Tag Archives: food trends

How I became an international French cheese smuggler

13 Mar

Now here is a very funny real life foodie adventure story.

We’ve all been there. Stranded at customs or airport security begging the security agent to let you though with you your so-called ‘prohibited or dangerous’ goods- usually an expensive hand cream, alcohol, perfume or gourmet gift that you put in your hand luggage, not knowing of, or forgetting the crazy cabin baggage policies of today. Bring back memories? I bet it does. I’m still laughing to myself about the journey I went through with my precious French cheeses went last night when taking a short EU flight between Marseille and Malta, and since it’s quite a laugh, I just had to share it.

– Printed board pass and passport in handbag? Check

– 15 kilos suitcase pre-paid check in luggage. Check

– Bag of edible goodies and gifts for expat friends ? (Check-in bag already at 15kg so will have to go in hand-luggage). Check

– Hand cream, lip gloss, nail polish and hairspray: All under 100 mls and sealed in plastic zip-lock bag? Check

And so, there I was. Bag checked in and ready to go through security to board my flight.

It started with the usual procedure. Laptop out, boots off, jacket off, liquids separated and in plastic bag, handbag in tray and on the conveyor belt. I then pulled out my shopping bag of goodies intended as gifts for friends and family in Malta and put it in the tray.

I had spent a good 45 minutes in the local fromagerie yesterday deliberating over which of the finest, stinkiest French cheeses to take with me and bring delight to those eagerly awaiting at the other end for their foodie fix.

Aside from a top French sauccisson and a block of fine dark chocolate, I had 750 grams ‘quota’ to fill with cheese After much indecision, I ended up choosing three of my favourites, just imagining the look of pure delight as they were received by their cheese deprived recipients.

A 250 gram Tête de Moine (my new favourite). Usually served as an appetizer, it’s a firm cow’s milk cheese that’s loads of fun to serve using it’s special ‘shaving handle’ implement which shaves it into cute little ‘chanterelle-shaped morsels.

Tête de Moine cheese

Tête de Moine shaved into chanterelle morsels

An 350 gram round wooden box of divine Mont d’Or. For those of you not familiar with this cheese, all I can say is: this is the stuff dreams (and round hips) are made of. An unpasteurised ‘cru’ cows milk cheese which has an exquisitely creamy oozing centre and washed rind. The best way to eat Mont d’Or is heated in the oven in it’s own round wooden box, mixed with white wine till it’s an oozing and melting pot of liquid heaven.

Mont d'Or cheese

Mont d'Or: a melting pot of liquid heaven

And finally- I couldn’t go past 250 grams of the irresistible and classic Blue d’Auvergne. Another one of my personal favourites (especially with a walnut and endive salad) it was also a special request anxiously awaited by my friend Dennis at the other end.

Now… I got a little carried anyway there describing those cheeses- let’s get back to the story.

The dialogue from this point went a little something like this:

Security checkpoint officer woman: “What’s in the plastic bag?”

“Oh… just cheeses.”

“What type of cheeses? As some kinds of cheeses are not allowed”.

And then it occurred to me: Maybe you actually can’t take unpasteurized cheeses outside of France? So, knowing that 2 of the cheeses were ‘cru’ and one was not- I responded sheepishly with “Tête de Moine” (the pasteurised cheese). Hoping that would get me out of the red. After-all, the x-ray machine can’t tell the difference….right?

So, I proceed to go through the scanner gate. No beeps. All clear. I wait anxiously at the other end for my bag, laptop, jacket, shoes and- cheeses.

The woman at the other end opens the goodie bag and goes through it piece by piece.

Saucisson- fine. Chocolate- fine. Tete de moine- fine.

Just when I think it’s all good, she starts poking at the slab of blue cheese, shakes her head, and then puts it aside.

Then she picks up the round box of Mont d’Or…. and … puts it aside.

“Sorry- you can’t take these two cheeses- the other things are fine”

My panic begins to set in. Stay calm, don’t look stressed.

“But why? They don’t say that the milk is unpasteurised? And it’s the EU?!

