Time to make the Christmas Cake :)

I adore making Christmas cake. Even if we don’t eat it on the day itself, it’s there and disappears over the holidays. Icing recipe will come later in December – but the cake can be made now and all the way up to Christmas week. It will taste amazing. Don’t, like me a few years ago, feed it too much… Or it will be spoonable soaked fruit by Christmas!!

This is an adapted recipe from Delia Smith. It is unsurpassed and has never failed me. I have changed and added to the fruit mix because I dislike candied peel and cherries. 🙂

To make the cake, you need to start a day ahead to soak the fruit.

For the pre-soaking:
450g currants
175g sultanas
175g raisins
50g chopped dried cherries
50g chopped dried ginger
50g chopped pitted prunes and dried apricots (one or the other if you prefer)
100ml brandy (or a brandy and malt whiskey mix for added smokiness)

Put all the dried fruits above into a large bowl, mix with the spirits, cover with a clean tea cloth and leave to soak for a minimum of 12 hours. Give them a stir every time you pass – the smell wonderful!

When you are ready to make the cake pre-heat the oven to 140°C, gas mark 1 and you will need the following:

225g plain flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ level teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
½ level teaspoon ground mixed spice
225g dark brown soft sugar
4 large eggs
2 dessertspoons black treacle
225g spreadable butter
50g chopped almonds (skin on)
zest of 2 lemons and 1 orange

Sift the flour, salt and spices from a height into a very large roomy mixing bowl. Add the sugar, eggs, treacle (warm it in a pan of gently bubbling water to make it easier to measure) and butter and beat with a whisk until everything is smooth, light and fluffy.

Gently fold in the pre-soaked fruit mixture, chopped nuts and grated lemon and orange zests.

Put the cake mixture into your prepared tin (buttered and lined with greaseproof paper on the bottom, with a high collar of greaseproof paper tied to the outside), spread it evenly with the back of a spoon.

Top the mix with some more greaseproof paper with a 50p-sized hole in the centre (for extra protection during the cooking) and pop on the top of the cake.

Bake on the lowest shelf of the oven for 4 hours until a skewer comes out clean and the top feels springy in the centre when lightly touched. It can take 30–45 minutes longer – don’t look at it for 4 hours. It usually smells ‘done’!

Cool the cake for 30 minutes in the tin, the turn out onto a wire rack. When cold, ‘feed’ it by making small holes in the top and bottom with a cocktail stick and spooning in a couple of tablespoons of Armagnac or brandy, then wrap it in parchment-lined foil and store in an airtight tin.

Feed the cake at odd intervals until Christmas comes and you need to ice or eat it.

It totally smells of Christmas…. But I guess that is the point!!

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Wonderful slow roast pork

Having a fantastic and easy recipe for a roast up your sleeve is such a blessing for relaxed entertaining or simply treating the family.

I’m old enough to remember picking up the Sunday meal from the bakery near my Nanna’s and Nannu’s in Marsaskala – just.

This dish is perfect for long slow cooking, the flavours melding together to make a delicious moist meat and luscious gravy.

Choose a pork joint to your taste. Preheat the oven to a medium heat, cooking the joint for 35minutes per 500g plus an extra 35minutes. It must be cooked through.

In a bowl mix a good glug of EVOO, a large pinch of salt, a good grating of black pepper, 2 large cloves of crushed garlic, a good handful of rosemary, finely chopped and two tablespoons of Dijon mustard. Mix well and then rub all over the meat, working into any gaps you can.

If you are having crackling, dry the skin well and season.

To the roasting dish, add several chopped apples and a cup of water – making the easiest gravy.

Once roasted, leave for about 30-45 minutes to rest under foil and a clean tea-cloth or two.

Serve with Maltese Roast Potatoes and veggies of your choice.


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Brown shrimp, tomberry and palm heart salad with pomegranate

A special starter which looks pretty served in glasses, brightening the table, letting you see the mix of flavours coming your way! Would also work as a main course salad!

If you can’t get small brown shrimp, used chopped larger cooked shrimp.

About 2 hours before you want to serve it, mix the following in a big (non-reactive) dish and leave in the fridge to allow the flavours to mellow and combine. The aim is to have the main ingredients small enough so you get a lovely hit of different tastes and textures in each bite.

