Monthly Archives: August 2013

Hazelnut and truffle gelato (aka Ferrero Rocher ice cream)

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A few weeks ago, we were all up and needing to watch something suitable for all the family that wouldn’t be too scary or sexual or violent. We stumbled upon a food channel and there was a woman on there doing the top ten Italian favourites in this country. Or some such.

Anyway. I’d never seen her before – she was called Michela Chiappa. And she was so sweet and happy and we all ended up completely entranced by the programme, and her. And later on, I made much of what was on her show, too.

One of the things she made was this Baci and hazelnut gelato. Baci by Perugina are very famous Italian chocolates, not easy to find here. They are a hazelnut, a-top some praline and then coated in plain chocolate. I love them and whenever I go to Italy I buy some and bring them back. You can get them here (do a search) if you really want to use them, but they tend to be quite pricey when you do, so you can, as you’ll see in a minute, use alternatives.

Anyway, Michela made this baci and hazelnut ice cream, the recipe for which is here. It’s egg free and you don’t need an ice cream maker. Double joy if you can’t eat the former and don’t have the latter.

It isn’t how I usually make ice cream. As you can see if you go to the sub-groups over on the right and search for the Ice Cream section, almost all the ice cream I make has totally fresh ingredients in, like fresh eggs, cream, milk etc. This gelato of Michela’s uses condensed milk, which is a processed product.

But you do need to make this ice cream at least once because it is amazing. Like frozen chocolate mousse. I didn’t use Baci I used Ferrero Rocher, which were lovely but messy to chop up and put in. You can see from the comments below the original recipe that lots of people have also had the idea of substituting Ferrero Rocher (and I thought I was being so clever). But I have also since made it (because, ahem, this has become a bit of a favourite ice cream in this house and one that everyone loves) with these Monty Bojangle Roasted Hazelnut Truffles. And the result was amazing and the chocolates are much easier to chop up than Ferreros. Whatever you do use, however, I would recommend it’s a soft chocolate, not anything hard which would affect the eating of this ice cream.

Be warned. I never usually gorge myself on ice cream but it’s too easy to do with this. So here, slightly adapted, is the recipe.

500ml double cream

A can of condensed milk (397g)

2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

50g cocoa powder (I use Green and Black’s)

100g hazelnut truffles, Baci, Ferrero Rocher etc, chopped up

100g hazelnuts

2 tablespoons of icing sugar

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Put the 100g hazelnuts and the icing sugar in a frying pan and constantly stir on a medium to high heat until the hazelnuts are brown and the sugar caramelised. This takes me about five mins. Watch it so the hazelnuts don’t burn. Chop the hazelnuts so that you get a few chunks and a few fine bits.

Put the condensed milk, double cream and vanilla extract into a bowl and whisk. As it’s about to form into soft peaks, add the cocoa powder. The thing you have to watch is that you don’t whip the life out of the cream before you’ve added the cocoa.

Now all you do is add the caramelised hazelnuts and the chopped up chocolates, stirring through gently. I save some, as suggested in the original recipe, to sprinkle over the top of the ice cream before you put it in the freezer.

That’s it. Put in in the freezer for as long as you can bear before having some.

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Bread bakers’ hand scrub

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I often see hand-scrub for gardeners. And yet, I’ve never done any gardening which simple soap and water has not been able to see off.

Bread baking however, is another matter. I make bread about five times a week. Because I use the Dan Lepard method of making sourdough, which involves lots of rests and light kneading, and because sourdough is a high hydration dough, which means it can be a bit sticky, I end up washing my hands a lot. I often go out and realise that I’ve still got dried on bits of dough around my cuticles. I think bakers need handscrubs far more than gardeners, and yet I’ve never seen a bakers’ hand scrub and if there were one, I bet it would smell nauseatingly of fake cinnamon or vanilla. Both wonderful smells but if you want to fill your nostrils with such, you’re better off baking a cake.

