Catania, Sicily

We’ve just returned after our week-long holiday exploring the east coast of Sicily. What a great country, full of surprises. Before we even left, we had a surprise – Etna started to erupt the day before our departure. Luckily, it didn’t affect out flights. Actually it was just a bonus for us, to see it quietly bubbling away, spitting the lava it was something magical. (Note: it wasn’t bad eruption, no-one injured, so it’s all good!)

Our trip started in Catania, Sicily’s second city. Catania is vibrant, loud, full of traffic, shabby but beautiful! It is like ginormous hot pot, with Etna on top, literally bubbling at the time we were there.

I read somewhere an interesting fact that Ancient Greeks believed Mount Etna to be the home of Vulcan, the god of fire. To the Ancient Greeks, every time Mount Etna erupted, it was merely a sign that their god of fire Vulcan was creating weapons for their God of War, Mars. Despite the frequent volcanic activity, people still choose to live in the vicinity of Mount Etna though.

 

 

 

Green Chicken Curry

With its delicious mix of flavours – mint, spinach, coriander, it is a great curry, which will keep you wanting more. Not only is it packed with all of the wonderful herbs and spices, but it has a punch of fibre, iron and vitamins from the dose of spinach.

Green Chicken curry

GREEN CHICKEN CURRY

(Adapted from Simon Rimmer’s recipe)

Ingredients:

3 skinless chicken breasts, cut into chunks

about 200g potatoes, cut into cubes, blanched in boiling water for 5 minutes, drained

3 tablespoons frozen peas

lime wedges, to garnish

rice or naan bread, to serve

curry paste:

1 onion

3 green bird’s eye chillies

3 garlic cloves

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons tamarind paste

1 teaspoon ground coriander

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

green sauce:

400g spinach leaves

1 bunch of fresh coriander

good handful of mint

400ml coconut milk

Method:

  1. To make a curry paste, in a food processor, blend the onion, chillies, garlic, sugar, tamarind paste and ground coriander to a fine paste.
  2. In a large saucepan heat the oil, add the curry paste and gently fry for about 5 minutes.
  3. To make the sauce, in a food processor, mix the spinach, fresh coriander, mint and coconut milk. Add this sauce to saucepan with the paste and bring to the boil. Then reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes – you may need to add a little water or stock to thin it down – then season with salt.
  4. Add the chicken pieces to the sauce and simmer for about 30 minutes or until cooked through, adding the blanched potatoes about 10 minutes in and cooking them until tender and cooked. Add the frozen peas for the last 5 minutes.
  5. Serve with rice or naan bread, garnished with limes and more fresh coriander, if you wish.

Winter Slaw with Herbs and Pomegranate

Fresh, bright, full of goodness salad to brighten up your winter dinner.

Winter Slaw with Pomegranate

WINTER SLAW WITH HERBS AND POMEGRANATE

Ingredients:

1/2 medium head of white cabbage, finely shredded

1/2 teaspoon salt

juice of 1 lemon

1 small batch of parsley, finely chopped

even smaller batch of mint, finely chopped

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

seeds from 1/2 – 1 head of pomegranate (depends on the size, optional)

Method:

Place the shredded cabbage in a bowl, sprinkle the salt on it, mix and allow to sit for 15 minutes, until it starts to soften. Add the lemon juice, herbs, oil and mix well. Taste, season well with salt and adjust to taste. It should be sharp and lemony. At the end, sprinkle the pomegranate seed on top, if using. Enjoy!

Panna Cotta with Thyme, Lemon and Blueberries

This is one of the easiest recipe for creamy panna cotta, infused with thyme and lemon, and served with berry sauce.

Panna Cotta with Thyme, lemon and blueberries

PANNA COTTA WITH THYME, LEMON AND BLUEBERRY SAUCE

(Based on Simon Rimmer’s recipe)

For panna cotta:

3 gelatine leaves

250 ml milk

250 ml double cream

1/4 cup sugar

about 3-4 sprigs of thyme

1/2 lemon zest

For blueberry sauce:

1 cup blueberries

1/4 sugar

1 teaspoon lemon juice

water, if needed to thin out the sauce

Method:

  1. Soak the gelatine leaves in a little cold water, set aside until soft.
  2. Place the milk, cream, sugar lemon zest and fresh thyme into a pan and bring to a simmer. Remove the thyme springs and discard.

  3. Squeeze the water out of the gelatine leaves, then add to the pan and take off the heat. Stir until the gelatine has dissolved.

  4. Divide the mixture among four ramekins and leave to cool. Place into the fridge for at least an hour, until set.

  5. To make the sauce place the blueberries and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and the blueberries are hot and popped. Remove from heat and add in the lemon juice. Add water, if needed, to achieve the proper consistency. Allow to cool completely before topping the panna cotta.
  6. To serve, turn each panna cotta out onto a serving plate. Spoon over the sauce and garnish with more fresh blueberries.

Baked Lamb Meatballs in Tahini Sauce

Baked Lamb Meatballs in Tahini Sauce

Although we don’t eat lamb (or meat in general) very often, if I had to choose, lamb definitely would be one of my favourites. I like slow roasting the shoulder or leg of lamb, but I’ve never cooked a rack of lamb before, somehow I worry that I’ll mess the timing up and it’ll be dry and chewy. Luckily there are plenty of other ways to enjoy lamb, like these baked lamb meatballs. I’ve been experimenting with these meatballs lately, adding different spices, and so far I like this way the best. Especially the addition of cinnamon and ginger makes such a big difference. Another advantage of this dish is that it takes no time to cook, but you’ll have dish full of flavours.

