Tag Archives: vanilla

Baked Figs

Figs ready for baking, with ginger wine, honey and rosemary.

It’s fair to say I wasn’t expecting a heart attack. Frankly Monty Python had more of an inkling about the Spanish Inquisition, and we all know how expected that was. Yes, I had the genetic predisposition and lived the lifestyle – but ticking all the boxes doesn’t always win you the main prize. Not always…

This time though I knew I must have hit some kind of jackpot because blue lights started flashing, sirens wailed and the machine wired up to my chest made frequent, frantic beeping noises. Turns out this prize was life-saving, piercing-edge, percutaneous surgery, and the specialist teams at the West Middlesex and Hammersmith Hospitals have earned – in every sense – my undying gratitude.

So now I’m faced with a choice food-wise: renounce totally anything enjoyable but potentially naughty and live out my days in the epicurean equivalent of a hair shirt, or expend some additional effort on finding foods that are both healthy and beautiful [whilst admitting the odd something sinful from time to time]. Actually you make the same choice several times every day, this sort of thing just has a way of turning decisions into DECISIONS.

Well I’ve made mine. And I will not go hungry into that good night.

I served this with a splodge of low fat crème fraîche, which would actually have been my choice before all the cardiac kerfuffle.

Feeds three or four

  • 12 ripe medium-sized figs
  • 100ml ginger wine
  • 1/2 tsp mixed spice
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla paste
  • a good drizzle of honey, about a tablespoon and a half [vegans can replace with a sprinkling of brown sugar]
  • a few small sprigs of rosemary
  • crème fraîche to serve [optional]

Slash the figs with deep, quartering cuts almost all the way through, and arrange snugly in a shallow dish. Whisk the spice and vanilla into the ginger wine and pour over the figs. Drizzle the honey over and into the figs, strew the rosemary sprigs about, and bake in a 190C oven for 25 minutes to half an hour. Baste with the juices once or twice during cooking, and spoon over plenty as you serve.

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Christmas Pudding Ice-Cream

Serving suggestion – holly garnish optional!

Christmas Pudding Ice-Cream decorated with holly leaves and berries

It turns out, at least according the Barrister down the pub last night, that not everyone has leftover Christmas pudding to hand come February. Who knew? If you are such an unfortunate soul you can now buy them year round, or you could try this with just the soaked and spiced fruits from my pudding recipe. Or even make another pudding – why confine something so good to the depths of December after all?

With this I managed to combine Christmas pudding with Christmas present as I was lucky enough to receive, in a hamper of gourmet treats, a jar of tonka beans. Wrinkly little wonders they are too, with a perfume like vanilla and hay. Sorry US readers but apparently they’re illegal in the States, though it sounds as though the odd speakeasy-style foodie boutique will smuggle you in a few if you know where to ask! Something to do with a supposed toxicity which relies on you eating your own body weight of beans in one sitting. No such worries here in Europe, and so far no-one who’s eaten this has died.

My esteemed friend and colleague the Shropshire Statistician had also just delivered me a dozen spankingly fresh eggs straight from her own hens, which made a gloriously golden custard. If you don’t have a chicken coop handy do lay your hands on the freshest eggs you can find.

To make about a litre of ice-cream

  • 300ml double cream
  • 300ml whole milk
  • 110g caster sugar
  • 6 medium egg yolks
  • 1 dessertspoonful vanilla paste
  • 1/3 of a tonka bean, finely grated
  • a pinch of grated nutmeg
  • a good glug of brandy
  • 100g clotted cream [optional]
  • 150 – 200g of Christmas pudding, crumbled

Combine the milk, cream, sugar, vanilla, nutmeg and tonka bean in a pan and heat to just below boiling. Whisk the egg yolks. Add a ladelful of the hot liquid whisking all the while, then tip this back into the pan and cook, stirring ceaselessly, over a very low heat for 6 to 8 minutes, by which time the custard should just coat the back of a spoon. Stir in the brandy.

Allow the custard to cool completely, even overnight. Or, as I did the other day, improvise your own blast chiller by taking a stainless steel bowl of custard out into the garden and packing all around with the snow from the garden table. Cover with clingfilm and a tea towel and, one bottle of wine down the pub with your mates later, it’s totally chilled – and so are you…

Whisk the clotted cream [if using] into the chilled custard and churn in an ice-cream machine for an hour, adding the crumbled pudding [or soaked, spiced fruits] for the last five minutes.  Freeze.

