Six Ingredients In Search Of A Recipe

In the league table of cel­eb­rated plays that should never be per­formed on stage, Shakespeare’s grue­some Titus Andronicus has to come top. But I’ve always thought Pirandello’s 1921 play Six Char­ac­ters in Search of an Author may be up there too. His open­ing night audi­ence in Rome yelled ‘man­icomio’ or ‘mad­house’ through­out the per­form­ance and the humi­li­ated Pir­an­dello had to slip out of a side door.

The play’s eccent­ric premise is this: a rehearsal is tak­ing place on stage when six half-written char­ac­ters barge into the theatre demand­ing to be allowed to act out their drama. The bewildered Dir­ector gives in and the bizarre event con­cludes with a drown­ing and a sui­cide. This week­end I’m see­ing it on stage for the very first time, so I’ll let you know if it’s per­form­able or not.

I love a good post­mod­ern exper­i­ment, in food as well as lit­er­at­ure. So when I had a whim to make lem­on­grass and lemon thyme ice-cream, it struck me that this might be my Pir­an­dello moment. Great concept, mad­house in real­ity? Or daft idea, sub­lime res­ult? Would my six ice-cream ingredi­ents make for the per­fect per­form­ance or would I be forced out of the kit­chen, pur­sued by mem­bers of my fam­ily wav­ing rolling pins and shout­ing ‘man­icomio maniac’?

LEMONGRASS AND LEMON THYME ICE-CREAM WITH TUILE BISCUITS AND MANGO MILKSHAKEOR SIX INGREDIENTS IN SEARCH OF A RECIPE

For the ice-cream

  • 1 cup semi skimmed milk
  • 2 cups double cream
  • 3/4 cup caster sugar
  • 6 large egg yolks (you can use the whites for the biscuits)
  • Three hand­fuls of fresh lemon thyme, includ­ing the soft stalks
  • 2 bulbs of fresh lem­on­grass, bruised with a rolling pin and sliced finely

For the biscuits

  • 2 egg whites
  • 60g softened unsalted but­ter (I like Les­cure but­ter best)
  • 1/2 cup plain flour
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • Finely grated zest of a lemon

For the mango milkshake

  • Slightly over­ripe Alphonso man­goes or 1 tin Alphonso mango pulp. The exquis­ite, per­fumed fruit are in sea­son in April, but if you can’t find any, the tinned pulp is excep­tion­ally good
  • Equal quant­it­ies of ice-cold semi skimmed milk

To make the ice-cream, com­bine the milk, sugar, 1 cup of the cream, the thyme and the lem­on­grass. Warm it through until hot, but not boil­ing. Take off the heat, cover and allow the fla­vours to infuse for around an hour and a half.

Once the cream has infused, whisk the egg yolks. Still whisk­ing, pour a little of the warm cream mix­ture into the bowl. Add a little more, whisk­ing all the while, and then pour the tempered eggs back into the pan con­tain­ing the rest of the cream mix.

Put the pan back on a gentle to medium heat and con­tinue to stir until the mix­ture becomes custard-like and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Add the remain­ing cup of cream and pour the whole lot into a cold bowl. Once cooled com­pletely, strain the mix­ture into your ice-cream maker and churn it.

To make the bis­cuits, whisk the egg whites very lightly and com­bine with the other ingredi­ents. Pour a little of the bat­ter into well-buttered fairy cake tins or lar­ger tart­let tins if you prefer. I used tart­let tins approx­im­ately 12 cm in dia­meter which pro­duced 9 bis­cuits. Bake at 200 degrees C for around 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and ease the bis­cuits gently out of the tins with a plastic knife.

To make the mango milk­shake, com­bine equal quant­it­ies of mango puree and ice-cold milk. If you feel that an authen­tic milk­shake needs a few bubbles, froth it with a milk frother.

