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Arancini for an al fresco lunch …..

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We are getting together with family visiting from abroad today to enjoy an al fresco lunch and I am making some Arancini to take with us.

They are quite time consuming to make but after a busy week, I enjoy the peace of a very early Sunday morning when everyone is still asleep and this is when I like being in the kitchen making something that requires a bit of effort.

There is no difficulty in preparing Arancini if you are organized with your ingredients but they require handling with care so I never attempt making them if I am in a rush.

These rice balls are sold in most cafes locally but there is nothing better than home cooking and you can vary the fillings and combinations, make some that are totally vegetarian or even make small bite size ones for canapés or a drinks party.

Arancina means a little orange in Italian; they look like oranges! but I have made two shapes today, some cone like shapes as they have a different filling. I am not sure how authentic my recipe is as I have adjusted it to make it as easy as possible but these arancini are delicious and rather than deep fry them, I shallow fry them lightly to give them a good color and seal the crust but finish them off in the oven. All you need is a good basic recipe and add what you like, either with the rice mix or as a filling… You can literally use any precooked risotto and you can fill the balls with Bolognaise, chicken, ham, cheese, spinach, tuna, virtually anything that appeals to you.

They can be served hot or cold, and today we will eat them with a simple salad as they will be a contribution to a selection of other cold dishes made by everyone. This recipe makes 6 large arancini.

    To make basic Arancini, you will need:

    1 cup rice, preferably Arborio
    3 cups chicken stock
    1/2 cup white wine
    2 tablespoons very finely chopped parsley
    2 eggs for rice mix
    3 eggs for coating rice balls before breadcrumbs
    1 cup grated cheese, I always like to include some Parmesan but a mix of what you have available is fine
    Maldon Salt and freshly ground pepper
    2 cups breadcrumbs
    Vegetable oil for frying

Preheat oven to 180 C

Bring the rice to a boil in saucepan over medium heat in the chicken stock. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the rice is cooked and has a creamy appearance. Stir to avoid sticking. Add the chopped parsley. Add in the grated cheese and two eggs.

Spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet and leave to cool completely.

Put the breadcrumbs in a shallow bowl.

Beat the 3 remaining eggs in a bowl.

Prepare fillings of your choice. For the first time and to keep things simple, I suggest that you cut up mozzarella cubes and mix them with some chopped fresh basil.

Bring the rice mixture and divide into 6 portions if you want large Arancini.

Form each portion into a ball and press your finger into the center of each rice ball

Insert a cube of mozzarella ensuring there is some basil then press the rice around the hole to fill to form a ball.

Roll the balls in the beaten egg and then in the breadcrumbs and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Loosely cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Be generous with the breadcrumbs so that the ball will retain its shape.

Heat 1/2 inch vegetable oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and fry each ball turning over to have an even crust.

Remove from pan and place on kitchen towel to absorb surplus oil.

Transfer to baking tray covered in parchment and bake in moderate oven for 49 minutes turning over for even color.

Traditionally these rice balls are deep fried but I think this is a healthier version with the same result.

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The Arancini ready for frying..

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Healthy Bran Muffins

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I am baking two kinds of muffins, Strawberry Bran and Almond Bran Muffins, to take with us for a day out at the beach.

I have just taken them out of the oven and they look fantastic and taste divine as I am having one with a cup of tea before I go to bed!

This is the basic muffin recipe that was passed on to me by my mother, the never-fail recipe ! that I posted a few days ago when I made Bacon Muffins, with a few tweaks which I am going to share with you. Incredibly easy to make and perfect for taking with us !

Each recipe makes 6 large muffins or 12 small ones.

Strawberry Bran Muffins

You will need :

Preheat oven to 200 C

    You will need:

    1 cups plain flour
    1 cup bran
    3 level teaspoons baking powder
    pinch salt
    1/2 cup sugar
    1 cup low fat or fat free milk
    4 tablespoons melted butter
    1 cup chopped strawberries, in large chunks
    2 eggs

Sift flour and mix all dry ingredients. Add half the strawberries and mix gently. Be careful not to crush,

Beat the eggs until light and add the milk and melted butter making sure that the butter is not hot. Stir and add into dry and fruit mixture only enough to dampen the flour. Do not over mix and the texture should be lumpy.

