Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Earl Grey Traybake

Greed is often a great source of inspiration. For example, this afternoon when I not only want a cup of tea to sip during my afternoon of Netflix and chill, but also want to be able to eat eat too; I then came up with this Earl Grey traybake idea. I love Earl Grey with its bergamot orange aroma. It is my everyday, anytime tea, but if it not your cup of tea, I don't see why you can't use other kind if you want to.

I adore cakes made with ground almonds. I love its nutty flavour and tender, crumbly texture. Also, not that I have celiac disease or lactose intolerant, but this traybake is gluten-free and dairy-free!  

Earl Grey Traybake
Makes 16 slices

150 ml olive oil, regular not extra-virgin
250 gr caster sugar
3 eggs
2 bags of Earl Grey tea
150 gr ground almonds
50 gr semolina
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking powder
Zest of 1 orange

Preheat the oven to 170C/325F and grease and line a 20 cm square baking tin with baking parchment.

Using a pestle and mortar, or in a mini food processor, crush 50 gr of the sugar with the tea leaves leaves until a fine powder texture forms.

For ease I use a freestanding mixer, but do use a hand mixer or even you can do this by hand if you want to. But anyway, in a bowl of a freestanding mixer, add the tea mix with the rest of the sugar, olive oil, vanilla and the eggs. Mix with a paddle attachment until you have an aerated, thickened cream.

In a separate bowl, measure and combine the ground almonds, semolina and baking powder. Slowly tip in the dry ingredients to the wet.

Add the zest of an orange and stir with a spatula. Pour the batter to the prepared tin and bake in the oven for 40 minutes or until the sides are set and a cake tester (I always use a stick of spaghetti) come up clean. 

Let the cake cool for slightly before slicing and dust with a little powder sugar is you wish.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Bucatini all'Amatriciana

I am a pasta addict, yes I will admit to that. There are several pasta dishes I make so many times and never tired of... and one of them is Bucatini all'Amatriciana. 

This is a classic pasta dish named after the town of Amatrice, somewhere east of Rome. It is very simple to make with only a handful of ingredients, and minutes to prepare. But what I love is, even though the sauce doesn't take hours to simmer, it still manages to deliver gutsy flavours. Thanks to the salty pancetta, red pepper flakes, garlic and pecorino.

Of course, you may use spaghetti or other pasta shapes that please you, but sticking with tradition I use bucatini which looks like thick spaghetti but with a hollow centre. 

Next time you want something quick and easy, do give this a go. 

Bucatini all'Amatriciana
Recipe by Michael Toa

500gr dried bucatini pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
150 gr diced pancetta
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
1 small red onion or shallot, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely minced or grated
1 can (400gr) chopped tomatoes
150 ml white wine
1 teaspoon caster sugar
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Pecorino cheese, freshly grated

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy skillet that can take all the pasta later over medium heat. Add the pancetta and saute until crisp and golden, stirring every now and then. Add red pepper flakes, onion and garlic; cook, stirring for a couple of minutes. Add chopped tomatoes and fill the can halfway with water and add that too; along with the white wine and caster sugar. The caster sugar balances the tanginess from the tomatoes. Bring everything to a boil and then simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the sauce thickens. Taste and season with salt and black pepper.

In the meantime, cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water. Cook just before the al dente stage for about 7 minutes. Drain, reserving a cup of the pasta cooking water.

Add drained pasta to the skillet and toss vigorously to ensure everything is coated nicely. Add a little of the pasta water if the sauce looks too dry). Stir in grated pecorino, as much as you wish; serve on a bowl and enjoy.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016


I hope that it's still acceptable to wish you all a very happy new year! It's a tad late I know, but better late than never, right? :)

It's still only the 12th day of the new year, but I feel so much have been happening already. A great news to share with all of you readers, I got a promotion! I am very pleased and grateful with this opportunity to continue learning and doing what I love most that is, to cook and bake. 

I realise that I have not been posting much lately, and that is not because I have not been cooking or eating (no way!). If you are a follower of my Instagram account (@michael_toa), you know that is not the case. I've been posting more updates of what's been going on there, so if you're interested, do follow me around. 

It's still really busy at work at the moment especially with Cayman Cookout happening in a couple days time. No, I'm not freaking out. A little nervous, but the good kind. Honestly, I look forward to it...

I'm having a lovely and relaxing day off today; and I've just been to see the film Joy which I thought is just excellent. It really inspires me to do more and to never give up. A great film to kick off the new year.