400g cooked and peeled brown shrimp
300g whole tomberry – or the smallest cherry tomatoes sliced in half if you can’t find them
10 gherkins chopped
Half a clove of garlic, finely chopped
3 hearts of palm, quartered and thinly sliced
Pomegranate jewels from a whole pomegranate
Juice and zest of one lemon
3 spring onions sliced finely
Pinch chilli flakes
2 teaspoons sumac
Torn leaves from a large sprig of oregano plus a few leaves to garnish
Pinch sea salt flakes
Good grind of fresh black pepper
Good glug of dry sherry
Drizzle of a nutty extra virgin olive oil

About 15 minutes before you are ready to eat, spoon the mix into the glasses and drizzle the juices into each glass and pop a leaf or two of oregano on top. Basil would work too.

Would also be nice stuffed in large tomatoes or hollowed out Melons or cucumber!

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My version of Maltese Rabbit Sauce for Pasta

I’ve been threatening to recreate the Rabbit Spaghetti dishes of my dim and distant youthful holidays in Malta for some time. I used to love visiting Rita’s in Ghar Lapsi every trip; bearing in mind this was in the ’60’s and ’70’s though. 🙂

Rabbit is not such a common meat here in the UK, but is increasing in popularity again and seeing some in the butchers, I just could not resist buying a few and stashing them in the freezer until I had time to fiddle in the kitchen.

Now, one reason why I wanted to create my own version, is although I know this should be a rustic meal, finding small bones, chewy tendons and bits of what can only be described as inner tubing of the rabbit, isn’t something that is enjoyed by many folks, including me. On recent trips to Malta, the rabbit spaghetti has had a delicious taste, but slightly ruined for me by finding little surprises in my mouth.

So the recipe I’ve come up with, takes a little time, but isn’t really difficult.

A day or two before you want to serve the spaghetti, prepare the rabbit meat. It can all be done on the same day, but a little sitting does improve the flavours!

2-3 rabbits whole or jointed is fine
Bottle of red wine – yes a whole one.
Large onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
1 inch long stick of ginger grated
2 heaped teaspoons of fennel seeds
Teaspoon of hot curry powder
3 bay leaves
Sea Salt and pepper

In a large oven proof casserole, brown the onions, garlic and spices on the hob. Once the onions are translucent, add the rabbits, browning a little.

Pour in the wine, add the bay leaves and a grind of salt and pepper; make sure the rabbits are well covered, topping up with stock if needed. Cover.

Put in a low oven until the rabbits are soft – about 4-5 hours. Let the rabbits cool in the juices and then strip the meat carefully from the bones. Strain the juices through a sieve and pour over the rabbit to keep it moist until you are ready to make the sauce.

From this amount of meat, you will get enough rabbit meat to make a large pot of sauce which will feed about 12 of make extra for the freezer. You can also make rabbit terrine or pie if the mood takes you!

To make my version of Maltese rabbit sauce for spaghetti you will need:

2 tins of good Italian tomatoes or equivalent of passata if you prefer – about 800g
Cooked, shredded rabbit meat
Juices from the casseroling – reduced by half
2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
2 red onions, finely sliced
3 carrots, peeled and finely diced
Teaspoon sweet paprika
Teaspoon fennel seeds
Teaspoon celery seeds
Teaspoon hot curry powder
Pinch of dried chilli flakes
2 bay leaves
2 cups of frozen peas
A few chopped black olives
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

In a large pan, gently sweat the onions, carrots and garlic, along with the spices and bay leaves. Once cooked down, add the tomatoes, cooking juices and rabbit, simmering slowly for about an hour or until the carrots are very soft. It can take a couple of hours sitting on the hob on a very low heat.

15 minutes before serving, add the peas and chopped olives to the sauce and test the seasoning. In a separate pot, cook spaghetti or linguini as you like according to the instructions.

To serve, combine the drained pasta with a good amount sauce, but don’t ‘over-sauce’ (you can serve extra sauce in a bowl if you like).

Make sure there is plenty of fresh grated parmegiano reggiano and crusty bread to go with it. And a glass of a robust red!

It’s not a perfect recreation of my youthful pastas. But it’s pretty wonderful.

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Chicken Patties

Sometimes, dinner just doesn’t need to be complicated. Inspired by a short 140 character recipe via twitter from the fabulous cook Nigel Slater, these chicken patties took less than 15 minutes to prepare, were totally delicious and very healthy. All the family loved them; with extra for quick hot sandwich fillings in the week.