Pour into muffin cases arranged on a muffin tray. Top each muffin with the stawberries that you have out aside

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Leave to cool in muffin tray.

The strawberries will look gorgeous but be careful not to cut them too small and leave them in large chunks. Dust the muffins with icing sugar before serving if you wish but in my family, they like them without !

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Almond Bran Muffins

Preheat oven to 200 C

    You will need:

    1 cup. plain flour
    1 cup bran
    3 level teaspoons baking powder
    pinch salt
    1/2 cup sugar
    1 cup low fat or fat free milk
    4 tablespoons melted butter
    1/2 cup chopped almonds
    Few drops almond essence
    2 eggs

Sift flour and mix all dry ingredients. Add half the almonds and mix gently. Be careful not to crush,

Beat the eggs until light and add the milk and melted butter making sure that the butter is not hot. Stir and add into dry mixture only enough to dampen the flour. Do not over mix and the texture should be lumpy.

Pour into muffin cases arranged on a muffin tray. Top each muffin with the stawberries that you have out aside

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Leave to cool in muffin tray.

Roast Poussin with Lemon, Rosemary and Olives

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These little chickens are so tender, moist and juicy. I am making them for lunch today and it is a quick and easy meal to prepare. I am serving them with a leaf and tomato salad and you will need one poussin per person. It is not the most economical chicken to buy but as a treat and to serve something a bit different, it is worth it. I like to use local unwaxed lemons and The flavors today are very Mediterranean! Here is how I am making it …

You will need:

Poussins, allow one per person
Olive Oil
Fresh Rosemary
Lemons, allow 1/2 per portion
Onions, allow 1/4 per portion, roughly chopped
Garlic, allow one small clove per portion, finely chopped
Mixed Spice
Large black olives
Maldon Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 180 C

Rub the poussins all over with olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and some finely chopped fresh rosemary.
Cover a baking tray in foil and arrange poussins on tray.
Place thin segments of lemon on the poussins.
Spread the chopped onions all over the chicken and place more rosemary in small sprigs around each poussin.
Sprinkle with mixed spice and season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
Cook in the oven for around 40 minutes. Each oven is different so check that the chickens are well cooked.
The lemon segments will be quite charred. I like a rustic look to this dish and leave them but you can remove them, it is a matter if preference.
Lay the poussins on to the dish you are serving them in and garnish with fresh thin segments of lemon, more fresh rosemary and black olives. Lightly drizzle with olive oil.

This is a really delicious combination of flavors. You can also cook some chopped potatoes in the same dish as the chicken if you wish and the flavor is awesome but today we are just having a light lunch with a salad as a side.

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And something for the kids ! Decorating Cupcakes ….

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This works wonders and today the kids were delighted to be able to decorate their own cupcakes.

I had a few packets of long life cupcakes, and they had a brilliant time dipping them in a pot of melted chocolate and covering them with sprinklers and sugar confetti.

I also had some sugarcraft flowers and butterflies which were left overs from something i was making a few weeks ago and we found them a good place on top of the cupcakes! The kids packed them and took them back home and I have a feeling that the cupcakes will probably not be eaten but will be greatly admired by them over the next few days! I find that it is always so much easier to entertain kids by getting them to do something and a food activity is always a success !

A satisfying and happy day for everyone !

Happy Fourth of July: celebrating on the island with a special Kiwi Pie !

An important day for family reunions in the US, a day of celebration…
Happy Fourth of July to all my US friends and followers!

On this little island in the heart of the Mediterranean, it will be another gorgeous sunny day, blue skies and bluer seas. We are blessed!

We have been invited to a barbecue by some American friends living on the island to celebrate this special day with them and I have offered to make dessert.

I want to make something light, delicious and a bit different so I think it will be my Kiwi Pie with a dark choclatey crust speckled with orange zest. It has a low fat creme patissiere style filling laced with more orange zest and topped with juicy kiwis. The combination of dark chocolate and orange is divine. I am going through a phase of using fruit with my desserts as they seem suitable in hotter months.

