Signs of Spring

Starlings
Starlings

My friend Kalpana and I had been planning to go to a Farmer’s Market for a couple of weeks and after making sure it was going to be a warm day, we met up early this morning, with list in one hand and a bag in the other, ready for a good shop.

Kalpana
Loading Up

But neither of us did our homework.  Turns out the market doesn’t open until April!  So we sat in the car thinking what to do instead when this huge flock of starlings came within feet of our car.  How lucky was I to happen to have a camera in hand just when I needed it!  I just wikipediad “a flock of starlings” and learned that it is called a Murmuration of Starlings.  I know you wanted to know that!

Half Moon Bay Nursery
Half Moon Bay Nursery

Didn’t take us long to decide on going to Half Moon Bay Nursery instead, and  half an hour later, we were happily going through aisles of beautiful plants, oohing and aahing and having a tough time deciding what NOT to get!

This is fast becoming a tradition for Kalpana and I as we are at our happiest when we’re plant shopping.  We tend to lose ourselves there and the morning just flew by.

We loaded the car with all our goodies of the day and headed for home but not before making plans to go to the Farmer’s Market Stand next!! Can’t wait!

Gbejniet (Maltese Cheese)

 

Gbejna
Gbejna

I didn’t know I missed gbejniet until my dear friend Mary shared some with me a few years ago.

Mary was the first Maltese person I met when we first moved to the Bay Area.  In 1996, the internet was still in the early stages and there was hardly any information or even links to Malta.  The only source of interest at the time was a “chat room” for Maltese people.

Feeling very homesick, I left a message in this chat room to see if there were any other Maltese people in the area. A few days later I found a message from Mary and the best thing was that she lived only about half hour away from me.  We soon realised that her husband Tom used to play soccer with my uncle Guz when they were kids!! That’s how small Malta is.

I’ve known Mary now over 15 years and we chat and visit regularly!  We share recipes and I love going over her house to to catch up and visit her lovely garden which is like stepping into a Maltese Giardina with caper bushes and prickly pears. I think the only thing that’s missing is a Bambinella Tree…I’m still hoping!

Cheese Baskets (Qwieleb)
Cheese Baskets (Qwieleb)

So this is a recipe she so graciously shared with me.  I’ve tried to tweak it a few times.  I tried adding yoghurt and once I tried adding cream.  I’ve made it with whole milk and with goats milk.  Sheep’s milk would be ideal…but I gave up  trying to find some to buy a long time ago.

You do need these cute little gbejniet baskets called Qwieleb.  I believe there are a few online websites who carry them.  They’re 3 inches in diameter and 2 1/2 inches in height.

It is very important that you do NOT use ultra pasteurised milk or homogenised milk when you are making gbejniet. Ultra-pasteurization heats the milk to 280 degrees, effectively killing any micro-organisms in the milk. You want these microbes in the milk in order for the cheese to curdle properly and for the final cheese product to actually have flavor. 

Goat Milk
2 litres of Goat’s Milk

This recipe will yield about 8 Gbejniet.

Ingredients

  • 2 litres of Goat’s Milk
  • 1 cup low fat milk powder
  • 2 Rennet Junkets
  • 2 tbsp water
  • salt

Directions

First you need to sterilise all equipment.

Heat the milk with the milk powder in a non reactive pot on low and stir until the milk powder is dissolved.

Stir the Mixture
Stir briefly

Add 2 tblsp of water to the rennets and stir until dissolved and set aside.

When the milk temperature reaches 98 degrees, take it off the heat.

Add the rennet tablet mixture to the milk and stir briefly.

Cover and let set at room temperature for about 3 hours.

In the meantime, prepare a draining container with the baskets on top.

Ladle the curd into the baskets and let drain overnight.

Ladle curds into baskets
Ladle curds into baskets

(You can pour the collected whey in a glass container and  store in the refrigerator. You can use this instead of the water for the ftira and maltese bread.)

Next morning, flip the cheese and put them  back in the baskets and let them continue to drain overnight.

Flip the cheese
Flip the cheese

Cover with a net.

Cover with net
Cover with net

Next morning, making sure that they’re strong enough to handle, take them out of the baskets and sprinkle about 1/4 tsp salt all over and around each gbejna and let drip for a few hours more.  Make sure to always keep them covered in case of bugs.