This is a great little scrub which you can make with natural ingredients. Don’t make too much in one go, as it’s best fresh (although it keeps for a really long time). It takes off any dried on bits of dough (or anything) really well, and leaves your skin soft, moisturised and clean. If you want to, you can add a few drops of essential oil of your choice.

Also makes a nice present if you’re so inclined.

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You need a clean jar, granulated sugar, olive oil (despite the pic, just use regular not extra virgin), salt and a lemon.

You use one part sugar to one part salt to one part olive oil. So let’s say you use a cup measurement, that would be one cup of sugar to one cup of salt to one cup of olive oil. So two parts dry stuff to one part wet. Then the juice of one lemon. Mix all together, add a few drops of essential oils if you want and that’s it. It will separate out after standing for a while, that’s okay, you dig your hand through the oil and make sure you pick up some of the scrubby salt/sugar. Because I’m so lazy, I often find lemon pips in the mixture. That’s okay.

Easy Berry Tart

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The me I show to the world isn’t always the same as the private me. I know that, sometimes, people who think they know me, suppose my life is one big idyllic bubble. All baking and babies and countryside and long grass through which to trail my fingers.

And that is indeed part of my life, especially since our lawn mower breaks down often. But it’s also because I don’t always choose to share the more negative parts of my life publicly because I like to see the best in everything and I like to spread joy and comfort; not worry and misery.

I have this memory of being very young and  being in the playground at primary school. I sometimes found playtimes hard but pretended, largely, that I didn’t. Mostly they were okay but not my favourite time: too disorganised, too sprawly and I didn’t have a best friend til way, way later with whom to buddy up.

The school bully (someone actually very troubled, I discovered lately) only once picked on me so I was never really bullied. That wasn’t the problem. But she invariably picked on someone and I thought “Jesus this playtime is just a free for all, where are the adults to help us?” (My mother is Neapolitan and in Naples no child is allowed to misbehave and everyone parents everyone else’s child.)

And then I remembered that Kizzy was on that afternoon and I got this surge of happiness (it was to be 30 years before I realised it was actually a surge of a hormone called oxytocin and for ages I thought I was the only one who experienced these physical surges of happiness). And I realised, right there and then, that life was about a series of episodes; pockets of good things and bad things and if you could just concentrate on the good things, the bad things could diminish. Mostly. And that Kizzy moment has never left me.

This week a much loved colleague from my years at the Independent on Sunday, died. She was also a friend that I’d known for twenty years. Someone that I hadn’t spoken to in a while, because I took it for granted that she’d always be there to catch up with. As you do. I won’t say anything else about her or what happened to her, because it will probably just make you anxious and think the world is a big, scary, place. And it isn’t. It’s mostly really good.

Clare read this blog avidly, although she never commented. Even in her last message to me just last Saturday she said “I’ve really loved your blog”. Because I can’t be absolutely sure that you can’t read the internet when you’re dead (I mean, come on, who knows?). I’m giving her a shout out here. Clare was a hopeless romantic and we shared many cosy, chatty evenings at her house in Crouch End when she lived in London. This is just the sort of tart we’d have made because it would have been lovely, and shown caring and thought, but not distracted us too far  from the task in hand: putting the world to rights.

So here is an easy tart. Although usually, because I am a crashing, crashing snob about home made things, I would never entertain the thought of buying a home made pastry case, sometimes, it’s okay to. Buying the pastry case for this makes this so easy. And yet the result is glorious. I’ve put it here, today, because there are so many berries being picked right now and this is a lovely way to use them. It will make you feel good making it and even better eating it.

You need a ready made shortcrust pastry case, about…8 or 9 inches? They’re pretty standard size in the supermarkets.

500g mascarpone

3 tablespoons of lemon curd. Something artisan would be lovely

Half a teaspoon of vanilla essence

One tablespoon of icing sugar

300g berries, whatever you like

The syrupy topping (which isn’t essential):

Three tablespoons of caster sugar

The zest of half a lemon

Put your pastry case on a plate. Mix together the mascarpone, lemon curd, vanilla extract and the icing sugar until smooth and all homogenous. Spread it evenly over the pastry case. Chill for one hour. [Note: if you don’t have time and want to just assemble it all in one go, do, but you must then either leave the lemon syrup out of make sure it’s chilled, don’t pour it over hot!]