Although this pie looks and tastes decadent, I have reduced the fat content in my short crust and used low fat milk in the filling. Our friends are very health conscious so they will be able to indulge without the guilt ! Just to give you an idea, 1 cup of full fat evaporated milk has 338 calories as opposed to 232 in the light alternative. I am also using 500g of water with the filling instead of more cream or milk. Believe me this works and it is delicious….

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I am sharing the recipe as it is always a great hit and everyone loves it.

Kiwi Pie

I use a deep 12 inch loose bottom tart dish
Heat the oven to 175 C

    For the Sweet Pastry:
    320g flour
    60g Cocoa Powder
    100 g Butter or Margarine
    150g Sugar
    75g Water
    1/4 teaspoon instant coffee
    Zest of an 1/2 orange

Sieve flour and cocoa powder. Rub in butter until mixture is like fine breadcrumbs.
Add orange zest and mix in well.
Dissolve the sugar and instant coffee into the cold water. Make well in the middle of the dry ingredients and bring together. Place in cling film in fridge for at least half an hour.
Grease the tart dish and dust it lightly with cocoa powder. Dust your work top with cocoa powder. Do not use flour for rolling out as it will spoil the appearance of the chocolate crust. Roll out pastry and line the bottom of the dish. Dock the pastry with a fork and place in fridge again for at least 15 minutes.
Bake the pastry case blind for 20 minutes. For a quick way to bake blind without the hassle, look up my posting on baking blind. Allow to cool.

    For the patissiere style topping:
    1 large can light Evaporated Milk
    500 g water
    200 g sugar
    Rind of half an orange
    3 drops good vanilla extract
    Separately, 100 g cornflour mixed in 150 g water
    Kiwis, peeled and sliced, as many as you want, I used 6 in mine cut thinly

Gently heat the first five ingredients and bring to a gentle boil stirring with a wooden spoon. Add the cornflour mix and stir. Remove from heat immediately as it starts to boil and carry on stirring.

Pour over the cooled down crust.

Decorate with kiwis before the custard cools down completely so that they will set in the pie. Place in fridge.

To serve you have three choices. You can either dust lightly with icing sugar, leave without or use a glaze. For this tart I use some sieved orange marmalade to remove the bits and heat up with some water. A few spoonfuls of each would be enough. Brush onto the fruit or simply pour it on. Apricot jam is also suitable but the marmalade highlights the subtle orange flavour of this tart.

Happy holiday !

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Simple supper, an easy-cook weekday meal ! Fresh bacon muffins and beet root salad

This evening we are all occupied with various activities so we will have our evening meal at different times.

I am preparing a very easy-to-make supper in advance that can be refrigerated and everyone can help themselves to fit in with personal plans.

I am making a lovely Beetroot and Greek yoghurt salad, Fresh Bacon Muffins
and a Fresh Fruit Salad

Beetroot and Greek Yogurt Salad

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You will need:

Beetroot, I use the precooked vacuum packed variety, calculate one to two beetroots, per person depending on appetite
Greek Yoghurt, I use 0% fat variety and it still has a lovely and creamy taste. With regards to quantity, this is a matter of personal preference, so as little or as much as you like. Bear in mind the calorific value:
0% fat being 52 calories per 100 g
2% fat variety is 73 calories per 100g
Full fat yoghurt is 93 calories per 100g
Parsley, finely chopped, I like the flavor of the flat leaf variety with the beetroot
Olive Oil, drizzle
Maldon Salt and freshly ground pepper

Chop up the beetroot into smallish squares. It does not matter if it is a quick chop and does not have to be too neat. Place two thirds of it in a large bowl and set aside the rest for garnish. Season with Sea Salt and Fresh Pepper. Drizzle some good olive oil. Add the finely chopped fresh parsley, keep some aside for garnish. Add the Greek yoghurt, quantity according to your preference. Mix very gently and until the pinky color of the salad is quite uniform but be careful not to break up the beetroot. Place in a large salad bowl and garnish with the rest of the beetroot and parsley that you have kept aside. Cover with cling film and refrigerate until needed. This salad is healthy, delicious and packed with nutrients. If you have any leftovers it will be a good side to accompany any meal.


