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.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Anna Sultana’s Baked Pork Side Ribs in a Sweet and Sour Sauce, Maltese Style

A few months ago, in the summer, I posted the recipe for Anna Sultana’s Barbecued Pork Side Ribs and Barbecue Sauce, Maltese Style.
The stores were having sales then and, here in Canada, it was a popular grilling item.

Okay… now it’s winter and no one wants to stand outside in -40º C while cooking their lunch.
But the ribs are still being occasionally featured as a sales item.
Next time they are, pick up a pack and cook the ribs in the oven.

You might serve a vegetable soup and cornbread as a first course.
A big platter of pasta with tomato sauce is also good.


If you have a crockpot it would be fine for cooking the ribs.
Layer the ribs in  the pot, spooning the sauce over each layer.
Cover and cook on Low for 10-12 hours or on High for 5-6 hours.
The ribs should be 'falling off the bone' tender.

Ma didn’t have a slow cooker, so she cooked ribs in the oven.
They were nice and tender, too.

While you've got the oven on, why not roast some garlic, too?

                        Sweet and Sour Sauce

Place in a medium saucepan
1 Cup brown sugar (dark gives a stronger taste)
1/4 Cup flour
1 teaspoon ginger
Stir until they are combined.
Stir in
1/4 Cup ketchup
1 garlic clove, minced (or 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder)
1 Cup water
1/2 Cup vinegar
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
Cook and stir occasionally over low heat, about 30 minutes.

                        Baked Pork Side Ribs

Preheat the oven to 350º F

In a large roasting pan, with a cover, place in layers
3 pounds pork spareribs
Spooning the sauce over each layer. 
Cover and bake for 2 hours until the ribs are very tender.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Anna Sultana’s Pumpkin Black Bean Soup / Preparing Dried Beans / The Full Wolf Moon & Five Planets Align

We’re having a really cold weekend here in the prairies, including Winnipeg.
No, you don’t want to know how cold it is.
I'm not complaining.
We know how to dress for it.

With weather like this we need all the help we can get to stay warm.
Salads just won't work.
It's time to make soup.


You can use other beans if you prefer.
It's your choice to use either beef, chicken or vegetable broth.

This soup is easy to make and freezes well.

Have dried beans? 
No problem.  It’s easy to use them in this recipe.
If you're trying to use dried beans, they'll need a little prep work in advance.
One Cup of dried beans will give you an amount equal to about 3 Cups canned.
If soaked for 12–24 hours, cooking time can be shortened by around 30 minutes.

Place in a bowl
2 Cups dried beans
enough cold water to cover by 2 inches
Let stand for 4 hours, or overnight, in the refrigerator.
If the beans appear above water level, add more water.

Drain the beans and place them in a pot with fresh water to cover by 1/2 inch.
Over low heat, bring to a simmer.
Cover the pot and simmer about 1 hour.
If the beans appear above water level, add more water.
When the beans are soft, drain and use as canned.
For this recipe you’ll need about 6 Cups of prepared beans.

Just a thought… you may as well prepare extra beans.
They’re handy to have.
Just store them in the refrigerator until needed.

This post has links for a few of Ma’s soup recipes.
Enjoy and stay warm!

                        Pumpkin Black Bean Soup

Place in a blender or food processor
3 19 ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes
2 Cups broth
Puree until smooth.

Place in a Dutch oven
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 Cup chopped red onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
Cook on low heat until the onion and garlic begin to brown.
3 Tablespoons cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice

the pureed beans, tomatoes and broth mixture.
1 28 ounce can pumpkin puree
2 Cups broth
Simmer, uncovered, about 40-45 minutes.
Stir in 
3 Tablespoons vinegar

Garnish each serving with
Baked pumpkin seeds (optional)

Of course, Ma served soup with Maltese hobz.

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

On January 18, in the evening, look to the southeast to see the waxing gibbous moon, Aldebaran and the “Seven Sisters”, the Pleiades Star Cluster. You may need binoculars because of the glare of the moon.