Meanwhile, make the syrupy topping which you do by putting the caster sugar and two tablespoons of water in a pan over a low heat. Let the sugar dissolve, increase the heat to boil for a few minutes (2-3). Remove from heat and add lemon zest. Cool completely.

When ready to serve put the berries on top (I find them nicer at room temperature), pour the syrup topping over the whole thing and serve.

Sorry I don’t have a pic of the actual tart, but above is a photo of wild blackberries picked this week.

Rosemary, polenta and olive oil biscuits

IMG_2679These won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I loved them. They’re easy to make, almost impossible to get wrong (unless you chucked them on the floor or something) and unusual. Like rosemary shortbread but with the advantage of no butter at all. I gave these to my father waiting, waiting, for him to say “too rich, too much butter” (this is what he always says about all my baking). So i could pounce and say “aHA, no butter in these NONE NONE and by the way, that New Year’s Even when I said I wasn’t out in a club aged fourteen I WAS and I’ve sustained the lie over thirty years.

Ahem. Exorcising a few ghosts there. I think this would be lovely with some rich vanilla ice cream or maybe a very strong espresso.

The recipe is here, on the Easy Living site. I have to say, I was very much not impressed with Easy Living the magazine in recent times. It had gone all silly and light weight; but they really lost me when they described women who breastfeed (and, I suppose, go on about it?) as breastfeeding Nazis or the Breastapo (I can’t remember which, but you get the idea). This is such an offensive term and belies a real ignorance of history.

I complained, and some flippety gibbet replied, completely not understanding my point. That was it, it was over for me and Easy Living.

The magazine has since folded but exists on line and its recipes are really good, and definitely worth checking out, even if the rest of the content, in my opinion, is as sustaining as a rice cake.

 

How to make your own reed diffuser

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Last week I did some radio.

What usually happens when I do radio is that everyone who I know rings me up saying “YOU’RE ON THE RADIO”. Which is why you have to switch your phone absolutely off. I love doing radio, especially when it’s live, because there is part of me that just wants to take over the airwaves and say ‘fuckbollockshitcuntwank’. But of course I never do because then my radio career would be completely over.

But doing radio is a buzz and you come out of the studio all pumped up. So, now that I’ve told you that, quite gratuitously, I can tell you that I came out of Broadcasting House, having been a star for six minutes and as I blinked in the sunshine I realise that my family had quite forgotten about me. They’d gone off on a jaunt and the text messages hadn’t got through so I was completely alone. No idea what to do or where to go.

Now. Being completely alone in the West End is often the stuff of fantasy for me. I love the West End. I was born there, it’s my home. I know almost every shop along Oxford Street. The very thought of being able to wander, aimlessly and without time-limits or being asked if two women can have a baby or what’s a teenager or who decided if we should be happy or how far is it into space or how old was I when I started smoking or did I do drugs and if so were they uppies or downies, well, that thought often replays in my mind when I haven’t got two minutes to rub together.

So here I was. Alone, in the West End with no-one needing anything from me. And of course, I didn’t know what to do with myself. So I went into all the shops until I finally gave myself up to John Lewis, the floors of which I backcombed until I was so up on its stock, I could have donned me an “INFORMATION” sash and diverted any customer to any corner of its emporium.

This is when I discovered that Johnny Loulous has almost an entire floor dedicated to reed diffusers. Reed diffusers are those room fragrance things that cost a fortune and involve liquid in a glass container with sticks sticking out of them. Like the picture above. They are supposed to fragrance a room continuously, but are safer than candles

I’ve been horribly spoiled over the years by expensive fragrance. I discovered Creed when I was 26, and there was no going back. It’s not the only perfume I wear now but I never wear anything that’s cheap. You can’t cheat with fragrance.