Fresh Bacon Muffins

This recipe makes six giant muffins or 12 regular size, it is a very easy recipe that never fails.

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Preheat oven to 200 C

You will need:

2 cups plain flour
3 level teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch of sugar
1 cup low fat or fat free milk
4 tablespoons melted butter
4 rashers of bacon, cooked and finely chopped
2 eggs

Sift flour and mix all dry ingredients. Add the bacon and mix well.

Beat the eggs until light and add the milk and melted butter making sure that the butter is not hot. Stir and add into dry mixture only enough to dampen the flour. Do not over mix and the texture should be lumpy.

Pour into muffin cases arranged on a muffin tray.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Leave to cool in muffin tray.

And finally a fresh fruit salad. I am arranging mine on a platter these days as we are blessed on the island with beautiful summer fruit and it is a shame to chop it up too much. I am using yellow peaches, kiwis, nectarines, red plums, banana and white donut peaches. I squeeze a mix of lemon and orange onto the fruit. I think the mixed citrus brings out more flavor in the fruit, however the lemon is a necessity to avoid discoloration.

I love donut peaches, they are so juicy and the flesh comes away from the stone so easily. I used to think they were genetically modified but found out that they originate from China and they are called Pan-tao peaches….They are completely natural !

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Aniseed Knots and Ribbons …

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Since I posted the photo of these beautiful biscuits on Sunday, I am delighted to receive so many messages asking what they are and requests for the recipe by Renato Briffa.

I came across Xkunvat for the first time very recently last Christmas Day at the home of a good friend. She explained that since she was a child, this has always been a family favorite and she carried on the tradition of making them at special family celebrations. Her children and grandchildren also love them even though they are not particularly fond of sweets.

I discovered that most locals on the island do not even know what they are and hope that this tradition will not be forgotten by the next generation !

There are few ingredients in this recipe and they are easy to make but you need time and patience as the whole process is quite time consuming, although I found it therapeutic as it good excuse to have a break and switch off for a few hours, both mentally and physically ! This is not a healthy recipe as traditionally the ribbons are deep fried. I have also tried to oven bake them and although they were good, the end result was not the same.

I always believe there is no harm in treating yourself … special treats in moderation and special occasions …. we deserve it….

You will need:

200g flour
30g vegetable margarine or vegetable lard, I use margarine
30g sugar
3 drops vanilla extract
1 egg
Aniseeds (I use 1 teaspoon crushed seeds and a few drops of aniseed flavor)

Honey for drizzling
Sprinkles, hundreds-and-thousands, sugar confetti of your choice

Vegetable oil for frying

Make the pastry dough: Sieve the flour, cut up the margarine into small pieces and rub in. Add the vanilla, aniseed flavor and seeds. You can use both or just the flavor if you want a smooth biscuit as the seeds will add more texture. I use both in mine. Add the egg and bind together. If necessary add another egg. Wrap in cling film.

Leave in the fridge for half an hour to rest.

Roll out pastry on a floured surface. Cut into strips.
Then tie knots in varying sizes, and you can play around and make bows and twirls.

Prepare them on a tray for frying.

Fill a large pan with oil or use a deep fat fryer. Deep fry the ribbons and drain on lots of kitchen towel to absorb the access oil.

Arrange on platter and drizzle with honey. I like to use the local floral honey that is in season at the moment. Sprinkle sugar confetti of your choice all over. I have been using pastel colours and add sugar butterflies as it looks very pretty.

Cookie Cutter Zucchini, a good idea …

We had a simple lunch of roast chicken yesterday.

I spread the uncooked chicken with Marmite as it is not only a lovely flavor with chicken but it gives the most perfect golden crispy skin and color. Then at the near end of cooking time, I covered it with thin strips of pancetta and returned it to the oven until it was brown and crisp.

We had carrots, broccoli and roast potatoes.

I tried something new and thought it was a good idea. I used a cookie cutter to cut up the zucchini. I liked the result as it was a bit of a change so from time to time I will be using a cookie cutter for my zucchini!

