30 January 2011

Fennel Ice Cream & Bittersweet Chocolate Pear Cake

My second run with the ice cream maker and I decided to make, of all things, fennel ice cream.  I am not entirely sure what would make me want to make fennel ice cream over and above Violet Crumble Ice Cream or this decadent sounding Cocoa Sorbet, but I am certainly very glad it did make it to the top of the ice cream making list.  Not the most obvious choice for ice cream but on reading it here I knew I  had to make it and a little voice told me I would not be disappointed. I wasn't and highly recommend that you read it too.

It is one of those wondrous recipes where a few simple ingredients melded together result in something sublime and most definitely greater than the sum of its parts, a whole new entity.  The fennel seeds infuse the cream and what is left is not the sharp clean aniseed hit you might expect but more of a sweet, mellow essence of fennel seed.  When it is mixed into the custard it becomes a sweet, warm, comforting and totally moreish concoction that is lip smackingly good.  The licked clean spoon and bowl are testament to that. It was lucky to make to the ice cream maker at all. At that point I know I was on to something quite special.  
Fennel Ice Cream
Adapted from Orangette, adapted from Gourmet, October 2007, and Holly Smith

Makes about 1 litre


1 2/3 cups cream
1 tbsp fennel seeds, crushed
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup milk - must be whole fat milk, we are talking ice cream here so no place for trim, skinny or lite variations of anything
3/4 cup sugar,  1/2 cup and 1/4 cup
Pinch of salt
4 egg yolks


In a small saucepan place the cream, fennel seeds and vanilla extract.  Bring the cream to a simmer, remove from the heat and allow the flavours to infuse for 30 minutes.

Mix together the milk, 1/2 cup of sugar and the salt in a medium saucepan and bring it to just a simmer. Stir to dissolve the sugar.

In a large bowl place the egg yolks and the 1/4 cup of sugar and whisk together.  Slowly pour in the hot milk mixture, constantly whisking as you do.  Return the custard mixture to a saucepan and cook until it coats the back of a spoon.  Just cook at a low heat (you don't want it to boil), stirring all the time, until you have a smooth custard.  If you think disaster is imminent just keep a sink full of cold water on hand while making the custard.  Then if it does start to split at all just plunge the pot in to the sink of cold water and whisk like there's no tomorrow.  The custard won't take more than 10 minutes to cook, possibly even a moment or so less.  Strain the custard in to a bowl and leave it to cool.  You can speed up the process by placing it in an ice bath.

Once cooled add the fennel infused cream.  Do this through a sieve to remove all the seeds, but do press down on the seeds to squeeze out every last drop of flavour.  Chill the mixture in the fridge overnight.  Place the mixture in an ice cream maker and follow the manufacturers instructions.  Pop the ice cream in an air-tight container and place in the freezer for about an hour.

Yes it does take a little time, but then that old adage is true.  Good things come to those who wait.

I had friends round for dinner on the weekend and an almost evangelical desire to convert them all to the wonders of fennel ice cream. Even if any of them were fennel haters, I didn't care, they would all be converted.  The dilemma: What to have with it?  Orange and fennel are good friends, the citrus cutting through the rich, sweet ice cream. So I thought maybe this Orange and Almond Cake with Grand Marnier Syrup and then I came across a Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake over at the Smitten Kitchen. 

Bittersweet chocolate and I go way back, we have a long standing love affair, so I was sold.  I used my favourite, Whittaker's Dark Ghana. At 72% cocoa it is dark, bitter and rich...just as it should be and the aroma that escapes from the oven while it is baking is intoxicating in its chocolatiness.

Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake

From the Smitten Kitchen and courtesy of Al Di La Restaurant in Park Slope, Brooklyn


1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, at room-temperature
122g /4oz unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 pears, peeled, in a small dice - I used some little sugar pears.  Sweet and they kept their shape and added another texture to the cake.
3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks, I used Whittaker's Dark Ghana, but any good quality 70% cocoa or more would also work.


Preheat the oven to 180C (350F). Grease and flour a 9-inch springform pan and set aside.

In a bowl sift the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. Place the eggs in a bowl (or the bowl of a mixer with the whisk attachment) and whisk until pale and very thick, you want the volume for a light airy cake. If you are lucky enough to have a Kitchen Aid it will take 5 minutes or more.  If like me you don't, whisk for a good 8-10 minutes. Put the timer on as it will feel like eternity.

