Perfect ice cream

These days one can buy such good ice cream that I don’t often make classic, custard-based ice cream myself, particularly since I discovered how easy it is to make semifreddo. When we were on holiday in Verona many years ago we had a divine nougat semifreddo. So, as soon as we got home, I looked for a recipe in Claudia Roden’s wonderful The Food of Italy and found one for semifreddo al miele, which I have used ever since. She also gives recipes for chocolate and wine semifreddos, with slightly different methods.

Semifreddo is just a form of Italian ice cream which is rich enough with eggs and cream not to need churning, and I find it very easy and quite quick to make. This quantity is for 4-6 people – if you want to make less, it works fine with 1 egg and 2 egg yolks, and half the quantity of honey and cream. You can use whipping cream instead of double to make it slightly lighter.

  • 1 egg
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 100g orange blossom or acacia honey
  • 300 ml double cream

Bring some water to a brisk simmer in a medium saucepan. Put the egg, egg yolks and honey into a heat-proof bowl that will fit on top of the pan without touching the simmering water. Put the bowl onto the pan and whisk the mixture until it becomes thick and pale. I use a balloon whisk for this, but you could use a hand-held mixer. When it is ready you should be able to write your initial with the mixture dropping off your whisk, something which gives me a child-like pleasure.

Whip the cream until well risen and fold it into the eggs and honey. Pour into a plastic container and freeze for 6 hours or overnight. See what I mean about simple?

However, sometimes I want a classic ice cream and then I have turned to this recipe by Travel Gourmet, which is flavoured with brandy and sherry. If you have an ice cream machine it really isn’t difficult, thanks to Delia’s tip of using a little cornflour (or custard powder) to avoid the risk of the custard splitting, though it does need cooling and then churning so the preparation takes a bit longer. It is a delicious way of using up milk or egg yolks left over from other recipes. The vanilla ice cream below uses Travel Gourmet’s base, and is here to encourage me to make it more often!

  • 6 egg yolks
  • 300ml whole milk
  • 300ml whipping cream
  • 1 tsp cornflour
  • 120g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract or paste

Beat the egg yolks, sugar, custard powder and vanilla with a whisk until thick and smooth. Heat the milk until it is just about to boil and then pour it slowly onto the egg yolk mixture, whisking all the time.

Rinse out the pan if there is any sign of milk sticking to the bottom, then pour the mixture back in and heat it, stirring diligently with a spatula or wooden spoon until it thickens. Pour into a large bowl to cool. When the custard is cold, whip the cream until it is risen but still floppy, rather than stiff. Fold carefully into the custard using a large metal spoon or spatula. At this stage you can add any additional flavourings.

Unless you have a very fancy ice-cream maker, I find it helps to put it into the fridge for an hour or so to get really cold before you churn it. Then churn the ice cream until it is softly frozen, spoon into a container and put in the freezer to firm up. Remember to take it out of the freezer for about 10 minutes before serving to make it easier to scoop.

Carrot and bean dip

I was prompted to post this by my friend Sue, who asked me for the recipe after we made it during our holiday in the Auvergne. It is very easy to whip up and is a pleasant change from ordinary houmus. Irene originally found a recipe for it online, but we could never find that recipe again, so this is a reconstruction, informed by some online browsing.

If you’re pushed for time you can boil the carrots rather than roasting them, though roasting does give a sweeter flavour, and it is incredibly easy, especially if you pop them into the oven when you’ve got it on to cook something else. You could use crushed raw garlic, if you prefer.

This quantity makes enough to accompany drinks for 6 and, as part of a selection of four different nibbles or snippets, it was enough for a drinks party for 20 last night.

  • 1 tin cannellini or butter beans
  • 3 carrots
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 tbsp tahini
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1½ tsp coriander seeds
  • sea salt and black pepper

Heat the oven to 180°C (or thereabouts – just adjust the cooking time if you’re cooking them with something else that needs a slightly different temperature). Scrub or peel the carrots, trim the ends and cut into rough chunks. Sling into a roasting pan with the garlic, a drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Roast for about 20 minutes until tender to the point of a knife, then put into a bowl (if you’re using a stick blender) or the food processor. Alternatively, boil in lightly salted water for about 10 minutes.