She glares back at me, shaking her head and says:

“No no no it’s not that- that doesn’t matter. You are carrying too much LIQUID”.

Now I’m getting confused. I respond:

“You mean, it’s ok that the milk is unpasteurised, but I can’t take it because it’s a LIQUID?!”

She calls over Mr French Security Officer to further explain.

He lifts up the two offending cheeses and starts squeezing and poking them, shaking his head in dismay.

I respond “Mais… je ne comprends pas” C’est incroyable… This is not liquid- It’s CHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSE!!!”

“Yes, madame, but these cheeses are too soft so they are classified as liquid, and you can only take 100 mls of liquid on board.”

My jaw drops. I try to imagine possible ways of hijacking the plane armed with my Tête de Moine and Blue d’Auvergne. My imagination did not take me very far. Now I’m just annoyed at the sheer ridiculousness of the situation.

“But I HAVE to take the cheeses with me- they are important GIFTS!”

“I’m sorry, but that’s the rule. Can you put them in your check-in baggage or give them to a friend?”

“I have already checked in my bag, and there is no-one here who can take them from me.”

“Then, I’m sorry Madame, but there is no other option.”

Now my determination takes over. I respond, evidently flustered, in clumsy French:

“I cannot leave the country, and arrive empty-handed, without the cheeses- everyone waiting for them will be soooooo disappointed!”

He looks mildly apologetic, shrugs his shoulders and again, apologises. Now I am even more determined- I refuse to abandon my beautiful cheeses at the border.

That’s when it occurred to me. A flash of inspiration. A wise, authoritative voice in my head says:

“Pull out the Grandma story.”

So that’s exactly what I did.

Holding a piercing gaze with Mr French Security Officer, I respond with full conviction and my best possible French:

“You don’t understand. My Grandma is going to CRY if I don’t bring this cheese”

His face instantly starts to melt, kind of like the gooey Mont D’or. Now that I know I have struck a chord, I come in for a second strike.

“She has rung me twice this week, just to remind me not to forget her cheese”

His bottom lip begins to quiver.

“She has been waiting SIX MONTHS for me to come, with this cheese, and if turn up, empty handed, she will be DEV-A-STAT-ED.”

The Grandma guilt trip is working. Mr French security officer is clearly disturbed by the thought of my sweet little 87 year old ‘Mamie’ missing out on her long-awaited cheeses.

He takes a deep breath, lowers his voice and pulls me aside.

“OK. There is one thing you can do. Are you listening?

Yes.

“Go back out of Security with your belongings, and the soft cheeses. Go over to the café, and buy two baguettes. Cut each of the cheeses in half.

“O…..K……”

“Put one half of each of the cheeses inside a baguette, and wrap up the other half separately.”

“OK…”

He continues: “ This way, technically, the cheese between the baguette will not be classified as a liquid substance anymore, and the other half will be closer to 100 mls.”

Again, I can’t believe what I’m hearing. First the cheese is a liquid, now a baguette is a liquid defying agent. Craziness.

“You mean, if I put the cheese in a baguette, It’s not a liquid anymore?”

Mr French Security Officer whispers with a very serious face:
“Yes… It’s not really ‘by the book’ but it’s the only way.”

And so off I went. Back out through security, passers-by watching and wondering why I am going in the wrong direction.

I go to the café and alors- there is only one baguette left for sale- and of course it’s filled with ham.

I buy it anyway. It’s better than nothing. Out goes the ham, I take a plastic knife and begin chopping the blue d’Auverge in half, much to the baffled looks of the other café patrons at my table. I then proceed to stuff the empty baguette with massive slabs of blue cheese, and wrap the remaining half.

I then realise the sad reality. There is no solution to save the Mont d’Or. Quelle dommage. This beautiful cheese, and I’m going to have to throw it out. Even if there were baguettes, it’s too soft to remain edible once its been squashed inside a baguette.

In desperation, I do the only thing I can to make the most of the situation.

I crack open the Mont d’or. I tear away a piece of the baguette and I scoop a big morsel of cheese, then eat right there, on the spot.

