What does your traditional Christmas dinner consist of?

Merry Christmas to you, loyal followers of my blog posts.

Have you ever thought how Christmas was celebrated a few decades ago?  What was a traditional Christmas dinner like? On the spur of the moment, I thought I’d have a quick look at Christmas in Malta, not so long ago.

At the time, Malta being a devoutly Catholic country, Christmas centred around ecclesiastical celebrations.  In the run up to Christmas, young children participated (some still do, today) in a procession around the village (il-purcissjoni tal-bambin), carrying a figure of the baby Jesus and singing Christmas carols along the way.

Christmas
Baby Jesus, black treacle rings and imbuljuta

The Christmas crib and baby Jesus were typical decorations of every household with midnight mass, on Christmas eve, being the highlight of Christmas celebrations.  During this mass, a young boy was chosen to deliver a heart-felt Christmas sermon.  Another tradition that’s still around, to this day.

A tradition which seems to have died over the years is the traditional Maltese Christmas meal.  Turkey was not always on the Christmas menu.  In most  families, the Christmas menu consisted of a fattened capon (ħasi) accompanied with baked potatoes (patata l-forn) and a selection of seasonal vegetables.  Very often, the big bird and potatoes were cooked – kind-of baked but not exactly roasted – in a very large, tailor-made dish. On Christmas day, in the morning, housewives and husbands alike would take their dishes to the local bakery – home ovens were not large enough to cook the traditional Christmas meal. Crusty, local bread was typically served with the meal to mop up the juices from the bird and potatoes.  Usually, vegetables were cooked at home.

The main course was followed by a pastry ring stuffed with black treacle.  Nowadays, these traditional sweets, known as treacle rings (qagħaq tal-għasel), are found at local confectioneries, but they do not necessarily form part of the Christmas meal.  They’re more likely to be served at tea time.

As if that wasn’t enough, the traditional Christmas meal would end with a thick, warm drink of stewed chestnuts and cocoa (imbuljuta tal-qastan).  The warm, thick, chocolaty beverage was also the go to drink after midnight mass and throughout the cold, winter months.

I remember my mother cooking a traditional Maltese Christmas lunch.  What was Christmas lunch like, when you were younger?

My thanks go to

Azure.com – Top 5 Christmas Customs in Malta
A Maltese Mouthful
Ilovefood.com.mt
196flavors.com

Image:  Introduzzjoni ghall-ikel u nbid ta’ Malta – Puligraf Publishing

 

 

 

 

Meal Planning Made Easy

Hi! Good to be back! It’s been very busy indeed, with plenty of study and a fair amount of experiments in the kitchen.

Speaking of cooking … a blessing or a curse?  A pleasure for some but a headache for others.  Would you like some tips on  how to make your meal planning easy?

I came across “Planning Meals” in my course work Childhood Nutrition and Obesity Prevention and it inspired me to share these tips with you.

As a working mother, I always found meal planning very helpful.  But when my children left home, I was less fussed about planning meals. Old habits die hard and when I came across this section in my notes, it rekindled a passion from the past.

Historically, I used to spend a good couple of hours, typically on a Sunday afternoon, leafing through my cookery books.  I love it; so relaxing (agreed – not everybody’s cup of tea!) But the advent of the Internet changed all that!

From my course work I picked this very good tip – “theme nights” – which inspired me to write this piece and share it with you. Here goes …

Write down your “theme nights” – example: Monday – pasta; Tuesday – fish; Wednesday – mince / grains / pulses; Thursday – rice; Friday – soups / salad; Saturday – kids’ favourite meal; Sunday – family treat out / old favourite recipe.

There are various meal planning apps these days. Alternatively, you can go for a more flexible approach and run a search for the food you’d like to eat. Keep your searches simple – do not choose complicated recipes with plenty of ingredients – unless you are blessed with time on your hands.  The trend is five-ingredient recipes.

Refine your searches as you go – browse by ingredients instead of recipes.  If you have leftover pasta in the fridge and a broccoli head that’s losing it’s bright green colour, Google “pasta with broccoli” and presto! You end up with a number of recipes to choose from. It’s that easy!

Ask your kids for their suggestions, even if they’re still young.  Involving your family with meal planning will make it less likely you have complaints at supper time and instills good habits in kids.

What are the benefits of meal planning?

  • Meal planning saves time, effort and stress;
  • It’s cost effective;
  • You have all your ingredients readily available;
  • You can work around commitments by preparing ahead.

 

The secret behind successful meal planning is not how detailed your plan is, but how varied.  Make it interesting – present a rainbow of colour and texture with every meal.  Ensure meals contain carbohydrates, proteins and healthy fats to meet your family’s nutritional needs.  Look for seasonal offers, especially at your vegetable man and buy local produce.  Local fruit and veg in season, is likely to save you money and give you a product that’s more fresh than it’s imported counterpart.

Download your weekly menu planner, courtesy of Future Fit Training School of Nutrition, to get you started.