Heat a small frying pan over medium heat. Toast the cumin and coriander seeds, shaking the pan occasionally, for a few minutes until you start to smell them (do not leave them, as they can burn quickly). Tip out, allow to cool for a few minutes, then crush to a powder in a spice mill or mortar and pestle. You can, of course, use ready ground spices if you haven’t got seeds or are in a rush – but it really is worth the bother if you have time.

Drain the tin of beans and tip into the bowl or food processor on top of the carrots. Add the lemon juice, tahini, 3 tbsps olive oil, ground spices and a good grind of black pepper. Squeeze the garlic out of its paper cases (or peel and crush in a garlic press if you’re using it raw) and pop that in too. Then blend or pulse until you have a puree – you can decide how rough or smooth you prefer it. Taste for seasoning – you may need more oil, salt or lemon juice.

If you’re feeling a fancy you can add some chopped parsley or coriander as a garnish. Serve with bread sticks, crackers, flat bread or – my current favourite – fennel tarralini for dipping.

Thanks to Sue for prompting me to post the recipe and for all the (very professional) photographs.

Sweet potato cakes

These sweet potato cakes are dead easy to make, and perfect for brunch or supper. You could also make smaller cakes and serve them as a snack with some salsa or chutney. We had them for brunch with a poached egg on top and a fresh, crunchy salad. To keep it vegan, serve a sliced avocado or a good dollop of coconut yoghurt alongside the potato cakes instead of the egg. This is a very useful recipe when you have left-over roasted or boiled sweet potato – sometimes you can only get enormous ones, which are far too big to get through all at once.

The potato cakes are very soft – you could use more cornflour and chill them for longer if you want firmer, neater patties – but I don’t mind them being a bit wonky, and they held together fine in the pan. Adjust the chilli content to your taste, and chilli flakes would work too if you don’t have any fresh chilli. You could, of course, omit the ginger and chilli and use parsley and lemon zest instead of coriander and lime zest if you wanted a milder, more soothing brunch. Serves 2.

1 large sweet potato (about 300g)
2 spring onions
1cm ginger
1 clove garlic
1 red or green chilli
zest of 1/2 lime
6 sprigs coriander
1 tbsp cornflour
salt and black pepper
2 tbsps quick-cook polenta
1 tbsp olive oil

Salad
2 tomatoes
5cm cucumber
6 radishes
1 stick celery
Coriander leaves
juice of 1/2 lime
2 tbsp olive oil

To serve (optional):
2 eggs or 100g coconut yoghurt
1 avocado

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Bring a pan of salted water to the boil. Peel the sweet potato and cut into small chunks. Add to the boiling water and simmer for 10 minutes until tender to a fork, then drain thoroughly in a colander.img_5453.jpg

 

Trim and finely chop the spring onions, peel and grate the ginger and garlic, de-seed and finely chop the chilli and put into a bowl with the zest of lime. Finely chop the coriander, including any soft stalks, and add that too. Tip the drained sweet potatoes into the bowl and mash them into the other ingredients.

 

Add the tablespoon of cornflour and mix well. Then spread the polenta onto a plate. Take a quarter of the mixture, shape into a pattie and dump on top of the polenta. Carefully turn it over (using a spatula helps) so that it is completely coated in the polenta.

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Move the potato cake onto a plate or board and do the same with the rest of the mixture to give four sweet potato cakes. Pop them into the fridge to firm up for a few minutes while you clear the decks, make salad and lay the table.

 

For our salad we just diced the vegetables listed and dressed them with lime juice and olive oil. Diced red pepper or red onion would also be nice, as well as or instead of the ones listed. Or you could just prepare a regular green salad.

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Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan. If you’re having poached eggs put a shallow pan of water on to heat.

When the oil is hot use a spatula to transfer the potato cakes into the pan and leave to cook undisturbed – resist the urge to fiddle with them – on a medium heat for 5-7 minutes until the bottom is crisp and golden. Turn them over carefully with the spatula and cook the other side.