 If you like them dried and peppered…you can do this at this stage.  Grind some pepper in the plate and pat each gbejna into the pepper and cover all over and let them dry for another day (always depending on how hot and dry the day is…please use your judgement).

I don’t like a lot of pepper, so I let them air dry without the pepper.  That’s the good thing about a recipe…you can adjust and substitute to your liking.

Here they are drying before being soaked into the vinegar.

Air dry
Air dry

Here they’ve been dried for a couple of days indoors.

After 2 days of drying
After 2 days of drying

I then fill a bowl with pickle vinegar and let them soak for 2-3 hours. You can use a vinegar of your choice.

Soak in vinegar
Soak in vinegar

Store them in a sterilised jar.  I add about 2 tbsp of vinegar and olive oil and a bit more pepper.  Some people cover them in vinegar.

Store in sterilized jar
Store in sterilized jar

 

I like to store them in the fridge and give them a good shake every now and again.

The great thing about gbejniet is that they are tasty at any stage.  They are delicious fresh after you flip them.  They go well with toasted bread and butter or in Soppa ta’ l-Armla (Widow’s Soup).  Personally I like them after they’d been dried and soaked in vinegar.  Love them on my ftira with tomato paste and olive oil!

Happy Cheese Making!

Sprinkled with pepper
Sprinkled with pepper
Ready to enjoy!
Ready to enjoy!

Monkey See Monkey Do

Picnic Blanket
Picnic Blanket

Here’s a calorie free project for you to try. It is simple and cute and it is also a no sew project…now we’re talking!!

The hardest part for me was choosing the fabric and it took me three visits to Jo-Ann Fabric store.  Each time I would load up the cart with numerous different rolls of fabric…walk around for about three hours

Fabric Chosen

until I felt nauseous and then when I couldn’t take it anymore,  I would walk out with nothing.  I thought for sure I was going to have my picture on the “Unwelcome Customers Wall” by the end of it.

But then my friend Rose came to the rescue and between the two of us, we ended up choosing this combo. These, plus a few more scraps I had at home, ended up being more than enough.

 Here’s the recipe 

1 yard Crypton home decor fabric
Calico Fat Quarters  8-12 purple, 3 gold, 3 green
1 pkg HeatnBond Lite
Poster Board Circle Templates 8″, 7 1/4″, 6″, 5 1/4″, 4″, 3 1/4″
Pressing cloth

Scrap of poster board for leaf pattern

Directions

From Crypton Fabric, cut 30″ x 42″ rectangle. Round the corners by tracing around with small plate.  Cut off square corners.  St Fabric aside.

Flower consists of 3 calico fabric circles, 8″, 6″ and 4″.  Cut 15 circles of each size from purple and gold fat quarters.

From HeatnBond, cut 15 circles of each size, 7 1/4″, 5 1/4″ &  3 1/4 ”

Follow manufacturer’s insturctions to fuse HeatnBond circles to back of calico circles; leave 1/4″ raw edge around. Peel off paper backing; arrange circles on RS fabric rectangle. Using press cloth, fuse circles in place.

Make two leaf patterns on poster board scrap.  Cut one pattern 1/4″ smaller all around. Cut 17-20 HeatnBond  leaves from smaller pattern and cut the same number of green fabric leaves from the larger pattern.  Fuse the HeatnBond leaves to the back of the leaf fabric, leaving 1/4″ raw edge all around.  Peel off paper backing; position into place; fuse in place.

Stitch around each fused leaf and flower circle 1/4″ fro raw edge.

Rub edges of flowers and leaves with toothbrush for a soft, raveled look.

picnic blanket

It took me about four days to make from start to finish.  Now I want to go on a picnic…

Hobz or Ftira biz-zejt u l-Kunserva

Hobz biz-zejt u l-kunserva

Now that we’ve mastered the Maltese Bread and Ftira, we can work on the filling!!  In Malta, our most favourite way to have the bread is with kunserva.   Hobz biz zejt u l-kunserva…nothing like it.  So that’s bread with tomato paste and olive oil.

Of course you can also go all gourmet and add anything that you like…maltese sausage, gbejniet,  which is a type of maltese cheese, canned tuna fish, chopped up onion, cannelini beans, pickled veggies, capers, olives…the list is endless…make up your own combination of your favourite things.  Parsley or Basil, some olive oil, salt and pepper and oh it’s just heaven on earth!

