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.


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.


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.


Maltese Pudina and Barbetta’s


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 


‘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.’

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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)!


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.

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

Place the drained peaches at the bottom of the glasses.

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


Sprinkle the muscovado sugar on to the surface.


Leave in the fridge overnight….


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

A quick weekday meal …. Roberto’s Perfect Puttanesca


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.


Sweat the garlic and onion….

Add the tomato polpa and mix through ….

Toss in the pasta …..

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

And perfect puttanesca !


And Saturday’s newspaper


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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



Click here for The best energy balls ever


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


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


we picked lemons, cauliflowers, cabbages and broccoli


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 …


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

The ingredients

The pasta

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

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

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

Add the freshly grated Parmesan

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

And Queen Jane’s verdict ?

Could not be better …

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