Pina Colada Ice-Cream

Pina Colada Ice-Cream

I recently ordered a Pina Colada in a chi-chi Kensington cafe at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon – I was in the mood for one, it happens! – only to be told, a tad too frostily I thought, that cocktails weren’t served before 6:00. We were celebrating for heaven’s sake, and the waitress seemed to be implying that I was some sort of lush. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the first time that such an accusation’s been lobbed in my general direction, but normally by people with whom my acquaintance extends to more than just the passing of a menu. A menu which, I hasten to add, mentioned nothing about this cocktail curfew. 

Now it’s not every day that I crave a Pina Colada, and it happens more often round a Caribbean pool than in the grey of a London summer, but once decided the disappointment of a thwarted craving rankles. And it was rankling still when my friend Richard started pressing me for coconut recipes, which is where the plot thickens.

Richard and some other dedicated souls are embarking on The Three Peaks Challenge to raise money and awareness for the Samantha Dickson Brain Tumour Trust after his friend and colleague Francesco Anstey tragically and unexpectedly died of brain tumour earlier this year, aged just 23. Coconuts, somehow, have become an emblem for the team’s efforts – there’s even talk of having a coconut shy at the top of each mountain – and hence Richard’s request for coconut based help. Which I’m more than happy to give if pottering around in the kitchen gets me out of yomping up a mountain or three. 

So I’m having my Pina Colada, as an ice-cream, in a glass. And Francesco, I’m raising that glass to you. 

You can find out more about the challenge on facebook or by following @fa3pc on twitter. And if you enjoy this recipe please consider making a donation of whatever size through the just giving page here. 

Makes one litre – ish 

  • 120ml double cream
  • 400ml coconut milk
  • 240ml milk
  • 140ml coconut flavoured rum [I used Malibu]
  • 100g caster sugar
  • The juice and zest of half a lime
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste
  • 75ml pineapple juice
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 10 maraschino cocktail cherries
  • 2 tinned pineapple rings

Whisk the egg yolks in a heatproof bowl. Combine the cream, milk, coconut milk, pineapple and lime juices, sugar and vanilla paste in a pan and heat to simmering point whilst stirring. Add a ladleful of the hot liquid to the eggs, whisking all the while. Add the egg mixture back into the pan and cook on a gentle heat with constant stirring for five minutes, until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat, cool, and then refrigerate until completely chilled. 

Whilst the mixture chills chop the cherries into small pieces, and pineapple rings almost to a pulp. What happens next will depend on the instructions for your ice-cream maker, but you’ll need to set the mixture churning and then five minutes before the end of the churning / chilling time add the cherries, pineapple and grated lime zest. Transfer to a sealable container and freeze overnight.

Any remaining pineapple and cherries can be used to garnish the ice-cream, cocktail style. Paper parasols optional.

 Eat within one month, if you can wait that long.

#pinacoladaicecream

Brioche and Butter Pudding with Marmalade and Whiskied Raisins

Brioche and Butter Pudding with Marmalade

February means it’s time to toast the short Seville orange season again and even if you haven’t been making your own marmalade chances are that somebody you know has. Whether you have a glut or not, don’t make it the exclusive preserve of the breakfast table. The bitterness of the bigarade [as the French call Seville oranges] brings an added dimension to otherwise sweet dishes.

A partially shared Scottish heritage might explain the long affinity of marmalade and whisky– it’s not uncommon to find marmalade with whisky in it, but you can also turn the combination on its head and add a dollop of marmalade to a whisky cocktail. So if you have some whisky marmalade lurking in the cupboard this is the place to use it. I used brioche this time but the beauty of bread and butter pudding is that you can use any old bread, one or two days old being best.

This quantity fed two, twice.

  • 75g raisins, soaked for at least 24 hours in…
  • 100ml scotch whisky
  • 6 small brioche rolls, sliced diagonally in half and generously buttered
  • Enough marmalade to smear over the buttered brioche
  • 3 eggs
  • 300ml milk
  • 100ml double cream
  • A grating of fresh nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp unrefined caster sugar, or vanilla sugar*

Arrange your buttered and marmalade covered pieces of brioche in a round dish, tucking them in to overlap slightly, to resemble the petals of a flower. Take the end of another roll, butter it and squeeze into the middle to complete your ‘pudding daisy’. Alternatively cut sliced bread into triangles and arrange in overlapping layers.