Slice the avocado, if having, and squeeze over a few drops of lemon or lime juice to stop it discolouring. If you’re having poached eggs, about 3 minutes before the potato cakes are ready crack each one into a cup and slip into just simmering water. Cook for 3 minutes or until done to your taste. Use a slotted spoon to scoop each one from the water and blot any excess moisture with a kitchen towel.

Serve the potato cakes with their sides and salad for a satisfying, spicy brunch.

Sweet potato cake and egg

Mushroom tart

Mushroom Tart

I have been meaning to post this mushroom tart recipe for ages. It was given to me by my mother’s friend Sarah, who was an excellent cook; her hand-written recipe has been pasted into my recipe book for forty years now. Although Sarah was vegetarian herself, she also cooked meat and fish for her family and friends, and her food was always perfectly seasoned even though she never tasted the meat dishes.

As the tart uses puff pastry, it is a bit of an indulgence, but it does turn an ordinary punnet of button mushrooms into something special. I sometimes use chestnut mushrooms or a mixture of button and field mushrooms. It is important to cook the mushrooms ahead of time and let them cool down as otherwise the heat can soften the pastry which makes it difficult to manage. Tarragon works particularly well here, but parsley is nice too if you don’t have any tarragon, in which case you could add a crushed clove of garlic to the mixture too.

Sarah recommended Saxby butter puff pastry if you can get it. Rolling the pastry yourself will give a thinner crust, but a ready-rolled sheet is fine if you prefer. This serves 3-4, depending on how many sides you serve with it.

350g button or chestnut mushrooms
50g butter
1 tsp plain flour
1 tbsp sherry or white wine
150ml single or sour cream
huge pinch of tarragon or parsley
200g (or a ready-rolled sheet) all-butter puff pastry
1 egg beaten with a little milk

Slice the mushrooms very thinly. Melt the butter in a frying pan and sweat the mushrooms in the butter over a gentle heat until they are ‘slug-like’, which will take 5-10 minutes.

Mushroom tart 1

Sprinkle on the teaspoon of flour and cook for a few more minutes. Stir in the cream, herbs and sherry and season with salt and black pepper. Cook for another couple of minutes. Then leave the mixture to cool, preferably for an hour.

When you are ready to bake the tart put the oven on to heat to 210°C. Roll out the pastry very thinly into a large oblong (or unroll the ready-rolled sheet) and place half on a baking sheet, with the other half off the edge. It helps to put some baking parchment on the bench to stop this part of the pastry sticking to it. Paint the edge of the pastry with the egg wash. Spoon the cool mushroom mixture onto the half of the pastry which is on the baking sheet and carefully fold the other half over the top.

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Seal the edges very firmly with a fork or crimp the edges together with your fingers rather as you would for a pasty. As you can see below, my effort was far from neat this time – I had taken the pastry out of the fridge a bit too early and it was not being co-operative. Paint the top with egg wash and make two or three diagonal slashes in the top for the steam to escape.

Bake for 25-30 minutes in the oven, until the tart is puffed up and golden brown. Serve with salad or a green vegetable such as chard or broccoli, and new potatoes if you wish.

Mushroom Tart

 

Lentils with squash and spinach

Lentils with squash and spinach

A new discovery, this lentil dish is both comforting and fresh-tasting, thanks to being flavoured with orange peel and juice. The idea came from the beginning of a Lindsey Bareham recipe in her column for The Times, which Irene found online. The introduction and ingredients made it sound delicious, but the rest of the recipe was for subscribers only, so the method below is our guesswork (and the sage and fresh chilli our additions). So far, we have had it hot with sausages and pan-fried pheasant breast (separately, obviously) and at room temperature with salad and goat’s cheese. I plan to polish off the leftovers with some ham for lunch tomorrow, and Lindsey Bareham also recommends it cold with hard-boiled eggs.

These quantities make enough for 3 servings, or 4 as the accompaniment to something more substantial.

