Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Anna Sultana's Spongecake with Lemon Cream Filling, Maltese Style

Well, the sky was overcast on February 2.
Various rodents throughout North America didn’t see their shadows.
So, with any luck, it will be Spring in six weeks.
I sure hope they were right.

I don’t know what it is about cloudy skies.
I crave lemons... in my drinks, in my meals and especially in my desserts.
Maybe I just need something round and yellow.
Whatever… I need to make lemon desserts.

About five years ago I posted two custard recipes:

Needless to say, Ma’s recipe is easier.

This recipe of Ma’s is even easier.
And it has lemon pie filling in it.
Need I say more?


Sponge cakes are usually sold in pairs.
This recipe calls for four layers - that’s two packages.

This dessert also works with canned pie filling.
Or homemade, if you have the time.

This recipe makes a dessert large enough for a family get together.
If you’d like something smaller, just make it with:
one package of sponge cake (two layers)
one package of lemon pie filling & dessert mix
one half tub of whipped topping
Cover each layer with half of the lemon cream filling. 

                        Spongecake with Lemon Cream Filling

2 packages of lemon pie filling & dessert mix as per package instructions
Set aside to cool to room temperature.
Fold in
1  1-quart tub of whipped topping

Place in a deep bowl
1 8-inch sponge cake layer

Spread over it
a thin layer of apricot jam (optional)

Top with 
1/4 of the lemon pie / whipped topping mixture

* Place another 8-inch sponge cake layer on top of the lemon cream filling.
Cover with a layer of jam (optional) and 1/4 of the lemon cream filling.
Repeat from * two more times.
Cover and refrigerate.

Easy, no?

About the sky this week…
According to the Farmers Almanac:

February 4 is the midpoint of winter, the halfway point between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox.

On February 6 look to see a very thin waning crescent Moon forming a broad triangle with Venus and Mercury this morning, the Moon hovering about 4° above both planets. Mercury also reaches greatest elongation on this morning, 26° west of the Sun.

On February 8 there’s a New Moon at 9:39 a.m. It’s completely invisible.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Anna Sultana's Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Shells with Tomato Sauce, Maltese Style

Hurrah! We’ve made it through January!
On to February and Groundhog Day.
If the groundhog sees its shadow on February 2 it will return to its burrow, and there will be six more weeks of winter. 
If it does not see its shadow, then there will be an early Spring.

Whatever happens on Tuesday, there should be something on the table for dinner.
And even if we’re in for an early Spring, we're just entering February.
A good, hot, stick to the ribs pasta casserole would be enjoyed by the family.
February in Winnipeg is too soon for only a salad.


About the mozzarella cheese - you can use either regular or low fat.
You can also use fresh spinach instead of frozen.
Or, if you don’t have it in the house, you can leave the spinach out.

I know… some people don’t think it’s a real dinner if there isn’t meat in it.
You can also use cooked ground chicken or lean ground beef instead of the ricotta.

The stuffing works equally well with manicotti tubes and lasagne noodles.
Just spread the filling on the lasagne noodles, roll them up and place them in the pan. 

The prepared shells in the casserole can also be refrigerated, covered, up to 24 hours. 

Sometimes, when Ma was watching a rerun on TV, she'd make stuffed shells.
She would then place them on cookie pans and put them in the freezer.  
When they were frozen, she'd place them in a plastic bag, seal tightly and freeze.

She could then take as many unthawed stuffed shells as she needed for a quick meal.
She'd place them in a layer of sauce in a casserole, cover them with sauce and bake.
For frozen stuffed shells, an hour in a 350º oven usually did the trick.
An extra sprinkling of shredded mozzarella cheese before baking is also good.

Here are two more stuffed shells recipes:

You’ll also need Tomato Sauce for this recipe. 
This is a favourite of Ma’s and makes about 4 - 5 cups.
You can make the sauce a few days before stuffing the shells.

Heat in a large heavy pot over medium heat
 2 Tablespoons olive oil
 1 medium onion, minced
 1 garlic clove, minced
Fry a few minutes until golden.

Stir in
 1 small can tomato paste (optional)
 1 Cup water
 1 bay leaf
 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
 1/2 teaspoon pepper
 1/2 teaspoon salt
 1 Tablespoon sugar
 1 28 to 35 ounce can diced Italian tomatoes, undrained
Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour. 
If the sauce becomes too thick, add a little more water.