I have to say, cheese has never tasted as good as that moment there. Time stopped for a precious 10 seconds as this ‘forbidden’ cheese, about to be abandoned at the border, slowly melts in my mouth.

A Final boarding call for my flight abruptly ends my moment of pleasure with the Mont d’or.

I wrap up the blue cheese baguette, painfully drop the box of Mont d’or in the bin then run back to security.

The security officers let me jump the queue. I go through the drill once again with my belongings on the conveyor belt where I meet once again with Mr and Ms Security Officer who are giggling at my determined efforts to save the cheese. Amused, they inspect my baguette and hacked slab of blue cheese as I explain that I did exactly as they had asked me, and how I had to make the agonizing decision to throw out the Mont d’Or.

“It’s better than nothing” says the security officers.
“At least your Mamie will have some good French bread to go with it!” Someone else adds.

I thank Mr Security Man on behalf of my Grandmother and run to the boarding gate where I just make my flight, short of breath, stinking of blue cheese and proudly satisfied with my success.

Once again, Grandma saves the day.

And so there you have it. 10 points to the French for this one I say. Who else but the French care enough about food and the family bond with food, to bother finding a solution in the pursuit of getting good cheese across the border?

My faith in the French is restored.

I arrive at my destination and present my friend with his much awaited blue cheese. It’s not pretty. It’s squashed inside a stale airport baguette. It’s been through a tough journey.

But damn did it taste good.

Thanks Nanna.

The end.

Got a similar story to share? What’s the craziest thing you’ve done for the love of food? If you enjoyed this story or have a good one to add, add your comments below.

Blue cheese in baguette

The 'non-liquid' Blue d'Auvergne arrives at it's destination

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La petite cuisine à Paris. Paris private dining for two chez Rachel Khoo

12 Jan
Rachel Khoo Kitchen

La cuisinière. La petite cuisine. Copyright © Rachel Bajada

I love meeting cool people doing cool new things. Recently I was a guest at the first of many private dining experiences to come at ‘La petite cuisine à Paris’ (literally ‘The little Paris kitchen’) a unique new project by the talented British, now Paris-based culinary creative Rachel Khoo.

After packing up and leaving a fashion career in London to study Pâtisserie at the world-renown Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, Rachel began by baking sweet treats at Paris’ specialty cookery bookstore, La Cocotte. Four years on, she now jets around Europe cooking and catering for prestigious events, launches and private parties. In between all of this, she has also found the time to knock out 2 wonderful cookbooks in French: Pâtes à tartiner and Barres de céréales: Muesli & granola.

‘The little Paris kitchen’ is the now the delicious testing ground for her next recipe book where she will be developing and perfecting all her recipes to go in the publication. “La Petite Cuisine” is her first English publication and is due for release in Spring 2012. The concept is simple and is sure to fill a growing craving for simple, modern, uncomplicated recipes that reinterpret traditional cooking techniques and traditions from the godmothers of French cuisine such as Elizabeth David and Julia Child. Rachel Khoo’s goal is to “Make French food fun.”

What better way to start than to invite people, two at a time for a memorable, delectable experience as taste-testers in her private kitchen where all her culinary creations are made with the ingredients sources at her local produce markets, fromagerie and favorite specialty stores and boulangeries.

Update as of March 19th, 2012. Rachel Khoo now appears on BBC two at 8.30pm Monday evenings UK time. The Paris “Test Kitchen” is therefore no longer open but you can get your fix of Rachel Khoo and her delightful recipes and tiny kithen on TV and through her new book. Enjoy!

La Petite Cuisine eye candy

La petite cuisine- eye candy Copyright © Rachel Bajada

Cosy Corner La Petite Cuisine

Cosy Corner, La Petite Cusine Copyright © Rachel Bajada

So… back to LE FOOD! Well Rachel cooked up a delicious storm in a teacup in her tiny Paris kitchen for myself and other lucky guest- the fabulous Amy Thomas from the super godiloveparis blog.