1 large onion
3 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
2 oranges
1 cm piece dried chilli
150g puy lentils
1 bay leaf
3 sage leaves (optional)
300ml chicken or vegetable stock
250g butternut squash
100g spinach
1 fresh red chilli to serve (optional)

Heat the oven to 210°C. Chop the butternut squash into bite-sized chunks and toss in 1 tbsp olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and spread on a baking tray. Roast for about 20-25 minutes until tender. I tend to roast more butternut squash than I need for one recipe, as there are lots of recipes that you can then make easily, such as soup, pumpkin rice, squash with aubergine sauce, salad with mushrooms or risotto.

Softening onions for lentils with squash and spinachCut the onion in half and slice thinly. Heat 2 tbsp of the oil in a frying pan over medium heat and cook the onions slowly with a good pinch of salt, stirring regularly and reducing the heat if they start to show any sign of browning. After about 10-15 minutes, they should be soft and golden – rapeseed oil gives them a particularly lovely colour.

Add the lentils and stir them in to coat them with the oil. Pare several long strips of orange rind and add them to the pan with the dried chilli, bay leaf and the sage leaves torn into strips. Stir and cook for another minute or two, then add the hot stock to the pan.

Lentils with squash and spinach 2

I used 1 tsp of Marigold bouillon made up with 250ml of boiling water, but found I needed to add a little more water. Bring to the boil, then cover with a lid, turn down the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, checking after 10 minutes in case you need to add a little more water.

Wash the spinach and squeeze the juice of the oranges. After 15 minutes the lentils should be nearly tender – if not, give them another few minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then add the spinach to the pan (if you’re using previously roasted, cold squash as I was, add it at this stage to warm through).

Adding spinach and squash to the lentils

Put the lid back on and cook gently for another 3-5 minutes until the spinach has wilted. By now, the squash should be ready to come out of the oven. Stir the spinach into the lentils, add the orange juice and the squash if you are  haven’t already done so. Give it a final stir and check the seasoning, then serve hot, warm or cold. It may not look elegant, but it is delicious!

Lentils with squash and spinach

Proper Porridge

Proper porridge with apple compote, blueberries, nuts and seeds

This is a public service post for everyone who hasn’t yet discovered that what you need to start the day on these cold dreary mornings, especially when you have a persistent dreary cold, is a big pot of proper porridge. By this I mean porridge made from oatmeal, which is no harder to make and has a better texture than any porridge made with ordinary porridge oats.

We first started using oatmeal to make porridge regularly after staying with our friend Pat in Pennsylvania. Her beautiful old Quaker kitchen has tall carpenter-made cupboards which, of course, house a big tin of local steel-cut oatmeal. Oatmeal porridge was also the regular breakfast on walking holidays in Scotland, but I rarely had to wield the spurtle myself. When I got back from the States, with a smart new set of American cup measures, I investigated available brands of oatmeal; some are distinctly pricy and not all supermarkets stock it. Working out the right quantities of oatmeal and water to give our preferred quantity and consistency, took a certain amount of trial and error too.

So these instructions come with a caveat – this is how we like our porridge so you may need to adjust the quantities or the proportions, if you like yours thicker or thinner – and two discoveries that make cooking porridge much easier. The first, learnt from my friend Luc in Glasgow, is to start the porridge the night before. It takes 5 minutes to measure oats, water and salt into a pan and bring it to the boil, and saves time and hassle in the sleepy morning. The second is to leave the pan of porridge to sit with the lid on for 2-3 minutes before you serve it, before giving it a good stir with a silicone spatula or spoon to mix in the thicker layer at the bottom of the pan. Use the spatula to serve the porridge then quickly run the pan under the cold tap to rinse off any remaining scraps and you will never have to soak gluey porridge from the bottom of a pan ever again.

No doubt you can do all of this in the microwave, but it just doesn’t conjure the same comforting atmosphere of home as a pot of porridge steaming on the stove. Besides, putting the porridge on at night reminds me of staying with my grandmother, who used to set the breakfast table before she went to bed every night. So, for me, cooking porridge on the stove is definitely worth the extra few minutes it takes. You can still have breakfast on the table in little over 10 minutes.

