boysenberry and peppermint sorbet

How to make ice-cream without an ice-cream maker” is one of my most common Google searches. I love ice-cream, I could eat it every day and often do. Because of its relatively similar content to a glass of milk and a bowl of fresh fruit, I have no objection to eating ice-cream for breakfast. My one problem, something that has haunted me for years, is that I can’t make it myself. I know that they say you can leave a tub of fruit and cream in the freezer and store every 10 minutes for an hour to break up the ice crystals, but I just don’t think it’s the same. You aren’t going to get that smooth, creamy texture not will it be as light and fluffy as anything you can buy. I was stumped.

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As much as I rejoiced when I discovered how to make an ice-cream-esque substitute out of frozen bananas, I didn’t want to limit myself to just one flavour. I didn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on an ice-cream machine (or increase my dairy intake by 3000%), but I didn’t have an alternative to satisfy my ubiquitous cravings.

By the grace of god, or by pure accident, I made sorbet and it couldn’t have been easier! You may recall my recent cake catastrophe involving a large quantity of Italian meringue; the silver lining of that puffy raincloud of sugar was the leftover meringue. Not only is it delicious and very tempting to eat by the spoonful, it is also an excellent base to sorbet.

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The hardest part was already done; all I had to do was decide how to flavour it. Peppermint is an interesting and difficult flavour to pair anything with – you want to avoid creating something that tastes like toothpaste, but you don’t have to overpower the fresh, warming sensation of the mint. I opted to boysenberries – they are tart and tangy; a nice compliment to the sweetness of the meringue, but they also possess a freshness of their own that I thought would work alongside the peppermint beautifully.

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For each egg white of meringue, you want at least one cup of fruit puree. Because I had two egg white worth of meringue before I lathered my cake with it, I wanted about two cup’s worth of stinging purple boysenberry gloop – the equivalent of 500grams of frozen boysenberries. I whizzed them up in the food processor and stirred through 120mls of sugar syrup. Done.

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Upon combining the meringue and the berries, I left the tub in the freezer to set and thicken. Unlike ice-cream, it doesn’t really need to be stirred to break the ice crystals – it pays to if you want it nice and smooth, but you can run a spoon through the shiny purple icebergs just before serving and it will still be perfect.

The flavour combination is a match made in heaven; with each mouthful I was greeted with the raw freshness of the fruit, followed by the sweetness of the meringue, rounded out by a lancing hit of the peppermint – a whole meal in a single mouthful. Silky and smooth, dotted with bursts of boysenberry seeds, I was amazed at just how creamy it was, especially because it is actually dairy-free!

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Now that I know just how easy it is to make sorbet, the world is my oyster; I am unstoppable in my quest for ice-cream domination!

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peppermint chocolate cake – an experiment with italian meringue

Recently, a friend of mine and I decided that it would be a good idea to establish a local chapter of the Clandestine Cake Club but following my recent botched attempts at cake-making, I thought it wise to give myself a little more practice before unleashing any more of my creations onto the general public. I was also recently gifted a bottle of peppermint syrup. These two mutually exclusive factors coincided over the weekend into a chocolate sponge cake with peppermint meringue icing. I can now say that I will never be making Italian meringue ever again.

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The cake itself turned out rather well, aside from forgetting to add any baking powder to the batter. I actually think I prefer it without too much spring, the batter still comes out light and fluffy; pillowy like a sponge cake but not as aerated – it still feels substantial as you sink your teeth into it. Unlike the last attempt at sponge cake, the sea of pots and pans that is my kitchen cupboards parted to reveal the electric mixer, which makes beating together eggs, flour, sugar and butter easy and breezy. I definitely recommend it.

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The failures began with the cake icing. For starters, I didn’t have any icing sugar so I wasn’t able to make a standard icing. Instead, I opted for an Italian meringue icing because I could use regular sugar to make syrup and I like how it spreads like a thick layer of cloud.

Whisk one egg white to firm peaks, soft peaks won’t cut it and you will end up whisking for what seems like days. I added a teaspoon of vanilla essence and a tablespoon of peppermint syrup.

