Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Recipe: Maltese pork and aubergine pasta sauce

I have this really old Maltese cookbook that my mum gave to me called Cooking Maltese Cuisine (she in turn was given it by a relative). All the recipes are wonderfully vague and it shows its age when it gives a recipe for Turtle Pie  (the first ingredient is '1 kilo of fresh sea turtle'...). Don't worry, I'm not going to be making anything with sea turtle (interestingly one of my newer Maltese cookbooks lists a recipe for Turtle Pie, but when you turn to the page it's supposed to be on it says something like 'this recipe has been removed because sea turtles are now an endangered species'). But I have decided to try and make some more Maltese dishes in general.

Given the vagueness of the instructions, and the fact that I like to give most recipes my own twist these days, I adapted a recipe from Cooking Maltese Cuisine for 'Spaghetti with aubergines' and made it my own. The original recipe basically involved making a tomato sauce from tomato puree and water, cooking the pork mince in it, and serving it with spaghetti and fried aubergine slices on top. To cut down on washing up I decided to cook my aubergines with the tomato sauce and pork. Et voilá.

Serves 2
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 aubergine, cut into chunks
2 garlic cloves, crushed.
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
250g pork mince
1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato puree
Salt and pepper

1. Heat the olive oil over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook gently for 5 minutes until the onion is starting to soften.
2. Add the aubergine and garlic and cook until the aubergine is brown and starting to soften (5-10 minutes).
3. Stir in the dried mixed herbs and the pork mince. Turn the heat up a little and fry until the pork mince is cooked, stirring frequently.
4. Add the tomatoes and the tomato puree. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring the sauce briefly to the boil and then simmer gently for 20 minutes until the tomato sauce has thickened.

Serve with your choice of pasta.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Recipe: Homemade 'baked' beans and jacket potato

This recipe is a variation on the baked bean recipe that I blogged about a while ago here. And this time I decided to serve it with a jacket potato, which made a simple and hearty meal.

Serves 2
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 30 - 35 minutes (for the beans - jacket potatoes will of course take longer!)

1 tsp rapeseed oil
1 stick of celery, finely sliced
1 carrot, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 heaped tsp smoked paprika
1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 400g tin borlotti beans, drained and rinsed
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat the oil over a medium heat and fry the celery and carrot for 5-10 minutes until they are starting to soften.
2. Add the garlic and cook for a few more minutes.
3. Add the smoked paprika and cook for 1 minute, stirring.
4. Add the tomatoes and Worcestershire sauce. Simmer for 10 minutes.
5. Add the beans and simmer for a further 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve with jacket potatoes.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Recipe: simple lentil and aubergine curry

Inspired by this recipe from Delicious magazine and by what I had in the cupboards/fridge, this very simple 'curry' is healthy and delicious. I love how the aubergine absorbs the flavours.

Tastes better than it looks in this photo...
Serves 2
Prep. time: 10-15 mins
Cooking time: 35-40 mins

1 tbsp oil
1 onion, chopped
1 medium aubergine, cut into chunks
1 green pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
4 tomatoes, chopped
1 heaped tbsp medium curry powder
450ml vegetable stock
100g dried split red lentils
Chopped fresh or frozen coriander

1. Heat the oil over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook for a couple of minutes.
2. Add the aubergine and pepper and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes until the aubergine has browned and is starting to soften.
3. Add the tomatoes and and cook for a further 5-10 minutes until the tomato has started to break down and release its juice. Add the curry powder and stir. Cook for a further 1 minute.
4. Add the stock and the lentils. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until the lentils are soft. Stir frequently and top up with water if necessary.
5. Add the coriander towards the end of cooking time and stir in.

Serve with rice and/or naan bread.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Recipe: Stuffat tal-Majjal (Maltese Pork Stew)

I can't really say how authentic my version of this Maltese dish is, as I adapted it from an online recipe according to what I had in the cupboards.  But then again Maltese recipes seem to vary so much - I don't think there is one definitive way of making any one dish!

Anyway, this was tasty and warming for a chilly August(!) evening. I hope you enjoy my version of this dish.

