Friday, September 30, 2011

Cooking for one is no fun

It's a good thing that Mike roasted a chicken before he left for his business trip so I could make chicken soup to eat while he was away. So I wouldn't starve. Because I'm incapable of cooking real meals for just one person. Food is just better when shared.

It's also a good thing that he comes home tonight. My soup just ran out.

I just discovered Groupon, Team Buy & Yelp. No, I haven't been living under a rock - I've just been living on one.

Malta definitely needs one of these (or a similar) services. Unfortunately I don't have time to enjoy a 80% off mani-pedi, or a three course dinner at a trendy restaurant for 50% off. But you know, just knowing I have the option to get cool things really cheap makes me feel nice.

It's really too bad Groupon doesn't offer discounts on cooking-boyfriend rentals. Cause I'd be all over that.  But at least when my soup runs out and there's no one around to feed me I can just hop on Yelp and see what good take out is nearby...

Have a great weekend! I hope it's drier wherever you are.
 - Jess

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

We are a Featured Blog on Creative Couples!

Creative Couples
We were thrilled to receive an email from Creative Couples last week asking us to be a featured blog on their online magazine web site. The focus of Creative Couples is couples in business together, and while we don't fit that category (yet) we are pleased that they enjoyed our blog anyway.

Creative Couples is a Vancouver, Canada based online magazine with aspirations of taking over the world of all things couples-in-business. They feature articles, interviews, photos, video, and giveaways (they are currently featuring a photoshoot giveaway for Vancouver based residents which we are totally jealous about). And they aren't only about couples & business, you can also find lots of great articles on music, food, fashion, travel and more.

You can take a look here and follow them on Twitter @creativecouples.

Thanks again, CC! 

- Mike + Jess

Monday, September 26, 2011

Back in the 'Fax

I warned you that we wouldn't be posting as often during our stay in Halifax. Thanks for staying tuned nonetheless, although I regret to inform you that my posts might become even scarcer. My workload at university has me feeling a little in over my head, as in six courses and 17-18 hour days full of reading and writing over my head. And Mike is also busy with his work, so posts will be sporadic at best likely until we return to Malta in January.

I'm squeezing in time to write this post as I eat dinner and give my brain a little rest from all of that darn thinking I've had to do lately.

We miss Malta, but being back in Halifax is a nice change. I really missed living in a city, with city sounds, and city people, and city food, and city shopping, and city dogs. There's something to be said for living somewhere thats bustling with life, and we've even been lucky with unseasonably warm weather throughout September. So far, so good.

One thing we really appreciate in Halifax is all of the green spaces where dogs are allowed to run and roll around on the grass. It's certainly something they just don't have in Malta. Here are a few pictures from my (shiny new birthday gift!) iPhone of a (quick) evening walk to Citadel Hill, Halifax's answer to Valletta's fortifcations, if you like.

I disagree with most other iPhone users: I like the new Instagram. But in the overcast skies outside I failed to notice the giant blue blobs in the middle of these pictures. Oh well. Being so busy lately it's a miracle that I notice things like calorie intake and hygeine, so I'm feeling pretty good for staying on top of those things, at least.

- Jess

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Italian Cooking Basics - What I Learned from David Rocco

When we moved to Malta we learned a lot about Italian cooking ingredients and methods. With fresh ingredients readily available and inexpensive (the price of fresh parmesan cheese in Malta is a quarter of what it is in Canada) Mike and I worked our way through David Rocco's Dolce Vita cookbook this year.

Dolce Vita is my food bible. It has changed the way I cook, period. And thanks to David Rocco, my Italian-Canadian food guru, we now have many Italian dishes under my belt that have become part of our go-to meal repetoire.

The best things I have learned from David Rocco, besides how to make good meatballs, are about ingredients. I have since added several foods to our fridge and pantry that are here to stay, and have discovered flavour combinations that I can't believe I had lived twenty years without tasting. If you are at all interested in Tuscan-style Italian cooking, try adding these to your palette:

Arugula.   Spicy and rich, it's my new favourite green. It's the king of greens. How does iceberg lettuce even consider itself a green compared to arugula?

Fresh parmesan cheese.   I will never buy parmesan cheese in a can again. Real parmesan cheese keeps forever in the fridge and takes every pasta dish, meatball and salad to another level of tastiness. Use a vegetable peeler to shave it onto a salad to avoid awkward slicing and grating. And if you are feeling super indulgent, grate it into a non-stick pan and make parmesan chips. Yes, chips made of cheese. Yum. If parmesan is too expensive, grana padano is a good alternative.

Pear and fresh parmesan cheese.   The grainy fruit and sharp cheese taste is the best flavour combination ever. Put them on a bed of argula, add salt, lemon juice, and olive oil and you have my new favourite salad.

Bresaola.   A smoky and sweet cured beef. Wrap it around a mixture of ricotta cheese and arugula to make a fun finger food. Or, use it as a bed for a cured meat carpaccio salad with arugula, lemon juice, salt and parmesan cheese on top.