Heat 200grams of sugar with a ¼ cup of water to make a boiling simple syrup. Once it is as clear as glacier water and looks like molten glass, it’s ready. One of the (only) draw cards of Italian meringue is that there is no need to cook it, so you need the syrup to be terrifyingly hot to cook the egg whites. The heat also gives the egg fluff that little shock it needs to puff up nicely.

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I thought that was the final step; ready to lather over my perfect chocolate circle. Not the case. The meringue needs to be whipped until room temperature; by getting as much air into it as possible we get the fluffiest, smoothest result. This result is not achievable in less than 15 minutes, by which stage my arm was numb and my kitchen was covered in pale flecks of meringue from each time I lost control of the beater.

What an ordeal. And after all of my struggle, I realised that I had far too much meringue – out of fear of having too little, I doubled the recipe. Isn’t it always the way?

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Luckily for me, it freezes well and coincidently makes a great base for sorbet… watch this space!

place the peppers in the pan

I must be in a very Italian mood at the moment because last night I had the biggest craving for Peperonata that I don’t think I would have made it through the night if I hadn’t made it immediately… so I did. Peperonata is an Italian stew made with bell peppers, with a consistency somewhere between a pasta sauce and a chutney, it is a real comfort food that works well in so many situations.

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I wish I had a wonderfully exotic story for where I first came across this little beauty, but in fact I actually tried it for the first time at the Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ Market in New Zealand many years ago. However I was reintroduced to it in Italy, where I learnt to make it, and it was surprisingly easier than I had originally thought.

What I love about this recipe is the simpleness of it; essentially one main ingredient – bell peppers, yet it is packed with so much flavour. The original concept of this recipe was to use a large amount of peppers at once, at times when they were in abundance or excess. This is not so much the case anymore with most vegetables being accessible all year round, but it’s nice to have these kinds of recipes in your arsenal when certain vegetables become really cheap.

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Start off by cooking one finely diced onion and several smashed cloves of garlic in olive oil. I sometimes add a tablespoon of sugar to give the dish a bit more sweetness, stir occasionally until the onion is soft and slightly caramelised. Cut five bell peppers into large square shape pieces; about eight per pepper. I used red peppers but you can use any colour, a mixture of different coloured peppers will give you a nice vibrantly coloured dish at the end. Place the pepper pieces into the pan, skin-side down until they begin to blister; this should take a couple of minutes. Add one cup of red or white wine, a dash each of apple cider vinegar and red wine vinegar. Using red wine will give the dish a fuller flavour so it depends on how your plan on serving it. For a tarter taste, substitute the wine for red wine vinegar.

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Once the wine and vinegars have been absorbed, add pepper, a teaspoon of rock salt and your choice of herbs. I used rosemary, thyme and a bay leaf. Depending on the season, your timeframe or your pantry, add a can of tomatoes or six fresh diced tomatoes and simmer until it has reached a consistency that you like the look of.

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Serve with pasta, on toasted bread like bruschetta, or on the side of a juicy piece of steak or fish.

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Paris, je t’aime!

Last week I realised that I had been in Lyon for almost three months, making it the longest time I had been in one city for nearly a year. So, I decided to go to Paris for a weekend. It was a weekend of trials and triumphs, but overall it was quite triumphant. Trial one; it is two hours by train from Lyon to Paris, but I chose to go by covoiturage because it is cheaper. Covoiturage is basically like safe hitch-hiking,  it’s all done via a website (blahblahcar.com) where you put your to and from destinations and the date you want to travel and up pops a list of all the people who are driving there on that day and how much they are charging for gas money. Like I said, two hours by train, this does not however translate into two hours by car. I leave Lyon at 2pm and six hours later I arrive in Paris, after being stuck in a car with no heaters, a driver who refused to listen to his SatNav’s instructions and a woman who ate a twig as a snack (I am not even kidding).

Trial number two; I bought my metro ticket to get from my drop-off point to the hostel, I scan it through the machine and it doesn’t work, it reads invalid and I have no idea why. By this stage I am a little stressed out (being stuck in traffic does that to me) but to my luck, this is where the triumphs begin. As I am standing there a little frazzled a girl asks if I want to just come through with her on her ticket, super kind even though it is illegal, so I thank her but decline and buy another. Just as arrive at the platform the metro is leaving but the driver sees me and stops so that I can get on. Everyone says that Parisians are kind of rude, but that was two lovely ones in a row, maybe I was just lucky.