Unlike a body perfume, room fragrance doesn’t develop over time. It just is. So if it annoys the fuck out of you when you first smell it, the high chance is, it always will. We have Jo Malone’s Room Sprays in the bathroom (I grew up with an aunt who used plug in air fresheners which was enough to put me off for life. JM room sprays are not cheap but they are beautiful and they last years) and I once stupidly bought a ‘leather one’ – I can’t remember the exact name – hoping it would grow on me. It never did. All it does is really annoy me and I now realise that I don’t like any fragrance that purports to smell like leather anything.

But because I am slightly obsessed with nice smells, but it’s not practical to always light a candle or spray the room, I’ve sometimes looked at reed diffusers and thought about buying one. But a few things irk:

  1. Whenever I’ve smelled them in people’s houses they largely smell of nothing.
  2. They’re a bit 2011.
  3. The really nice ones cost a fortune.
  4. You often can’t get refills so you have to buy the whole thing again.
  5. The containers the fragrance comes in are often overly fancy and annoying and you’re paying for it.

So I got to the department chock full of reed diffusers and started to smell all of them. And the ones I really liked were by True Grace. Two really appealed – Greenhouse, * which smells of tomatoes ripening on the vine, and Wild Lime.

[*Note, I’ve linked to the candle because the room fragrance doesn’t appear to be on the TG website, but it does exist.]

Better yet, they sold refills for £18.50 (the original kit costs £32 which I think is a bit mad. Note: if you buy the refill direct from the True Grace Website, you also get 20 replacement reeds with it; you don’t if you buy it in John Lewis, despite it still costing £18.50 which is annoying).

This got me thinking. Why couldn’t you make your own?

So I did, I bought a refill (Greenhouse), took it home, put half of it in an old, clean Stokes’ Brown Sauce bottle (this is the best brown sauce ever), stuck some wooden skewers in and hey presto. A not cheap, but cheap-er reed diffuser refill for £9 a pop, but full of really extremely nice smelling stuff.

Two tips:

John Lewis also sells replacement reed diffusers for £3 for a bundle of short ones or £4 for a bundle of long ones. Reeds, of course, have little holes in them that the fragrance works up through but honestly? I’ve found wooden skewers work really well too. Don’t tell the fragrance industry though.

Turn the sticks upside down whenever you need to revive the scent. This is why most people’s smells of nothing after a while. If it gets too intense – which it won’t – remove some sticks.

I realise there are wars on. But if there’s not one going on in your home town and you fancy a nicer smelling house, try this.

Making your own yoghurt

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The reason I started making sourdough was because nowhere near where I live does proper sourdough. And even if it did, it would cost a fortune. As it is, making my own bread costs me about 50 pence per half a kilo of flour loaf. That would cost about £7 in a shop.

There is no such imperative to making your own yoghurt. Sure, once upon a time, you could only get really not very nice yoghurt (thin and sour) but, now, supermarkets are full of them. Thick, creamy Greek yoghurt, drinking yoghurt, yoghurt with naughty corners, yoghurt stuffed full of fruit or delicately flavoured with vanilla or coconut. So there’s not a huge heap of point making your own – I may as well come clean.

But here are some reasons to make your own:

If you eat a lot of it, making your own does save money. I made some today which would have cost about £2 in the shop and cost me about a quarter of that.

You know absolutely what goes into it.

You can use it to make frozen yoghurts and cakes (more on these another time).

I also use rather a lot of yoghurt in Ali’s Oatmeal Pancakes which we are totally obsessed with and top them with yet more yoghurt.

You can also make just what you need.

You make it using almost any type of milk.

If you find you’ve run out of yoghurt, which I realise is hardly a crisis, as long as you have some starter and milk, you can make some overnight and have some for breakfast.

If you get any whey off the top (sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t), you can use it to make sourdough (just use it to replace some or all of the water).

You can use it to make your own drinking yoghurts and save a fortune (I’ll write about how to do this next week).