Simmering the stew...
80g smoked bacon lardons or chopped smoked bacon
300g pork shoulder steaks, cut into chunks
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 carrots, thickly sliced
1 large potato, peeled and roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon dried mixed herbs
1 (generous) tablespoon tomato puree
200ml red wine
500ml vegetable stock
handful of frozen peas (optional)
salt and pepper to season

1. Fry the bacon on a medium-high heat for a minute or two until it starts to release its fat.
2. Add the pork and fry until brown all over.
3. Turn the heat down a bit, and then add the onion, carrots, potato, garlic and dried mixed herbs. Cook for about five minutes, stirring well.
4. Add the tomato puree, stir well so it coats the meat and the vegetables and cook for another two minutes.
5. Pour in the wine and let it bubble for a few minutes until it has reduced a bit.
6. Pour in the stock, put a lid on the saucepan and simmer gently for about an hour and a half until the pork is tender, stirring occasionally.
7. Depending on how thick you want the sauce, you could remove the lid for some of the cooking time to let the sauce reduce and thicken. I usually remove the lid for the last 20 - 30 minutes and let the sauce get quick thick for a more intense flavour - but keep an eye on it and add more water if it starts to reduce too much!
8. If using, add the peas about five minutes before the end of the cooking time.

Serve with chunks of crusty bread.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Restaurant Review: Las Iguanas, Leamington Spa

Las Iguanas is a chain of restaurants serving Latin American food, and the Leamington Spa branch opened recently. We were invited to try out the food, which we did last weekend. 

I liked the decor of the restaurant and the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly. The staff were very helpful and attentive. They gave a good explanation of the various offers that were on and made sure that everything was ok at each stage of our meal.

Given that we arrived just before the end of happy hour, we decided to start our meal with a cocktail each. We chose a pina colada (£6.70) each, which with the buy one get one free happy hour deal was a bargain! It was a good pina colada too - not too thick in texture like some pina coladas are - cool and refreshing for a muggy summer's evening. There are some other amazing-sounding cocktails which do not come under the happy hour deal, so I feel a return visit may be in order at some point!

We ordered a bottle of Chilean red wine with our meal - my husband felt it was a little pricey compared to its quality (£21.60), but I found it very enjoyable and drinkable. I was impressed that the bottle had been warmed before being served to us!

For starters I chose the bread and olives (£3.95). Perhaps not the most exciting dish, but my love of olives gets the better of me sometimes. There was a lot of bread included - I think this would be a good dish for sharing! The olives were good - very soft in texture.

My husband had the Panajillo (£3.30) - a kind of garlic bread with coriander and chilli added. He liked the additional spices, making it a bit different from traditional garlic bread.

When it comes to main meals, there is plenty to choose from (perhaps a little too much choice even). You can have a tapas style meal, a Mexican main meal, a Brazilian meal, or something from further afield. I opted for a Mexican dish this time but I would definitely like to try one of the Brazilian dishes another time - they sound delicious!

I opted for the barbeque and shredded jalapeno steak burrito (£10.95) on this occasion - it was huge!
It was at this point that I began to realise that perhaps the starter had been a mistake... The burrito was tasty, although perhaps a little stodgy (although I suppose that is the nature of burritos). It took a little while for the flavour to hit and at first I was finding a little bland, but eventually the spices started to come through. I liked the spring onion and garlic rice - it was a nice accompaniment. I do wish there had been slightly more guacamole on the plate, though (purely because I love guacamole). I have perhaps had better burritos, but this one certainly wasn't bad.

My husband went for something from the grill section of the menu - the steak Churrasco Fiasco (£14.50). The steak was well cooked, although my husband found it a little too spicy for his palate - but I think that might go for Latin American food in general for him, as he generally doesn't tolerate chilli heat as much as I do!
I was just about to burst from all the food at this point, but it seemed a shame not to try a dessert, particularly as they had churros (£3.50 for 3 or £6 for 6) on the menu. We ordered six to share, although I think I only managed one. They are pretty big, though, and were definitely some of the best churros I have had - very, very crispy and both the dipping sauces (chocolate ganache and dulce de leche) were delicious, although I liked the chocolate one best.

I also decided to have an after dinner drink to accompany the dessert - a rum hot chocolate, which was as yummy as it sounds.