BAKED LAMB MEATBALLS IN TAHINI SAUCE

Ingredients:

500g lamb mince

1 onion, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/3 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 cup fresh coriander, chopped

For the sauce:

1/2 cup tahini

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

salt & pepper to taste

chopped fresh mint/ pistachios to serve (optional)

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C.
  2. In a large bowl mix together the lamb, onion, garlic, spices, olive oil and coriander, using metal spoon or just using your hands. Shape the mixture into the meatballs and arrange them in a single layer in a baking dish.
  3. Bake for 10 minutes. Meanwhile the meatballs in the oven, combine the tahini, lemon juice, cumin and slowly add 3/4 cup of water to create a smooth sauce. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Pour the sauce over the partially baked meatballs and bake for another 10-15 minutes, until meatballs are thoroughly cooked. The sauce will look like a thick glaze.  Garnish with chopped nuts or mint. Serve with boiled rice/spinach pilau rice or lentil.

Baked Lamb Meatballs in Tahini Sauce

Peanut Butter & Chocolate Crunch Cake

This tray bake is for anyone who really likes peanut butter, just like my boyfriend, who can eat it with a spoon from the jar, instead of lunch, occasionally. The bake has both peanut butter in the cake mixture and also in the contrasting chocolate layering, which will swirl by itself when in the oven. For extra texture, you can scatter some chopped peanuts on the chocolate layer. I used crunchy peanut butter for the filling and smooth for the base mixture. The cake is dense, so better serve with cream or even  ice cream, to take it to the next level.

This recipe is taken from ‘Baked in America’ book, which I found rather good. It is full of exiting recipes that I never heard of, like Pennsylvania Dutch spice loaf or Nutmeg coffee cake. I’m not a massive fan of cheesecakes but the Almond Cherry one caught my attention. And I am intrigued to try the author’s version of Apple Cake which he suggests to serve with lemon curd.

The one thing that slightly concerns me however is that the majority of their recipes have a shocking amount of sugar. For instance, this one required 450g of sugar. I’m afraid I had to cut down more then half and it was just fine.

Peanut Butter & Chocolate Crunch cake

PEANUT BUTTER AND CHOCOLATE CRUNCH CAKE

Ingredients:

For the chocolate/peanut swirl:

150g semi-sweet chocolate

1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter

For the crumbs & batter:

3 cups plain flour

3/4 cup light brown sugar

200g butter, softened

1 cup smooth peanut butter

3 eggs

1 cup milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/3 baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

cream/ice-cream for serving (optional)

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Butter a 30 x 23 x 5 cm baking tin and line with the parchment paper.
  2. To make the swirl, in a small pan melt the chocolate and peanut butter over a gentle heat, stirring often until all melted and smooth. Set aside.
  3. Then, in a big bowl, combine together flour, sugar, butter and peanut butter with an electric mixer until coarse crumbs form. Take away about 3 cups of the mixture and set aside for the crumb topping later.
  4. Then add the eggs to the base batter, one at a time, followed by milk, vanilla, baking powder, soda and salt. Mix well until the batter is smooth.
  5. To assemble the bake, spread half the batter in the prepared tin. Drizzle with the half of the chocolate mixture, then cover it with the remaining batter, followed by the remaining chocolate.  Finish it with the reserved crumb mixture over the top and gently press the crumbs onto the chocolate/peanut butter swirl.
  6. Bake it for 50-60 minutes or until the wooden stick comes out clean from the centre. Let the cake cool in the pan before cutting into squares. Serve it with cream or ice-cream.

Peanut Butter & Chocolate Crunch cake

Peanut Butter & Chocolate Crunch cake

 

Mixed Beans and Aubergine Chilli

Aubergine is not the vegetable you usually find in a chilli, but their meaty, spongy texture perfectly absorbs all the flavours and together with the beans makes a delicious combo.

Mixed bean and aubergine chilli

MIXED BEANS AND AUBERGINE CHILLI

(recipe adapted from S. Rimmer’s ‘The Accidental Vegetarian’ book)

Ingredients: 

about 80ml vegetable oil

1-2 aubergines, depends on the size, cut into chunky cubes

1 red onion, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2-3 red chillies, finely chopped

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon cumin

pinch of ground cinnamon

1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes

1 x 400g tin mixed beans

1 cup of water

1/2 teaspoon sugar (optional)

1/2 teaspoon cocoa powder (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

grated cheese/soured cream to serve (optional)

Method:

  1. Heat some oil in a pan and fry the aubergine pieces for about 7 minutes or until they get some colour and soften. Remove and drain on the kitchen towel.
  2. Fry the onions until soft and translucent, add chopped green peppers, continue to fry for another 4 minutes. Add the garlic, chillies, all spices, stir well and cook for another 2 minutes.
  3. Then add the beans, tomatoes, aubergines, sugar and cocoa powder (if you use it) and a cup of water. Season well, cover with the lead and cook on a medium heat for about 20 minutes.
  4. Check again for seasoning and serve with rice/baked potatoes, with dollop of soured cream and some grated cheese.