On January 19 a stellar eclipse will be visible for almost all of the United States. The moon passes in front of the star that marks the orange eye of Taurus, the Bull. That star is Aldebaran, the 13th brightest in the sky. 
To find it locate the three stars of Orion’s Belt. Then draw an imaginary line through the belt to the right. The first bright star you come to will be Aldebaran with its distinctive reddish-orange glow. 
The ancient name, from Arabic, means “the Follower,” as the star seems to follow the Pleiades, or “Seven Sisters” star cluster, across the sky.

On January 20 Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn will align in the sky for the first time in more than 10 years. The five planets will all be visible from Earth early Wednesday morning. Best to see around an hour or so before sunrise. The alignment is set to continue through Feb 20. Binoculars and telescopes are not needed!

On January 22 look to the east during the evening to see the nearly-full moon very near to close to Gemini’s brightest stars, Castor and Pollux.

On January 23 see the Full Wolf Moon at 8:46 p.m. To see how this full moon got its name, watch this Farmers’ Almanac short video: January's Full Wolf Moon

Monday, January 11, 2016

Anna Sultana’s Roasted Garlic Hummus, Salad Dressing and Onion Spread

We’re now officially having another cold January here in Manitoba.
The temperature is hovering at minus 30º C.
With the windchill it’s feeling like minus 40º C.
Yeah… that’s cold.

We were kidding ourselves back in December when we thought we were going to enjoy a mild winter during the start of 2016.
Well, Winnipeggers can dream, can’t we?

I recently posted the recipe for Roasted Garlic and Roasted Garlic Butter.
The butter isn’t the only thing you can make with roasted garlic.
Here are three more recipes.
But feel free to experiment and create a new family favourite!


Don’t store any of these garlic recipes in plastic containers.
The scent tends to linger.

The amount of garlic cloves in the recipes is just a suggestion.
If you'd like a milder or stronger flavour, no problem.
Just use less or more garlic.

The roasted garlic gives the hummus and dressing a sweeter, milder taste than hummus made with raw garlic.
The kiddies might like the gentler garlic flavour with their fresh veggies. 

The mashed roasted garlic paste can be refrigerated in a jar with a tight-fitting lid.
Or frozen, if you’ve made more than you can use in a couple of weeks.

Roasted Garlic and Onion Spread is good served with cheese and crackers.
Or spread it on bread for sandwiches.
It’s particularly good with a Panini or in a grilled cheese sandwich.
You can also use it on garlic bread, garlic toast, bruschetta, crostini and canapé.
Freeze any Roasted Garlic and Onion Spread you’ll be storing for over a week.

                        Roasted Garlic Hummus 

Place in a blender
1 can (19 oz / 540 mL) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/3 Cup olive oil
1/4 Cup lemon juice
3 Tablespoons water
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Pulse until smooth. 

Add by squeezing out into the blender
4 to 8 roasted garlic cloves 
Purée until well combined. 
Transfer to a serving dish.

Sprinkle over hummus
1/4 teaspoon paprika (optional)
Serve it with crackers and vegetables.

                        Roasted Garlic Salad Dressing

For the Roasted Garlic Paste:
Squeeze into a small jar with a tight fitting lid the cloves from
8 whole roasted heads of garlic
Mash gently with a fork.

For the Dressing:
In a small jar with a tight fitting lid combine
1 teaspoon roasted garlic paste
1 teaspoon honey or sugar
1 Tablespoon vinegar
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Close the jar and shake vigorously or stir with a fork.

                        Roasted Garlic Onion Spread

Peel, roughly chop and place in blender
2 large sweet onions
Pulse until finely chopped.

Place in a medium saucepan 
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons butter
The chopped onions.
Cook over medium high heat for 5 minutes, until soft. 

Add by squeezing out into the pan of chopped onions
2 - 3 heads of roasted garlic
Cook for another 10 - 15 minutes, or until the excess moisture starts to cook off.

