A taste of New York…. baked ricotta cheesecake !

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A typical New York cheesecake is made with cream cheese and sour cream but mine today is a taste of Italian New York.

The best cheesecake I ever tasted was a ricotta baked cheesecake from Venieros in New York. This is where you can also get sugar free cookies and carb free cakes if you are watching your calories !

I remember coming back home after my visit and trying to make a similar baked ricotta cheesecake and this is now one of my favorite desserts. You can leave it plain or top it with fruit and give it a glaze. It is a good basic recipe and you can be creative and add chocolate or other flavorings and toppings. I like the slight grittiness in the texture that the ricotta gives and it has more flavor than the smooth and satiny cream cheese version.

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You will need :

22cm springform cake tin

For the sour cream pastry
200g butter, cut into cubes
250g flour
125 ml sour cream, I used plain yoghurt this time and the result was great

For the cheesecake filling:
4 eggs, separated
700 g ricotta
80ml cream
200g sugar
Few drops vanilla
Zest of 1 lemon

Icing sugar, for dusting or this time I used fruit and glazed it with warm apricot jam

To make the pastry rub the butter and flour until it looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the sour crea, and mix into the dough using a palette knife. Add sour cream and give it a few more pulses until the dough comes together. Wrap the dough in cling film and store in the fridge 30 minutes.

Roll the dough into 3mm thickness, make sure it is wide enough to cover the bottom of the tin. Drape the pastry over the tin, then gently press the pastry to sides to fill all corners, let the excess hang over the edges of the tin. Place the tin in refrigerator to let it set.

Beat the ricotta mixer on high speed until light and fluffy. Turn the speed down to low, then add the egg yolks and keep beating until combined and there are no lumps.

In a clean large mixing bowl, add egg white and sugar, whisk until soft peak. Pour the cheesecake mixture into the meringue, fold gently until combined.

Preheat oven to 180C. Remove the springform tin lined with pastry from the refrigerator, pour the cheese mixture into the tin but without filling to the top, by leaving an inch from the top.

Bake the cheesecake in the oven for 1 hour. Then let the cheesecake cool in oven. Remove from tin and transfer to refrigerator to let it set overnight.

Dust icing sugar or decorate with fruit and glaze with warm apricot jam.

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I used the same recipe adding a spoon of cornstarch to the ingredients above with a digestive biscuit base instead of the pastry and simply dusted icing on the top.

A successful fusion of cultures so far apart … Wontons from the heart of the Mediterranean!

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Last week I bought some Chinese ingredients from the local Asian food store and was about to make some traditional Chinese wontons when I spotted a tub of fresh local ricotta in the fridge and wondered if sweet ricotta wontons would work.

I like a bit of a twist in my cooking, nothing too experimental but a slight surprise, just a bit different to the norm keeping everyone interested, a sweet Mediterranean Wonton. I used a tub of fresh local ricotta and sweetened it with a mix of thyme honey and carob syrup which I made in July and added commercially made candid peel rather than use my home made one as i want the same colorful appearance that one finds in the cannoli that are made on the island. I also used cinnamon and vanilla.

250g ricotta yields 45 mini wontons. It is important not to fill them too much and to moisten the edges without overdoing it to close the pastry and retain a good shape. I laid the wontons out on a tray well covered in cling film and froze them. As soon as I deep fry them, I will include photos of my finished product which I hope will be enjoyed by my colleagues at the newspaper who can be my guinea pigs today ! And I look forward to finding out how much these will appeal and whether I should be making them regularly …..

For the filling, mix all the ingredients together and you will need :
250 g ricotta, mashed up with a fork
1 spoon Thyme Honey or alternative
1 spoon carob syrup or use more honey if carob syrup is not available
3 spoons commercially bought colorful candid peel
Pinch of Cinnamon
Pinch of Vanilla

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Wonton skins are readily available from local Asian food stores. Defrost them well.

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Lay out the wonton skin on a glass board.

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Place a small amount of filling in the centre of the wonton in a rectangular shape.

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Dip the tip of your finger into some water and moisten one side of the wonton skin. Do not overdo it as this will spoil the shape of the wonton and make it soggy, you merely want to seal it.

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Dod the wonton in half and gently press the two sides so that they bind together.

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Fold the wonton lengthwise without sealing it further. With the tip of your finger gently wet the tip at one corner of the pastry, twist and seal the two tips together.

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Until you get this shape. Make sure the tips are securely sealed.

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Lay out the wontons neatly on cling film on a tray. You can freeze them and fry them at your convenience.