We use Mornflake medium oatmeal, and our favourite porridge toppings are apple compote, a handful of blueberries and some nuts and seeds to add crunch. A drizzle of maple syrup on top, and a banana sliced into the bottom of the bowl add extra fuel when facing particularly miserable mornings. I add yoghurt, which I realise is a bit weird, but we don’t often have milk in the fridge and cream would definitely seem too indulgent. Quantities are for two – if multiplying up you’ll find you don’t need quite as much but, as any Scot will tell you, leftovers can easily be heated up for the morrow so you may want to cook up enough for a few days anyway. A reminder that these are American cup measures, though it doesn’t matter if you don’t have them, as the key thing is to use the same measure for oats and water, so that the proportions stay the same, and to find a cup that produces the right amount of porridge for you.

½ cup medium oatmeal
2½ cups water
a pinch-½ tsp salt, to taste
Optional toppings:
apple compote
blueberries
chopped nuts
mixed seeds
drizzle of maple syrup

Putting porridge on the night before

Measure the oats and water into a medium saucepan and add salt to taste. I am trying to cure myself of a tendency to under-salt everything (see previous post about the influence of Samin Nosrat) but how salty you like your porridge is a matter of personal taste. At this stage it will look far too thin and as if it will never turn into porridge. Stir with a spurtle or wooden spoon and bring to the boil. Then turn off the heat, clamp on the lid and go to bed.

IMG_4891In the morning, you will find it has thickened and looks much more promising. Gently bring the pan back to a simmer, stirring diligently. Don’t forget to stir the porridge when you put it back on the heat, or it will, I promise you, stick and burn (I made this mistake – once!). Then put the timer on for 6 minutes, and busy yourself with making coffee or apple compote (see below), turning back to stir the porridge every couple of minutes. You may need to turn the heat down so that it stays at a steady simmer and doesn’t erupt into an angry impersonation of the mud baths in Rotorua.

When the pinger goes, give the porridge a good stir and decide whether you think it is the right consistency or needs an extra minute or two. Once you are happy, put on the lid, turn off the heat and leave it for 2-3 minutes, while you prepare your toppings.

Porridge with apple compote, blueberries, nuts and seeds

You can make a quick apple compote while the porridge is cooking. Just chop an eating or Bramley apple into dice, rinse and simmer it in the water clinging to the apple for 5 minutes. As you can see, if I’m using eating apples I leave the skin on, but generally peel Bramleys, to get that distinctive, fluffy consistency. You can add a teaspoon of sugar to the Bramleys if you like, but I like their tartness – especially if you’re going to add some maple syrup. The compote can, of course, be made in a batch at the weekend, or the night before, if you find the mere thought of chopping apples in the morning tiring.

Wash some blueberries, chop a handful of nuts and you’re ready to scoop the porridge into bowls, add the fruit and nuts, scatter over a teaspoonful of seeds and add dairy (or a vegan equivalent), if you wish. Finish with a drizzle of maple syrup and enjoy your proper porridge. You can almost feel it setting you up for whatever the day holds.

Roasted parsnip and carrot soup

When the weather is cold and grey my thoughts turn to comforting bowls of soup, as I discussed in my earlier post Top six soup to banish the winter cold. It’s that time of year again and, although I still cook those soups on a regular basis, I am always on the look-out for new favourites. This recipe from a Waitrose recipe card has shot straight into the list. It has the bonus of being vegan if you serve it with a non-dairy yoghurt.

I love parsnip soups, and although this soup won’t displace Pastenak and Cress Cream in my affections or our Christmas menu, adding carrots and kale and roasting the roots  gives a heartier soup with deep flavours lifted by the zing of cumin and lemon. Zing seems to be a favourite word at the moment, probably due to the fact that I am deeply immersed in reading Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat and watching her series on Netflix at the moment. She uses it to describe how you know when you have got the seasoning of a dish right and it zings in your mouth. And that is what struck me about this soup when Irene made it the first time: it was spicy and lemony and deeply savoury all at the same time.

