Thursday, 20 December 2012

Instant banana ice cream

This cheat's ice cream is the best way I know to use up overripe bananas. It's not quite instant but it involves very little work, has only one ingredient and tastes amazing.

Ice cream is one of those things I always have in the freezer as I don't make puddings unless I have guests or some fruit to use up. It has to be premium ice cream for me and a small bowlful is plenty to satisfy any cravings I have for fat and sugar. Bananas have both without the need to add any extras and the simplicity of this does away with hours of making a custard base, churning and rechurning.You don't need an ice cream machine either, just a food processor.

I've been making this for so long that I have no idea where I originally discovered this. A friend who knows about such things explained the science to me - namely, that when bananas are frozen the fat they contain undergoes some kind of transformation and blitzing it produces the same creamy texture you get in proper ice cream. Whatever - it works!

What you need: 
4-6 very ripe bananas

What to do:
Peel the bananas and slice into 1cm rounds, discarding any blackened or badly bruised flesh. Spread the slices on a baking sheet and pop in the freezer for about an hour - they should be three-quarters frozen, not solid.

Put the three-quarters frozen banana slices into a food processor and blitz them until smooth. Put into a suitable container and refreeze. This makes about a pint / 1/2 litre depending on the size of the bananas.

Cook's tips: 
It's really important that you don't over-freeze the banana - blitzing it fully frozen could burn out the motor  in your food processor. If the slices have frozen solid, leave them to soften a bit before processing.

This freezes rock hard once blitzed and refrozen so take it out of the freezer for 10-15 minutes to soften slightly before scooping a portion.

Extras -  you can, of course, add extra ingredients once you've pulped the banana flesh. Things I've tried that work well include chocolate chips, dessicated coconut, chopped nuts (pistachios, brazils and walnuts are especially good), candied peel. and chopped glacé cherries. For an even creamier texture you could stir through some double cream or Greek yoghurt after processing. Beware of using crème fraiche as it can split when it thaws.

As far as I know this will keep indefinitely, although it's never lasted long enough for me to find out!

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Book review: Quick and Easy Indian Cookbook

It's very rare for me to cook curry at home, as I've said before. So when I was asked to try out the Quick and Easy Indian Cookbook by the Three Sisters, I took as a good opportunity to increase my somewhat basic knowledge.

Despite the title, prepping the various spice mixes was time-consuming. The ginger and garlic paste used in many recipes took me half an hour to make, most of that peeling the garlic cloves. However, it made a generous quantity that can be kept in the fridge or frozen in ice trays and it's the kind of thing I would use for non-Indian dishes too, so I didn't mind. Likewise, toasting and grinding spices before the cooking could begin - I spent 30 minutes preparing the chaat masala spice mix (which is used in many of the book's other dishes). The recipes themselves were mostly fairly straightforward once everything was prepped, although a major challenge for me was working out how to cut down recipes intended for 4 or 6 people into 1 or 2 portions.

I was wary of the chopped green chilli in the Cumin Chicken as I don't like fierce heat, but I needn't have worried. The finished dish was warm and fragrant rather than searing although mine looked rather wetter than the book's photo of it. I made a little tomato and cucumber raita to go with it (not in the book).

The book gives a recipe for making paneer but my kitchen doesn't have the space for setting cheese curds aside to drain so I bought some from an Asian supermarket and cooked two recipes. The shahi paneer, or royal Indian cheese, was a fragrant tomatoey casserole that turned the paneer into very soft curds. The shallow-fried paneer chaat really was quick and easy. I will definitely make both these again.

The gosht boti (lamb chops with tomato) were a disappointment, tasting very bland despite the large number of spices. The instructions were also a baffling mess - during the browning of the meat it says to boil off the water, except the water gets added much later.
The Goan fish curry, which I made with king prawns, really hit the mark. Packed with ginger, garlic and chilli and softened with the coconut milk, it soothed the cold I was suffering from. Despite the long list of ingredients, it was simple to assemble and tasted amazing. And it was easy enough that I'd feel confident cooking it without the book on front of me.