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Today’s tea time treat…. Fig and Hazelnut Tart… can’t wait

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The pomegranates are beautiful on the trees soaking up the Mediterranean sun and will surely be ready to cut next week.

I am baking a tart for tea today and am using a fig compote I made in August when figs were abundant and I preserved them is all forms imaginable. I think everyone loves figs and they are a crowd pleaser. I am including a recipe for a fig compote that can be made using dried figs found in any food store so that you are able to bake this tart at any time of the year. I am using chopped hazelnuts in the pastry shell and you should end up with a crunchy yet soft cookie crust topped with gooey figs…

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You will need :

A loose bottomed 10 -12 inch tart tin

Pre heat oven to 170C

For the sweet hazelnut pastry :

480g plain flour
300g butter or margarine
100g sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 spoons water, you may not need to add this
A few drops good vanilla essence
Zest of one lemon
2 tablespoons chopped hazelnuts and extra chopped hazel it’s 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 sugar, pinch of salt, vanilla and lemon zest and mix
Add the beaten eggs and bring together with a knife
Add a few drops of water if necessary to achieve the right consistency.
Add the hazelnuts and knead into the dough
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. There is no need to grease it as the pastry has a high fat content.
Pierce the pastry evenly and there is no need to bake it blind.

For the fig compote

500g dried figs, chopped up, I like mine in large chunks
Zest and juice of one lemon and orange
1 spoon sugar or 1 spoon honey
1/2 cup wine, whatever is available white, red or rose
1 cup water
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh time, do not use the dry variety, simply leave out if not available

Soak the figs in wine with bay leaf, thyme and citrus zest for an hour or overnight in the fridge if you prefer
Place in a saucepan over medium heat with the sugar or honey and water
Stir and keep an eye on it so that it does not stick to the bottom. Add water if necessary, you do not want it too dry.
Bring to a boil and reduce heat and leave on a gentle boil for 10 minutes.
Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Spoon the cool compote into the pastry shell. Sprinkle chopped hazelnuts and bake in a moderate oven at 170C for 45 minutes. After 30 minutes check the oven and move the dish to achieve an even colored crust.

If you have left over compote its delicious with oat cakes and a blue cheese such as Roquefort or Gorgonzola.

This is delicious served hot or cold and can be stored in an airtight container for a week and in the freezer for three months. We like ours fresh !

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The sweet hazelnut pastry dough
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how to make a perfect hazelnut crust

Penne with local sausage, cherry tomatoes and Rukola

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A peaceful Saturday night, as the sun sets on the jewel in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea, it’s time to make a simple pasta supper using local pork sausages.

These are wonderful with black peppercorns, whole coriander seeds, garlic and parsley and the aroma while they cook stimulates even the feeblest of appetites ! And if you do not live on the island and have no access to these heavenly sausages oozing with flavor, this dish is delicious using a continental type sausage such as Toulouse .

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You will need :

Penne, allow 75 to 120g per portion depending on appetites
Maltese Sausages, allow 1/2 per person, skin removed chopped up
Cherry tomatoes, allow 5 to 8 per person, cut into quarters
Rukola, according to your preference, I used about 10 leaves per person, torn up not chopped
Whole dried chilis, allow 1 per 2 portions, cut up
Dried Oregano, allow 1/4 teaspoon for 2 portions
Dried flaked garlic, allow two flakes per portion, chopped up
1 tablespoon light single cream per two portions
6 tablespoons white or rose wine per two portions
Salt
Freshly Ground Pepper
Drizzle of olive oil
Freshly grated Gran Padano

Cook the pasta in plenty salted water, and follow the cooking time instructions on your pack.
In a saucepan, heat up a touch of olive oil and cook the sauce eat on gentle heat until browned together with the garlic flakes.
Add the chili, oregano and cook further.
Add the wine, cook and reduce.
Add the single light cream, just a touch, the dish should not appear creamy and cook further.
Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
Drain the pasta.
Add the sauce and mix with the pasta.
Add the cherry tomatoes and arugula
Plate the pasta and top with a fresh light grating of Gran Padano.
Serve immediately.

Joseph’s Frangipane and Chocolate Tart

I spent the morning with  Joseph Borg, a very talented pastry chef ! 20130917-220423.jpg

 

And we made his special Almond and chocolate tart !

 

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Mixing the pastry dough

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Kneading the dough

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Piping the frangipan mix into the tart shell

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Adding the chocolate spread to the frangipan mix

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Stirring in the chocolate

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Piping in the chocolate frangipan

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Walnuts for the surface !