So if you’ve decided to give it a go you should know that you can make yoghurt using no special equipment at all. Just a flask, or even a bowl wrapped in towels and placed in a warm place like an airing cupboard.

But where would be the fun in that.

Regular readers will know I love a gadget. The yogurt maker I have is an electric one by Lakeland. (£19.99 so it will take a while to recoup savings made on making your own, but isn’t that always the way when you buy a gadget. Note: I get 20% discount on Lakeland products.) I liked the idea of an electric one as the temperature is controlled.

Yoghurt, like sourdough, needs a starter to get going. However, unlike sourdough, I find you can’t use a bit of your ‘old’ yoghurt to make a new batch. I find the cultures in the yoghurt weaken over time. I know some people have written about having a starter going since year dot. But this hasn’t been my experience. So what I do is buy some organic Greek style yoghurt (because that’s what I like) and freeze it in an ice cube tray and then take it out and defrost one cube per half a litre of milk (approx).  I find that one small pot of bought yoghurt provides starter for about eight batches of my own. Probably more. I was never great at maths.

You can make yoghurt using UHT milk, in which case it’s even simpler as you just use the UHT milk (at room temperature) and go straight to the bit where you put it into the yoghurt maker with the starter. Don’t dismiss this totally. I have a litre of organic UHT in the cupboard for yoghurt making emergences.

I’m totally aware of how that sounds.

So this is what you do. Get some milk, about 400ml. Don’t sweat it if you have a bit more or less. I use organic milk; either semi skimmed or whole milk. I have truthfully found no difference at all in the end product and so I use what we have. Whole milk is much better for you (less sugar) but we only get it twice a week so I usually have semi-skimmed and that’s what I use; the yoghurt in the picture was made with semi skimmed and it is so thick and creamy.

If you want to guarantee really creamy yoghurt use two tablespoons of skimmed milk powder. You stir it into the  milk before you boil it (or into the UHT milk before you add it to the starter, make sure it’s dissolved). I always use it.

I do, of course, have a digital probe thermometer which I put in and it’s great as it also has an alert so tells you when it reaches a certain temperature (more on which this is useful in a moment). As soon as it reaches 100C (at which point it will froth up so you have to be on it), take it off the heat and leave it. Note: it takes longer to cool down milk for yoghurt than it takes to heat it up so be prepared.

(Note: all equipment that you use to make yoghurt, such as a probe thermometer etc must be really clean.)

Now, yoghurt is made from milk due to two types of of bacteria: Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. These multiply when the milk is at a particular temperature. If the milk is too hot it will kill the bacteria, if it’s too cold the bacteria can’t be bothered to work. This is why it is now crucial that you cool the milk to the right temperature. Some people are able to do this by dipping a clean finger into the milk, if it’s right you should be able to count up to ten with your finger in the milk. I have really cold hands so this is hard for me to get right so I use the digital thermometer to tell me when the milk has reached 44C. This is where the alert comes in.

Why 44C? Well the temperature window you’re aiming for is no warmer than 49C (kills the bacteria above this) and no cooler than 33 (bacteria can’t get going). 44C works really well for me.

When it reaches 44C you mix a bit of the milk with the starter and make sure it’s all well combined, then add the rest of the milk, mix gently but well and put in the yoghurt maker following the instructions for your own particular one.

That’s it. It’s usually done after 6-8 hours. For a milder yoghurt leave for less time but sometimes it’s not set after six hours anyway so you have to go longer. When it’s done, put it straight in the fridge and then later decant into another container (if you want to) and use as you wish. I find it keeps easily for five days, we’ve never had to test it for longer.

A few trouble shoots:

If your yoghurt doesn’t set, it’s usually due to one of three things:

Your starter didn’t have enough bacteria in it. This is why it’s really a good idea to freeze fresh yoghurt and then defrost it just before you need it. There’s no reason you couldn’t freeze your own yoghurt I suppose, but I always freeze shop bought as I think that way you’re starting with a really fresh culture.