I am using the discarded pieces today to make soup. I steamed the zucchini and tossed them in olive oil with the other vegetables and garnished them with chopped fresh mint. The kids were delighted with them and they looked attractive mixed on the platter with the other steamed vegetables.

A wholesome and healthy meal !

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Maltese Cherry Pastini … a special treat for a local feast ! [gluten free, lactose free]

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Another beautiful bright day, a public holiday celebrating the feast of St Peter and St Paul [Mnarja] with church bells ringing and an air of celebration on the island !

I use Renato’s 6-ingredient/5-minute recipe for Cherry Pastini, soft and moist  with a slightly crispy crust.   If you are not able to eat wheat, these are perfect gluten free cookies.  I like to pipe them or you can also simply roll them in some ground almonds and then slightly press them at the top before adding the glace cherry.

If you wish to reduce the sugar content of these pastini, the best option is Half Spoon because the sweeteners have been incorporated to form part of the sugar crystals and there is  no compromise on taste or texture.

Food brings people together and cherry pastini always disappear very quickly during any celebration.

cherry pastini

This recipe yields 35 to 40 Pastini.
Preheat oven to 160 C

You will need:

250g ground almonds
250g caster sugar [if you are using Half Spoon , use half the amount = 125g]
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
3 drops good vanilla extract
2 egg whites
40 g glacé cherries

I have also added the grated zest of half an orange in mine as I love the flavor of local oranges.
You will also need a piping bag with a star nozzle but this is optional.

In a large bowl mix the ground almonds, sugar, citrus zest and vanilla. Gradually add the egg whites one by one until you achieve a dropping consistency. If the mixture is too dry, it is necessary to add another egg white.

If you are using a piping bag, prepare it with a star nozzle. Line a baking tray with baking paper and pipe the Pastini onto the baking sheet.

If you are not using a piping bag, dust your hands with ground almonds and using a small cookie scoop roll into balls and place onto the baking sheet.

Cut the cherries into quarters and decorate each Pastina with a cherry.

Bake for 15 minutes.

Leave to cool on baking tray.

These Pastini will last for up to a month in an air tight container.

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Trade Enquiries:
Half Spoon Sugar [with half the calories] by Silver Spoon from  Borg & Aquilina
Ground Almonds, vanilla, glace cherries by www.spices.com.mt
Kitchenware, baking tins by Pedrini and Bialetti Telephone: 79415384

Rabbit Loin with Crushed Fennel Seeds and Thyme Honey

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Rabbit is one of the healthiest meats with low cholesterol, low salt and a lower calorific value than most other meats. This recipe was passed on to me by Andrew Borg at Black Pig in Valletta.

Each rabbit loin weighs around 200g so you will need to allow one loin per person.

This very light dish is so different to the more traditional rabbit stews It is lovely with a leaf and tomato salad. It can also be served warm with potatoes and vegetable sides.

You will need:

1 deboned rabbit loin, ask the butcher to prepare it for you
20g olive oil
1 teaspoon honey. I like the flavor of local thyme honey but any honey will do
10g fresh thyme, finely chopped. If this is not available used the dry herb.
2 g crushed fennel seeds
Maldon salt

Rub the rabbit loin with salt and half of the olive oil.
Wrap tightly in cling film.
Poach in simmering water for 12 minutes and cool down quickly in ice cold water.
Prepare a glaze by mixing the honey, thyme and crushed fennel seeds.
Heat a non stick pan with the remaining olive oil and brown the rabbit on all sides.
Pour the honey mixture into the the pan and glaze the rabbit all over.
Serve warm or cool down and serve with a salad.

A straightforward and simple recipe requiring very little prep time. Thank you Andrew !

Apple Galette with cinnamon and honey … super easy…

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I always like to use up my left over pastry immediately as when I leave in the fridge with the good intention of using it ‘one day soon’ it rarely ever happens and I am never organized enough to defrost pastry on time if I freeze it.

So yesterday the leftovers of my almond and walnut tart ended up as a great success. I lined the base of a large pie dish with the left over sweet pastry and using up whatever I had available resulted in a delicious Apple Galette with cinnamon and honey. The great thing about it is that it takes under 10 minutes of prep time but looks impressive. It is also a lightish dessert or tea time treat.