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The baked tart with a glaze

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Blow torch the orange segments !

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With the glazed apple and figs and caramelized orange …

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Frangipan and Chocolate Tart !

You will need :

10 – 12 inch tart dish with a loose bottom

For the pastry:
650g flour
400 g butter
200g sugar
1 egg
65 ml water

Cream the butter and sugar in a mixer. Mix together the eggs and water. Gradually add the beaten eggs and water.
Add flour and beat in.
This pastry does not need to rest and can be used straightaway ! It is also best used on the day it’s made rather than storing it in the freezer or fridge.
Dust your work surface with flour and knead the pastry lightly dusting with extra flour. This pastry has a wonderful satiny feel and is lovely to work with.
Roll it out with a rolling pin to a thickness of 5mm.
Neatly cover the bottom of the tart dish. This pastry is rich in butter and you will not need to grease the tart dish.

For the filling:
300g butter
300g sugar
1 liter beaten eggs
350g ground almonds
100g flour
Orange and lemon zest
Walnuts or almonds to decorate surface
100g chocolate spread

Preheat oven to 170 C
Cream the butter and sugar in a mixer. Gradually add beaten eggs and citrus zest.
Add the flour and ground almonds and mix in well.
Split the mixture into 2 and add the chocolate spread to half of the mixture.
Using a piping bad pipe strips of plain frangipane mix into the tart shell leaving a gap to strips of the chocolate frangipane mix in between. If you do not wis to use a piping bag, spoon the mixture neatly.
Decorate the surface with whole almonds or walnuts.
Bake in a preheated oven for 40 minutes.
Allow to cool and brush with some heated apricot jam for a glazed surface.
Decorate with fruit of your choice. Joseph used caramelized oranges, apples and figs.

Chinese again today ! Home Made Spring Rolls with Pork and Asparagus Tips …

I bought ingredients for Chinese food last week. There are now a number of excellent oriental food stores on the island run by Chinese people and its possible to find all the authentic ingredients. I get so excited when I go to these shops and have to restrain myself from buying too much !

I made the spring rolls last night and used Ving’s recipe and instructions. They were excellent and I still have a few in the fringe which will be great heated up at lunch time today.

There are a few simple tricks to achieving a fantastic rather than mediocre spring roll and I will be sharing them with you here. I am posting step by step photos with the recipe to follow. They can be frozen and cooked at a later date. I loved making them !

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The spring roll pastry can be found in the freezer section of the food store !

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Defrost by following the instructions on the pack and pull apart, the pastry won’t tear !

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Lay a sheet of pastry diagonally and place some filling at the tip in a rectangular shape. Drain as much of the liquid as possible so that the do not become soggy. The sheet has a rough and smooth side. Keep the smooth side on the outer side.

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Roll the pastry very neatly making sure there are no air pockets …

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Tidy neat little packages !

Fold neatly.

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Fold again.

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It should look like a neat envelope. With the tip of your finger wet the tip with water, close and secure .

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It took me about an hour to make them.

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Cover with cling film if you are going to freeze them very securely so that the do not dry up and keeping space between each spring roll so that they do not stick together.

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Crispy after deep frying. I served mine with some dipping sauces…. soy sauce and strawberry chili jam which I made a few weeks ago.

Quick weekday meal: Fresh Asparagus Soup

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I prepared this soup last evening so that I can have an early morning start. It seems such a luxury to be making soup purely out of asparagus tips but I am using up my bulk buying from the wholesale vegetable market. I am not giving quantities with this recipe as I was lucky to have an unrealistic amount of asparagus this time and you must remember that there is no magic formula with this type of purée soup but simply use what is conveniently available.

This is a quick to prepare meal and I am serving mine with fresh croutons and Parmegiano Reggiano.

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You will need :

Asparagus, washed and cut
Potatoes, peeled and roughly cut
Onion, roughly chopped, do not overdo it with the quantity as this will distort the taste
Garlic, roughly chopped, allow one small clove for every four portions
Vegetable stock cubes, allow one stock cube for every four portions
Single cream, one spoon per four portions, this is optional
Skimmed Milk, enough to reach the consistency of your choice
Butter, tip of a teaspoon per four portions and this is optional
Freshly Grated Parmegiano Reggiano, allow one tablespoon per four portions
Freshly ground pepper
Maldon Salt