                        Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Shells

For the Stuffing

In a bowl combine
500 grams ricotta (about 1 pound)
300 g frozen chopped spinach, thawed, well drained (about 1/2 pound)
1/2 Cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 to 1/2 Cup grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon oregano or basil
1/2 teaspoon pepper

For the Pasta

In a large pot place
4 quarts water
Over high heat bring the water to a boil.
salt to taste
340 grams (about 20) jumbo shells
Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is cooked but slightly chewy.
Drain the shells and rinse with cold water.
Stuff the shells.
If freezing see above.

If the shells are for tonight's dinner, preheat oven 400 º F

Place a layer of tomato sauce in the bottom of a casserole or a 9 x 13 inch pan.
Place the stuffed shells in the casserole.
Add some sauce over the shells.
Bake, covered, 30 minutes.
Top with
1/2 Cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Bake, uncovered, 10 minutes.

Serve with 
grated Romano or Parmesan cheese

Serve with a salad or a cooked vegetable.
It wouldn’t hurt to have some crusty bread on hand to sop up the sauce.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Anna Sultana’s Shepherd’s Pie, Regular and Using Leftovers

No, Pop was not a shepherd.
Neither was Ma a shepherd.
But she grew up in Malta and had learned quite a few British recipes.
One popular British dish was Cottage Pie.

Cottage Pie was originally meant to help get poorer folks used to the idea of eating potatoes in 1791.
It was also a way to use leftover roasted meat.

Originally a pie dish was lined with mashed potatoes, filled with leftovers, then covered with even more mashed potatoes.

A mound of starch… what Maltese wouldn’t love that?

Cottage Pie is more popularly known as Shepherd’s Pie, since it originally was made using leftover cooked mutton.
Whether you use mutton or beef, it’s sure to please.


If you don’t have gravy, you can substitute BBQ sauce.
or a can of mushroom soup or tomato soup. 
Or a mixture of soup and sauce.
You can also use turkey gravy, if you have some leftover from a holiday dinner.

Want more cheese?  Why not?
If you have mozzarella cheese or mild cheddar cheese, that will work, too.
Ma was trying to get more calcium into us, and, during the 50s and 60s, cholesterol didn't worry anyone's parents.

Don’t have - or want - cheese in your Shepherd’s Pie?
No problem.  Leave it out.
You can also top the potatoes with cooked pieces of bacon and fried onions.

If you don’t have a pound of cooked ground beef sitting in the fridge you can increase the meal's protein by adding cooked kidney, or other, beans.
Invited vegetarians?
Shepherd’s Pie can also be made using only cooked beans.

Feel free to use what you have in the vegetable department:
Chopped onions, mushrooms and canned corn - regular or creamed - are good in this dish.

Taste the meat / vegetable mixture before you spoon it into the pan.
If you’d like it spicier, add a few favourites.
Garlic, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, steak spice, thyme, crushed rosemary are a few ideas, if you don't have a favourite go-to meat spice.

You can also make the casserole and freeze it for a future meal.

                        Shepherd’s Pie

6 servings

Place in a large pot
1 1/4 pounds red potatoes, cut into eighths
4 large cloves garlic, peeled
Cover them with water and bring to a boil.
Cook 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.
Drain the potatoes and return them to the saucepan. 
3/4 Cup reduced-fat sour cream
Mash potatoes until smooth. 
Stir in 
1/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Brown in a large nonstick skillet 
1 pound extra-lean ground beef 
Stir in 
2 Tablespoons flour
Cook 1 minute. 
4 Cups frozen mixed vegetables
2 Cups beef broth
4 Tablespoons ketchup
Cook 5 minutes. 

Heat oven to 375°F
Spoon the cooked meat / vegetable mixture into an 8 inch square baking pan.
Cover with the mashed potatoes.
Sprinkle over the meat
1/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (optional)
Bake 30 minutes.

Serve with salad and crusty bread.

                        Shepherd’s Pie, Using Leftovers

6 servings

Mix until blended  
2 Cups mashed potatoes 
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 Cup shredded cheddar cheese

Heat oven to 375º F
1 pound cooked extra-lean ground beef  
4 Cups mixed vegetables, or leftover vegetables of what you have
2 Cups beef gravy 
Spoon the meat / vegetable mixture into an 8 inch square baking pan.
Cover the meat mixture with the mashed potato mixture. 
Sprinkle over the mashed potatoes
1/4 - 1/2 Cup shredded cheddar cheese (optional)
Bake 30 minutes.

Serve with salad and crusty bread.