1/4 Cup packed brown sugar
3 Tablespoons vinegar (wine or balsamic)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Cook, stirring often, for another 15 - 20 minutes.
The mixture should be thick and deep golden.
Taste to adjust the seasoning. 
Pour into a container with a tight-fitting lid.
Cool and refrigerate until needed.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Anna Sultana’s Roasted Garlic, Roasted Garlic Butter and Sirius, the Dog Star

Happy New Year!
We’ve been having a mild start to January, 2016.
Mild for us here in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

When I mention the temperatures we get to my New York friends - or worse, to my California friends - they go into shock.
Oh, well… it’s been mild enough that our water pipes aren’t bursting as they did a couple of years ago.
And that’s a very, very good thing.

I recently got an email asking for budget friendly recipes.
One of the first rules of budget shopping is to buy what is in season.
Actually, buying what is in season is the way to get better quality food.

I realize I also have readers who live south of the equator, but I’ll be making budget suggestions for what is available in my local markets.
Please, if you live in Australia or South America, just make a note of the seasonally affected posts and use the recipes when appropriate.

Garlic is now in season and can be found is one pound bags.
People have been eating garlic in China since 2000 BC.
Garlic is grown around the world and is known for its pungent flavour as a seasoning and as a condiment.

Garlic also has a medicinal side…
It was used as an antiseptic to prevent gangrene during World Wars I and II.

In 2013 it was proven that garlic may lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in adults with high cholesterol if taken for longer than two months.
They also found a connection between higher garlic consumption and a lower risk of prostate cancer.

But be warned - as garlic may reduce platelet aggregation, patients taking anticoagulant medication shouldn’t eat much, if any, garlic.
Garlic is known to cause bad breath and body odour. 
Sipping milk - or having bland cheese - while eating garlic can help.
Well, nothing’s perfect.


Garlic, raw or roasted, may be applied to different kinds of bread to make garlic bread, garlic toast, bruschetta, crostini and canapé.

Roasting makes the flavour mellow and sweet and the texture spreadable.
Roasted garlic is delicious with pasta and can be added to an antipasto tray, with some cheese and Italian cured meats, and served with bread. 
You can also add roasted garlic to guacamole or tomato sauce.

If you buy a bag or two of garlic, why not save time and roast them all?
This can be done while you are roasting meat or chicken or baking a casserole.
No, not while you're baking a cake or cookies.

Garlic can be roasted at temperatures ranging from 325º F to 375º F.
Just check after 45 minutes to see how they are doing.
You want them to be dark and soft enough to squeeze out of their skins. 

After roasting you can keep the garlic wrapped in the foil in the refrigerator to spread on sandwiches or to squeeze into vinaigrettes or mashed potatoes.
Roasted garlic can also be frozen.

                        Roasted Garlic

Preheat oven between 325º F to 375º F, depending on what else you are cooking

Tear a large piece of aluminum foil and place it in a pan.
You want a large enough piece to wrap the bulbs.
Lightly grease the part of the foil where you will place the bulbs.

Take garlic bulbs and remove any loose papery skin.
Cut about about 1/4 inch off the tops.
Place the bulbs root side down on the foil.
Drizzle olive oil into each bulb - about 1 teaspoon each per bulb.
Sprinkle the bulbs with salt and pepper, to taste.
Some people like to add thyme or rosemary.

Seal the bulbs tightly in the foil. 
Place the pan in the oven.
Roast the garlic for 45 minutes.
Check to see how they are doing - they might need up to another 45 minutes.
When done it will have browned and the cloves will be soft.
Let sit about 20 to 30 minutes.
When cool enough to handle, squeeze out garlic cloves from the bulb and use.

                        Roasted Garlic Butter

Gently squeeze the roasted garlic cloves into a container with a tight-fitting lid.
Mash the cloves gently with a fork to create a garlic paste. 
Refrigerate or freeze. 
Spread it inside sandwiches or serve with cheese and crackers.

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

On January 9 look to the southeast before sunrise to see Venus and Saturn close together, like they’re touching! This is the closest these two have been since March of 2013.  Don’t bother looking for the New Moon at 8:31 p.m.  

On January 10 locate the three straight stars of Orion’s belt, then follow a line directly below it to locate Sirius, the Dog Star.  Look right below and you’ll see a faint fuzzy smudge, which is M41, a Messier Object. At mid-northern latitudes, look for the pair at 3 to 4 a.m. local time. You’ll need a dark sky and either binoculars or a telescope.