To garnish : I am using fresh croutons and a sprinkle of Parmegiano Reggiano

In a large pot, place the onion, garlic and potatoes in the vegetable stock. Add enough water to cover the vegetables well. Bring to a boil, simmer and cover.
When the potatoes have softened, add the asparagus but keep some aside to add later. This gives the soup more crunch and texture.
Cover pot and allow the asparagus to cook and soften in the steam for not more than 5 minutes.
Allow to cool and use a hand held blender to make a purée. Add the single cream and Parmegiano Reggiano and blend further. The blended Parmegiano gives it a wonderful flavor. If the soup is too thick, add skimmed milk and blend until it reaches the consistency that you like.
Finally add the butter, just a very little and you can leave this out completely, but I think it rounds off the flavor beautifully and gives it a smoother texture.
Season with freshly ground pepper and Maldon Salt.
In a saucepan cover the bottom with water and bring to a boil. Add the asparagus that you have kept aside. Cover and steam the, for a few minutes only so that they retain their color and crunch. Add to the pureed soup.
You can leave overnight in the fridge as the flavor improves and serve the next day with a garnish of fresh croutons and grated Parmegiano Reggiano.

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The asparagus with the potatoes, onion and garlic before blending.

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Gluten free Polenta Drizzle Cake with Mediterranean lemons …..divine….

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I am usually in the mood for baking on a Sunday, something for tea time at home.

Sunday is very much a family day on the island, gatherings, tea time visits and lots of catching up. Catholicism is deep rooted and this is an island where religion remains part of everyday life with over 350 churches in a small space. The older generation are devout and prayerful and I was so touched to see a cave dedicated to the Madonna of Lourdes in the middle of nowhere in the open countryside with people at the shrine deep in prayer and devotion at daytime during a normal weekday. Each village and town has a patron saint and with great pride celebrate with festas, special masses and fireworks. This gives a sense of community, a sense of good morals and decency and a sense of identification. It instils good old fashioned values in the younger generation and makes the island a special place to be.

I am making a drizzle cake today using local Mediterranean lemons and polenta instead of flour so it makes it suitable for a wheat free diet. It is moist, light and a quick bake that gives a homely good feeling. It is a straightforward and easy to make and I am so looking forward to sharing it with my family this afternoon. You must eat it when it’s fresh, within 3 days of baking …. mine disappears very quickly ….

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You will need :

175 g soft butter
175 g sugar
75g polenta or ground cornmeal
3 large eggs, beaten
175g ground almonds
2 lemons, zest and juice
30 g caster sugar for drizzle syrup
1 tsp baking powder

22 cm round springform tin or equivalent. Today I have doubled the quantities and I am using a large rectangular sheet pan

Preheat oven to 160 C

Grease the tin and line it with baking paper
Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy.
Gradually add the beaten eggs and mix in well.
Add the polenta and ground almonds and mix in using a metal spoon.
Fold in the lemon zest and baking powder.
The batter is stiff.
Place the mixture in the prepared tin and smooth the surface using a palette
Bake for about 45 to 55 minutes. Do not expect it to rise much. Check by inserting a skewer.
For the syrup Place the lemon juice and sugar in a pan and heat until sugar is dissolved. Add half the lemon zest.
Take the cake out of the pan and using a skewer poke the top of the cake while it is still warm. Pour the hot lemon syrup a little at a time over the top of the cake. When the cake has soaked the syrup, transfer on to a cake stand and garnish with the rest of the grated lemon rind.
You can also serve this with a mix of Greek yoghurt and sour cream, equal quantities mixed together, even more delicious ….

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Stored in a jar…chili, honey and rosemary nut mix….

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It’s always good to have a snack that is available to have with drinks and I prefer buying nuts and dried fruit completely additive and flavor free and making my own mix with herbs or spices that take my fancy.

I made this mix using chili, honey and rosemary and I store them in airtight jars. The flavors are delicious and it is very easy to eat the whole lot in one go so you will need a bit of self discipline! I find that they last for up to a month depending on local weather conditions.

You will need :
A mix of nuts, quantity and selection according to preference, I used whole almonds, flaked almonds, chopped hazelnuts
Coconut Flakes
Dried Rosemary
Chili flakes, finely chopped
Honey
Maldon Salt

Dry roast the chopped chili flakes and rosemary in a heavy pan on high heat. Add the nut mix and half the coconut flakes. Do not leave it on the heat while you are doing something else as they brown very quickly.

Add a drizzle of honey, stir and remove from pan.

Add some Maldon salt and the unroasted coconut flakes. I like leaving half the flakes unroasted as the color and texture make the mix more interesting.

Allow to cool and store in airtight jars.

