a taste of south america – tamarillo salsa

I can’t sit still for long, I try to stay in one place for an extended period of time and it just makes me feel anxious. I am always thinking of future holiday destinations and daydreaming about where I want to go next.

My current obsession is South America, in particularly, Argentina. I went to an incredible Argentinian barbeque recently and while I was being rolled out the front door, my mind started swirling around ideas of how I could recreate many of the brightly coloured, punchy dishes in my own kitchen.

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As you can imagine, a barbeque joint is going to be packed to them brim with meat so I wanted to dream up something a little lighter but still with that South American kick. Taking inspiration from the vibrant buildings and streets of downtown Buenos Aires, the tropical flavours that come with year round sunshine, and what I could find scrounging around the kitchen cupboards, I whipped up a quick tamarillo salsa.

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Tamarillos are such a wonderful fruit; tart and oozing with dark orange blood, hands stained purple from scraping the soft flesh out of its casing is a sensation that fills me with childhood nostalgia. Their flavour is also a perfect contrast to the sweetness of salsa’s primary ingredient; tomatoes.

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Dice three small tomatoes, or a handful of cherry tomatoes, if the seeds are quite watery then discard them. Dice the flesh of one tamarillo, and ¼ of a red onion for a sharp flavour and an added pop of colour. Add them to the tomatoes. Dice one red chilli or ¼ of a red bell pepper; which you choose depends on how spicy you want it – if you’re not a spice fiend then use the bell pepper as it possessed a similar flavour to the chilli without the fieriness.

Add the juice of ½ a lemon or lime, a drizzle of olive oil, a tablespoon of rock salt and another of raw sugar, add a teaspoon of smoked paprika for an optional extra kick if you so desire.

Combine well and leave in the fridge to marinate for at least an hour – the longer you leave it, the more time the flavours have to combine and meld together – after a day you can hardly distinguish between the tiny cubes of pepper, tamarillo and tomato.

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This is a wonderful accompaniment to steak, lamb or chicken, or even heaped onto a piece of toasted ciabatta for a tropical bruschetta fusion.

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chai-infused poached pears

I hate pears. They are the only fruit that I don’t like, there is something about the inaudible lack of crunch as you sink your teeth into them that I find oh so unappealing. Subconsciously I associate them with pigs; as a child my cousins and I use to feed their pigs pears, catching them as they fell of a nearby tree when they were in abundance and throwing them into the pen. However, my distain of pears ends as soon as they are poached, when I think they are wonderful.

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Today’s recipe is the ultimate dessert in any weather, and anything drizzled in chocolate is fine with me. Poire belle Hélène are simple to prepare but will wow any guest with their elegance. Note: the elegance is only included if you are moderate with the chocolate drizzle, I am not.

Traditionally in poire belle Hélène, the pears are poached in a simple sugar syrup, but I decided to get a little funky with it and poach mine in a chai infused syrup. Masala chai originates from India, it is black tea infused with a range of spices; these vary from place to place, but can include any of the following: ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, star anise, fennel, cloves, nutmeg, coriander, cumin and turmeric. I used ginger, cinnamon, fennel and coriander seeds, nutmeg, turmeric and cayenne pepper.

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Combine any number of the aforementioned spices in a relatively deep saucepan, the amount all depends on how many spices you are using, and how many pears you are poaching. I used about half a teaspoon of each which was the perfect amount for three pears. Over a medium heat, lightly toast the spices; only about one minute or they will start to burn. Add 1/8 cup of sugar and ½ a cup of cold water for every three pears. If you don’t have the spices, or the time to collect them all, but still want the wispy chai flavours, you can add a chai teabag to water and sugar while the pears poach.

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Pears are generally an early autumn fruit, so the middle of summer is the perfect time for this recipe; if you can get your hands on some slightly under-ripe fruit, you can peel them without the juice running everywhere. Unfortunately I have no advise for peeling ripe fruit without creating a mess, sorry. Leave the stalks attached for presentation, and more importantly, easy handling.

Once the sugar has dissolved, sit the pears in the warming liquid, cover and let simmer for 15-20 minutes. Check them sporadically; once a breadknife can slide into the pale flesh of the pear with little resistance, they are done.