Weekly Menu PlannerWeekly menu planner (1)

My thanks go to:

Future Fit Training School of Nutrition
Lifehacker.com – Five Best Meal Planning Apps
Allrecipes.com – 5 Ingredient Recipes
Seriouseats.com – Dinner tonight: Pasta e Broccoli Recipe

 

How to cook ‘Minestra’- chunky vegetable soup

Minestra‘ is a typical Maltese dish.  It is very similar to the Italian ‘minestrone’.

Maltese food is influenced by the cuisine of countries who ruled over these islands and also by countries close to our shores.  The pasta we use in our kusksu bil-ful is a larger version of couscous – pasta typical of north Africa.  We give food a twist to suit our culture and traditions.

The stuffat tal-fenek (rabbit stew) – the national Maltese dish – goes back to the days of the Knights.

Many of you will associate soups with cold weather.  In Malta, however, minestra is one of those foods cooked all year round.

With Malta being so tiny, you’d think there’s just one recipe for minestra. This is not the case; you will find there are a number of regional variations.  I remember my mother used to add pasta to the soup to make it more filling.  Some Maltese families serve it with crusty bread.  I prefer thicken the soup with a mix of grains and pulses.

This is my favourite minestra recipe.

Ingredients

200g soup mix (dried beans, lentils, chick peas, peas etc.)
400g leek
500g pumpkin
300g carrots
300g turnip
300g potatoes
300g cauliflower
500g courgettes or marrows
300g fresh tomatoes
150g celery (Maltese celery is not sweet)
200g pinto beans (or similar)
20g Swiss bouillon
2tbsps olive oil

Method

  1. If using dried beans, soak for four hours, put in boiling water and simmer for 25 minutes (drain) – you can use canned beans
  2. Saute the leek in olive oil until soft but not coloured
  3. Put in the soup mix (grains and pulses) and cover with water.  Bring to a rapid boil, lower the heat and simmer until you prepare the vegetables
  4. Prepare vegetables – wash and cut into similar-sized cubes (approx 3 x 3cms)
  5. Add the chopped  vegetables (except tomatoes), Swiss bouillon and cover with boiling water – stir and cover
  6. Boil rapidly for 3-4 minutes, lower the heat completely and simmer gently for 20 minutes
  7. Add the pinto beans (or similar) and chopped tomatoes – stir gently, cover and simmer for a further five minutes
  8. Turn off the heat and leave to stand, covered, for a further 10 minutes – season with salt and pepper to taste before serving.

 

Paraffin stove
Paraffin stove

My mother, and her mother before her, used to leave the minestra simmering for at least an hour on a paraffin stove.  Nowadays the trend is not to cook your veg to a pulp.  I like my veg with a bite to them and find the timing suggested above is just right.

Minestra is not expensive to make, filling, kind to your waist line and very nutritious.

 

 

Give it a try and leave me your comments below.

 

My thanks go to

A Maltese Mouthful
Wikipedia
Visit Malta

 

15 Benefits of Pomelo

What is Pomelo?  Pomelo or Chinese grapefruit is pomelo-in-netthe largest of citrus fruits.  It can weigh up to nine kilos and has a soft outer skin which makes it easy to peel.  The taste is a cross between a sweet orange and a grapefruit.  The pulp of the pomelo varies in colour from a pale yellow to orange, to a bright red.

The pomelo is a native of China but is now found growing across South East Asia, the United State and India.

As you know, fruits and veg have numerous health benefits, but this fruit checks so many tick boxes – it’s unbelievable!

The pomelo 

1. Prevents Urinary Tract Infections
2. Promotes Healing
3. Keeps Gums Healthy
4. Promotes a Healthy Heart
5. Prevents Anemia
6. Prevents Colds and Flu
7. Fights Cancer
8. Keeps Aging at bay
9. Aids in Weight Loss
10. Prevents Osteoporosis
11. Helps Digestion
12. Prevents Muscle Cramps
13. Speeds Wound Recovery
14. Checks Blood Pressure
15. Cleanses Arteries

Nutrition Facts

As with other citrus fruits, the pomelo is rich in vitamin C.  It also contains vitamin A (beta-carotene), essential for maintaining a healthy skin and for growth.

Pomelo contains vitamin B1 (Thiamine) and B2 (Riboflavin).  It also contains potassium a mineral involved with maintaining a healthy heart besides other organs.  Over and above, this fruit is a good source of folic acid, healthy fats, protein and fibre.

In other words, it packs a punch!

Pomelo In Recipes

I like using fresh fruit in my salads and citrus add a nice tangy taste, especially with fish.  I ran a quick search for a recipe using pomelo and came across this interesting Thai Salmon and Pomelo Salad which I intend trying out tonight.

thai-salmon-pomelo-salad
Thai Salmon and Pomelo Salad

By the way, in Malta you can get pomelo fruit from the big supermarkets.

Try this recipe and leave your comments.  Sharing is caring; please share any pomelo recipes you come across.

Good weekend everyone!