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The last of the prickly pears on the island

Mediterranean Ploughmans with homemade Grape Port and Fennel Jelly

I picked grapes this week and could not help noticing that fresh fennel grows all around the grapes. This inspired me to create a grape and fennel jelly with port that is delicious served with cheese and I am sure it will also be great with meats like lamb. I served the jelly yesterday with Manchego and local sourdough, a good Mediterranean Ploughman’s.

The local grapes are delicious, a wonderful flavor, not particularly large … they are not seedless and have been left to grow naturally, with no pesticide, in the wilderness of the open countryside. I find the flavor and texture quite unique.

And what makes this jelly so good ? I believe in using only very fresh ingredients, literally from the tree straight into the pan. I picked the grapes and fennel early in the morning and they were cooking in my large preserve kettle within two hours. Right at the end of the cooking process, I added some good port wine and wow ! The freshness and full flavors are captured and stored in a jar….

Here are some beautiful photos of the process and you will see how easy it is to make it at home. I hope that you will be as lucky as I am and able to experience using your local fruits as there is nothing better than fresh and locally sourced. The fruits of this tiny island have been nurtured by the Mediterranean sun and soil and remain unique !

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Freshly cut local grapes and fennel

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The grapes are washed and destemmed

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With a hand held blender

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Breaking up the grapes without overdoing it, but leaving a lot of texture

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Bringing the grapes to a boil

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Adding the fresh fennel

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Mediterranean Ploughmans with local Sourdough bread, roasted almonds and grape fennel and port jelly

Chinese today …. Potstickers for starters !

Potstickers ….gyoza,…. fresh dumpling pastries…. can’t wait to eat them…20130910-125403.jpg

I was reading about the World Economic Summit in China in the local press today http://www.independent.com.mt/articles/2013-09-09/news/pm-departs-for-world-economic-forum-in-china-2539913216/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=facebook and I realize how long it’s been since I cooked something Chinese.

When my children were born we had a lovely Filipino who was part of our family for nearly 5 years. She was an excellent cook and my kids were brought up eating Chinese and Filipino feasts every day. What a treat that was. She taught me a lot, including all her family cooking secrets passed down from generation to generation.

So I have bought my ingredients for wontons and spring rolls but another surprise from my daughter today as she has made me some gyozas which she has just brought around and has shared her recipe with me….

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You will need :

20 gyoza wrappers
Half a small cabbage, finely shredded
4 spring onions, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon finely grated ginger
100 g minced pork
1 egg
1 egg white
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
Vegetable oil for frying

Wrap the shredded cabbage in a tea towel and try to wring out as much water as possible.
Mix all the ingredients together by hand with the exception of the vegetable oil for frying and the gyoza wrappers.

Lay a gyoza wrapper in front of you. Wet all the edges with a brush dipped in water. Place a teaspoon of filling in the middle of the wrapper. Fold the sides up to form a semicircle, and then pinch the edges to seal. Continue with the rest of the gyoza wrappers until the filling is gone.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a heavy frying pan over medium heat. Cook for 2 minutes, or until golden brown on the bottom.

Add 1/2 cup of water to the pan. Cover the dumplings and cook until the water is absorbed. Ours took about 5 minutes.

Serve immediately….

So sweet of my daughter….. Barefoot Contessa’s Spanish Pea Soup with Crispy Ham

For a vegetarian option, omit the crispy ham.20130910-083950.jpg

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In the middle of a busy day I dropped in to have a quick coffee with my daughter in between appointments. And she surprised me with a lovely light lunch. We both love Ina Garten’s food www.barefootcontessa.com/ and she made me Spanish Pea Soup with Crispy Ham which she slightly changed from The Barefoot Contessa Book Foolproof http://www.barefootcontessa.com/cookbooks_details.aspx?CookbookID=33. She presented it beautifully, identical to Ina’s picture. She is already an even better cook than I am !

The soup makes a light and healthy lunch and serves 2.

You will need:

One small packet frozen peas
2 shallots
1 clove garlic
1 vegetable stock cube in 350 ml water
Some olive oil
Maldon Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 slices Jamon Serrano

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil and cook the shallots until tender. Add the frozen peas and stock.
Season and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes. Purée with a hand held blender leaving it slightly course. Heat again and adjust seasoning.

Place the Jamon Serrano slices on a flat plate and microwave until crispy. Use to garnish and drizzle a few drops of olive oil before serving.

Believe me, it’s delicious !

And this is a photo of Ina’s soup from her book Foolproof.

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A clear summer day, and how lucky we are !

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