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. 

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Mom's Orange and Raisin Bread

When I was home at my parents', one of my favourite things to do is to look through my mother's recipe collections. It's not exactly a perfectly bind scrapbook but many pieces of hand-written notes and paper. Many of them from years ago when my mother was still a student. I love the old paper and the stains. There's just a mysterious charm about it.

Of course I had to copy some of the recipes and this is one of them. The original hand-written recipe is actually called Raisin Bread, and with being disrespectful, I added the orange element to it.  I had a discussion with mother and baked this bread for her before (with the orange) and she approved!  

I simply adore orange and raisin together; and the scent of warm orange is just so welcoming especially at this time of year. In fact if you want to oomph the orange, you can also add some diced orange peel along with the raisins (mother approved of that too!).

If you're new at baking bread, there is nothing to be intimidated about. This is a pretty easy recipe and even though the method seems long, that's just me rambling around per usual. Any questions, do ask and I'd be happy to answer. Also I've been thinking to create a bread baking video on my YouTube channel. Would anyone like that? 

I do hope you give this a go and enjoy it as much as I enjoy sharing it with all of you. 

Have a great one x

P.S. to all my American readers, I want to wish an early Happy Thanksgiving Day and I wish you all a wonderful day with friends and family with loads to eat and drink!

Mom's Orange and Raisin Bread
Recipe by Mama Toa :)

500 gr strong white bread flour
7 gr dried active instant yeast
2 egg yolks
100 gr caster sugar
75 gr soft unsalted butter
10 gr salt
150 ml water
100 ml whole milk
Zest of 1 orange
100 gr raisins, soaked in the juice of an orange

Start by making a sponge to activate the yeast. In a small bowl, mix the yeast with 60 ml of the water and 2 tablespoons of the flour. Give it a good mix to form a paste or sponge. Cover with a plastic wrap and set it aside for 10-15 minutes or until it starts to bubble which is a good sign; meaning the yeast is alive and ready to go.

In the meantime, zest your orange and set them aside.  Measure out the raisins in a small bowl and squeeze the orange straight to the bowl with the raisins. Also set this to one side.

Measure out the rest of the ingredients into the bowl of your electric mixer with a dough hook attachment. Add the orange zest with all the yeasty paste mix to the bowl and start mixing on a low speed. Once all the ingredients come together, increase the speed to medium and continue mixing for few minutes. At first the mix will look quite wet, perhaps almost like a cake batter rather than a bread dough, but this is nothing to worry about. As it continues mixing, the gluten from the flour will strengthen and eventually it will form a nice and smooth dough. This might take around 8-10 minutes. Give the bowl a good scrape every now and then if necessary.

Drain the raisins and add them to the dough. Give it a good mix for a couple minute or until they are evenly distributed throughout. Lightly flour or oil your hands and take the dough out from the bowl. Form into a nice round shape and place into a big and well-buttered bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let it prove for an hour or until it doubles in size. This will vary depending on the temperature on your room. 

Once the dough has doubled in size, scrape it out of the bowl to shape. The texture should be bouncy and shiny. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and shape your dough so it fits evenly into a well-buttered loaf tin, seal-side down. Cover with plastic wrap loosely and let to prove again for another hour or so. 

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Using a sharp knife, slash the top of the loaf and bake in the oven for 45 minutes. Rotating once after half an hour. It should be beautifully golden all over and it should sound hollow when tapped underneath.

Turn the loaf out and let it cool on a wire rack for at least half an hour. Slice and serve with soft butter or your favourite jam. Enjoy!