Raisins and pinenuts.   Add them to meatballs or beef rolls and they give a lovely sweet and textured flavour to the dish. (Recipe below)

Olive oil.   A no-brainer, I didn't need David Rocco to tell me how good olive oil is. But he did teach me to use it often and liberally. And to pour it on things you think are weird. Skin and dice an orange, a little onion, some cantaloupe, and add olive oil and salt and you have a wonderfully complex tasting salad.

Mozzarella Bufola.   It's the queen of mozzarellas, rich and creamy tasting. Perfect for caprese salads and completely different from the hard white block of mozzarella you use on your pizza.  

I've also learned some cooking methods from David Rocco that have proved to be quite useful. Like, did you know that stirring pasta into a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds eliminates the need to use olive oil to deter pasta from sticking? If you like the taste of olive oil on your pasta pour a little on after draining and rinsing. And take a good deep whiff of the smell - there is nothing like the smell of olive oil on steamy pasta.

Except maybe the smell of simmering red wine. That's another thing David Rocco has taught me - to cook with wine. Cooking with wine in Canada is tear-inducing, since a bottle sets you back $10. But with decent cooking wine at less than 1 per liter I no longer bat an eye at tossing a couple of cups into my spaghetti sauce. I have even boiled pasta in wine - it's called drunken spaghetti (pictured) and this dish also introduced me to the wonders of another ingredient, anchovies!

Finally, the Italian phrase quanto basta (QB) is Rocco's greatest piece of cooking wisdom that I have picked up. Quanto basta translates into something like as much as you need/like or to taste. Rocco's recipes are very flexible in that there are many ingredients you can leave out or adjust to your taste - and that's the way good Italian cooking should be. Plus using ingredients quanto basta teaches you to smell and taste and monitor what you are cooking instead of blindly following recipes.

If you're interested in David Rocco he also has an good cooking/travel & lifestyle show on the Food network in Canada (FLN in Malta) called David Rocco's Dolce Vita. He is also filming a new show, David Rocco's Amalfi Getaway in Italy this summer.

Here is our favourite recipe from David Rocco for meatballs and tomatoe sauce. Try making it with the pine nuts and raisins at least once - we have convinced many skeptics that this is the way meatballs should taste.

adapted from David Rocco's Dolce Vita
serves 6-8 people

cooking time: 1 hour 15 minutes
prep time: 15 minutes

1 lb (500 g) minced/ground beef
1 lb (500 g) minced/ground pork
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
1/2 cup pine nuts (optional)
2-3 slices of bread with crusts removed (preferably Sicilian or Maltese bread, but any Italian style bread will do)
1 cup finely grated fresh parmesan cheese
1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped (optional)
4 basil leaves, or QB
extra virgin olive oil, for browning QB
salt & pepper, QB

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup red wine
4 cups (1 L) tomato puree OR 4 cups whole canned plum tomatos, crushed by hand
salt & pepper, freshly ground QB

Step 1: Soak the crustless bread in milk. Set aside in a bowl.

Step 2: In a large mixing bowl combine the minced beef, pork, pine nuts, raisins, eggs and fresh parmesan. The eggs and parmesan are essential to bind everything together.

Step 3: Remove the bread from the bowl with your hands, squeezing it to remove most of the milk. As Rocco says, some recipes call for bread crumbs as a binder but they tend to make meatballs too dense, so bread soaked in milk is the best alternative. Break the milk soaked bread into little pieces and add to the minced meat mixture.

Step 4: Add chopped parsley, basil, salt and pepper (QB) to the minced meat mixture. Roll up your sleves and mix everything together really well by hand. Combine the ingredients as evenly as possible.

Step 5: Roll into balls the size of golf balls. Too large and they will take too long to cook.

Step 6: If you are frying the meatballs instead of cooking them in a sauce (faster, but not as tasty) flatten the balls slightly by pressing them with your hand. This well allow them to fry more evenly. To fry, heat olive oil in a pan and cook the meatballs until they are brown on each side. They can be served immediately or with a little bit of tomato sauce poured over them, or they can be put into a simmering sauce for a few minutes before serving.

Step 7: The tastier method is to cook the meatballs straight in the sauce. For me, there is no other way to cook meatballs now except in the sauce; the fats released from the meats make the sauce taste superb. To get the sauce started heat olive oil in a pan and add the onions, cooking them until they are soft and slightly brown. Add the red wine and let it cook for a minute or so until the alcohol burns off. Remember to take a good whiff while the wine is simmering - it's the most delicious smell.

Step 8: For the tomato base I use the whole plum tomatos crushed by band because it gives a more rustic texture to the sauce. You could also use tomato puree for a more uniformly textured sauce. Add the tomatos once the alcohol has simmered off of the wine. Season with salt & pepper

Step 9: Once the sauce comes to a boil lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and carefully add the uncooked meatballs.

Step 10: Allow the sauce to simmer for about an hour. Serve with pasta, or on its own, and enjoy.

This really is our favourite meatball recipe ever.  My only suggestion to improve this recipe is to monitor the amount of liquid in your tomato sauce - some people like more or less sauce with their meatballs. I'm a more kind of girl, so I tend to add an extra can or two of whole plum tomatos, crushed by hand, into the sauce.

buon appetito.
- Jess 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Our one year blog-iversary!