Le Menu:

Entrees:
Creamy bèchamel cauliflower gratin with a hazelnut crumbs

Mains:
Sticky lemon & lavender roast chicken

Dessert:
Baked apples with a sweet spiced bèchamel sauce

Bread: From Du Pain et des idées in Paris’ 10eme. This stuff is dangerously good bread by the way- still warm and fresh out of the oven when it landed on the table- it took some serious restraint for me to stop eating it! Oh the simple pleasures…

La petite cuisine a paris- table for two

La table. L'inviteé. Le pain Copyright © Rachel Bajada

Preparing cauliflower gratin with roast hazlenuts Copyright © Rachel Bajada

Comfort food. Finishing touches on 'Gratin au choufleur avec noisette chapelure' Copyright © Rachel Bajada

Cauliflower Gratin - Choufleur Bechamel

Creamy comfort food. Can't beat it. Copyright © Rachel Bajada

Roasting Lavender lemon chicken

Chicken roasting with lemon and lavender glaze Copyright © Rachel Bajada

Sticky lemon and lavender roast chicken

Flavour harmony. Sticky lemon & lavender roast chicken Copyright © Rachel Bajada

Preparing baked apples with cinnamon

The art of the apple. Preparing sweet spiced apples with cinnamon Copyright © Rachel Bajada

Preparing apples for baking in papillote

Spicy sweet bundles Copyright © Rachel Bajada

Spiced baked apple with vanilla crème anglaise bechamel

Spiced baked apples with vanilla crème anglaise/sweet bechamel Copyright © Rachel Bajada

Now of course, this post would not be complete without a recipe! Rachel’s menu was based around making the perfect béchamel, and what I loved about her approach was that the same base for this sauce called the “Roux” can be used to make both a sweet or savory sauce- depending on the seasonings and aromatics you use.

For a savoury sauce– follow the standard Bèchamel formula (here is a good recipe for a classic béchamel sauce) and add a combination of classic aromatics such as:

Onion
Bayleaf
Clove
Nutmeg

Rachel also suggests:

Saffron, orange zest, turmeric or cumin

For a sweet sauce or alternative to crème anglaise:

Simply leave out the salt and savoury additions above, and sweeten with sugar to taste, adding fresh vanilla seeds and optional spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg.

Here are Rachel’s top three tips for the perfect bèchamel:

1. Use whole milk. Semi or skimmed just won’t give you that rich creamy taste.

2. When you add your milk to the roux (flour and butter thickener) make sure to do it a slow, gradual stream and then whisk, whisk and whisk!

3. Classic bèchamel aromatics are: onion, bayleaf and clove but feel free to experiment with non traditional flavours such as saffron and orange zest or tumeric and cumin.

Bonne Bèchamel!

At elizabeth david's table- book

Inspiration at the table- modernising old school classics

Pates a tartiner- cookbook by Rachel Khoo

Published success. Recipe books by Rachel Khoo

How to stay thin in France: The gourmet Dukan recipe edition!

1 Nov

Dukan Gourmet Recipes

Ok, I admit- I have been quiet these last few weeks, but there is a good reason- I have been on the dreaded D word. Yes, a DIET- but not just any diet… the Dukan Diet.

If you’re not already familiar, it’s the diet developed by a French Doctor by the name of Pierre Dukan which until early this year was well known to the French but only available in the French language. Now that the book, and his online program have been published in English, the diet’s popularity has exploded. All four of Dukan’s print titles are currently in Amazon’s France’s top 100 bestsellers, and the Dukan regime even has it’s own product line in French supermarkets.

In Paris, I’m surprised that café’s haven’t already started offering an entire Dukan menu since it’s becoming hard walk into a café without noticing someone ordering a plain steak or piece of grilled fish- no sauce, no oil, no accompaniments. Sounds boring? Only if you let it be. Bottom line is, this diet is becoming super popular because it actually works. Firstly, you will never feel deprived or hungry since portions are not limited on a key range of protein-based foods, and if you can get creative in the kitchen, it’s possible to eat deliciously well on Dukan.

So, in tribute to the Dukan diet, this post is dedicated to sharing the best six recipes I developed or adapted from the program, all of them based on Pure Proteins since these are by far the most difficult to adapt. All the recipes are one-bowl wonders (except the tiramisu and scallops), easy to prepare, and will keep in the fridge for up to a week. And for the non Dukanese among you, a Baked New York Lemon Cheesecake with 1% fat, next to no carbs and zero sugar that tastes just as good as the real thing can’t really do any harm!