After I laid on my first night per­form­ance of Six Ingredi­ents in Search of a Recipe, my son — who’s no pushover — announced that it’s now his num­ber one favour­ite ice-cream. And this from a teen­ager who would hap­pily eat my chocol­ate and pea­nut but­ter ice-cream seven days a week. The fla­vour of the ice-cream is per­fumed and creamy, with a subtle and del­ic­ate prom­ise of lemon. The mango is the per­fect coun­ter­bal­ance and the bis­cuit provides a much needed ele­ment of crunch.

Man­icomio or para­dise? Try it and let me know.

Cups, Spoons, Weights and Measures

China measuring cups with a silver spoon

It’s the sea­son to take stock, count up, meas­ure out, pledge, prom­ise and decide. I’ve made res­ol­u­tions for the first time in five years and on my list is ‘read more poetry’. Expert resolution-makers say that simply vow­ing to do more of some­thing is cheat­ing. But I’m happy with my slightly vague ‘more’ and who­ever said that poetry con­sump­tion should be cal­ib­rated, anyway?

Stems of red berries in a white jug

Stems of fresh red ber­ries on my kit­chen table are throw­ing a new shadow on the wall, but the sil­hou­ettes of the Christ­mas candles are still there too. It’s that time of year when old passes to new and, for once, we actu­ally take note.

Three spoons on a cloth

With all the fren­zied men­tal meas­ur­ing that’s been going on, I wasn’t in the mood to do too much weigh­ing and meas­ur­ing in the kit­chen. For times like this, I have the per­fect recipe.…. Chocol­ate and Crunchy Pea­nut Ice-Cream. It’s an adapt­a­tion of a David Lebovitz recipe, from his inspir­ing but depend­able book The Per­fect Scoop. In fact, while I’m on the sub­ject of New Year’s res­ol­u­tions, to aim to be both inspir­ing and depend­able sounds ideal. I may add that to my list.

Chocolate ice-cream with almond brittle

This is the kind of recipe that you can make while read­ing a book of poetry at the same time, so easy and mem­or­able is it. A cup of this, a half cup of that and you’re almost there.

CHOCOLATE AND CRUNCHY PEANUT ICE-CREAM

  • 1 cup double cream
  • 1 cup semi-skimmed milk (you can use full cream if you prefer. I’ve even tried it with skimmed. All three grades of milk work per­fectly fine)
  • Quarter cup pure cocoa powder
  • Half cup caster sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • Half a jar of crunchy pea­nut but­ter — this equates to roughly 175g, but a little more or a little less really doesn’t matter

Tip all the ingredi­ents, apart from the pea­nut but­ter, into a pan. Over a mod­er­ate heat, stir with a whisk and bring briefly to a hearty sim­mer. It will bubble up in the pan, at which point take off the heat. Mix in the pea­nut but­ter, allow to cool and churn in an ice-cream maker. It’s as easy as that. My chil­dren have asked if I will make a New Year’s res­ol­u­tion to cre­ate it even more reg­u­larly than I already do.

If in fanci­ful mood, make some almond brittle to poke in the top. Toast the almonds in a small non-stick fry­ing pan. Put to one side. Pour half a cup of caster sugar into the same pan. Without stir­ring, heat the sugar and swirl it around the pan until it melts to a light car­a­mel liquid. It burns eas­ily and also gets fero­ciously hot, so be care­ful. Stir in the nuts and quickly spread out onto a piece of bak­ing parch­ment with a pal­ate knife. It will set almost imme­di­ately. Snap off a piece to suit your appet­ite and your conscience.

Almond and toffee brittle

To my mind, the true meas­ure of a good piece of brittle is that it should be trans­lu­cent enough to read a poem through it. That way, if your New Year’s res­ol­u­tion is the same as mine, you can have your cake while read­ing it at the same time. And who could argue with that?