My luck continued the next day; the weather was amazing! (By that I mean it wasn’t raining) Which meant that I could spend the day wandering around Le Pere Lachaise cemetery without getting drenched. Pere Lachaise is one of the most famous cemeteries in the world, and as morbid as it might sound, it is also a huge tourist attraction. The cemetery’s attractions include the graves of people like Chopin, Moliere, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison to name a few. It also houses a number of World War Two memorials which, because we were there on Armistice Day, were covered in beautiful flowers and wreaths, making the whole experience somewhat moving and surreal.

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After an incredible day sightseeing, we accomplished number two on my list of must-do’s for the trip; escargot! Snails lathered in garlic butter; a French classic! In my opinion, cover anything in garlic butter and it is going to be delicious but I was really impressed by this. The texture is quite chewy, a little like overcooked mushrooms and the flavour is quite earthy, a bit like dirt, but in a good way.

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Next it was off home to rest my feet; a little blistered from my new boots. They say to never break in new shoes while in Paris but for some reason I felt like I was above this rule. I wasn’t. Sad face.

The highlight of the trip, aside from it not raining until the afternoon I left, was finding a delicious and adorable little Italian restaurant just under the Eiffel Tower. Gusto Italia is on the corner of Rue de Grenelle and Avenue de la Bourdonnais, right next to the Parc Champ de Mars. It is tiny but the food and service was amazing, we started off with a starter of courgette, carrot and mushrooms cooked simply in a bit of rosemary, nutmeg, salt, pepper and olive oil, served cold with freshly made bread, still warm from the oven and falling apart as you break it. A glass or two of imported Italian wine went quite nicely with the homemade pizza, lasagne and linguini. I wanted to ask for the recipes of everything, but on second thought that would probably not have been the right move.

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A dark chocolate mousse cheesecake for desert was probably a little too much, but irresistible. Obviously, we tipped generously, because that is what you do when everything is impeccable.

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So impeccable in fact, that I may have gone back there the net day for lunch before hoping on my train from Gare de Lyon in Paris to Gare Part Dieu in Lyon. Wrap your head around that little bit of confusion.

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heartburn, bed and a godess: the world’s best pasta dish

After making my quiche the other day I was faced with a bit of a dilemma: I had used up half of my eggs but I still had five left over and nothing to do with them. I also had some leftover lardons and I was hungry.

Obviously, my first thought is to turn to Nigella Lawson, whose culinary genius and extravagant recipes usually contain the answers to any question. I remembered seeing a segment on Nigella Bites where she made spaghetti alla carbonara and it seemed unbelievably easy, and also used up my leftover ingredients.

heartburnShe describes this meal as an ultimate midnight snack based on the fact it is so easy to whip up and you can eat it right out the pot back in bed, just like in the movie Heartburn, with Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson. If you haven’t seen the movie it’s kinda fun and it also has Rizzo from Grease (Stockard Channing) and the dad from Fly Away Home (Jeff Daniels). As I am writing this I am also realising that I talk about Meryl Streep far too much, that woman just seems to be in every movie that has any relevance to anything I cook.

Anyway, enough dillydallying and on to the actual recipe. It will only take you as long as the pasta takes to cook.

Boil a pot of water, add some salt and when it is nicely bubbling away add as much spaghetti as you think you can eat. Nigella’s recipe uses a whole packet; it is designed for two people plus some for the next day so I have augmented it a little to make it just right for one. In  a large pan that will fit the pasta after it is cooked as well, heat a dash of olive oil on a medium heat and the add the lardons. Cubed pancetta with the fat removed would also work in this situation, I used a little over 50 grams and also added a clove of crushed garlic. I have also tried it with some diced onion, it will fry in the lardons’ fatty juices and just burn, so if you want to do this then sauté it first, set it aside and re-add it later.