Add the sugar to the eggs and whip for a few more minutes.
Just as the egg and sugar mixture is starting to loose volume, lower the whisking speed and add the flour mixture and brown butter. Add one third of the flour mixture, then half of the butter, a third of the flour, the remaining butter, and the rest of flour. Whisk until just barely combined, you want to work the batter as little as possible to retain the volume you spent all that time building up. It won't take more than a minute from when the flour is first added. Very gently fold the batter until the ingredients are just combined. Don't over work it.

Pour the batter in to the springform pan. Sprinkle the pear and chocolate chunks over the top and put it in the pre-heated oven. Bake for 40-50 minutes until the cake is golden brown and a skewer comes out clean.

Serve it up with a generous scoop of fennel ice cream.  A dollop of whipped cream could also be added!

The bitter sweet chocolate played very well with the sweetness of the pears.  The cake was light, despite me almost over beating the batter, so this recipe gets kudos from a not so experienced baker. I can only imagine how light it will be the next time with no over beating whatsoever! I also love that you just sprinkle the pears and chocolate on top of the batter and then while baking away in the oven, the magic occurs and the pears and chocolate are dispersed all through the cake. So you get little fruity juicy pockets of pear and then a little nugget of the chocolate all wrapped up in cake.

And with the fennel ice cream, it was unanimously agreed by a whole table of converts that it worked a treat: indulgent, sweet, creamy, rich. The fruity sweetness of the pears compliments the mellow sweetness of the fennel ice cream and then the dark bittersweet chocolate cuts through it all to offer a sublime balance, the yin and the yang if you like, that is chocolatey bitter and ice cream sweet.

Alternatively you could just get the container out the freezer and grab a spoon...


25 January 2011

Herb Soup...a bowl full of green goodness

Summer seemed to have done a runner this past weekend.  It was a wet, wet weekend, with that rain that we can get fairly frequently here in Auckland.  A steady heavy down pour that you know is settling in for the day and sounded like the pitter patter of a troupe of tiny little tap dancers on my corrugated iron roof.  That is the very reasonable price we pay for beautiful and green.  Looking out it looked Autumnal but step outside and it was so warm, like walking in to a tropical suburban jungle, the wind positively balmy.
Despite the heat, and what must have been a gazillion degrees of humidity, it put me in the mood for soup, not a hearty winter soup but a light bright summery soup.  As luck would have it a little tweet with the very concoction tweeted its way to me via the wonderful Ottolenghi and his column The New Vegetarian in The Guardian.  So I knew it would taste amazing, be full of good things and most likely be a totally new combination of flavours and aromas.  It succeeded on all counts.

It was something new to me; a herb soup.  I loved his idea of the herbs being the main feature and with all that greenery it just had to be so good for me.  On eating it you could almost feel all the green goodness just emanating through your body rejuvenating and refreshing it.

Herb Soup, adapted slightly from Ottolenghi

Tweaks were mainly on quantities to work with what I had on hand. It is soup after all so quantities don't need to be exact.   If you love mint add a little more, if you feel like a little heat add a few chilli flakes. However, if you are on the hate side of the love it or hate it side of the fence when it comes to coriander I would suggest you look for another soup as to leave it out completely, or replace it with something else, would transform this soup in to something quite different. 

I love coriander and had lots of it. Not so on the parsley front, as supply in my garden is starting not to meet demand, so a little less parsley used than in the original.  The dried mint was a casualty of the New Year clean out of out of date herbs and spices so I replaced it with some dried wild oregano.


Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp nutmeg, grated
1 tbsp dried oregano
250g (9oz) baby spinach
bunch parsley (whole, leaves and stalks)
large bunch coriander (whole, leaves and stalks)
1200ml vegetable stock
200g (7oz) Greek yoghurt (or 2 small individual tubs)
bunch fresh coriander leaves, chopped
bunch fresh mint leaves, chopped
100g feta
Salt and black pepper
Pinch of chilli flakes
Lemon oil to drizzle


Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and add the onion and garlic. Add just a pinch of salt and fry until translucent, 4-5 minutes. Add the turmeric and nutmeg and fry for a couple of minutes. Add the dried oregano, spinach, the whole parsley and the whole coriander leaves and stalks and all. Add the stock and bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes or so. Season well with salt and pepper. Blitz the soup with a liquidiser or stick blender until you have a smooth bright green gloop!