Drain the raisins, reserving the liquor, and scatter them around the dish. Mix the eggs, milk and cream and add the reserved whisky. Pour half this mixture over the bread base and allow to soak in for a few minutes before adding the rest. If there seem to be too many raisins on the top poke some into the gaps between the bread. Allow to soak for another half hour or so before cooking.

Heat the oven to 180˚C, place your pudding bowl into a roasting tray and fill with hot water to half way up the side of the pudding container. Sprinkle the surface of the pud’ with sugar and grated nutmeg and bake for 45 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before serving.

* Making vanilla sugar couldn’t be easier. Place a split vanilla pod in a jar, fill with sugar, and shake from time to time. As you use it you can continue to top up with more sugar, the vanilla pod will go on imparting its fragrance for months.

Plum and Damson Crumble

Plums and damsons

Can there be a more beautiful sight in early autumn than a bowl full of juicy ripe plums [no sniggering at the back there!]? Red and purple as a sky bruised by sunset, a fine dusty must misting their taut skins. As the evenings begin to close in around you like the cardigans now emerging from the cupboards these beauties are crying out for a crumble made with warming wintry spice and, in this case, a hint of toffee and vanilla. This recipe is actually the offspring of the marriage of several others and combines the tart with the sweet – the final balance of the two being up to you and your tastes to decide. Regular readers will know that when cooking I often reach for the bottle, and this is no exception including as it does both damson or sloe gin and toffee vodka, but the alcohol here will all cook away so the crumble is quite safe for drivers, children and anyone following the twelve step programme.

For a crumble big enough for four, or six if you’ve already eaten well:

  • 250g damsons
  • 750g plums – you can mix varieties and degrees of ripeness
  • 150ml damson or sloe gin
  • 1 or 2 tbsps toffee vodka
  • 3 cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 50g butter
  • 2 tbsps golden syrup
  • ½ a vanilla pod, split down the middle
  • Caster sugar to taste, probably no more than 4 or 5 tbsps in total

For the crumble topping:

  • 190g plain flour
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 120g butter
  • The zest of a small orange

Start by preparing the damsons. I have seen recipes which ask you to stone the damsons first, but life is frankly too short, so rinse the fruit and place whole into a pan with your chosen gin, the cloves, and a cinnamon stick. Bring to the boil and simmer for around 15 minutes.  Take off the heat and taste, adding sugar to taste but remembering that this should be the tart component of your pudding. When cool fish out the cloves and cinnamon, then you can either pick out the now obvious stones from the damson pulp, or pass the whole lot through a fine sieve.

Next come the plums, which should be de-stoned and quartered. Heat the butter in a heavy bottomed pan and when foaming tip in the plums. Add the golden syrup, the toffee vodka, the other cinnamon stick and the vanilla pod and allow to bubble merrily away for five to ten minutes so that the plums begin to break down, but don’t collapse completely. Taste again for sweetness and add sugar if needed, but with the golden syrup in there you may not need any – much will depend on the sweetness of your plums. Remove from the heat and allow to cool before removing the cinnamon and vanilla. Add the damson puree and combine the two then give a final taste to check the overall balance of tart to sweet – not sweet enough, add more sugar, not tart enough, a squeeze of lemon juice.

To make the topping mix the flour and sugar with the grated orange zest, then cut the butter into cubes and rub into the flour and sugar mix with the tips of your fingers until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Pile this onto your fruity base. Place the dish on a tray [there is likely to be some spillage] and bake in a 200˚C oven for 25 to 30 minutes. The top should be golden and crunchy – a quick flash under a hot grill may help to finish it off – with slight eruptions of sticky sauce from within. My last attempt, made around the time of the Christchurch earthquake, and possibly in sympathy with it, experienced a little more seismic activity from beneath the crust than the ideal, but such is the way of crumbles. I was going to serve this with some homemade custard but there was a rare outbreak of clotted cream in the local store, so the custard recipe will have to wait for another day.

[recipe entered in the ‘Simple and In Season’ event over at Fablicious Food!]