… Note that the title of this post is not “How the French stay thin”- (that I am still trying to work out), because by no means am I suggesting this diet is a key reason for the visibly svelte and seemingly effortlessly slim French population. Oh and by the way- the belief that French woman do not diet, I can assure you, is also a complete myth!

A Savourer!

*A few things to note on ingredients

Sugar substitutes

All the dessert recipes require a non-caloric sugar substitute. Depending on what country you’re in, there are numerous options, some better than others. Ideally, if you can get it, Stevia is the way to go since it’s a natural plant extract and you can consume it with the confidence that it won’t contribute to cancer or memory loss somewhere down the line (which is a potential and debatable risk factor with aspartame, and saccharin based sweeteners).

If you are baking, the trick will be to find a product that keeps its molecular structure and thus sweetening properties above 100 degrees celsius. In Australia there is a great product called Natvia – anything Erythritol and/or stevia based is ideal.

Fromage Blanc

Widely available in France, and a few other European countries, this dairy product is indispensable for Dukan recipes. The 0% version is what I use in all of the recipes. If you can’t source this product, you can try 0% natural or Greek yoghurt, however the or Fromage Blanc or Fromage Frais has the benefit of being much thicker, heavier and creamier thus making a great substitute for mascarpone or sour cream. Bio/organic brands or dairy products are always preferable if you can find them and of course don’t mind paying a bit extra.

Low fat cheeses:

Cottage Cheese. A traditional English cheese which has a creamy, curd-like texture. If  you can’t find it, any textured low fat curd cheese like farm cheese is a good substitute for the rice pudding recipe.

Ricotta. In France, low fat ricotta is non-existent. If you can source this, it’s a much better option to replace the whipped cottage cheese in the New York baked cheesecake recipe.

0% cream cheese. In France you can use Carre Nature by Elle & Vire 0% fromage frais which is a delicious fat free spreadable cream cheese. Otherwise, Philadelphia brand is widely available

Recipe

Mimosa Egg Verrines / Dukan œufs mimosa en verrine

Mimosa egg verinnes

Curry, Mustard and chives egg verrines- delicious!

(Makes 2 verrines)

Cooking time: 10 mins. Total preparation time: 20 mins.

This recipe is an adaptation of œufs mimosa en verrine from the September issue No, 135 from Cuisine et Vins de France Magazine

Ingredients:

3 large free range eggs
½ tsp curry powder
1 heaped teaspoon medium Dijon mustard
1 tbsp fromage blanc/frais
½ tsp wholegrain seeded mustard
1 tsp lemon juice
3 tsp finely diced chives
Sea salt
Fresh cracked black pepper

Directions:

Bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil.  Hard boil whole eggs (in shell) for ten minutes and then remove from boiling water. Place eggs into a bowl of iced water and leave for 10 minutes. Drain water then gently peel away and discard the egg shells.

Delicately slice open the 3 eggs and separate the yolks, placing the yolks in a small separate bowl. Finely chop the egg whites into small, even squares using an egg slicer if you have one. Separate the chopped egg whites into two small bowls. In one bowl, add to the egg whites  the chopped chives. To the other whites mix in the seeded mustard, fromage blanc, lemon juice, sea salt to taste. Gently crush the egg yolks with a fork and mix in the curry powder and Dijon mustard.

Arrange evenly in a verrine starting with the chive mix, then the egg yolk, then the egg white with mustard. Top with cracked pepper and chives to serve.

Dukan egg verrines

Mimosa egg verrines

Recipe

Smoked cod, green pepper and dill terrine / Terrine de cabillaud fumé, à l’aneth et au poivre vert (façon Dukan)

smoked fish terrine

Smoked cod terrine with green peppers and dill

Preparation time: 15 mins. Cooking Time: approx 45 mins.

This dish is really easy to throw together and will keep for up to a week in the fridge. No bowls, minimal mess. All you need is blender/food processor and a bread loaf tin or pyrex baking dish.

