And so I continue my adventures with my new ice cream maker and onto a flavour combo I’ve always wanted to try- lavender and honey. I don’t know what it is that I love about using lavender in cooking and baking. Perhaps it appeals to a quaintly old fashioned part of me, that veers just a little bit towards what the swedes call ‘lillgammal’- little old or old before your time. Perhaps this recipe is just a big homage to the little old lady in me, blue-rinsed and swathed in flouncy scarfs, reeking of lavender EDT.
Yes, lavender is very floral and sweet, so perhaps this is not a recipe that will appeal to everyone. But I absolutely love it. I have to admit, I’m still coming to terms with my ice cream machine, but have had some expert advice from the good people at St George’s Gelato, so I will trying some new techniques soon. In the meantime, here’s the recipe for this floral classic- my lady in lavender.
Honey and Lavender Ice Cream
You will need:
3 egg yolks
75g caster sugar
225ml semi skimmed milk
225ml double cream
3 tbsp fresh or dried lavender blossoms, stems removed
1. Beat the yolks and the sugar in a small bowl.
2. Heat the milk until almost boiling and then pour onto the egg mixture, whisking all the while. Add the lavender.
3. Place the bowl on top of a pan of simmering water over a low heat, stirring constantly as the mixture begins to thicken. When it coats the back of a wooden spoon, it’s ready.
4. Remove from the heat and leave until completely cooled. Stir in the cream and the honey and pour into the ice cream machine.
5. Leave to work its magic for about 20-30 min, until it begins to thicken and come away from the sides. Freeze for a few hours until it reaches the desired consistency.
I made this cake some time ago now and (shock! horror!), took the photos on my old camera- it pains me now to think how much better they would have looked on my swanky new number. But I hope this doesn’t detract from this wonderful, moist tea time treat I adapted from a Nigel Slater recipe. I love baking with polenta and nuts instead of flour- it gives a subtle, nutty flavour and it absorbs moisture incredibly well, particularly the syrup used here. I can also trick myself into thinking it is more virtuous than a cake made from white flour. Enjoy with a middle eastern twist- some sliced oranges and mint, maybe drizzled with a little orange flower water if you have it to hand.
Orange and honey polenta cake
You will need:
220g caster sugar
150g ground almonds
3 large eggs
150g polenta (the quick cook variety is best)
1 tsp baking powder
zest and juice of 1 orange
For the syrup:
Juice of 2 lemons
Juice of 2 oranges
4 tbsp honey
1. Line the base of a non-stick, loose-bottomed cake tin (20cm diameter will do nicely) with a piece of baking parchment. Set the oven at 180C/Gas 4.
2. Beat the butter and sugar in a food mixer till light and fluffy. Add the almonds.
3. Break the eggs into a small bowl and beat them lightly with a fork, then add to the mixture.
4. Mix the polenta and baking powder, then fold into the mixture, together with the grated orange zest and juice.
5. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin. Bake for 30 minutes, turn down the heat to 160C/gas 3 for a further 25 -30 minutes or until the cake is firm. If it begins to burn or caramelise a bit on top, cover with tinfoil.
6. To make the syrup, squeeze the lemon and orange juice into a pan, bring to the boil and dissolve in the honey. Bubble away for about 5 minutes until you have a syrup.
7. Spike holes into the top of the cake (still warm and in its tin)with a skewer then spoon over the hot citrus syrup. Leave to cool before transferring from the tin. Serve in thick slices with thinly sliced fresh oranges and a little mint.
I am not one to vehemently advocate a particular ingredient over another. I am likely to be enthusiastic, yes, but I would never veer into any territory that resembles preaching. And there is one food topic I definitely won’t go near: the politics of meat. But mostly that is, of course, because I don’t need to. We all know the score: eat less of it and when you do, buy the good stuff. Organic, free range, steer clear of anything resembling a CAFO, so on and so forth. Nuff said.
But the unavoidable issue comes down to money- the good stuff is pricey. And even if you don’t buy it as often, paying what sometimes amounts to double (I had a quick comparison on mysupermarket.co.uk) stings, especially in these cash-strapped times.
