Monday, 28 February 2011

Easy Eggless Gelato

I didn't think I could ever have too much ice cream.....until the other day. Eating sorbetto at 11.30am was easy enough, but several hours and many gelato flavours later, I'd found my limit.

I was at an all-day gelato academy, learning about the processes and techniques that go into making 'artisan' ice cream. It was both interesting and informative; for example, did you know that in the UK, our annual ice cream consumption is in the region of 11.5L per head whereas in New Zealand, it's over 26L?

One of first questions that arose was 'what's the difference between ice cream and gelato?' While you might think the latter is just the Italian name for the former, several factors set the two apart. Legally, ice cream has to have a minimum fat content of 10% whereas gelato is usually only about 6-8%. Gelato has a higher number of natural raw ingredients, hence it's much shorter shelf life than ice cream. In addition, gelato tends to be denser in consistency and is served at a warmer temperature, which arguably results in a more intense flavour and velvety texture.
Inspired by all that I had learnt (and eaten), and in my quest for creating a homemade ice cream that scoops straight from the freezer, I've been experimenting with various recipes. The following basic recipe has proved to be a great success; soft and creamy, and incredibly easy to make from a few simple ingredients....and very low in fat. You may not get the same results if you don't have an ice cream maker, but it's definitely still worth a go.

Easy eggless gelato base mix

570ml milk
80g sugar
3 tbsp cornflour
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp alcohol (rum, vodka etc. - dark spirits add a much richer flavour to the above vanilla mix but if you don't want to taste the alcohol, use vodka

Place 450ml of milk in a saucepan with the sugar and gently heat. Mix the remaining milk with the cornflour in a small jug. When it begins to steam, add the cornflour mix and stir continuously as it thickens. Once it comes to the boil, reduce to a simmer and allow to cook through for 5 mins, being very careful not to burn the milk. Remove from the heat and add the vanilla extract and alcohol.

Chill overnight or even for 48 hours. This allows the mixture to 'age', which will improve the texture and the flavour of the mix. When ready, freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Mint Choc Chip
This basic mix is great for a variety of combinations and flavours. So far, I've tried our the following variations:

Mint choc chip: use 1 1/2 tsp of mint extract instead of vanilla and add 75g chocolate chips five minutes before the end of the churning time in the machine.

Chocolate: Add 75g high quality cocoa to the milk in the saucepan and allow to melt before adding the cornflour. You may need to adjust the sugar to taste depending on how bitter you like your chocolate! I also find a teaspoon of ancho powder added while the mixture is cooking enhances the chocolate's earthiness.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Chilango set to open 5th outlet

Chilango's keeping up with the competition by opening yet another London store. Their fifth outlet, based on Chancery Lane, is due to open in May, serving burritos, tacos and salads five days a week.

Rated the No. 1 Mexican Restaurant by Zagat 2011, it's definitely one of the strongest contenders in the battle of the burrito. For up-to-date info, visit the website.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Ancho Pine Nut Chocolate Cake (eggless)

We don't eat a lot of eggs in this household. In fact, I only really ever buy them to bake with, when I have a particular recipe in mind. As a result, cravings to cook something to satisfy a sweet tooth often remain unfulfilled (without a trip to the shops).

So, imagine my joy when I stumbled across an eggless chocolate cake recipe. It's made with yogurt, which is perfect for me as I've been making a lot of frozen yogurt so I had some in the fridge to use up. After a bit of tweaking and some spicing up, this is the result.....and it's really good. I'm always a little suspicious of unusual cake recipes (I've never enjoyed anything combining chocolate with courgette or beetroot), but this is a real find, gooey and chocolatey, almost a brownie-like consistency.

Ancho Pine Nut Chocolate Cake (eggless)

75g pine nuts, toasted*
130g self-raising flour
80g sugar
200g yogurt
55g butter/margarine
3 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ancho powder
1/4 tsp salt

* Spread on a plate and microwave on high power in 1 minute bursts until brown. Be careful not to burn the nuts!