Fish each pear out of the syrup by the stalk and set aside to cool. In my opinion, they are better served cold, but if you are in colder weather, or just can’t wait, then they will be delicious hot too!

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Pears and chocolate make a great pair, pears and coffee are an even better match. To make the sauce, reheat the sugar syrup (strain it first to get rid of the spices), while the spices were infusing with the pears, the pears were infusing with the syrup, so the sauce will not only be speckled with pinches of spice, but will also have a lovely undertone of pear – so you could even save it and use it with something else. Once the syrup has heated, add ¼ of a cup of finely chopped or grated chocolate and stir constantly until melted. If you are a coffee nut like me, you can add a shot of espresso as well, or replace the chocolate with espresso sauce.

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Drizzle (or pour) the sauce over top of the pears, for an extra touch of elegance, dust with icing sugar, toasted almond flakes or ground almonds.

bitter sweet coffee sauce

Since arriving in France, my dependency on coffee has increased dramatically – last winter involved a self-enforced intervention when a colleague pointed out that I had guzzled a grand total of 10 (!) shots of espresso in one working day. Any French person will tell you that French coffee is one of the finest crafted beverages you will ever encounter, this is not the case. As a vase and wide spreading generalisation, I have found that the French often burn their espresso and boil their milk, and even though the standard is rather below par, I still enjoy wrapping my hands around a café allongé, imbibing the steaming, sweet aroma, or sipping a dark, smoky espresso after a meal.

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Like I said the other day, hot drinks in sticky weather aren’t the best combination, so I have had to get inventive in order to get my caffeine fix. This idea developed from an iced coffee; the obvious choice for a cold coffee craving, without all of the sugar and whipped cream that so many places add to it. My coffee sauce is strong and bitter, creamy with a real punch of flavour.

I like my coffee strong, strong like the Italians drink it kind of strong, and I wanted this recipe to reflect that. I began with half a plunger of leftover coffee and slowly simmered it down to half a cup; a little time consuming but well worth it in the end.

In a separate pot, combine 50grams of melted butter with 2 tablespoons of corn flour over a medium heat until it forms a thick paste that smells like baking dough; a good roux will help make your sauce full-bodied and thick. Whisk in ½ a cup of cream or condensed milk, whisking will help evenly combine the roux and aerate the mixture. Stir constantly over a low heat until it begins to thicken, then add the coffee.

Continue to stir the mixture to avoid it boiling – this could lead to it splitting! How long you leave it really depends on how you like it, I kept mine relatively runny so that I could easily pour it over vanilla ice-cream but you may want to thicken it to make a dipping sauce or even the base of a cake icing.

sweet or salty?

Salted caramel is a pretty recent blip on my trend radar. I know that it is now a trend that everyone everywhere is embracing wholeheartedly- and rightly so because it is delicious! – but when I first arrived in Europe I had never tried it before and the idea of it really threw me. I quickly got used to it as it is everywhere, and very quickly it became one of my favourite flavours and one of the first things I think of when I think of French desserts.

For some strange and unexplainable reason, I don’t really like normal caramel, but add a pinch of rock salt and I cannot get enough of the sweet and salty combination. So a few weeks ago, during one of my regular domestic moments I thought I would try my hand at making my own. It is such a quick and easy thing to whip up and I definitely recommend it because it means that there aren’t all of those added preservatives and ingredients whose names look more like math equations than actual ingredients. However, this in no way means that this is a healthy recipe!

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To make a cup of sauce you will need:
1 cup/200grams of white sugar
6 tablespoons/90grams of butter
½ cup/120mls of full-fat double cream
2 heaped teaspoons of rock salt

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Place the sugar in a saucepan, heat and stir. As the sugar heats it will begin to stick together and form a consistency similar to crumble topping before completely liquefying. Simmer on a medium heat until it reaches a dark amber colour.

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Slice the butter into cubes and stir into the sugar until it is completely melted. Add the cream and simmer for another minute, stirring the entire time.

Take it off the heat and add the rock salt. A lot of recipes use less salt than I did, but I think it needs to be quite salty for the effect to really work; but whatever works to your own tastes.

Leave it to cool before using it, or pour into a heated glass jar if you are planning on storing it. It will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks.

The last step: lick the pot clean.

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This is perfect drizzled over ice cream, mixed into cookie dough or used to sweeten your morning oats or porridge.

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