I find the answer lies in going ahead and buying high quality meat, but the less popular cuts. I honestly can’t remember the last time I bought a chicken breast, for example. I find chicken thighs and legs are not only more flavoursome, they are generally less dry and more forgiving to cook with, not to mention a great deal cheaper. I also use lamb neck in my harira, and I’ll roast a piece of fashionable pork belly (by now ubiquitous on gastropub menus) and serve it with spicy plum sauce. I’m also looking forward to trying out recipes for ham hock and brisket.
The other week we had our lovely newlywed friends, Pete and Anna, for dinner and I had a real craving for some pâté. I do on occasion order liver when eating out as I like the taste, however, it is quite rich and as such not something I would necessarily buy and cook a whole packet of. But for a deep and smooth pâté, I made an exception and headed to the liver section of the meat aisle. It took me a half hour to find. Who would have known chicken liver is most logically filed next to minced lamb? In any case, when I finally found it I was delighted by how cheap the good quality stuff was- for a measly £2, I got twice the amount I needed.
Here’s the recipe I used.
Chicken Liver Parfait.
Makes one cereal bowl full (but you may want to double the recipe for leftovers)
You will need:
225 g unsalted butter
225g chicken livers, trimmed
1 bay leaf
2 thyme sprigs
1 shallot, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tbsp calvados or brandy
1 tbsp crème fraiche
sea salt, pepper
freshly grated nutmeg.
Melt 25g of the butter in a large frying pan. Add the chicken livers, bay leaf, thyme and season with salt and pepper.
Fry the livers for about 3 minutes until they are golden on both sides but still pink the middle- do feel free to check by cutting the livers in half, it doesn’t matter as they are all going to be whizzed up into a paté anyway.
Discard the herbs and pour the livers and any juices from the pan into a blender.
Melt another knob of butter in the pan and add the shallot and garlic, sweating until cooked through. Add the booze and simmer, enjoying the wonderful fumes, until almost completely dissolved. Tip all this into the blender with the livers and purée until smooth. Add the crème fraiche and blend again, making sure that the mixture is well-incorporated.
At this point, add the remaining butter and a good grating of nutmeg. Continue to blend until you have a thick, paté-like consistency.
Spoon the parfait into a bowl and leave in the fridge until required. It will keep for a couple of days but may need 10 min or so out of the fridge before serving, just to soften a bit.
Serve with sourdough bread, radishes, celery, red onion marmalade. For this starter, I also made a goats cheese dip by mashing the cheese with some garlic, sea salt and mixing with crème fraiche and chopped spring onions, which provided a fresh counterpart to the meaty density of the parfait.
For a pud, I wanted something sweet and creamy and managed to dig out an old favourite recipe for Panna Cotta. This is a honey and almond flavoured one that is at once velvety and grainy, with a nutty bite from the ground almonds that gives it a bit more substance. It’s one of those puddings that never fails to impress, but is extremely easy to make. The only tricky part is getting your gelatin just right- it needs to have dissolved completely. If you don’t like the idea of using gelatin, agar-agar flakes are a seaweed-derived substitute you can find in most health food shops and even larger supermarkets.
Honey and Almond Panna Cotta
You will need:
1 sachet gelatin, 7g (or equivalent substitute such as agar-agar)
200ml double cream
250 g greek yoghurt
6 tbsp runny honey
50 g ground almonds
1 vanilla pod
4 ramekins, lightly oiled and lined with clingfilm
In a large bowl, combine cream, yoghurt and honey, mixing until smooth before adding the ground almonds.
Cut your vanilla pod in half length ways and then scrape out all the seeds. Add to the mixture.
Prepare your gelatin or agar-agar flakes, following the instructions on the packet. If you aren’t quite sure, add about 3 tablespoons warm water to a large bowl, add the gelatin and stir to dissolve before leaving to cool. Make sure to add the gelatin to the liquid and not the other way around and that all the gelatin has dissolved completely. Otherwise you may end up with strings of squid-like rubber in your pudding. Which is rather unpleasant. Once you’ve prepared the gelatinous water and are sure it has completely dissolved, add to the creamy mixture.
Divide this into your prepared ramekins and chill for at least 4 hours until set. To serve, turn out onto plates, removing the cling film.
I accompanied mine with a simple orange, mint and toasted flaked almond fruit salad, but you could just as easily serve it with other fruits- summer berries would work particularly well.