(Makes 1 large terrine loaf)

Ingredients:

1 whole side fillet smoked cod (approx 500 g). You could also substitute for smoked mackrel, trout or herring
6 medium free range eggs (5 large)
3 tbsp fresh dill
2 tsp green peppers (preserved in brine)
½ tsp grated lemon zest
250 grams firm tofu
250 grams silken tofu
1 tbsp cornflour
2 tranches sliced smoked salmon

Directions:

Preheat oven to 180 C. Remove skin from cod fillet and slice fillet width ways into 1 cm slices. Put aside.  Put off-cuts of fish into food processor. Into processor bowl, add eggs, tofu, lemon, 2 tbsp dill, 1 tsp green peppers and cornflour. Pulse all ingredients until just combined.

Pour mixture to 3 cm depth in tin and then arrange a layer of smoked cod slices. Add another 3 cm layer of mixture and layer on top with remaining smoked cod slices. Add remaining mixture to tin until 3 cm from rim. Arrange smoked cod slices, remaining fresh dill and green peppers on top. Bake in preheated fan-forced oven for approx 45 mins or until browned and cooked through. Cover with foil if necessary to protect top from over-browning.  Serve with lemon wedges, cornichons and Dijon mustard.

Smoked cod terrine

Smoked cod terrine served with fresh dill, cornichons and smoked salmon

Recipe

Soy Seared Scallops with wasabi sour cream / Noix de Saint-Jacques à la plancha, à la sauce soja et à la crème de wasabi (façon Dukan)

Scallops with wasabi cream

Seared soy scallops with wasabi sour cream

Super simple. Super delicious. You need a good quality non-stick frying pan for this to work as there is no oil used.
Preparation time: 10 mins Cooking time: 10 mins

(Serves 1)

Ingredients

5 fresh scallops
1.5 tsp low salt soy sauce
2 tbsp 0% fromage blanc*
1 pea sized portion wasabi paste

To serve:

Sea salt
Fresh black pepper
1/4 lemon
1 tsp fresh coriander leaves
Finely diced red pepper/capsicum
½ tsp fish eggs/salmon roe to garnish

Directions

Pour soy sauce over fresh scallops and leave to marinate refrigerated for 30 mins. In a small ramekin, mix fromage blanc, wasabi and a squeeze of lemon juice. Finely dice red capsicum to prepare garnish.

On a heated non stick frying pan or bbq plate, place scallops and soy sauce and sear until browned on each side. Spread wasabi cream on platter and arrange scallops in a row with coriander between pieces. Top with fish eggs, sea salt and black pepper and garnish plate with lemon wedges and red pepper to serve.

Seared Scallops

Recipe

Dukan Tiramisu / Tiramisu (façon Dukan)

Dukan Tiramisu

The Dukan Tiramisu- didn't last long!

This recipe is made in two parts. The sponge cake base is an original Dukan recipe which is then layered with espresso coffee, low fat cocoa powder and sweetened fromage blanc.

Serves 4-5 (can be portioned individually or arranged in one large dish)

Ingredients: Sponge cake base

3 eggs- separated
4 tbsp natural sugar substitute (e.g Natvia)
2/3 cup cornflour
2 tsp baking powder
400 grams fromage frais/blanc*
Dash of vanilla essence

Combine egg yolks, splenda,  baking powder, fromage blanc and vanilla in a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl beat the egg whites until stiff and gradually beat in the cornflour. Fold the egg white mix into the other mixing bowl gently to combine.

Line a flat, lipped tray (round or rectangular) with baking paper, keeping an overhand on the edges. Pour the mix into the tray and spread out evenly. Bake at 180 degrees until cooked through and golden brown on top. Allow cake to cool in tray.

Dukan sponge roll cake

The Dukan sponge roll cake base for Tiramisu recipe

Ingredients: Tiramisu layers

3 tbsp low fat cocoa powder
Approx 400 g 0% fromage blanc
Stevia powder or liquid, to taste
300 mls (or to taste) brewed espresso coffee

Brew espresso coffee and sweeten with stevia. Mix in 1 tbsp low fat cocoa powder whilst coffee is hot (optional).