All in all, it's definitely a book I'd cook from again especially if I had guests. A big downside is that too many recipes need you to toast whole spices then grind them as part of the cooking rather than something you can do ahead in quantity - that belies the claim of quickness. I've still got a few bookmarked recipes to try and of the five above, I'd make all of them again except the lamb chops. 

Monday, 10 December 2012

Dauphinoise potatoes

This is one of my favourite ways to eat potatoes - it's rich, silky, unctuous and garlicky. It takes only 5 minutes to prepare and then you can just forget about it until it's ready. I rarely cook it for myself but it's one of those dishes that's fab when you have guests as it never fails to impress. But I'm currently thinking ahead about a solo Christmas dinner. I've not yet decided what meat to roast (I may just grill a very large steak) but if you're using the oven anyway, then it's worth making a single portion.

Dauphinoise is a bit of a heart attack on a plate if you follow the traditional recipe, so I go for a low-fat version which is just as tasty and creamy but slashes the calorie content. I also like lots of garlic in it.

What you need: 
1 large potato
2 cloves of garlic
300ml tub of low-fat crème fraiche
Salt, pepper

What to do: 
Grease a one-portion pie dish with a small amount of butter. Slice the potato very thinly - about 1mm thick. Peel and slice the garlic cloves thinly. Make a layer of potato in the bottom of the dish, season, scatter over half the garlic and spread over half the crème fraiche. Repeat then finish with a final layer of potato. Dot the top with a little butter. Bake at 180C for about an hour.

Cook's tips:
If you want to follow the traditional recipe, just cut one garlic clove in half and rub it round the dish after buttering. Instead of low-fat crème fraiche, use full fat cream. Single is easiest because it pours well, but go for double if you're feeling decadent because it produces the most luxurious version.

A large baking potato is about the right size. I don't bother to peel it myself. The thinner the slices, the quicker they'll cook. Don't test with a knife for "doneness" - use a fork as it's a much better indicator of tenderness. If it's not quite ready after an hour, give it another 15 minutes.

Don't muck around with Dauphinoise too much - it's a simple dish and is best kept simple so resist the temptation to add sliced onions or bacon. At most, a tiny sprinkling of grated gruyère cheese will help to crisp up the top crust and add a little extra depth.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Stilton, rosemary and walnut scone

This almost-cakey slab of savoury carbs is really easy to knock up and the kind of thing I'm likely to bake when I need a supply of snacky stuff to nibble on when I'm working, or as the basis for a lazy supper on a tray in front of the TV.

What you need:
250g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
45g cold butter, cut into small chunks
150ml milk or soya milk
150g stilton, cut into cubes
A sprig of rosemary, leaves stripped off and very finely chopped
6-8 walnut halves, chopped
Parmesan cheese

What to do:
Heat the oven to 200C.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Rub the butter into the flour with your fingers - it should look like breadcrumbs. Add the milk and work it in gently until it forms dough. If it is too dry to take up all the flour, add a little more milk. If it's too wet sprinkle in a little more flour. Add the cubes of Stilton, walnut pieces and chopped rosemary. Knead the dough so everything is well distributed.

Line a baking sheet with a piece of baking parchment. Put the scone dough on to it, shape it into a round then flatten it very gently. Score the top into eight and grate a little parmesan over it. Bake for 25 minutes or so - it should be risen and golden.

Cook's tips:
Any blue cheese works really well here - try some gorgonzola or bleu d'Auvergne. Blacksticks Blue is especially tasty here but if you're on a budget a Danish blue is just as good.

I like to tinker with the additions - any good melting cheese can replace the blue. I sometimes add some chopped raw bacon or lardons instead of walnuts. A little very finely diced onion adds a good blast of flavour (sprinkle a little on the top too). Chopped fresh thyme or sage can take the place of rosemary. Sliced black olives also work.

I like to make it in a big round as you can break off as much as you want (keep the rest in a tin or wrapped in foil for later) but you could make individual scones with a cookie cutter - adjust the cooking time to 20 minutes then check on them!

The recipe doubles up really easily, just up the cooking time to 30-35 minutes.