Spotlight: My Macarons by Mary V

A few days ago I had the opportunity to spend a couple of hours baking with a sweet Latvian lady who welcomed me into her home to show me how she makes macarons and tell me her story. WP_20141022_001 IMG_4360 (1)

Marija, or Mary V as she is affectionately known on her facebook page moved to Malta 3 years ago after falling in love with our island a few years back during a holiday. Her regular job at the time had nothing to do with baking. Then one day, after searching high and low for a macaron that would satisfy her craving, she decided to try her hand at making her own. There was no looking back for her, but there were several hours spent experimenting, studying, trying and trying again to bake a macaron she was satisfied with. Her close friends tested her samples and soon she began to realize from the compliments and comments that she was really onto something special here. Marija was encouraged to take this up more seriously and this is when her love affair with the macaron started…

IMG_4374 IMG_4362 (1) It wasn’t easy. One of the first topics we tackled, because it was the one I was most curious about, is how she handles the big humidity issue that bakers need to deal with here. Macarons are delicate creatures, she explains, they need a lot of care and focus. I watch Marija as she glides with practice and experience through the steps, always keeping an eye on all ingredients at all times. It is a dance of precision but not there is nothing mechanical about it. No two days are the same, she says. One must grow a feel for the process, learning to recognize the textures, consistencies and correct timings depending on a number of factors.

She smiles as she tells me about the research she has done, the myths and traditions surrounding this typically French delicacy. However she approaches her kitchen in a practical and methodical manner so I don’t experience any dancing or chanting aimed at softening the meringue. She explains that the step called ‘macaronage’ (creating the macaron batter by adding the dry ingredients to the egg whites) is the most crucial in creating the smooth texture of the typical macaron. Having developed an eye for it, she decides when enough whipped egg white has been added.

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Keeping the charm of a homemade product is not easy. She works alone from home using a standard-size oven, so when big orders come in it means hours of work. Sometimes a batch can go wrong, for example if one of the utensils wasn’t completely dry or the humidity in the air is too high. However, I could see that she is passionate about what she does despite the difficulties and this also extends to making the macarons light and with as little artificial products or extra fats as possible. She doesn’t use butter in her ganache and when possible uses colours from natural products. The flavours in the ganache are created out of nuts, fresh fruit, chocolate and local fresh cream.

Marija decided to dedicate more time to baking and selling her macarons when last August she quit her full-time job to pursue this business. Aside from selling and delivering from home, she has also managed to start selling her creations through a few outlets already and is maybe planning to make a few more products that the Maltese are not so familiar with. The future is sweet, but let’s not reveal all..

Get your macarons from My Macarons by Mary V

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Brining Chicken Breast

When it comes to chicken, I am always a bit nervous using the breast meat as I tend to worry about the fine line between done-ness to tenderness. The chicken breast is a very unforgiving meat.

There are various methods one can use to avoid this though, and I’ve found one that I love. This is brining. What you do is soak the meat in a solution of water, salt and sugar and leave it to rest for at least 30 minutes to one hour (it is conveniently quick too!). This results in the breast retaining its tenderness with an added slightly salty flavour.

Nerd bonus: Check out the science behind it, if you are so inclined.

Here’s what you need to do to brine the chicken breasts (resisted the temptation to write ‘your’ instead of ‘the’ there):

Dissolve 3 heaped teaspoons of rock salt and 2 teaspoons of sugar (I used brown sugar) in 2 cups of water and pour over the meat. Keep covered in a cool place. Wait for 30 minutes to maximum one hour before draining. There is no need to rinse.

Use the chicken as directed in your recipe.

photo by Annemarie Mayo

Chicken curry rice (photo by Annemarie Mayo)

Turnip and lentil patties

It was a Sunday evening and faced with an almost-empty fridge I needed to come up with something to eat which was low in carbs after a very naughty weekend (think Champagne party with canapes at a Michelin-starred restaurant, hmm). During my first attempt I left out the egg and salt, thinking the spices would be enough to lift the flavours. I was wrong, my first result was a batch of patties which were in my opinion far too sweet and wouldn’t keep together enough to classify as a proper patty. Then I got the rest of my mixture and added the egg and salt and voila, a drastic change in taste and texture. This is the final recipe.

You will need:

1 turnip, peeled and cubed

1 cup mixed lentils, split peas and oats

1 teaspoon Garam Masala

1/2 teaspoon chili flakes

a clove of garlic, minced

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste

a handful of fresh parsley or coriander

To make:

Boil the turnip cubes and lentil/split pea/oat mixture in an amount of water which is just enough to cover your ingredients. Add the Garam Masala, chili and garlic. Stir occasionally for about 20 minutes until everything is cooked and soft, adding water in between if necessary.

When this is done, let it cool for a few minutes. Most of the water should have evaporated by now, leaving you with what looks like a very thick soup.

Transfer your contents to a blender and add salt and parsley. Finally blend in the egg.

Fry spoonfuls of your mixture in oil or butter, letting them brown before flattening with the back of a tablespoon and flipping over.

Serve with a salad and (optional) mayo or other dipping sauce.

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