Scoop of chocolate ice-cream with shard of almond brittle

Hot Cold Wasabi Ice Cream for Anne of Green Gables

The won­der­ment with which Anne of Green Gables ima­gines what ice cream might taste like has always made me feel slightly guilty.…

I don’t feel that I could endure the dis­ap­point­ment if any­thing happened to pre­vent me from get­ting to the pic­nic. I sup­pose I’d live through it, but I’m cer­tain it would be a lifelong sor­row. It wouldn’t mat­ter if I got to a hun­dred pic­nics in after years; they wouldn’t make up for miss­ing this one. They’re going to have boats on the Lake of Shin­ing Waters—and ice cream, as I told you. I have never tasted ice cream. Diana tried to explain what it was like, but I guess ice cream is one of those things that are bey­ond imagination.

We lost our sense of won­der about the majesty of ice cream a long time ago. The glor­i­ous alchem­ical effect of com­bin­ing eggs, cream and a deep-freeze has become as routine as a walk to the bus stop. Which is why I was so pleased to be sent Ben Vear’s new ice cream book, Make Your Own Organic Ice Cream, pub­lished by Spring Hill.

I tasted Ben’s ice cream at a won­der­ful lunch to cel­eb­rate the online food magazine The Foodie Bugle. After the exquis­ite feast cooked by the Bugle’s founder Sil­vana de Sois­sons, we ate ice cream made by Win­stones Ice Cream, the busi­ness cre­ated by Ben’s great grand­father Albert Win­stone in 1925. Albert used to drive around the Cots­wolds on his motor­bike, selling home-made ice cream from the sidecar.

Ben’s book is simple, charm­ing and invent­ive. It’s not a hugely elab­or­ate affair crammed with lav­ish pho­to­graphs, but an hon­est and above all inspir­ing paean to the mar­vels of ice cream. I’ve already made his recipe for cof­fee and cream, a rich, aro­matic cre­ation with crushed cof­fee beans, and I’m plan­ning to make mulled wine ice cream next. But this morn­ing I made Ben’s was­abi ice cream. Was­abi is also known as Japan­ese horseradish. It is, of course, fero­ciously hot which, much to my sat­is­fac­tion, makes this a hot cold ice cream.

BEN VEAR’S WASABI ICE CREAM

  • 250ml organic double cream
  • 200ml organic full-fat milk
  • 150g Fairtrade caster sugar
  • 1 large organic egg
  • 50g was­abi paste, also known as Japan­ese horseradish (adjust to taste)

Pour the cream and milk into a sauce­pan. Tip in half of the sugar and place over a low heat, stir­ring at reg­u­lar inter­vals and not allow­ing the mix­ture to boil.

Whisk the egg yolk and the remain­ing sugar in a mix­ing bowl, beat­ing with an elec­tric whisk for about 2 minutes, or until the mix­ture has become a smooth, pale paste.

Com­bine both mix­tures and return the pan to a low heat. Cook, stir­ring all the time, for approx­im­ately 10 minutes, until the mix­ture has a thick, custard-like con­sist­ency. Add the was­abi paste and con­tinue to stir.

Set aside to cool, then pour into your ice cream maker, fol­low the manufacturer’s instruc­tions and leave to churn. (Altern­at­ively, pour the mix­ture into a freezer-proof con­tainer, seal it firmly with a lid and place in the freezer. Whisk after 1 hour to pre­vent ice crys­tals from form­ing; repeat 3 times before leav­ing it to set.)

Ben sug­gests serving was­abi ice cream with chicken, red meat or game. But I com­bined this eleg­ant eau de nil-coloured cre­ation with hot-smoked trout, rocket leaves dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and zest, and red onion pickles. Make sure that you add plenty of lemon juice and zest when you dress the leaves, to coun­ter­bal­ance the slight sweet­ness of the ice cream. The astrin­gency of the red onion pickles adds an extra bal­ance to the dish too.