But like all other new years, I don't make resolutions because I don't keep them and I don't want to set myself up for failures. I do have plans and few things in the works which will be unveiled hopefully soon, so please be patient guys :) And of course, a big thank you to everyone for the support all these years. It means a lot.

So, here's to a wonderful 2016!

Michael x

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Mulled Ginger Beer

There are so many Christmas traditions I love, from the classic minced pies, fruit cake and of course, the turkey with all its trimmings on the big day itself. But this is also treat-season and boy, I do know how to treat myself well. After a somewhat productive day off doing the Christmas shopping, I want to wallow more in the festivities.

At home, I put on Christmas carols and I make my mulled ginger beer. I do love the more traditional mulled wine, believe me (that is my drink of the season), but this mulled ginger beer is lighter and just all too drinkable which in my case can be dangerous.

It is full of Christmas warmth from the ginger beer, strong ginger and lemon tea, and slices of fresh ginger. But not just heat, it is also fruity from the lemon in the tea and the clementine. Spice wise, cinnamon is a must and a couple of aromatic cloves. And since I am in the Caribbean, I feel like adding a generous splosh of dark rum is very appropriate. I add the rum at the very end, because I don't want to lose all the alcohol. Don't judge me.

This is a great drink to make for a party because it can be made well in advance and it'll sit happily on a low heat. Plus, your guests will arrive with the most welcoming scent. 

If you want to make a virgin version of this, just switch the ginger beer to the non-alcoholic kind and leave out the rum, obviously. 

Have a Happy Christmas everyone!

Mulled Ginger Beer
Serves 1, happily

330 ml ginger beer
200 ml ginger and lemon tea
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar, or to taste
1/2 clementine
2 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 cm fresh ginger, cut into slices
A generous splosh of dark rum

Pour the cider and tea into a saucepan, add the brown sugar and put over a low heat to mull. Stud the clementine with a couple of cloves and add to the pan with the cinnamon stick and slices of fresh ginger. 

Let the mixture simmer and infuse nicely. Add the rum at the end, serve and enjoy!

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Jerk Pork Chop with Rice and Beans

This jerk pork chop was all I can think about when I was at the gym this morning. I always think about food and my next meal anyway; and after a good workout session, of course, I have to find a great way to replace all the calories I burned.

Jerk seasoning is essential in Caribbean cooking and yes, you can buy the ready-made mix from the store; but making them at home is not difficult. Plus, you can adjust the spices to your liking. Don't be alarmed by array of spices and long list of ingredients. You might already have all of these in your cupboard. Especially at this time of year, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and ginger are the champion spices of the holidays. So, I always have a good stock of them.

The pork chop I use here is bone-in and I always prefer that when cooking meats. As the saying goes, the closer to the bone, the sweeter is the meat. Also, I love nibbling on the bone afterwards.

Because there's so much flavour in the jerk marinade, the pork chop doesn't need a long time to sit around. If you have the time, let's say a couple of hours, yes, sure why not or even overnight. But when you're hungry like me, fifteen minutes will do just fine.

What is also crucial for me is to bash the pork chop in between a couple pieces of cling film to make it thinner which means later it will need less cooking time. When I am hungry, I want food... fast!

The traditional accompaniment to jerk chicken or pork is rice and beans. The beans most often used are red kidney beans or pigeon peas. Purists might not agree with my brown rice and sauteed green beans but they delight me. 

Jerk Pork Chop
Serves 1, happily

1 bone-in pork chop
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cm fresh ginger, finely grated
1 small clove of garlic, finely minced or grated
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon of runny honey
2 tablespoon of soy sauce
Zest and juice of 1/2 lime
Salt and black pepper, to taste

Brown rice and green beans, to serve

If your pork chop is thick, bash it with a rolling pin or wine bottle (that's what I use) between two pieces of cling film to make it thinner.

In a bowl, mix the rest of the ingredients. Give it a taste and adjust the seasoning and spices to your liking. Then smear everything to your pork chop and leave it aside for few minutes, whilst you cook the rice or prep the green beans.

Heat a heavy-based pan on a moderate heat and cook the chop for about five minutes to really form a nice crust before turning it and cooking for another five minutes. Remove to a plate and cover with foil to rest. This little resting time will ensure the pork stays juicy.

Using the same pan, add a knob of butter and cook the green beans. Season with salt and black pepper. Transfer to a plate and serve with the brown rice.