At this point you I put half aside to go in to the freezer for another rainy day.
To serve, reheat the soup just to boiling point. Pour the yoghurt into a bowl and whisk in a ladle of hot soup, don't stop whisking until all combined. Repeat with a couple more ladles and then tip the mixture back into the soup and whisk it all together to combine. Stir through the chopped herbs and crumble in the feta, keeping a little feta and a few herbs to decorate. Have a taste and if need be add a little more salt and pepper.

Pour into bowls, sprinkle over a little shower of the herbs, feta and chilli flakes. Finish with a drizzle of lemon olive oil.

This soup was quite remarkable, a vibrant bright green with tinge of yellow from the turmeric, it looked as though it was almost alive with all the good stuff in it.  The soup warming the lemon olive oil giving off a fragrant lemony aroma. The yoghurt makes it feel rich and luxuriant, while the coriander gives that wonderful aromatic flavour and a sweet hit from the fresh mint lightens it.  Cutting through all the verdant iron like flavour of the spinach is the crumbled feta, soft and salty, and not to forget the slightly earthy note from the turmeric.   And that's not all, a little heat from the chilli flakes and a light fresh lemon hit from the olive oil just rounds it all off perfectly.

Served with homemade oatmeal bread it was a perfect little lunch.  An unbelievable explosion of bright flavours that cannot fail to make you feel good, come rain or shine.


22 January 2011

Tandoori-ish Chicken

I was looking for a quick dinner but something tasty, healthy of course it being by my kick start to 2011 and the aim to shed a few kilos. I just wasn't quite sure what I wanted, you know when you just can't decide but you know you want lots of flavour? I had some chicken in the fridge and grilled chicken and salad just wasn't going to cut it.

I must have been watching or reading something Indian inspired as I had a sudden urge for a tandoori type concoction.  I say tandoori type as I wanted dinner quickly so no time for an overnight marinade and liberties definitely going to be taken with the spices as what was in the pantry would have to do.  However, the end result reminded me of when I first had chicken tandoori, so it must at the very least be evocative of the real McCoy. And it made for a quick supper of juicy chicken full of the flavour of fragrant spices with a great sharp tang from the yoghurt.

I fell in love with chicken tandoori many, many moons ago.  A school friend's Dad was Indian and my friend's Mum used to make this fiery flavoured, red hued, flavourful Indian chicken dish...it was love at first bite.  Did I just write that? Suffice to say the tandoori chicken was a hit with a 12 year old school girl who thought it was all terribly exotic.  This was the early 1980s in Scotland and even though both my parents are fantastic cooks things were a little simpler back then.  Pre Jamie, Nigella, Ina, Giada et al Delia was about the only cook on one of TVs 3 channels (no Sky TV, no cable), and she hadn't even got us all in to rocket (arugula) yet, heck we had never even heard of it!  Chicken tandoori just seemed such an exciting and exotic dish.

So here is my take on chicken tandoori, by no means authentic but the flavours do take me back to that first taste with the mix of spices and the sharpness of the yoghurt so it is most definitely within the realms of tandoori.  I have tried a somewhat similar concoction a couple of times before and think it is now tried and tested enough to share. However feel free to play around with the spices.  You could try cayenne or add a little turmeric, whatever takes your fancy.

Tandoori-ish Chicken

Serves 4

4 skinless, boneless chicken thighs (about 2 1/2 pounds)
Juice of 1 lemon 
Salt and pepper
1 cup plain yoghurt, I used Greek yoghurt for a little extra richness
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 small red onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp coriander seeds, smashed in pestle and mortar, or you could use 1 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
Small pinch chilli flakes
1 tsp hot paprika, next time I think I will try some of the Kashmiri chilli powder I found hiding in the back of the pantry, more to add its vibrant red to the marinade rather than heat. It is one of the less fiery chilli powders.


Cut each of the chicken thighs in to large chunks.  Toss together with the lemon juice and some salt and pepper.  
In a bowl mix together the yoghurt, vegetable oil, onion, garlic, tomato paste, coriander seeds, cumin, chilli flakes and paprika.  Season with just pinch of salt and pepper.  Toss the chicken in the yoghurt mixture and let it marinate for 15 - 20 minutes.

Pre-heat the grill and line with foil - it will save on the washing up!  Place the chicken on the foil and grill until the chicken is slightly charred and cooked through, about 5 minutes each side.  When the chicken is cooked the juices will run clear.