You will need:
A large pie dish or cake tin, you are only covering the bottom, this has no sides.
Left over pastry, any kind, also fine with puff
As many apples as you need, I used 4, thinly sliced, skin on
Nutella or any kind of spread like honey or jam
Cinnamon
Honey
2 tablespoons Caster sugar
Lemon juice if you do not intend to bake this straight away, otherwise you do not need it
A knob of butter

Preheat oven to 175 C

Grease dish and line the bottom only with your left over pastry.
Dock it all over with a fork.
Bake in oven for 10 minutes
Take it out and leave to cool
Lightly spread with jam, honey, caramel or Nutella, very thinly like you are spreading butter on toast. I used Nutella in mine but whatever your preference is.
Thinly slice the apples skin on and arrange neatly on pastry. I like to overlap them.
Melt the knob of butter and trickle it all over the apples.
Mix the cinnamon with the caster sugar. I used heaped tablespoons but you may not like such a strong flavor so simply reduce it. Distribute it over the apples. Do not worry if it is not evenly distributed.
Drizzle on the honey all over and place in the oven for about 25 minutes.

This is super easy to make, tastes fabulous, the pastry base soaks up the juices while baking and the flavors are wonderful and work so well together.

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A Sunday bake … Cherry Cinnamon Almond Tart

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I like to bake something in the weekend. Not only do I find it therapeutic but I like the idea of additive free fresh home baking. Today I have made this tart which is very similar to the strawberry one I posted earlier this week and I have taken out the spices and increased the cinnamon as the combination of cherries, almonds and cinnamon is going to be a winner. I have just taken it out of the oven and it smells divine. The glossy red cherries on the custard filing looks decadent and makes my mouth water just looking at it …

For ease of reference below is the recipe as it is far easier than having to search for the ingredients on the other posting:

Cherry Cinnamon Almond Tart

I use a deep 12 inch tart dish
Heat the oven to 175 C

    For the Sweet Pastry:
    320g flour
    100 g Butter or Margarine
    5g Baking Powder
    80 g Sugar
    70g Water
    Few drops Vanilla Extract
    1 teaspoon ground Cinnamon
    Zest of an 1/2 orange and 1/2 lemon

Sieve flour and baking powder. Rub in butter until mixture is like fine breadcrumbs.
Add vanilla extract, citrus zest, cinnamon and mix in well.
Dissolve the sugar into the cold water. Make well in the middle of the dry ingredients and bring together. Place in cling film in fridge for at least half an hour.
Grease the tart dish and I usually dust it lightly with flour. Roll out pastry and line the bottom of the dish. Dock the pastry with a fork and place in fridge again for at least 15 minutes.
Bake the pastry case blind for about 10 minutes to give it more texture. For a quick way to bake blind without the hassle, look up my posting on baking blind.

    For Almond filling:
    200g Pure Ground Almonds
    150g Sugar
    3 Eggs
    Zest of half a lemon and half an orange
    Few Drops Vanilla Extract
    1 teaspoon Cinnamon Powder

Combine all the dry ingredients and mix in the eggs with a spoon. You want a dropping consistency. Add another egg if necessary. Spread the mixture on the bottom of the tart dish and bake for 15 minutes at 175 C. Leave to cool for two minutes then press the top of tart gently with a metal spoon and allow to cool completely before adding the custard mix.

    For the custard topping:
    1 large can Evaporated Milk
    500 g water
    200 g sugar
    Rind of half an orange and half a lemon
    Pinch of Cinnamon
    Separately, 100 g cornflour mixed in 150 g water
    And of course the cherries, one punnet will do, halved and remove the stone

Gently heat the first four ingredients and bring to a gentle boil stirring with a wooden spoon. Add the cornflour mix and stir while bringing to a gentle boil. Remove from heat immediately and carry on stirring. Pour over the almond filling in the tart and leave it to cool down slightly.

Decorate with halved cherries before the custard cools down completely so that they will set in the tart. Place in fridge. To serve you can either dust lightly with icing sugar or leave without. The glossy cherries are beautiful enough without the sugar…..

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Cherry Cinnamon Almond Tart with a light dusting of icing sugar.