We have been blogging for a whole year now, and what a great experience it has been. Our little blog has grown quite a bit this past year. And so have we. From Canada to Malta and back again, we crammed a lot into this past year, travelling to 9 countries, studying & working abroad, and adjusting to life in a new country with two little dogs.

At first, we thought only our mums were reading our blog. But now, one year later, we have regular readers from 65 countries. Thank you to our readers, new and old, for following along on our adventure. We love sharing little bits of our life with you. Here's to another year of blogging, travel, and new experiences.

- Mike + Jess

Friday, September 9, 2011

An evening in Frankfurt

We just finished a crazy 72 hour long trip from Malta to Canada this week. Just about everything that could go wrong during our voyage did go wrong. We ended up spending an extra evening in Montreal, lost a bag, found a bag, had a bag broken by an airline, nearly missed a flight, went standby, missed a different flight (and disappointed our welcome home party who were waiting for us at the airport when we never showed up), saw the Dalai Lama on our trans-Atlantic flight (in person! the real Dalai Lama! it was so cool!), had a dog escape from her kennel on the plane, had to sprint across airports, bought new (stupidly expensive airport) luggage, and paid all sorts of airline fees we shouldn't have needed to pay. But thankfully we had complete strangers help us at every turn (thank you, kind strangers). And, thankfully, by the end of our travels so many things had gone wrong that all we could do was laugh. And laugh we did.

The one thing that did go as planned during our voyage was our overnight stay in Frankfurt.

This was our first very-mini-vacation with dogs and it was so fun. First, can I just say how impressed I was with our dog's behaviour after we stuck them in planes, trains and automobiles over those three days. For those of you who know our dogs, you can share in our surprise - they hardly barked, whined, or cried at all. It was wonderful.

Frankfurt was a very dog friendly city. We took our pups on trains and subways/undergrounds and had no problems at all. We also enjoyed some German beer & sausage with our little sausage dogs before taking them for a stroll across the river, where they got a good scare from the river's swans and geese that tripled them in size.

Frankfurt is a really quiet (some might say bland) city, but we can't wait to go back to Germany and see more of what it has to offer. Hopefully we get to take our dogs with us again, too.

sausage/wiener dogs eating sausages/wieners in frankfurt

Monday, September 5, 2011

Ciao, Malta!

We're currently flying from Malta to Germany to Montreal to Halifax! Wish us luck. Hopefully our dogs look like this (below) instead of whimpering and crying for the whole 13 hours in the air like the last time we flew with them...

We're taking a little time off from blogging to get settled in Halifax, but we'll be back soon. To our readers in Canada and the US - we hope you are enjoying your last long weekend of the summer!


- Mike & Jess

Saturday, September 3, 2011

lunch at café cuba

We went for lunch at Café Cuba in Sliema this weekend. It was either eat out or make a meal out of the remaining items in our fridge: pickles, margarine, and celery. Uh, pass.

Café Cuba was a welcome surprise. Located on the Strand, it just opened this year and has one of the best menus we've seen on the island for a casual dining establishment. It offers a surprisingly large selection of Maltese foods, interesting sandwiches, pastas, pizzas, and desserts. No, you won't find  Cuban food on the menu. But they do sell a full range of cocktails, many made with rum. Which is sort of Cuban. And they have a decent wine list, but not many wines are available by the glass.

Nestled inside the restaurant, Café Cuba also has a real wood-fired pizza oven that produces authentic Neopolitan pizza.

And it was the best pizza we've had in Malta, ever.

We ordered the mozzarella & aubergine pizza. We watched it cook in the oven, as the pizza-guy tossed it around with such skill it was like watching pizza dance. Café Cuba - the guy who makes your pizza has skills.It came piping hot to our table, and was a perfect ratio of light, thin crust, sauce and cheese. We find that generally the pizzas in Malta have not enough sauce and too much cheese. But this pizza was simply perfect.

We also had the Lebanese chicken salad which came with freshly grilled chicken on a bed of greens. It could have used some vinagrette to kick up the flavour a bit but this was also one of the better chicken salads we have had in Malta. The chicken was obviously prepared just before it was tossed into the salad, instead of having been grilled ahead of time and added to the salad cold. I also ordered a fresh apple, basil and lime juice which was really, really good.

Our total bill came to around €30 for three drinks, a pizza and a salad. Not bad. We were also quite impressed with their cheerful and speedy service. We will certainly be repeat customers.

Café Cuba - we're so glad we found you.

- Jess

sliema cafe cuba malta pizza grilled chicken sandwich


Friday, September 2, 2011

Our Weekend Plans Involve Cardboard, Tape & Wine

I admire all of you people who like moving. And transcontinental moves, particularly. And packing. And putting things in storage. And taking them out of storage. And unpacking.

I am not a member of your club.
- Jess

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Fire-works in Malta

We sit and watch fireworks from our terrace often, especially during the summer when the festa season is in full swing. These photos were taken in July when a fireworks display down the road got hot. Very hot. Do you see the orange glow beneath the blue firework? Yikes!

fireworks in malta fire