I sus­pect the nose-twanging prop­er­ties of was­abi ice cream would have been sev­eral steps too far for Anne of Green Gables. But she would have approved of my face when I ate it, because my expres­sion was as full of won­der as hers.

Round And Round The Round Pond

The Round Pond in London’s Kens­ing­ton Gar­dens has always been one of my favour­ite places. When I was small my mum used to time me and my sis­ter as we ran round the pond — one clock­wise, the other anti-clockwise. In the autumn, after a cir­cuit of the pond, we’d catch lucky leaves as they fell from the Chest­nut trees. Catch­ing a leaf before it touches the ground brings good luck for a whole year. Really.

After the run fol­lowed by the leaves, there was the ice-cream. I no longer like Fab lol­lies, or even vanilla cones with a chocol­ate flake. But I do love this:

Apple Crumble Ice-Cream

The great thing about this is that it makes two pud­dings — an apple crumble for 6 people, with enough of the crumble left over to make ice-cream for 4

4 large cook­ing apples

Juice of I orange

1 Tea­spoon Chinese 5 spice powder

15 table­spoons caster sugar

180g but­ter

200g plain flour

500ml good qual­ity vanilla ice-cream

Hand­ful of flaked almonds per person

Pre­heat the oven to 190 degrees C.

Peel, core and slice the apples. Place them in an oven-proof dish, coat­ing them in the juice of the orange. Sprinkle over 1 table­spoon of the sugar as well as the 5 spice powder.

Mix together the but­ter, flour and the rest of the sugar — either by hand or with a mixer — and tip the crumble mix over the apples. Put the dish in the fridge for at least 15 minutes — longer if you like, it really doesn’t mat­ter. The point is to chill the crumble before it goes into the oven, so that it doesn’t turn into a soupy mess before it gets the chance to cook.

Bake in the oven for around half an hour or until the crumble is brown and crunchy on top, with signs that the apples are bub­bling up from under­neath. Toast the almonds in a sep­ar­ate dish at the same time and put to one side for eat­ing with the ice-cream.

Eat a lot.

When you can’t eat any more, fold the remain­ing crumble — make sure there is some — into vanilla ice-cream. Put it back into the freezer for 20 minutes or so and then scoop it into glasses and sprinkle with a hand­ful of the flaked almonds you toasted earlier.

This week the sculptor Anish Kapoor — whose work I love as much as I love the Round Pond — installed his work Sky Mir­ror, Red, (2007) in the pond. The huge, scar­let, cir­cu­lar steel mir­ror catches the pond’s myriad reflec­tions that change so dra­mat­ic­ally with the weather and the time of day. Kapoor should be allowed to do any­thing he likes as far as I’m con­cerned. But while he goes large, I’m going to go quietly, hap­pily small. So here is the Round Pond to keep in your pocket.

I snatched these 64 pic­tures before Sky Mir­ror, Red arrived, strolling briskly around the pond’s cir­cum­fer­ence to catch every angle. Cut each one of these pic­tures out, mov­ing across the con­tact sheet from left to right. Keep them in sequence and clip the pages together to make a flick book. Then you too can go round and round the Round Pond to your heart’s con­tent. If you don’t fancy the scissor-work, I’ve made you a slide show — there it is top right — and guess what, you still qual­ify for the ice cream. You get the year’s worth of good luck too.

I always love to hear your com­ments, so do stop by and let me know what you think.

The New York Chronicles Part 2: Thomas Jefferson’s favourite

Thomas Jef­fer­son — aes­thete, poly­math and third Pres­id­ent of the United States — was also an ice cream fan­atic. I love the fact that this intel­lec­tu­ally dazzling politi­cian was also the first Amer­ican in his­tory to write a recipe for home-made ice cream.