Pre-heat oven to 180°C (160 fan) and butter a 7" cake pan or something similar in size. Sift together the flour, salt, cocoa powder and baking powder in a medium sized bowl.

In a larger bowl, whisk together the sugar, butter and vanilla essence for 2-3 mins (with an electric mixer). The mixture should be pale and fluffy. Add the yogurt and give it a good stir until everything is combined.

Carefully fold in the dry ingredients into the mix, being careful not to overmix. The mixture will look very thick and lumpy but don't worry! Spoon into the cake tin and bake for 30-40 mins or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Turn onto a wire rack and allow to cool.

Cover with a simple chocolate frosting or serve warm with vanilla ice-cream and dark chocolate sauce.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Fat fight: lard versus butter

Lard's been the bad boy of the fat family for some time. However, it's one of those largely misunderstood food products that's been given a lot of bad press over the years. Moreover, is an integral part of Mexican cuisine, adding a distinct flavour to many dishes that just wouldn't taste the same if made with any other type of fat.

So, is it much worse for you than other types of fat? While I wouldn't advise spreading it on your toast for breakfast every morning, it is a very versatile ingredient. It doesn't smoke much when cooking and lard's incomparable when making homemade pastry, adding a light, buttery flakiness that you just wouldn't get with anything else. With respect to it's health 'benefits', lard has 20% less saturated fat (gram for gram) than butter, is higher in mono-unsaturated fats (linked to lowering cholesterol) and one's of nature's best sources of Vitamin D according to a recent article on the Guardian website.

The Italians are a fan and there's even an annual festival in Colonnata (just north of Pisa) celebrating all things lardy.

So, the next time you see a recipe involving lard, don't go and substitute it with something long as you're not entertaining any vegetarians.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Mexico leading the way in algae biofuel

OriginOil Inc., an cutting-edge company from the USA turning algae into oil, has just announced its participation in a pilot project to be funded by the Mexican government. The 'Manhattan Project' hopes to produce 1% of the nation's jet fuel by 2015 and 20% by 2020. Being a country surrounded by water, Mexico has plenty of resources to make this a viable alternative to fossil fuel and there are hopes that algae could be the answer for the automobile industry. Not bad for a country deemed 'lazy, feckless, flatulent and overweight' by the presenters of BBC's Top Gear.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Mexican food in Paris? Sacre Bleu!

If you like reading about food, then you're probably familiar with David Lebovitz, one of the world's most prolific (and arguably best) food bloggers.

Based in Paris, David's blog is a great source of information and recipes and recently, there's been a couple of posts with a Mexican theme. so, if you're across the channel this Valentine's Day, how about celebrating with some good Mexican food?

CreditAnirudh Koul
Why not treat your loved one to some Mexican Hot Chocolate? If you haven't got any authentic Mexican chocolate to hand, then chocolate atole is a good alternative. Here's a cheat's version made with cornstarch, a much more readily available item in the UK than masa harina! If this still seems like too much hard work, then try some from or Hotel Chocolat for a spicier version.

Thick Hot Chocolate (serves 1-2)
250ml milk
100g chocolate, dark or milk depending on your taste, grated
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cornstarch

Mix the cornstarch with a little of the milk. Pour the rest into a saucepan and heat gently. When it begins to steam, add the cornstarch mixture and stir constantly as it thickens. Add the chocolate and cinnamon. Check for sweetness, adding a little sugar if necessary. Serve in small cups.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Grilled Chipotle Pork Steaks

It's great having a butcher in walking distance....they do a fabulous range of homemade pies (courtesy of Simon the Pieman), which are great when I haven't got anything for dinner. However, always one for a bargain, pork steaks were on special this week. Here's a quick and easy way to give them some Mexican flair.