Your milk was too warm or too cold. Temperature is key.

You may get some whey on the top, either stir through or drain off and use it to water certain plants (blueberries love them, but dilute it, about 1/10 parts water and note I’m not a gardener, this is just what I’ve read). Or as I said above use it to replace water in bread baking.

So to summarise, this is what I use:

400ml of of full cream or semi skimmed milk to make the same amount of yoghurt (i.e a shade over 400ml)

An ice cube size of starter – about 30ml, more if you want the yoghurt to set more quickly and if you want a milder taste (the less time it takes to set, the milder/cleaner the taste, more starter yoghurt means it sets more quickly, in less time).

Two tablespoons of dried milk powder.

Update: February 2014. Since I realised that a teaspoon of maple syrup was only about 15 calories, and the difference such a small amount could make to certain foods, I have been less reticent about using it. Some freshly made, but chilled, yoghurt, with a teaspoon of maple syrup and some soft, squidgy, cut up Medjool dates is really delicious and I’m not one to really say that of yoghurt based desserts.

Some good autumn buys to get now for grown ups

I know, I’m all over the place right? Last post was about summer buys, now we’re onto woolly jumpers already.

But if being a fashion editor taught me anything it is that you need to buy things not when you need them (although great if the two coincide) but when they are in the shops. When you see them. And maybe you try them on and think “this looks great, but it’s a jumper and it’s August!” Trust me, come the chilly depths of November when you wished you had a jumper, there either won’t be any, or you won’t feel like going shopping or you won’t find what you want. And you will feel wretched.

I buy any winter stuff needed in August/September, summer stuff in April at the latest (obviously with things like children’s shoes, you do need to buy them close to point of use as I have learned to my cost in the past). And then you can just be horribly smug and people can say, as they increasingly say to me (with no real understanding of my life) “it’s alright for you.”

So.

This post will seem like an advert for Uniqlo. I promise that I get no discount from there, have nothing to do with the store. But it does have some really good buys at the moment. (It also has some crap, so just ignore that.)

I buy very few things for myself clothes/shoes wise. I’m not one of those “I have 100 pairs of shoes” girls. But what I do buy is considered and lasts me for a few years until I get sick of it. When you don’t buy much you can afford to update more frequently. Also I split my life between a very urban one where I have to be presentable, and a deeply rural one where I could be ankle deep in chicken shit. I cycle, I do the school run. My clothes need to work quite hard. Sure I have some fancy dresses for cocktail parties, but mostly, mes vetements can’t be part timers.

A few weeks ago I really needed a black V-neck. Something simple, wool but not itchy and not mentally expensive. It would immediately bring cohesion to my wardrobe. I knew this because I had nicked my partner’s one once too often and my 32FF bosom had given it a shape he wasn’t entirely keen on. I went shopping. Nothing. No wool jumpers to be found. Then last Friday, bingo, the shops were full of knitwear, glorious line upon line of them.

The place to go for this sort of thing – simple, fine, reasonably priced knitwear in lots of colours – this season, is Uniqlo. There is a fabulous merino wool V-neck for £19.90. It’s not madly thick, but then you don’t want it to be. You want something that’s a wool layer and you can scrunch up in a ball and put in your bag. It comes in loads of colours and there is also a scoop neck version which may cost more (sorry didn’t look). I got one in black and was so pleased with it, I went back and got one in navy, despite the protestations of my eldest who asked me to also get it in purple. Gloriously, the small fitted me so that also went down very well.

I also might have accidentally bought a few more things. A man’s wool round neck in a lovely chocolate brown. The fit isn’t as good as the woman’s (I got it in XS but it’s still not as good a fit). Again for £19.90.

And there are some really great padded down jackets that fold up into small bags but seem really warm. These will be ideal for cycling.

They also come in longer length versions which are brilliant (I didn’t buy one as I have something similar already). These ultra light down garments manage to look slimming despite all indications to the contrary.

And a waterproof parka that founds up small but somehow (despite being water repellent) also manages to make me look passable.