A little bit of home…

Fountain in Valletta

On certain days I feel more homesick than others.  Even though I’ve been living away from Malta for twenty years, I still feel that twinge of sadness when I see photos of Malta or read what’s going on on my little Island.  One thing that helps on days like these, is baking Maltese goods…but yesterday I found another way to feel the closeness and get that good old fuzzy home feeling.

Captain's Window in Gozo

 

My friend Karl sent me a link to a show on HGTV called House Hunters where they feature couples and people from all over the world, looking for real estate in Malta.  I tell you…it’s just what the doctor’s ordered!!

 


View from Upper Barrakka

I’m afraid this link can only be accessed by residents in the US.

Bonding over Bread (Maltese Bread or Ftira Recipe)

I don’t think it would be appropriate to have a blog called Tal-Forn and not include the best bread recipe ever!  Anyone who has ever tried it has given it 5 stars and I guarantee that if you try this,  you won’t be disappointed and we’ll be bread friends for life!

Ftira

In fact, this recipe has made me quite a few friends, from around the world.  But first let me tell you a little bit about how it came to be.

When we came to live in the United States, back in 1994, there were quite a few things I missed, but nothing more than a good loaf of Maltese Bread!  I tried the fancy bakeries and the not so  fancy stores but nothing came close, so within a week of settling down, I got my first bread machine! It was and still is the most used gadget in my kitchen to date!  I’m actually on my third one which is less than a month old and a gift from my lovely family in Malta…love you guys soo much!

So I’ve been making bread for years and years but I still had not come close to the taste and texture of the Maltese Ftira that everyone falls in love with on their first visit to the lovely Island of Malta.   Every now and then, I’d do a search for nothing, but never gave up.  Then  along came fb and there it was…the recipe I’d been looking for all these years on Ilovefood.com. It was quite a detailed recipe from a Linda Speight from London!!    The thing that captured my interest  from the get go, was her first sentence, which went something like “This is much easier than it sounds…”.   Plus she had written the recipe in so much detail that I thought there was no way I could fail!  And so I set on another mission to see if this was the recipe of my dreams.

Being an avid baker, I had all the ingredients on hand and started making the starter, which I’d always found intimidating.  And the rest is history.   The best part though, is that Linda and I are best of friends.  We bonded over bread and we now chat all the time, sharing recipes and talk about food and weather and everything in between!!

Ok…so if you googled Maltese Bread or Ftira and Google brought you to my blog, you must be eager to get started and make this delicious bread in your own kitchen.  I have tried making this recipe with AND without a  bread machine and I have to admit that this ONLY works with a bread machine.

Recipe…

You have to have a starter….if you don’t, don’t worry,  it’s really easy to make your own…

All you need is a clean jar and some flour and water.

Put a tablespoon each of water and flour in a clean jar and stir with a plastic spoon or chopstick which is what I use and cover.   They say metal is not good…not sure why and I don’t ask questions. Store in a warm place away from direct sunlight.

Do this every day…each morning, add another tablespoon of water and a tablespoon of flour, and stir and cover…for seven days…and on the eighth day, you’re ready to start on your first loaf/rolls/ftira/pizza/focaccia…oh so many things you can make!!

In the bread machine pan, put

Ingredients

1/2 cup starter
1 1/2 cups water
(together the starter and water should weigh 420gr)

3 cups (420gr) high gluten flour
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp salt

2 tblsp olive oil
1 1/2 tsp yeast

Put everything in the bread machine on the dough cycle.  When it’s done, take out the dough and let it rest for about five minutes.  Divide in 3 equal parts.  Take each part and flatten it a bit to about 8-10 inch rounds.  Tear a hole in the middle. Cover and let it rest until double in size for about half an hour but it really all depends on how warm your kitchen is.  Bake at 425 for about 12-15 mins.  Again, it depends on your oven, so keep an eye on it.

Now that you made this, don’t forget to feed your starter every day.  Just add equal amounts of water and flour and this can go on for years!  If you need to go on holiday or just need a break from making bread, just store the starter in the fridge.  When you’re ready to use again, take it out, feed it and use it at room temperature.

Hope you enjoyed this post and if you make this bread, I’ll be very happy to hear how it turned out for you or answer any questions.  Here’s to bread!!