 courses,  a delicious brothy soup, and then the chicken itself, served with steamed/boiled vegetables, potatoes and crusty bread. 

When I used to make this soup in Melbourne with my best mate and her partner, we'd eat soup on one day, have chicken pie the next with the leftover chicken, and any leftover soup would be used as a broth to make risotto the day after.  This is a fantastic way of getting all you can out of one chicken.  And so tasty!
Just ready.

Shortbread (Gill's mum's)

Gotta love a delicious golden biscuit!  This is a recipe that family friend passed on to us (Gill, she actually hand-wrote a beautiful little recipe book for my mum, and added pictures of Australia and friends as a goodbye present when my family left Malta).  This is her mum's recipe :)

This dough is fantastic to keep rolled into a sausage, and tightly wrapped with cling wrap in the fridge, especially at the Christmas/winter season, ready to be whipped out, sliced, and thrown in the oven for freshly baked shortbread biscuits at any time!

Shortbread (the background ones were wrapped as gifts.

Scandinavian Spicy cookies

I know.  This was meant to be a Christmas Post.  Terrible of me really.

These are delicious - buttery cinnamon and spice flavoured cookies, and they literally bring home the smell of Xmas into the kitchen and all around the house.  it's awesome!

I've seen so many differing recipes for these cookies, but the one I liked best was from an issue of Taste (Issue 7, winter 2005), a Maltese magazine that comes out with the Independent.  They had an article about a Danish and a Swedish person living in Malta, and they gave this recipe for "brown cookies".  I had just been to Sweden and tasted these awesome biscuits so thought i'd make them.  and they were delicious! And so much fun to make!

With shortbread in a plate...

Vanilla... beans, extract, paste, essence..

My rant about the availability of Vanilla in Malta.  I need to make this clear, vanilla essence and vanilla extract are NOT the same thing.  Vanilla essence is completely sans vanilla, completely artificial.  It is also the reason I thought i never liked vanilla!  It's something i never thought of until i tasted real vanilla, and loved it!  If i was rich, i would always use vanilla pods, but seeing as they cost about 4 euros PER POD, the cost is a little prohibitive.  In Australia, I started using vanilla paste, which is a thick vanilla extract with extra vanilla seeds added.  This is by far the best non pod vanilla product to use.

Now: I cannot find anything but either real pods or essence in Malta. (EDIT!!! I have found  Natural Vanilla extract in supermarkets now.  Not all of them, but at least a few.  Also try baking shops!)  I tried to use essence but even though everyone was like "yummy cupcakes la" all i could taste was this horrible artificial taste, even though i put half the amount of essence.  Artificial taste, and the extra level that vanilla gives - nowhere! :(   I was so disappointed because it was the essence, and there's nothing I could have done.  Anyway, I searched far and wide.  to no avail, so when i made the shortbread this Xmas, i used a mix of essence and vanilla pods, which was somewhat better.  I'll tell you, the ones that had JUST seeds (no essence) in them were better.  so so much better.  And i love those little black dots!  Anyway i don't have to worry now, as luckily my lovely sister brought me some Taylor's Collection Vanilla Bean Paste from the UK :)  YAY!!!

AMERICANS BEWARE!!!  please note that extract and essence are different for you, as apparently in the US essence is actually just strong vanilla extract.  Gah!  way to confuse things! 
Vanilla beans (cured)

I guess that sometimes I think we're getting too used to the artificial taste of things, and what scares me most is that I think people are starting to prefer it!  The real thing tastes natural, and is what caused them to make the essences in the first place.  Surely that means it's superior in taste?   Otherwise why try replicate it?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Roast Potatoes - Hasselback stylez

Cooking potatoes in this way is a real win/win situation.  They take less time to cook than just placing a whole potato in the oven, and they also look really, really pretty!  Plus you get a little bit of the soft delicious inside, and a crunchy layer on every bite!

They are great served with something saucy, or really, whenever you feel like a roasted potato without waiting for ages!  Hasselbacks are not a hassle at all hehee :) 

There are heaps of variations, you can put various herbs, or even a little bit of grated parmesan to add extra crunch, or simply seasalt and ground pepper... it's great!

Hasslback potatoes with coq au vin

Regarding the type of potatoes, I like to use a waxy one, as they will keep their shape, yet remain lovely and creamy on the inside.  I find that using Charlotte,king edward or nicola is great, but in Malta, they don't come by "name" so just get the ones with the pink eyes, or the ones that are longish (rather than round) and yellow, not white on the inside. 
Ingredients for 4 people
  • 8-12 medium sized roasting potatoes
  • Chunky and fine sea salt
  • Fresh black pepper
  • Rosemary, thyme, or herbes de Provence
  • Olive oil
  • Cold butter (optional)
  • A head of garlic, separated into cloves but left unpeeled and whole

Preheat oven to 200 celcius (i think that's about 450 fahrenheit)
Wash and scrub potatoes, removing all the little eyes and bad bits.

Grab a potato, place it on the flattish side down (there is always a flatter side on a potato).  Start slicing with a VERY sharp and thin knife to about 2/3 - 3/4 of the way down. Make about 15 of these slices into the potato.  Be really careful not to go all the way down, but don't freak out if it happens once or twice.  We're not perfect!  Repeat with all the potatoes.  

Put in a mixing bowl, and pour some olive oil over the potatoes, and toss until they are all covered.  Don't be scared to use your hands at this point.  Just make sure that you have all the other ingredients at hand first, otherwise there will be oily cupboards and jars to deal with!

Place the potatoes on a shallow baking tray (i use baking paper also).

One by one, gently and ever so slightly pry the slices open and try and sprinkle some chunky salt in there. This will keep the slices ever so slightly open also, and will help the herbs, pepper etc get into each slice.

Sprinkle with pepper, herbs, some more fine salt (it's very hard to put too much salt on a potato!), and if you want, place a teenzy slice of butter in one of the middle slices.
In the oven...
Put in oven, and leave for about 30-45 minutes, uncovered until they are cooked through and all browned and crispy on the top. 

Leave for about 5-10 min before tucking in, because they will be REALLY hot! :D  luckily you can "open them up" a little with your fork to let them cool faster :D  
They go very well with coq au vin gravy over them too :)