I know all about ice cream obsess­ives; my Grand­father ate a wedge of vanilla every day of his adult life and grew so inured to the chilly tem­per­at­ure that he could bite through ice cream as thick as a house-brick without win­cing. He told me that he must have wooden teeth, which would have given him some­thing in com­mon with the first Pres­id­ent of the United States, George Wash­ing­ton. It got me think­ing — per­haps Thomas Jef­fer­son churned ice cream for George Wash­ing­ton while they eased the Declar­a­tion of Inde­pend­ence into life. Maybe the United States of Amer­ica really was built on ice cream.

On my recent trip to New York I ate ice cream that’s come a long way since Jef­fer­son laboured over his churn. At a res­taur­ant in the West Vil­lage I was served the culin­ary equi­val­ent of a ten den­ier stock­ing and a walk­ing boot — a que­nelle of del­ic­ate Earl Grey Tea ice cream, sand­wiched between two bis­cuits of por­ridge oats and dried cranberries.

You should know that I take tea very ser­i­ously — I drink so much of it that my chil­dren say I need to go into tea rehab. Ser­i­ously, what would pos­sess any­one to com­bine the per­fume of Earl Grey with a bis­cuit you could sole a shoe with?

You can prob­ably guess where this is going. The dig­nity of tea must be restored.

Lemon Bis­cuit and Earl Grey Tea Ice Cream Sandwich

Earl Grey ice cream

1 cup full cream milk

2 cups of single cream

3/4 cup of vanilla sugar

6 Earl Grey tea bags

6 eggs yolks

Keep a jar of vanilla sugar in the cup­board, made by pla­cing two vanilla beans in a jar and top­ping it up with caster sugar.

Warm the milk, sugar and one cup of the cream in a pan until hot but not boil­ing. Plonk the tea bags in, remove the pan from the heat and let it sit hap­pily for an hour. Take the tea bags out, hav­ing given them a very gentle squeeze.

Beat the eggs yolks until smooth. Place the second cup of cream in a bowl with a sieve on top and put to one side. Reheat the milk, cream and tea mix­ture in the pan until it is warm but not hot. Very slowly whisk the cream mix­ture into the bowl of egg yolks, a ladle­ful at a time, stir­ring like mad so the yolks don’t trans­mog­rify into scrambled eggs. Once the eggs have been com­pletely incor­por­ated into the cream mix­ture, tip the whole lot back into the pan and reheat, stir­ring con­stantly. Do not let it boil. Once the mix­ture has thickened enough for it to coat the back of your spoon rather than slosh straight off again, the cus­tard mix­ture is ready. Pour it thor­ough the sieve that has been wait­ing patiently over the bowl con­tain­ing the second cup of cream. Stir thor­oughly and chill imme­di­ately for sev­eral hours.

Pour your cus­tard into your ice cream maker, fol­low­ing the instructions.

Lemon Bis­cuits

Finely grated zest of one lemon

60 g of softened butter

Half cup vanilla sugar

2 eggs whites, lightly beaten

Half cup plain flour

Pre­heat the oven to 200 c.

Mix the but­ter and lemon zest together well. Beat in the sugar, stir in the egg whites and finally add the flour. The idea is to make bis­cuits that are neat circles. The easi­est way to do this is to grease fairy cake tins and to spoon a thin layer into the bot­tom of each fairy cake depres­sion. Bake in the oven for around six or seven minutes. Keep check­ing on them — they’re done when they’re pale in the middle but car­a­mel brown at the edges. Prise out of the tin care­fully and cool them on a plate.

Sand­wich a table­spoon of ice cream between two bis­cuits — I think they look more chic if the bot­tom of the bis­cuit is on the out­side. Like Willy Wonka’s tomato soup/roast beef/blueberry pie chew­ing gum, these ice cream sand­wiches com­bine a com­plete meal in one mouth­ful — Eng­lish After­noon Tea. Earl Grey tea with a slice of lemon, posh sand­wiches and del­ic­ate bis­cuits. Eat them out­side and if it’s rain­ing, so much the bet­ter. You want it to be authen­tic don’t you?