Overall then, this was a good meal, and we'd definitely be willing to return and try some different dishes from the menu, although perhaps I would order slightly less food next time! The prices are on the whole reasonable, the staff are friendly and helpful, the food is tasty, and there is even a separate vegetarian menu if you prefer not to eat meat. Just make sure you are very hungry before you visit!

Disclaimer: We were given a discount on the meal for review purposes. I was not required to write a positive review, and all views are of course my own.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Garden Update: Summer Sowing

Apologies that I haven't been writing much on this blog lately - things were a bit crazy with finishing my Masters degree and then starting a new full-time job (well, technically, it's a traineeship). I also had not done that much with the garden for a while, partly because of the above, and partly because much of what I did sow, got absolutely demolished by slugs. This disheartened me a bit and I lost my gardening mojo for a while.

Having said all that, we did get a very good crop of broad beans, and a fair few peas as well, although on the whole I felt that the broad beans gave a bigger pay-off. We never really got enough peas to make a decent-sized amount for dinner. Both vegetables were delicious, and I really enjoyed growing and eating them.

Broad beans have very pretty flowers


 One of my pea and broad bean harvests
I was able to make some lovely dishes with my harvests including some yummy bowls of Kusksu (Maltese Spring Soup):
Kusksu (Maltese Soup)
My broad beans and peas had been quite early as I had grown them both over Winter, so they'd come to the end of their life recently.

I have got some other things which are still growing as well, though. 

French marigolds


Nasturtiums in the border

More nasturtiums trying to take over the path

Strawberry plant in a hanging basket.
I also set about sowing some more seeds in my raised beds today, which I am hoping will provide me with some tasty vegetables in the Autumn and maybe even into Winter. Seeds sown today were: carrots, coriander, spring onions, rocket, parsley, fennel, swiss chard and kale. Here's hoping the slugs don't eat them all this time!

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Restaurant review: Ye Olde Saracen's Head, Balsall Common

I was recently invited to do a review of Ye Olde Saracen's Head in Balsall Common. My husband had dined there once before and raved about it, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to see if he was right!

The pub has a large amount of seating for diners and has a warm and rustic atmosphere, with a lovely open fireplace. The pub has both a charcoal oven and a woodfired pizza oven, making for some delicious-sounding meals.

To drink we had a quite a sharp-tasting shiraz, which mellowed when mingled with the flavours of our food. Wines start from about £16 a bottle and go up to about £60(!), so there is a wide range to choose from.

To start, I opted for the Charcoal Oven Roasted Marinated duck skewers (£7.50). I was particularly impressed by how well the duck was cooked - so often with these types of meals you get over-cooked, dry duck; the duck in this dish was perfectly cooked - still pink inside and perfectly moist, and the accompanying sauce was sweet and sticky and delicious.

My husband chose the bread and olives (£3.50) for starters. It was presented very well, it tasted good, and was pretty sizeable - it would make a good sharer!

For my main, I had the Hot Josper smoked salmon 'Caesar Salad' (£11.95). This was on the whole a nice dish, but in some ways a little disappointing. The smokiness of the salmon didn't really come through very well - I think it got lost a little amongst the lettuce and the creamy salad dressing. I liked the anchovy croutons, though - they added good texture and flavour, and I like the addition of the poached egg on top.

My husband had the Fillet Charcoal Oven Steak (£25.95) - I tried a bit and it was heavenly. Perfectly browned on the outside and pink and juicy in the middle. The chips were nicely cooked too.
My husband had eaten some of his salad by this point...

On to my favourite course: dessert (all desserts are £5.95). I couldn't resist going for the lemon meringue pie, and I think it was a wise choice. The meringue was beautifully light and the lemon the right mixture of tart and sweet. The fruit was perhaps a little unnecessary, though.

My husband went for the chocolate brownie with ice cream and chocolate sauce. He assures me that it was delicious, but sadly I didn't get to taste any.

Overall, then, we had a lovely time at Ye Olde Saracen's Head. Good food and a warm atmosphere. The service was also good, with the staff being attentive and polite. I am looking forward to a return visit to see how good their pizza oven is!

Disclaimer: This meal was complimentary for review purposes. I was not required to write a positive review, and all views are of course my own.