Serve with a little brown rice or couscous and some salad for a spicy summer supper. This one really has become a little of a summer favourite as it really does liven up the chicken.  The cumin and coriander lend a lovely earth depth of flavour and then there is a little, but not too much, heat from the chilli flakes and paprika, and all balanced  by the clean sharp yoghurt.   So it may not be an authentic chicken tandoori but it will deliver a light supper full of Indian flavours.


19 January 2011

Chicken & Summer Vegetable Wholewheat Spaghetti

Continuing my healthy January and another use for zucchini - zucchini inspiration #6.  I am kept in plentiful supply by the wonderful Epicurean Supplies.  Just as well as mine continue to be on a seemingly permanent strike.  It does look like there are little ones developing in there but they just never seem quite to make it to full grown zucchini let alone any marrows.

This is another recipe inspired by Self.com.  It is bright and full of fresh Summer flavours and goodness: zucchini, spinach, sweet cherry tomatoes and fragrant basil.  With the wholewheat pasta and grilled chicken it is also satisfying, key when one is trying to be virtuous.  Almost 3 weeks in and I feel very much the better for my healthy living, though I do confess I am looking forward to a wee vino the weekend after next!

In the meantime I am enjoying healthy eating and a fairly serious amount of exercise as I retain a little New Year's zeal, well a serious amount for me anyway.  I have strangely been enjoying the increased exercise schedule. That is in spite of the pain and effort, it has all been oddly satisfying.  Maybe I am treading that fine line between pleasure and pain.  The gym has moved to a fabulous new location where everything is sparkly and new, so that may well be helping. 

There is only one thing not working and that is the air conditioning.  Given the drizzle, extreme humidity and high temperatures we have been having in Auckland that was not a good thing. Post my 45 minute jog and walk I resembled a bit of a tomato myself.  It was a totally futile exercise to even attempt to put on make up and don't get me started on straightening my fringe!  What with the humidity and lack of air conditioning my poor body just couldn't recover from the shock of all that cardio or stop resembling a tomato, let alone cool down. The last time I felt this hot was in the sauna that is a Dubai Summer.

The make up slid off as quickly as I could put it on and the moment I got outside the drizzle put the end to my fringe.  Arrived at work looking like some sort of red faced rag doll that had been dragged through the proverbial hedge backwards. But at least the air conditioning was working!

Chicken & Summer Vegetable Wholewheat Spaghetti, adapted from Self.com


Serves 4

4 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut in to 1 inch / 2cm pieces
140g wholewheat spaghetti, or you could use regular spaghetti
2 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic clove crushed
1 pinch chilli flakes, less or more is also fine depending on your heat preference
4 zucchini, sliced on the diagonal - green, yellow whatever you have
6 cups spinach
2 cups mixed cherry tomatoes, halved.  I had a wonderful mix of red, blush and yellow from Epicurean Supplies.
1 bunch of fresh basil, roughly chopped
4 spring onion, chopped
Salt and pepper

Put the pasta on in a large pot with plenty of boiling salted water.  Cook for a minute or 2 less than what the packet says.  You still want a little bite and I always find if you cook as per the instructions it ends up over cooked.  

For the chicken cook fat-less in a griddle pan or with just a a little oil in a frying pan. Season with salt and pepper and cook for a few minutes each side until cooked through, about 8-10 minutes.  The benefit of the griddle pan is the char grilling which will give that great smokey flavour.

Meanwhile in another frying pan add the olive oil, garlic and chilli flakes.  Fry over a medium heat for a few minutes to allow the garlic and chilli to infuse the olive oil.   Add the zucchini slices and fry until not quite done, again you want a little texture rather than watery mush.  Add the spinach and allow it to wilt for a moment.  It will look like a huge green mountain of spinach, but it will cook down very quickly.  Add the cherry tomatoes and cook for another moment or 2 just to warm them through and to release a little of their juice.  At the last minute add the basil and spring onion.

Add the spaghetti to the pan and toss with all the vegetables to allow.  To serve top with the chicken.

This one could become a Summer regular.  It even looks like Summer on a plate with the bright red and yellow cherry tomatoes, yellow and green zucchini, flecked with the dark green spinach, the vibrant green basil and the bright white and green of the spring onion.  

I love pasta and really enjoy the nuttiness of wholewheat pasta, especially when cooked al dente and retaining a good bite, it really adds texture to this dish.  The char grilling gives the chicken that great BBQ flavour. The zucchini still had texture and was full of flavour from the chilli and garlic.  There was a burst of sweetness from the cherry tomatoes, a fresh aromatic hit from the basil, a clean, fresh bite from the spring onion and just a little heat from the chilli.  For a relatively simple dish this one has an abundance of flavours and texture that will leave you feeling both satisfied and virtuous!