So we made it again! This time with some tweaks – and an instructive mishap. The tweaks include adding some dried chilli flakes to give an extra kick of warmth, and adding more liquid as we found it was too thick and gloopy with the quantity of water suggested. However, you may like your soup thick in the Italian fashion, and you can always adjust the consistency by adding some water after blending. I  prefer the texture of those classic, light, creamy soups that Elizabeth David describes as being so typical of the French dinner table.

The mishap was with the kale crisps, which we found tricky to get right. The first time they weren’t crispy enough and the pieces of kale too large to eat easily from a spoon. So I tried making them smaller, but didn’t let the oven cool down enough before I put them in and ended up with crisps that were brown and charred, albeit very crispy. We found that making crisps with all the kale leaves made way too many, and having some kale in the fridge is no hardship (but see below). There are lots of great recipes for it, in a salad with quinoa, as a gratin with potatoes or just steamed as a vibrant green side dish. Here’s our version, which will make enough for 4-6 people, depending on how big a bowl of soup you need to lift your spirits in this gloomy weather.

500g parsnips
300g carrots
1 tbsp maple syrup
3 tbsp olive oil
150g kale on the stem
½-1 tsp dried chilli flakes
2 onions
2 cloves of garlic
2 tsp ground cumin
500ml vegetable stock
juice of ½ lemon
4 tbsp yoghurt (or non-dairy alternative)

Set the oven to heat to 200° C. Trim the kale leaves from the stems, which is much easier to do when you buy the kale on the stem, rather than ready chopped. Set half the leaves aside for making the kale crisps, put the rest back in the fridge for another meal, and finely chop the stems, trimming off any scraggy ends.

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Peel and trim the carrots and parsnips and cut them into 3cm pieces. Toss them with the maple syrup and 1 tbsp olive oil and put them into a roasting tin (if you’re thinking this doesn’t look like 500g parsnips, you’re right – second time round we made a half batch.) You can line the tin with baking parchment if you want to make the washing-up easier, but I don’t see that it makes much difference. Season with salt and black pepper and sprinkle over the dried chilli flakes – use the smaller quantity unless you want to taste the heat. When the oven has come to temperature put them in to roast for 20 minutes.

Roasted parsnip and carrot soup 2Roughly chop the onions and crush the garlic. Put another 1 tbsp of oil to heat in a large pan. When it is warm add the kale stems, onions and garlic with a good pinch of salt. If you don’t have another use for the excess kale leaves, you can shred them and add them to the pot at this point to give a stronger flavour. I added a few leaves as the quantity of stems looked rather meagre.

Cover with a lid and cook gently – and I mean gently – for 10-12 minutes, stirring from time to time until everything is soft and looking golden. If it shows any signs of sticking or browning add a splash of water to slow things down a bit. Don’t skimp on this slow cooking, as I was tempted to do, as it helps develop the flavour of the soup. Then take off the lid, add the ground cumin and cook for a further 3 minutes stirring regularly.

Roasted parsnip and carrot soup 3

By this time the carrots and parsnips should be tender and golden too. Turn the oven down to 160°C straight away. Tip the roasted roots into the pan and add the stock and 750ml-1 litre of boiling water.  Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

Tear the reserved kale leaves into smallish pieces for the crisps; the original recipe suggests 4-5 cm pieces but we found these a bit big, so I would aim for 3cm. Toss with the remaining 1 tbsp oil, a little lemon juice and some salt and pepper. Spread on a baking tray and roast for 5 minutes. Then check and turn them over and cook for a further 5 minutes. They may need a little longer, but do check them regularly if you want to avoid incinerating them as I did.

Meanwhile blend the soup in batches, adding more water if necessary. Put back into the pan to reheat, and season with lemon juice. We used more than the suggested 1 tbsp, but you may want to start with that and adjust to your taste. Serve with a good dollop of yoghurt (or a dairy-free alternative to keep it vegan), some freshly ground black pepper and the kale crisps. And forget about the January weather for a bit!

Roasted parsnip and carrot soup 1