Pour a layer of coffee in dish of choice. Arrange a layer of cake on top of the coffee. Coat cake with coffee, sprinkle with cocoa powder and then add a layer of fromage blanc- sweetened with stevia to taste.

Arrange remaining layers in the same order until serving dish is full, with the top layer being fromage blanc. Dust top with a thick layer of cocoa powder.

Place and leave to sit in refrigerator for at least 3 hours before serving. The dukan cake is not as moist as a normal cake so the result is better when the coffee has soaked through.

Dukan Tiramisu

Dukan Tiramisu

Dukan Tiramisu

Dukan Tiramisu and coffee

Recipe

No rice vanilla rice pudding / Pudding au riz à la vanille (sans riz, façon Dukan)

Dukan Baked Cheesecake

The Dukan vanilla Rice Pudding ( New York baked lemon cheesecake variation available)

This recipe was a happy accident. It’s a slight variation on the Dukan “Corsican Cheesecake” recipe and the great thing is that when you bake with cottage cheese, the curd of the cheese hardens and forms slightly in the oven giving the same texture as soft rice in a rice pudding. To serve it as rice pudding just put this in a bowl and top with sweetened fromage frais or custard. Otherwise serve sliced like a cheesecake.

Prep time: 15 mins. Cooking time: Approx 40 mins

Ingredients:

5 eggs
600 grams low fat cottage cheese*
fresh vanilla bean powder or vanilla essence
25 grams natural sugar substitute (e.g Natvia)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 160 C. Beat the eggs with a hand held whisk. Add the cottage cheese, Splenda and vanilla. Carefully stir to combine. Transfer to a flan style baking tin and bake for approx 45 minutes. Keep a close eye on the cake while it is in the oven, making sure it does not over cook or brown too quickly- cover top with foil if necessary. Remove from oven when cooked and allow to cool. Serve with custard, yoghurt or sweetened fromage blanc topped with cinnamon and nutmeg.

Dukan cheesecake

Dukan vanilla rice pudding or lemon cheesecake

Recipe

New York Baked Lemon Cheesecake / Dukan New York Cheesecake au citron

This is a further variation on the above which really turns out like a Classic Baked New York Lemon Cheesecake- this one literally takes the cake as my favorite.

Prep time: 15 mins. Cooking time: Approx 40 mins

Ingredients:

2 eggs- separated
4 heaped tbsp fromage blanc*
200 grams low fat ricotta or cottage cheese*
300 gms fat free spreadable cream cheese*
2 tbsp cornflour
½ cup natural sugar substitute (e.g Natvia)
Finely grated zest 1 lemon

Directions

Preheat oven to 160 C. Combine all ingredients except egg whites in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric hand blender until smooth, thick and silky in appearance. If using cottage cheese, beat mixture until the texture smooths out. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff, then beat in cornflour. Slowly fold in egg white mixture to large bowl until combined. Transfer mixture to a ceramic baking dish (as pictured or similar) ans bake for approximately 40 mins or until risen and  golden  brown. Allow to cool completely in fridge before serving.

Secret sauce. My Maltese Nanna’s ricotta ravioli recipe

6 Jun

Tessie's tomato sauce with fresh Maltese ricotta ravioli

Who can resist a tried and tested family recipe? On a recent visit to Malta to reconnect with my family heritage and meet long lost cousins, aunties and uncles, one of my most treasured and memorable experiences was that of a cooking session with my wonderful Maltese Nanna Tessie.

Before leaving, my mother begged me to get the recipe off my grandmother for her basic tomato pasta sauce- the most important and versatile base in Maltese cuisine. Being smack bang in the middle of the Mediterranean with a hot and dry climate, the staple food of the Maltese usually involves pasta, rice, bread, cheese, meat, rabbit (fenech), fish often with a tomato base- thus the importance of a perfect and simple tomato sauce.

Here I share with you a visual snapshot of our little cook-off and of course, Tessie’s family recipe for the sauce… including what Tessie swears is her ‘secret’ ingredient which will certainly surprise you!