16 January 2011

Seedy Oat Soda Bread and the Twittersphere

This little loaf has been all around cyber space, it really is quite amazing how connected everything can be.  Being reasonably new to the world of food blogging, and as I continue my journey I am always on the look out for tips and guidance on how I can improve and make this little blog better and I came across Dianne Jacob, a bit of a food blog writing guru and author of Will Write for Food, The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Blogs, Reviews, Memoir, and More...my copy is winging its way to me now.

She also writes a blog and one of the latest posts contained some tips on the do's and dont's for food blogging.  One tip was to be on Twitter.  Now Twitter and I had a brief fling some time ago, but it just wasn't for me, so it was with some reluctance that I took the advice and signed up again. This time as ToastNZ and for the most part limited it to the food-sphere.  A few weeks in and I am totally addicted and it was indeed good advice as it allows you to communicate with so many like minded people.  

Whether it be finding more kiwi food bloggers (Curious Kai, Hungry and Frozen),Arfi Bee, Mrs CakeNZ) or engaging with food bloggers at the top of their game (Jennifer Perillo,The Wednesday Chef) , or reading all the tweets from Food Blog Camp with envy, or seeing pics of what Rick Bayless ate at Noma and the Fat Duck (see there are more people out there that take photos of food even in the best restaurants in the world!), or making new cyber friends, Gourmet Worrier.  It has just been a great experience and invaluable for keeping up to date with the wonderful world of food blogging and connecting with other food obsessives and having more people read and connect with Toast. Toast even got a mention on Running With Tweezers this week,all thanks to Twitter and Tami at Running with Tweezers being snowed in in Atlanta.

Back to the Oat Soda Bread, it was posted by Jennifer, adapted from 101 Cookbooks, and found its way back to 101 Cookbooks to be adapted from Jennifer's recipe and now it has found it's way to Toast to be adapted by me. I love seeds so added a mixture of what I had in the pantry but feel free to add in whatever seeds you like, I also like caraway but none to hand so added a few fennel seeds instead which gave a little sweetness.

Seedy Oat Soda Bread Recipe, adapted from 101 Cookbooks, adapted from In Jennie's Kitchen, adapted from 101 Cookbooks


Makes 1 loaf

Butter or oil, to grease loaf tin, I did a quick spray of oil, I just find it easier
2 cups/200g/7oz rolled oats (or oat flour if you happen to have)
~2 1/4 cups/285g/10oz  all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting and kneading
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 tsp fine-grain sea salt
1 tbsp sunflower seeds
1 tbsp pumpkin seeds
1 tsp sesame seeds
1 tsp poppy seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 3/4 cups / 415 ml buttermilk, plus more if needed, and a little for brushing the loaf.
2-3 tbsp mixed seeds - sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, poppy

Preheat the oven to 400°F / 205°C with a rack in the middle of the oven. Butter or spray, and line a loaf tin with baking paper and set aside while you get on with the bread. You can also bake this bread without a loaf tin, just shape it in to a round loaf, on a lightly floured baking sheet.

To make the oat flour, just place oats in a food processor and whizz until you have a fine powder.  Yes it's that easy.
Sift the flours, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Add the buttermilk and stir, just until everything comes together into a dough. Don't overwork the dough. 

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for only 30 seconds or so, you want to knead the dough just long enough for it all to come together into, again you don't want to over work it. You should end up with a slightly flattened ball without many cracks or fissures. If the dough is a little on the dry side, add a little more buttermilk, just use a small splash at a time as you don't want to make it too wet. Carefully pop the dough in to the loaf tin.

Brush buttermilk all over the top and sides and sprinkle with the mixed seeds. Slice a few deep slashes across the top of the dough to help it rise evenly. Bake for around 30 minutes.  Then move the loaf up a level in the oven to get a nice toasty crust.  Just try and do it quickly to stop all the heat escaping from the oven. Bake for another 20 minutes, or until a hard crust forms and the bread is baked through. You can do the knock test, it should sound hollow. Remove the loaf from the tin and let it cool for as long as you can before slicing and slathering with butter. 

Cautionary word here, the only problem will be not to consume the whole loaf as really, there is not much better than homemade bread and butter.

I did manage to save some for today's BBQ and will be having some topped with a little cream cheese, smoked salmon, capers and just a little lemon zest which just gives it that little extra zing.


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