My thanks go to

Stylecraze.com
My Relationship with Food

 

 

How to make your own granola

How important is breakfast? It’s been labeled ‘the most important meal of the day’ and the nutrition author Adelle Davis advised people to “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a queen and dinner like a pauper“. So why all the hype?

Is breakfast good for you?

There are two schools of thought.  Harvard School of Public Health researcher, Rania Mekary PhD. carried out various studies which suggest that, making breakfast part of your healthy lifestyle, is good for you.  In the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, in 2013, Mekary reported that there is a link between breakfast eaters and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes as well as other illnesses such as heart disease.

A study carried out in Chinese kindergartens in 2013, concluded that children who ate breakfast every morning had a higher IQ than those who didn’t.

Can breakfast help you lose weight?

Not everyone agrees that breakfast helps you lose weight.  Evidence shows, people who do not eat breakfast tend to snack on sugary food mid-morning and eat a bigger lunch. So, if you are skipping breakfast to cut down on calories, you might want to think again.

What can you have for breakfast?

There are a number of options to choose from.  I am a firm believer of the good, old porridge bowl, but a couple of weeks ago I came across a recipe for homemade granola which I’d like to share with you.

homemade-granola
Homemade granola

It’s so easy to make, and it keeps for 5-7 days in an airtight container.

Ingredients – yields 10 helpings

320g rolled oats
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
60ml grape seed oil
60ml maple syrup
25g of each chopped hazelnuts,
almonds and walnuts
25g chopped dried apricots
50g raisins, sultanas or cranberries
4 tbsp pumpkin seeds

  1. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees Celsius (300 degrees Fahrenheit / gas mark 2)
  2. Toast the nuts and seeds for 3-5 minutes (watch them closely)
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the grape seed oil and the maple syrup
  4. In a large bowl mix together the oats, cinnamon and ground cloves.  Fold the oil and syrup mixture into the oats until they’re well coated
  5. Spread on a large baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes, turning over twice during baking
  6. Allow to cool and add the dried fruits, toasted nuts and seeds
  7. Store in an airtight container for up to 7 days.

This is my version of the recipe I came across; you can easily tweak the ingredients to your liking.  You may use different fruits and nuts, or you may add coconut or chocolate chips.  You can also use different spices – ground nutmeg and cinnamon work nicely together.

The original recipe contained salt and twice the free sugars.  I went for a healthier version and cut down on both salt and sugar.

Give it a go and leave a comment below.  This recipe proved very popular at home.  Serve the granola with milk or yogurt for a nutritious breakfast or nibble for an on-the-go snack.

Enjoy!

My thanks go to

Independent.co.uk
WebMD.com

Carbs and weight gain: myth or fact?

You want to lose weight. Should you stop eating carbs, even if for a short time? How fast can you lose weight if you cut out on your carbs?

What are carbohydrates (carbs in short)?

The term carbohydrates is given to a food group which provides the body with energy. Carbs provide energy for the brain and the central nervous system to function. The brain in particular, needs a constant supply of glucose for it to function properly.

There are two types of carbohydrates – simple carbs and complex.

Simple carbohydrates, or sugary carbs, as they are more commonly known, are found in fruits, vegetables, milk and dairy products.  They are also found in manufactured food stuffs such as cakes, biscuits, pastries and processed foods.

Starchy carbs on the other hand are more complex.   The reason why they’re referred to as ‘complex’ is because this type of carbohydrate can be sub-divided into various components such as resistant or digestible starch and soluble or insoluble fibre.

Starchy carbs can be found in foods such as bread, pasta, rice, cereals, potatoes, rye and barley.

starchy-carbs
Starchy Carbs

Are carbohydrates making you gain weight?

One gram of carbohydrate has less than half the amount of calories found in fat. There are 4 kcals in one gram of carbs as opposed to 9 kcals in one gram of fat.

Carbohydrates do not contribute to your weight gain if

  • they are consumed in the right amount, as part of a calorie-controlled diet and
  • you do not add too much fat to them.

Cooked in the right way, served in proper-sized portions and with low-fat ingredients added, carbs can be a low calorie food.

Will you lose weight if you cut out carbs?

You will lose weight if you cut out any food group from your diet.  However, knowing how important carbs are for your body, would you be ready to cut out them out long term or for good?  You may be able to cut out carbs for a few months, but it will not be sustainable in the long run.

If you cut out carbs completely from your diet, you notice you will find it difficult to concentrate.  Your brain gets ‘foggy’. You will also slow down your metabolism and when you re-introduce carbs to your diet, your slow metabolism will not cope and you end up gaining weight.

You want a long term solution to your weight management. Cutting out food groups, such as carbs, certainly does not help you achieve your goals.

Instead of eliminating carbs, go for wholegrain varieties  which keep you full for longer. Wholegrain carbs also provide you with fibre, B vitamins, iron, calcium and folate, which are all very essential vitamins and minerals.

For further reading on the benefits of including starchy carbs in your diet go to Nutrition.org.uk