What about the recipe for the actual ravioli itself you may ask? Well, I thought the same thing when I turned up to lunch expecting a kitchen armed with a pasta-machine, flour dust storm and production line of settling fresh curd cheese. I instead arrived presented with a neat bag of ready-made fresh pasta on the bench! It turns out that most Maltese buy the ravioli fresh and pre-made from their local pasta master of choice because the quality of the bought product is so good and only about €3 for a big bag of 3 dozen ricotta-filled morsels (or so my Nan convinced me anyway). However, If you really want to have a stab at making the pasta yourself to go with it, here are some good resources:

The real-deal: The awesome Italian Mamma ‘Rosa’ shows us how it’s done

Crazy Maltese John cooking ravioli in his kitchen

A video response tribute and step by step guide by the talented ‘Pip’ from MeetMeAtMikes showing  how she made ravioli from scratch with Nanna Tessie’s recipe

 

Setting the scene- here’s my Nanna Tessie with her pot of sauce

Nanna Tessie with her pot of tomato sauce

Ready for that recipe now?

Here it is! (serves approx 4)

Ingredients:

  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 6 whole tomatoes (Tessie insists they must be super-red vine ripened roma tomatoes)
  • 1 tsp white sugar (start with 1/2 teaspoon and add the remaining half to taste as some may find the full amount a little too much)
  • 2 bay leaves (dried)
  • 1 tbsp good quality tomato paste
  • Extra virgin olive oil (preferably Spanish)
  • Freshly cracked black pepper and sea salt to taste

And now for her ‘secret’ ingredient…

Wait for it….

1 chicken stock cube!

Yes, that’s right- a chicken stock cube! A little unconventional and I’m sure they were never part of her own mother’s repertoire, but to Tessie, those things are like butter to a french chef!

The other big no no, she insists, is never to put onion in the tomato sauce, and always cook it slowly slowly, gently gently.

Here she is again- reminding us not to use onion!

Tessie says 'never use onion, and simmer it slooooolwy'

Now for the method:

Instructions:

Using a medium sized, heavy based pot, fill the base with olive oil to the depth of approximately halfway up your index fingertip. Peel and dice the garlic lengthways. You can add 2 extra cloves if you wish, it only intensifies the flavour (in a good way). Add the diced garlic to the pot with oil and gently fry the garlic at a low heat being careful not to burn them.

Fill a separate small pot with water and bring it to the boil. Add the tomatoes and boil for approximately 3 minutes, until you begin to see the skin peeling away from the flesh. Remove from the boiling water, discard water and then peel tomatoes.

Add the tomatoes to the pot with oil and garlic and chop them into small pieces with sharp knife. Simmer at a low heat and stir continually as the sauce begins to thicken and reduce. Gradually add a few drops of water, then add the stock cube and the bay leaves. Stir and simmer for a further 10 minutes then add the tomato paste, sugar and salt and pepper. Keep on a low simmer for a further ten minutes for the sauce to reduce and flavours intensify. Remove bay leaves before serving.

Sauce on simmer

In a large pot bring water to the boil at (3/4’s) full and add 1 tbsp sea salt and a dash of olive oil.

Add the ravioli (fresh bought version or homemade) and cook until all the pasta has floated to the top.

Ravioli on the boil- floating to the surface when ready

Immediately drain in a colander.

Serve on a wide pasta dish with generous servings of freshly grated romano or parmesan, cracked black pepper and finely diced parsley (optional). Traditionally this is served with a side of mortadella ham and a local delicacy- black pepper chesee with crusty Maltese bread called “hobz.”

Savourer!

Side serving: Mortadella ham and Maltese black pepper cheese with crusty 'hobz' bread

Lambrusco frizzante or spumante are refreshingly light and fruity sparkling red table wines commonly found at a Maltese table

Dining at Tessie's Table

Nanna Tessie's kitchen

Sweet tooth. Maltese Kannoli "ta l-irkottaare" is a delicous dessert of fried pastry shell piped with sweet ricotta and dusted with crushed almonds

Viva la ravioli! Ciao, Tessie xxx

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