I made these in my moulinex mixer, but you can use a mincer or buy pre-minced chicken breast; most butchers will be happy to oblige. Just make sure everything is finely chopped to mix in with the meat. Flavour with spices and herbs that you like, just make sure you include garlic and some citrus. Use the best chicken breast you can buy, you really will taste the difference.

To make the patties, put everything on the list below in a bladed mixer or a mixing bowl and whizz or mix well chopped ingredients making sure the patties are not too sticky (don’t over mix!)

400g chicken breast
5 cups bread crumbs
Juice and zest of a lemon or a lime
2 cloves garlic
Handful fresh coriander
Teaspoon chopped lemon grass
2 spring onions very finely sliced
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to season

Whizz / mix well and form little balls about the size of a large golf ball – this amount should make 6-8 depending on the size you like them.

Put in the fridge to chill until ready to cook.

When you want to eat, heat a little olive oil in a pan. Put the patties into the hot oil and flatten them to about 1cm thick. They will take only 5 minutes or so on either side, nice crispy brown.

Served with fresh crispy salad! In a brioche bun would be luscious!

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This was a spur of the moment bake, inspired by a friend mentioning it. Of course I added some Maltese flavouring; fennel seeds and olives and some baby plum tomatoes. I always say I should make it more often when I do! This version isn’t so greasy throughout but with a nice crust.

You can add what you want to the topping really; it’s nice with some simple rosemary sprigs, or roasted peppers, or tomatoes and anchovies. Just see what you have.


500g strong white flour (plus a little extra)
1 x 7g packet of fast-action dried yeast
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1 teaspoon caster sugar
1 teaspoon fine salt
300ml warm water
30ml good olive oil

For the topping;
Halved black olives
Halved baby tomatoes
Extra virgin olive oil
Tablespoon sea salt flakes

I usually make this in my Kitchen Aid on the lowest setting using the dough hook. But you can mx it by hand (takes about 10 minutes kneeding to get the smooth, soft, elastic dough. Use a wooden spoon for mixing.

Put the flour, yeast, sugar, salt and fennel seeds into a big bowl. Give it a quick mix to distribute the fennel. Very slowly add the olive oil and then the water very slowly. The dough should form a rough ball.

Tip this onto a lightly floured surface (or continue in the mixer) and kneed for 5-10 minutes until you get a smooth dough. Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a cloth and leave in a warm place to double in size for about an hour.

Oil a baking tray (roughly 36x25cm) and pop the dough onto the baking tray. Gently with your knuckles, spread the dough out into a rectangle to fill the tray. Doesn’t have to be perfect shape but even depth is good.

Cover again with cling film and leave for another 30-45 minutes to prove. Preheat the oven to 250c / gas 8. It must be hot to start.

Before putting the dough in the oven, make little indents in the dough with your thumb/finger. Top with the halved olives, tomatoes and sea salt and drizzle with olive oil, being quite generous.

Put in the hot oven for 10 minutes at 250c then turn the one down to 150c for the last 10 minutes. It should be golden but not burnt!

Serve warm. Lovely toasted the next day! 🙂

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Lemon roast chicken, sumac potatoes and pistachio salad

Sometimes, inspiration strikes. Occasionally, my ideas work. I often roast a much larger (or two or three) chickens; having ready roasted chicken in the fridge means easy quick and healthy fillings for lunchtime sandwiches, inventive leftovers for dinner.

This recipe was dead easy once I thought it through – tinker away and make it your own. I did think a few slices of blood orange would be very much in keeping… But sadly impossible to get at the moment in the NW UK.

For 5-6 moderately hungry people, you will need the following;

About 2 cups (more if you like) of roasted chicken. I roasted mine, breast down with lemon slices and crushed garlic under the skin of the breast; then cooled them completely breast down so all the juices remained.
2 cloves of garlic; Very finely chopped
Teaspoon (maybe more) of sumac
About 500g potatoes, peeled, and cut into small cubes. I used new season, but not new!
2 gem lettuces, washed and shredded
2 handfuls of washed rocket
2 handfuls of washed baby spinach
1 handful of watercress
1 fresh fennel bulb, washed and finely shredded
Handful of washed torn coriander
Some roughly chopped pistachios
Lemon zest, lemon juice, splash of EV olive oil
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Sourdough bread / crusty french stick etc to serve

Start with the potatoes; add a slug of olive oil, the garlic and potatoes to a large frying pan. Cook on a moderate heat until softened for about 10 minutes, then sprinkle with sumac and continue to cook. After about another 10-15 minutes, the potatoes will be crisping nicely and you can add the shredded chicken to heat through and crisp the edges.