Nigella being Nigella, she adds a dash of vermouth when the bacon-y bits are crispy but before they are crunchy. I don’t own vermouth, nor do I imagine I will own it in the near (or not-so-near) future, if you have some white wine you can add this and let it bubble until it makes a nice syrup. Or you can just skip this step. The next step is to add a dash of milk or cream (that is what Nigella uses) and this mixes with the fatty goodness and makes a nice saucy liquid.SAM_0822

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By now, the pasta will be ready, you will know the pasta is ready when you can throw a piece at the wall and it will stick (see above). And yes, I do do this every time I cook spaghetti. And yes, the paint will come off the wall if you leave it there to dry before picking it off, you have been warned.SAM_0825

Basically it is now done, mix through some parmesan, crack some pepper over it and grate some nutmeg on top if you so wish. If you are being romantic, take the pot back to your bed and share it with your lover but remember the pot is probably still hot. If you are being a normal person you can still eat it out of the pot if you want, or you can eat it out of a bowl. I kinda want to say that eating it out of the pot will make it taste better, but if you are against being so unruly and wild, it will still taste amazing!SAM_0827

“gnocchi gnocchi” “who’s there?”

I have been craving gnocchi the last couple of days and I thought today it would make a perfect lunch in the sun. Gnocchi is a basically an Italian dumpling made of flour and potato; it’s really THAT easy! While traditionally potato is used, I have made them with potato, sweet potato or pumpkin or even a combination of the three before. Although this dish is a little up there on the time-consuming scale it is by no means difficult and you need barely anything to make a whole delicious meal; I literally used eight ingredients.

ImageAs you may be able to tell from the above picture I used sweet potato instead of normal potatoes but that was only because I had a sweet potato in the cupboard and couldn’t be bothered driving all the way to the grocery store to buy regular potatoes! 

To begin; peel your vegetable(s) of choice and cut them in halves/quarters, place them in a pot with some water and salt and boil them just like if you were making mashed potatoes. When they’re done scoop them out with a spoon or sieve, or place a colander in another pot and pour the water through; however you see fit just make sure you save the water! (I’ll come back to this later)

Once the potatoes have cooled down a little, mash them with a fork until it is lump-less and spread out on a plate to cool. You can start on your sauce while you wait 🙂 Gnocchi is flavorful on their own so you don’t really need a particularly thick or busy sauce to serve them with, I made a basic tomato sauce (a diced onion, some crushed garlic, a can of crushed tomatoes..a little red wine if you’re feeling naughty) with green beans, I maybe would have added some diced capsicum if I had any but that is about as exciting as I would get. Alternatively, mix the gnocchi with some basil pesto and drizzle with olive oil to keep it light.

When your potato has cooled down you can add the flour. I would suggest about a cup of flour for every large potato you use, however, the amount of flour you need depends on how moist the potatoes are so I always start with less and add more as I go. Some recipes say to mix in an egg at this point too, some don’t. I never use egg because I have found that it just makes the mixture too sticky and gooey but for first timers it can save a whole lot of stress because the egg helps bind everything together and hold the dumplings together while they cook so it is completely up to the chef! Mix the mixture together and knead into a ball of dough, just like you would if you were making bread. You will know the dough is ready when you can poke it without it sticking to you fingers but hopefully not crumbling apart…

Quarter your dough ball and cylinders about a centimetre thick and cut widthways at centimetre intervals. This next bit is kind of tricky and not suuuuper essential if you want to skip it. Run each piece of dough down the back of a fork to make little indentations around it like in the picture below.

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Now it’s time to cook them!!

This is when you need to salty, starchy water you cooked the potatoes in. Reheat the water, when it’s boiling drop about 20 of your dough pieces in careful not to splash boiling water everywhere. The pieces will sit along the bottom of the pot and within a couple of minutes they will begin to dance a little bit and float up to the surface. Leave them bobbing here for another minute of so before scooping them out and popping them into whatever sauce you chose, repeat with the remaining gnocchi until they are all cooked. Serve hot with a generous amount of parmesan cheese. Or cold, it will be delicious either wayImage

I ate mine in the sun while reading a bit of ‘Max et Lili fêtent Noël en famille’. This is my new French book, it’s written for five year old children and I can vaguely comprehend what is actually happening in it, bilingual-ness here I come!…

-D