Chipotle marinade for pork steaks (serves 2)

2 juicy pork steaks*
1 chipotle pepper
1 clove garlic
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp agave syrup (or honey)
1 tbsp tomato paste
4 tbsp water
1 pepper, sliced

Place everything (except the pepper) in a mixer and blend until smooth. Put the steaks in a shallow baking pan, add the sauce and marinade for several hours (or overnight if you have time). Scatter the pepper slices over the top and cook under a hot grill for 8-10 mins before turning and grilling for another 8-10 mins depending on the thickness of the steaks. Serve with rice and pinto beans.

*While I normally buy pork loin, last night's supper was made using leg steaks; not only did they taste better, but the meat was very tender. I would highly recommend this cut.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Have a break...have a chilli chocolate Kit Kat!

There's been a fair amount of debate about the importance of regional taste/local dishes over the last few months. Back in September 2010, the National Trust employed a panel of experts to identify a number of 'endangered' tastes from across the country. To read about their results, click here.

When it comes to the latest food trends, it's all about regionalism; we're going back to basics, sourcing and eating local produce. Britain is not alone in this respect. Even in the USA, where major food chains and franchises stretch from coast to coast, there appears to be a movement shunning globalisation in favour of keeping it local. Suddenly, it's become very trendy to run a farm (watch an episode of 'A Farmers Life for Me' on the BBC), grown your own fruit and veg or have a few chickens in the back garden.

While we're all familiar with national cuisine, regional cuisine is in many ways of far greater interest. I personally find regional dishes quite fascinating as they reveal a lot about the local culture as well as taste.

How are the giant corporations to respond? There's no doubt that many tailor their products to suit the local area. McDonald's have been onto this for some time, with lobster on the menu in Maine and green chile in New Mexico. 

And so we come to the case of the Kit Kat. Now over 75 years' old, I've always thought of Kit Kat as a truly British confection and only recently discovered the number of different flavours (over 80 to date) on sale across the world. Most of the weird and wonderful are on sale in Japan, which is where the chilli Kit Kat hails from. 
However, I think Nestle are missing a trick in the UK as there's definitely a demand for chilli chocolate about a jalapeño or habañero Kit Kat? That would certainly wake up your break.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

From pretzels to pizza....the baking continues

I recently bought a pack of Italian or "00" flour in the hope of making home-made pasta. While I haven't quite got around to this yet, I wondered what it would be like to make pizza. The results were fantastic, much better than any pizza base I've ever made from strong white flour. Here's my recipe which will make a large rectangular-sized pizza, enough for two hungry people.
Easy Italian-style pizza dough 
250g "00" flour
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp sugar
1 tsp yeast
1 tbsp oil
160ml luke warm water

Mix the yeast, sugar, oil and water in a jug and leave for 10 minutes to activate the yeast. Place the rest of the ingredients in a bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour the liquid into the well and slowly incorporate the flour, until a ball of dough forms. Knead this for 15 minutes, place back into the bowl, cover with clingfilm (or a disposable shower cap works a treat), and leave in a warm place for an hour, until double in size. If you have a bread maker, just follow the instructions for making dough using the above ingredients.

Put a large baking tray in the oven and preheat as hot as possible (250 degrees).

Tip the dough onto a floured surface and knock out the air*. Roll out the pizza as thinly as possible without making holes in the dough. This can be a bit tricky but it's worth the effort as you don't want a thick and soggy base. I usually end up using my hands to stretch the dough to make it the size of a large baking tray. Gently lift and place onto a piece of foil dusted with polenta or flour (this will stop the pizza sticking).Cover with clingfilm and leave to rest for 15 mins.

*If not using the dough immediately, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate or freeze at this point.

Put your chosen toppings on the pizza. We covered ours with chipotle tomato ketchup (courtesy of Marks and Spencer), crab sprinkled with ancho chile powder, red onion, and toasted sweetcorn. Using the foil, place the pizza onto the heated baking tray and cook on the top shelf until the edges have puffed up and the top is golden brown (about 8-10 mins).

Scatter with freshly chopped parsley or any other leafy herb of your choice (i.e. coriander or basil) and serve with a jalapeño lime drizzle (that's mayo thinned with a little water and a few drops of lime juice and Tabasco's green jalapeño pepper sauce).