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 MILKSHAKE – OR 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?