While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the salad by mixing the lettuce, rocket, watercress, spinach and fennel bulb, and dressing with the EV olive oil, lemon zest and juice. Season with sea salt and a good grind of fresh pepper.

Top the salad with the piping hot chicken and potatoes all brown, crispy and tempting!

Scatter the crushed pistachios and coriander on top and serve.

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Plums two ways

I love plums. And while they are not in season at the moment, I was persuaded to buy some fragrant, fat, delicately mauve and perfectly ripe plums. 

As it was still coolish, hot plums two ways, were in order. These are both easy, adaptable and forgiving.

Plum and Almond crumble (adapted from a Nigel Slater Recipe)

1kg plums; washed, quartered and de-stalked
Unrefined caster or brown sugar; about 3 or 4 tablespoons
2 tablespoons kirsch or sloe gin (optional)

For the topping
120g plain flour
85g cold butter in cubes
Unrefined brown sugar; 4 tablespoons
Ground almonds; 3 tablespoons
Almond slivers; 2 tablespoons (if you fancy)

Almonds and plums are a lovely combination and make a gorgeous crumble. This makes enough for 6 so I often make two smaller dishes and freeze one for a week night treat.

Preheat the oven to 180c / gas 4 / 350f.

Toss the prepared fruit and sugar into an oven proof dish and drizzle with the kirsch / Sloe Gin if you are using it.

In a food processor, whizz the butter and flour together until it looks like breadcrumbs (you can do this by hand if you prefer).

Mix in the sugar and the ground almonds, combine well, then cover the fruit with the mix. Scatter the slivered almonds on top.

Bake in the oven until the topping is golden brown and the fruit bubbling through.

Serve with custard, ice cream or cream!

Easy Baked Plums

One plum per person, washed, halved and de-stoned
Brown sugar
Sloe gin

Creme fraiche or ice cream for serving

This is the easiest hot fruit dessert ever. Works well with peaches, nectarines, pears also – just vary the liqueur to suit.

Preheat the oven to 180c / gas 4 / 350f.

Put a plum half into each hole of a muffin / cake tin.

Scatter the top with a good sprinkle of dark brown sugar.

Drizzle a teaspoon of sloe gin into the hollow of each plum half.

Pop in the oven for 20 minutes or so.

Serve two halves per person, not forgetting to pour on some of the thick syrup that results from cooking over the top, with some creme fraiche or ice cream.

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Roasted Spring Sea Bass

Today, a recipe for sea bass, a made-up dish as I was inspired by Nigel Slater. Sea Bass fillets, one per person, rested skin down, on a few sliced leeks, chopped garlic and fennel seeds.
On top, a melange of zest of lemon and juice, trimmings from spring onions, baby carrots and halved cherry tomatoes, with a few sliced mushrooms. Saffron then sprinkled over, which releases the most wonderful fragrance as they cook, turning the sea bass a delicate orangey yellow and a little sprinkle of olive oil, sea salt and pepper. 15 minutes in a relatively hot oven is all it needs. 

Served with pan fried potatoes, with garlic, chilli and chopped Swiss chard (or spinach) crisped in duck fat from or olive oil,  with an added hint of Chinese 7-spice powder releasing an extra depth of flavour; salad of fresh grated baby kohl rabi and red onion and fresh-podded peas with lemon juice, Extra Virgin Olive oil and a splash of sherry vinegar.
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Roasted Pumpkin ‘Sunshine’ Soup

This soup is a gorgeous sunshiny orange, to brighten up a day and is really easy to prepare.

First, slice and de-seed a butternut squash and pop onto a baking sheet. Drizzle with a little olive oil and a good grating of salt and pepper. Roast in a hot oven for about 45 minutes until soft.

In a pan, gently sizzle a couple of roughly chopped garlic cloves, a diced onion and a big chunk of grated ginger. Add the roasted butternut squash (minus any of the leathery skin!) and cover with vegetable or chicken stock. Simmer for about 20 minutes until all the vegetables are soft and give it a good zizz with the blender until its smooth.

Serve with chopped jalapeños and some basil oil drizzled on top. With crusty Maltese bread of course!

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