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.

Easiest ever slow cooked Roast Leg of Lamb for Sunday Lunch ….

Renato’s strawberry and almond tart

Renato's strawberry tart

Renato’s strawberry tart [Photo: James Bianchi]

Renato’s luscious tart has a crispy biscuit base spread with an almond paste and topped with a layer of old fashioned custard and lots of fresh strawberries. Watch out for Strawberry Festival next weekend.

Strawberry and 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
Pinch of Cinnamon
Pinch Ground Cloves
Zest of an orange and lemon
Sieve flour and baking powder. Rub in butter until mixture is like fine breadcrumbs.
Add vanilla extract, citrus zest, ground cinnamon and cloves 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.
I usually like to bake the pastry case blind for about 10 minutes to give it more texture. Renato skips this stage for his tart. It is just a matter of preference.

For Almond filling:
I like a thick almond layer at the base of my tart, however if you prefer a thinner layer, reduce the ingredients by half and you will have enough mixture to spread at the bottom and give the same flavour.
200g Pure Ground Almonds
150g Sugar
3 Eggs
Zest of half a lemon and half an orange
Few Drops Vanilla Extract
Pinch Cinnamon Powder
Pinch Cloves
Combine all the dry ingredients and mix in the eggs with a spoon. Spread the mixture on the bottom of the tart dish and bake for 10 to 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
Separately, 100 g cornflour mixed in 150 g water
And of course the strawberries, as many or as few as you like
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 strawberries before it cools down completely so that they will set in the tart. Place in fridge. To serve you can either dust lightly with icing sugar for a more rustic look or for Renato’s finish brush with an apricot glaze made up of 100g Apricot Jam, 20 g Water and 15 g sugar.

Infused Water: Orange, Rose Peppercorn and Basil

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One of the many beautiful churches in the Capital of this small island at dawn today …

When I returned home after my very early walk in the Capital City this morning, I drank a couple of glasses of refreshing infused water which I make daily and refrigerate overnight. I use lidded glass spaghetti jars as they fit perfectly in the shelf of the fridge door… This is a totallly natural drink if you are a fan of flavored waters.

To make this, you will need:

Two oranges, I used blood red ones but if not available the regular ones are fine
Rose peppercorns
Fresh basil leaves
A large bottle of still mineral water

Squeeze one of the oranges and chop the other one into small segments with the skin on. Crush a few rosé peppercorns to extract the full flavor and leave a few of them whole. On the island they grow abundantly but you can find them in most stores. Tear a few basil leaves roughly, do not chop up with a knife as they will discolor. Fill up jar with mineral water and stir everything into it. Cover with lid and put in the fridge overnight if possible, or at least for 6 to 8 hours. I usually top up the jar twice during the day with water and keep two jars in the fridge at any one time so that I always have the infusion available to drink.

Thirst quenching, full of flavor and a natural source of Vitamin C.
I stopped drinking carbonated and low calorie artificial drinks a year ago and limit them to a treat once in a while ….

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Quick weekday meal: Roasted Vegetables …

Muffins … A healthier version packed with goodness …

I have started making muffins regularly with a variety of fresh fruit…. They are ideal for breakfast or a light lunch with a pot of fresh yoghurt. I cut down the sugar content and I add a different fresh fruit combination each time I bake.

This is the standard recipe I use and add fruit, nuts and other flavours:

Ingredients
60 g unsalted butter
280 g self raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
50 g honey
1 egg
250g (ml) skimmed milk

This makes 12 muffins.

Preheat oven to 180 C

Melt butter on low heat and put aside. Beat the egg in a separate bowl.
Sift the flour and baking into a large bowl.
Stir in the sugar
Add the milk to the melted butter and mix into the flour mixture.
Add the egg. Draw in the dry ingredients without overmixing.
Place muffin cases in muffin tin and put in a spoon of batter in each case.
Spoon in the fruit of your choice and see below for instructions and finished photos.
Top up with plain batter mix and sprinkle with more of the fruit mix.
Bake for about 20 minutes.
The muffins will be quite soft when you take them out of the oven because of the fresh fruit but they will firm up when they cool down.

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Apple and Cinnamon Muffins. Finely chop up two apples with the skin on. Squeeze some fresh lemon and add a teaspoon of cinnamon. When they are cooked garnish with some thin apple slides. I griddle mine while I am waiting for the muffins to cook as I think they look very attractive.

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Lemon and Sesame Seed Muffins. Add the grated rind of a lemon and two tablespoons of toasted sesame seeds into the standard muffin mix. Grate the rind of another lemon and mix with another tablespoon of toasted sesame seeds. Sprinkle half of this misted pre baking and keep the other half for garnishing after you take them out of the oven.

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Strawberry Muffins. You will need a large tub of strawberries. Keep 6 aside for garnish and chop up the rest into small pieces. Add to the muffin mix and bake. When cool, cut the remaining strawberries in half and use to garnish the muffin. I like to keep the stem on for garnishing…

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Peach and Vanilla Muffins. Chop up two peaches with skin on into small pieces. Add to muffin mix, add a few drops of vanilla extract and bake. Keep aside a third peach for garnish and shop into thin slices and arrange on muffin after it cools down.

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Orange and Pistachio Muffins. Grate the rind of two oranges. Remove rind and segment the oranges. Chop roughly. Add half to the muffin mix together with the grated rind and finely chopped pre baking add the rest of the mix on top. Garnish with orange segments and a light sprinkle of finely chopped pistachios.

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Almond and Cranberry Muffins. Add two spoons of ground almonds and two spoons of dried cranberries to the muffin mix. Sprinkle some roasted slivered almonds pre baking.

Optional for all muffins. You can lightly dust with some icing sugar before serving…..

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It’s sunny and glorious today on this beautiful island in the Mediterranean …

A light Pasta Lunch… Healthy Macaroni Bolognaise

Hazlenut and Thyme Honey Tart…. Celebrate Father’s Day !